Category Archives: Fashion Trends

Spring Forward into the Past

Spring 16 Fashion

March is almost upon us, and the hefty spring fashion magazines are out.  As a vintage aficionado, I like to page through and see which vintage looks are making a comeback. While some looks are perpetually in style, such as 1960s shift dresses (see the latest from Kate Spade below), other revived looks don’t hang around for long.

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Vintage store owners also make a point of looking at the latest in the fashion mags and change their storefront looks accordingly. In Alligators, Old Mink and New Money, fashion-model-turned-vintage-store-owner Alison Houtte tells how she always made sure her Brooklyn store was stocked with the “latest” old versions of new looks. Why buy a fast-fashion reproduction if you can have the original look?

The last time I was paying attention to fashion magazines looking at the “new” styles, I noticed the return of some 1970s looks that are not frequently revived. Will I be wearing my 1970s knee-length tapestry vest (a look that was all over stores this summer) or is it back to storage for this groovy vest?

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Paging through the March issue of Elle and Vogue, it appears the 1970s are still in. I’m particularly fascinated with this Gucci model from the Spring 2016 ads who appears to be channeling a young Elton John, minus the visible chest hair. And is this ad marking the return of the pageboy haircut?

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This spring 2016 suede cut-out dress by Bally also has an early 1970s look.

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From wide-leg trousers to the persistence of the maxi dress, it appears that the 1970s are still in. It makes me want to sell my house and purchase this fabulous 1970s Chicago apartment! Yeah baby!

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Back to the fifties…I mean eighties

It’s been a relatively mild November here in Minnesota (today is our first real snow) and my go-to coat for the month has been this black-and-white houndstooth swing coat.The swish of the fabric as I walk  feels flirty and luxurious. The swing coat’s open front is perfect when a chilly morning turns into a more temperate fall afternoon.

Because swing coats were originally designed to cover those voluminous 1950s full skirts, they are also easy coats to wear with today’s layers. Swing coats also wonderfully offset the slim designs of tight-fitting wiggle dresses and suits of the 1950s. This is the look featured in the November calendar image on my Style 2015 wall calendar.  Of course this elegantly sketched model carries off the post-war style with a bit more panache. After all, she has the Arc de Triomphe within walking distance.

How many decades has this coat seen? How many floral, full-skirted dresses with flouncy tulle petticoats has it covered? What skinny wiggle dresses or fitted smart suits has it complemented? Did it once grace the shoulders of a 1950s secretary strolling on Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis?

Well, it’s more likely that this particular swing coat just covered a tulle petticoat worn as a skirt, a la Cyndi Lauper. Or perhaps it covered an oversized t-shirt paired with stirrup pants and pointy-toed ankle boots (remember that 80s look?)

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Just as we recently witnessed a 1950s revival under the influence Mad Men (which premiered in 2007), movies and television shows (like Happy Days, which ran from 1974-1984) set in the 1950s inspired a “Back to the Fifties” fashion revival in the 1980s.

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Thus my “Fifties Swing Coat” is a reproduction – a bit of 1980s retromania where clothing companies released 50s styles  in the hope of cashing in on the Back to the Fifties trend. Perhaps the former owner of my swing coat might have been passed on the street by 1980s vintage afficionados who thought “You should have bought a real 1950s swing coat. They are cheaper and better made!”

This raises the question of how did I know the coat was from the 1980s and not the 1950s? It was just an intuition when I picked up the coat – something about the fabric and the shoulder pads, that Hayley, the shop owner of Lula Vintage, confirmed. Chronically Vintage has a great blog post on how to tell genuine 1940s and 1950s clothing from the Eighties-does-Fifties reproductions. The surged seams on my coat, and the fact that it’s a size Small, for example, are dead give-aways.  Nonetheless – now that my swing coat has 30 years under its lapels – it’s “authentically” vintage and I love it, even if I don’t have the tulle petticoat as skirt to wear it for its full 80s effect.

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Vintage, the First 40 Years

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I’m back! Where have I been? It turns out I have been reading about one thousand magazine and newspaper articles published since 1950 on secondhand and vintage clothing. I wanted to uncover the history of the vintage fashion trend, and find out how wearing secondhand clothing shifted from being viewed as rather pitiful to vintage chic in the United States.

It was an interesting journey. I learned that (at least in the United States press) the word “vintage” was first applied to clothing in 1957 when the Chicago Tribune referred to new clothing that recollected 1930s looks as “vintage.” Then the meaning of “vintage clothing” was that the 30s-looking clothing, like well-aged wine, reflected good years for style. Ten years later, the New York Times reports that a 1966 London trend of wearing old clothing as street style has crossed the pond. This category of fashionable old clothing came to be called “vintage clothing.” I also learned that fashion magazines considerably trailed the newspaper press in announcing the vintage clothing trend. While New York clothing dealers worried that there was going to be a shortage of vintage clothing because the market was so hot through the 1970s – even department stores were selling it – it wasn’t until 1979 that Vogue magazine rather dismissively announced a “boom in vintage clothes.” Not surprisingly perhaps, I discovered that 1970s vintage consumers were looking for the same qualities in vintage that we love today – unique, high quality clothing that is sourced in a more eco-conscious way than newly made clothing.

If you’re interested in finding out how vintage clothing was talked about as it emerged as a trend, you can read my article, “Vintage, the First 40 Years: The Emergence and Persistence of Vintage Style in the United States” in the journal Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research. The article is part of a special issue on Circulating Stuff through Second-hand, Vintage and Retro Markets. I’d like to thank the editors Staffan Appelgren and Anna Bohlin for putting together a great issue!

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2013: Accentuate the Positive: A Year in Ethical Fashion

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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis at a Thrift Shop

 Maybe it’s the New Year’s Eve champagne talking, but I must admit that I feel somewhat hopeful about the direction discussions about fashion and clothing production have taken this past year. For New Year’s, a list seems appropriate. Here are some stories from 2013 that have given me reason to hope that the fashion industry and our own patterns of consumption are changing as we head into 2014.

1. Trendsetter of 2013? Goodwill.  I appreciate Guy Trebay’s insight about the relationship between secondhand shopping and internet culture from his end-of-the-year assessment of pop culture in fashion, “We live in a thrift shop culture, compelled by daily, hourly and constantly refreshed trips to the Goodwill outlet that is the web. There we find all the stuff for assembling the “curated” selves who experts say are the new American trendsetters, D.I.Y. solipsists. Like Macklemore, we repurpose, we mash up, we grab things off the sale rack and try it on for size.” Trebay is referring, of course, to the Thrift Shop by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the music video that celebrates secondhand culture.

Trebay goes onto say, “It was as though, in the past year, beleaguered consumers decided to take back fashion, to follow Macklemore’s lead and scour the cultural sale rack for what’s already hanging around. In the process they rediscovered the durable qualities of Made in U.S.A. labels like Filson and also only-in-America garments like Daisy Dukes.” And what’s great is the more we satisfy the shopping craving with secondhand, the less that goes into the landfill.

Pie chart of country-of-origin of my students' clothing

Pie chart of country-of-origin of my students’ clothing

I observed this tendency of appreciating secondhand and re-discovering clothing made in the USA in the project we conducted in my Introduction to Human Society course of counting our clothing. Here’s a pie chart of the country-of-origin for where my students’ clothing comes from. We weren’t surprised by China (in purple) taking up the largest wedge, but we were surprised that USA (in granny-smith apple green) was the second largest piece of the pie. The reason, we discovered, is that most of us were not participating in the fast fashion trend of impulse purchases and quick disposal. We were holding onto our clothing, including older items that were made in the USA, purchased when retailers like Urban Outfitters had more such options.

2.         Clothing Production Returning to the United States. In 2012, the story that the US. Olympic team uniforms were outsourced made news (for the 2014 Winter Olympics, they will be made in the USA). In 2013, the New York Times has been reporting that at least some clothing production – even if it remains priced at the luxury end – is returning to the U.S.

In fact, here in Minnesota, there are not quite enough trained garment workers to meet the new demand as a wave of sewing jobs pile up at U.S. factories. Why I find this hopeful is not really a matter of patriotism– I’m happy to see clothing production return to wherever its home consumers live. What matters to me is that this should mean clothing is being produced in better working conditions and for higher wages.

3.         Planet Money’s T-Shirt Project.  National Public Radio’s Planet Money produced a short video series that tracked the production of a Planet Money t-shirt from start to finish. The series begins with the harvesting of cotton in Mississippi to the weaving of cotton into fabric to the sewing of the t-shirts in Bangladesh and Columbia to shipping the t-shirts back to the U.S. I found the chapter on those who sew our t-shirts most compelling, and was intrigued to learn that some believe garment industry wages can only go up because Bangladesh is as low as a company can go in trying to attain well-enough-made cheap clothing. Planet Money also reports that no one – not even Bangladeshi workers’ rights advocates – want the garment industry to leave Bangladesh.

4.         H & M commits to more sustainably produced fashion. It’s great that small producers and luxury brands are able to return production to the U.S. But as I noted in The Conscientious Consumer and the Guilty Closet, it’s difficult for most people to have a completely fair-trade closet. That’s why it’s so important that the big brands of fast fashion get on the sustainability path. I’m sure H & M has a long way to go, but I appreciate that they’ve started the journey.

5.         I’ll end with a wish for 2014. My wish is that fashion brands become more accountable to their workers in terms of paying livable wages and requiring them to work in safe conditions, wherever their brands are produced. Just yesterday, the New York Times reported that companies are dodging responsibility for their contribution to the fast pace that led to safety concerns being ignored before the Rana Plaza factory collapse. Here in the U.S. there is talk about raising the minimum wage  and providing workers with more livable wages– whether they are those sewing the clothing or those selling it in the malls. My wish for 2014 is a tall one – that higher wages and safer working conditions becomes a reality, worldwide.

Happy New Year!

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Tues Jan 8: The History of Hip at the Turf Club

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Hey Twin Citians!

Want to learn more about the history of vintage clothing? What it’s like to run a vintage clothing store? As part of the Minnesota History Society’s History of Hip series, I will team up with Hayley Bush, owner of Lula Vintage in Saint Paul to talk about how and why wearing vintage clothing became a trend, the ins and outs of running a vintage clothing store, and the future of vintage. Come join us, get a beer, and let’s talk about vintage!

We will be at the Turf Club on Tuesday, January 8th at 7:30pm in the Clown Lounge. Tickets are $5 (free if you’re an MHS member!) and can be purchased at this link or by calling the Minnesota Historical Society at (651) 259-3015.

Happy New Year!

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You Don’t Have to Be Superman to Wear a Cape

Capes on the Line

It’s that time of year again. The orange, red and yellow leaves crunch beneath my feet. The crisp, cool fall air enlivens my consciousness as the fabric of my wrap flutters in the breeze. It is cape weather. Like the most beautiful part of fall when the leaves display their brightest array of colors, cape weather is far too short. There’s a brief window of time – perhaps just the month of October – when a cape is  perfect. Just warm enough over a sweater. By November it will be too cold and only a snugger fitting coat will do. But for now, I have wings.

When I glance through current trends for fall, it seems like capes make the list every year. It’s understandable; they photograph well and make an ordinary look more glamorous. You can check out this slideshow titled Shop the Trend: Capes – whether a short shrug or a luxurious expanse of fabric, capes add panache to a look. Yet despite the ubiquity of capes in fashion slideshows, I rarely see someone else on the street wearing a cape. It’s too bad because the cape has been part of fashion – for both women and men – for centuries, at least as early as medieval times – and it would be nice for the tradition to continue.

This is my first cape, a wool/acrylic blend from the 1960s that has a matching skirt. The first day I wore the ensemble to work, one of my colleagues recalled that her mother had a cape suit that she wore in the 1970s. Her mother told her that she felt different when she wore her cape – more confident, powerful. She asked me if I feel different when I wear a cape. I do.

I don’t know if it takes confidence to wear a cape, or rather if it brings out my confidence once I hear the whoosh of the wool when I whip it around my shoulders. It’s a transformation, like Superman changing in the phone booth. The confidence I feel could come from that superhero association, though the wool certainly doesn’t remind me a bit of the spandex version superheroes seem to prefer.

Or maybe it is that when you wear a cape, all eyes are on you – it adds a bit of mystery. After all, it’s not just Superman who wears a cape. So does Dracula. And there are many melodramas  and films noirs where the villainness wears a cape –  like this 1940s black boucle capelet.

Perhaps the sense of drama is the reason that I don’t see many other women wearing capes, even when they make the fashion magazines’ “must-have” lists and when it is perfect cape weather. Maybe donning a cape feels like becoming a character in a costume drama and that you’ll have to start speaking as if you’ve taken diction lessons.

Nonetheless, when I look at my wool capes, I think Mary Tyler Moore, not Joan Crawford. Whether plaid, bright colored or earth-toned, most capes are somehow happy. Fun. Light. Like I could leap tall buildings in a single bound. Or maybe, just toss my beret into the air on Nicollet Mall.

– Nancy L. Fischer

Me, at Blacklist’s “Vintage Did It First” fashion show, fall 2012. Photo by Ed Neaton.

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The Fading of Fads

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On August 22, in The New York Times Ruth La Ferla asks,  “In Fashion, Are Trends Passe?” La Ferla interviews fashion industry insiders, who observe:

Trends, they are not what they used to be, said Garance Doré, the blogger and street-style photographer. Until some time in the 1970s, Ms. Doré pointed out, fashion tended to follow a single, clear direction, handed down to the faithful with the ringing authority of Moses on the mount.

 Robert Burke, a consultant for luxury brands and once the fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, amplified the point.

 As little as a decade ago, he said, we would gather at the Ritz in Paris to come up with trend stories, which would then be translated into shop windows and advertising. Forty or 50 of us held the keys to that secret information.

 Now that anyone with a passion for style and access to a television or computer screen can draw her own conclusions, the trend story is passé, Mr. Burke said.

Fashion trends are just no longer trendy.

Perhaps Ms. La Ferla was listening in on a conversation I had last week with Jenny Lantz; we were both presenting papers at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in Denver. She researches fashion trend forecasters and how companies make use of their services.  After our presentations we chatted about what is truly “out” at a time when fashion retailers must cycle so many looks through stores  quickly, hoping to get young women repeatedly into stores for “the latest.” In a time when there are so many looks available, what is truly out? Jenny said that when she asks that of the retailers she interviews, they often have difficulty coming up with answers.

As the New York Times article points out, the answer to the “what’s trendy” question depends upon whether one is looking through a fashion magazine or simply looking out the window of one’s office. The fashion magazines push specific looks by the designing elites and so whatever they design supposedly represents the new trends.  But what about at the level of the street, where the looks one sees reflect what people buy?  That’s when I find myself asking, “What exactly, is not in style?”

I think that we have come to a point in western cultural fashion history when it is a challenge to dress in a way that is noticeably out of style.

How did this state of affairs come to be?

If one looks through a fashion magazine from the 1950s, the idea of what was “in” and how trends were determined was quite clear. Paris was the center of fashion. Ellen Melinkoff notes in What We Wore: An Offbeat Social History of Womens Clothing, 1950 to 1980:

We waited each year for the announcement from Paris regarding next year’s hemline. Newspapers and magazines played along, giving front-page coverage to the long-anticipated, dreaded measurement….The newsworthiness of this event heightened our impression that we were powerless to rebel. Paris would tell us what was fashionable.

But Paris’s grip on determining fashion trends was loosening. Thomas Frank in The Conquest of Cool argues that even in the conformist 50s, clothing manufacturers were itching for change that would shake up the slow progression of fashion trends. Their wish was granted in the 1960s when the Baby Boomer teens caused a “youthquake” in the world of fashion. U.S. teenagers had disposable income and they did not want to spend it  so they could look just like their parents.

From that point onward different routes for fashion trends developed. There was the traditional top-down route where elite fashion designers set the mode. But there was also the “bubble-up” route where streetstyles (and eventually the designers themselves) were influenced by what youth (often associated with subcultures, like punk rockers) were wearing. And those who research the “social diffusion” of trends note that it is lateral influence – what our friends are wearing – that has the biggest impact on our daily decisions of what to wear (something any middle-school girl could tell you).

I think there is another element for why trends have become less trendy. According to Sharon Zukin in Point of Purchase, Americans increasingly have used shopping guidebooks to become expert consumers. In the realm of style, this has meant innumerable guides on “dressing your best.” With the dress for social success guides, not being a “fashion victim” by blindly following the latest trends is emphasized. Instead, a sign of good fashion sense has been to develop one’s own personal style and dress in a way that flatters one’s body – after all, not everyone looks good in skinny jeans or with a wide belt cinched around the waist.

And finally, as I hinted at above, I think that trends are fundamentally decentered because the dynamics of fast fashion push so many trends simultaneously. Pussy bows, asymmetrical hemlines, full-skirt revamps of 50s looks, the 60s mod-style A-lines, capris, full-legged trousers, skinny jeans – are all in.

Which brings me back to my initial question – what is currently out of style?  Can anything truly be considered outmoded right now? And if so, how ridiculous or far back in time do we have to go? (Armor? Actually, I think I’ve seen a version of that in the fashion mags.)  I am curious to know what you consider to be out – please send ideas and photos if you have them!

Nancy L. Fischer

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