Tag Archives: fashion

Selective Memory

Picture a 1920s dress and hat, trying to imagine the style, fabric and color.

What comes to mind as you picture the dress? Does it have a drop-waist? A hemline that stops just below the knee? Is it sleeveless? Is the skirt fitted, gathered or pleated? Does it have a straight hemline or an uneven one?  Is the dress fabric you’re picturing rather light-colored (pastels?) and floaty, like silk chiffon? Or maybe black, adorned with beads or embroidery?

How about the hat? Did you picture a round cloche? Was it a summer hat made of straw or raffia? Or a winter hat made of wool?

Where did your image of the 1920s dress and hat come from? Did you draw from images from the film The Great Gatsby (and then, 1974 or the 2013 version?) or maybe the HBO series Boardwalk Empire?

Did the dress and hat you imagined look anything like this?

 

1921 pattern 1.JPG

1920s hat.JPG

I’d like to have something to wear to a 1920s-themed event, like the Jazz Age Lawn Party or to a speakeasy bar.

The pattern pictured above is a genuine 1921 pattern. The hat is a 1920s hat that I’ve had for years, displayed in my sewing room in a clear hat box. I’ve purchased linen fabric in the yellow-cream and light orange that matches the hat’s embroidery.

Yet I find myself hesitating to cut out the pattern pieces. I keep thinking, “Does the pattern really look 20s enough? I mean, aren’t those exaggerated wavy lines in the design more mod 1960s or 1970s than 1920s? And what about that skirt on the dress? Doesn’t it read more 1930s? And isn’t the skirt kind of frumpy? Does the hat look enough like a cloche?”

And here I am caught up in the irony of having genuine 1920s articles, and wondering if they look “authentically” 1920s.  I’ve been thinking of making the pattern with a different skirt style – maybe pleated or handerkerchief – in order to give it a more “20s look.”

I’ve been reading Heike Jenss’s book Fashioning Memory: Vintage Culture and Youth Style and it’s helped me understand why I’m questioning the “20s-ness” of my pattern. It turns out we have a selective cultural memory of what 1920s (or any past decade’s) style is. My 20s patterns doesn’t look 20s enough because I’m drawing off only the most iconic images of how that era has been reproduced in popular culture in films like Midnight in Paris or the television series Downtown Abbey.  Costume designers regularly allow present styles to influence how they reproduce the past. So, for example, the 2013 version of The Great Gatsby features much more fitted versions of flapper dresses than actually was the style. It’s no surprise – every vintage store owner I’ve ever talked to about wearing 20s  has told me that most women look terrible in the flat-chested, straight-sided, sack-like dresses of that era. But like most vintage enthusiasts, I’m highly influenced by the present in my imagining of what constitutes “the look” of the past. And so, just like a costume designer, I’m highly likely to alter the pattern’s style to give it a more shapely look that I can more easily wear in the present day. And then my altered “authentic” 20s dress will continue to shape how we today imagine the 1920s.

 

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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?

1970s vest.JPG

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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Like vintage? Say why for a chance to win gift certificates!

Collage

Hi there vintage fans!

I’ll continue with regular blog posts after Feb 15th. In the mean time, if you haven’t yet had a chance to complete my survey on why you wear vintage, then click on the link below and get started! If you complete a survey, you’ll be entered in a drawing to win 1 of 3 $30 etsy.com gift certificates, where you can find a huge selection of vintage clothing. You can find more info on the survey by clicking the link or by checking out my December 2015 blog post. Thanks and have a groovy day!

Click here to start vintage clothing survey

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Fashion Cities of the World and the U.S.

While Paris was once the undisputed center of the western fashion world, it has had to share the stage with a number of other strong players in the last ten years. This week for The Atlantic Cities, Richard Florida and Sara Johnson wrote about The World’s Leading Cities for Fashion. The top cities were London, New York and Barcelona, with Paris coming in fourth.

The cities were ranked on the basis of how much fashion buzz they generated this year in the news media, the internet, on blogs and on Twitter. This list of top 20 global fashion cities reveals that the buzz around fashion is no longer limited to Europe and North America. Sao Paulo, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Bali, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg, Singapore and Tokyo all made it onto the top 20 list.

Of course, “buzz” is just one way to determine who’s hot and who’s not in fashion. Another way of measuring “world fashion cities” is by looking at where there are concentrations of people who work within the fashion industry, for example as designers, seamstresses, textile workers, or staff at fashion design schools. According  Jasmine Watts for Yahoo, in 2007 list of the Top Five Cities for Shoppers and Industry Careers, Paris maintained its top position as a fashion center at the industry level; it was followed by Milan, New York, London and Tokyo in the top five list.

Florida and Johnson analyzed which U.S. cities are centers of fashion domestically, also basing their rankings on where there is fashion industry occupation concentrations. New York was on top, followed by Los Angeles. This makes sense, given the mix of fashion design schools, garment districts, and (particularly in the case of New York) the location of fashion industry corporate headquarters these cities possess. But smaller cities rounded out the top five, including Columbus, Ohio and Nashville, Tennessee, which both ranked just ahead of the San Francisco bay area.

Florida and Johnson also discuss how the city as a location influences designers’ visions. You may see the occasional ad with a picture a model wearing a a striking gown in the middle of a rural meadow. However, most often when we think of fashion, it is an urban image, whether it’s The Sartorialist’s or Bill Cunningham’s streetstyle photos, fashion ads that pose models hailing cabs, or the glamorous window displays of boutiques and department stores. As I wrote in my post An Urban Ecology of Fashion, ” It is the city with its storefronts and plate-glass windows, its sidewalks, plazas, bars, coffee shops, nightclubs and theaters that is the setting where fashion blooms and becomes a feast for the eyes.”

– Nancy L Fischer

1st photo is from Yahoo.com (see linked article); 2nd photo is by the author.

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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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Everything Old is New Again

Why do we wear the past? Or rather, why do some of us wear the past in the form of vintage clothing? I find myself asking this question frequently – what is the attraction to decades-old clothing?

One of the many possible answers to the question is that the past is very much alive and with us, everyday, in our visual culture.

The new fall fashion magazines are beginning to appear in my mailbox, thick as phone books. I page through to see what is new, employing the word “new” loosely. As in previous seasons, there is very little that seems truly novel in the realm of designer fashion.  While fashion is supposedly about now, it is quite common to spot the Ghost of Seasons Past amongst the latest looks. After all, fashion designers regularly look to old photos, patterns, vintage garments and the like for their inspiration – just Google almost any interview of Marc Jacobs and there’s sure to be mention of the vintage looks pinned to his “inspiration board.”

I know of vintage enthusiasists who specifically enjoy the challenge of finding today’s new old looks in their closets. In her autobiography, Alligators, Old Mink and New Money Alison Houtte notes that fashionistas regularly visit her Brooklyn vintage boutique Hooti Couture after window shopping in Manhattan.  Here in Minneapolis, my favorite fashion event last year was Blacklist Vintage’s “Vintage Did It First” Show. The show featured projected images of Fall 2011 designer looks on a screen while a similar vintage ensemble was modeled on the store runway. You can see the slideshow here.

Just for fun on a cloudy Sunday, I decided to take my own “Vintage Did It First” challenge with the old clothes that now look new in my closet.

Fall 2012 Ralph Lauren Ad

Ralph Lauren’s Fall 2012 collection recalls menswear from the 1920s – 1930s, with brown tweed short jackets, vests and pants, and cloche hats.

It’s not the first time this tweedy pageboy look has been recycled – I have a vintage 1970s brown tweed jacket and vest that look quite similar.

Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton also has an early 1900s vibe with the double-breasted overcoats and oversized hats that reflect 1920s fashion; his Fall 2012 silhouettes suggest that perhaps he’s a fan of the BBC television series Downton Abbey. But it’s Downton Abbey meets That Seventies Show – the prints suggest the psychedelic 70s and the hats wouldn’t be out of place at a Grateful Dead concert.

Louis Vuitton Fall 2012 Advertisement

The Louis Vuitton ad helped me recall that I have a similar fabric from the 1970s in my stash. I also retrieved my 1920s cloche from its hatbox. The round suitcase doesn’t quite match Vuitton quality, but the bar is low considering it was a $1.00 garage sale find.

Prada’s fall collection has an early 1970s feel as well with the diamond print and the long knee-length vests and coats worn over pants (in the 1970s, they would have paired the vests and coats with long flared pants rather than capris).

Photo of Prada Fall 2012 Ad

My maroon, navy and tan double-knit topper from the 1970s has a similar look and it’s warm for a Minnesota winter.

In the book Retromania, critic Simon Reynolds discusses how the past – in the realm of popular music – has come to dominate music industry catalogs. Technology has made songs from the 1950s to the 2000s instantly accessible, and there is simply more of past pop to chose from when DJs are looking to fill the airwaves.

Fashion has followed a similar dynamic since the 1970s. Images of the fashion past are available to us like never before. Does Mad Men make you curious about the 1960s? Start Googling and you’ll come up with more groovy looks. And with an industry characterized by “fast fashion,” designers have to come up with new looks on a constant basis that is often quicker than the traditional two-season cycles that might have sufficed in the past. And so drawing from the vintage looks is a quick, accessible and easy way to mine design ideas.  Which is one of the reasons why we wear the past – because the looks of the past occupy a good deal of our present.

–          Nancy L. Fischer

Photos taken by the author

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What if Team USA had been “Made in the USA”?

Team USA Olympic Village Uniforms

U.S. clothing manufacturers, it’s time to put in your bids to make the 2014 Winter Olympics team uniforms, designed by Ralph Lauren. Following the controversy over the U.S. Olympics Team uniforms being made in China, a CNN story reports that “Ralph Lauren has agreed to domestically manufacture Team USA’s apparel for Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games” according to USOC CEO Scott Blackmun. In his press release, Lauren stated that his company will “lead the conversation within our industry and our government addressing the issue of increasing manufacturing in the United States.”  Given that there are already designers and companies that have been using U.S.A manufacturers, he seems a bit late to be claiming to lead a conversation.

I was a wee bit surprised when I read  some of the on-line commentary accompanying an NPR story on the controversy. Some listeners did not seem aware that Lauren’s clothing – whose Polo line often features flag images or a red-white-and-blue color scheme – was not made in the United States.  They actually have not been made in the U.S. for quite some time.  As I mentioned in my previous post Label Love, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, U.S. textile mills and clothing manufacturing companies were gradually closed, as brands sought lower production costs overseas. If you were to search for vintage Ralph Lauren, you may find some 1980s garments with the “Made in the USA” label, but they become increasingly rare from the 1990s onwards. As it stands today, 98 percent of clothing purchased in the U.S. was made abroad. As ABC News demonstrated in Grand Central Station as part of their Made in America news series, if we all had to strip down to just those garments with the USA label, most of us would need to embrace a “clothing optional” lifestyle.

This isn’t the first time Ralph Lauren has designed the U.S. Olympic Team uniforms. And it’s not the first time they’ve been made outside of the U.S. Nor is it even the first time that Lauren-designed Team USA uniforms have sparked controversy (he has designed uniforms in the past where his Polo Pony logo was bigger than the Olympic Rings symbol). And apparently, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is giving him another shot for Winter 2014.

This got me to thinking….what if the USOC had not hired Lauren and instead sought companies already known for making garments made in the USA. Where could the USOC have turned? The name that immediately comes to mind for me (and to those who made comments on the NPR story) is American Apparel. Their clothing is made in the USA, they make sportswear, they design for both women and men, and like Lauren, they often use flag emblems on the clothing. Would Team USA, American Apparel style look like this?

Would the U.S. Olympic Committee go for American Apparel’s racy and/or casual looks?

What other companies manufacture clothing in the U.S.? There’s Carhartt, the maker of rugged clothing that is greatly appreciated by construction workers…and hipsters.  If they were to make Team USA’s opening ceremonies uniforms, they would last for years.

Designing and making Team USA’s opening and closing ceremony uniforms could provide an opportunity for new U.S. companies like Imogene + Willie out of Nashville, Tennessee to show their clothing to a larger audience. It would give the Olympic team perhaps a more country western look:

And what if, instead of Ralph Lauren designing Team USA’s winter 2014 uniforms, we turned it over to Pendleton and their designers from their USA-made Portland Collection? How about one of their heritage prints in thick wool, in red, white or blue?

Or perhaps rather than featuring just one designer and company, Team USA could be outfitted by a stylist who would coordinate a look by seeking different elements from different USA companies. Pants by Cone Denim, ties by Pierrepont Hicks, and carrying bags by Duluth Pack.

Do you have a favorite Made in the USA maker that you think could make a great Team USA look?

– Nancy L Fischer

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