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All Dressed Up…

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I love getting dressed up for vintage events. For events where the choice is mine as to which decade I’ll be wearing, I start to puzzle through my outfit maybe a week in advance. I have some dresses and skirts in my closet that make too big a statement for me to wear to work. They’re a bit on the costume-y side. For example, I love novelty print skirts, I love to wear hats, and I adore psychedelic op-art print dresses, but I seldom get to wear them. A vintage event is a perfect time to bring them out of hiding and let these clothes shine through in all their dramatic, rather loopy wonderfulness.

This summer for a trip to the East Coast, I decided to attend local events set in the 1920s. I went to a Jazz Age Ball in Providence, to Speakeasy Dollhouse’s play The Bloody Beginning (a prohibition-themed play with audience participation) in Brooklyn, and the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island. The 1920s were outside the realm of my vintage sweet spot, the 1960s, so I checked out books and on-line images on 20s looks. And I had to sew! I tackled a black lace “flapper” dress with a silk slip and sash, and a cream-and-orange linen deco day dress.

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I also had a great time procuring 20s accessories to go with my dresses. A jadeite-green beaded purse, a long Peking glass beaded necklace, a pair of t-strap shoes, and the Jazz Age Lawn Party concessions just happen to be selling the perfect orange parasol to match my day dress ensemble.

I had a great time preparing to go to the east coast 20s events. I learned about 1920s style, how to sew lace and unraveling linen. I worried about the authenticity of the dresses I created since I tend to improvise away from original patterns. And in the end, I loved my new 20s dresses. I gingerly packed them into my suitcase and off I flew.

Which brings me to the title of the post. I’ll admit that I am often a bit at a loss as to what to actually do at vintage events. For 45 minutes or so, I immensely enjoy the people watching, admiring what everyone is wearing, the wonder of being in a room full of dressed-up people (it’s a rare occurrence in this day and age). I occasionally chat with other attendees about their dresses and suits – Did they find them at a local vintage shop? E-bay or Etsy? Sew them? Get them from Grandma or a great aunt? Everyone has a story about acquiring their best vintage garments. But these chats are brief – how much can one really connect over what we’re wearing?  We give one another the aesthetic appreciation that’s deserved for thoughtfully and creatively dressing, but it’s hard to know how to turn that into a more meaningful social connection.

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I think that I might feel different if I knew how to properly dance. The best place to be at the Jazz Age Lawn Party was dancing the Charleston or the Tango on the stage in front of Michael Arenella’s band – an area for dancer’s only. If I could dance and had brought a partner, I think  vintage events – whether the 1920s or a 1950s swing dance – would be a lot more socially engaging. At the Jazz Age Ball I attended in Providence, I had a great time with those who took the time to teach a woman with two left feet a few Charleston moves. How can you not smile and be happy to be alive dancing the Charleston?

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Maybe by next year, I’ll get some dance lessons under my belt and get the full vintage-themed experience!

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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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