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Posts Tagged ‘fashion history’

When I was taking a fashion history course earlier this year, I was determined to avoid the Internet for any research I had to do. Why? Because I prefer books and thanks to the many fashion history books I’ve collected over the years, it was easy to keep the promise I made to myself.

One book I didn’t own (and it would have been quite handy) is 100 Years of Fashion by Cally Blackman (Laurence King Publishing, 2020).

Blackman, a fashion historian, university lecturer, and author, digs into fashion history from 1900 to circa 2000. She discusses high society, the everyday lady, designers, and all the trends from the S-Bend silhouette to Grunge.

The book is divided into two sections: 1901-1959 and 1960 onward, making the subject accessible for the serious student and the casual fashion admirer. Both sections include an overview of the fashion trends of each decade and the historical context for those trends. A complete index makes for quick and easy research.

Another reason I prefer fashion books to a search on the Internet is I can more easily study the provided photos. Similar to an exhibition catalogue the bulk of 100 Years of Fashion is photos and illustrations with captions. The over 400 images provide a visual documentation of twentieth century fashion history. Such examples are essential for fashion study, not to mention the eye candy factor.

The compact size of the book makes it a great choice to take on the road if attending a fashion conference or traveling to take a course (yes, one day the pandemic will be over).

I noticed while researching various fashion history topics that each book I went to offered a little different angle, giving me a more complete understanding. In other words, you cannot own too many books on fashion!

Books are on everyone’s gift list this year and 100 Years of Fashion is an excellent choice for anyone interested in fashion. Support your local independent book store! Most will special order whatever title you’re looking for.

Let the holiday shopping begin.

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Illustration by Nina Allender (1873-1957), American suffragist and political cartoonist.

Many suffragists spend more money on clothes than they can afford, rather than run the risk of being considered outré, and doing harm to the cause.

Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960) – British suffragist.

In the early twentieth century, British suffragists chose to forgo pushing against contemporary fashion with practical masculine looks that were targeted in the press. Instead, they embraced the current trends and presented a fashionable feminine image. It made the movement less odd, more attractive and it soon became fashionable to identify with Votes for Women.

In 1908, Emily Pethick-Lawrence came up with a fashion branding idea – three colors for suffragists to wear to show their allegiance to the movement: purple for loyalty, white for purity, and green for hope. Tricolor ribbons were used on hats, belts, and badges.

American suffragists, following the lead of their British sisters, also branded the movement with three colors, but they switched out green for gold to honor the sunflower used in the 1867 Kansas referendum campaign. They wore white dresses to stand out in a crowd against men’s dark suits.

VOTEVOTEVOTE VOTEVOTEVOTEVOTEVOTEVOTEVOTE

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Keeping up with my interest in historic clothing and layering, I decided to make a tabard.

Tabards date back to the Middle Ages and are like long vests, but with no sleeves and no side seams. Sometimes a tab of fabric might have been attached at the waist to connect the back and front panels. Monks wore tabards (pictured right) as did the military and later, servants. In the early 18th century, fashionable women sported tabards made of embellished luxurious fabrics such as velvet (see image at the bottom).

I like the look of tabards and fashioned my own out of a loose weave cotton. The simple silhouette isn’t hard to construct; I simply cut the fabric, sewed the two panels together at the shoulders, and finished the edges. The trickiest part was cutting the neckline and that’s not perfect, but luckily it doesn’t ruin the piece. What worked out really well are the tabs, bojagi tabs.

Bojagi is traditional Korean wrapping cloth made out of scraps of fabric. What was an every day necessity is now an art form and the bojagi technique of exposed hand stitching is used for much more than wrapping cloth. I thought the patchwork of color in a medium weight silk would make an interesting addition.

I’m not sure how I will sport my tabard, but I know I’ll have fun creating outfits.

NOTE: Please excuse any blips or inconsistences in the images or the font. WordPress has recently changed their editor platform, which is causing problems.

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When I was a kid growing up in San Francisco on the occasional Sunday afternoon my father and I would drive to Chinatown, park (because you still could), and walk around looking in all the shops. The stuff in the stores was fun to peruse but I was more captivated by the older Chinese people I saw strolling along Grant Street and the unique way they dressed. Their style was was bold and bright – mixing patterns with checks, layering unexpected color combinations such as red with yellow, and sporting something like my Mary Janes but made from black fabric (they looked so cute and comfortable).

Fast-forward quite a few years and not only is Chinatown style still thriving (with a new generation of older people), but we have a recently published book on the subject by photographer Andria Lo and journalist Valerie Luu, Chinatown Pretty: Chinatown’s Most Stylish Seniors (Chronicle Books, 2020).

As second generation Asian Americans, Lo and Luu have a shared fascination with the clothing of poh pohs (grandmas) and gung gungs (grandfathers) in San Francisco Chinatown. Curious about the people behind the clothes, they began to approach individuals on the street and ask how they put their outfits together. “The Chinatown seniors’ dress and demeanor,” the authors explain, “also reminded us of our own grandparents – their permed hair, their sock-and-sandal combinations, and the way their expressions could switch between extremely tough (and intimidating) and overwhelmingly affectionate.”

Their interest turned into a book, which covers six city Chinatowns – SF, Oakland, LA, Chicago, Manhattan, Vancouver, BC. – and dozens of stylin’ seniors. The people are as varied as the clothing with ages ranging from 60 to one woman over 100. Most immigrated decades ago from China or Vietnam, and they have worked as seamstresses, gardeners, store clerks, vendors, accounts, and social workers. Each person featured shares a lot or very little of their story and the authors say that 90 percent of the people they approached declined to be photographed or interviewed.

A theme among those featured was that their style is unintentional. They just wear what they have, some of it vintage, some hand-me-downs or purchased on sale. “At my age we don’t care about fashion,” says Show Chun Change from Vancouver Chinatown. “We just wear what’s comfortable.” How it’s all put together is more of a practical consideration, such as layering to keep out the cold. One gentleman had hand stitched several hats together for warmth and another used safety pins to close a buttonless vest, which made for a very cool look. I love that their style came from their ingenuity. (See slideshow.)

Several among the group do dress with intention. Anna Lee is in her 90s and immigrated from Hong Kong to Canada in 1989. She worked as an accountant and a social worker and although now retired she still enjoys dressing well in her custom-made dresses, high-waisted pants, and silk blouses, all accessorized with beaded necklaces she makes herself. (See first picture in slideshow.)

Another woman’s more artistic flair reminded me of the Advanced Style set, a group of older women in NYC who have become style superstars thanks to photographer Ari Seth Cohen. Dorothy G.C. Quock (called Polka Dot), 75, was born and still lives in SF Chinatown and works as a tour guide there. (See picture nine in the slideshow.) Growing up, Polka Dot spent a lot of time where her mother worked as a seamstress at the sweatshop that manufactured Levi’s:

As a preschooler, she got her first experience trimming thread ends. In second grade, she learned how to use an embosser to stamp the Levi’s logo onto the leather tag. At age ten, she mastered the buttonhole, which appeared on Levi’s before zippers became the norm.

I enjoyed the glimpses into these people’s lives and I also appreciated that the authors included a brief history of each of the six Chinatowns.

Chinatown Pretty is a fun read, a visual treat, and important documentation of an overlooked segment of fashion history.

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No one can face a crisis unless they are suitably clad.

Louise Cray, fictional character from the mystery novel Madam, Will You Talk? By Mary Stewart.

I enjoy a good mystery and I recently discovered a new-to-me mystery author, Mary Stewart (1916-2014). Apparently her books were categorized Mystery/Romance back in the day, but don’t let the romance part put you off. There is just a touch of romance; the focus is the independent female protagonist and the mystery she is there to solve, not to mention all the adventures she has along the way.

Madam, Will You Talk? was published in 1955 and I recently happened upon a BBC radio dramatized version. Click here to listen.

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court… Henrietta handed over the queen’s garments, one by one, to the more important Lady of the Bedchamber, who then gave them to the queen. Mary Cowper explained how the dance of dressing commenced: ‘the Duchess of St. Albans put on the Princess’s shift, according to court rules.’ Another ex- member of the bedchamber staff likewise recalled that ‘the Bedchamber Woman gave the fan to the Lady,’ who then handed it to the queen. These nuances of role between the ‘Lady’ and the ‘Woman’ were considered to be of cut-throat importance. 

Lucy Worsley, British historian and chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces.

This quote is from Ms. Worsley’s book, The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace (Walker & Co.). Henrietta was A Woman of the Bedchamber for Princess Caroline (later queen) in the court of George I, 1714-1727.

The Courtiers is a look at court life during the Georgian period (1714-1760), which was by no means easy or even glamorous. The center of court was at that time Kensington Palace (eventually the home of Diana, Princess of Wales) and there was much strife between King George I and his son, George II as well as among the dozens of courtiers, who lived at the beck and call of the royal family. If you’re an Anglophile like me and enjoy good stories, this book is a fun read. I also appreciate the closer look at the first two King Georges (from Germany). A great way to learn British history.

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One of the assignments in the fashion history class I recently completed was to find historical fashion references in current fashion. In magazines I looked for examples covering ancient clothing to the 20th century and matched with historical images from books, plus I had to write a comment.

The late 20th Century: Mini-Dress

late20thC

The simple silhouette, high waist and short hem of Michael Kors design revisits (yet again) the mini-skirt fad of the 1960s. (Additionally Kors use of brocade fabric and jeweled embellishment feels a bit 18th century Baroque.)

Of course I love the matching hat! Plus you can’t see very well, but the mules are made of the same dress fabric. Go matchy, matchy!

This is the final installment of Finding Historical Fashion Today. I hope ODFL readers enjoyed the series. If the stats are any indication, you did.

There will be more historical fashion posts in the future. Stay tuned.

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maryQ

Mary Quant. Illustration by Zoe Taylor. From Selvedge magazine.

Miss Mary Quant – how could I have imagined a career in fashion without Mary Quant? She created the miniskirt for heaven’s sake. Forgive me – where would Topshop be without her? She also created the idea of Saturday night dressing, making things ‘upstairs’ that literally came off the machine and into her King’s Road shop that day in order to serve her adoring fans’ weekend characters. 

Luella Bartley, English fashion designer and fashion journalist.

This quote is from the May/June 2011 issue of Selvedge magazine. The theme of this issue is all things Britannia and Ms. Bartley was asked to choose six women who reflect the British unique and quirky sense of style.

Mary Quant was on her list. Check back for some of the others in the weeks to come.

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One of the assignments in the fashion history class I recently completed was to find historical fashion references in current fashion. In magazines I looked for examples covering ancient clothing to the 20th century and matched with historical images from books, plus I had to write a comment.

We’ve reached the 20th century: Blouse and skirt.

 

20thC

Hedi Slimane for Celine is channeling the independent woman of the nineteen-teens. His blouse with high collar, lace, and long sleeves paired with a long simple skirt says college co-ed or suffragette, or both!

20C2

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One of the assignments in the fashion history class I recently completed was to find historical fashion references in current fashion. In magazines I looked for examples covering ancient clothing to the 20th century and matched with historical images from books, plus I had to write a comment.

Gotta love those extreme sleeves of the Late 19th Century.

puffsleeves

Over-sized puffy sleeves on this otherwise simple cotton dress is the descendant of the Leg of Mutton Sleeve, which enjoyed a revival in the 1890s after its debut in the early part of the century.

By the 1890s hoops and bustles were out of fashion. As women were becoming more independent, some fighting for the right to vote, they needed to get around more easily. Simpler skirts paired with shirtwaists (blouses) were the look and when the skirts narrowed, the sleeves expanded.

lom.sleeves

A tailor-made with leg-of-mutton sleeves. c.1895. Image from Survey of Historic Costume (Fairchild Books).

 

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