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Posts Tagged ‘fashion history’

Several weeks ago a fashion colleague (and friend) of mine, Tyese Cooper contacted me and asked if she could interview me for her new blog post series. Of course I was happy to agree.

Based in Paris, Tyese is a sustainable fashion designer, business woman, and creative mentor/teacher. In her blog series, How to See, she talks to various artists and designers about creativity (I am honored to be included in this accomplished group).

On a certain day, Tyese and I successfully erased the time and miles between us by meeting on Zoom. Approaching the conversation in her own unique way, we began with the word start and what that word brings to mind. From there it was a wonderfully unexpected ride.

Click here to read my conversation with Tyese Cooper.

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We live surrounded by cloth. We are swaddled in it at birth and shrouds are drawn over our faces at death. And yet there persists a stubborn belief that clothing and cloth are frivolous subjects – unworthy of serious notice – despite their overwhelming importance to human evolution.

Kassia St. Clair, British journalist and author.

This is, in part, a quote by Ms. St. Clair from the inside jacket of her book The Golden Thread: How Fabric Change History (Liveright Publishing).

I’ve started off the new year with this book, dipping back into non-fiction after reading quite a lot of fiction in Pandemic 2020. Having taken a textiles class in 2017, some of the information in this book is a welcome refresher, but I’m learning new things too! Such as the Vikings used wool to fashion their ships’ sails. I’m looking forward to the chapter on lace and I’m very intrigued by “Rayon’s Dark Past.”

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OverDressedforLife wishes readers a Merry Christmas.

Take a break from the festivities tomorrow and tune in for the first day of The Twelve Days of Vintage Handbags.

Stay safe.

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Walking with The Muses is a compelling jaunt through the life of model Pat Cleveland, who hit the fashion runways when she was a teenager back in the late 1960s. Tall and strikingly attractive, she started modeling for Ebony and then went on the road with the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion show for African American women.

While pursuing a career in modeling, Ms. Cleveland was also studying fashion design and making her own clothing. As she bopped around her native New York City, her unique style caught the eye of a Vogue magazine editor. Even Bendel’s department store bought some of her clothing, but fashion design and clothes-making hit a snag when Ms. Cleveland was unable to provide her designs in multiple sizes. So it was full steam ahead into modeling.

She went on to create a successful career as a runway and print model in Europe and the US. But there were rocky times, including not getting hired initially because she wasn’t a blue-eyed blonde. (She got her start in the industry as a fit model.) There was a disturbing incident while traveling in the south with the Fashion Fair, sexual harassment, and a violent stepfather. Still, Ms. Cleveland didn’t allow anything to keep her down; she knew what she wanted and kept going, taking knocks along the way as well as enjoying quite a few unusual adventures. Her bright spirit and inner strength is an inspiration.

During her decades-long life as a model, she worked and partied with the likes of Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Karl Lagerfeld, Halston and even her long time crush – Warren Beatty. Each one of her encounters has a story and there’s where we find the fun. She worked for the biggies such as Valentino, Thierry Mugler, and de Givenchy and she became known for her signature way of walking the runway, which was part strut and part dance.

Along with Ms. Cleveland’s life, Walking with the Muses offers a peek into the world of mid-century fashion in all its splendor from mini-skirts to shoulder pads. A good read for those interested in fashion history or anyone just interested in reading about a fascinating life of a successful model.

I say this is an easy holiday gift choice.

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Photo: Charles Tracy

I’d learned to tailor from my mom, and that coat, with its forest-green satin lining, was our masterpiece. We defied any fashion-conscious person not to fall in love with it. Mom had taught me that when it comes to clothes, there’s no such think as timidity. The point is to show yourself off. My mom and my aunt had always done that; now it was my turn. If I could get people to love the clothes I made, then maybe my mom and aunt could have the fashion house they’d always fantasized about, like the ones my aunt saw when she was in Paris.

Pat Cleveland, American model.

This quote is from Ms. Cleveland’s memoir, Walking with the Muses (Atria Books), written by Ms. Cleveland with Lorraine Glennon.

These past few months I’ve been reading a lot of fiction, but my first love is biographies/memoirs, particularly of people in the fashion business. I had heard about Ms. Cleveland’s memoir on the fashion podcast Dressed. (If you don’t know about Dressed, you want to.)

Check back on Wednesday for my review of Walking with the Muses.

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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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