Monday, February 26, 2018

The Hidden History of American Fashion

Most fashion histories only discuss the most famous, innovative or avant garde fashion designers.  This leads to a sadly distorted picture of what fashionable women wore.  Only a tiny minority ever donned one of Poiret's lampshade tunics, or one of Jean-Paul Gaultier's cone bras.  The Hidden History of American Fashion corrects this view by concentrating on the less well-known  women designers who were the backbone of the American fashion industry in the 20th century.  Some designed for the high end of the market (Fira Beneson and Zelda Wynn Valdes) some for Main Street (Libby Payne) and some disappeared behind their labels (Jean Wright, aka "Lilli Ann" and Nicki Ladany, aka "Catherine Scott").   This book even contains chapters on a knitting pattern designer (Virginia Woods Bellamy) and two children's designers (Helen Lee and Suzanne Godart)!

No doubt this collection of essays is only skimming the surface of this fascinating topic.  Hopefully someone will dive deeper into these waters at a later date and tell us more about the people behind the fashion labels.  For the moment this book is amply sufficient: it explores some interesting and little known aspects of mid-century fashion history—one of my favourite eras!

The hidden history of American Fashion: rediscovering 20th century women designers
Edited by Nancy Deihl
London: Bloomsbury, 2018

Monday, June 22, 2015

Dance & Fashion

 All right, I'll confess--I found this book to be disappointing.  Your Mileage May Vary, of course, depending on whether you are  more interested in dance or fashion, for example.  Balletomanes will find a lot to appreciate in Dance & Fashion.

The first thing to note about this book is that it contains collection of articles based around the theme of "dance and fashion" rather than a single work.  It thus lacks a strong central narrative or argument.  The writers of the articles pick up different themes that interest them, and cover them in more or less detail.  The closest thing Dance & Fashion has to a structured narrative is the editor's introductory essay ("Dance & Fashion" by Valerie Steele).   The result is a book that has some topics over-represented (ballet shoes, say) while some are under-represented (Irene Castle only rates one brief mention?)

This leads me to my second niggle: Dance & Fashion mostly deals with dance in the form of High Art.  (Mary Davis' essay on Tangomania is a notable exception.)  And yet, dance also plays a major part in popular culture.  If we look at the history of fashion and dance and how they influenced one another we can find many examples in popular dance, from the stylised costumes of ballroom dancing to the polyester flares of the disco era.  I would have enjoyed reading this book more had this aspect of the topic also been discussed.

Dance & Fashion / edited by Valerie Steele

Yale University Press, 2013.
Published in conjunction with the exhibition at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology held Sept. 13, 2014-Jan. 3, 2015.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Fashion Supplement to The Tailor & Cutter, Autumn-Winter 1939-40


This little guide to gentlemen's tailored fashions has been sitting in my collection for years.   Since it was published at the very beginning of World War II, it includes pictures of RAF and (British) Army officers' uniforms.  Later in the war civilian men's clothing would be strictly regulated and rationed - so these dapper and generously cut outfits would be treasured items in the wardrobes of any men lucky enough to own them.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Koch & Co., Fall and Winter 1892-3

Next up for my Menswear Month, a page from a late Victorian catalog that includes pretty much everything a 19th century gentleman would want to wear - except evening dress!  Outfits include a "sack suit" (figure 2), the ancestor of the modern business suit, a "fancy English house coat" (figure 9), a "Bath Robe" (figure 10) and a "all wool tricot serge and velvet smoking jacket" (figure 11).

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Menswear ads from "Punch", 1974

I don't usually post pictures of men's fashions - but over the years I've accumulated a small stash of them.  So I've decided to make February 2013 a "menswear" themed month on my blog.  To kick off, I scanned these advertisements from 1974 issues of Punch:

I found a pile of these magazines for sale at a Lifeline Bookfair some years ago and couldn't resist buying them.  Not only were they going cheap, but the advertisements were as good as a scholarly thesis on middle-class consumers' desires in the 1970s.  They were a real little piece of social history!

And as you can also see from these advertisements I've just posted, they also demonstrate why the 1970s are known as "the decade taste forgot".  While not promoting the most extreme of seventies mens' fashions, there's plenty to wince at - from over-loud plaids, to over-wide ties, to ridiculously flared pants!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

National Bellas Hess Amazing Midsummer Sale catalog, 1946

Pretty summer dresses in cotton and rayon from National Bellas Hess.  Not much has changed, fashion-wise, since World War II ended a year earlier.  And as you flick through the catalog you can see evidence of an economy still hiccuping as it struggles to get on a peacetime footing.  A couple of pages have been overprinted with notices saying that the goods offered thereon were not available.  

Monday, January 28, 2013

Flair, September 1972

Still on the theme of summer...

Look what a difference less than a century makes!  Ninety-eight years after Peterson's published their picture of neck-to-ankle bathing gear, Flair featured this lightly clad beauty on its cover.  Inside she is described as wearing "an ankle length two-piece of floaty Marchioness voile" priced at $30.  Since $30 was a fairly expensive item in 1971, it's safe to say she was more likely to wear it to a party than lying around on the beach.