Exaggerated Mexican Pointed Toe Cowboy Boots – A Medieval Menswear Revival?

Photo of Matehualan youths by Edith Valle

I’m sure it would be no great challenge for Worn Through readers to call to mind some extreme feminine fashions that both epitomise their eras, and have enjoyed occasional recurrences in modern styles. A corset here, a leg’o’mutton sleeve there, whether as an ironic homage or adapted “improved” new version. However, it is a bit more difficult to cite similar examples of historic men’s fashions that see similar revivals. Mainly because while womenswear changes swiftly and recylcles even some of the most abhorrent fashion traits, menswear largely errs on the side of caution.  It would be fair to say we do not expect the cod piece or slash-and-puff breeches to make a strong comeback any time soon – or at all.  However, we may need to change our minds after learning more about a “micro-trend” of the moment in Matehuala, Mexico, that sees young men sporting highly decorative cowboys boots with extremely long and pointed toes. This story was reported widely in the mainstream media of the UK this week and The Guardian online featured a slideshow photo essay of the shoes.  Despite all the somewhat mocking media attention,  the similarity of these hyperbolic contemporary shoes to the poulaines of Medieval Europe has been largely unexplored except by referring to them as ‘jester shoes.’

15th Century image of a nobleman wearing poulaines

Indeed these shoes resemble both aesthetically, and ideologically to some extent , the long-toed poulaines or krackowes that were sported largely by fashionable English men in the fifteenth century.

15th century print of English footwear

Then as now, the length and shape of these shoes was a sign of male virility, and in both moments, the shoes are paired with form-fitting trousers (medieval woven leggings vs. skinny jeans) to further emphasize the length of the toes.

Poulaine, late 14th century, in the collection of the Museum of London

This is an exciting development for aficionadoes and researchers of both historic and contemporary subcultural fashion, and in my somewhat brief investigation on the topic online, I find the topic resplendent with points for discourse and discovery.

Not only the link with history, but also the rise and dissemination of a relatively obscure trend as made possible by internet technology is fascinating.  The video below gives a concise overview of the trend and its links with music and dance fads and presents the phenomenon through interviews with the wearers and makers of the shoes.  There are many fantastic examples of the shoes in the film and opportunities to see them in motion at dance competitions and in clubs.  It made me wonder what the medieval poulaines would have looked like whizzing across the hall at court banquets, but alas, we must use our imaginations where YouTube is sure to fail us.

Watch Behind the Seams featurette on the boots!

After watching this video, I felt certain that this is a worthy topic for a PhD, or at least an in-depth journal article or lecture. (Although with over 100,000 views so far, I am surely not the first to receive this inspiration!)   After watching it the second time, I thought that booking a trip to Mexico to see the shoes up close, and to experience the excitement of the dances would surely be necessary, and started looking for affordable tickets.  I queued up the video a third time, but got distracted by doodling myself a design for a pair in purple metallic leather encrusted with black Swarovski crystals….

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Book Review: Dress and Identity in British Literary Culture, 1870-1914

Dress and Identity in British Literary Culture, 1870-1914

By Rosy Aindow

Ashgate (October 2010)

Book Review by Sara Bernstein

Today’s book review comes from Sara Tatyana Bernstein, whom I was lucky enough to meet at graduate school (NYU, 2004).   She is a Doctoral Candidate in Cultural Studies at UC Davis, currently completing her dissertation, ‘From Little Black Dress to Little Blue Vest: Fashion, Film and the shifting Position of the American Shopgirl.’ Her essay “In this same gown of shadow: Functions of Fashion in Villette” is included in the collection The Brontës in the World of the Arts (Ashgate 2008).

The relationship between fashion and literature has held a special fascination for scholars for many years, but the last decade has seen a marked increase in works on this topic. Alongside “old chestnuts” by Lou Taylor and Anne Hollander we now find, for example, books by Clair Hughes (Henry James and the Art of Dress, Palgrave 2001, Dressed in Fiction, Berg 2005), Catherine Spooner (Fashioning Gothic Bodies, Manchester UP 2004), as well a new edited collection Fashion in Fiction (Berg 2009) inspired by a conference of the same name held in Sydney in 2007. Rosy Aindow’s Dress and Identity in British Literary Culture, 1870 – 1914 is a welcome addition to this growing area of study.

As Aindow explains in her introduction, whereas the bulk of this scholarship has focused on a close reading of clothing within a particular text or within texts by a single author, her aim is to look more broadly at the role fashion played in the “literary culture” of late 19th/early 20th century Britain. Working from the generally accepted premise that the novel negotiated specifically bourgeois values and concerns, Aindow finds patterns across a wider sampling of texts to illustrate the anxieties that the increased dissemination of fashionable clothing generated among the upper middle class. Aindow explores how fashion works as a set, especially of class and sexual codes, the knowledge of which was a tool for differentiating among an increasingly affluent, but not necessarily bourgeois population. Of course, fashion was also a tool for blurring the same boundaries. Drawing heavily from authors such as Wilkie Collins, George Gissing, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell and Thomas Hardy, Aindow seems to suggest that in the end, most of these narratives used “fashionable” characters (usually women) to map and contain the threat of class mobility and sexual liberation that fashionable clothing was thought to engender.

On the whole, this book may be more useful to literary than fashion scholars. The first two chapters, “The Function of Dress in the Novel” and “Development and Innovation in the Nineteenth-century Fashion Industry” are well -researched, concise summaries and read easily. However, if you aren’t already familiar with the history of the fashion industry, the development of consumer culture, and common assumptions surrounding fashion and social class at the time, there are better texts available on these subjects (off the top of my head; Elizabeth Wilson’s Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity, Daniel Purdy’s The Rise of Fashion, anything by Christopher Breward, Simmel’s Die Mode, Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, etc. etc.). That Aindow found it necessary to include such an extensive overview of fashion, while leaving her assumptions about the value and ideology of the novel unexamined, suggests to me that her imagined audience has spent more time reading, for example Ian Watt (The Rise of the Novel, 1957) than Herbert Blumer (Fashion: From Class Differentiation to Collective Selection, 1969).

That said, chapters four and five, “Fashion and the Art of (Class) Deception” and “Needlewomen and Shop Girls in Nineteenth-century Fiction” are very strong and will probably find their way into my own bibliographies. Of particular interest is Aindow’s discussion in chapter four of the use of dress color as a marker of class and sexual morality in the years following the widespread availability of aniline dyes. Women working in the fashion industry, as seamstresses, milliners, shop girls, etc. were the focus of special attention by novelists and social critics during this time, because of their ambiguous class position, their perceived vulnerability/accessibility, their role as both producers and consumers, etc.  Analyzing a range of texts that focus on the dangers of constant proximity to fashion by the under-classes, Aindow does an excellent job of situating these works of fiction in the context of broader socio-economic concerns.

There is much to appreciate about this book, but I do have some criticisms. For one thing, I am puzzled that a book about British culture from 1870 to 1914 did not contain the words “Empire”, or “Imperialism” anywhere. I don’t think that this is outside the purview of the text, considering that the shifting economy that is at the heart of this analysis would not have been possible without the extraction of raw materials from the colonies, and that textile production is such a storied and integral part of the rise industrialization and British Imperial power, not to mention British national identity.

This leads me to my main critique. I wish that instead of using the first third of the book essentially to summarize and survey previous scholarship, Aindow had used the space to push her own arguments further. For example to complicate it by considering the other issues that overlap with class and gender, such as national identity; or to introduce into her schema depictions of the girls who worked in cotton mills. In other words, while I would never fault a book for being to short (this one is a manageable 154 pages), my primary disappointment is that there is not enough of Aindow’s analysis. But what is there is quite good.

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Fashion Bytes

Image via Getty Images

“What is often lost in translation here is that unveiling does not always signal freedom, democracy, modernity, women’s rights, whatever — even if it might gesture toward these things in this particular moment. And there is no reason to believe that ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ should necessarily –or even ideally– look identical to Western discourses or practices of them.” – Mimi Thi Nguyen, 13 June 2009

Back in December 2009 NPR’s All Things Considered had a piece on the shift in Baghdad fashions from hijab and abaya to more “Western” fashions, representing the increased freedom Iraqi women were now experiencing. Threadbared wrote about the piece at the time, also citing a June NYT article of that year on the same topic, criticizing the US news’ skewed perspective on the situation — that neither article mentions that it did not become dangerous for women to go without the traditional head-coverings until the American invasion in 2003.

But Threadbared’s analysis raises another question: why does western fashion and western fashion alone seem to represent freedom?  This ties in with our previous Fashion Byte on the French burqa ban, and Lucy’s article about international fashion and patriotism. Is it possible that a woman choosing to wear traditional garb — whatever its origins — is actually demonstrating more freedom and independence by defying the pressure to conform to western aesthetics than those who conform? Is it simply evidence of freedom of dress that women even have the choice?

With the Arab Spring, the recent news about bin Laden and the ongoing conflicts in Libya, Syria and Egypt our news is flooded with images of the Arab world.  Do you agree that the news we are given is biased or skewed, and if so, do you think it is justified?  Do you feel that there needs to be change in what our perceptions of freedom of dress are?

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CFP: SUSTAINABILITY MARKETING CLAIMS AND CONSUMER BEHAVIOR

Current Issue Cover

Call For Manuscripts
Focused Special Issue of the Clothing and Textiles Research Journal (CTRJ)
SUSTAINABILITY MARKETING CLAIMS AND CONSUMER BEHAVIOR
Editors:
Dr. Jung Ha-Brookshire, University of Missouri, habrookshirej@missouri.edu
Dr. Laurel Wilson, University of Missouri, wilsonl@missouri.edu

The purpose of the focused issue is to encourage research and to provide a specific outlet for researchers to share empirical findings concerning sustainability-related labels, claims, and indices and consumer behavior. As consumers’ awareness in sustainability rises, businesses have been busy with supplying information related to green, eco-friendly, and sustainability-related claims, labels, and/or indices (Sustainability Marketing Claims hereafter). For example, Wal-Mart announced in 2009 that they would develop a worldwide Sustainability Index. The U.S. Outdoor Industry Association and the European Outdoor Group have also launched the Eco IndexTM initiative. Inspection businesses, such as Intertek and Bureau Veri-tas, offer their own sustainability certification services. Similarly, NSF International and the Public Health and Safety CompanyTM have various certification programs in product assessment, process verification, and standard development categories. Although important, these efforts are highly fragmented and product-/industry-specific, leaving consumers ever more confused as to which labels or indices are truly beneficial to the environment and society.

In response to this chaos, on July 15, 2008, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hosted a workshop to examine developments in green building and textiles claims and consumer perception of such claims. In the opening remarks of the “Eco in the Market: Green Building and Textiles” session, the FTC chairman, William Kovacic (now a FTC commissioner) emphasized that today’s consumers have greater awareness and preference for different types of products and services, demanding green and sustainable services and products. However, he said, due to many different types of green or environmental claims and labels available in today’s marketplace, consumers’ confidence about the legitimacy of such claims and labels are in jeopardy. Throughout the workshop, a host of panelists, including representatives of the Organic Trade Association, Patagonia, the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, Consumer Reports, Cotton Incorporated, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection also agreed that they would like to see improved labeling guidelines and policies from the FTC based on solid, peer-reviewed, objective research findings about consumer perceptions and behavior. To help answer these questions, we call for research manuscripts sharing findings concerning sustainability-related labels, claims, and indices and consumer behavior and perceptions. Country of origin labeling is also considered sustainability-related as many of today’s consumers use such information to help domestic or other country’s economies. Research findings from quantitative, qualitative, or mixed method approaches are welcome.

We will follow CTRJ’s existing style guidelines and review procedures (blind review). We will also require electronic submissions through manuscript central (http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/ctrj). Guidelines are outlined in the Guide for Authors inside the cover of CTRJ and online through the ITAA website.  Reviewers will be selected from the list of the CTRJ editorial board and an ad-hoc list of reviewers.

Submission Deadline:  September 15, 2011

Please contact the Editors if you have any questions.

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Balenciaga and Spain: Exhibition Review

Pictured above:  Pink silk taffeta evening dress, Winter 1957, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York, worn and given by Mrs. Peter Baumberger

Open now through June 17th at San Francisco’s deYoung Museum is the exhibition Balenciaga and Spain, curated by Vogue magazine European editor-at-large Hamish Bowles.  Showcasing about 130 pieces from a variety of sources around the world, including 19 from Bowles’s private collection, the exhibition focuses on the Parisian years (1938-1968) of Cristobál Balenciaga’s career as a couturier who drew inspiration from Spanish regional folk dress, the bull fight, dance (especially flamenco), the Catholic church, and Spanish royal court dress of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Pictured above:  Left:  Evening dress, Summer 1962, Brown silk gauze by Sekers, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Florence Van Der Kemp.  Right:  Eisa Evening dress, Winter 1952, Black wool jersey by H. Moreau et Cie, brown tulle by Combier, ivory silk flower, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. T.Wynyard Pasley.

This show, preceded by a much smaller exhibition at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute in New York City, which Oscar de la Renta asked Bowles to curate (of which you can find a beautiful review at Habitually Chic), and a 2006-7 show at the Paris Musee de la Mode et du Textile, is the latest dress exhibition at the deYoung Museum.

As visitors enter the exhibit, they are met by the 1957 pink silk taffeta dress pictured at the top of this post, at the entry to a corridor of black dresses, day outfits and day suits, dating from 1938 at the earliest to the 1960s.  Bowles explained that with this display it was his intention to illustrate how timeless Balenciaga’s designs were, in that dresses from the 1940s could look equally at home with dresses from the 1960s.

Following the phalanx of black, visitors are dazzled by an array of bold, bright color.  In one display:  Reds, yellows, day suits, evening dress, cocktail dress.  In vitrines, dresses inspired by Miro, and more, in jewel-box colors, crafted from silk gazar, highlighting Balenciaga’s talent with the structure of fabrics.  As Bowles related, Balenciaga clients described how surprisingly comfortable his elaborate dresses were to wear, in contrast to Dior’s designs of the post-war period, whose gowns could be equally dramatic, but required elaborate underpinnings and internal construction, elements not utilized by Balenciaga to the same degrees.  Balenciaga instead used his ability for working with the fabrics themselves, relying on their inborn properties to create shape, using very precise draping and sculpting techniques, and allowing the dresses to do the work typically done by foundation garments.

Pictured above: Right: Evening ensemble with romper and bolero jacket,Winter 1960, Black silk charmeuse, pink silk faille, pink silk pampilles, transparent beads, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Baroness Philippe de Rothschild.

Pictured above:  Evening dress, Summer 1951,White silk, black beaded embellishment, Collection of Sandy Schreier

Pictured above:  Left:  Tunic, Summer 1964, Ivory linen, The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, gift of Givenchy, Inc.; Right:  Dinner dress, Winter 1953, Black silk satin with chiné print of white polka dots by Petillault, Collection of Sandy Schreier.

In the main room of the gallery, the exhibit is arranged by theme:  Dance, bullfight, regional dress, religious life, and the Spanish royal court, some examples of which are pictured above.

Pictured above:  Balenciaga’s Infanta gown of 1939,  and Las meninas, by Velázquez, 1656.

Featured in the exhibition is Balenciaga’s 1939 Infanta evening dress, inspired, like many of Balenciaga’s works, by the seventeenth-century paintings of Diego Velázquez, official court painter of King Philip IV of Spain.  Be sure to examine the left shoulder of the Infanta gown closely.  The dress on display is a working toile and there are some visible stitches to be seen.

The criticisms that I have are few: some items, particularly those that were spangled and sparkly, with elaborate back interest, would have been shown to better advantage if they had been slowly rotating, like the sequined Van Gogh jackets in the deYoung’s Yves Saint Laurent exhibition of 2008.  There was also a regal purple silk evening dress from 1961, in the ‘religious life’ inspired designs, which was hidden and easy to overlook, because of its darker color and placement near the back, behind other garments.

I found Hamish Bowles a delight to speak with. Click here to see my video of his responses to a few questions I was lucky to present him (follow the link to also see my videos of the exhibition, which I was unable to embed in this post).  If you, like me are a Hamish Bowles fan, you will also enjoy listening to this hour-long interview about the exhibition, on San Francisco’s public radio station, KQED, from March 22, 2011.

Overall, I found this exhibition to be yet another must-see show, as many have come to expect from the deYoung in recent years.  Balenciaga’s designs are timeless and stunning in their elegance, and Bowles’s work as curator tells Balenciaga’s story beautifully.  This show is not to be missed.

June 17th, Picasso and Balenciaga at the deYoung

Coming to the deYoung Museum June 17, 2011, is a special lecture on Balenciaga and Picasso, tied in to the Picasso exhibition which opens June 11. ‘Spaniards in France: Cristóbal Balenciaga and Pablo Picasso’ by Dr. James Housefield, scholar of modern art and design, University of California, Davis, is scheduled for June 17, 2011 – 7:00 pm, and is free and open to the public.  For more information, visit the event page on the deYoung Museum’s web site.

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Behind the Scenes: ‘Washed Up’ at Selfridge’s Project Ocean

Lobster Hat by Philip Treacy for Lady Gaga, 2010

I’m sure there are many fans of the 1987 film Mannequin reading this.  Or if not fans, then at least a population familiar with the quintessentially 1980s comedy starring Kim Cattrall as an Ancient Egyptian who travels forward in time to become a store mannequin in New York City. A twentieth century take on Pygmalion, with plenty of camp, musical montages and shoulder pads.  If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it as both a fashion scholar and former ten year old with dreams of someday being a window dresser at a glamorous department store.

Selfridge's entrance, Oxford Street

This weekend over two all night sessions at Selfridge’s installing Washed Up, an installation exhibition by curator Judith Clark, my long-held dream of being in a retail mecca long after closing time came to life.  And over the course of many long hours and last minute decisions, some mannequins were brought to life as well – although not in quite the same way as Kim Cattrall back in ’87.

All humour and frolic aside, Washed Up is an eloquent, haunting and beautiful exhibition that privileges viewers to consider ‘fashion’s debt to the ocean’ and in turn to act in ways that respect the ocean’s importance to human life.  As part of Selfridge’s storewide Project Ocean, it is one of many creative projects taking place instore that bring social consciousness into the sphere of consumer excess. The exhibition features clothing and accessories both historic and contemporary that were inspired by or evoke the ocean and its denizens.  For Judith this was  ‘a rare opportunity for a curator of dress to be able to draw attention of such great political importance and urgency,’ and for visitors Washed Up provides a space for meditation and education about ocean ecology.

Hussein Chalayan bubble dress SS2006 in the corner window installation

The exhibit comprises both a series of Selfridge’s store windows on Oxford Street, and the interior space known as the Concept Store, adjacent to the Wonder Room, an enclave of fine jewelry and timepieces.  Overall, Washed Up appears as an aberration in space and time: a 19th century scientific museum on a beach of dead bleached corals. Visitors journey along a vaguely spiralling boardwork of weathered timbers amidst a labyrinth of “antique” museum showcases.  In the cases mannequins seem suspended as in aquariums, donning a rich array of ocean inspired fashions. A series of historic bathing and walking garments greet us at the foot of the boardwalk, and look out over a treasure chest of fashion. From Alexander McQueen’s Plato’s Atlantis, to Lady Gaga’s lobster hat to a remarkable octopus dress entirely created via 3d printing, the exhibit intrigues and delights. The garments are presented conceptually as an homage to Ernst Haeckel, a 19th century German naturalist known for his engravings of ocean life.

Sea anemones from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur (Art forms of Nature) of 1904

Each dress is accompanied by a text panel relating the imagery to Haeckel’s research and the concept of the invisible made visible with which his work engaged.

19th century beach walking dresses awaiting installation

As an assistant to Judith Clark, I was invited to participate in the research and installation of Washed Up, and thus had an insight into the invisible worlds of department stores overnight, and of a fashion curator at work. While teams of set builders fabricated and installed the boardwalk and fixtures, Judith’s team of students and emerging fashion curators assembled, dressed and arranged the mannequins, and laid down thousands of corals on the temporary beach on Oxford Street.

Mannequins awaiting installation, with custom hemp rope wigs by Angelo Seminara

The experience was surreal and yet extremely logical.  With precision and skill the tasks were carried out, in all instances carried aloft by the strength and beauty of the idea behind the project and the exhibition.  Like Tove did with her post on shoes, I must admit bias. As an “insider” to the project, I inevitably sing its praises.  But in this case, who can deny that fashion is exhibiting its power to be a thing of both beauty and intelligence, with the voice of the curator turning the message into a siren’s call, both irresistible and alarming.

Installation view of exhibition in progress

Project Ocean runs storewide at Selfidge’s until June 12, 2011 with a calendar of events including film screenings, cooking tutorials, art installations and talks. Selfridge’s has partnered with more than 20 environmental and conservation groups to ‘celebrate the beauty of the ocean, highlight the issue of over-fishing, help us all understand the threats to the ocean and make positive choices about the right fish to buy and eat.’ The project heralds Selfridge’s policy not to sell any endangered marine life in their foodhall and restaurants, and proceeds from related merchandise benefit the Zoological Society of London.

As more images and the Washed Up catalog become available I will update this post.  If you visit the exhibition or other events during Project Ocean, please do post your comments!

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Book Review: Glamour (new in paperback)

Katie Netherton earned her Masters degree from New York University in Material Culture: Costume Studies in 2002. Most recently she has worked on the historic documentation project at the Brooklyn Museum, and is currently an independent costume historian working with the Gordon Conway archive at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin.

Book: Glamour: Women, History, Feminism

Author: Carol Dyhouse

Book Review by: Katie Netherton

Carol Dyhouse, author of Glamour, is a Professor of History at the University of Sussex, and trained as a social historian and educator. She is not a fashion historian. If the reader is a fashion historian, and knows this before reading, it will be an easier read.

That said, her book ambitiously endeavors to trace the history of the meaning of “glamour,” beginning in 1900 and continuing to the 1990s. She begins by issuing a disclaimer of sorts, that the book is a broad study and is not meant to provide expertise on any one particular subject (p.5). This addition was definitely needed, because as you read, there can be a rather disjointed feeling at times, as if too much ground is trying to be covered in 168 pages of writing. Despite its lofty goal, the book is entertaining, informative and well illustrated. By tracking the use of “glamour” in marketing campaigns by several fashion-related industries, such as fur and perfume, Dyhouse proves how the concept changes according to societal influences and mores. The author also uses actresses and musicians, many of them British, as contemporary examples of the current idea of glamour from each time.

The reader also learns interesting factoids about the industries Dyhouse uses as her examples. For instance, many cosmetics companies used interesting names for their products to communicate to the customer that if they used it, they too would be glamorous. Some of these products, like “Cherries in the Snow”, a lipstick introduced by Revlon in 1953, are still sold today. In fact, I was inspired to buy a tube after reading this book, mainly because I was reminded of the advertising campaign, which touts that if you wear this certain “madly voluptuous” shade, you are as “strange and unexpected as cherries in the snow.” Brilliant!

The book is organized chronologically into chapters that explore how glamour manifested itself in specific time periods. Chapter one begins in 1900 and continues to the late 1920s. In the 19th century, “glamour” carried a negative connotation, and was linked to danger and women who exuded some sort of evil quality, like witches or sirens. With a new century, “glamour” suddenly meant something more positive, although still mysterious and definitely still a description for sexual allure. In chapters 2-3, the idea of “glamour” and how it is expressed through film is tackled. In the era of black and white film, the costume had to translate certain qualities without the benefit of color. Shiny silks and lame cut on the bias, iridescent black coq feathers, luminescent pearls, wispy ostrich feathers, stark red lips against a creamy complexion. Many provocative photographs from film are used to illustrate this point. Glamour as shown on screen by actresses like Marlene Dietrich, was a quality for everyday people to strive to emulate.

Chapter 4 picks up after World War II, as a new surge in femininity arrives with the wasp-waisted New Look and an upsweep in the couture industry. The idea of glamour changed from woman as sultry to princess. As a counter-point, however, pin-ups were popular in men’s magazines, as a by-product of the war. Therefore, women were either seen as perfect and somewhat unattainable, or as sex objects.

In the 1960s, especially in Britain, there was a rise in street style. Young people carved out their own style without leaning on what their parents prescribed. Magazines featured musicians and rock stars alongside actors, especially the newer publications that catered to a younger market. In Britain, models such as Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton exemplified the youth culture, with their wide-eyed expressions and youthful, stick-thin bodies. Glamour at this time was considered too sophisticated, and accessories such as fur were equated with older, less independent, women. Feminism was also on the rise, and with the publication of books such as Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl in 1962, and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963, glamour and fashion were sometimes seen as anathema to the independent woman, a repression of a new found power.

In chapter 6, the reader arrives in the 1970s-‘80s, and the rise of a woman who was more socially, financially and sexually powerful. Women had their own money to spend–one no longer had to depend on a man to buy her an expensive sable or mink. In the 1990s, celebrities, especially what they were wearing, became an obsession. Dyhouse singles out Princess Diana and Madonna as examples of this cult of celebrity phenomenon.

The last chapter, called “Perspectives and Reflections,” wraps up the book by giving Dyhouse’s thoughts and theories on what glamour means today. In summation, she writes that glamour is about “fantasy, desire and longing,” as well as “aspiration.” (p. 162-3).  No matter what time period, the word “maintains its power of suggestion, a connection with the dreams of the past.” (p.168).

The nuts and bolts of the book include an extensive notes section and bibliography, as well as an index, which is helpful to researchers. In essence, I feel that the target audience is mainly other social historians; however, a fashion historian like myself must always look to what else was happening in the world, in other industries, and in other countries to fully understand a trend or even a specific design.

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Shoe Factories and Lost Opportunities

Though I don’t generally think of myself as a shoe fetishist, I do have a soft spot in my heart for Fluevogs. In their latest e-newsletter was a video of a Fluevog shoe being made (I must add the disclaimer that though I truly love Fluevogs, I truly hate the style in this particular vignette):

I have loved seeing the process of how things are made since I was a kid. Perhaps Mr. Rogers’ segment How People Make Things had something to do with it; in addition to the crayon factory (sooo many pretty pretty colors!), Mr. McFeely (the friendly postman) narrated how shoes are made in a factory. I do believe the shoes we see being made are the blue canvas Keds Mr. Rogers was known for slipping into. Go to How People Make Things and select the How People Make Sneakers video to see for yourself.

Though I’m mesmerized by the intricate process of shoe-making (it typically takes more than 100 steps to compose a shoe), I think it’s worth noting that these educational videos do not mention the mostly brown hands toiling with this fussy process, inhaling toxic glues, probably under-paid and over-worked. I can understand why Fluevog wouldn’t address this in their promotional video, but I feel Mr. Rogers missed an opportunity to discuss labor rights and exploitation (see my post on factory exploitation). The closest he gets is when he observes “she works so quickly!” and “She’s so careful!” So close, Fred. So close.

I think there are a lot of similar lost opportunities when viewing the arts and fashion as abstracted expressions of “genius,” emotion, or even kitsch: though a work of art may indeed be these things, these adjectives minimize the historical contexts and forces beyond the control of any particular artist / designer that inevitably are captured in works. That’s why I was so excited to attend the D-Crit conference last week– this two-year-old program within the New School is devoted to the serious analysis of design in all forms. These are my peeps! And yet there were at least two instances where speakers referred lightly to fashion as frivolous and superficial. This was not the thrust of any grand argument, but it was shocking to me in its carelessness– uttered by two people who are intellectually devoted to the study of design, fashion still gets short shrift when in proximity to architecture, branding, and even audio design elements. I know I’m speaking to a converted audience here, but this was a reminder that even within the arts, fashion and apparel are denigrated. Art and design are powerful teaching / learning tools precisely because they touch every aspect of the human existence, and I just hope a thoughtful, critical approach is taken when discussing things as seemingly benign, or captivating, as a shoe factory video.

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Fashion Bytes

The Guardian had an article on Sunday about the effect budget cuts to education in Britain are having on schools’ abilities to fund museum trips for their students.  Since the museums cited within the article — The Natural History Museum, for example — only charge entrance fees for special exhibits, what the schools are struggling to fund is transportation and the pay of substitute teachers who must instruct the students left behind.

The situation is no doubt worse in the United States and the rest of the world where entrance fees for the entire museum as well as special exhibits are charged.  There are of course discounted rates for groups, students and children, but with education and museum budgets being deeply slashed they may not be enough to enable both to continue previous enhanced curricular activities.  As museum and educational professionals, this news is extremely worrying. However, it is not being covered in mainstream American media.

Are there any articles you have come across either about decreases in school visits, or about museums and schools that are finding innovative ways to still give such opportunities to their students? Do you think that the lack of coverage is due to cultural differences, or that coverage is being lost in the plethora of news about budget cuts and deficits? Have you or anyone you know experienced the effects of these budget cuts, either as a teacher or from the perspective of the museum?

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CFP: Significance of Color in the Humanities and Social Sciences

 

Feb. 24-26, 2012
North Georgia College and State University
Dahlonega, GA

For most of us colors are ubiquitous in our lives, from colorful language to the natural and material worlds that we inhabit and (re)create. Colors are used to persuade consumers, or to affect our mood. But they can also become symbols in political and social struggle, from international relations to the envisioning of different futures for our society. From Le Rouge et le Noir, the thin red line, to the color-line, colorblind society, and the Green Revolution. This interdisciplinary conference wants to see how we attach (or have attached) importance to colors.

Does how we conceive of color(s), now or in the past, tell something about us? How has color been theorized during the past centuries? What does it mean for societies to assign different values to colors, when color functioned as one of the most elementary form of communication and signaling? How is color a part of the larger senses, and did it always play a similar part? Who studies color nowadays (in psychology, advertisement, etc…) and how is this research used or related to larger developments in society?

Color raises interesting interpretative issues about the visual. Understanding our reaction to color brings us to where the cultural and neurological overlap. Are colors simply empty signifiers or are there genuine differences in how our brain reacts to colors? In the latter case, did this change over time?

We welcome contributors from all disciplines and on a wide range of topics. Possible themes might include:

- color in arts and literature
- color in fashion and consumption
- the history of the use, meaning and popularity of a particular color
- color in the history of science
- color and emotion, color and the mind
- color as a means of communication and deception
- color as a metaphor in politics and international relations
- color and racism

A selection of contributions to the conference will be published in a peer-reviewed edited volume by North Georgia University Press. Faculty, graduate students, and independent scholars welcome.

Please submit an abstract of 200-300 words and a brief biography to sskim@northgeorgia.edu by Sept. 1, 2011.

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