I am at The International Textile and Apparel Association conference in New Orleans this week and will recap the conference in my next post.
I am at The International Textile and Apparel Association conference in New Orleans this week and will recap the conference in my next post.
This summer, I had shared teasing videos from La Mécanique des Dessous: Une Histoire Indiscrète de la Silhouette (Underwear Mechanism: An Indiscreet History of the Silhouette), an exhibition proposed by Les Arts Décoratifs and that I have finally got the chance to visit. The display aims to explore the devices used by women and men from the 14th century to nowadays, to redraw their silhouette. It is therefore not a story of lingerie but clearly the story of, deliberately hidden, imaginative pieces of clothing that enable to construct the body’s appearance. About 200 silhouettes presenting panniers, crinolines, corsets, push-ups and other intriguing artefacts illustrate the relationship fashion has developed with the body from the Middle Ages.
The exhibition is organised within a chronological organisation with its underwear and a few complete clothing ensembles that enable to observe the impact on the silhouette of these dissimulated structures. Besides these artefacts are installed mannequins wearing animated replicas (this is what you can see on the videos I shared) that highlight the mechanism of the constructions.
A playful space also enables visitors to try on examples of corsets, crinolines and panniers for a pedagogic approach and comprehension of the mechanical structures and their impact on the body and its gestures.
From the medieval times, clothing transforms the body, creates a new body. A different conscience of the silhouette is delivered, a conscience that clothes make the body. Men are obsessed with virility and use padded doublets and prominent flies during the Renaissance. Women adjust their waist and raise their breasts. During the 18th century, bone corsets and panniers construct the silhouette but also give to the feminine body, a different walk and bearing crucial to the society’s stakes. Higher classes play with the singular distinction their rigorous underwear confer. Men wear padded jackets that arch their torsos and provide an impression of superiority and confidence. These pieces of clothing reinforced with various mechanisms and wirings, enabled an uprightness desired by the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, searching for an ideal of supremacy.
The display dedicates an important chapter to the 19th century: during the period, underwear has never been as important and hidden. The tyrannical corset and the excessive crinolines create tiny waists before the 1870′s bustles that give women this curious sinuous profile. Men continue to accentuate their masculinity with calf amplifiers but hide, with a certain sense of coquetry, their large bellies and bottoms under stomach belts and underpants-girdles.
Therefore, even though forms and techniques have changed, the mechanical piece of clothing’s aim remains: erase the belly, dig the waist, enhance the breast and widen the hips. Appearances won over comfort.
It is only at the beginning of the 20th century that a radical change will occur in the underwear’s mechanism. Couturiers such as Paul Poiret or Madeleine Vionnet privilege a more natural, linear silhouette. The corset disappears and bras and girdles take over. Women’s bodies are gradually freed and answer their new role in the modern society as active participants.
During the 1920s, the garçonne aims to erase her feminine features for an androgynous silhouette, helped by girdles. At the end of the 1940s, Christian Dior’s New Look celebrates the return to corsetry and bras are wired to resemble their torturous ancestors. The 1960s-70s, see the comeback of the androgynous silhouette and the underwear gains in discretion; in 1959, Lycra enables to erase enables to erase the boarder between underwear and clothes.
The exhibition also proposes contemporary fashion examples that illustrate a category of designers’ affection for past forms and body distortions. From the 1980s, a certain idea of true femininity is associated to drawn waists and generous breasts assisted by padded bras and push-ups while men’s virility is accentuated by sexy underpants.
Some couturiers also play with historical forms and the underwear becomes outerwear while a group of designers such as Rei Kawabuko use experimental artefacts to shape a new unnatural silhouette.
Today, we still shape our silhouettes but more with the help of diets, sports and cosmetic surgery than with clothing. An invisible corset has replaced the physical corset: we are urged to have thin, athletic yet feminine bodies. The mechanical construction is now psychic!
A pedagogic and original exhibition that looks at fashion history and underwear with a new approach. It arises many questions about the relationship we have with our bodies: how society and taste has shaped our silhouettes? How women have been (still are?) the victims of ideal aesthetics? How physical torture has gone from clothing artefacts to psychological diktats?
A must-see exhibition on until the 24th November 2013.
The exhibition’s catalogue: Bruna, Denis. La Mécanique des Dessous: Une histoire indiscrète de la silhouette. Paris: Les Arts Décoratifs, 2013.
Folli, Anna. Lingerie. Novara: White Star, 2010.
Lynn, Eleri. Underwear: Fashion in Detail. London: V&A Publishing, 2010.
Steele, Valerie. The Corset: A Cultural History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.
It was a decidedly unexpected visual from a Downton Abbey-esque sport. During the September 2013 Last Man Stands World Championships, an amateur cricket tournament held this year in England, the competition included an exceptionally colorful team—the Masaai Cricket Warriors. Eschewing the “whites” customary to the game, the team opted to follow its own tradition: wearing bright red shukas wrapped around the waist and draping their bare, muscular frames with decorative necklaces, bracelets and beads.
What looks like sartorial anarchy in the western world, however, is actually an earnest expression of the Cricket Warriors’ priorities. In their native Kenya, team members address topics that are sensitive for the Maasai people. They speak out for AIDS prevention, and against early marriage and female genital mutilation (still a common practice in the tribe).
According to The Nation, “keeping the traditional dress is a way of showing that the team members are true Maasais while still working to move their society forward.” As captain Sonyanga Ole Ngais told the publication, “We want to show people that we are trying to battle some of the retrogressive issues in our culture. But the good part of the culture,” he said, pointing to his necklaces, “it’s there all the time.”
The Masaai Cricket Warriors website provides an excellent overview of the team’s history and cultural initiatives.
You’re right, this story is a natural for the big screen. Filmmaker Barney Douglas is currently working on a documentary, Warriors.
Travel alert: You too can be a Masaai warrior! Bush adventures offers the opportunity to train with these fierce defenders of the tribe; but for those who, like me, are happy to just learn more, the warriors describe their cultural rituals and responsibilities here.
The week before I move back to Sweden, I thought I’d repost my very first post for Worn Through on cycling in Sweden, originally published in December 2011. Enjoy, and I’ll be back with a book review in two weeks!
As I write this, it is just after 4 PM. The sun is long gone, the sunset is slipping away right behind it, and it is DARK. Dozens, hundreds of little red and yellow lights zip by, crisscross, waver at intersections: bikers. A few cars pass by here and there, driving carefully: bikers rule here in Uppsala.
Twenty-four percent of Uppsala residents bike to work or school. (1) Perhaps this is a Swedish attitude toward pollution and eco-friendly living, or maybe it’s that the (beautifully-maintained and on-time) bus can cost up to six dollars per trip, even if it’s just out to Ikea.
Thousands of bicycles at Uppsala Central Station. From Swedish Wikipedia.
There are also a ton of agents in place to ensure continued bike usage: extensive bike paths, air pump stations and bike racks everywhere, nice flat landscapes. And there is abundant equipment available to facilitate riding in all manner of outfits. Everyone has chainguards and many ladies’ bikes come with skirt guards (including my second-handCrescent). Those who wear heels become masters of the elegant dismount.
But almost no one wears a helmet. I’m sure that there’s a semi-false sense of security, with separate, well-marked bike paths and a driving population that probably are bikers as well–or at least know to look for them.
Eddy Merckx, cycling’s biggest hero (and babe), wearing his choice of headgear at the 1971 Tour de France. From cyclingnews.com.
Boston hipsters with fixed-gears pine for the 1970s in race caps with the tiny brim, modern Tour de France guys seek out the newest aerodynamic model, and bike trick-obsessed teens seem to prefer those heavy-duty rounded types.
Helmets for 2005 Tour de France. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP.
What does a sleek Stockholmer wear to protect the good stuff? Nothing, probably, although from a personal, unofficial study they seem to be more popular there than here in our sleepy town, as the number of late-to-work cyclists and clueless tourists from lands without bike paths gazing at the Riksdag escalate in tandem.
There are many reasons for not wearing a helmet, including the more straightforward issues of morphology and more complex psychological reasoning. (2) “Style” falls into the latter category when a cyclist is deciding which model and brand to choose. Since there are so many helmet models available, “style” might also fall into the former as well, due tocreated issues of morphology–i.e. topknots and meticulously straightened or combed hair. Other aesthetic and comfort issues surrounding helmet use can be described as, “It’s hot“, “Annoying” or “Uncomfortable“. (3) In colder climes, not being able to fit a warm enough hat under a traditional helmet has been cited as well. (4)
With that in mind, there was a lot of buzz this summer around the Hövding: “the invisible helmet”.
The Hövding inflated. Modern, no? From Hövding website.
Most of the photographs were of the equipment inflated, and in early summer my Swedish was too limited to understand much past cognates like “modern“. So it wasn’t until I checked out the website that I understood that this is an airbag for cyclists. I can’t think of a more frustrating thing to wear, thinking of the embarrassing halting stops that I’ve experienced while trying to readjust a pencil skirt mid-ride on my back-pedal-brake single-speed…how sensitive is this thing? But at least it does look cool, even when inflated.
In addition to somewhat reassuring crash tests, the website features echoes of fashion photography, with outfits and hair styled to appeal and conceal:
Safety chic. From Hövding website.
There are many functional parts of this apparatus, important clips and snaps that turn the thing on and off, even a little “black box”; these are all housed in the foundation piece, the collar. This is plain black, but if minimalism is not your thing, the company also offers a purely decorative shell to snap on for style. From their website:
“The shell surrounds the collar. The most important function of the shell is to enable you to change the look of your Hövding – every day if you feel like it. The shell is removable and attaches to the collar with zips. It’s easy to change the shell to match your outfit, to suit the season or to wash it. The shell’s appearance can be varied in a virtually endless number of designs, colours, patterns and fabrics, turning Hövding into a fashion accessory. At the moment there are two different shell designs to choose from but we will be launching new collections all the time.” (5)
The FAQ section suggests adding your own “badges, etc” to their shell (the collar will not inflate with DIY shells, apparently), and offering styling tips to ensure that your scarf doesn’t strangle you as the airbag inflates in an accident. In light of this, the styling in the website’s photographs become part safety manual, acknowledging further interest in personal style proclivities.
The problem with helmets appears two-fold: they ruin one’s hairstyle (or hinder one’s hairdo-creativity) and don’t allow for adequate personalization.
The Hövding’s designers Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin did a survey when researching the future of the helmet: “When we asked people what they’d ideally like the bicycle helmet of tomorrow to look like, we got responses like these: “Something small that you can fold up and put in your pocket. Something that lets you change what it looks like, like you can with mobile phone skins or wigs. Invisible. The instant we heard the word invisible, we realized that was what the world was waiting for. An invisible bicycle helmet. That wouldn’t ruin your hair.” (6)
Although helmets can be found in many shapes and styles today, it is rare that they are associated with fashion the way the Hövding seeks to be, and safety gear in general is not built to be personalized, chic and subtle, but instead overt, practical, and uniform. (7)
Swedish brand J. Lindeberg has taken up this subversion of safety gear with their flannel cycling suit. This two-button suit looks like many of their other suits, but features secret mesh lining for body temperature regulation, reflective strips revealed by turning up cuffs and collar, and the option to button back the front flaps so they don’t whip around as you pedal to get through that yellow light. No reflective crossing-guard vests or pant-leg-cinchers for these hip city-dwellers!
Back view of suit. When folded down, the cuffs and collar look like any other suit and belie their safety-concern lining. From J.Lindeberg website.
Each of these pieces seeks to create greater access to cyclists’ comfort and safety–but secretly. Taking a cue from study subjects, the Hövding even has the word “invisible” in its tagline. There is effort here to mask the practical, responsible decisions with a frivolous slipcover or a fashionable form. Finnoff et al. concluded that in 2001, “The prevalence of bicycle helmet use remains low despite research indicating the high level of head injury risk when bicycling without a helmet and the significant protection afforded by bicycle helmets.” (8) Can a fashionable–or invisible–exterior help raise the use of head-safety gear by “solving” the problems cited by their subjects and creating want (fashion) on top of need (safety)?
Or perhaps, despite their sleek campaigns and designer names, these items will be relegated in public consciousness to the less desirable “equipment” category? Hövding put on a runway show in one of Stockholm’s most highly-trafficked squares on November 10–with appropriately outrageous, voluminous hairstyles and a top hat to prove their point. But the event was to announce the placement of the airbag in Designtorget stores, known for their clever, practical interior design products. A fortuitous partnership, to be sure, but an interesting choice of paths. (9)
What do you think? Does fashion have the ability to make us safety-conscious? Leave your comments below!
(2) David Bryson discusses the body and its relation to clothing that we find “unwearable”, especially as regards “smart clothing” or “wearable technology”. His pre-Hövding research suggests that hard-shelled helmets are best, although he cites Nolén’s findings that only 14% of Swedish adults wore a helmet in 2002. He suggests, “Safety equipment might be ‘unwearable’ but anatomical [sic] designed to reduce injuries” and therefore necessary despite psychological qualms. (33-34)
(3) Finnoff et al., 5
(4) http://www.designtoimprovelife.dk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=633. This website quotes the designers’ poll of
(7) Consider, however, the pop-culture co-opting of the bright orange hunters’ caps by the hipster crowd, traditional safety garments chosen by this group specifically for their awkward conspicuousness. Also, for a wider discussion of fashion’s intersection with technology/equipment, see Seymour, helmets pp.98-99, 136, 164; bike safety gear, 193. These items all assume an interest in obvious use of technology/equipment.
(8) Finnoff et al., 1
(9) It’s also got the support of Oprah’s blog, citing the “cyclist’s dream” of “no more helmet head”. Although it wasn’t chosen by the woman herself (probably not a cyclist?), “The ‘O’ Factor” is known to create buzz–and massive sales.
Works Cited/Further Reading:
Bryson, David. “Unwearables” AI & Society 22 (2007): 25-35.
Finnoff, Jonathan, et al. “Barriers to bicycle helmet use” Pediatrics 108 (2001): e4.
Nolén, S., et al. “Bicycle helmet use in Sweden during the 1990s and in the future” Health Promotion International 20 (2005): 33-40.
Seymour, Sabine. Fashionable technology: the intersection of design, fashion, science and technology. Wien: Springer-Verlag, 2008.
This week, the fashion global excitement is ending with the Paris Fashion Week,on since last Wednesday. Fashion Weeks are always a dramatic frivolous moment in the city, whether you are part or not of the scene. I got the chance to attend three shows this year, Guy Laroche, Leonard and Atsuro Tayama, but I’m not intending to write about these shows today but rather about what was happening around these shows.
Street-style photography and its consequences on the crowds is not new and I’m starting off an old debate but I must admit I was quite amazed by the increasing and gigantic ’Look at me’ game that was taking place in the streets and more particularly around popular show locations. Dressing up and posing during Fashion Weeks seems to have become a full-time business for some individuals: pre and post shows have become much more entertaining than the shows themselves! There is an incredible number of photographers, amateurs, professionals…craving to immortalise The Look. But that’s where I don’t quite get it! What is The Look? The most eccentric calculated allure, the costume-like outfit or the authentic, personal style?
The street-style phenomenon takes place all year long within various formats: bloggers showing off their outfits (I am a blogger myself and I must confess, I also do this from time to time), street-stylers discovering alluring individuals, magazines taking over the popular concept (business is never too far!), ads using the street-style aesthetic. However, Fashion Weeks are certainly the peak of the spectacle and open the way to a true ‘Cour des Miracles’ (court of miracles), as we like to say ironically in French. The urban environment is saturated by peacock-like individuals with one ultimate goal: to be street-styled and gain a flying celebrity moment. I don’t say that all the eccentric and original persons are impostors but that is the problem with this whole entertainment process: it has become difficult to distinguish sincere and authentic approaches from artificial wannabe postures.
Has street-style really remained a street phenomenon? I’m not quite sure about that. Most blogs present photographies of the same glamorous it-girls and fashion editors that wear brands that most of us could never afford to buy. I, for example, really appreciate Garance Doré‘s blog but she always seem to expose women that are everything but ‘from the street’.
I, of course, dress up properly and make an effort when I go to a show. I feel lucky to be invited to such a glamorous event and honour the moment with an elegant outfit, just as I would do for any other ‘formal’ event. However, I definitely don’t overdress or wear an outfit that has nothing to do with my personal style just for the sake of being part of this Circus of Fashion as Suzy Menkes has named it in her controversial February 2013 article. Isn’t being ourselves, the ultimate fashion motto?
Hopefully, street-style photography also has its positive aspects. The phenomenon has democratized fashion and more particularly fashion shows: not everyone can enter the show (well, you can, more and more, since brands have now decided to broadcast live their events on the web: lucky us!) but everyone can be part of the excitement, the energy and enjoy the moment. Fashion should not be taken too seriously and I love the idea that we can all have fun with the way we dress and the business of fashion, but once again, let’s keep it real!
Moreover, some bloggers have turned street-style photographies into art and still manage to pick out a genuine personality: a clothing detail, a cute haircut, a stunning smile…Like him or not, I remain a huge fan of The Sartorialist who always seduces me with his elegant snapshots. And what about Bill Cunningham? A street-style veteran!
I think street-styling is just like everything in life, it has its good and bad sides. It can be excessive but also highly seductive. How wonderful for us fashion and image lovers to be able to rely on real people with great style and taste within real-life landscapes…It is up to us to sort out the worthy examples from the superfluous (not easy!).
I don’t mind that the show now not only takes place on the catwalk but also happens in the streets: I truly found this fantastic. It just shouldn’t take over and, I am insisting but it is really important to me, remain authentic! Fashion shows are marvellous instants that demand so much hard work and energy: let us remember who makes the show during Fashion Week!
I don’t know whether I’ll be street-styled (it has already happened to me quite a few times already) before the Fashion Week ends and I must say: why not? My ego will appreciate it! However, I know I may launch a trend! I got an adorable puppy for my 30th birthday last week so to me the ultimate actual fashion accessory is a straw basket in which I carry him everywhere along with me: the cute-effect might win over the wow-effect!
And you? Do you love or loathe the street-style experience? Do you find these photographies useful as a researcher? If yes, how do you use them?
I suggest you take a look at this great short film Garage Magazine has produced about the phenomenon: Take My Picture
Iris Apfel is fantasy made real. Adorned in full glory, she’s an unadulterated, unabashed expression of joie de vivre; an apostle of personal style whistling “boo” to limitations—prancing across cultural boundaries; dancing on the grave of ageism; flipping a jeweled bird at minimalism.
She is a celebration of exceptional taste and the soaring freedom of fantasy. As designer Duro Olowu puts it, “fashion is like a big box of Lego to her…. [she] appeals to a certain kind of joy in everybody.”
Her visual voice is one of inclusion, embracing feathers, furs, Tibetan accessories, Topshop finds and vintage couture. Anything goes. According to The Guardian, “Apfel has seized the imagination not as a couture fashion plate but as an example to a free-spirited, adventurous New York mindset that, these days, seems in danger of getting lost beneath the anodyne beauty of a Manhattan aesthetic that worships cosmetic dentistry and blow-drying above individuality or creativity.”
Indeed, “the biggest fashion faux paus,” she says, in an upcoming film by Grey Gardens’ director Albert Maysles, “is looking in the mirror and seeing someone else.”
Iris on Video:
Nowness: Iris and Duro at the zoo.
Advanced Style: Iris and Ari Seth Cohen.
Pop Sugar: Iris’ documentary trailer.
The week of primary elections in New York City seems an apt time to pay tribute to Congresswoman, founding feminist, one-time mayoral hopeful and Anarchist of Style, Bella Abzug. (In fact, the unruly “cast of characters” in current mayoral race is being compared with that of 1977, when Abzug lost the Democratic primary to Ed Koch.)
Although it seems an outrageous leap for a politician to make it to this list, “bellowing Bella” was more than just a cog on the wheel of politics—she was a one-woman life force fearlessly and ferociously inserting her energy and ideas into the public conversation. “She was first on almost everything, on everything that ever mattered,” said Esther Newberg, Abzug’s former administrative assistant.
But it is Abzug’s penchant for hats that earns her place here. Hats became part of her iconography, her identity. In her obituary, The New York Times called her “the hat bobbing before the cameras at marches and rallies.” This penchant came not from a desire to fit in, but, as most things Bella, from a desire to shake up the establishment. “When I got to Congress, they made a big thing of [wearing hats],” she once explained. “So I was watching. Did they want me to wear it or not? They didn’t want me to wear it, so I did.”
Gail Collins on Abzug as a celebrity “in a world of passion and pamphleteering.”
From the Forth World Conference on Women in Beijing, “A Well Known Hat Bobs at Women’s Conference.”
An online biography of Bella.
Is it the Nudie or the Stetson you’d recognize first? Is the bandanna classic Wayne, or are the Lucchese boots his sartorial stamp? John Wayne’s ineffable personality is materialized through his classic film costumes, canonized in film stills. Although it plays a minor supporting role in the new book, John Wayne: The Genuine Article by Michael Goldman, the clothing he wore onscreen shaped the moviegoer’s view of American masculinity and defined the man himself as an “American Legend.”
This book, bound in a leather-like hardcover with a frontispiece featuring a photograph of stalwart and solemn American Western landscape, reinforces the Duke’s manly aesthetic. Not only rich in well-chosen photographs, the publisher has reproduced ephemera from the Wayne archives, from a laminated driver’s license and a marriage certificate to his correspondence with the White House and contemporaries like Jimmy Stewart and Katherine Hepburn.
A bit ironic, these copies of his personal effects, in a book subtitled The Genuine Article. But their inclusion is fun, bringing the reader a bit closer to the distant film star through objects otherwise only available in archival storage. What a shame that there was no dusty, sweaty bandanna folded up between its pages! Film enthusiasts are notorious for their love of memorabilia, and the objects reproduced here go beyond Wayne’s (very) public life, giving the reader a glimpse into the personal effects of a man. The driver’s license struck me most: did he have to line up at the DMV? Did the DMV worker have to tell him to smile for the photo? Even the man who tamed wild horses and corralled outlaws onscreen needed the government’s approval to drive a car.
While humanizing him, this book continues to lionize this American icon. With a forward from none less than Jimmy Carter and a preface from Wayne’s youngest son, Ethan, who manages John Wayne Enterprises, the book introduces two of his most important roles: family man and elder statesman. The book works hard to celebrate John Wayne “the person,” as his son reiterates in the preface, since so many can only think of the icon.
Born Marion Mitchell Morrison and called “Duke” after a beloved family dog, the short biography of John Wayne is that he took a job as a props assistant at Fox Studios in the 1920s, was used as an extra in a few movies…and the rest is history. “The rest” is nicely detailed here, with great friendships and gentle feuds, behind-the-scenes notes from film sets, and various other details of a rich and full life. Clothing is interspersed in this tale, beginning with his mother’s insistence that her sons be presentable, as recounted by Wayne’s son Patrick:
‘They might have been dirt poor, eating Saltine crackers and peanut butter for lunch, but my grandmother always had him in a clean shirt and shoes.” (25)
In addition to the great photographic evidence throughout the book, images of extant clothing owned or worn by the Duke, such as a late-twentieth-century baseball cap from his alma mater USC or military caps from various films, for example, showcase his allegiance to his roots (the title of the first chapter). Goldman indicates this as a “signature quality” of the man:
Once he liked a person, a place, or a thing, he maintained his allegiance, come what may. Such loyalty and unyielding constance with those he loved, respected, and trusted resulted in many life-long friendships and associations, but it also periodically led to business associations gone wrong and personal disappointments as well. (26)
The chapters begin chronologically and end thematically as the collection of Wayne artifacts swells to represent his later, more active years. The third chapter, “Western Man” examines those trappings of legend, origin story, and manhood that came to define Wayne’s American aesthetic, and how John Wayne became a posterman for the “cowboy star.” “In fact,” notes Goldman, “Western clothes, Western and Native American art, horses, cattle, and ranching were interest that went far beyond his movie work.” (44) Wayne appeared in more than 80 (!) Westerns, melding his personal style and costume pieces to maintain a realistic persona on screen.
Some of these costumes are enumerated and catalogued in a small book-within-a-book, taking almost a mail-order catalogue form. Various clothing objects from many of his Western films are grouped by type (leather vests, colorful shirt-and-khaki pant combos, cavalry uniform; hats and boots fill two pages each), and are accompanied by a small key with the date, make, and film (if applicable).
The back page of the booklet shows a unique collage of labels from the Western Costume Company, Hollywood, which outfitted many of Wayne’s films. Some have his name and size typed in; here he is a 49 chest, there a 45 or 46–the notations of a long career.
I was interested to learn that he wore some of the same clothing in many films, especially hats and cowboy boots: a practical man.
Wayne worked hard to make his costumes realistic and his riding and shooting skillful. How he wore his gun belt, hat, kerchief, how he rode a horse–all these things were based on observations of real cowboys or actors or stuntmen he knew, whose mannerisms or style he chose to emulate. (48)
In this way, Wayne became a palimpsest of what it means to be Western, “obsessive” about his clothing and how it defined him. But the point here is that Wayne lived and loved the West, he didn’t just wear it. Although he is best known for his costumes, they were more than disguises or the superficial layer of a film character. In addition to the Westerns, he was in 18 war movies and donned the uniforms of various armed forces, another hyper-masculine signifier of patriotism and pride in American citizenship.
“The lesson is that a single individual, even one constantly spotlighted under the bright glare of fame, can privately, personally, and deeply influence those around him in a way that far outshines even his impact as a global figure.” (19)
In his foreword, former President Jimmy Carter recalls describing Wayne as “symboliz[ing] the American ideals of integrity, courage, patriotism, and strength and has represented to the world many of the deepest values that this Nation respects.” (7) For many, Wayne’s iconic hats, kerchiefs, boots and belts do just that, honoring hand-made American craftsmanship and harkening back to what he considered America’s golden age.
For those in the field of dress history, this book is probably best suited to those who study Hollywood costume or are writing a biography, for while there is a dedicated section on Wayne’s costumes, it is small. The presentation of his costumes is creative and it is augmented by the wealth of photographs, some of which show Wayne wearing the selfsame clothing. I would have liked to see the extant costumes next to film stills or photos of Wayne on set, but that’s a different angle. This book is not about dress, or even film costumes, but about the man who came to be publicly defined by them. It’s important to consider a range of approaches to dress history in Book Reviews on Worn Through, and the use of extant clothing to describe a life is an valuable, underused tool in a biographer’s (gun?)belt.
Opening Photo Credit: Cover of “John Wayne: The Genuine Article” by Michael Goldman. San Rafael, CA: Insight Editions, 2013.
*Full disclosure: former WT columnist Heather Vaughan works for Insight Editions and suggested Worn Through readers might like to read about this book!*
Read more book reviews on Worn Through here!
Personal Property of John Wayne Auction Catalogue. Heritage Auctions, 2011.
Bosworth, Patricia, et al. John Wayne: the legend and the man: an exclusive look inside Duke’s archives. Brooklyn, NY: Powerhouse Books, 2012.
Freedman, Carl. “Post-Hetero Sexuality: John Wayne and the construction of American” Film International 5: 2007, 16-31.
Wills, Gary. John Wayne: The Politics of Celebrity. London: Faber and Faber, 1997.
Wayne, Pilar. John Wayne: My Life with the Duke. London: New English Library, 1989.
This autumn, following the Spring 2014 catwalk shows around the globe, London’s eyes will be set on glittering jewels and gems. Exhibitions around the capital will feature historic jewelry. At the V&A, Pearls, opening on September 21st will examine ‘the beauty and allure of pearls across centuries and cultures,’ and is sure to ignite fashion trends for both high-end and fashion costume jewelry.
At the Museum of London, the famed Cheapside Hoard is going on display in its entirety for the first time since its discovery in 1912. The hoard is a cache of 16th and 17th century jewels and jewelry that were discovered hidden, and have been surrounded by mystery and wonder for a century. The exhibition presents the treasures and sheds new light on some of the mysteries of its lost and found story. The exhibition will also include other objects from this period of London’s history and the Museum will be holding a spectacular programme of themed events to coincide with its display, which opens to the public on October 11th, 2013.
This video, featuring Vogue’s jewelry editor Carol Woolton, offers a sneak peek at some of the stunning pieces up close, as she tells us more about the allure of jewelry craft and trend across the centuries.
In an effort to curb my propensity to hoard, and to focus my collecting practice towards potentially cohesive groups of dress and textile artifacts, I collect mainly thematically. In the internet age, collecting according to specific themes is pretty easy – and generally no less exciting than finding that perfect thing in a shop or sale in the real world.
For roughly the past five years, it is has been a weekly ritual for me to log on to Ebay, Etsy or other auction sites and search for “vintage Ancient Egyptian…” or “vintage Venice…” My two main vintage textile collecting groups are not terribly obscure or rare – although vintage Egyptian textiles and jewellery from the 1920s can be very expensive.
My Ancient Egyptian collection consists mainly of mid-20th century printed textiles bearing Egyptian graphic motifs fashioned into dresses and skirts. I have around fifty garments in my ‘Egyptomania’ collection, but considerably fewer accessories.
Recently however, I purchased a small 1950s handbag online made up in a sort of bark cloth fabric bearing Egyptian-esque scenes and figures. Very often, Egyptian motifs are adapted or combined with other ‘ancient’ graphics to form a very modern amalgam of signs and symbols. This bag definitely had a playful hieroglyphic slant, and I snapped it up because I thought it might be the identical fabric to another bag in my collection.
As it turned out, the bag was a similar but different version of the print on the same textile base. I would surmise they were drawn at the same time by the same illustrator, although the two bags were made by different manufacturers. Even more remarkable was that I had seen the exact fabric twice before having purchased either bag.
The first time I saw the print was on a pair of shoes that came into Beyond Retro, a vintage store where I worked in London in 2007. My second encounter with the print was on a handbag that I didn’t win on eBay back in 2008.
Although the shoes came to my attention in London, Beyond Retro sources vintage clothing and accessories from around the globe. The shoes, which were visibly unworn, had come to us from a shipment originating in Canada. A colleague of mine bought the shoes before I had the chance - and before I was avidly collecting Egyptian themed pieces. However, she let me photograph the shoes and agreed to loan them to me, should I ever exhibit or publish on the topic of Egyptian motifs in fashion. (I will hold her to this!)
The shoes could have been manufactured anywhere in North America, and have a stamped insole that says Grayce Fashions. I couldn’t find anything about this company online unfortunately, as brand labels are an inroad to more information about when and where fashion artifacts come from.
Shortly after losing out on the eBay bag (at $95.00 it was just too expensive for my casual collecting!) and the shoes, I found a bag with the same print design at an affordable price from an Etsy seller in the United States. Fortunately, this bag was manufactured by Stylemark by Mutterperl.
Mutterperl was an American handbag company, established in 1901, who were known for making inexpensive fashionable lines most prolifically from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Thanks to the wonderful website Bag Lady University I was able to read the history of Mutterperl, and see not only some more of their products, but also their advertisements from magazines and trade journals. Mutterperl were terribly proud of their $1 bag ranges, which raised in price to $1.69 and $1.95 as the years rolled forward! I reckon I have come across many Stylemark bags in and out of vintage stores, and fortunately, they are not so expensive or hard to come by and were likely produced in high volume.
Bag Lady University lists company info and archives photos of dozens of other handbag manufacturers. Checking the labels of bags in your collection against the info on the site is sure to delight and inform vintage fashion aficionados and also spearhead deeper research into trends in both style and industry from the past century.
For me it is a thrill to find multiple related items with similar motifs or makers. While Ancient Egypt is the thematic thread of my collection, the seemingly narrow focus still leads me on winding paths towards other realms fashion information. By collecting online, I am able to search for very specific items broadly, and to possibly reunite items separated by time and distance. Finding multiple items in the same print gives some evidence of the degree of mass production of trend items. Their very survival may evidence the care which was taken in the past to preserve them by previous owners. Thanks to internet technologies, a great well of possibility exists to facilitate both collecting and research of vintage fashion items. However, mysteries about their origins will inevitably still remain – and in many cases these mysteries become the impetus for further collecting!
Do you have a thematic vintage fashion or textile collection? Do you collect Ancient Egyptian themed items? Do you have a Stylemark by Mutterperl bag? If so I look forward to you telling Worn Through about your fashion artifacts in the comments section.