The Wednesday Word: Anne Hollander on the interwar years

Edward Steichen (1819-1972), Fashion photograph, Vogue, 1930.

Western dress requires the body to give clothes meaning, and Western art had always accommodated itself to this need until the possibilities of abstract vision made themselves available to Western eyes, After that, clothes could aim at an ideal shape of their own, to which a body was truly subordinate — a box, a cylnder, a pyramid–and they could be shown to achieve it in a painting or a fashion illustration. Actual bodily shapes, always apt for distortion, now had the further task of turning themselves into detached patterns of their own mind’s eye. This is harder discipline than corseting and padding. Fashion photography, now advancing in the hands of masters such as Steichen and De Meyer, was able to aid the trend and offer black-and-white compositions of compelling authority — all the stronger because the camera now officially represented truth and such creations could not be considered distorted in the same way a drawing could. The ideal simplified shape of a sleek body was now not only indicated by the trend of abstract graphic design but confirmed on film. Since that time, women have had to be slender.”

— Ann Hollander, Seeing Through Clothes (337-338)

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