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Catching up: Fashion books you should know about

I can’t always review the books that publishers are kind enough to send, but I did want to at least share with you some of the new books that have come out, in case they help with something you’re researching:

Fetish Style by Frenchy Lunning Bloomsbury Academic (April 11, 2013)

Fetish Style traces the history, forms and tendencies of sub-cultural fashions that are popular in both mainstream and alternative fashion cultures. Presenting the world of subcultural fetish clothing design in all of its richness and beauty, this book explores the idea of fetish as subversive and repressive as reflected in clothing choices in people of all ages and cultures. Linking the fetishistic aspects of contemporary culture with everyday clothing as dictated by fashion and merchandizing, Fetish Style presents a fascinating study of historical as well as 21st century subcultures. Case studies include the Japanese-influenced ‘tribes’ of the various Lolita formations, the Shotaru (male Lolita), the club scene, the Goths, the hip-hop fashions and other locally-formed fetishized practices.

Fashion Designers Resource Book by Samata Angel, A&C Black (April 25, 2013)

A one-stop resource packed full of advice and guidance that will help you to succeed in the fashion world, this book provides a detailed overview of the fashion industry as a business, combined with an insider’s understanding of the creative process and the lifestyle of a fashion entrepreneur.

The Story of Colour in Textiles by Susan Kay-Williams, A&C Black (May 15, 2013)

The colour and shade of dyed textiles were once as much an indicator of social class or position as the fabric itself and for centuries the recipes used by dyers were closely guarded secrets. The arrival of synthetic dyestuffs in the middle of the nineteenth century opened up a whole rainbow of options and within 50 years modern dyes had completely overturned the dyeing industry. From pre-history to the current day, the story of dyed textiles in Western Europe brings together the worlds of politics, money, the church, law, taxation, international trade and exploration, fashion, serendipity and science.

Slogan T-Shirts: Cult and Culture by Stephanie Talbot, A&C Black; 1 edition (May 15, 2013)

Informative, illuminating, insightful and erudite, Slogan T-Shirts: Cult and Culture is completely unique. Featuring interviews with a wealth of credible fashion insiders, cultural commentators and creative luminaries, from Holly Johnson (of Frankie Goes to Hollywood) to Katharine Hamnett, it offers a multi-faceted approach to the question of what makes the slogan T-shirt so rich, layered and culturally relevant… because slogans are never simply just words; they are emotive and evocative, suggestive and provocative.

Vampire Culture by Maria Mellins, Bloomsbury Academic (September 26, 2013)

Unique and exciting, this ethnographic study is the first to address a little-known subculture, which holds a fascination for many. The first decade of the twenty-first century has displayed an ever increasing fixation with vampires, from the recent spate of phenomenally successful books, films, and television programmes, to the return of vampire-like style on the catwalk. Amidst this hype, there exists a small, dedicated community that has been celebrating their interest in the vampire since the early 1990s. The London vampire subculture is an alternative lifestyle community of people from all walks of life and all ages, from train drivers to university lecturers, who organise events such as fang fittings, gothic belly dancing, late night graveyard walks, and ‘carve your own tombstone’.

Queer Style by Vicki Karaminas, Bloomsbury Academic (October 10, 2013)

Queer Style offers an insight into queer fashionability by addressing the role that clothing has played in historical and contemporary lifestyles. From a fashion studies perspective, it examines the function of subcultural dress within queer communities and the mannerisms and messages that are used as signifiers of identity. Diverse dress is examined, including effeminate ‘pansy,’ masculine macho ‘clone,’ the ‘lipstick’ and ‘butch’ lesbian styles and the extreme styles of drag kings and drag queens.

Divided into three main sections on history, subcultural identity and subcultural style, Queer Style will be of particular interest to students of dress and fashion as well as those coming to subculture from sociology and cultural studies.

A Queer History of Fashion,  Yale University Press (October 29, 2013)

From Christian Dior to Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, many of the greatest fashion designers of the past century have been gay.  Fashion and style have played an important role within the LGBTQ community, as well, even as early as the 18th century.  This provocative book looks at the history of fashion through a queer lens, examining high fashion as a site of gay cultural production and exploring the aesthetic sensibilities and unconventional dress of LGBTQ people, especially since the 1950s, to demonstrate the centrality of gay culture to the creation of modern fashion.

Wiener Chic by Susan Ingram, Intellect Ltd (November 9, 2013)

Vienna may not be a city of fashion per se, but it is a fashionable city, a city which historically has been structured by changing fashions and fashionable appearances, by the tortured yet glittering façades of personalities and buildings. Like the Litfa säule in Orson Welles’s 1949 urban noir masterpiece The Third Man, which Harry Lime escapes into in order to avoid capture and the guileless visitor presumes are merely surfaces for advertising, and like the stolen letter left prominently on display in Poe’s short story, Vienna wears its charms on its sleeve, confident they won’t be recognized. By focusing on cinematic and institutional mediations of fashion and style, Wiener Chic explores and re-narrates the historical formation of Vienna’s urban imaginary. It takes the material dimension of urban culture seriously and mobilizes fashion as a structure of visibility that can direct the critical gaze at revealing aspects of the urban fabric from façades to festivals.

Dressing Dangerously by Jonathan Faiers, Yale University Press (December 3, 2013)

When Marlene Dietrich makes her entrance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright, the Dior dress she wears immediately draws the viewer’s attention—not because of its designer label, but owing to the dramatic blood stains ruining its stylish surface. Fashion in film goes far beyond glamorous costumes on glamorous stars, as Jonathan Faiers proves in Dressing Dangerously, a pioneering study of the “cinematic negative wardrobe” revealed in mainstream movies. The book emphasizes how problematic, even shocking depictions of dress, until now largely overlooked, play pivotal roles in shaping film narrative.

The Religious Life of Dress by Lynne Hume, Bloomsbury Academic (December 19, 2013)

From clothing to the painted and scarified nude body, through overt, public display or esoteric symbols known only to the initiated, dress can convey information about beliefs, faith, identity, power, agency, resistance, and fashion. Taking a ‘senses’ approach, Hume’s engaging account takes into consideration the look, smell, feel, touch and sound of religious apparel, the ‘smells and bells’ of dress and its accoutrements, as well as the emotions evoked by donning religious garb.

Important New Books on Fashion in Museums from Yale

The pace of fashion publishing continues to impress me. When I was in graduate school, new and important fashion history books were few and far between. But now, it’s hard to keep up! Yale Press, in particular, continues to set the bar high for new and necessary books for the fashion historians library. Aside from the new Charles James: Beyond Fashion from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current exhibition in New York (a MUST have and a MUST see, if you can), there are a few others that you might not have heard about. Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s, edited by Patricia Mears, is an excellent resource and documents the recently closed exhibition from the Museum at FIT (Nadine Stewarts review of that show is available here).

Exhibiting Fashion: Before and after 1971 by Judith Clark and Amy de la Haye is an extremely important work for the field, and something that has been needed for quite some time. It chronicles the work of curators such as James Laver (1899-1975), Doris Langley Moore (1902-1989) and Anne Buck (1910-2005) in several case studies. It also discusses, at length, the importance of Fashion:An Anthology the exhibition at the Victoria and Albert by Cecil Beaton in 1971,

Additionally, it provides an admittedly incomplete inventory of fashion exhibitions since 1971. While Lou Taylor’s book, Establishing Dress History does much to document fashion collections and their history in text, Clark and de la Hayes’ book not only discusses the history of exhibitions of fashion, but does so in an oversized, illustrated volume (including photos of historic exhibition catalogs, as well as installation photos).

The inventory of exhibitions focuses primarily on major exhibits from England, Australia, France, Canada, and the United States (although a few from the Netherlands, Sweden, Japan, Italy, Germany, Belgium are also included). The U.S. exhibits listed were held primarily in New York and Philadelphia; though it does also list some from Boston; Kent, OH; Saint Paul, MN; Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Francisco (It doesn’t begin listing exhibits from the de Young until the year 2000 and The Museum at FIDM’s first listing is in 2003). My feeling is that this book leaves the door open for further work on the history of fashion collection and exhibition in the United States.

 

Charles James: Beyond Fashion (Exhibition Review)

I’m extremely excited to have this exhibition review from fashion historian Nadine Stewart, of the brand new show “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibit opened last week and runs through August 10, 2014. For those not able to make the trip, there is  the exhibition catalog, Charles James: Beyond Fashion (Yale University Press, 2014).

When I was a little girl I collected Moddess advertisements. I was too young to understand what Moddess was, really too young to even read, but every month I turned eagerly to the back cover of Ladies’ Home Journal where a full page color ad showed me a world far away from my suburban neighborhood. No one I knew had gowns like the ones I saw there. No one lived in rooms like the ones I saw in the ads. I stared at these pictures for hours and dreamed.

I had never heard of Charles James. He was not a household word in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Many years later I learned that Charles James was behind the 1948 ad campaign that launched my dreams. For it was James who persuaded Cecil Beaton to photograph five gowns so “any woman at a difficult moment can imagine herself a duchess.”

Charles James: Beyond Fashion took me into the world of the designer who launched those ads. Charles James’ goal was to “help women discover figures they didn’t know they had,” to make them fit of his dreams of perfection. Curators Jan Glier Reeder and Harold Koda of the Costume Institute have presented much more than a show of beautiful clothes. They have sought to analyze the architecture of James’ garments so we can gain an insight into the mind that created garments unique in the history of fashion. To a large extent, they have succeeded.

The exhibit is divided into two parts in two different galleries on different wings of the museum. James’ earlier work is shown in the lower level of the north wing. This is location of the new Anna Wintour Costume Center, which is the home of the Costume Institute. Of special interest is the small, overcrowded room, which shows James’ archive because it is here the curators, begin to wrestle with how James developed as a designer.

The walls are lined with James’ sketches. Here too are pictures and an album from an English childhood in the privileged upper classes of England, including life at Harrow where he met Cecil Beaton. After time in Paris studying art, James eventually went to Chicago where he opened a millinery shop in 1926. This experience was surely key in developing his sculptural technique. A milliner has to think in the round, knowing that all angles will be visible on the head. How he learned this craft is mysterious. James claimed he worked right on the heads of his clients, but that is unlikely unless he was draping a turban style. It is more likely that James blocked the hats to the proper size and then adjusted the fit and brim on the client. Three of his hats are on display. All show the asymmetric lines he would become known for.

Next to the hats are two small bolero jackets, whose label informs us that James shaped the collars using millinery techniques, steaming, pulling, and shaping the material so it curled around the neck at just the right angle. There are also dress forms, including the “Jennie,” a flexible form the designer developed so he could adjust it for different postures. A video from the time shows James constructing it.

Further along the same platform is a tiny blue baby jacket made for his son with an unusual armhole shaped like a flattened oval. Behind it is an adult version of the same jacket displayed with several sewer elbow pipes. Apparently, the pipes inspired the shape of the sleeve, a good example of the unconventional way James visualized in three dimensions. The center vitrine displays another James’ innovation—the down-filled jacket, a design so advanced it wouldn’t re-appear again until the 1980s.

You can also get a glimpse of James’ waspish personality from a typewritten list he wrote in the 1960s where he ranked the rest of the fashion world with statements like: “Photographers who I felt unable to catch the essence of fashion—Horst and Avedon.” Even more cutting was his assessment of Erte. “Illustrative of designer artists whom I abhorred and thought their pretension to represent fashion disgraced it.” Ouch.

Next to the archive room are the garments James felt were some of his best—tailored coats with seams that curve and shape the body yet allow a “breeze of air to linger between body and fabric.” Made of firm wools like melton, flannel, and cavalry twill, James’ coats look like they could stand-alone. He seems to have learned from his mistake, made around 1936—the bias-cut coat in loosely woven plaid featured in the recent exhibit at The Museum at FIT. That coat stretched out of shape since James was still learning the how to handle bias draping. The coats on display show James’ millinery training at work in the curved collars and molded bust lines that fit the body without the use of darts.

Also on view in this room are a number of cocktail dresses, suits, and evening gowns, including the Diamond Dress (1957), the Sirène (1951-52), and the Taxi Dress (c. 1932). Video animation gives a valuable insight into the way his clothing was constructed.

This would be enough for most exhibits, but mounted in the Special Exhibitions gallery in the south wing are the gowns James is famous for—15 ball gowns whose construction amazes the fashion world today. Each is mounted on its own platform, which allows viewing from all sides. Instead of label cards, each has an animated screen attached to a robotic camera. As the camera roams over the dress, the screen highlights crucial details. Pattern pieces float apart so one can see the shape and then are applied to a form so we can understand how they fit together. To get the unconventional shapes he wanted, James used unconventional materials like nylon mesh, millinery willow, polyester horsehair braid, and blocking net–materials used by milliners. He also used Pellon, a nonwoven interfacing that contains nylon and synthetic rubber among other materials to expand the shape of many of his garments, like the famous Clover Dress (1953). This was the 1950s when “wonder fibers” were advertised in Vogue. James bent them all to his vision.

James would have liked all this analysis. He wanted the public to learn from his work. He made up muslins of his dresses especially for a 1948 exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. These are now visible in a separate room at the entrance of the second gallery. In their midst sits the Butterfly Sofa (1950), made for the de Menil family home in Houston, an early example of ergonomic design and a mark of James’ only attempt at interior design. Next to this room is a 1949 portrait of his client, Millicent Rogers, resplendent in a James gown. Rogers looks out at us with a haughty, bemused smile as if she knows none of the women who appeared at this year’s Met Gala will ever outshine shining society swans who were dressed by Charles James.

After looking at this exhibit one can conclude that designers can learn from James, but his world will never come again. Those days of couture splendor I dreamt about many years ago were ending even then. What remains is his body of work that illustrates his belief that “A good design should be like a well-made sentence, and it should only express one idea at a time.” James’ design principles still inspire. They can still make us dream. It’s worth visiting this exhibit several times to absorb them.

 

Video of the exhibition can be seen here:

Koda, Harold and Jan Glier Reeder. Charles James: Beyond Fashion. New York and London: Yale University Press, 2014.

Mears, Patricia and G. Bruce Boyer. Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014.

California Fashion History: Davis Schonwasser Co.

Baby Bathrobe dated 1910-1920 from Davis Schonwasser & Co

I recently received some beautiful vintage baby clothes from a very dear friend, and one piece was a beautifully embroidered silk baby bathrobe bearing the label “Davis Schonwasser Co.” The sales tag suggests that the garment dates to 1910-1920, but I (of course), wanted to know more and couldn’t help diving in head-first to do a tertiary bit of research (this is by no means complete or exhaustive, but it is interesting).

Baby Bathrobe dated 1910-1920 from Davis Schonwasser & Co

As it turns out Davis Schonwasser & Co was a luxury department store, among the likes of City of Paris, I. Magnin, The White House, and a number of other long-time retail establishments of San Francisco. As the San Francisco Chronicle noted in 1996, “The city nourishes and cherishes traditions, celebrates the idiosyncratic and mourns casualties. And casualties there have been, even among classics: I. Magnin and Ernie’s have closed. So has the original Fly Trap, Winterland and Davis Schonwasser with its creaky wooden floors. We also miss the White House, the Fox Theater, Solari’s lentil soup and Townsend’s creamed spinach. The list goes on.” (Steger 1996)

L.E. Davis in 1903 via "Cloaks and Furs"

Several publications name different “Davis’s” and “Schonwasser’s” associated with the store. According to author Michael Zarchin, “Two Jews who combined their efforts to establish and run successfully a ladies’ and children’s ready-to-wear store known to San Franciscans for many generations were Samauel Schonwasser and Max Davis. Back in 1856, Mr. Schonwasser, an importer and dealer in dry goods, [first] established a small shop…. ” (Zarchin 1952, 47)

The Industry publication, Cloaks and Furs, suggested in 1903, that “L.E. Davis, of Davis, Schonwasser & Co., of San Francisco, is one of the new-idea men of the cloak an suit world. As long as two years ago Mr. Davis, in an interview with the writer, declared that such a thing as universal style had gone out of existence.” (Cloaks and Furs 1903, 46)

A newspaper clipping from the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, dated Feb. 27, 1907, noted that Davis, Schonwasser, & Co was established in 1873 and it has been suggested that a “Schonwasser was independent of Davis at least before 1885.” (Carey 2014) Several San Francisco based city directories indicate that the store was in business as early as 1894. According to the 1902 Crocker-Langley San Francisco directory for the year, the store was run by “Max Davis and Emll G. Schonwasser” and sold “ladles’ and children’s furnishing goods.”

Davis Schonwasser Co, 1909 (Via Bancroft Library)

The San Francisco Evening Bulletin article mentioned above also explains that, “prior to the great fire was located at Post and Grant Avenue.  After the fire, and until removal to these new quarters, the firm’s business has been carried on at California st. and Van Ness Avenue.” The 1906 Earthquake and Fire prompted a move to their most famous location, opening there March 1, 1907. This was a time when, “Van Ness Avenue became a temporary downtown during the period that the real downtown rebuilt. Major dry goods and department stores such as the White House, the City of Paris, The Emporium, Davis-Schonwasser, D. Samuel’s Lace House . . . were some of the businesses that located here.” (Kostura 2010, 18)

"Looking down Sutter St. showing "The White House, Davis Schonwasser Co., and The Sloane Building, San Francisco, California, 1908"

This “new’ building had an elegant cache as well. “It was designed by George Adrian Applegarth, an Oakland native. He trained in Paris at the renowned École des Beaux-Arts, and in 1906 was in New York working on his graduate project. He stowed away on the next ship to Paris to collect his diploma, then returned to San Francisco. He ended up in a partnership with Kenneth MacDonald Jr., who may have been his collaborator on this building. The building is still a retail venue today, although the façade has changed somewhat.” (Time Shutter)

Made of painted satin ribbons laid vertically and horizontally with machine valenciennes lace trim top and bottom edges. Slot and stud front closure, laced back, large bow top front; whalebone stays. Seller: Davis Schonwasser, San Francisco (de Young Museum)

Several Bay Area museums hold costume examples within their collections. The de Young has a corset (c.1904-1908), described as being of French origin and donated by Mrs. Gordon H. True; and the Oakland Museum of California has a never-worn black “Geisha Waist” shirtwaist dating to between 1904-1910. Interestingly, the label of this piece has the former address of “128 to 134 Post St., San Francisco, Ca.” and was donated by Deanna Vickers.

One presumes that these two donors were the original owners and clients of the store, but that it completely unverified. In a letter to the editor published in the San Francisco Chronicle, it was noted that Eleanor Maini Wollenberg was at some point, the accessories buyer for Davis- Schonwasser, and “with military precision, Admiral Nimitz would come see [her] twice yearly to pick out a purse for his wife.” (San Francisco Chronicle 2001, 2) Fashion shows were a common occurrence between 1900-1911, and were often held in cooperation with the surrounding department stores (as is described in a number of articles in the San Francisco Call).

The company appears to have had a conscience as well: In 1909, the store sold a doll to raise funds for the benefit of the California Women’s Hospital (San Francisco Call 1909), and in 1911, Davis Schonwasser supported the suffragette movement, but joining with other department stores by displaying yellow items in their windows (San Francisco Call 1911).

Little is documented of their children’s wear today, but the retailing journal The Corset and Underwear Review described a window display seen in 1918,  “Attractive clothing and nursery accessories for infants and young children formed a display in four windows at Davis, Schonwasser & Co., San Francisco, for the fall lines recently received by the various sections of the baby departments. The new and enlarged windows are in tones of cream, with pale blue and pink for the ribbons and other touches of color. The first window showed a nursery scene, with a mother in morning frock and apron, seated at the right, holding a baby in her arms.” (“Infants’ Wear” volume 12, 86)

Later years are even less well-documented in archives and history books, though it was active in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and into the 1950s at least. The company supported the San Francisco Opera’s 1950 season, and it was listed in the Bluebook of Leather and Shoe Businesses as late as 1958. By 1964, however, the location had become a Hibernia Bank office.

If you have information on Davis, Schonwasser, & Co, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Sources:

For another interesting tid-bit on a former employee of the Children’s department, check out this oral history from Harvard.

Carey, Thomas. 2014. Librarian, San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library, correspondence with the author. April 16.

Cloaks and Furs. 1903. Volume 33, 46

Kostura, William for the San Francisco Department of City Planning. 2010. Van Ness Auto Row Support Structures: A Survey of Automobile-Related Buildings along the Van Ness Avenue Coridor.

“Letters to the Editor.” San Francisco Chronicle. July 6, 2.

Perspectives in vernacular architecture, Volume 9, By Vernacular Architecture Forum, Edited by Alison K. Hoagland and Kenneth A. Breisch, 2003, University of Tennessee Press.

San Francisco Evening Bulletin, 1907. California Pioneer Society subject file. Feb. 27.

Steger, Pat. 1996. “Staying Power,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 21.

Zarchin, Michael Moses. 1952. Glimpses of Jewish Life in San Francisco: History of San Francisco Jewry. Distributed by the author.

Last Minute Exhibit Review: 1930s Fashion at the Museum @ FIT

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I’m happy to share with you this last minute, guest exhibition review of Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s, from historian Nadine Stewart. On view at the Museum @ FIT through tomorrow (April 19, 2014) the exhibition catalog is available for those unable to see the show in person.

ELEGANCE IN AN AGE OF CRISIS: FASHIONS OF THE 1930s

By Nadine Stewart

The fashions of the 1930s are often overlooked. When the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted its retrospective of American fashion in 2010, the focus was on fashion in films. We look back on the time and think of the breadlines and Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. But the Thirties was also a time when fashion became truly modern. This spring’s exhibit at the Museum @ FIT showed the range of fashionable dress, featuring men’s and women’s clothing for all occasions.

This was a time when clothing was cut to fit and show off the body without constricting it with corsetry or padding.  Designers of women’s clothing worked with a new concept—the bias cut that allowed the clothing to drape and fall fluidly. Chief among the designers working with the new cut was the great dressmaker Madeline Vionnet. One could get the sense of her mastery of draping by examining a black crepe gown with gold lame accents. Its intricate twisted back highlighted the back—the new erogenous zone to the 1930s. But the exhibit does not limit itself to flowing draped pieces by Vionnet. An ivory silk dress with subtle pin-tucked flowers and an orange dress made entirely of cutwork fabric gave an indication of her range. Exhibited with these garments were those of designers she influenced—Madame Gres, Claire McCardell, Elizabeth Hawes, and Valentina. The exhibit also singles out several designers whose reputations have been obscured or forgotten by the passage of time—Jean Patou and Augustabernard. Amid the masterfully cut and draped garments is one misfire that shows how difficult working with the new bias technique could be—a coat by Charles James in a loosely woven wool plaid. Curator Patricia Mears explained in the video that accompanies the exhibit, the coat fabric stretched so badly after it was finished James had to add an interlining of organza to keep it in shape. The mistake reminds us just how new this technique was.

Detail, Madeleine Vionnet ivory silk georgette evening dress with pintucks, 1930, Paris, museum purchase | © Eileen Costa (Via Museum @ FIT Blog

The elegance of the age really comes out when one viewed the men’s bespoke tailoring. This was a the age of the English Drape, a suit with a generous cut that adds stature to a man’s physique without appearing bulky. Notable among the suits displayed were the suits of London House, a Neapolitan firm founded by Gennaro Rubinacci. His tailors eliminated inner linings, producing suits whose cut and drape preceded Armani by many years.

One is given a whiff of the influence of Hollywood too. The soft, beautifully crafted shoes of Fred Astaire are featured in the cases at the beginning of the exhibit as is the famous red sequined gown and cape from The Bride Wore Red. There are also several bathing suits in the new stretch fabrics of the 1930s, which displayed the curves of movie starlet’s bodies in their publicity shots. The Hollywood pieces don’t dominate the exhibit. Instead, they fit in to give a full perspective of the period.

Sportswear like a jumpsuit for an aviatrix that could be worn out for cocktails, evening lounge wear for men and women made of silk and velvet, and even, a wedding dress round out the room. As one emerges from the gallery, there’s an intriguing case of hats which shows the progression from the deep-crowned cloche of the Twenties, which covered the head, to the perky fedoras of the Thirties which sat on the head at rakish, improbable angles, a jaunty antidote to the dark economic times.

Elegance in an Age of Crisis resets our perception on the 1930s establishing the decade as a time of importance in the history of Twentieth Century fashion—a time that opened the door to the modern era of design.

*Via the Museum @ FIT Blog, “Installation, Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s, 2014. | © Eileen Costa.”

Guest Book Review: Islamic Fashion and Anti-Fashion

Islamic Fashion and Anti-Fashion: New Perspectives from Europe and North America

Emma Tarlo and Annelies Moors, eds.

294 pp., illustrated, Bloomsbury, $29.95

Guest book reviewer, Jennifer Heath

There are moments I think we’re beating this horse to death. I worry that we are still far too fixated on the hijab (veil) and on Muslim women’s dress, though we should be turning our gaze toward other, more pressing issues that profoundly affect women: e.g., poverty, war, and environmental degradation. Will we ever be content to let women dress as they choose without judgment or comment?

Islamic Fashion and Anti-Fashion: New Perspectives from Europe and North America is an essential collection that fulfills a great deal of scholarship. It features sixteen essays covering history, anthropology, sociology, and fashion studies.  Editors Emma Tarlo and Annelies Moors have written an excellent introduction, particularly in its discussion of how dress affects religiosity and piety, how fashion relates to assimilation and creativity, and the politics of so-called Muslim dress or “the performative power of the headscarf to make identity claims and political demands,” as Rustem Ertug Altinay puts it in his chapter “Sule Yüksel Senler: An Early Style Icon of Urban Islamic Fashion in Turkey.” Tarlo and Moors remind us that Muslim women are habitually perceived as shrouded and silenced and that their coverings often seem to prove they are merely “agents of barbarism,” as Canadians A. Brenda Anderson and F. Volker Greifenhagen write in “Covering up in the Prairies.” Yet within the bounds of “proper” Muslim dress, there is vast, sophisticated sartorial ingenuity and, as Tarlo calls it, “the agency of the hijab.” (Unfortunately, too much sensational focus on the hijab also robs women of their agency.) The editors write that the “book grows out of awareness of the discrepancy between public discourses…and actual developments…pointing to the need for greater understanding and more nuanced interpretation.” Indeed.

Altinay’s chapter about Turkey pushes the book’s self-ascribed Europe boundaries, but Banu Gökanksel and Anna Secor bridge the gap with “Transnational Networks of Veiling Fashion Between Turkey and Western Europe.” Many Europeans are ethnic Turks, many whose families arrived generations ago as guest workers. Maria Curtis addresses Turks in the United States with “Closet Tales from a Turkish Cultural Center in the ‘Petro Metro’, Houston Texas.” Altinay offers essential historic ballast (with kudos to Audrey Hepburn), for one thing, helping to explain how the headscarf was enthusiastically re-inaugurated into a society that was mandated by its leadership to be secular.

Most interesting are those essays about unfamiliar, rarely noticed practices and challenges, like  Daniela Stoica’s “The Clothing Dilemmas of Transylvanian Muslim Converts” or Katarzyna Górak-Sosnowska and Michael Lyszcarz’s “Perspectives on Muslim Dress in Poland: A Tatar View,” a study of the Tatars’ distinctive, traditional uses of the headscarf as they encounter a new (and often insistent) interpretation of Islam.

Annelies Moors’ “Fashion and its Discontents: The Aesthetics of Covering in the Netherlands,” Synnøve Bendixsen’s  “‘I Love My Prophet’: Religious Taste, Consumption and Distinction in Berlin,” and Connie Carøc Christiansen’s “Miss Headscarf: Islamic Fashion and the Danish Media” look to the entanglements of belonging, social conflict, politics, gender, and sexuality (among other things).

I once asked Reina Lewis – who, like Leila Karin Österlind with “Made in France: Islamic Fashion Companies on Display,” examines merchandising in “Hijab on the Shop Floor: Muslims in Fashion Retail in Britain” — whether the trend among Euro-American women combining trousers with dresses was related to the beautiful salwar kameez, a customary costume in South and Central Asia. She thought it more likely to be a retro-hippie craze. I’m not so sure, because, as we see in various chapters of this book, and in Tarlo’s previous work, contemporary Islamic fashions, increasingly distanced from indigenous clothing, are so modish, attractive, elegant, fun, and streetwise that even young non-Muslim women could find them irresistible. But would they also wear hijab?  Well, that might, at the very least ─ at last ─ render all this who-wears-what fuss moot.

Jennifer Heath is an independent scholar, award-winning cultural journalist, critic, curator, and activist, the author or editor of eleven books of fiction and non-fiction, including On the Edge of Dream: The Women of Celtic Myth and Legend and The Echoing Green: The Garden in Myth and Memory (both from Penguin/Plume, 1998, 2000), A House White With Sorrow: A Ballad for Afghanistan (Roden Press, 1996),  The Scimitar and the Veil: Extraordinary Women of Islam (Paulist Press, 2004), The Veil: Women Writers on its History, Lore, and Politics (University of California Press, 2008), Land of the Unconquerable: The Lives of Contemporary Afghan Women (University of California Press, 2011), co-edited with Ashraf Zahedi, and also with Zahedi, Children of Afghanistan: The Path to Peace (University of Texas Press, 2014), as well as The Jewel and the Ember: Love Stories of the Ancient Middle East (Smashwords E-Book Publications). She came of age in Afghanistan, founded Seeds for Afghanistan in 2001 and in 2003, the Afghanistan Relief Organization Midwife Training and Infant Care Program, later International Midwife Assistance. Her many touring exhibitions include Water, Water Everywhere: Paean to a Vanishing Resource, The Veil: Visible & Invisible Spaces, Black Velvet: The Art We Love to Hate and The Map is Not the Territory: Parallel Paths-Palestinians, Native Americans, Irish.

Shirley Temple (Black) 1928-2014

With the sad news of the passing of Shirley Temple (Black) in today’s New York Times, I thought it would be appropriate to remember some of her contributions to film costume, fashion, and popular culture.

Shirley Temple was the most famous child star of the 1930s. She made her film debut at the age of five in 1934 and by the following year she was making $1,000 a week from merchandising tie-ins alone (Cook 2004 and Ewing 1977). Mothers everywhere dressed their children in Temple-imitating clothing.

Shirley Temple Sears Ad

Temple merchandise included dresses, coats, snow suits, raincoats, toys and accessories (Cook 2004). Sears and Roebuck featured a line of Shirley Temple fashions inspired by her film costumes, including short dresses with matching panties and  bolero-style dresses, winter snow suits, hats and accessories.  As the 1935-36 Sears catalog copy stated:  “Shirley and her cute clothes have stolen everyone’s heart; no wonder every little girl wants to wear the same styles.” The earned royalties from Temple’s licensed merchandise exceeded $100,000 in 1935; and exceeded  $200,000 in 1936.

However, it was the Shirley Temple “look” that most mothers were after. Her iconic hairstyle of all-over-ringlets was imitated everywhere and is still recognized today. Her style of dress, frequently identified with toddler-hood, included simple frocks made to accentuate a toddler’s belly, with puffed sleeves and hemlines that were consistently 19 inches from the floor (Cook 2004). These were trimmed with simple and unobtrusive decorative elements, such as embroidered or appliquéd, and lace edged hemlines and collars. Interestingly, conflicting fan magazines reports suggest that Temple was both disinterested in her film costumes and insistent that they be of a consistent design.

In an issue of Hollywood from 1936, writer Sally Martin explains the challenges of costuming the child star:

One day, a long time ago when Shirley’s career was in its infancy, Rene Hubert, then 20th Century-Fox designer, was discussing Shirley’s clothes with Mrs. Temple. He made the remark that clothes for small girls should reach just to their fingertips. Shirley overheard and to this day insists that her dresses reach the specified length and not vary a sixteenth of an inch one way or the other. Costuming Shirley Temple presents a real problem to the studio designers. Accustomed to competing and excelling the world’s greatest modistes in creating styles for stars on the screen, the stylists never, before the advent of Shirley, had tackled the problem of clothes for a child star.” (Martin. 1936, 40)

1933 file photo, child actress Shirley Temple is seen in her role as "Little Miss Marker"

Yet, according to Marion Blackford, writer for Screenplay in an article that same year:

In Shirley Temple’s home, in the wardrobes and clothes-closets of her own room, there hang well over a hundred different dresses and outfits! They’re all hers. . . Shirley could go a quarter of a year wearing a different outfit every day from her own wardrobe, and never once in that length of time would she wear the same dress twice! Yet—and here’s one of the strangest things of all about this most amazing little girl in the world today!—Shirley Temple is probably the most UN-‘clothes-conscious’ child in all Hollywood. To her, clothes are just ‘part of the job.’ With stoic patience, she stands hour after hour in the studio fitting rooms, enduring the interminable putting-on-and-taking-off, squeeking faintly now and then at a mis-aimed pinthrust that punctures her chubby legs, turning this way and that, when and as bidden, co-operating with all the clothes-knowledge of a trained actress. But as for enjoying those clothes herself? – why it’s a fact that Shirley doesn’t even look at herself in the mirror when she’s trying on new things.” (33)

The article goes on to provide details from William Lambert, 20th Century-Fox’s house costume designer at the time, who “fitted  Shirley’s clothes for her when she first became a screen actress” (54):

‘I never,’ says Lambert, ‘seen an actress, of any age, so utterly uninterested in clothes as Shirley! And that, especially for a child, is unusual. From the very outset, her interest in what we were preparing for her to wear was purely perfunctory, mechanical. She’d come into the fitting room willingly enough, and she’d stand and be fitted with admirable patience, for a child. But do you think she ever took a look at herself in the mirror? NO, sir—not one glimpse!! She’d stand there in her little pink undies, with her chubby legs straight and firm. She’d let us twist her and dress her and stick pins in her. When we had the dress on, she’d still stand there, and never once look into the glass. . . Still without a look in the glass, she’d hurry back and out of the dress; would get into her own things—and make a bee-line for my drawing board and the colors I use when designing clothes. That was what she was patiently waiting for all the time. Being fitted was work—but drawing pictures was play, and that was what was on her mind. She’d grab my paints (oh, how I loved that!) and she’d draw picture after picture of Jimmy Durante. Funny part of it was, it looked like Jimmy. And she’d paint his big nose all nice and pink and then she’d be happy. Clothes?—they were forgotten. And say, let me tell you you couldn’t tell her anything about drawing, either. I’d try to make a suggestion or two. She’d just hold up her pink-nosed Jimmy Durante beside one of my style sketches. . .” (54)

The article goes on to explain, that while she may seem disinterested, she still has her opinion on her look in a film, and that she had definite preferences:

Don’t understand from Shirley’s fitting-room attitude that she doesn’t know what’s going on. Far from that! For instance: All her dresses are made 19 inches from the floor. Shirley has learned to feel the length. She knows by hanging her arms and leaning over just where the right length comes. She never has to look in a mirror—when they fit a dress, she hangs her arms and leans. ‘No—too long,’ she says. And Snip, off must come an inch or so. . . . She has one definite clothes-quirk: Everything has to match in color in whatever ensemble she’s wearing. It may make no difference to the camera, but even her socktops must match, precisely, the hue and shade of the dress she’s wearing. No sloppy work for Shirley. Everything has to be just so-so, too. IF there’s a bow on her dress, not a camera may turn on her until the ends and the loops are exactly even, to the quarter-inch.” (54)

Shirley Temple (center) in the "Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer" (1947)

Regardless, of her level of involvement in the creation of her image, Shirley Temple’s iconic style left a imprint on children’s fashion of the 1930.

In the 1940s, Temple helped to define the new “teenager” demographic, and portrayed an impressionable teenage girl in the film, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), among others. More than that, her iconic look has remained one often imitated in popular culture.

Below is an absolutely perfect video of Temple from the 1934 film, Baby Take a Bow (costumes by Royer), which exemplifies both Temple’s sartorial and film styles. Enjoy – and thank you Ms. Black for leaving with such a voluminous collection of films to enjoy:

References:

Martin, Sally. “Hollywood’s Charm School: Shirley’s Personal Wardrobe,” Hollywood, November 1936.

Blackford, Marion. ‘Miss Temple’s Best Bib and Tucker,’ Screen Play, August 1936.

Punk Style: An Interview with Monica Sklar

My colleague Monica Sklar, has just published a new book, Punk Style (available as of January 16, 2014; Bloomsbury) and I’m happy to say she agreed to an in-depth interview for Fashion Historia.* Sklar obtained her PhD in Design-Apparel Studies from the University of Minnesota. She has taught several college-level courses in dress and retailing, worked in art and design museums/galleries in multiple capacities, and has published widely on the subject of subcultural style.

The following are her answers to a few key questions to help understand the history and evolution of Punk style.

FashionHistoria: How do you define Punk style? What do you think are the key elements of Punk fashion?

Monica Sklar: Punk remains an esoteric and amorphous concept. So it is difficult to define and to categorize its components as punk or not punk. In Punk Style, I deliberately allowed interviewees and all sources to self-identify as punk, rather than coming into the project with preconceived parameters.

In the beginning, punk-styled apparel was self-made or pieced together through bricolage. It was available for purchase only through specific channels, like small boutiques and fetish retailers, ads in fanzines, or punk events. From its 1970s origins through its various present-day incarnations, punk is commonly rooted in those who are in some way disenfranchised from society. Self-identified punks may be critical of mainstream art, politics, popular culture, consumerism, lifestyles, or sexual and social mores. Punk dress was rooted in a desire to be ironic and anti-hegemonic; it reinvented mainstream styles to critique society via bricolage and appropriation.

Many elements of punk dress, such as combat boots, studded belts, and vibrantly dyed hair, have become iconic and stable in popular culture, yet symbolism and meanings have changed throughout time. Not all of those who self-identify as punk share the same perspective on sub cultural dress.

The Bromley Contingent: (Sex Pistols fans), Anti-clockwise. Debbie Juvenile, Siouxsie, Phillip Salon, Spunker Severin, Simon Barker, Soo Catwoman, Linda Ashby, Sharon Hayman (?) (via punk77.co.uk)

The stereotypical image is of a sneering youth wearing something akin to a leather motorcycle jacket, tattered black band logo T-shirt skinny-fitting bondage pants or ripped jeans, combat boots, studded or safety pin metal accessories, and vibrant body modifications such as heavy cosmetics and/or a colored Mohawk. These signifiers are rooted in fashion designs, sub cultural trends, and popular street styles that have been incorporated into punk dress since the 1970s. However, they may not tell a complete story of punk style. It would go on to include the items from hardcore and Goth and skaters and hip hop too.

When asked to describe punk dress in general, many self-identified punks interviewed for Punk Style responded with the phrase “I guess” and other qualifiers and pauses, suggesting they were trying to put themselves in the shoes of someone else looking in on the punk scene; they were trying to describe what an outsider might see. While their answers did support the idea that punk has an iconic look, they also reflected the understanding that this look is often merely a caricature, presenting only a narrow viewpoint. In contrast, they answered with confidence to the question “describe punk dress as you personally have worn it” and other related inquiries into their own punk styling.

Today, punk style has a forty-year history, with a host of influences and a myriad of characteristic pieces that make up the look, as well as flexibility to include new components. Origins of the key aspects of punk style—which include the color black; heavy accessories; boots; clothing that is tattered and manipulated; piercings; tattoos; unnatural hair colors; facial hair; band logos; and jeans, T-shirts, and hooded sweatshirts—have become fragmented and fractured through various subgenres under the punk umbrella.

The most important thing is that it’s punk by the wearers definition

FH: In terms of the history of fashion, what do you feel are the most important origins or touchstones for punk style; it’s influencers, icons, and predecessors?

Vivienne Westwood dressed as Margaret Thatcher for Tatler Magazine

Sklar: As I describe in Punk Style, New York and London in the 1970s were areas of great impact on what would become the aesthetic aspects of punk style, however it was developing in many places at the same time and has continued to evolve. In London Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren were innovators, introducing looks that would come to epitomize punk, through their boutique. Social groups, such as the Bromley Contingent, explored a host of exciting clothing styles as well. In New York, musicians like Richard Hell and the Ramones were crucial and derived their look from street styles. Tish and Snooky of Manic Panic had the first punk clothing store in the US and would go on to start their widespread line of cosmetics/hair dye. Scene leaders within geographic regions or new related movements such as hardcore, riot grrrl, and cyberpunk, for example, would change the visuals to suit new motivations and their dress would be widely copied. An increase in subcultures interrelating with punk, such as skinhead and rockabilly, brought more styles into the fold.

Punks styles’ predecessors were social, art, design and political waves including the Situationists, Lettrists, hippies, beatniks, greasers, mods, Dadaists, surrealists, and even mid century modernists, and the arts and crafts movements. Tech progressions have strongly impacted its current incarnations. Basically whoever incorporated DIY and “status quo challenging” ideas into their style could be said to have helped shape punk style.

FH: How do see Punk style manifesting now and in the future?

Sklar: Maturation and accessibility are two major benefits and complications of punk style today. Original punks of the 70s and 80s are now parents/grandparents, homeowners, leaders in their professions, though many are burned out or deceased. Yet new adolescents declare themselves punk daily, and those two groups have limited experiences in common. But, punk can be related to both of them in different ways. The style reacts over time to have new cultural relevance and individuals have changing budgets, bodies and lifestyle.

As technology has increased access to one another and to products, more people can partake in acquiring punk style. Yet, some would argue it then lacks the intimacy and commitment that once was a key factor in developing the “look.” I think the future will see more normalization of iconic punk styles such as colored hair, tartan plaids, body modifications, and new ideas coming into the fold to continue to differentiate that in-the-know punk person from the rest. Some would say that the normalization means it is watered down if it lacks shock and commentary. Others would argue that mainstream acceptance of more diverse appearances is a “win” for a battle punk was fighting against repression and conformity.

Many thanks to Monica for taking the time to answer these questions – please feel free to leave yours in the comments section below!

*Some may remember that I am a former contributor to Monica’s blog, Worn Through.

Four New Fashion Journals from Intellect (Download for Free!)

Intellect publishers has just announced that they will be publishing four new journals dedicated to the study of clothing and fashion (Clothing Cultures; Fashion, Style & Popular Culture; Critical Studies in Men’s Fashion plus, coming soon International Journal of Fashion Studies). They’ve also announced that you can download the first issue of each for free! Once you get the idea for what they each cover, be sure to check out those Calls for Papers… For more other information please email pennock@intellecbooks.com.

Clothing Cultures

Increasingly clothing becomes the key signifier in determining social interaction and behaviour. This journal embraces issues and themes that are both universal and personal, addressing (and dressing) us all. Download the first issue for FREE More details


Fashion, Style & Popular Culture

Edited by Joseph H. Hancock II, Fashion, Style & Popular Culture will provide an interdisciplinary environment for fashion academics and practitioners to publish innovative scholarship in aspects of fashion and popular culture. Download the first issue for FREE More details

Critical Studies in Men’s Fashion

Critical Studies in Men’s Fashion is the first journal to exclusively focus on men’s dress. The journal provides a dedicated space for the discussion and theoretical development of men’s appearance from multiple disciplines. Download the first issue for FREE More details

 

Coming soon: International Journal of Fashion Studies
By opening up the field of fashion studies to international non-English speakers, the journal will not only shed new light on some existing key themes of debate but it will also bring to the fore issues previously unattended. More details

Tempting finds on the Fashion bookshelf…

It seems to me that the pace of publishing in the fashion history field has been growing exponentially since I left graduate school. At that time, I remember being told by a professor that fashion books were few and far between, and the best place to find them was at The Strand (an amazing used bookstore in Manhattan).

Now though, the books just keep on coming. As readers may have seen over the last few weeks, I’ve been attempting to review many of them. Primarily, these have been coffee table books like Debutantes: When Glamour Was Born, beautifully produced exhibition catalogs like Pearls and Hollywood Costume and much-needed monographs like Jean Patou. For more book reviews check out the  “Books & Resources” subject area on the site.

Of course there are a number of books that I just haven’t had a chance to properly review, and I thought it would be a good idea to mention them here, so people have more of an idea on what’s just come out:

Gilded New York: Design, Fashion & Society (November 2013) of which the Sam Roberts at The New York Times said ““Forget the 1 percent. Consider them gracious and empathetic compared with the denizens of Gilded New York during two decades of excess from 1885 to 1905. This lavishly illustrated volume illuminates the mansions, costumes and other accouterments of the people whose philanthropy helped produce the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Opera, but whose self-indulgence also gave big money a bad name.”

Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500–1800 (September 2013) An exhibition catalog that the Wall Street Journal describes as “the fascinating history of weaving techniques, raw materials and design patterns shared through links of trade between cultures in Europe, Asia, Africa and the New World. . . . Authoritative essays on export routes, textile technology and global trends in taste complement fine photographs of textiles from around the world.”

Colette’s France: Her lives, her loves (October 2013) A heavily illustrated biography, with a beautiful cover, ForeWord Reviews describes by saying “Her beauty and brilliance are captured strikingly in this artful, sensual biography.”

Amazing books in this field continue to surprise, delight, and educate — I’m looking forward to the coming year of reading. And I don’t anticipate that the pace of fashion publishing will slow down anytime soon (especially as the divide between print and digital continues. Fashion books lend themselves well to the physically printed medium — at least for now!)