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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!)

Holiday Book tease: “Hollywood Costume”

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Already called out for being “Gift-Worthy” by the Huffington Post and the Associated Press, today’s review is just a teaser for Hollywood Costume (Abrams) edited by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

Hollywood Costume is the lavishly illustrated coffee-table book and exhibition catalog from the Victoria & Albert exhibition of the same name. It frequently juxtaposes film stills with the physical costumes. The above costume was designed by Travis Banton for  Claudette Colbert in Cleopatra, 1934. The image below shows Colbert wearing the dress (and showing off much cleavage) For more on the costumes in this film, see my article at Worn Through from 2010.

Another spectacular costume featured in Hollywood Costume (along with installation shots and an essay by Sam Gatley on dressing the mannequin) is this costume for Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) in My Man Godfrey, 1936 by Travis Banton (Page 214-5, Gown and duster jacket designed by Travis Banton. The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design Larry McQueen. Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum).

My Man Godfrey happens to be one of my favorite movies (hello, William Powell!). The image of this dress is gorgeous in this two-page spread, but seeing all those glass bugle beads in motion in the film is just absolutely stunning. The scene below features the dress, but is also a fairly important point of the plot: (pardon the ad at the beginning of the clip):

For more wonderful insights, be sure to check out the book, Hollywood Costume (Abrams) edited by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

*Page 137  The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design Larry McQueen. Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum

More Holiday Gift Books: “Debutantes: When Glamour Was Born”

"Dresses of the early 1900s were often loosely tailored and simple with a slightly raised waistline. During the years between 1915 and the early 1920s, it wasn’t uncommon for a debutantes dress to be short. Audrey Hoffman, mother of Audrey Clinton, in her coming out dress made of silk, satin, and lace. New York, 1915."

For those who love all things fabulous, there is nothing quite like a debutante ball gown to sweep you off your feet. Debutantes: When Glamour was Born by Diana Oswald (Rizzoli International) offers a decadent peek inside the world of the debutant.

Debutantes: When Glamour was Born includes 150 photographs by renowned fashion photographers such as Horst P. Horst, Bill Cunningham, Cecil Beaton and Toni Frissell (among others), as well as reprinted society pages, documenting high fashion worn by society women in both Europe and the United States during the 20th century. It makes special use of previously unpublished pictures from personal archives of several debutantes (including Lavinia Baker and Tricia Nixon, among others). Gowns by the likes of Oscar de la Renta (who also wrote the foreword), along with Norman Norell, Norman Hartnell, Hattie Carnegie, Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Mainbocher, and Madeline Vionnet, among other un-credited designers are included.

According to the introduction by David Patrick Columbia, American’s adopted the practice of presenting a young lady into society (a key part of match-making for the wealthy) from Europeans in the 19th century. Surprisingly, American’s had stricter rules than did their British and French counter-parts. Columbia’s introduction goes on to highlight the role of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York Cotillions, present pages of Town & Country, and provide details of society parties for Doris Duke, Barbara Hutton, and Jacqueline Bouvier (Kennedy). It is a brief though sweeping overview (that could use some source citation).

"A master at creating shapes and silhouettes, Dior was known and sometimes even criticized or using over abundant amounts of fabric for just one dress. Chicago debutante Joan peterkin stuns in a strapless tulle and white satin Dior with white satin gloves. Chicago, 1949. Photo by Horst P. Horst."

The remaining five chapters of the book are photographic selections with detailed captions. Chapters are grouped thematically and titled: A Fine Elegance; Celebutantes; Glitter and The Dress; The Grandiose; and Summer Soirées. Photos are captioned with tid-bits of interesting information on the wearer and date, and sometimes the designers is mentioned and described. Example: “Debutante Tess D’Englanger wears a white organdy gown by Irene, 1952. Irene began her career as a costume designer and catered to both high society and Hollywood royalty.” (34)

The gowns in this book are beautiful, but  I think each chapter could have benefited from a short (two-page) introduction to provide better context and organization. That said, Debutantes: When Glamour was Born does provide photographic access to a very private world of the rich and famous with previously unpublished material, that could be useful to collections housing debutante gowns. It will also most certainly appeal to those looking for inspiration for formal gowns from history, or to add a bit of glamour to the coffee table of the fashion enthusiast.

Fore more on the book, see the New York Review of Books.

Fashion Factoid: Veronica Lake’s Hair

Known for her ‘peek-a-book’ hairstyle – it became a bit of a problem during World War II: “In the early 1940s, US government officials asked Lake to wear her hair up for the duration of WWII: it seems that too many women working in factories were imitating her famous “peek-a-boo bang” and getting their hair caught in assembly-line machinery.” (Turner Classic Movies)

Here’s a video making the point:

Holiday gift books (Part 2): “Pearls”

New from Abrams/V&A in time for holiday gift giving, is Pearls by jewelry historian Beatriz Chandour-Sampson and Hubert Bari, curator at the Qatar Museum authority. Meant to accompany the exhibition of the same name (on view through January 2014), this survey of pearl jewelry spans both time and the globe: from the Byzantine Empire to Jackie Kennedy to the present day.

Ceremonial Glove, Palermo, Sicily, before 1220: Red Velvet, gold, enamel, niello, pearls, amethysts, garnets, rubies, sapphires, spinels. Possibly for the coronation of Frederick II of the Staufer dynasty, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Weitliche Schatzkammer, Vienna

Beautifully illustrated, Pearls utilizes the Victoria & Albert and other museum collections to good effect. The text is both sweeping and detailed, which helps keep this volume petite by packed with information. Eight chapters (or essays) detail the global history and importance of pearls as jewelry.

Covering both its natural (and unnatural) history, as well as their historical context the chapters are basically chronological. While the book primarily covers the history of pearls in the western world,  the introduction, first, and concluding chapters explore the global aspects of pearls: their trade, their creation, and their particular role in eastern cultures.

Chrysanthemum Brooch, Tiffany & Co, New York, c1904, Gold, platinum, diamonds, pearls. The pearls are from Mississippi, Tiffany & Co Archives.

Not surprisingly, I’m interested in the twentieth century section of the book, and it does not disappoint in its representation of Belle Epoch, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco examples from makers and designers such as Cartier, Schiaparelli, Chanel, Tiffany, and the like. Photographs of royalty, socialites, film stars, and political figures pepper the pages of this chapter, providing context to significant pieces.

All chapters utilize a wide range of museum collections, high quality images, and very well written text making Pearls a marvelous gift for jewelry enthusiasts and historians alike.

Icon with Virgin and Child, Ivan Nikolaev Mnekin, Moscow, 1886. Gilded Silver, oil mainting on metal, enamel, freshwater pearls. Cyrillic maker's mark 'iM'" the pearls are from Russia. Qatar Museums Authority, Doha

CSA tour of “Wear to Party” in Ventura, CA

Balenciaga taffeta gown with lace trim, 1955 (Kyoto Costume Institute)

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the Costume Society of America program including a tour of “Wear to Party” at the Museum of Ventura County, as well as the tour of Lotusland with a lecture on Ganna Walska (the Polish opera singer) and the costumes designed for her by Erte.

I’m going to go into too much detail (CSA Members can look forward to a writeup in our Spring 2014 newsletter of the event). However, I do want to share a few photos from the tour of “Wear to Party” – which was fabulous, informative, and fun.

“Wear to Party” is an exhibit focused on the clothing worn while social entertaining in Ventura County, including beach parties, barbeques, dinner dances, and of the prom attended by local residents. Our tour guide was the volunteer curator (and former Smithsonian curator), Shelly Foote – whose knowledge seems endless. My favorites from the exhibit include several 1930s dresses: a garden party dress with a jellyfish print, a black taffeta evening gown with a dramatic back, and a black velvet gown with green beaded sleeves. However, the pink Balenciaga-esque prom dress was also a favorite. See more below.

Holiday gift books (Part 1): “Jean Patou: A Fashionable Life”

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Released just a few weeks ago, Jean Patou: A Fashionable Life by Emmanuelle Polle highlights the extensive private archives of the Patou heirs for the first time. This oversize monograph from Flammarion that Polle spent two years researching, features 250 color and black-and-white illustrations, including the much of the early days of fashion photography (such as those by Baron de Meyer).

The book is divided into three sections: a biography of Jean Patou, his work in Paris, and his work in the United States. Pages are covered from edge to edge with fashion sketches, photographs of garments (sportswear, swimwear, day-wear, etc, gowns), fashion photographs (including both street fashion and studio photographs), focused on the 1920s and 1930s – the height of his powers. It also includes information related to his famous perfumes-Joy and Que Sais-Je.

In New York in 1924, Jean Patou poses in one of the eighty-odd suits he claimed to own.

Though his career lasted a short fifteen years, his use of embroideries, jersey, and interest in day pajamas, and sportswear made him a rival of Chanel. The book also includes discussion and visual representation of the inspiration he gained during World War I-even including some garments he collected and kept as inspirational pieces. The book discusses his clientele, his friends, his lovers and gives an in-depth look at the man and his design work (much of which researched from private letters, diaries, and other previously unpublished material).

This book is a welcome addition to fashion history literature – as it is the first book to focus solely on the short but substantial career of Jean Patou since the 1980s. Jean Patou: A Fashionable Life is one of those rare gems that will be of interest to both established fashion historians, archivists, libraries, museums and  fashion enthusiast alike. Especially those interested in Paris, and the Art Deco period.

For a ‘sneak peak’ of the interior, check out the small gallery below.

 

* © Francis Hammond, “Declaration” evening top in pale pink silk tulle over matching silk chiffon, embroidered all over with white and silver satin tubes in a geometric diamond motif, Winter 1935. This garment, which belonged to the Princesse Nilfur, was worn under a tuxedo suit with a long skirt and jacket in black satin, lined in the same pink color as the top.

 

 

 

Weekend Reading: Smithsonian’s 101 Objects that Made America

Marian Anderson’s Fur Coat (1939)

Just a few days ago the new issue of Smithsonian Magazine landed in my mailbox. The entire issue is dedicated to the 101 objects (out of the 137 million in the Smithsonian’s collection) that are the ‘most important’ in American history and culture (arguably, of course). More than a few objects of clothing and textiles made the cut.

Each is accompanied by a small contextual essay and an illustration (usually a photograph of the actual object, but occasionally illustrations are included).

Neil Armstrong's Space Suit (1969)

Some of the essays are written by surprising people. For example, Martha Stewart penned the essay on the Singer Sewing Machine and Justice Sandra Day O’Conner wrote the essay on her own judges robe.

The essays are available in part or in full online, and grouped by theme: Wild America, Discovery, Voice, Power, Invention, Community, Happiness, America in the World, and Freedom. It’s a good issue and a unique look at the history of the U.S. The weekend’s approach is a good excuse to seek out the issue, sit down and read it (especially those for those with historical leanings).

What articles of clothing would you have included that they left out?

Neil Armstrong’s Space Suit (1969)

Lincoln’s Top Hat (1865)

Marian Anderson’s Fur Coat (1939)

Cesar Chavez’s Jacket (c. 1990)

Justice O’Connor’s Robe (1981)

Lincoln’s Top Hat (1865)

Singer Sewing Machine (1851)

Levi’s Jeans (1873)

Aids Quilt (1987)

Ruby Slippers (1938)

Michael Jordan’s Jersey (1996-97)

Muhammad Ali’s Gloves and Robe (1974)

World War I Gas Mask (1917)

U.S. Olympic Hockey Jersey (1980)

Star Spangled Banner (1814)