Category Archives: Viewpoint

From Towel to Dress

Several years ago I posted this photo of a cocktail towel that is in my possession, which goes to show what a great memory my friend Mod Betty has when it comes to design.  She was doing a bit of online shopping when she happened upon a dress with a design that rung a bell with her.  She sent the link my way to see if I could find my photos of the towel so we could compare the two.

As you can see, the two prints are not identical, but the dress print was apparently based on the print of the vintage towel.  Look carefully and you will see that the martini glass with  olive and the ice cubes have been added to the original design.  The website where this dress is sold describes the print as  a “unique new Atomic Martini print.”

My towel was made by Martex, which was originally a maker of printed kitchen linens.  Today, Martex is still in business and is owned by WestPoint Home, which also owns many of the other great American home textile makers including Stevens, Pepperell, and Utica.

Does the addition of the martini glass, the olive and the ice cube make this print new?  Is there a copyright violation?  It would take a copyright expert to answer those questions, something that I am not.

I love interesting printed fabrics, and I like the dress.  However, it bothers me that the line between what is vintage and what is reproduced is so terribly smudged.  I’m glad I’m a collector now, and not twenty years down the road, because between all the retro fabrics and reproductions, it is going to be hard to tell what is what.  Add to that all the people (including me) who are sewing with vintage patterns and vintage fabrics, and there are going to be a lot of very confusing clothes at the Goodwill of the future.

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Why Fashion Reality TV Needs to Be More Like The September Issue

I’m not much of one for watching television, but I’m always a sucker for anything that is related to fashion.  Project Runway is still on my list, at least until I get so frustrated by the obvious manipulations in production.  I’m still hoping that a US version of Great British Sewing Bee will appear here.

Last year designer Betsey Johnson and her daughter Lulu did eight episodes of a show called XOX Betsey Johnson.  I did not get the channel it was on so I did not see it.  According to the interviews I’ve read with the two Johnsons, the show was unscripted and they were just “living their lives.”  Somehow I don’t completely buy it, especially since the show included an “inspiration” trip to Tokyo, mother-daughter mammograms, and a retrospective fashion show complete with performance by Cyndi Lauper.

Betsey was recently on another reality show of a sort, Dancing with the Stars.  Did you recognize her in the very poor photo of my television screen, above?

Recently, two new fashion “reality programs” have hit the airways.  First up is The Fashion Fund, with is actually a showing of the proceedings behind choosing the winner of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America)/Vogue Fashion Fund.  It might be interesting except for one thing: the winner was announced before the program started.  Why would anyone care about watching a competition where the winner is already known?  It’s a mystery to me.

The other show is House of DVF, in which eight young women compete for a job as Diane von Furstenberg’s style ambassador, whatever that is.  It seems so contrived, with fake situations and anything for an excuse for Diane to walk up and down the stairway to her office.  The contestants are not likable, and they seem to be entirely clueless about what actually happens in a fashion house.

On the episode I watched the contestants were instructed to make style inspiration boards with the theme of the Côte d’Azur.  There seemed to be no instructions on what an inspiration board actually is, and several of the contestants did not even know where the Côte d’Azur is located.  I’m betting none of them gets the job.

What I really hate about this nonsense is that there is a real opportunity lost here.  Much in the way The September Issue film showed the inner workings of Vogue magazine, House of DVF should be about how a fashion house operates.  The September Issue worked because the producers saw the actual story in the day to day workings in which interesting people interact when putting together the most important issue of the fashion year.  Scenarios were not created nor were the events manipulated.  How much more interesting House of DVF would be if we were treated to how the business actually functions instead of a fabricated for TV mess.

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More Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

Copyright Timberland.com

Several years ago I wrote some thoughts about cultural appropriation in fashion.  It has been the most visited post on the site.  The topic continues to be of interest even after three years, partly because new examples keep cropping up and at the same time, old ones remained unresolved.

To review, cultural appropriation is when a culture adopts or uses specific things from another culture group.  It can be music, art, food, religion, celebrations, or fashion.  That does not sound so bad, but the term cultural appropriation tends to have a negative connotation, with elements of racism and imperialism implied in the term.   Also implied is the fact that the appropriator does not acknowledge nor understand the original meaning of the item being appropriated.

As I stated in my previous post, the feathered headdress is probably the best example that most people will understand.  Some Native cultures use the headdress in certain religious ceremonies.  The wearing of the headdress is not an arbitrary thing, but is instead reserved for certain members of the tribe.  It is small wonder that the appropriation of a religious object causes outrage in Native communities, but that did not stop Karl Lagerfeld from using them in the Dallas  Metiers d’art collection, nor did it stop Pharrell Williams from wearing one on an Elle UK cover.

When called out for cultural appropriation offenses, the common justification is that the wearer is honoring the culture.  I’m quite sure that no Native American felt honored when model Karlie Kloss wore a full headdress in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

To me, that the wearing of a religious object that has nothing to do with your culture should not be done is a no-brainer.  Unfortunately the issue keeps reappearing, as if some people did not get the memo that it is just not the thing to do.

Other examples are a bit trickier, as the example in my original post, the “appropriation” of Pendleton blankets by “hipsters.”  Even though the blankets themselves are not Native objects, being loosely designed from Native motifs, many Native communities use the blankets as gifts to mark milestones in a person’s life.  It’s an interesting case of possible reverse-appropriation, where Pendleton took Native motifs and modified them for a product that some Native communities ended up embracing.

So is this an example of cultural appropriation?  Should Natives who use Pendleton blankets in their ceremonies be mad over the hipster use of the fabrics?

I decided a long time ago that it was not up to me to decide what other people should be upset about.  However, in the grand scheme of things, I think indignation would be better placed in fighting the obvious appropriation of the headdress, and the blatant racism of certain sports logos and team names.

Last week journalist Robin Givhan wrote an excellent piece in the Washington Post about how fashion and sports intersect when it comes to this issue.  She mentions the fact that fashion has always borrowed from other cultures and other time periods.  And that is not always a bad thing.  Givhan gives an example of what she calls “cultural authentication.”

Cultural authentication is a far more complex process. It’s taking someone else’s cultural artifact and so deeply transforming it that it becomes intrinsic to its new surroundings. The original continues to exist and retains its meaning.  Robin Givhan, Washington Post, November 2, 2014

Givhan cites the example of how hip hop kids in the 1990s “appropriated” the trappings of the preppy set: Tommy Hilfiger  and Ralph Lauren clothing, Timberland hiking boots and sailing windbreakers.  But their styling transformed the look into something entirely different, so much so that some of the items of clothing are now associated as much with hip hop as they are with preppy.  But no one would confuse the two styles, would they?

Givhan’s mentioning of the hip hop look was not a randomly chosen example.  In early October there was a style feature on the Elle magazine site saying that Timberline boots were the next big thing.  They had been spotted on various celebrities, such as Rhianna, Gwen Stefani, and little North West.

Immediately there was a huge brouhaha on twitter about how hip hop had been left out of the narrative.  After all weren’t Timberlands “theirs” first? One of the protesters was given space on Elle to write a piece explaining the uproar.  In it she alluded to this as cultural appropriation, and that it seemed like people were being left out of the narrative because they were not rich, famous and white. (No matter that many of the women and girls pictured were Black.)

I’ll say it again; it is not up to me to decide what makes another person mad.  Perhaps if I had been a Timberland wearing hip hop girl in the 90s, I’d feel the very same way.  I do tend to think that we need to take a more realistic view of how trends reference the past.  Should every article about the Breton striped tee reference everyone from Pablo Picasso to me?  (I WAS wearing them in 1995.) Should an article about the Little Black Dress reference the Goths, who were wearing black when the rest of the fashion world was into jewel tones?  Should the author of the article have referenced hip hop?  How are fashion writers to know all the fashion trends of the past?  Is it their responsibility to research and document every precedent of a current trend?

The final point is that battles ought to be chosen very carefully.  Even when one has a legitimate beef, it might be better to let it slide in difference to more pressing issues.  Otherwise it just begins to look very us against them, and at that point people stop listening.

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October in Review

October came and went so quickly that it was three days into November before I realized it was gone.  It was a full month, and a beautiful one.

We spent a few days at our favorite inn which is in the restored section of Salem, NC.  Originally a village founded by Moravian missionaries in the eighteenth century, today Salem is half of the city of Winston-Salem.

Still, one gets a feeling of being in a quiet colonial town, especially at night when the tourists and school groups have left.

I was lucky enough to find this great Scottie pillow cover at a local thrift store.

I’ve already written about helping out with an estate.  Here are some of the patterns that came with the cutting table I got.

I spent a day at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, Georgia.  I was there to see the Pucci exhibition I wrote about earlier, but I also spent time with the permanent collection.  This painting is Taxi! Taxi! By Eugenie McEvoy.  I love how the pair of lovers in the back are reflected in the driver’s seat.

I left enough time to go shopping in downtown Athens.  There are several vintage stores, but they have a very young clientele, being in a college town.  It’s amazing what passes as “vintage” these days.

Of course I can’t survive just on museums and vintage.  Here’s my post museum and shopping lunch: pimento cheese burger, Bell’s amber, and fries.

On Halloween I was treated to this pile of deadstock vintage at the Metrolina Antiques and Collectibles show.  There were some really nice pieces in that pile.

It was a month of beautiful sunsets, but this one was my favorite.  It almost looked as if there were a giant glowing object just over the horizon.

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The Designer, September, 1918

As this September, 1918 The Designer magazine was going to press, World War I was winding down in Europe.  The Allies had begun the Hundred Days Offensive, and the Germans were looking for a way out without total surrender.  At home, though, women continued to harvest the crops and to do other important jobs that were left vacant as male workers joined the armed forces.  Many women wore pants, in the form of farm overalls or certain uniforms, for the very first time.

I’m presently reading an advance copy of a book about the clothing of WWI, Dressed for War: Uniform, Civilian Clothing & Trappings, 1914 to 1918, written by Nina Edwards.  Much of the information in the book is about dress in Britain, though Ms. Edwards includes information about clothing in Germany and the US and in the other participating countries.  It’s about so much more than clothing, and it paints a vivid picture of the hardships both at home and in the trenches.

WWI is now 100 years in the past, and that is a very long time. People who can actually remember the conflict are pretty much gone, and as for my own experience, the shared memories of my father and his contemporaries of WWII (which had ended only ten years before I was born) greatly overshadowed any tales I might have heard from a WWI soldier.  My grandfather and great uncles were of that magic age where they were too young for WWI, but too old for WWII.

So while WWII seems so real to a Baby Boomer like me, WWI seems so very long ago.  It is important to read books like Dressed for War, because the author drew heavily from the diaries and written records of people who experienced life during that horrible conflict.  We need to remember that wars are not just dates to memorize in history class.  It is from the stories of history that we can truly learn.

Dressed for War: Uniform, Civilian Clothing & Trappings, 1914 to 1918 is being published by  I. B. Tauris, and is now available for pre-order on Amazon.  Release date is December 31, 2014.

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Thoughts on Museum Visits

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Copyright Paramount Pictures

Recently I’ve come across two articles about museum-going.  The first, which was about how museums are good for you, I linked to several weeks ago.  The second one was in The New York Times last week, and was called “The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum.”  The title pretty much sums up what the article was about.

I guess I was not surprised to read that people are actually putting works of art and museum visits on their “bucket lists.”  As a person who loves museums, I’ve got a few left in the world I want to see before I kick the bucket.  But in our crazy speeded-up-take-the-photo-and-go world it appears that people are more concerned with announcing to their Facebook followers that they saw Van Gogh’s Starry Night than they are with actually seeing the art.  According to the article, visitors spend about fifteen to thirty minutes looking at a piece of art.

In some of our large museums one could spend only fifteen seconds in front of each piece of art and still not see everything in one visit. The author of the article, Stephanie Rosenbloom, suggests that it is better to focus in on just a few works that are of great interest than to try and see everything.  I know that when I visit a museum, I’m most interested in the works that show fashion, or in works that involve textiles.  I might spend fifteen seconds at a work that does not interest me, but ten or more minutes on the ones that do.  And I’ve been known to spend entire museum visits at one work that really resounded with me.

Rosenbloom also addresses that most polarizing of modern phenomena, the selfie.  Love them or hate them, the selfie photo is a part of our culture, and it is one of the ways to prove to the social media world that one did actually see the Venus de Milo.  Some museums are actually encouraging the practice as a way to identify with a work, much like Audrey does with the Winged Victory of Samothrace in 1957′s Funny Face.

Even if you do not want to read the article, you must click to it if only to see the photo of people in front of the Mona Lisa. Small wonder that so many people who view it say that the painting is overrated.  When I saw the Mona Lisa in 1991, I was completely moved by it, but then my viewing experience was very different from the one we see in the photo.

I was with a small group of friends in Paris and time was very limited.  One of the group really wanted to bee the Mona Lisa, so we tightened up our schedule to allow for a short visit.  In was a cold day in early April and we were at the Louvre when it opened.  We went straight to the Mona Lisa .  Even though the painting is under thick glass and at that time you could get no closer than six feet, we had the best possible viewing of her.  We had beaten the crowds, which were lighter than normal anyway due to it being off season, and so we spent a good thirty minutes looking and marveling and discussing the work.

As we left we went by the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory, and that was all we had time for.  I’m sure some people would think we did not get our money’s worth because we saw so little of the Louvre, but it was the most magical and memorable hour of that trip to France.

Maybe it is because I’ve been lucky enough to see many of the world’s great museums, but today I’m just as satisfied spending an afternoon in one of the many lesser known, but still wonderful museums.  Some favorites are the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Greenville County (SC) Museum of Art, and the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC.  And next week I hope to spend the day at another favorite, the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens.  They have a new exhibition on Emilio Pucci, who briefly attended the nearby University of Georgia, but I’ll also be spending some time with my favorites in their permanent collection.

UPDATE:  Please feel free to share your own small museum recommendations and museum visiting hints.

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Charm, October, 1951

Charm, as the subtitle tells us, was a magazine geared toward the young career woman.  In 1951 a career woman was often an office worker or a nurse or a teacher.  Personally, I’d like to see this woman in a classroom.

Teacher fashion gets a very bad rap, often with good reason.  I’ve witnessed too many teachers wearing ill-fitting dowdy denim jumpers and baggy elastic waist knit pants.  And come October, schools are filled with adults wearing heavy orange sweaters liberally decorated with scarecrows, pumpkins, and if the community allows, ghosts and witches.  But that’s only the beginning, as there are sweaters for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Valentine’s Day and so on.

Teachers will tell you that the reason they dress like that is because the job necessitates that they be comfortable and look cheerful.  While that is true, it does not mean that sloppiness is requisite.  Whether or not they like it, teachers are strong sartorial role models.  Children notice what the teacher wears and they get a sense of how a professional  is supposed to dress from the woman or man standing in front of them every day.

It may sound as if I’m being over harsh in my assessment of how many teachers dress.  It’s only fair to point out that for every teacher who looks like a refugee from the Quacker Factory, there is another who dresses simply but professionally, like our cover girl.  A trim and neat sweater topping a pleated skirt or a pair of well fitting slacks with a scarf at the neck (brooch optional) makes a good school uniform for the teacher, and sets a high standard for the children to aim for in the future.

Of course, when I retired there were five black pleated shirts in my closet.

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