Vintage Miscellany – January 29, 2017

The study of how people dress is a serious discipline.  I’m saying this because the people who are professional dress historians and educators have, for the past thirty years or so, struggled to let that fact be known.  Pick up almost any book written about fashion studies in the twentieth century, and the introduction will stress how fashion IS a serious area of study.

Go to a conference for dress historian, and chances are good that you will stumble on this conversation. Even museum professionals continue to make this point. In The First Monday in May, Andrew Bolton spent much of his airtime lamenting his lack of respect within the Met.

What we wear, and how we wear it ARE important parts of our culture.  A garment can be a powerful symbol, as the Phrygian cap was during the French Revolution.  Even today, over 225 years later, that cap is strongly associated with the Revolution.

Garments can reflect a person’s station in life and their political views.  Black has long been a symbol of mourning in Western cultures, and even today, many people will wear black to a funeral or wake.  In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Suffragettes wore purple, white, and green, and in the USA, gold.  Today, many working for equal rights have rediscovered these symbolic colors and are using them to help make a point.

World events have gone at a crazy fast clip in the past two weeks, and it might seem that talking about fashion is a bit frivolous.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

* Will the pussy cat hat endure as a symbol of the recent women’s marches?  Museums are adding examples to their collections.

*  Hillary Clinton’s choice to wear a white pantsuit to the Inauguration was no accident.

*  The clothes we wear to work affect how others perceive the job we are doing.  Sean Spicer’s recent fashion transformation is a great example of using image to try to build credibility.

*  Kellyanne Conway defended the made in Italy Gucci coat she wore to the Inauguration by saying she was the “face of Donald Trump’s movement.”  She went on to apologize.  She was “sorry to offend the black-stretch-pants women of America with a little color.”

* After all the speculation, Melania Trump wore a Ralph Lauren coat and dress to the Inauguration.  She was stunning.

*  Not all the fashion and art news is from Washington.  First up, a lesson why you should never loan your prized possessions to friends.

I’ve been writing about the human rights and environmental issues in the garment and textile industries for almost fifteen years.  In my mind, the solution comes down to one big truth:  In order to solve the problems, people are going to have to see the benefit in paying more for their clothing. The time of spending lots of money on lots of cheap clothing needs to be replaced with spending the needed amount of money on ethically produced, well made and designed clothing.

*   An article from the UK continues to bust the myth that “garment factories exploiting workers is a problem restricted to low-wage Asian nations.”  An undercover investigation discovered that workers in UK garment factories were making as little as  £3 an hour, while the minimum wage is  £7.20.

*  A USA producer breaks down the cost of making higher quality garments.  thanks Jen for the link

*  Those campaign promises of good manufacturing jobs for the unskilled?  Easier said than done.

*  “The minimum wage in Bangladesh is 32 cents an hour.”  Those protesting for more are arrested.

*  And just to prove that I’m not completely overwhelmed with the negative, here is a nice feature on the resurgence of home sewing.


Filed under Viewpoint, Vintage Miscellany

14 responses to “Vintage Miscellany – January 29, 2017

  1. Christina

    Is Kelleyanne Conway channelling Nancy Reagan in that suit?


  2. A testament to this study I can assure there is more than buying an outfit ! Having “dressed” executive celebrity-media professionals for work and editorial requires both knowing where/who/what arena you are dealing with! The comfort zone factor is all. Appropriateness is all. Washington is a far more complicated situation than most understand being from/working in fashion there for more than 40 yrs. It was …an interesting career!


  3. Ruth

    You know, everybody wanting to sew and cook, etc. are wonderful, but i suspect in a few years a lot of that new stuff they bought will be in tag sales and thrift stores. I sewed for years, like my mother and especially my grandmother. I also spent years in home ec refining things I learned on my own.
    Neither of my sisters were interested, though both made a stab at it, and neither of my daughters cared about it. The oldest is trying to learn but gets frustrated easily, and I’m not there to help her. She did try to learn, but didn’t like the way I taught her. I suspect the younger generation is going to be worse. So many of them have been brought with the concept if “Instant Gratification” that they can’t muster the desire to go through all the trial and error process of learning a skill like sewing.
    Cooking is something even the worst of us can eventually bumble through (I just figured out gravy at 60!). Sewing, to me, at least requires a lot more effort. Just like carpentry, motor repair, and other skills nobody wants to learn anymore.
    Another problem is so many of them will buy the cheapest machine and fabric, thinking they can turn out what they see in magazines. Though the way some of that stuff looks it just might be possible. I think the TV show about fashion designers does as much of a mis-service there too, because those kids aren’t just someone off the street but people who have been in design school and worked on sewing for years.
    My husband has been watching videos of people who are trying to use those new 3D printers and the biggest problem he sees is they don’t read instructions! They just yank everything out of the box and expect it to work. It would be nice to see a return of the home ec and shop classes to schools, but I don’t see that happening. I think my brothers and sisters were the last ones to get that in school, and they were at least able to take whichever one they wanted then (wish I’d been able to take some of the carpentry classes back then). Mike Rowe has really been sponsoring a lot of kids in what we would’ve called Vo-Tech, something a lot of kids could benefit from.
    Sorry this is so long, it’s been a pet peeve of mine for a long time now!!


  4. Ruth

    BTW, am I the only one who doesn’t see your little Instagram picture on the right hand side? I’m not sure why it stopped showing up.


  5. You’re right, when I studied “History of Design” at university in the late 80s fashion was very much the poor relation to architecture and industrial design. Yet it is the thing that touches everyone’s lives – without exception.
    We can’t all live in a Corbusier flat or furnish our homes with (genuine) William Morris tapestries but we do all wear clothes. Perhaps their very familiarity bred contempt in what was back then a male dominated discipline.
    Glad to say all that has changed now even if we do still have to remind people of it’s importance.


  6. I was feeling very meh about the pussy hat thing. I couldn’t help thinking it looked/sounded juvenile and silly, rather than tough. But I have to admit that seeing the absolute sea of pink in the photos–it was very effective! It’s not my aesthetic, but it worked.


  7. Politics aside, I feel as if I was in the minority with actually liking Conway’s ensemble for the inauguration.

    I’m glad that museums are taking the imagery of the pussy hat seriously and that it remains an icon.


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