Tag Archives: New York

Uniformity at the Museum at FIT

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York, the purpose of which was to play guide to my friend Jill and a pair of twenty-four year olds who wanted to experience the big city. As such, fashion things were not number one on our list, but Jill and I managed to fit in two exhibitions.  First up is Uniformity, the latest at the Museum at FIT.

Uniforms are not fashion (though they can be fashionable) but they do influence fashion and designers.  The museum chose to show this influence though four categories of uniforms: sports, school, work, and the military.  Above, the curator, Emma McClendon, set the stage by giving us an example from each category, with an extra military uniform thrown in for good measure.

Perhaps that is because there are so many military influences in fashion that the category deserved extra representation.

Here we have on the left, a US colonel’s dress blue uniform from the 1950s.  It does not take a lot of imagination to see how designer Mainbocher took the men’s original to develop the US Navy WAVE uniform of WWII, center.  It does take a bit more of an imaginative stretch to see how Coco Chanel was inspired by blue military uniforms, but there it is in the brass buttons and navy wool of her suit from around 1960, right.

And that is how great designers work.  A garment is not so much copied as it is re-interpreted.

On the right you see the famous “Ike Jacket”, named for General Eisenhower, who favored the style.  During the war, and even afterward, the style became a favorite of both men and women as returning GIs found the jacket to be functional for civilian wear ( My father-in-law’s well-worn Ike jacket still hangs in the coat closet of his home.)  Designers like Claire McCardell adapted the look, as in her shorts ensemble shown above.  Note the bit of red plaid halter top, with was definitely not a part of the uniform.

On the left is a 1998 jacket and skirt from Comme des Garcons designer, Rei Kawakubo.  It is a pretty faithful copy of an olive drab men’s army jacket, but the sleeves have been ripped away.  Literally. You can’t really tell from the photo but the armholes are rough and a bit frayed.  On the right is Marc Jacob’s 2010 “army” jacket, which he paired with a long, romantic skirt.

Probably my favorite grouping of the exhibition was this one featuring the influence of the sailor’s uniform.  In the middle you see the typical summer and winter uniforms of a midshipman.  Though they seem timeless, the white suit is from 1912 and the navy is from 1915.

With their middy collars, the midshipman influence in these two very different dresses is unmistakable.  On the left is an 1890s dress made of red and white cotton, and intended for casual summer day wear.  One might even attempt a round of tennis in such a dress.  In an interpretation from the late 1950s, designer Norman Norell turned the dress into a luxury look, using silk instead of the expected cotton.  This dress was definitely not for playing tennis.

You might have mistakenly thought that the center look is a typical French sailor uniform, but instead, this is one of designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s many adaptations of the mariniere, or Breton shirt.  In 1984 Oscar de la Renta did a sequined version for evening.  The lace and striped look on the right is from designer Chitose Abe for her label, Sacai, 2015.

Work uniforms also influence fashion.  The flight suit of aviators has been adapted into fashionable looks many times.  The suit on the right could be a uniform if not for the bright pink color.  Made in 1976 by Elio Fiorucci, this jumpsuit came to the museum from Lauren Bacall.

Another work uniform that has been much adapted is the typical French waiter’s costume.  This ensemble is from Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel in 2015, so you may remember the Chanel show that was staged like a Parisian Brasserie.  All I can see that that perfect cardigan.

Though designed for children and very young adults, the school uniform also has been an influence on fashion.  The blazer dates to 1825 when members of a rowing team at Cambridge University wore “blazing red” jackets.  The garment became associated with college men’s uniforms.  On the left is what is thought to be a Princeton blazer from the 1920s.  The one on the right is a 1944 Princeton blazer.  Today the blazer is more associated with office attire, but it still has preppy connotations.

Here we see an influence of an influence.  The 1927 girl’s school uniform of the left clearly mimics the sailor’s uniform with the navy color and tied collar.  Unfortunately, you can’t tell that the uniform also reflects fashion in the dropped waist and pleated skirt.  On the right is designer Rudi Gernreich’s 1967 version of the schoolgirl’s uniform.  The sailor influences are still present.

Also go back to the very first photo.  What looks to be an additional school uniform is one, though it is from Japan and dates from a much more recent era.

And finally, you can see the influence that sports uniforms have on fashion.  In 1967 designer Geoffrey Beene made fashion news with his sequined football jersey dress.  It was featured in all the best fashion magazines.  In the middle is the real thing, a 1920s football uniform.  The craziness on the right is from Stella Jean.

The outfit on the right is very interesting.  It really could be mistaken for a uniform for an active sport, but it is actually from French designer, Ungaro, 1969.  It’s like he was inviting the wearer to join  Team Ungaro.  The set on the left is a cycling ensemble fro the 1980s, and the Swiss jersey on the wall is from 1972.

It’s interesting how sports teams have capitalized on their uniforms by marketing hats and jerseys to the general public.  Is that fashion?

I really enjoyed this thoughtful and well-presented exhibition.  We went late, an hour or so before the 8 pm closing, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  I really loved having Jill with me, as although she does love pretty clothes, she is a professional educator, not a fashion-obsessed crazy like me.  She was seeing some of these concepts for the first time, and I loved the way the museum made the crossover between uniforms and fashion so clear to her.

Now through September 16, 2016.


Filed under Museums

We Bring New York to You

For years Paris was the undisputed center of fashion, but during the two world wars, New York clothing makers capitalized on the absence of European imports. After WWII ended, New York was regarded as the center of American fashion and a leader in fashion worldwide.

I recently found this little brochure from Modern Manner Clothes, located on Fifth Avenue in New York City.  I haven’t found out anything about the company (it does not help that the company’s name contains words that show up in all kinds of searches.), but it appears that it was a sales venture that was similar to Avon.  There is a place on the folder for the name of the representative, and the sales pitch mentions shopping at home.

It’s the easiest way in the world to shop – right in your home at your leisure, at your convenience – direct from Fifth Ave., New York, to you.

No shopping hurry – no parking worry, but in the privacy of your home when you are all rested and at ease, you make your selection of New York’s beautiful styles.

There’s no date on the folder, but it is late 1940s.  The styles are similar to what was offered in catalogs like Sears and Montgomery Ward. Prices range from $4.98 to $16.98, which would be $52.78 to $180.26 in today’s dollar, based on inflation from 1947.  So, the dresses were not cheap, but neither were they expensive.

Click to enlarge


Somehow, though, I feel like Modern Manner Clothes was missing the point.  Even though claiming a New York or a Paris connection was a huge selling point, there really is no substitute for the experience of shopping in New York.  And it really is about the experience, rather than the purchases one makes.  I’ve strolled Fifth Avenue, stopped in at Saks, Bergdorf’s, and Tiffany’s, and never spent a dime.  It was more about seeing than buying.

A recent study at Cornell University indicates that humans get more pleasure from spending their money on experiences than they do from spending it on material objects.  If that is the case, and I do agree with the findings, then one would be better off spending an hour or two window shopping and then experiencing high tea or drinks at a fancy hotel.  Skip the latest “It Bag” and take in a couple of plays or musical events.  Forego the souvenirs and instead go to the top of the Empire State Building at dusk.  Make some memories.


Filed under Curiosities, Shopping, Viewpoint

1964 World’s Fair Novelty Print Blouse

The 1964 World’s Fair which was held in New York was a very big deal.  I wasn’t lucky enough to attend the fair, but I did read all about it in Life magazine and other publications.  It was all about the future, and how in order to survive all the countries were going to have to declare peace.  If only…

My friend Mod Betty at RetroRoadmap.com sent this gem my way recently.  She was selling some things when her neighbor noticed that the flags looked like they read “World’s Fair.”  You can barely make it out, but once you know the words are there, you see them.

This part of the print rather confirms that this is supposed to depict the 1964 World’s Fair.  The big globe, or Unisphere,  was the centerpiece of the fair and still can be seen at the site of the fair in Flushing Meadows.

The giant clam shell structure is probably the General Electric exhibit, The Carousel of Progress.  I can remember seeing it at Disney World in the 1970s.

Correction:  This is the Traveler’s Insurance exhibit, as identified by Rebecca.

My guess is that this fabric was made by a fabric printer who was trying to capitalize off the popularity of the World’s Fair without having an actual connection to it.   There were a lot of corporate sponsors, and I imagine they had their own official fair products for sale.  This fabric was close enough to the images of the fair for everyone to make the connection, but not close enough to actually claim to portray the fair.

A big thanks to Mod Betty for the wonderful addition to my collection.


Filed under Curiosities, Novelty Prints, Vintage Clothing

New York Fabric Shopping, Part II

Click to enlarge all photos

Not all the great fabrics of New York are to be found in the garment district. There are some fantastic stores selling textiles all over the city. I was interested in checking out three in particular.

First was Mendel Goldberg.  This small store on the edge of Chinatown specializes in imported wool and silk, and has the most beautiful selection of tweed and bouclé imaginable.   The place reminded me of the old Waechter’s Silk Shop that was located in downtown Asheville until the late 1970s.   It’s a narrow little space, and both walls are lined with the bolts and rolls of fabrics.   It’s the type of place that you rarely see any more.

On the left side of the store are the bolts of wool, which was on my shopping list.  I want to make a jacket, but I did not want the added problem of having to match a stripe or pattern.  I wanted dark blue.  I no sooner specified what I was after before the shopkeepers were pulling the bolts that matched my description.  It was hard, but I was able to settle on a stunning black and blue wool.

Then it was to the wall of silk to choose a lining.  Again, the lazy cutter that I am did not want a pattern that would have to be matched.  I found a dark blue with a light blue and white flower that had the added attraction of a woven-in dot pattern.

I hope you all like my choices:

Totally different but just as wonderful, I was delighted to visit the Marimekko flagship store.  Vintage clothing lovers might know Marimekko as an iconic 1960s brand.  Marimekko was founded in Finland in 1951, originally as a fabric design business.  Soon they began making clothing from their brightly colored fabrics.   The brand was carried in the US by Design Research and was perfectly in step with the Op Art influence that was showing up in fashion in the mid 1960s.

Their fabrics and many of the articles they make from them are still manufactured in Finland.

Marimekko occasionally does collaborations with other brands, like these Converse sneakers.

A cheerier store would be hard to imagine.  But I do have one that is in the running.

Les Toiles du Soleil features canvas fabrics and things made from them, imported from France.  It’s like a little touch of France set down in Chelsea.

The fabrics are woven in the Catalan region of southern France on antique looms.

The totes, small bags, and hats are actually made in the store.  There is an on site seamstress who works in the rear of the store.

Real espadrilles, made in France.


Filed under Shopping

Vintage Miscellany – August 11, 2013

The Vintage Traveler will be off to New York City this week, but there will still be postings here.  I might be a little slow responding, as I’ll be museum hopping and doing a bit of shopping and eating and well, whatever.

I’ll be tweeting my adventures, so if you want to know whether or not I get into trouble you can follow my tweets using the link in the side bar.  Wish me luck in my quest for lots of fashion fun!

*  Cone Denim in Greensboro, NC, has had to find and refurbish old looms to keep up with the demand for their selvage denim.  Capacity was increased by 25%.

*   Dior Couture is not your average sewing factory, and this short video shows why.

*   Colin McDowell looks at the state of fashion criticism and does not like it.

*   Saks Fifth Avenue will be sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Is luxury shopping endangered?

*   Honestly, some people have NO clue about life.

*   On my list for this week: Urban Fabric: Building New York’s Garment District.

*   Here’s look at some vintage travel posters in the Charleston Museum collection.


Filed under Vintage Miscellany

A Walk Through New York

People who know me know that I love to walk.  When I was teaching I’d walk home from school and I’d often have little kids stop me to ask me if I did not own a car.  I’m an early morning walker, and so I often get to see a place before it fully awakes.  At 7 AM even New York is a relatively sleepy city.

We were a little too late to see most of the Holiday windows and decorations.  It might have been January, but at Saks, spring had arrived.

The mannequins at Louis Vuitton were all set for a bit of travel.  That yellow would sure come in handy at the checked luggage carousel.

Herve Leger at Bergdorf Goodman.  Love the dress, love the window.

Of course the Bergdorf Goodman windows are so great that they now have their own book.   This display was in the little window beside the Fifth Avenue door.  Windows within the window.

Some of the jewelers were still in a festive mood.  Thank you, Harry Winston…

and Bulgari.

Here was a bit of Samsonite luggage to delight any lover of the city.  It’s called CityScapes.

And finally, a bit of yarn bombing.  It’s such a cozy little tree.

I know that some of you must be thinking that I’ve milked that New York trip long enough, and so you might be glad to know this is my final post about the city – at least until I visit again!


Filed under Viewpoint

The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology

One of the highlight of my trip to New York was a stop in at the Museum at FIT.  The current exhibition is called Fashion and Technology, a look at how changing technology has affected fashion design and garment production.  Don’t be misled by the name, thinking that all the garments are of modern, high tech fabrics.  The earliest garments in the show are a man’s coat and waistcoat, circa 1780-1800.  The items were made from machine knit fabric, the latest technological advance in the textile industry in 1780.

The five dresses shown above each illustrate a technology that we simply take for granted today.  The circa 1800 white dress is made from cotton, which was not easily manufactured until the invention of the cotton gin and the spinning jenny.  The circa 1844 brown dress is made of fabric woven on the new jacquard loom.  Note the sewing machine in front of the next white dress.  That dress shows a combination of both hand and machine stitching.  The last two dresses show advances in fabric finishes and dyes; the light brown dress has a moiré finish and the purple was dyed using the new to the 1860s aniline dye.

Note the computer screen in front of the white dress.  It shows the inner workings of the dress, letting the visitors see both the machine and the hand stitching present in the dress.  This was just one use of modern technology in the exhibition.  There were videos set up throughout the hall showing several runway shows that have incorporated technologies, including Burberry’s holograms and McQueen’s robotic paint sprayers.

The exhibition continues through the end of the 19th century and into the 20th.  There are some beautiful 1920s garments that show the influence of the the Art Deco movement and how technology influenced the design motifs of that era.  And the new technology of zippers is shown with a Schiaparelli dress and one by designer Charles James.

In this 1955 Charles James dress, the zipper helps to form the shape and fit of the gown.

With the 1950s and 60s came synthetic fabrics.  One really interesting dress was a “wash and wear” fabric dress by Claire McCardell which was displayed along with an ad for a washing machine (or maybe it was for powdered soap; I lost my note on it).

The photo above shows some of the interesting fabrics of the 1960s.  Starting on the left you see a pair of “space age” inspired boots and a dress by French designer André Courrèges.  The first pink dress is made from paper, and the second one is a dress from Pierre Cardin, made from a heat molded fabric.  There is a plastic disc dress from Paco Rabanne, circa 1965, and a jumpsuit by Emilio Pucci made of an elasticized silk shantung fabric, “Emilioform.”  Finally, the yellow coat is made by Yves Saint Laurent from PVC.

Here’s a closer look at the Courrèges and the paper dress.

No talk about technology and fabrics would be complete without a look at Ultrasuede®.  The suit on the left is by Halston, circa 1975.  On the right is a dress from Mary McFadden made from her signature poly pleated fabric.  And don’t miss the platform shoes with the built-in wheels.

On the left is a Pleats Please dress from  Issey Miyake , 1997.  The hologram ensemble is from Kenneth Richards. 1996.  And the jumpsuit is Jean Paul Gaultier’s look at cyberspace, 1996.

And of course, in the past few years, we have seen more and more influences from technology:  Gareth Pugh, 2012, Louise Gray, 2012, and Mandy Coon, 2013.

Fashion and Technology runs through May8, 2013, and if you are going to be in the New York City area, you really should make time to see it.  I went with my two friends, neither of whom gives a whit about fashion history (or so they thought) but both of whom were completely absorbed in the experience.  The only disappointment was that this was the only exhibition, as Ivy Style had just closed, and it left them wanting more.

The small photos are clickable to see enlargements.

All photographs copyright and courtesy of The Museum at FIT, New York.  To see more of the exhibition, visit the special website that FIT has set up for it.


Filed under Museums