Sunday, August 28, 2016

"80 Years of Fashion": Part One

What follows is part one of the complete, unexpurgated essay I wrote for English class during the school year of 1954-55, age twelve. This is what I meant when I told you "I've always been this way". I assume the attempts at humor were intentional, but it was too long ago to know for sure.

This got an A from a very generous teacher. She did wish the material could have been "a bit more condensed". 


Have you wondered who wore the first clothes? The caveman was probably first. His wardrobe consisted mostly of sheep and tiger skins, maybe some mink if he was wealthy.

Now I'll skip a few thousand years and begin at 1850. This year approximately begins the Victorian era which was perhaps the ugliest period of the centuries. Meaningless ornament and veneer were applied to a design of already poor taste. Colors were crude; bonnets frankly hideous.

It was necessary to wear heavily padded petticoats until the steel-rigged crinoline, or hoop-skirt, was invented. Horsehair and crin stuffing were used. The crinoline got its name from this stuffing. Since its invention in 1530, designers have tried to revive the crinoline about the middle of each century thereafter, but it never quite reached its exaggerated shape of the 1850s.

Often it took 1,100 yards of material to make a dress in vogue at this time. Materials were cheap and gauze-like. The Empress Eugenie of France popularized silk from Lyons, but it was too heavy and you couldn't take the preferred short gliding step when walking. Most dresses were worn only once because its beauty depended upon the freshness of the material.

Style star Eugenie
Many petticoats were worn, and this is a list of what you'd have to get into before you put your dress on:
1) Lace trimmed drawers
2) Horsehair lined under-petticoat
3) Flannel petticoat
4) Three and 1/2 yards of horsehair
5) Calico petticoat stiffened with cords
6) Wheel of thick plaited horsehair
7) Three starched muslin petticoats
Rather bulky, wouldn't you say? All this weight was a terrible threat to good health.

Billowy skirts with flounces upon flounces were popular. Sleeves got larger until they were very wide at the elbow. Another popular type of sleeve was called the "Pagoda" sleeve. Dresses were adorned heavily with the customary junk and bric-a-brac.

It was impossible for ladies to get into overcoats, so shawls and mantillas had to be adopted.
Poke bonnets and leghorns made of straw were popular. Heavy gold jewelry was worn by both men and women, and so were vests. These vests were worn with a Russian Zouave coat by women. Kid slippers (especially black) were very popular. No heels were worn on ladies' shoes.


There were many difficulties in wearing these clothes. Actresses had to wear them even in medieval and Greek plays. This was thought to be the cause of the skirt's downfall. These dresses were too thin and inflammable. At one great church rally over three thousand women were burned alive when the place caught fire, because the dresses were so thin.

Empress Eugenie is said to have taken 250 dresses with her to the three-day opening of the Suez canal.

Men wore frock coats (especially plaids and checks) and a starched shirt with a little frill. A huge bow tie was popular for evening, along with very tight trousers. Silk top hats were popular, also the straw boater. The bowler hat was first introduced.

Children's clothes were much like that of their parents'. Boys' clothes were very un-masculine. Styles for children were fancy and frilly. However, simpler clothes were designed for the country. The girls wore hoops and crinolines too. The pantalets didn't show yet, but a bit of petticoat sticking out was considered fashionable.

Boys wore skirts to the age of nine. Older boys wore feminine laced pants.

Frolicking in the fifties
to be continued...

Friday, August 26, 2016

French Without Tears

Sonia Rykiel flashing a rare smile
Sonia Rykiel died in Paris this week at age 86. I came of age in the '60s and Sonia Rykiel spoke to my generation of young women, full of confidence in ourselves to handle careers, husbands (or lovers), chidren and family (if we wanted) or complete independence. We felt like pioneers because we were.

Sonia was one of the few French designers whose work reflected this new freedom. Her designs were more wearable and affordable than French couture. Most notably her innovations (the poor boy sweater, culottes, flowing lines in knitwear, subdued but romantic dresses, minimal ornamentation) were widely copied and filtered down to those of us who, sadly, could not quite afford to shop at her left bank boutique.

Early Rykiel

It has always surprised me that French women have the reputation for being austere and disciplined dressers. While her designs eschewed frippery, they were always easy and playful. Sonia came up with innovative touches like reversible dresses and jackets, exposed seams and hemlines with frayed edges. She whipped up delicious inky hues one year and switched to hot tones the next. She always chose basic black for herself, capped with a head of flaming red hair worn with her trademark "fringe". We also have Sonia to thank (or blame) for being first to add words like mode or amour onto her designs.

Sonia's La Belle Parisienne

Sonia Rykiel embraced womanhood and designed her clothing to be worn by women of all ages. Interviewed in 1987, she said "We are working women. Also we have the problem of children, of men, to take care of our houses, so many things. I try to explain that in my clothes. They are clothes for everyday life." It probably sounded better in French.

Although she retired in 2009, Sonia's daughter Nathalie had long worked with her and the brand is still going strong.

Fall 2016 campaign

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Weighing in on the September Issues

The blessed event that is the September fashion magazines weighs in at 12 pounds this year. In my world that's qunituplets. The fashionable five are Vogue at 800 pages, Harper's Bazaar at 584, Elle at 528, Marie Claire at 316 and Glamour, the runt of the litter, at 304 pages.

The health of a magazine is determined by its number of pages, signifying many or fewer ads. Could you hear the clink of glasses down at Conde Nast as they toasted easily besting all rivals (especially Harper's Bazaar)? Things may not have been as happy at Glamour.

I haven't looked inside yet. I must Do Certain Things First (like get dressed and feed the cats), but my fingers are itching.

There are those who feel there will still be nothing for a WOACA* to wear. That's a good possibility. By what I've seen in preview, there may be nothing for anyone to wear. Style seems to be going through a meat grinder right now. What interests me most in the magazines is seeing how events and culture play into our notions of beauty and fashion.

And maybe finding one or two things to buy.

*Woman of a Certain Age

Saturday, August 20, 2016

"I'll Have What She's Wearing"

Further proof that beautiful is forever, this is a 1954 photo of Audrey Hepburn modelling a dress in Amsterdam. That's all the info I have.

I thought I'd seen every photo of Audrey ever published as I've been following her since 1954. Guess I missed this one.

That beautiful face! That gorgeous smile! That dress! Couldn't you wear it today (or next month when it's cooler)? I don't know the fabric or the color, but I'm guessing it's a burgundy and black brocade. That's what I want it to be. Not sure if I'd add the long black gloves, but Audrey has no problem wearing a dress-up dress with a pair of black flats. Copy that.

Lanvin does brocade
This winter, lovers of the Boho look will be doing it in brocade. Dolce and Gabbana are the modern masters. Brocade makes any silhouette look dressy. "Brocade" is from the Italian "broccato", meaning embossed cloth, and it turns up in textiles of many cultures. And yes, "broccoli" has the same word root.

Whether Audrey's Dutch dress is actually brocade or not, check out the simple shapes of the A-line skirt, dropped shoulder, short sleeves, high jewel neckline. A woman of any age could wear this dress. It's a dress for the ages (on the perfect role model).

Does lace with brocade = brocace?


Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Fashionable Burger

This, my friends, was the (loaded) cheeseburger I enjoyed at RL, the Ralph Lauren restaurant in Chicago. I did not take the photo as nothing would have persuaded me to be so gauche in such a beautiful place. And the light wasn't this good.

For $17, fries included, (tack on another $4 for bacon and cheese) I enjoyed one of the best burgers ever in the serene elegance of Ralph Lauren magic. Who else could conjure this gracious version of Downtown Abbey?

Ralph Lauren in my kind of town, Chicago

Service was impeccable. No one cast us a hairy eye for ordering burgers. The people watching was superb. I hated to leave. Fortunately the store was then closed.

Midnight at Ralph's in Paris

The Paris restaurant ups the fantasy even more. It's housed in a former 17th century chateau on the Boulevard St. Germain. There the hamburger comes with cole slaw and a silver bowl of caramel corn with the coffee service.

Caramel corn with your coffee

I haven't made it to the New York restaurant yet, dubbed the Polo Bar and adjacent to the Polo store on East 55 Street. I understand it's a hard reservation to come by.

I'm not a Ralph Lauren gal. His clothes are not my style, though I often wish they were. He's one of the Good Guys, deserves every wonderful thing he has, and I wish him all the best. One of these days I'd love to tell him, too. Preferably over a cheeseburger.

Your table is waiting at the Polo Bar...

Monday, August 8, 2016

Finding Art in the Museum

Call me crotchety, but I'm sick of seeing tourists in a big city dressed as if they were visiting Disneyworld. And it might just not be tourists either. This includes those who should know better (ie anyone my age).

While it hardly ruined my vacation in Chicago (a great city by the way), I was greatly relieved to see that the crowd visiting the Art Institute had all Made an Effort.

This is not to say there was a fashion parade going on. It wasn't the Met Ball, nor should it have been. People were dressed appropriately (and comfortably) for enjoying the art and being in that great space.

I even saw a young woman evoking Audrey Hepburn and looking as lovely as the art herself.