Easter Sunday, 1960

Easter60I love Easter photos because they show women in their dress-up clothes and give you a sense of what the codes for proper attire were at the time. In this photo, taken just as the fashion revolution of the sixties was getting started, many elements are in transition. Both women have on floral hats, marking both Easter and Spring. Both wear coats on what looks like a breezy, somewhat chilly day.  Their coat styles are quite different, however. The younger woman on the left has on a dressy version made from a shiny material with a wide collar and elbow length sleeves, covering up her lower arms with very long gloves.  Comparing this coat to styles in Jonathan Walford’s excellent book, Sixties Fashion: From Less is More to Youthquake, it was an up to date look for the year 1960. Her older companion, most likely her mother, wears a more traditional cloth coat but no gloves.  Although I thought that fashion rules of the time would dictate that shoes and purse should match, note that hers do not. She also has no trouble wearing white shoes before Memorial Day.

Unfortunately, we can’t see anything of the older woman’s dress, but the coat length is certainly consistent with clothing from the fifties. Her companion, however, reveals that skirt lengths were on the rise.

This is as much a car photo as a fashion shot.  On the back is written, “Easter Sun., April 17, 1960. 1960 Plymouth.”

Posted in 1960s, General | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The Rosies Remembered

RR2_14The Farmerette of World War One might not be well known, but Rosie the Riveter of World War Two is one of the most iconic American images of that conflict. Women streamed into all kinds of jobs during the war, from offices to railroads, but those who worked in shipyards and airplane factories caught the public imagination. While not all of these women were young, some of those who chose wartime industrial work as their first jobs are still alive today. These former Rosies were recently honored at a White House reception and a new museum in Richmond California, site of one of the biggest ship builders. Susan, who writes the must read blog Witness to Fashion, sent me the links.

What was unusual about the Rosies?  Not that they were “one of the first to break the gender barrier in the American workplace,” as the author of the San Francisco Chronicle article states. Women had been breaking gender barriers for a long time, moving onto the staff at newspapers and into boardrooms. Instead it was that they were taking on high paying unionized industrial jobs that many people didn’t think they could do. The Rosies proved them wrong.

Looking at these women gives us a chance to reflect on changing dress codes since World War Two. Agnes Moore, pictured on the right, dressed up in a black suit, hat, and gloves to apply for her welding job. At the White House, she wore a vest, turtleneck, and pants. (Clearly all those honored dressed in a Rosie-like outfits for the occasion, including the colorful bandanas that they used cover their hair.) But this casual look is continued at the opening reception at the Richmond Museum.

RR1_14What are the big changes?  Older women weren’t the first to embrace pants, but now they wear pants most (if not all) the time; they have set aside their gloves, although a few still wear hats. Unlike the older women of previous generations, they are certainly not afraid of bright colors anymore. And today’s version of the sensible shoe might just be the gym shoe.

Posted in 2010s | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

My Last Jacket

boucle1Well, first off let me say that I know this won’t be my last jacket…but I would like to aim for something less formal. I started sewing again over fifteen years ago in order to make jackets for my job as a university professor. Even though I live in Southern California, ground zero in the casual clothing movement, I liked to wear jackets when I lectured to students. Who knows what they thought, sitting there in pajama bottoms and cut offs, but it gave me a sense of authority.

Now I’ve been retired almost four years, but I keep making similar jackets. They might look great in a lecture hall or a conference room, but they don’t really fit my life of reading, blogging, and walking to the library.

After consulting many blogs and wardrobe planning books, I have learned that I am what is called a “table top dresser.”  On the bottom, I wear an endless stream of dark colored pants, now mainly navy blue. On the top, I wear either dark or patterned tops and some kind of jacket, except when it is very hot. It’s the “some kind of jacket” that has me stuck.

This particular creation, made of bouclé (a fabric made of twisted yarns of different sizes)  took a very long time to sew. I didn’t want the hassle of a Chanel-style jacket, with its patch pockets and trim. Instead I thought I would whip up an easy one from a tried and true pattern that used bouclé but didn’t scream “lady who lunches.” The fabric had other ideas.  Because it disintegrated on cutting, I had to leave very wide seam allowances and mark the stitching line with hand basting. Now I have a dressy jacket that weighs about ten pounds. Maybe I can wear it to the theater come winter.

Although I have begun to make cardigans, somehow they have not yet replaced jackets in my sewing pantheon. They don’t have the same heft, the same substantial pockets, the same challenge as a jacket.  But I will say this for cardigans—they always get worn.

Posted in 2010s | Tagged , | 8 Comments

The Rise and Fall of Mirabella Magazine

Apple ad, Mirabella magazine January 1985

Apple ad, Mirabella magazine January 1995

To hear Grace Mirabella tell the story, the magazine that bore her name was done in by the fashion establishment. In her memoir In and Out of Vogue (1995), she includes a final chapter about her magazine, which had just changed hands from the Murdock corporation to the French conglomerate Hachette. From the outset, the magazine faced unusual challenges. Photographers and models from Vogue were forbidden to work for her, facing dismissal if they did. Murdock brought in a constant stream of new editors, each tampering with Mirabella’s vision. But most of all, the fashion industry just didn’t support the magazine with advertising revenue. Although it had high circulation numbers, it never made a profit. While Mirabella’s memoir ends on a hopeful note, things did not get better under new ownership. It closed for good in 2000.

But perhaps Mirabella was just too unusual to thrive in the 1990s. From the outset, it was a fashion magazine that only focused on fashion half the time—a full 50% of the magazine was non-clothing related articles and fiction. While fashion advertisers might not have given it the support it needed, other advertisers weren’t banging down the door either. The January 1995 issue I have shows mainly ads from the usual suspects—make up, clothing, jewelry, and perfume. Only Cadillac, Apple, and the World Wildlife Fund came from outside the normal world of women’s magazines.  (I didn’t count the ad for Patric Walker, the world’s most popular astrologer.)

And I can’t help but wonder if Mirabella’s subtle targeting to the older woman was also part of its demise. Although the editors always claimed they had women from thirty to thirty-five in mind, many clues show that it was not really the case. Lets take the January 1995 issue as an example:  It included a feature on Bonnie Cashin, then in her eighties, a long story on productive artists who were over sixty, and an account of the friendship between the writer Mary McCarthy, then eighty three, and the philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906-1975).

I wish there were a magazine like Mirabella available to me today.  Not Vogue with its celebrities and outlandish photo shoots, not More with its aging starlets and “look ten years younger” advice, but an intelligent magazine with interesting, wearable clothes.

Posted in 1990 | Tagged , | 3 Comments

For Every Fighter a Woman Worker, 1918

WarWork18This World War One poster was designed by graphic artist Ernest Hamlin Baker, who went on to become the most famous cover artist for Time magazine. My friend Joan posted it on the innovative history blog Not Even Past as part of a survey of World War One posters held at the University of Texas, Austin.

I was fascinated by the range of clothing represented in this poster. My eye immediately went to the woman in pants featured front and center.Depicted with a large hammer over her shoulder, this woman reminded me of images in Soviet propaganda posters from the Russian Revolution. But while Soviet posters show women carrying tools, banners, and even rifles, they are never wearing pants.

Since the United States was only engaged in World War One for two years (1917-1918) there was not the same mobilization of women that occurred in the Second World War.  Nonetheless, women got involved in many capacities.  They replaced male factory workers, formed uniformed work groups to help in agriculture called “Farmerettes,” and entered the armed forces in auxiliary roles.

Although the women in this poster all look young, we shouldn’t imagine that older women all stayed at home.  If you look at this photograph of the Women’s Land Army, the woman at the far left, perhaps the supervisor, could easily be fifty. LandArmy

What a shame she is also not wearing the uniform of the Farmerettes.

Posted in 1910s | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Grace Mirabella and her Magazine

Grace Mirabella and Oscar de la Renta at the opening of the magazine

Grace Mirabella and Oscar de la Renta at the opening of the magazine, 1989

Grace Mirabella, Diana Vreeland’s right hand woman, became Vogue editor when her boss was ousted in 1971. She remained in the job until 1988 and is credited with boosting readership, acknowledging women entering the workforce in droves, and promoting clothes that real women could wear. According to the Voguepedia, “Mirabella’s genius was to understand that American women of her era needed more than just castles in the air: They were working in record numbers while raising families; they were politically aware; they had their own money; and they needed unfussy yet stylish clothes that would move with them.”

When she suffered the same fate as Vreeland, replaced by Anna Wintour, she was approached by Rupert Murdock’s company to start her own magazine. Named after her, Mirabella existed for a little over a decade, from 1989 to 2000. Each issue contained a statement from her, like a short manifesto, called Mirabella Dictu.  (Get the joke? The Latin phrase “mirabile dictu,” found in old literature, means “wonderful to tell.”) In the first issue, she tried to elaborate what she meant by the word style.  “Style has nothing to do with money,” she wrote. “Style is not what you wear, but how you wear it.”

Who was Mirabella for?  Leafing though it today, at first glance it doesn’t look all that different from a standard fashion magazine.  The first issue has coverage of the Paris and New York fashion shows, shots of beautiful actresses, and advertising by clothing and cosmetics companies. A closer look reveals a different tone, though. The articles are longer and more thought provoking—a look at the beauty industry’s cult of the youthful face, an examination of the pro choice movement, an in depth article on Josephine Baker.  A thinking woman’s fashion magazine, perhaps.

And the fashion is different as well.  While Mirabella offered its share of evening gowns, there was a decided emphasis on clean, comfortable sportswear. Listen to the descriptive adjectives in one photo shoot—“breezy, easy, simple, clean.”  A short write up of the then young designer, Marc Jacobs, quotes him as saying: “Fashion, as opposed to clothing, is more of an entertainment. People need clothes; they don’t need fashion.”

More to come on Mirabella—the woman and the magazine.


Posted in 1990 | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Mother Daughter Fashions, 1920s

evenolderHere is evidence that mother daughter style disputes can last a lifetime! The daughter on the left, maybe in her fifties or sixties, shows an interest in the current fashion.  She wears a dropped waist dress with a long slim line. Her shoes are a popular twenties style, and she wears them with flesh colored stockings. Note that she has also bobbed her hair.

The mother, maybe in her seventies or eighties, has a more tenuous relationship to the prevailing styles.  Although her dress has a dropped waist, it is very full at the bottom and also quite long.  Her hair is gathered up on the top of her head, a style she might have worn for decades. She has on sensible black lace-up oxfords, long beloved of older women, worn with heavy black stockings.

I’ve imagined a conversation between the two. “Mother, you could look more up to date if you just changed your shoes.”  And the mother’s terse reply, “I don’t take advice from someone who has cut off all her hair.”

Posted in 1920s | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

My Cashin Coat

Cashin1My generous friend Sally surprised me with this coat the other day, an amazing gift from someone who has already given me many beautiful things. I had casually shown her the ebay listing for the coat and later mentioned that the bidding had gotten too rich for my blood. Knowing my fascination with Cashin, she secretly jumped in and got the coat for me. Although I’m not a collector of vintage clothing, I will certainly treasure—and wear–this piece.

Cashin2Judging from the label, the coat was made in the 1970s.  It looks unused. Maybe that’s because of its bright persimmon shade, not everyone’s cut of tea. The cut is a roomy car coat style with raglan sleeves and gigantic side seam pockets, definitely made for someone on the go. The top stitching is a bright white.

Cashin3Several elements cry out Cashin—the sturdy canvas base fabric; the matching leather binding all the way around, including the hems; and the distinctive turn screw closures. Do you think the coat has been waiting all these years for someone who loves orange?

Posted in 1970s, 2010s | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Bonnie Cashin in her own Words

Mirabella, January 1995

Mirabella, January 1995

In 1995, the short-lived magazine Mirabella ran a feature story called “Natural History” on the great American designer Bonnie Cashin. The author, June Weir, focused on Cashin’s love of natural fabrics and gave her credit for inventing the layered look, a stylish and flexible wardrobe for women on the go. Fashion historian Ernestine Carter, quoted in the article, calls Cashin the first American designer to influence international fashion.

A costume designer for films before she became a fashion designer, Cashin believed that this profoundly affected her ideas on dress. “I carried the idea of designing with the environment in mind over to my designs for real people. On my sketches, I would write a little legend about the life I imagined the women lived… I think, without being conscious of it, that’s what made my clothes have a timeless quality. I always imagined where you would wear it.”(19)

And what was Cashin herself wearing at age 87?  A kind of uniform, she said, consisting of one of her own funnel neck sweaters, Gap pants, and white Reebocks.  Although she looks wonderful, I was a little disappointed that this brilliant colorist was wearing black in the photo. (Maybe the background makes up for it.)

I have an unending fascination for Cashin, whom I have written about here and here.  Biographers take note—this is another brilliant American woman who needs to have her story told!

Posted in 1990 | Tagged | 3 Comments

Big Waves—Stella Reichman, spokeswoman for Lane Bryant in the 1970s

Reichman77I was looking for photos of women in caftans when I came upon the 1977 book Great Big Beautiful Doll by Austrian-American Stella Reichman.  It is an exuberant defense of plus size women made by someone who was no longer young. (She admits to being around 50.) Reichman insists that “many of you have already begun to question the silly idea that ‘slim and young’ is the only way to be beautiful. It’s a bundle of nonsense, and someday soon skinny will be unfashionable.”(13)

As we know, her historical predictions didn’t quite work out—slim and young remain the fashion ideal. But it is fascinating to consider that Lane Bryant adopted a spokeswoman who bucked both prevalent fashion ideals with such enthusiasm. Reichman showed up in stores to challenge advertising that promised “one size fits all” and wrote impassioned letters to companies and stores on behalf of the “20 million American women who are size 14 and over.”  She claimed that large size and excellent fitness were not incompatible, and included pictures of herself in bathing suits and underwear.

Although the clothes featured in the book are mainly by Lane Bryant, there are a surprising number of designer clothes that fit this size 22 1/2 model, including Adolfo, Mainbocher and Halston. Reichman offers many dressing tips for the plus sized woman.  Here’s one that is italicized for extra emphasis: “Don’t believe that all you can wear is a big tent.”(127)  Maybe that’s why there’s only one caftan in the book.

Posted in 1970s | Tagged | Leave a comment