Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Psychology Of Decades, Part Three

    The second half of the 19th century saw the Industrial Revolution create several significant changes in how we viewed ourselves, and how that made itself apparent in our choice of clothing. Business and manufacture became, for the first time really, areas that were getting praise and support, not only because of what they provided for the individual, but what they meant to national prestige.  The introduction, during the Victorian era of the notion of a multinational exposition made it possible for countries to show off the type and level of their made goods in a non-violent way. It also showcased these things in the best possible light; and as a method of advertizing, they were unparalleled. So by association, those businesses, and business men, that best represented the skill and variety of a countries products, got a great deal of positive attention.
    It became a part of the social consciousness to make oneself look, as much as possible, like one of these people, or at very least, the sort who would know them socially.  So overt display of wealth for women was given a lot of room to play in.  Though even in this, there were strict rules and regulations of correctness.  Step outside of those rules, and you ran the risk of being marked as unsuitable.  So, though there were enormous amounts of trimmings, ruffles, pleats, and bead work festooning the clothes of women, the way they were used, and in especial, the color palette, was very carefully watched.
  Sure, the mid century saw a sudden vogue for the brilliant colors made available through chemical dyes, but the social elite saw this as vulgar, and so used those stuffs only in small doses.
    It was also at this time that numerous periodicals came into being that existed in part to offer ideas and patterns for women to use, but also regularly expounded on what was correct to wear for what occasion, and by what sort of person.
  These magazines became essential to a woman's ability to navigate this maze of rules, and laid the groundwork for the fashion magazines of today.
    So, the essential conservatism of the ruling class still affected how the rest of the culture thought and behaved, even in the face of constant, and ever more rapid, technological and social changes from the greater world.  The mid century maintained its rigid grip on convention, knowing in some non verbal sense that there was a huge dichotomy between the world they desired to exist, and the one that did, in fact.
    This repressive psycho-social behavior, expressed itself for women in fashions that were year by year becoming more constricting; till by the 1880s, with the cuirass silhouette,  women could barely walk.  The corset, which had stopped at the upper hip now dropped down to crotch level, making sitting more difficult than ever. The skirts, which had been enormous, became a narrow, heavily decorated, and hampering tube.
    Now, the gentlemen of the crowd were not left entirely out of this process. Far from it. What became essential to their physical expression of the overarching social mind set, was the adherence to a very small range of accepted styles and colors; coupled with a level of tailoring skill that has never been commonly available since.  The marks of a polished gentleman were his immaculate, and perfectly tailored clothes; even though they were also expected to be sedate to an extreme.  Even your average bloke became adept at seeing what was right and wrong in another fellow's dress. So, little escaped notice in men's clothing, just as it didn't in women's.
    This mental and emotional choke hold stayed in place clear up to the end of the 19th century. Commerce was king, and technology its prime minister. And social behavior was an unassailable bastion.

But, boy howdy were things about to shift.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Psychology Of Decades, Part Two

    Once we entered the 19th century, everything changed, for everyone.  The political climate changed, the economics of Europe and America changed, trade with the rest of the world expanded exponentially, and changed those cultures as well.
    The first decade of the 19th century was one of exploration. It was a time when we explored the world, thought, art, and personal freedoms in ways we hadn't before.  Women's attire reflected that change, though to our eyes today it wouldn't seem so.  Women's clothing had an unprecedented level of physical ease.  The multiple layers of encumbrances that had hindered a woman's ability to move about in the world were mostly gone.  The corset, though still in existence, was not an onerous device, only gently shaping where it had crushed before.  Petticoats were light and simple; and the dresses themselves were made of lightweight fabrics that moved and flowed with the body, rather than hampering every step.
    What is curious is that at the same time, men's clothing shut down; narrowing its focus and form into a rigid pattern it still hasn't completely foregone. Color, pattern and embellishment were virtually abandoned in favor of sobriety and serious mien.  But when viewed within the context of what was happening in the world, its not surprising.

    For the first time, the world of commerce was beginning to make its strength felt in all levels of society.  Prior to this time men of business were always going to be looked down upon, but with the increasing international trade, and the always growing industrial revolution, which was changing everything about how we produced the goods we traded with, these men were becoming major figures, taken seriously at the highest levels of governance.   As a consequent, their apparel reflected that seriousness, and their direction to duty and accomplishment.
   Part of what is intriguing about the 19th century is that, as we move along the track, the disparity between how women and men express themselves through Attire becomes greater and greater.  At the beginning of the century men and women seem to be of a common purpose and goal; their clothing reflecting an innate sense of responsibility to the world about them.  As we progress through the century, and the Industrial Revolution combines with both English Imperialism, and American Entrepreneurship, men's clothing becomes ever more sedate and conservative, while women's clothing expresses ever higher levels of frivolity and silliness.  Surely, you could say that women's clothing was confining, conservative and hidebound by conventions. All that is unavoidably true.  What is also true is that women became living, walking repositories of physical wealth and sway.  The clothing they wore was a strong, loud signal to the importance and social status of the men they were married to; and as such, it was incumbent upon them to express that as adroitly, and loudly as they could.
    The production of the first reliable sewing machine by Elias Howe in 1846, levels of workmanship that has required skilled labor weeks to accomplish could be done in hours or days.  What this meant to the upper class women of the day was that in order to retain a sense of superiority over the middle and lower classes, they had to rely more and more of sheer volume of fabric, and decoration to maintain their sway.
    So, what we get to here is that, as we worked our way, literally, through the 19th century, it became increasingly important to show a sense of reliability, steadfastness, and a willingness to follow the rules.  For men this expressed itself in black, navy blue and dark brown, a lack of loud patterns, and a fiercely narrow range of sartorial options that were deemed correct.  For women, it manifested in a vast and complex set of rules and regulations that commanded every moment of every day with regard to what was appropriate to wear.  No matter what extremes the fashions went to, everything about their usage was tightly controlled and viciously scrutinized.

(sound familiar?)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Psychology Of Decades, Part One

    Each time, each decade, has its own mindset; its own way, of not only viewing the world, but expressing within it.  As we scroll back, we can easily see how effectively the Attire language speaks the mindset of that time from which it sprung.
    For the purposes of this discussion, I'm going to start in 1770.  One reason, is because prior to that there is precious little that remains of what we wore, to look at and discuss.  The second reason is that 1770 was the tipping point of the huge revolutionary movement that changed everything in the Western world.
     In 1770 the royal courts of Europe still held unchallenged sway, and in the colonies in America, the revolution was, as yet, unborn.   The clothing of the royal courts expressed a profound rigidity, a lack of connection with the real world, and a complete dismissal of the needs of the common people.  Everything was about abundant display, extravagant detail, and expert workmanship carried out by the very people they dismissed with such ease.  As a manifestation of the highest levels of human endeavor, they stand undefeated as some of the most sublime creations ever configured by the skill of laboring hands. As an exemplar of the disparity between classes, they could not possibly have been more eloquent.  The styles were extreme, the fabrics outrageously costly, the silhouette, unreal to an extraordinary degree.  The sheer width of the chasm between the haves and the have nots was expressed in the volume, decoration and abundance of the clothing of the elite.  It seemed rigid, and as unchanging as a range of mountains.
    By 1780 something was happening.  Cracks were appearing.  The great thinkers of the age, Voltaire, Rousseau and Jefferson and Franklin, were championing the wisdom and worthiness of the common man, along with the rise of the Arcadian movement in England.  The clothing, even of the highest, was changing to reflect that alteration in focus.  A desire for simpler, less adorned clothes, in more rudimentary fabrics began to take hold.  The fatal Queen of France retreated regularly to Le Hameau, her idealized rustic retreat, and wore simple cotton and linen muslin dresses, devoid of embroideries and furbelows.  (It must be added that her dressmaker, Mme Bertin charged her not one sous less for them than she had for the wildly huge gowns she had done previously).  Outside the court the upper classes were embracing a more realistic notion, and dropping their overblown styles.  Partly they did it because the winds were blowing a different direction, and it was in their best interest to do so.  And they did it partly, unknowingly, because the overarching psychology of the time was in flux.
    We don't think about this consciously, but we are affected by the psychology of our time.  The general mindset and focus of our particular age changes how we manifest our daily appearance and person, even when we don't realize that it does.
    The 1790s brought more changes as the revolutionary fervor grew across Europe and America.  The new United States had created a wildfire of change in the world, and people all over Europe were questioning the validity of unchallenged Royal Authority.  As this happened, changes occurred in the Attire language to reflect and express those questions that we were raising more and more loudly.  The most significant change happened smack on the shift into the 19th century.
    With seemingly no preamble whatever the clothing of women deflated into narrow a unadorned column, and menswear dropped the peacock colors and lavish embroideries that had been the province of their sex.  The panniers, the multiple petticoats, and the stomacher all disappeared in a blink.  And we were left with sheer muslin dresses that hung free from just under the bustline, allowing women for the first time in ages, movement that was unencumbered by bulk.  Menswear, sadly, entered into that period from which it has yet to fully emerge, the total ossification of line and form that hampered the inner strutting peacock, and turned him into something sedate, serious, and conservative.

So, you see we are married to our time, whatever we might think otherwise. The rulers, and the ruled, are both conformers to the psychology of their own age and place.  And I will continue moving us along this pathway, right up into the now.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Scatter #23

    When I was a kid, like most kids I didn't believe a word I heard about how fast time would seem to move as I got older.  I hate it when they're right.  It DOES!  So here's the next edition of Scatter for your delectation and enjoyment.
    Our first entry today is this detail shot from a late 19th century dress.  The word frothy jumped into my head on seeing this image. Certainly this is far too fussy for our current tastes, but in its time it was high fashion, and expertly handled.  I love the interaction between the texture of the silk chiffon and the satin, the density of the appliques and the lightness of the bow tie.  Its all a delightful looking combination, rendered in subtle colors that keep it from overwhelming the eye.  Marvelous.
    Fake fur can be handled so that its nearly impossible to tell on casual view that it isn't the real deal.  In this case its been worked in a way that makes it quite obvious that its fake.  I don't know if that was the intention of the designer, but how its been treated in assembly diminishes the impact of the finished piece to me.  What does the coat no favors is rolling the fur around the outer edge of the collar and the coat opening.  It only makes its false nature more apparent.  What do you think?
    This is a 2014 effort by Indian designer Manish Arora.  I love the update on the classic Indian silhouette and the embellishment work is sheer dazzle from top to bottom. It feeds my inner magpie quite nicely, thank you.
    This pendant is by Rene' Lalique.  Its fashioned in gold with a carved glass back panel. The snow laden tree is done in enamel and the light blue stones are sapphires.  Hanging from the bottom is a teardrop shaped natural gray pearl. Its a magnificent expression of the Art Nouveau aesthetic, flawlessly worked.
    This is something interesting.  This tanktop with its velour strapping is actually a kind of shapewear for men.  Its designed to minimize the waist line and hips while allowing the upper body to be on display.  As a concept it sounds fine. I can't say I'm on board fully with the finished design.  The choice of materials is oddly heavy looking for something that is supposed to be rather body conscious.  Part of it is that the straps aren't fully sewn down across the body, adding to apparent bulk, so it rather defeats its intended purpose.The pants?  Well, its sure a good way to get everyone to look at your crotch.  If that's your intent, then go for it.
    This solid gold pectoral plaque is from Persia, and was done between the 6th and 4th centuries BC.  The two horned Griffins are rendered with wonderful energy and the whole composition is really terrific.  I love the ferocity of their expressions and the way their tails have become round shield-like elements in the design.  Human inventiveness and artistry is nothing new, for sure.
    Votage was the name of Iris Van Herpen's most recent collection, which drew on the connection between electricity and the Human body. Utterly unwearable in any real world sense, this piece is a wonderful bit of sculpture that uses the human body as structural armature.  And yeah, its 3D printed, in metal.
    Jean Paul Gaultier is one of those designers I'd love to have over to dinner. I bet he's a blast to hang out with.  Its long been part of his process to present both men's and women's clothes together in his Couture shows. And his work is always a challenge to get around.  Its cheeky, bold, sexy, and often a bit dark, but always interesting to see.  For me, I'll take the whole left hand outfit, and the coat on the right.  What about you?
    Earlier in the week I did a post about cultural appropriation.  This dress, which lives in the V&A's permanent collection is by Leonard Joseph, from 1968, and it couldn't exist without the bold references to classical Egypt.  It merges the space age ideals of the 60s with the shape of Egyptian dress into something entirely new looking.
    And for our final entry these two examples of jewelry from Uzbekistan. First is a pair of gold and enamel amulets with turquoise and carnelian.  The other is a gold necklace with small turquoise stones inset.  What's intriguing to me here, is that in just these two pieces an observer can already begin to assemble a picture of the overall artistic mindset of the people. That they are all beautiful, and wonderfully made is apparent. What makes them more interesting still is the window into a people that they provide.

Have a splendid weekend, All!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Details, Details, Details

    Some say the Devil is in them, some say that God is in them, details, that is.  Whichever it may be, the truth is that what we clap on our backs would be substantively different, far less evocative and expressive without the addition of special details to make that Attire word unique and beautiful to see.
    Though I could fill post after post about various special sleeves, buttons and clasps, collars, cuffs and hems, this post is going to glory in the abundance that is surface decoration.
    Cloth can only do so much, though with the onrushing technology of robotics that is changing fast.  But in the absence, as yet, of robots that can create complex surface embroideries employing multiple materials requiring multiple techniques to affix them we will still need the patient, endlessly skilled hands of those who embroider onto cloth with cord, ribbon, sequins, feathers, beads and stones.
    Here is just a shallow sample of some of the astounding craft out there in the world.  Some is subtly done, some is a blaring trumpet.  However it expresses, the one thing all these detail images have in common is beauty.  They make the eye and the mind and the heart happy to see them.  And that, by extension is what we want for ourselves when we wear them.
The  three dimensional leaf embroideries of a YSL evening jacket from 1980.  Its worked in gold strip, bugle beads and rocaille beads, done by the house of Lesage.
     Emile Pingat's couture house produced this amazing evening cape in 1895, relying on dense black work appliques to carry the complex pattern of the cape body out to the surface of the falling pleats that surround it.   
    House Doucet was known for the unabashed femininity of its work. This afternoon dress, with its wandering insertions of lace, headed with micro-pleated chiffon seems the emblem of the house.
    This Scassi evening ensemble from the 1950s is worked over the entire surface with a paisley pattern done in twisted black cord and jet beads.  It must have been wonderful to approach this and see subtle texture give way to a complicated, dense surface pattern.
    In 1910, Worth did this tea gown for a client. The subtlety of it is marvelous.  I love how the applied work is mostly obscured by the chiffon overlay.  Very classy work.

     Karl Lagerfeld had this work put together for an outrageously extravagant dress he presented in 1990.  Matte gold beads, couched cording and gold thread wrapped metal strip all went into this wonderful thing.
    Maggie Rouff designed this evening coat for a client in 1898.  The entire surface is overlaid with Chantilly lace, and then that has heavy Irish crochet lace appliqued to it, with those dramatic black tassels to punctuate everything.  Its an arresting composition of texture and tone.
    This is part of a petticoat, from the time when a petticoat was not an undergarment, but rather the part of the gown seen in the center front. This one, in green silk, has been gloriously covered with flowers, birds and butterflies.  It makes me smile to look at it.  The lady who owned it must have smiled too.  1720, if you're wondering.
Also from the 1700s this detail from a robe a la Francais of steel blue repp silk is worked all over in silver, real silver, as strip, purl and thread, with accents of silk cord. A dress like this would have been for the highest state occasions, and would have been truly dazzling in candlelight.
And for a final gesture another piece from the house of Emile Pingat. Pingat's house was known for its amazing outerwear which often had the most intensely worked surface decorations.  Check this out.  Utterly jaw dropping. 
    I can and will explore the work of other cultures and times for the amazing things their artists create, but this should sate your appetites for the moment.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mr Worth's Flights Of Fancy

     Charles Frederick Worth is widely acknowledged as being the father of Couture, a notion which must have rankled the French since he was English, and spoke not a word of French, though he worked all his professional life in Paris.  He was known for his extravagant, and emphatic creations, frequently relying on astonishingly bold textiles to do a lot of the work, in an age when over-laden embellishments were the word of the day.
    What he is much less known for, are the fancy dress costumes he did.  At that time in Europe and America, fancy dress balls were a major entertainment for the fashionable elite. There would usually be more than one during a season, and so, couturiers and dressmakers were called upon often to make fantastical costumes for their clients, since persons operating separately as costume designers were very often less skilled, and were also deemed socially unacceptable as business associates.
    The sketches here below are all part of the Victoria and Albert museum's collection and all come form the year 1860, when Worth's house was only 2 years old and still called Worth and Bobergh, with his partner, Otto.  Part of what is fun to look at here, is not only the amusement of the designs, married to a staunchly Victorian mindset, but also the way they give a peek into how Worth thought about design, and composition.
    When you really look at these sketches you can see where he was going to go as a designer emerging from wherever it had been hiding.
     This first sketch shows his love of the 18th century, a notion in design to which he would repeatedly return throughout his long career.
    Grand scale is on display here in this sketch, all the important elements blown up huge for emphasis, as he would do time after time in years to come.
    Sharp dramatic contrast was one of the house's strongest points, here seen in an early stage, but still clear as a bell.
    Worth loved balancing odd colors together and making them sing.
    Rhythm was enormously important to Worth in an overall composition, and this delightful deck of cards costume is a wonderful example of that in play.

    Now that you've seen where his playing cards emerged from, take a gander at what he did with them.
The sheer bulk of his work is jaw dropping; and his design sensibility is still dazzling, even over a hundred years later.