Tuesday, June 30, 2015

One Shot- Day Dress 1868

    During the years immediately past the Civil War in America a major shift began with regard to the silhouette of women's clothing.  Where for the prior two decades the bell shape of skirts had been doing a steady expansion, the apex of what could be done with the technology to hand had been reached and a consequent deflation began.  First, the skirts narrowed a bit on the front and sides, and the extra volume began to be moved to the rear, as a trained effect became fashionable.  it was the precursor to the first iteration of the bustle to show itself.
    This two piece day gown of silk is made up in two aniline dyed shades of blue, Cambridge Blue, and the brighter, more emphatic Bleu de France.  The 3/4 length pagoda sleeves are a hold over from earlier styles of the 1860s, and the placement of the decoration on the skirt front recalls the styles of the 18th century.
    Apart from the self decoration involving both the fabrics, the only other material in use is fringe, decorating the collar, cuffs, and the charming waist mounted bag.  Sadly, the elaborately worked trimmings are crushed from storage.  So its difficult to imagine how this gown would have looked in its prime.  But try to envision all that decoration standing out and away from the body, adding significant drama and texture.
As aniline dyed garments of the time go, this one is remarkably restrained. The combination of the two blues is subtle, and very effective, even considering some fading.
A dress of this sort would have been worn by a middle to upper middle class lady, while she was tending the daily tasks of organizing the household, and doing what chores she felt had to be dealt with herself.  Though it is, by the standards of the time, not an especially formal dress, it would have been acceptable as town wear, for errands, and also for receiving milady's daily round of callers.  It would not have been considered appropriate, however for making calls to others.
    All in all, a charming dress, well executed.
    My thanks to Vintage Textiles for this one.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Winding & Twining

    Apart from smearing mud on our skin way back at the start of the Attire language's formation, one of the other first things we did was mess with our hair.  We're still at it now.  Oh boy, are we ever.
    We began with just tucking leaves and things into our locks, and twisting the bunches of strands together till they made dreads.  But it wasn't long before we figured out how to braid it, curl it into a long tubular mass, fold it over itself, and hold it in place with sticks or pins.
     Because this is a part of us, literally, no other aspect of the Attire language quite fills the same place. We can apply things to us in endless ways, but nothing else has the incredible flexibility and adaptability of our own hair.  Our fingernails only get so long, and they are small, and rigid.  We can stretch various bits of our bodies with rings and plugs, but again, the expressive limits are tighter.  Only our hair offers the sheer sculptural scope, the wildly fantastical range that has allowed it to gain its important place in the Attire conversation.
    And yeah, all you folks who shave your heads are speaking an Attire word too.

    We learned how to cut and trim hair millennia ago.  We learned about hair dyes way back when too. We understood what would happen if we took a comb and pushed it back towards the scalp, quite a long while before we devised those massive edifices of ratted hair and Aquanet from the 60s.  Wigs, wiglets, and other hairpieces were commonplace as far back as recorded history takes us, and its likely they go back much further than that.
Part of what intrigues me about all that is that, apart from a few advances in technology, (especially chemistry) that have permitted some things to be done that were impossible before, we are still essentially using the same techniques we used hundreds of thousands of years ago, in the dim beginning of our tenancy on this planet.
So, over the centuries, hair, and how it is styled, has become a major part of the dialog because it allows such a huge range of expression to happen.  Nowadays, and especially in bigger urban areas the breadth of statements made is vast.  Everything from full on dreadlocks, to towering mohawks, to colors not found in nature adorn the heads of myriad people.  Guys with man buns, women with high and tights, and people of unspecified gender playing with whatever they wish walk our streets increasingly.

    This, I think, is just plain wonderful.

What's Going On Here?

    I rarely weigh in about a particular designer's collection.  This one, which is the most recent effort from Gucci is very much worthy of commentary, mostly because of how hard its pushing to present us with another way to view menswear.  I've written a lot about the changes that are occurring in our larger society that are expressing themselves in a general opening up in the way men dress.  More options, more color, differing shapes and types of garments are being created that are bringing a host of new sartorial words to the conversation.
    This collection, is taking both garment types and garment details that have been traditionally the province of women's wear and throwing them out there for men.  Do I honestly think this will gain much traction in department stores as a manner of dress?  Not really.  What's important here is that this is happening, and happening with greater frequency all the time.
Many, if not all of these looks have elements that make us a bit uneasy.  A pussycat bow in a pastel color, worn by a man.  It challenges notions both of masculinity, and sexuality.  The same goes for the lace shirt, the deliberately shortened sleeves, the ruffles, the florals and the slippers.  Of course what we are battling against here isn't really all that old in terms of human history.  Prior to the 1800s men could wear any of these elements without fear of social disapproval.  Its our lingering Victorianism that makes this tough on us. 

It is a bit surprising that those old notions of appropriateness still have such extraordinary power. But just like the white wedding dress, these ideas grew out of the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, and the staid manners of the Victorians.  We have been trying, with little success for a long time to get free of those antiquated ideas of what makes a man a man.  Fortunately for us all, this is finally changing seriously. 
Design houses like Gucci will continue to present us with these visual challenges.  And we will continue to resist, I suspect for a while longer.  But each year, and each time these concepts get presented, we become subtly more used to the idea, until, one day, we decide to give them a go for real.

 I don't think we are going to be waiting all that much longer now.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Scatter #61

    Hello again, my friends. The wheel of the week has turned once again, bringing us back to Scattertime.

    Here are the things clogging the systems of my addled brain this week.  Honestly, I wish I could do three times as much of this, considering how many things I find that seem worthy of comment.  There are, sadly only so many hours I can give to this pursuit.  So here's your round dozen of randomness for the week.
    This painting by John Hoppner done in 1804, is of the Honorable Sir Arthur Paget.  He's dressed in full high court regalia, suitable for a visiting monarch, or a royal wedding ceremony.  The trousers conform to the prevailing taste for extreme tightness, making it appear that he only has on some sort of leggings.  The matching white satin boots, trimmed with pink bows, rather offset the unsubtle cue of the gigantic tassels hanging precisely in front of his crotch.  He has on his order collar, and the satin cloak is embroidered with a massive badge, quite likely the order of the Garter.  Portraits of this sort were meant to chronicle the position of a nobleman.  This one is trying very hard indeed to elevate the supposed position of the gentleman portrayed.  As an Honorable, he was fairly low on the noble totem pole, but this image does all it can to give him importance.  His hairstyle is on point with the early part of the 19th century, with its deliberately, and romantically disarranged styling. And I really with I could see that vast plumed hat better.  It appears to be a high crowned, satin covered hat with a rose colored ribbon cockade holding that towering spray of curled ostrich plumes.  He probably looked rather silly in it.
    Designer Miguel Adover loves messing with proportion.  I find that a lot of these are interesting for that reason, and because they mix unexpected textiles together.  Adover's voice is one of the newer ones, and he's taking this globalization idea and really running with it.  For me, the faves here would be the center, and the one to its right.  I also love that he's taken the idea of low slung, elastic waisted garments and turned them on their head.  Intriguing work.  And I think he will speak to a lot of the newer generation.
    For as long as there has been a fashion industry, there has been a connection between famous beauties and actors, and presenting fashion to the public.  Back in the day, top level actors were dressed by couturiers, not only for the street, but for their stage roles.  And many is the actor who posed for the camera to promote both their career and the designs they were asked to wear.  That continues today, and has only ramped up now that actors are working with stylists who establish relationships with design houses so that every time their client is photographed, they are wearing something new.  I find it interesting that actors on one hand are happy not to be in thrall to studios, but are all too willing to enmesh themselves in this other way.  Who is this? Why its none other than Lucille Ball in a fashion shot from 1940.
    Monastic simplicity can be a powerful thing.  This resort outfit from the Row somehow manages to be both subtly sexy and primly intellectual.  Its a kind of dressing that I could easily see working its way further into the daily Attire dialog.  It can be worn by anyone, at any age.  Sure its not groundbreaking in the sense that people have been wearing similar things for literally thousands of years.  But in Western culture, its pretty much evaporated. Perhaps we should re-visit this as a rational option in our busy world.
    This gentleman from Pushkar, India just made me smile so much.  It reminded me of what Diana Vreeland said. "Pink is the beige of India".  But the other part, which I am sure was entirely unintentional is the harmony between the brilliant pattern of his turban, and the larger pattern of the blanket over his shoulder.  It puts me in mind of how eloquently we can communicate with pattern, especially if we learn to combine them to good effect.  Our sartorial language would be far less interesting, and less expressive without pattern in textiles.
    Indigo.  Its one of the oldest dyestuffs know to humankind. And though we cannot know for certain, it seems to have emerged from India.  What is interesting to me is that Indigo has been around as a dye color for so long that it has developed a deep connection to us psychologically.  We might not be able to voice just why, but there is something about that tone of blue we find stable, comforting, and satisfying.  Perhaps its simply the easy familiarity of it, since it appears in nearly everyone's wardrobe in one way or another.  Any way you choose to see it, that color is profound in its effect on us.
    Computer printing in textiles has taken what would have once been wildly expensive and made it accessible to a much broader range of people.  Precision printing like that here on this Dolce & Gabbana ensemble required exact handling, and high level machinery to produce accurately without bleeding, smearing or printing off true.  Computer controls and robotics are leveling that field, bringing more complex prints that are cleaner, and more clearly printed than ever before possible.  Just another way that the Attire language is being pushed along by technology.
     Surface embellishment seemed for a time to have gotten stuck in time.  It became for a while the province of staid, conservative people.  Designers like Stephane Rolland are changing that, using new techniques, new types of beads and sequins and thinking entirely differently about where and how to do this work.  These two images express some of what is out there being done.  Deeply sculptural, and inspired by natural forms like crystal clusters and corals, these two detail shots make the point, beautifully.  I can't honestly say that I'm in love with the dress with the illusion sleeves and plunging back, but I admire the embroidery work absolutely.
    This embroidered harness thing just keeps getting brought out in men's fashion editorials.  This image, from Flaunt magazine  has it placed under a coat, where its been shown over jackets and coats before.  As an accessory, its an interesting idea.  And I could see it actually taking off as a popular item, particularly if that embellished part has a pocket in it for your phone or billfold.  Also, I do like its being paired with that floss embroidered coat.  And add a simple cotton t shirt, rather than the bare chest and I think a lot folks could be on board.
    This look, by Nasir Mazhar is something of a head scratcher to me.  That the face mask thingy is clearly a runway only idea, and it muddies, rather than emphasizes the idea behind the apparel. I get that we are going "Urban Guerilla" here, possibly even survivalist.  And as such it could actually have traction in the real world with those folk.  The unrelieved black, though, makes getting a sense of the true structure difficult.
    Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon, dressed as their characters in the Scarlet Pimpernel.  We are supposed to believe that this is very late 18th century England.  And there are aspects of this that express the time, though the exaggeration of it is extreme.  But given the time this was made (1934), and the foppishness of the lead characters public persona, I can forgive it.  Where things fall flat is in Oberon's costume.  Her gown is essentially a straight up evening frock from the 30s.  Only the organdy sash, her hair and jewelry define time here.  Still, faults aside, this is great work.  Thanks, MGM!
    Last up today this crazy piece of dazzle.  Dog collar chokers were very popular at the turn of the century, and they appeared in many iterations, including this incredible one that belonged to heiress Bertha Palmer.  A lady wearing one of these could barely move her head, but who cares?

Well, what can I say after that?
have an awesome weekend all!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pitti Uomo

    We are quite accustomed to seeing articles about events in the fashion industry. And the huge majority of them relate nearly exclusively to women's clothing.  Why is this?  Well, the simple fact that women generate over 80 percent of the clothing sales in the world.  And why is that?  Training, inculturation, programming, if you will, are the source point for this disparity. 
    During centuries of time women, were kept to the home, and told that their chief purpose, aside from procreation, was to be decorative.  Consequently, they developed an interest in, and a need for constant innovation, and a sense of the special and beautiful in their apparel.  Its not that women really are more interested in fashions changes than men are.  There have surely been times when men were every bit as obsessive about apparel as the womenfolk.
    But the pull of combined psychology, and social pressure, to conform to certain ideals is extremely powerful. 
    So too, with men, who have been taught that an indulgence in interest in appearance, beyond certain narrow confines, was inappropriate, and an earmark of the dreaded charge of effeminacy.  So the men's fashion shows get wedged into the major fashion weeks of the world as a sort of adjunct.  They receive neither the press nor the attendance that women's events do.
    There is one, and only one, really, major men's event that has been going on since 1972, but only recently has anyone outside of Europe known anything about it.  Its the Pitti Uomo, in Italy.  Held in Milan and Florence the Pitti Uomo is entirely devoted to men's fashion and accessories.  Why Italy?  Well, its one of the few countries where being interested in dressing well is not seen as a negative.
    To me, that this is finally getting larger coverage, globe spanning press, is indicative of things I've spoken of before. First is the further development of a true global culture. Sure its still a long ways off, but each step like this brings it closer to reality. The other thing is that this speaks to the shift culturally in how men are perceiving themselves, and how they wish to present themselves to the world.
    The accompanying images are of attendees to the Pitti Uomo.  Dang, these Italian men sure do know how to look great.  Now its true that none of these looks is groundbreaking, but what they do represent is a broad range of expression within the menswear subset of the Attire language. As well, the increasing use of color outside of the traditional palette is a serious key to the changes men are feeling.  The simple expedient of loosening up the color range says a lot about how men are loosening up in general.

Watching this process happen is fascinating to me.