Saturday, January 30, 2016

Scatter # 89

    Hello, my friends, my readers.  It is time again for this week's journey into the swirling vortex that is my feverish little mind.  A Scatter has been duly gathered, so let's get right to it, shall we?

    It is not all that common to get to see historical garments fully accessorized in a way that allows you to get the complete impact of what was worn, and how.  This is a Jean Phillipe Worth reception gown from between 1895 and 1900, after he took over the design reins when his father passed away.  The Kyoto Costume Institute, prides itself on always presenting their collected pieces as fully accessorized as is possible to do.  So, this lavish dress is accentuated by al the bits and bobs a lady of quality would have had on her person at a formal reception.  The gloves are the correct length for evening. Over the elbow was required for any formal events.  She wears an aigrette of plumage in her hair and carries both a fan, and her lorgnette.  She is also decked out with  a massive necklace, matching bracelets and even earrings.  We can then really see the magisterial effect full on.  Brava to the Kyoto Costume Institute for taking such pains.  It helps us all see the past more clearly.
    Pakistani designer Nomi Ansari presented this brilliantly colorful menswear look in 2013.  I am struck by the impact the color has.  Pink, has been, for over a century now, in Western society a color associated not only with the feminine, but with youthful femininity. Here though, rendered through the lens of a different cultural aesthetic, it becomes something entirely different.  Energetic, luxurious, and sensual are all words that come to mind, counterbalancing the spare cut of the tunic coat, and pants.  You all know what a color whore I am. I would be delighted to see more saturated, and decorative clothing like this make its way into Western menswear.  And, it must be said, the model is a knockout.
    Ah the Lolita trope rears its head again.  I find it fascinating in a creepy way that designers still insist on presenting this sort of infantilized image of woman.  Marc Jacobs, who designed this ensemble has expanded the proportions here to the point where it could be satire on his part, but the message is murky.  The slightly dusty pink looks mature to our eyes, and the over scaled bow implies early childhood.  What are we really seeing here?  A woman who wants to be treated as a child?  A child pretending to be an adult woman?  Or is this a slap at old style male ideas of womanhood?
    This image just got me thinking so much about how our perceptions of self are shifting these days.  We have finally allowed ourselves to begin to perceive beyond the tradition bound limitations of our culture, and in doing so are hesitantly embracing new ways of being.  This of course manifests itself in how we dress ourselves, the surface packaging we present to the world.  Sure, this image is carefully crafted to blur boundaries, which is precisely my point. As things progress, and we slowly become accustomed to the true breadth of human existence, our ability to see and understand the way we tog ourselves out expands.  Where an image of this sort would have been quite disturbing to most people not all that long ago, now, though it still has an edge to it, it speaks differently, because we can see differently.
    As an experiment in mass and texture, I get this.  As a garment that had relevance in the world, it doesn't make the grade.  It is, of course a couture runway ensemble, and as such is not meant to be taken literally, but to be disassembled for the ideas in it.  To me, the two elements that deserve to be explored further are the cut of the bolero jacket body, which has wonderful sweeping curves, and an interesting structure.  The skirt with the front mounted curving shapes I would like to see expressed in a longer version, without the fringes.  I think it could be an arresting shape.
    You can color me baffled by this one.  This fashion shoot of Loewe Menswear doesn't make me want to rush out and purchase the coats, or the bags, which should at the end of things be the point.  Nor does this image succeed for me on a purely artistic level.  Perhaps it is that the two men are so swallowed by the mass of everything they have on and around them that it ceases to be about people, but only about a mound of stuff.  Perhaps if they had jettisoned the 20$ a yard fake fur they ladled on this it might have worked.  And those gigantic soft sided bags?  What exactly are you supposed to use those for?  Body parts?  Pardon me, I get snarky, now and again. It will pass.
    Before filmed and televised fashion shows became common it was a regularly done thing by the major fashion houses, that models would be dressed in their latest creations and sent to major hang outs of the wealthy like Deauville, Ascot, and Monte Carlo.  These two exquisitely turned out women are showing off the fashions of 1919 at Deauville.  It is interesting to note that, just post war, there was a huge trend to romanticism, here wonderfully rendered.  As well, this is a look in transition.  Within 5 years hemlines would rise to the highest point they would reach until the 1960s. And looking backward, the frothy lightness of these clothes was an impossibility only a decade before.
    Here's another glimpse of our perceptions in transition.  This Balmain outfit has subtle cues that take it away from standard menswear ideas, and push it somewhere closer to, if not the middle, then somewhere outside of what we have known as normal apparel for men.  The gloves, though black leather, are allowed to bunch and fall in a way that is like women's gloves.  The shirt, with its deep vee and cross over is far more like a woman's blouse than a man's shirt.  The velveteen of the short jacket is a sly nod as well. I find it very interesting to watch as more designers choose to mess around in this way.  Also, me wants that jacket.
    This is called a regard ring.  It comes from the late Georgian period, about 1820.  It was a popular gift to give a sweetheart, or to a dear friend, to register the level of one's regard for them.  Each stone represents one letter in the word regard.  They are Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby, and Diamond.  I love the idea of something like this.  Such notions are so rarely used today.  Thoroughly charming.
    Ah, the Dandy.  Lordy how I love me a good old fashioned dandy. This image brings the concept fully forward into the 21st century.  I love the nods towards fin de siecle tailoring, and style. I also love the way proportion has been messed with.  The belt under the ribcage, the extended point on the shoes, the flower and the broad short tie all twit the old guard version of dandyism, and make it fresh.  More of this, please!

    Formal court presentation in England was, by 1926 when this ensemble was made and worn, one of the last places where all the rules were still followed with regard to dress and accessories.  Of course a lady could wear a gown that was to the current taste, so this heavily beaded chemise dress hit at mid calf, not the floor.  The other elements, however, fall strictly into line with the existing rules.  The regulation length train, the shoulder height white gloves, the feather fan, and the headdress with veil that sports 3 ostrich feathers.  The color of the shoes was not regulated but these are of silver kidskin, to coordinate with the silver beading of the gown.  I particularly like the design of the bead work on the green silk moire' train.  Luscious.
    Finishing out this week's selection, this Belle Epoque opera costume as photographed for Le Theatre Magazine in Paris.  It is an interesting look at how much current artistic tastes inevitably influence how a costume for stage or screen ends up looking.  Looking like he stepped out of a drawing by Alphonse Mucha, this actor is dressed in clothing that refers to many of the common images of the time.  His headdress has the same outjutting masses at the temples common in design at the time.  The style of the decoration on his robe looks like it could have come from Poiret's fashion house.  No matter how hard designers of costume try, they cannot escape letting at least a tiny bit of their own time in.  Of course this is meant to be a fantasy costume, and as such it is even more likely to have modern design ideas be a major player.

    That's it for this week's edition.  I hope you enjoyed it.
    With a bow to all my readers, adieu for now.  Now get out there and enjoy your weekend!


Friday, January 29, 2016

One Shot: Wannamaker's Dressing Gown 1897

    To go along with the post I did yesterday, I decided to expand on one piece I showed you. A dressing gown from 1897 was made up and sold by the Wannamaker's Department store of Philadelphia, New York and Paris.
    This was the sort of garment that a lady could go into a store and buy.  Take a good look at the quality of this piece.  This is something a lady of middle class means would have worn in her boudoir, while having her hair dressed by her maid, or she could have worn this to the breakfast table with the family.  Such a garment would not have been considered correct for receiving guests, however.
    The main body of the gown is a lightweight peach colored wool twill weave fabric.  The shape of it conforms to the fashion of the day, with the trumpet shaped skirt, and broadened shoulder line.  The pleats from the back were a fairly short lived fashion novelty that was a nod to the robe a la Francaise style of the 1700s. A number of garments exist from this same year that use this detail.
    Since the gown would mostly be worn while seated, either at a dressing table or a dining table, almost all of the decoration has been placed above the waist.  The entire bodice front is covered with rows of densely knife pleated wool twill that has been further trimmed with a ruffled edge at top and bottom. The ribbon is a white silk ribbon with a black picot edge that gives a nice, but subtle jolt to the whole thing.
Topping off the gown is a piece of hand worked cotton Reticella lace in a beige tone.  That single addition probably boosted the cost of this gown considerably.  This particular sort of lace was not able to be made by machine as some other styles were.
    After finishing her breakfast in this charming gown, (and by the way she was probably already in her corset for the day), it was back upstairs to finish being dressed.  A day dress of some sort, suitable for being around the home, dealing with wifely tasks.  Or, perhaps she would dress in a visiting costume if she had errands in town, and would be doing her rounds of visits afterwards.
    What that means is that milady would spend perhaps 2 hours wearing this, no more, before she had to change clothes, which she might do 3 more times if she was attending the theater in the evening.  Options included day dress, visiting dress, afternoon dress, tea gown, dinner dress, evening or ball dress.  A middle class to upper class woman spent a good portion of her day getting into different clothes.  It is fortunate that things have changed so much.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

At Our Ease

    What being at your ease looks like has changed massively over time.  Before there was a codified Attire language with multiple millions of variable words, being at your ease probably meant being naked.  In ancient times it certainly meant that for the masses, and for the upper class and nobility, it probably meant significantly less formality.  It probably meant some loosely wound drapery, without adornment.
     What I'm about here is talking about how we choose to accouter ourselves when we we are out of the public eye.  It is a clear cut way to look at how we have imagined ourselves, and how that vision has altered over time.  When I see the chamber robes of gentlemen of the 1700s, with their large patterned brocades and sweeping lines, and then I look at the sweats and shorts of today, I am made keenly aware of how far we have traveled.
    I have no plan to weigh in, yea or nay, about the worthiness of either.  I want only to posit this.  What is it that has changed about how we see ourselves when we are at ease?  Have we found our central selves when we are alone, and so been able to eschew all parts of the outer society?  Is it that we have discovered that adherence to rigid rules of conduct has little meaning in the 21st century?
Is it simply that we have become lazy, self involved creatures whose only concern is our comfort?
     The answer, of course, is all of the above, and more. To try and parse the totality of human behavior into a sentence is idiotic in the extreme.  So is the idea that we could encompass the meaning of any person's sartorial statement in a three word summary.
    For the Victorian lady being at one's ease meant being without a corset, (or at least less tightly laced). For a Victorian gentleman it meant being without his coat, and possibly his waistcoat.  It was likely though that he would still have been wearing his tie, and his trousers and braces.
    Things changed when we got to the 20th century.  Oh boy, did they!.
    By the advent of the mid 1800s the idea of man as industrial giant had become a going concern. The notion of "taking one's ease" became the province of aesthetes, and homosexuals.  So, (for men at least), ease became a smoking jacket, because man could still do business, if need be, in a silk brocade smoking.
    For women it was also an amazing leap forward.  From dressing gowns and combing gowns, to teddies and pajamas in only a few decades.  Women found that they had greater freedom, (in some limited ways).  Gone were the corsets worn to bed. Gone were the huge wrappers that fell to the floor that ladies wore to breakfast.  A simple robe was sufficient.
     By the 1950s things changed again.  We had, as a culture, altered so far that the idea of mother or wife showing up in some special costume to assemble breakfast was already anachronistic.  Mother was dressed for her day, or if not, was in a simple floor length robe over whatever she wore to bed.
    And now, in the 21st century, the idea of wearing a special costume that is deemed appropriate only for breakfast or morning is utterly absurd.  We get up and into our day, whatever that might be. If it is business, then so be it.  If it's yoga class and taking the kids to school, then that is what is real. We think of lounge pants, leggings, snuggies, t shirts and hoodies as at home gear, as well as most of it being clothing we would wear in the outer world.

Hanging out at home even means, for an increasing number of people,  being naked. So we are coming round again to where we began.  Only this time it is the advantaged who are choosing nudity
because they have nicely heated dwellings, and ample comforts, not being naked because of lack of choice.
    So our social changes and personal changes have expressed themselves amply in how we look when we get up in the morning, or hang around the house.  We have gone from simplicity, to lavish formality, and back to simple and easeful.  Who knows what the next pendulum swing will look like?
I have no doubt that there will be one.

Monday, January 25, 2016

What Happened?

    For thousands of human history years males and females both wore garments that had no central division.  We all wore some sort of skirt, wrapped, draped or otherwise configured.  Everyone wore them, in nearly every culture that wore clothing at all.  It is simple logic arising from first causes.  When, in our very dimly perceived past we first took the hides of animals we had killed for food and put them about our bodies, there were two inevitable ways to do so.  One was over the shoulders or head as a cloak.  The other was around the waist or hips.  It was a short and obvious road, once we had mastered weaving, that these long strips of cloth would end up around our waists just as hides had.
    So it continued for many long centuries.  We have no idea how long, really.  Certainly it is in the thousands of years.  And yet, a curious thing happened.  We gave it up.  We bifurcated not only our garments, but our Attire culture.
    In my observation of Attire over the years, it occurred to me that it might just be that militarism, and riding horseback to war, were the first, and most significant players in creating this division.  Before we wore full body armor in battle, which naturally covered each leg separately, cavalry soldiers simply wore shorter skirts than their foot soldier comrades, in order to allow greater freedom of movement ahorse.
    But, once we began to think of battle situations as requiring full armor, the separation of the legs went right along with that.  Since armed combat was the exclusive province of men, in Western culture, the idea of divided clothing being male started to gain power.  Bifurcated + war = male. Undivided + peace = female.  They were tropes we grew to see as potent and eventually, unassailable.
    It took a long time for this to take over.  It took centuries.  Over 1400 years would pass before the dominant form of male dress divided the legs away from each other.  By the early Renaissance it was only elderly or scholarly men who wore robes.  They were emasculated to a degree by their adherence to activities of the mind, or by their years.  Within another 200 years the wearing of robes was relegated to the status of ritual.  Robes were worn by judges, priests, and others performing high level, arcane functions.  However, under those robes the judges and priests still had their breeches, or, eventually, trousers.
    So, when we think of it, the concept of a skirt being the entire, and exclusive right of a female is a short term notion.  If we consider that we have been wearing clothing for at very least 10,000 years, the fact that for 500 of them skirts have been off limits for men in most of Western culture is an oddity indeed.  That means that for only 2 percent of all that time we have thought of skirts as feminine.  And we persist in this thought event though no one in their right mind would imply that some burly Scots dude was less than male for wearing a kilt.  Nor would we instantly think that a man of Bali was somehow lacking in maleness, for wearing a wrapped garment around his hips.
    Now, finally to my point for this post.  Over the previous 500 years, with increasing frequency it must be said, the idea of skirts for men has been presented.  It has always failed utterly.  Why?  Partly because of the power of tradition. And partly, (frankly I think largely) because of a lack of consideration of how to present it in a way that would resonate for men.
    In the 20th century, nearly every decade has had its proponents of skirts for men.  All of them, till recently, have been out on the very fringes, with no notion of promotion to aid them.  What I have seen over the decades is traditional menswear, paired awkwardly with a simple A-line skirt of ill considered length, on a person who is not a professional model, and not styled to present the idea in a really positive way.
     Enter 21st century marketing and promotion, coupled with social media.  While trolling the internet for images to serve this post I found endless examples of contemporary men in skirts.  These images were both professional, and real world.  It is an idea that is gaining ground year by year.  What has made the big difference is simple.  Those who wish to promote this idea are putting these skirts on muscular, tattooed bros with beards, and attitude to spare. In other words they are accentuating the maleness of the wearer, and so making the idea of a man skirt seem more palatable.

As an aside, I hate the term man skirt.  It's just a skirt. It has no sexual identity.
    Of course the other major driver in this increased acceptance of skirts on guys is our slowly broadening understanding of the range of human sexuality.  We are, inch by inch, coming to see that our ID as sexual beings is not bound by our apparel.
    So, regardless of how it is being promoted these days, something essential is changing and we likely will be seeing the skirt worn by men as a commonplace in the years to come.
    I, for one, will be fascinated to watch it happen. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Scatter #88

    The scatter post is one of my favorite things, even though it takes a good while to write.  It's fun.  And I get to share so many things with you all.  So here comes this week's edition!
    Let's Go!

    Surely the interface between architecture and apparel is obvious, but rarely is it made so blatant as in this Alberta Ferreti evening dress.  Using digital printing techniques, the designer has taken the structure and decoration of rococo walls and applied it in a literal fashion to a garment.  The result, which could be confused and overwrought, works beautifully.  It is all about the scale and placement of the imagery that it works so well.  And that is why I wanted to share this.  It's a terrific example of how much the position and size of decorative details means to the final expression delivered by the garment.  The simplicity of the cut of the dress is vital, too, to the final effectiveness.  The print is so vast, and complex that anything interrupting it would diminish the ability of this piece to communicate.
    The design community has for decades attempted to move skirts into the line up of accepted menswear and every time it has misfired, to my ind because of one major flaw in presentation.  They didn't bother to make them look sexy, hot and very male.  Finally designers and stylists of fashion shoots have figured it out.  If you want a guy to embrace the idea of wearing a skirt, then it has to be shown to him in a way that will allow him to see it's potential to up his "guyness".  In this case we get four jolts of guy stuff to bring the point home.  Leather motorcycle jacket? Check.  Shirtless buffed model? Check.  Beard? Check.  Heavy black boots? Check.  This is a good part of why the skirt idea is finally moving outwards further into the useful vocabulary of men's Attire words.  You can look for a post about the failures of the prior decades soon.
    Why is it that a cape is so unfailingly dramatic to us?  It comes down to a simple notion.  Our eye appreciates the broad stroke that is a long sweep of unbroken line like we get from a cape.  If Diana Vreeland was right that "the eye must travel" then the journey here is a simple easy shot from the ground to the face.  The secondary reason we find them so appealing to look at is the huge expanse of material creates a lot of area that can be decorated, as it is here so elegantly.  It is true that a full length cape like this has little if any place in 21st century life.  We move too quickly and carry too many things with us for it to make sense.  Still, gimme a cape any day to make a bold entrance or exit.
    Designer Dirk Bikkembergs created this edgy little number in the 80s.  A pair of vast purple cotton gauze pants, and a cut leather cuirass for a top piece.  As an experiment, I think it's laudable.  And I could even imagine there would be environments where it could be worn, like as beach wear in tropical climates.  Since the leather is so cut through it could still be comfortable.  The idea of the cuirass piece is what I find most intriguing.  I could see this translated, using current laser cutting techniques, into something that could have play as club wear, or casual wear as an alternative to a tank top.  Hmmm. I has thoughts in my head.  Thoughts.
    Made of reinforced tissue paper, this is yet another effort to bring paper back into play in the apparel world.  The only problem with paper clothing is longevity.  They really have none.  Worn a  few times, even reinforced paper would start to split and look shabby.  So, until they can come up with a way to make paper more long lasting, it will remain a wanna be textile, and an avant garde play toy, not a functioning part of Attire.
    There are times when even I find an avant garde piece perplexing.  It is an interesting experiment in structure I suppose.  I just don't get where this could go in real world terms, how it could be altered to function in the Attire language.  Perhaps if has been presented with a shirt of some sort under it it might feel more translatable.  Still, I love experimenters, even when I don't get what they are trying for.
    Godey's Ladies Book was THE fashion periodical in the United States in the 1800s.  They disseminated not only the latest styles, but advice on social behavior, correct dress, sewing techniques, and other ladylike concerns.  This image is from the November 1859 edition. Each printing included a number of hand colored plates like these.  This one depicts correct and fashionable outerwear for the fall winter season.  Because of the enormity of women's skirts at the time cloaks were the most common outerwear.  But, as you can see here, there were also coats that cut in towards the waistline, to mirror the shape beneath.  Any way you slice it, moving around in all this must have been quite a task.
    Part of what moves the Attire language along is the introduction of new textiles, that allow for new construction techniques, new finishes, and new textures.  This is a detail image of a dress by Iris Van Herpen.  I love the mylar mesh textile and how it moves over the body revealing, and concealing. I would imagine that that function of opening and closing shifts constantly as the body moves, creating something that is hypnotic to watch.  I could also see this textile being employed in more conventional means as a decorative accent on a garment.  Sometimes something new like this makes my head spin with ideas.
    Here's another example of the slow steady morphing process that is a living language in action.  Our culture has become, and continues to become more casual with regard to apparel.  Sweats and hoodies are de rigeur parts of a modern wardrobe, where they would never have been worn outside of the gym 50 years ago.  So it is an inevitability that the notion of sweats would get mashed up with suiting in order to create a city dressing style that is at once comfortable, but just a touch more dressy.
Do I think it is completely successful as a combination of concepts? No, not really.  But I do love that it exists and that we are continuing to play with ways to mix the two seemingly disparate ideas together.  This is Emporio Armani, Fall/Winter 2016.
    I've many times written about transformation and human nature.  Our desire to become something other than what we are.  Few personalities from Hollywood's golden era could more exemplify this than Carmen Miranda.  She was actually Portuguese, but made a name for herself singing and dancing Samba in Brazil, eventually coming to the US and performing on stage and in film.  Her "Brazilian Bombshell" persona was one she actively encouraged in order to forward her success, but later in her career she tried to break free of the restrictions it and the film community imposed, with rather limited results.  Her she is in full Carmen rig out.  Ruffles, spangles, platform shoes, and a headdress as high as the Chrysler Building.  She created a cartoon version of South America, that people found appealing, and it helped to spark a huge wave of interest in Latin culture in America. If she had been dressed more quietly, we would never have heard of her, regardless of her talents, which were considerable.  It was how she chose to change herself up that got people to at first, look, and then to listen.
    Marie de Medici was one of the most powerful women in Europe.  Her marriage to Henri IV ended abruptly the day after her coronation, when Henri was assassinated.  She became regent for her son Louis XIII till he came of age.  Her political action didn't end there, she spent her whole life embroiled in intrigues and machinations.  This dress bodice with attached over-sleeves is one of the few remaining garments owned and worn by her.  (The skirt and under-sleeves here are just in place to complete the silhouette).  The out-jutting collar has a built in supportasse to hold the broad lace collars then in vogue.  The bodice was originally a bright blue and gold brocade, but blue dyes were notoriously unstable, until the invention of aniline dyes. The lining similarly has faded from a brighter red, to this more salmon colored tone.
    And to bring up the rear this week a gentleman's banyan, or chamber robe.  This one was made between 1780 and 1810. The material used was an actual Chinese Dragon Robe, that was obviously imported at considerable expense.   Owning a banyan like this would convey to visitors the wearer's education, and possibly his having traveled extensively.  Things Chinese were quite popular at the time, since trade with China had increased to the point where articles were getting spread more broadly in Europe.  Textiles, household goods like china, and decorative work on walls and ceilings all felt the influence.  This spectacular banyan is just another example.  Would I wear this?  Is that a question?

   Have a grand weekend, All!  See you next week.