Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Exhibition Review: 200 Years of Fashion in Saratoga Springs

While visiting a friend in Saratoga Springs, New York, I was fortunate enough to have stumbled across the local Historic Society and their delightful museum collection. The permanent display houses exquisitely kept examples of costume dating to the early 19th century, including several original Worth gowns. But it was the 200 Years of Fashion in Saratoga Springs exhibit that truly caught my eye and made me proud as well as excited to be a museum studies student.

Housed in the former Canfield Casino (built in 1870, no longer a working casino but displays beautiful casino artifacts, for those interested in that field of study), the Historic Society of Saratoga utilizes their space wonderfully for temporary exhibition. A walk up to the second floor landing puts you face to face with three generations of Saratoga dress: 1809, 1909 and 2009 welcome you to the exhibit to your right...(READ MORE)

Upon entering the space, one is taken aback by the incredibly creative exhibition design. Examples of costume flood the eyes in all directions; hats and accessories placed on shelves and in display cases make guests feel as though they are window shopping in an old-fashioned department store. Antique coats and dresses hand on a circular clothing rack, next to a mannequin glancing at herself in a three-way mirror. The layout of the space does not include barriers, and guests are invited to examine objects close up; visitors are encouraged to become lovingly intimate with the past.

Mannequins are henceforth placed on settees or surrounded by period furniture, providing excellently sourced exposition for each costume. Visitors are invited to seat themselves on brocaded couches and take in the atmosphere.

The only concern of the exhibit is its openness and lack of security. Perhaps it is because I am a museum studies graduate student recently exposed to the throws of object handling, but my most active thought was, “How do they keep people from touching the costumes?” Barrier systems not only keep people out, but also keep harmful objects from coming in, becoming a conservation as well as safety issue. Each piece is so immaculate as it is, it would be such a pity for something to go awry or to be stolen because of such a unique setup.

Featured objects include a Delphos pleated Fortuny gown, an Emilio Pucci dress suit and several Dior evening ensembles. Every piece is representative of Saratoga’s rich socialite history, and those not belonging to the Society’s collection are on loan from supporting institutions or Saratoga residents themselves. The exit hallway is lined with dresses from famous Saratogians, such as Julie Bonacio and Michelle Riggi.

Curator Michael B. Levinson, Director of Empire Historic Arts, does a wonderful job setting the mood for a fashion-focused exhibition. “He is very creative,” remarked a docent at the museum. “For the next exhibit, he hopes to incorporate smells somehow.” It will be interesting - and innovative - to see how that turns out.

Photos property of The Fashion Culturist

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Analysis of the Corset: Early Corset History

The corset receives innumerable amounts of criticism

The origins of the corset go far back to the beginnings of dress as we know it. Many samples of what appear to be archaic corsets consisted of pieces of leather laced together with the intention of being tied around the ribs and waist. In essence, this was used as a primitive form of "armor" - the lifting of an arm above the head to throw a spear or wield a sword makes the torso of the body extremely vulnerable to sneak-attack piercings. Leather was often used as a tough barrier between the skin and the elements. Although we now know how veritably useless a leather corset for protection is these days, it was all ancient peoples may have had.

This early form of corsetry kept everything in place as well. In a time without bras, girdles, braces, belts and Sealy Posturepedic mattresses, these two pieces of leather laced in front and back came in very useful.

It is stupid to think that the corset was created merely for the sexual appeal we associate it with today. Erogenous zones come and go and while the corset ultimately becomes a symbol of sexuality (primarily in the female domain), it never began as such. Early forms of the corset were not nearly as painful to wear or constrictive as some of the later versions (Elizabeth I never had a 17 inch waist). Although many metal corsets have been found, these were definitely the exception to the norm, and may have even been worn for ceremonial purposes (such as family representation on the battlefield) over a woman's dress.

Corset cutting, c. 1650 (courtesy of Artstor.org)
Iron corset, c. 16th century, courtesy of wikipedia.org

In my history of fashion class, my professor went in-depth on the concept of clothing as armor back in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The idea of everyday clothing being "segmented", slashed and puffed and tailored separately to create the pieced look of armor, as if to make one look strong on and off the battlefield. A woman's equivalent to armor is the corset - it protects her core, forces her to look stiff and rigid, not slouched and weak. It is a symbol of wealth, privilege and authority. By its wearing, a woman asserts her position as a person of high rank, not to be mistaken as someone who toils in the fields. As my professor so aptly put it, "The corset is about power, not sex".

And let's not forget, the corset was androgynous at first. Many evolutions of chest and torso armor emulate that of the corset. Indeed, torso armor is more difficult to maneuver in than corsets of the time, being pure metal as opposed to the softer materials women wore. When off the battlefield, it was also known for men to wear corsets to obtain straight posture - if not a corset then a looser fitting material wrapped several times to get the same effect. In the early 19th century, Dandies made the corset more fashionable for men to wear than women (many women of the time shed their corsets altogether, as men began to cinch their waists instead). Even up until the 1920s, men wore braces eerily similar to corsets for "medical" reasons.
So think twice before criticizing the corset and what it has done to demean femininity (or exploit it, or enhance it, etc, etc...). Its origins are not so captive, as it may seem.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Blue Jean Culture and Transformation in 20th Century Czech History

I know, it's been a while. But it's been a BUSY while in that respect, I hardly have time to myself anymore. Actually, I've done a couple of things worth posting but I never seem to have time to sit down and like, sort everything out into readable structures. Here is one of my latest endeavors, an oral research proposal for the Costume Society of America's national symposium in March. Let's see if they like it, I hope you do too!

CSA Abstract Proposal: Blue Jean Culture and Transformation in 20th Century Czech History

Blue jeans have remained symbolic in the Czech Republic throughout recent history, especially during times of particular turbulence. Under the harsh Communist regime, denim garments and accessories provided a source of hope associated with Western European values (Hlaváčková, 2007: 38). During the 1960s, jeans were difficult to obtain for Czechs and were often sold on the black market in exchange for foreign currency, or used as a barter item by Western tourists. In the 1970s, hardline Communist leaders tried to ban the jean production and the wearing of jeans however, these laws were quickly dissolved by the collaborative efforts of demanding Czech citizens(Jarošová and Kybalová, 2002: 6).

In the 1980s, blue jeans represented not only the ideas of youth and freedom but were also considered the unofficial uniform of those against the newly reformed Socialist government. (Roberts, 2005: 141-42). Significant Anti-government activists, most notably future President Vaclav Havel, were known for wearing blue jeans during protests. Some scholars even believe that the manufacture and distribution of denim contributed heavily to the ultimate collapse of Communist and Socialist governments of Europe in the late 1980s. (Hershberg, 2004: B01). This theory also applies to Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Revolutionary” Socialist fall in 1989; many witnesses described students, artists and intellectuals demanding political change while clad in indigo trousers (Horn and Kenney, 2004: 120-124).

Since the creation of a democratic Czech Republic in the early 1990s, the international denim industry has played an integral part in the stabilization of the country’s economy. Low property taxes and a fresh, new culture of consumerism have made it easy for overseas manufacturers like Levis, The Gap and Diesel to market jeans in several Czech cities, and the demand for Western denim imports continues to rise (True, 2003: 109.) Revenue from blue jeans and other consumer goods has put the Czech Republic in a difficult position however; independent distributors are being shut down, thereby foregoing much of the country’s textile manufacturing traditions. Without these foreign investors however, the country cannot recover from Socialism’s economic oversights (Havlik, 2000: 29-35). By making a once inaccessible product like blue jeans available on the market in mass quantity, the Czech Republic is slowly pulling itself up capitalistically by its own denim belt loops.

Through interpretation of primary sources such as newspaper articles, photographs and print ads, thorough analysis of secondary research along with interviews recounting the significance of blue jeans, there is no doubt that blue jeans have helped shape the Czech Republic’s national, cultural and political identity in the 20th century.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

ProSeminar Round-Up

I'm pretty sure that graduate school is going to be one of the best experiences of my life.

It's exactly what I've been craving my entire college career - a rigorous program focused heavily on writing and analytical skills. Not to mention, all I deal with is fashion and culture. I've learned more about Czech fashion in the 1960s in one week than I did my entire time in Prague. Why? Because I had the person with the resources pushing me to do so.

Everyone else feels overwhelmed, or if not overwhelmed, over tired. I don't know what it is - it could be the fact that I don't have a job and basically do nothing all day - but I feel energized when class is over. I take each assignment with pride and glee, and it pays off. I got an A- on my first assignment, which I was expecting a lot worse. The Dean even read my paper, not entirely sure why (Professor French* said he was "helping her grade papers" but that mine was the only one...) but it was pretty cool that he saw a piece of my work.

Monday starts actual classes. I purchased a netbook for the ease of being able to take notes, finish papers and cruising the internet on my downtime without lugging around my $1400 macbook. I look forward to the days ahead and the welcome work load they will bring.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First day has come and gone...

I got through orientation and first day of ProSeminar. I know I have my work cut out for me, but I also know that the people I share my classes with aren't total geniuses who know what they are doing either. Most of the people in my class don't know why they are in the program, which I was a little surprised at. I thought that was the point of going to grad school, because you knew what you wanted to do? Anyway, most of them want to be conservators which I think is pretty cool. Textile conservation is definitely an interest of mine but I don't think I'd be able to make it my life's work. We'll see, I guess.

There are so many perks to being a Grad student at FIT. We get access to basically every library ever imagined not only in NY, but across the world. This includes research facilities at museums and archives as well. We also get free goodies like lockers, lab coats, and invitations to galas (I think I'll be going to one at the NYPL soon...). Not to mention, we have one of the highest post-graduate success rates and institutions practically beg for us as interns. The Museum at FIT is run almost entirely by alumni because of that reason. I thought I'd be screwed careerwise, but it turns out, I'm gonna all right.

There is also a fridge, microwave and couches in the Graduate lounge. Needless to say, my locker will become my second home.

We have a slew of assignments due, oh, tomorrow, which have only been clarified as of yesterday, go figure. But as I research them I am discovering that this really is my calling. I am usually a fast paper writer because my skills are pretty good, and it helps so much when you are discussing a topic you actually enjoy. Not to mention I have to give two presentations about a visual and literary source relating to my topic. Bing and Bang, already covered. This has been an easier process than I thought it would be.

I'm also surprised with how much prior knowledge I have coming into this program. We were discussing accession, handling and photographing techniques and I knew most of the information and processes. I really did learn a lot from the Charleston Museum during my internship - props, J Hiester!

The next hardest thing is the bibliography. But I think we're going to cover that more later.

So all in all, the first day jitters have gone away. My commute is fine, I need to purchase a netbook so I'm not lugging my laptop around all too often, and I discovered a Subway around the block from campus that will get to know me very quickly. Aside from actually living in the city, this graduate thing is pretty perfect.

I can't wait until classes actually START!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pre-1st Day Jitters

And so, it's here, I've reached the turning point. I made it through the summer in one piece and had a great one at that, experiencing so much and meeting so many new people. It's a summer I'll never forget, but I have no time to reminisce about it.

Tomorrow, I start Grad school.

I'm about halfway through my readings, and I think I'll be all right as the students organize and pick which readings they get to lead. That way, I don't have to feel so bad about not finishing, as I do better when the information is presented to me in such a guided fashion. The things I'm REALLY scared about are the assignments for the coming week - a few papers, presentations and a 5 page bibliography, all due on according dates.

I'm not worried about that so much as my actual topic. I had the unfortunate luck to receive the topic email while I was away, without internet access. My topic in mind was slip dresses of the 1990s - I'm interested in recent fashion history (being that I've lived through it) and figured that FIT's collections would provide ample amounts of information regarding the subject based on their designer collection alone.

30 minutes later I am shot down, for a couple of reasons. 1) Apparently, recent history is not really "history" because it hasn't been analyzed yet (isn't that my job though?), so it's best to veer away from anything post-1995. 2) The topic was too specific in its own right. I was then bombarded with a slew of analytical questions regarding the slip dress as a whole, its origins, derivatives, couldn't this be this and that be thats, etc. Don't get me wrong, I'm not pissed at my professor. If anything, it was a great reality check in the sense that, for lack of better words, fuck - I have my work cut out for me.

So I emailed her with the possibility of Clothing under Communism during certain decades of choice, being that it seemed like she wanted a broader field of study. She hasn't replied back, but I don't expect her to. We're all meeting up tomorrow at 3:30pm and I'm sure any questions or clarifications I need will be answered. I'm sure I'm not the only newb as well.

It's so crazy. In a way, I'm glad I didn't have a break between camp ending and this beginning, because I'm going straight into something exciting once more. In another sense however, it would have been nice to have like a week or five days in between - my home life is totally nuts and nothing is organized. It's so overwhelming, I'm even procrastinating right now.

I am excited to be in the city for a prolonged period of time however. I hope to get a job on campus at the library, and a possible internship is in the mix. I'll talk more about that later.

So yes, I'm nervous, excited, curious, prepared and unprepared all at the same time. I have no idea what to expect, I haven't had time for this to sink in and I'm mentally exhausted from all of the worrying and frustration that led up to my acceptance, I just want to start and keep moving.

I just hope I have what it takes.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Analysis of Hipster Fashion: I

The Hipster.

The Hipster's origins are derived from a long line of fashion subcultures, including the Beatniks, hippies, punk rockers, grunge rockers, goths, emos and indie rockers. Although a fairly recent emergence, it is one that quickly has caught on in the mainstream public eye. Everyone knows a hipster, everyone knows the sub castes of the Hipster pyramid. For the Millennium generation, I think it's fair to say that the Hipster will be one of the most influential fashion movements during this time in history.

Although there is much along the lines of research to be conducted, I have the advantage of living amongst the Hipsters, their culture and access to hipster leaders in the industry. I think this endeavor is going to prove very interesting and topical.

Some Hipster sub categories:

The Vintage Hipster - this Hipster shops at the Goodwill, Salvation Army, or other reputable thrift shops scoring the racks for clothing from the 1980s (and sometimes, 1970s or early 1990s). You can recognize them by their donning of Cosby sweaters, large, wire-framed glasses, corduroy pants and boat shoes or loafers. For the girls, it is similar but spandex leggings, waist belts and pointed flats make the female equivalent. Some females will even go as far as to wear pouf dresses or metallics.
The Lumberjack Hipster - these Hipsters are commonly seen wearing flannel, no matter what time of year it is. Plaid flannel shirts along with slim, dark denim and converse sneakers, or other flat shoe are usually worn. This look is a combination of Punk and Grunge Rocker. Ray Bans are also a prominent feature. Think of any movie John Cusak has been in, his looks closely emulate the Lumberjack Hipster. Also have an affinity for neck scarves.
The Tight Hipster - wears the tightest of clothing, usually in the form of pants. Only works when the wearer is slim, but larger people attempt this look as well (and fall short entirely). Tight, mid-thigh length shorts (usually cut-offs), hunting vests, muscle t's and Keds, topped off with a trucker hat completes the most common look. Skinny jeans are also a staple, in sizes that cut off circulation from the waist down.The Neon Hipster - perhaps the most common of Hipsters, or should I say, the most common of Wannabe Hipsters, as this look is easy to obtain, pull off and discard when bored with it. Influenced by Kanye West's Graduation album. It's all about the sneaker with these Hipsters - the flashier, more colorful the sneaker, the more of a Hipster you are considered to be. Brightness is not limited to footwear - anything obnoxiously florescent is up for grabs, especially fanny packs.The Urban Outfitters Hipster - wears clothing bought at Urban Outfitters, but is largely vintage, folk or art-and-crafts inspired. These Hipsters spend hundreds of dollars perfecting their look, which could easily be replicated by cheaper means. But then again, that would take some effort to accomplish - the antithesis of the Hipster's demeanor.The "Carny" Hipster - Reminiscent of hawkers at a Mid-Western carnival. Suspenders, pinstripe pants, Doc Martin's, plugs, horn-rimmed glasses (prescription or non) and Fedora hats accompany this Hipster's apparel. These are usually the Hipsters that make heads turn. The hardest look of all to pull off, by far. Sorry, no free rides.
A universal characteristic of any Hipster is their lack of attention to hygiene. Unwashed hair, tobacco stained teeth, smudged eyeliner, body oder and unshaved legs are the order of the day. This allows them to create the wispy hairstyles commonly seen - a hand run through the hair and they're ready to roll. Many hipsters also possess a number of piercings, tattoos and colorfully dyed hair, dating back to their punk rock predecessors.

An interesting point to note as well is that technological trends often accompany the outfits of a Hipster as well. Mp3 players, touch screen phones, complicated watches, wireless headphones, and the like are important accessories for many Hipsters. Tripped out bikes are also trendy and eco-friendly.

Mind you, these are just some of the more common Hipster looks, which certainly several carry over to form combo fashions. My fascination rides on the idea of identity and what it means to be a Hipster, especially through clothing - are all Hipsters alike? Can a Neon Hipster be just as intellectual as the Vintage Hipster? Or are we judging a book by its cover, as fashion so forcefully causes us to do? Does fashion play out into any other part of Hipster Ethos?

Think about it. I'll be over here, playing with my Iphone.

(Photos courtesy of latfh.com)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I need a break...

All right, folks, I'm on temporary hiatus until things smooth out a bit more. Just started my job as a camp counselor and we just GO GO GO alllll day and alllll night (my bus broke down today and it's only the second day of camp woo?). I am officially working 12 hour days and don't get paid for shit BUT it's entirely too much fun (I do get paid to go to Six Flags and stuff like that, so I guess there is a trade off). Needless to say, I wake up at 6:30 am and come home exhausted. Sorry, dear readers, but it's not going to happen for a while.

So sad too, because I've been working on some great stuff about Czech fashion in movies, and hipster identity. And working on some article submissions. We'll see how it goes.

Tak cao, for now!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Slipdresses of the 1990s

I own a wrap dress. And the tricky thing about them is, when you sit down the dress opens up smack dab in the center, revealing a very unflattering side of any woman in a casual setting. I have worn this dress before sans slip but today, I decided to try it. I only have a half slip but moral of the story is, I must invest in more.

And then it got me thinking - why don't women wear slips anymore? I remember going to Walmart one time looking for a cheap full length slip, thinking I'd be overwhelmed by the colors, designs and varieties I'd procure (I wanted something sexy for the after party, folks). Instead what greeted me was one of two varieties: the beige tone girdle slip (HELLZ NO) and the polyrayon blend, virginal white with rosettes disaster (rosettes have never been sexy, ftw). I left, dismayed - did this mean I'd have to wear someone ELSE'S underwear in order to achieve a throw-back-in-time design?

The answer, is yes. The only decent slips are the ones you find in a thrift shop.

Now this goes without saying, you don't want to pick up your slips at the Salvation Army. Granted I did my research and will soon be trotting off to Midtown to some shops that specialize in vintage lingerie. These places dry clean or wash by hand personally last decade's skivvies. I think I'm in the clear.

But this also got me wondering about the evolution - and ultimate death - of the slip as a practicality. The 90s made a comeback of the slip dress and I am very interested in this topic. Thus, potential topic of study:

Slipping into something more comfortable: Critical usage of the slip dress in film of the 1990s.

Think about it: Clueless, Scream, Wild Things, even the Naked Gun moves. All used the slip dress mainly as a form of seduction.

I think I'm on to something here.

Neve Campbell, Wild Things, CO IMDB.com

Alicia Silverstone, Clueless, CO leavemethewhite.com

Monday, June 1, 2009

Review: Bravo's The Fashion Show

Bravo! recently debuted their newest fashion-reality-tv show endeavor, The Fashion Show and I must say, I've been watching but not loving. It kind of feels like my relationship with Real World Brooklyn - I watch because the topic is relevant but in reality, it's just not a good show. True, there have been only 4 episodes to date but at the same time, something just doesn't sit right with me and this series.

Host Isaac Mizrahi is perfect for the show - he's bubbly, knowledgeable about the industry (he's a fashion designer, albeit for Target but a well known fashion designer all the same) and keeps it interesting, he's one of the reasons I feel I should watch it. Co-host Kelly Rowland on the other hand, was a poor choice in my opinion. I don't know what her connection to fashion is, other than the fact that she wears it, but even her style on the show looks frumpy and off the target rack. Plus she doesn't sound genuine about anything at all unless asked her opinion on whether or not she'd wear something a designer made. Her presence confuses and annoys me. Isaac could - and should - hold the show on his own.

I enjoy the challenges, it's great to see what people can come up with in a matter of a few hours and see the process as it comes along. However as a whole, there are very few talented designers. My favorite is Reco, followed by Anna. Why? Because both know how to sew and execute their designs well. Both I have been impressed with as far as their designs go, they are professional and know their craft. Least favorites? Haven - can't sew and has ugly ideas. Merlin - crazy, annoying, does well at sewing but his pieces are too circus-y for my tastes. James Paul - annoying as well, way too avant-garde and his pieces are NOT wearable, although I will give him credit in that he is innovative and can pull his items together. I am also coming to my wits end with Daniella - she causes drama and her designs look trashy to me, but the judges don't think so.

The show is obviously edited - poorly at that rate - and when the judges deliberate it is obviously scripted and predictable as well. What's worse is how the final decision is made - completely on marketability. It is said that who wins each round is based off of the audience vote and the judge's final decision. My reality television instincts say otherwise. The winning piece has a "version" (of which I also don't appreciate) sold online at Bravotv.com. All of the pieces that have one so far have been simple enough to be marketed to viewers but are by no means high fashion nor fashion-forward. What's more, the purchaser doesn't even get a copy of the actual garment - it's a version that doesn't even resemble the original most times. If I am going to be paying top dollar for a designer piece, I want it to look exactly like what the designer made, not some copy thought up by a no-name.

Even the quality of the surroundings and filming are not up to par. I am not an avid watcher of Project Runway but the few episodes I've seen, The Fashion Show desperately pales in comparison. There is a classier air to PR that lacks in TFS, especially in its contestants. What I also don't understand is that the goal of the show is to end up with a line of clothing as the winner. Yet many of the contestants already have their own fashion line and businesses. What's going to change? Promotion? If you can afford pattern makers, seamstresses and drafters then you don't need to be on this fucking show, honey. You've already GOT your own line going.

Overall, I've got a lot of questions for the fashion show and I'm not getting the best answers. My assumption is that Bravo lost one of its highest rated shows to Lifetime and is trying to overcompensate with this mediocre knockoff. I'm hoping in the coming weeks it gets better - but that's what I said about Real World Brooklyn, and look how that turned out.

You're telling me I should pay Bravo $200 for that piece of garbage?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Quickie for the weekend

Apologies to you all, I know my blog looks like a mess lately but I'm done with classes and so trying to spice things up a bit internet-wise.

I've been working on an article about Czech consumption, not coming along so well but this gives me a lot of practice for future articles, about planning and editing and finding sources and such. I'll post it if anything comes about well enough.

Also, it's my birthday weekend. Don't hate, celebrate.

Some things to look forward to in the coming season:

-Comparisons of "Project Runway" versus "The Fashion Show" and "America's Next Top Model" vs "Make Me a Supermodel".

-Thought on "What Not to Wear" and how it diminishes personal identity.

-Review of Albertine designer and her methods.

-There's going to be a lot dealing with television's portrayal of fashion and how this affects us.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Book Review: Fashion, Culture and Identity - Davis.

Fred Davis' Fashion, Culture and Identity serves as a thorough introduction to the idea of fashion as a culture. His analysis of various topics under the fashion culture umbrella are mostly broad concepts, but they do give rise to ideas the reader might not have contemplated about the fashion world otherwise. Truth be told, Davis ambitiously crammed a lot of information into 210 pages but to reiterate, he covered a lot of ground and provided enough sources (the book is almost entirely cited from other theorists and historians) for the reader to take up further investigation on specific topics later.

The first two chapters are difficult to get through, as Davis provides an overdrawn, ambivalent introduction of fashion culture, but he makes the point that part of fashion's problem is its ambivalence, which is true in itself. But his emphasis on ambivalence and ambiguity, comparing at times using them interchangeably and then differentiating, is almost too ambivalent of a concept itself and causes the reader to lose interest.

But plowing through to the next chapter reveals more specific topics, such as reflections on gender specificity, androgyny, sex and erotica, fashion cycle analysis, and an in-depth look at the fashion process, something that few non-designers (and I could even include a few in that) never think about nor comprehend generally. These topics raise questions and are incredibly thought-provoking on a basic level. Davis does a good job to take the most specific and explainable pieces of a broad spectrum to help answer the question of what fashion says about its wearers.

Another problem however is Davis' inability to draw sufficient conclusions and answer his own question, however. This is a bit forgivable as his is an introductory book on a relatively nouveau topic and therefore, he is merely providing bulk theories that provide forthcoming theorists to build upon and come up with their own conclusions. He does well not to be biased when analyzing other theorists, by providing high and low points.

Fashion, Culture and Identity gives readers a fascinating view on the outer limits of fashion culture. I recommend this to any fashion student as an introduction and to provide a base from which to develop their own theories, ideas and specialties. Davis only touches on some of the things fashion culture encompasses. Everyone needs a place to start; Davis does just that.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Every T-shirt has a History

I've been cleaning out my closets lately, preparing for the summer months and getting rid of, well, anything I'd never wear again. Surprisingly, my biggest accumulation of clothing lies with my pjs. I know, I was surprised too, especially since I really only wear the same thing to bed every night. I have a collection of shorts and baggy t-shirts, stuff you'd never be able wear on the street lest you should welcome cock-eyed glances and prejudgments as to the credibility of your wardrobe.

The weird thing is, I haven't been able to part with a single one of them.

Some of them I have gotten rid of, like from High School gigs that I really have no attachment to anymore. It's the most recent batch of tees that I can't seem to get rid of. This is going to result in an overflow of surplus sleepwear as I will no doubt collect more in the future.

Most of them have been free, which is the main problem. I've had to decline gifts from friends and family when they go on vacation because they bring me back shirts labeled with places I've never been. Or shirts handed out at college functions, mainly feminist related ones, shirts that have great messages and I'd hate to just send off because I believe in those messages.

I also know, I'm not alone. Go to any college, especially one with a sorority, and you'll see folks wearing event t-shirts like it's the latest trend. "I wear them because they are free," those people will say, but I know there has to be a deeper connection because if you're in a sorority, you're rich, and if you're rich, the combination of keeping up appearances plus affordability of clothing in the first place should not pose a problem. What it is most likely the case is that there is attachment to the event or place - you scuba dived for the first time in Puerto Rico, you met the celebrity of your dreams at the Cancer Run, you tried hard drugs for the first time in your college dorm or you kissed your first boy/girl that year at summer camp. I know I can't toss these shirts aside for certain reasons. I'd assume it's the same for others as well.

Every t-shirt has a story.

Here are some of my faves, and why I simply can't part with them at this time:

I got this for free from a Czech director when I was abroad. We were invited for a private screening and discussion with him and afterwards he gave us the shirts. The movie was actually really good but the shirt is huge. I should probably wear it as a dress.

I did some volunteer work in Ghana with a women's group, which was definitely a life-changing experience. On the back it says "SUPPORT WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT". How could I give something like that away?!!?!

While in Ghana, my parents decided to take a family trip to Puerto Rico sans moi. To compensate for the loss, they bought me this t-shirt. My mom always gives me a hard time about never wearing or using things she gives me so I reluctantly gave it a purpose. The best part is the two randomly places seashells on the upper shoulder and mid-back.

I used to volunteer for People Against Rape and we had to wear these t-shirts for the Take Back the Night event. Look at all those hideously placed sponsors! It's also like, mad huge.

I made this shirt in a small arts town in the Czech Republic. It was cool to actually make something in this famous textile shop and take it with me. I love when stuff like that happens, when you can be like "Look what I made, look what I brought back with me". But yeah, it's really ugly.

This also has a good message, I got it when I was working on the Vagina Monologues at Uni. It's supposed to support V-day, which is a day of Non-Violence. I want my kids to find this in the attic and ask questions. Or wear it because it'll be "vintage".

Totes my favorite, by far. I wear this like, everyday. The message makes a splash and is certainly an icebreaker, and my donation went to my Uni's NOW chapter. That logo is badass, how could I pass it up?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Clothing of Subcultures

I always seem to update this thing when I'm exhausted. And it's not just at night, either.

I've realized that the topics I enjoy discussing most pertain to the fashion of subcultures - nerds and geeks, laymen, indie/hipster, feminist, communist, etc. Pretty cool.

Whenever someone asks me what I study, they don't seem to understand exactly. "So are you like, a designer?" "No, not really." "What do you think of this spring's new lineup?" "I haven't even seen it, to be honest." "Oh my God, don't you love the new Dolce and Gabana JLo wore to that event?" "Doesn't Dolce and Gabana produce fashion ads that submissively advocate sexual abuse?" These are the things I contemplate on a daily basis.

Because to be honest, I'm not interested in couture. I'm not interested in design aesthetics, unless they pertain to the feelings of the viewer and why they feel that way. I think that the fashion collections of the rich and famous are pretty to look at, but really don't say much about fashion except for the fact that everyone tries to imitate certain looks because of what they deem is "in style" (why don't they just decide for themselves what they are doing to wear?).

"We have a lot of things like ball gowns and fancy clothing, because that is all that has survived," remarked Jan Hiester, curator of textiles at the Charleston Museum. "Old, rich people save their clothing. Regular people like us, don't."

But it's the clothing of regular people, and people who set themselves apart from the rest, that I really enjoy and think are interesting. How their individual style has shaped the way people think of them based on their clothing, this eternal identity, is really very cool. I think it's the clothing of the everyday wearer that expresses the most information about ourselves that is the kind of stuff people should be talking about.

Phrase association - Republican. Sportsfan. Toddler. White Trash. Valley Girl. Nerd. Maid.

We can all picture the kind of outfit associated with these stereotypes. What does that say about the message those kinds of people want to send out? And more importantly, what does it say about us as a society for making assumptions like those?

The gears are clicking...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Brüno on Fashion

"Fashion is ze lifesavingest of all ze sciences. NOT 1 suicide bomber has ever blown zemselves up vearing Marc Jacobs. U do ze mathematischer."
You know, it's true. I don't really know what he means by the first part but I would agree that you won't find too many villains wearing designer clothing. You think Kim Jong-Il carries a Fendi wallet ? Does Osama Bin Laden
don Calvin Klein undies beneath his sheath? The suits of George W. Bush never made the catwalk. And Cruella DeVille only wore her own fashion line.

Good news, folks: there is no such thing as being "fashionably bad".

Monday, May 11, 2009

Let them wear pants.

We discussed significant female actresses in fashion history today, and their roles as trendsetters in American society. I never realized how many famous ladies enjoyed the look of men's clothing. Katherine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrech, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford...all of which apparently have questionable sexual orientation but nonetheless, they wore pants. Even Audrey Hepburn is most noted for her khakis, turtle necks and loafers look.

Let's look at this contextually. The 30s, 40s and 50s were not the most masculine times as far as ladieswear is concerned. The 30s did not allow for creativity and sweeping trends to be economically benign (unless you were in Hollywood), the 40s went a bit more masculine because the boys were not home but hemlines were still in style, and forget about the 50s. These women were dressed glamorously all the time, when they were off the set they probably wanted to be comfortable, be anything BUT glamorous. We see that with celebrities even today. It takes a lot to look good, and when you work 10, 12 or 16 hour days even, who has the strength and the patience to put on makeup and a fancy dress?

Unlike celebrities of today, these women did not set out to be trend setters. In fact, I would say most of them had no impact on the fashion of the day at all; they are viewed as being polished and stylish in their own right but look at the photographs of normal people, none of them wore the wide-leg trousers of Hepburn or the tuxedo of Dietrech. If they did, it was a merely passing fad over all. This was a time when the celebrities looked incredibly good, but did not dictate fashion like they do today.

What does this say about our current fashion culture then? Are we so underdeveloped that we rely on a few key famous people to tell us what to wear? If Beyonce walked around with a pineapple on her head, would others follow suit? Were women back then so radically different in fashionable thought that they could think and wear for themselves? Or was it another source telling them what to wear? Perhaps the massive ready to wear lines displayed and accessible to the overall working class population?

It can be sure that women of the times wore clothing probably based off of costumes, not the everyday clothing choices of celebrities. So technically, film producers set the trends, not celebrities themselves.

More on this later.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

I'm a terrible blogger with a good excuse.

I know, I've been super bad with updates. I'm in the middle of finals however and it's hard to have a life. I promise, I'll be better very soon.

Topics you should be excited to hear from me about:

-Trend analysis as seen in the movie "Clueless"

-Evolutions of summer fashion

-American Vintage: Our obsession with the old


Also, I have received my schedule for FIT:

Monday: History of Western Textiles 6-9pm.

Tuesday: Collection Management Skills 9am-12pm
Common Hour 1-2pm
Fiber and Fabric 2-6pm

Wednesday: History of Fashion through the 19th c. 12-3pm

I also apply for FWS so I'll have a job on campus (or at least relevant to something I'd like to do) and I also plan on getting my NY tour guide license. This schedule gives me a lot of free time to do just that.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Museum of Fashion, Closer than you Think

Interesting possible paper topic:

The Mall: Fashion's New Museum.

I was walking around the mall today and noticed how many storefronts are verging on theme park-esque displays. Some storefronts don't even look like stores displaying clothing anymore; Hollister, RULE and Anthropology all put up fronts that resemble houses or buildings, mysterious entries made to lure a customer in because they can't merely judge the product from the sidelines anymore. The mall is becoming its own version of Epcot, over-exaggerating details to make their store more than just a display, it's a whole other world.

I'd like to investigate company motives to understand why they would invest so much money into display. Have sales risen because of it? Are these kinds of displays difficult to manipulate otherwise? What have the responses been? What kinds of people do they hire to construct and conceptualize?

Too tired to really go into detail on this one. Be on the lookout though.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Trend: Part II

"How could you tell what a woman looked like under that thing?"

Quoth a young man in my fashion history class as we discussed and viewed pictures of the Late Victorian exaggerated hourglass figure.

Historical context must always come into play when discussing any trend, which is what a lot of people don't realize. What dictates the trend is often not so much an inspiration from a designer, but what is going on in the outside world as well. Nowadays, the erogenous zone is based on how much skin can be revealed; back in the 19th century, things were different.

People associate "marriage" with "love", "love" with "sex" and "sex" with "being naked" in present times. This wasn't always the case however. It was more like this: "Marriage" "Money" and "Sex" "Prostitutes". People didn't marry for love back then - I know, this is an inCREDIBLY nouveau concept, believe it or not. They married for bank accounts and familial alliances. Marriages weren't so much arranged as they were encouraged - a woman or a man really could have his pick of any woman, as long as she fit the monetary standards desired by the family.

So really, it didn't matter if a man could tell the shape of a woman despite her Gigot sleeves and sickeningly cinched waist - it was the size of her reticule that mattered the most.

Which is why during the 19th century, the trend shifted and changed much more rapidly with women than it did for men. From the 1830s, we see a plateau in menswear with the popularity of the three piece suit. There are of course, variations on a theme - inseam, hem extensions, the length of the frock coat and the pattern of the vest. But comparably to women's clothing, men have been wearing pretty much the same trend since.

Women did not have as many work-related responsibilities as men during these days, and especially wealthier women had too much time than they knew what to do with. Drawing from Marie Antoinette's frivolous use of her time spent creating outlandish designs based off her own boredom (Think: Le Triomphe de la Liberté), once it was cool to be lavish once more women followed suit. They were bored and wanted to see what they could get away with.

Once they started wearing these items of clothing, the brains of men functioned to find other articles of the body desirable. In the early 1800s, it was the scoop of the dress exposing the breasts. In the 1830s, it was the ankle and the neck. 1850s-60s, the waist and 1870s-90s, the ass. The erogenous zone shifts dependent on what's in style at the moment. Simple as that.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Manhattan Vintage Trade Convention, Spring/Summer

First time attending this acclaimed Vintage convention. Must say, I am impressed at the amount of vintage clothing people can acquire and sell at outrageously inappropriate prices. Also to add, you'll never find objects of higher quality, so I guess you get what you pay for.

Vintage dealers can be placed in two categories:

1) Cunning and crotchety old Jewish ladies who got into the business because their grandmother's closet overflowed with designer junk good enough to be sold to the uneducated vintage enthusiast but not good enough to be sold at auction.

2) Upstarting 20-something hipsters reveling in the past's perfections. These vendors often have the best prices because they are just starting out.

I saw a lot of the same thing: Bright, floral 60s shifts, ruffled maxi prom dresses of the 70s, psychadelic scarves and 80s suit separates. The jewelry was subpar and either extremely expensive and ghastly, or junky and not worth purchasing no matter how low the price. I realized that this kind of convention is only good when you know exactly what you're looking for (I was idly browsing), know exactly what you're looking at (maybe if I'd known a few more designers, the price tag would have made more sense) and have the bank account to justify spending hundreds of dollars on gently-used clothing.

There was a large variety of clothing in my size, a size small, which is hard to come by in other vintage arenas. Much of the clothing I saw, and liked, would have fit nicely.
Variety as a whole: Clothing ranged from Edwardian slips and tea dresses, to early 90s couture. Looking for a particular period of the 20th century, you'd most likely find it. Lots of dresses, separates, shoes, bags and menswear as well.

Prices: Although I will say, the more educated vintage shopper might have spotted a bargain or been able to bargain down some clams. To me, anything used should be treated like a car; the price drops dramatically from the day it's purchased. But, what do I know, really?
Little specification: For a convention like that, where competition runs rampant because everyone has the same thing at every stall, setting yourself apart is key. I'd like to see some more specialization in goods, even if that's not your whole collection. A booth selling only small sizes, or only clothing from the 70s, selling just shoes, just hats, etc. Some of those kinds of booths caught my attention the most; a woman arranged several necklaces according to color and metal as her only booty. Even though I didn't buy anything, I still looked around.

I did come out with one purchase, a blouse from the 1970s NWT and matching cherry blossom neck scarf, $28. The shop owner was super nice, a 24 year old startup and didn't even have a website, she was so novelle, I couldn't bring myself to haggle. I probably could have gotten it for $25, but whatever. I know I made her day. Business was definitely slow for everyone today, and I know a lot of the stalls were hurting.

"We're very negotiable on our prices," one stall told me right off the bat. "Ignore the price tag."

Something told me the red, pink and purple swirl maxi dress costing $425 would go no less than half. And even at that, it was expensive (not to mention, the chestal area sagged too much on my flatness).

Definitely cool to witness though, and I look forward to going back. A lot of these places are set up as "archives" and maybe they'd like some free labor for internship credit?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Analysis of the Trend: Part I

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of the "trend" lately. There are several components integral to the creation of the trend, and I don't think people tend to realize this. I speak of the average person, anyway, the consumer, not the anthropologist. People take clothing for granted and they never stop to think of why they wear what they wear.

How long do trends last?
These days, open any magazine and you'll see more than a dozen new trends pasted on any one page. This is not a one time occurrence - each month, each magazine scrambles to produce "the next big trend" so that its readers will keep buying their publication. Back when modes of fashion were first considered fashionable, trends would last up to decades at a time with variations on a theme. Nowadays, if you are really trendy, you adhere to the rules governed to you by the media considerably every week.

Who creates these trends?
Marie Antoinette. Charles Frederick Worth. Calvin Klein. These names are synonymous with trend setting throughout the ages. Even as little as ten years ago, the common person could trace a trend to its creator. Calvin Klein developed the slip dress, and although others copied the idea, it is still associated with him. In current times however, can we truly trace the origins of the Hobo Bag trend? The skinny jean? Ugg Boots?

Some say celebrities begin these trends. Then what inspires them? The designer? If so, why haven't they been given the recognition they deserve?

It could be that this world is getting considerably smaller and smaller each day, and it is not easy for creativity to thrive. Because of the internet's host of blogs, live media feed and variable search engines, if one designer creates something new and innovative, there is not enough time between the original design being showcased stand-alone and another company snatching up the idea for themselves. Designer's are being lumped together trend wise as their work is showcased on the catwalk. "Gucci, Prada, Valentino and Dior all displayed bright hues this season". Surely, these houses of fashion are not collaborating in a friendly manner. Is their originality fading, or is technology working against them?


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Explanations on a Theme

Most people have never heard of my line of work. Most people don't even really understand what I do. "What's a fashion culturist?" they ask. True, "culturist" is not a word. Nor is "culturalist", but the dictionary defines the suffix "ist" as being a few things:

-ist |əst; ist| |ɪst|
1 denoting an adherent of a system of beliefs, principles, etc., expressed by nouns ending in - ism:: hedonist | Marxist.
2 denoting a member of a profession or business activity : dentist | dramatist | florist.

I study the culture of fashion. Therefore, I am a fashion culturist.

I do not study the design of fashion. Although that would be cool, and I do have a whole crop of designs stuck in my head, I have no formal training and therefore am not a fashion designer.

The closest I come to that, is the effect aesthetics of fashion have on its wearers.

People don't really understand what I do. Maybe I don't articulate it well enough, but I think there is something deeper to the matter.

Everyone wears clothes. People taking wearing clothes for granted, just like we take driving a car or owning a computer. People don't seem to understand the underlying meanings of clothing because the media and consumerism have blown it so out of proportion, the only semblance of understanding people associate with clothing is what the magazines tell us. And the magazines tell us "BUY BUY BUY or you won't fit in!". We associate fashion with money, and with looking good.

Oh, people, there is so much MORE TO IT.

Have you ever stopped to wonder, why you look so good? Or how that trend developed? Or where in history it might have been inspired from? Or who you become when you slip on a little black dress, a baseball uniform, a bikini?

That's where I come in.

It's fashion culture people.

It's why we wear, what we wear.