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.