Fashion Statements

 

How New York Dressed the World:  1925-1965   June 12, 2009, 7 PM, Brick Presbyterian, 62 E 92nd Street, NYC

How New York Dressed the World: 1925-1965 June 12, 2009, 7 PM, Brick Presbyterian, 62 E 92nd Street, NYC Photo credit: Britt Boyd

On June 12, at 7 p.m., New York City Coalition Against Hunger will be sponsoring a benefit fashion show.  But this is not a typical fashion show–it is a retrospective of fashion in America from 1925-1965, coordinated by designer William T. Buster.  

I’m really looking forward to this event, and not because my daughter has been coordinating it as a VISTA intern/graphic designer for the non-profit group, but because the sociological aspects of fashion have always been fascinating to me.   It is not just a random occurrence, for instance, that hemlines were short in the 20s and longer in the 40s.  There seems to be a documented correlation between the good times and short hems, and between fiscal conservatism, as in the war years,  and conservative dress.

No matter how much or how little into fashion you are, you make a fashion statement whether you know it or not.  For those who came of age in the 60s, the hippie dress that was supposed to say that you didn’t care about what you wore only masked the fact that you did care–you cared about associating with others who didn’t care.  If you wear an L.L. Bean flannel shirt every day with Dockers pants, don’t be so smug in thinking that you are immune to fashion. We know who you are–and that’s what fashion’s about–revealing a little bit about who you are and where you stand in relationship to society.    

I once sat and tried to figure out a completely statement-neutral mode of attire, and I could not think of one.  Even if someone dropped off a random bag of clothes on my doorstep from Goodwill and I picked out a random outfit, the fact that I am wearing a random outfit from Goodwill is a statement in itself.  

It’s fascinating to think about how people choose their clothes to reflect where they stand, or where they wish to stand in society.  My mother-in-law spent a significant chunk of her savings when she was working as a clerk in Macy’s on a mink coat– a huge status symbol of the 50s and 60s.   Now, fur is still used in fashion for sure, but in a very understated way–as a collar, or a hood lining.  Wearing fur makes the statement that you are either ignorant of the suffering of the animal who dies for your vanity or you don’t care.  

Then there are jeans, and there are JEANS.  There are your basic Levis, and there are your designer denims.   You will make a different statement depending upon whether you’re spending $30 or $300 for your jeans.

Dress-down day at work doesn’t mean you can ignore all the unspoken (or written) rules of the office.  You can be casual in khakis, but not in tank tops.  If you wear flip-flops on dress-down day, even if allowed, what will that say about your career aspirations?  

imagesAge has its own rules.  My mother once advised me, “If you wore it once, you can’t wear it again.”  That meant if you rode the Mary Quant trend in the 60s, you can’t wear those cute little A-line minis now that they are back again.  You’ll just look silly.   My son will ask me, “Mom, do you like this outfit?”  and my reply is always, “Who am I to judge?”  I might think that a t-shirt worn with a dressy suit vest and a tartan scarf looks kind of weird, but it’s not for me to say.  I don’t know the “rules” for the Gen Y indie music crowd.

I always admire people who can step over the lines.  When I saw the movie “Erin Brockovich,” about the spunky law clerk who wound up effectively winning a huge class-action lawsuit, I loved the fact that her couture is more suited for someone associated with a bar, as in drinking dive, as opposed to THE Bar, as in the legal profession.  

Some people try to be as innocuous as possible.  I was watching the Johnny Cash biopic, “Walk the Line,” yesterday and his manager said to him, “What are you doing in that outfit?  You look like you’re going to a funeral!”  Of course, how else do you think about Johnny Cash without the black shirt, black slacks, black sunglasses?  It’s his personal uniform, as much as Dolly Parton’s is her far-from-innocuous low necklines and big wigs.

One of the things I recall most fondly about my Great-aunt Florence was the fact that every single day she got up, put on a colorful, well-made, well-fitting sheath, a triple string of pearls, earrings and lipstick.  I was 21 when she died at the age of 92, and by that time a lot of her friends had passed on, but that didn’t stop her from putting on her “uniform” every single day.   I’m sure she felt she had to–out of pure self-respect.  Because fashion can also tell others what you think about yourself.  

It’s going to be fun to go to “A Full Plate of Fashion:  Fighting Hunger with Style” on the 12th of June, because I love the story of human culture through the ages.  We can’t get away from self-expression through our dress.  Even tribal cultures have very strong dress codes.   In a sense, we are what we wear, individually as well as collectively.  So we might as well pay attention to it.

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Comments

  1. sweep post

    i love the American fashion of the 30-50’s
    but i cant find additional details on the show..

    can you share a location ?

    keep up the interesting news
    Cheers
    Fashionsteel

    • Catherine says:

      Yes! It’s at Brick Presbyterian, 62 East 92nd Street in New York. For information on registering, go to NYCCAH.org/FullPlateofFashion or call 212 825-0028, ext 208. Thanks for your interest!

Trackbacks

  1. […] any case, not only do I have the New York City Coalition Against Hunger Benefit Fashion Show to look forward to this evening, but on Saturday and Sunday several of my old college friends are […]

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