Monday, February 17, 2014

Behind the Times

Dolly and Minerva are beginning to feel that their travels through other publications are not very enlightening. A visit to Harper's Weekly Magazine makes them realize just how far away from home they are.

Amazing, isn't it, how when fashions change, we look back in horror at what we we once wore with such confidence! I like to think, however, that with so many well-made movies of other times coming out, we have an appreciation of the beauty of past fashions. If actors are dressed well, not as caricatures of style, we see their clothes as people in those times did. My grandmother turned 20 in 1913, a beautiful era of fashion. Today, everyone is aware of that through the gorgeous costumes of Titanic and Downton Abbey. My grandmother grew up on the Lower East Side of New York City, a neighborhood of poor immigrants, but she had the luck of being the only child of a skilled custom tailor who ran his own business. When she married in 1912 (the year of the Titanic sinking), she couldn't afford a fancy wedding dress. A stroke of good fortune arose - a woman had commissioned a very pretty dress, paid for the materials, but never returned to collect the dress or pay for the labor. It was a pale blue dress of layers, with the semi-sheer overlay embroidered in a floral pattern made of hundreds of French knots. And it fit my grandmother perfectly. Where this dress ever went, I don't know, as I've never seen it or even a picture of it, but it must have been beautiful. I look at pictures of dresses like this and think it must have been similar.

Then my mother turned 20 in 1946. When I was a child, I'd be fascinated by her descriptions of how she rolled up her hair in those amazing styles, padded out with long hair switches. She made a lot of her own clothes and would bring left over material to a hat maker, who would whip up jaunty hats to match her outfits. Mom worked in NYC and studied voice at Juilliard School of Music, hoping for a career in opera. Her publicity photos were so gorgeous, and I looked forward to the day when I was 20 and looking like a million bucks.

Fast forward to 1972. I turned 20. And it was 1972. Good Lord...seen that..., worn that..., wondered about that. There was a big "Unisex" thing going on then. I guess someone had a bee in her bonnet about gender equality, but when you go unisex, one or both of the sexes is going to come off looking not quite right. I hear people say that everyone thinks the fashions of their own day look great and the opposite sex looks great. Not true, just not true. That's when a whole generation pulled on a pair of jeans and an old shirt and just said no.

1 comment:

  1. I tried commenting on this yesterday, but it doesn't seem to have actually posted it. Here I go again: I turned 20 in 2005. I can 't say that women's fashion was wonderful, but at least we didn't wear polyester jumpsuits and men didn't look like such doofuses! Ah, the 70's! I am sometimes envious of women in the past or in cultures where they wear very feminine clothing. At the end of the day though I wouldn't trade in my practical jeans and flannel shirt for something I had to wear a corset with though!