Category Archives: Fashion History

Resurrecting Hemline Quarterly

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Outside of the historic Grauman’s Egyptian Theater following a 1920’s fashion lecture.

As is pretty clear from the lack of posts, I stopped updating this site years ago when I started grad school and didn’t have as much free time for my side projects. However, despite me never checking WordPress, magically people have still been finding my site and have been leaving very sweet comments that they’ve enjoyed the content. In addition, I recently moved to the Hollywood area and have been super inspired by all of the art deco buildings, Old Hollywood sites, and vintage fashion shops, to resurrect this blog!

A few things to expect:

  • Shots of some vintage sites around Hollywood
  • Continuing articles on fashion history and vintage style
  • Old Hollywood style and how it connects to pret-a-porter
  • Photos of my adventures in the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles

I’m looking forward to getting back into writing about fashion history! If there are any specific eras that you are interested in or fashion trends you’d like to learn more about, leave a comment below and I’ll see what I can do!

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Suburban Conformity & Cutting-Edge Couture: The Dualistic Forces Behind 1950’s Fashion

Bodysnatchers, couture, & the suburbs

Ah, the 1950’s: an era of suburban sprawl, festering social unrest, the threat of nuclear war, and a new guard of fashion icons.  To me, the 1950’s represents the best and worst of American culture and fashion in particular.  While at once characterized by a need to suburbanize, conform, and forget the violence and tragedy of the 1940’s, the 1950’s also provided the seeds to the inspiring changes that would occur in the next decade, both socially and culturally.  Often viewed as a decade of prosperity, many American families in the 1950’s enjoyed newly affordable luxuries: a family car, modern kitchen appliances, television sets.  The traditional, nuclear family was heavily emphasized, and was promoted by the entertainment of the day.  Television shows and films reinforced traditional women’s roles, displaying the role of wife and mother as the only priority in a woman’s life.  Finding a husband, settling down to a newly built home in the suburbs, and raising two charming mini-citizens (also known as children) was the goal here.

Meanwhile, across the pond, European culture was revitalized after the slow recovery from war.  Fashion-wise, this meant the best and the brightest were allowed the freedom to be as creative as they wished without the restrictions of war-time rations.  The greatest fashion designer of the era (just an opinion, of course), Cristobal Balenciaga, flourished in this time, and reinvented what it meant to be fashionable.  Christian Dior, whose “New Look” debuted in 1947, also pioneered new fashion trends, while houses like Chanel found inventive ways to change with the times and stay ahead of the competition.  Keep reading for more on the strange dualistic nature of the 1950’s, the era of conformity and invention…

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1940’s Fashion Etiquette- According to “Vogue”

“It is axiomatic that a woman who dresses well always has an acute sense of fitness, as well as an understanding of current fashion.” – Millicent Fenwick, associate editor of Vogue, in Vogue’s Book of Etiquette (1948)

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Songstress Style: Key Elements of On-Screen Glamour

Nina Mae lookin pretty fierce.

Nina Mae lookin pretty fierce.

As made evident by my previous post, pop culture in the 1940’s clearly valued elements of glamour, despite the basic and utilitarian fashions that were popular for real-life working women.  Adding to this drama of escapism was the popularity of musical numbers in popular Hollywood films, such as of the above Hazel Scott, a brilliant musician and actress who often made musical cameos in various pictures.  Especially for women of color, whose roles were extremely limited by a blatantly racist film industry, the importance of being able to “do it all” was clear: be beautiful, be a gifted actress, sing wonderfully, play an instrument.  Often, women of color fell into two categories when it came to Hollywood casting: the well-meaning, unintelligent but caring “maid” or “nanny” character, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the extremely beautiful and unattainable glamour girl, often cast in the role of a musician or so-called diamond in the rough who was too good for her current surroundings and situation, which sometimes included the cringe-worthy but relevant plot-line of “passing” for white.  Despite these typecastings, women of color in the entertainment industry still delivered iconic performances, and I’ve collected some of what I find to be the key elements of style for the songstress/chanteuse archetype from throughout the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s.

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A World at War & Women at Work: the Chic Utility of the 1940’s

My lovely grandmother Betty (third from the left) & her well-dressed girlfriends in 1946.

Greetings, ladies & gentlemen!  I am finally updating!!!  I actually wrote this article awhile ago but have been trying to find some images that are unique and illustrate the awesomeness that is 1940’s fashion.  The photo above is from my grandmother’s collection of photographs and I think it’s a great example of mid-40’s dresses.  Growing up in the Midwest, my grandmother didn’t live in the fashion capital of America, but she and her girlfriends look super chic and stylish in their (probably rayon) dresses with sweetheart necklines, knee-length (or higher) hemlines, and peeptoe shoes.  Going through her photos was pretty inspiring, and it made me want to write more articles for this blog.  So, if you want to know more about what made fashion in the 1940’s special, keep reading.

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A New Year of Vintage Fashion

Happy New Year!  Hopefully this one will be less busy for me and I will be able to actually update with a real post…but for now, a few lovely images from New Year’s celebrations of the past…

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Happy Fashion-Historical Halloween

I swear I have an actual new post coming soon (working two jobs is not conducive to blogging)…but for now, I thought I’d post a link to a great site that has some awesome historically-inspired Halloween costumes for women who don’t want to wear they typical over-priced polyester mini-dress costumes most stores sell.  At Take Back Halloween, you’ll find some creative costume ideas ranging from Glamour Grrls (including my favorites Anna May Wong and Jean Harlow) to Notable Women (my favorites being Christine de Pizan and Themistoclea).  If you can’t duplicate their costume ideas exactly, they at least provide a few last minute ideas and some inspiration!  My backup is always something out of my closet; this year, I think I might go 70’s with a pleated paisley dress that has a built-in ascot and sheer sleeves, nude heeled oxfords, and maybe a floppy hat.  But next year I will be attempting one of the historical ladies on that site!

Happy Halloween!  New post on the 1940’s coming soon, I swear.

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Top Ten Fashion Moments of Pre-Code 1930’s Hollywood

Clockwise from top left: Teresa Wright, Jean Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck, and Theresa Harris

Signaling the start of Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age, Depression-era cinema set the foundation for trends in film, culture, and fashion throughout the first half of the twentieth century.  The star-powered studio system, the moral conduct code, and the typical film personae were crafted and fleshed out during this period.  Directly following the gay twenties and collapsing into the economic disaster of 1929 and 1930, Hollywood sought to keep audiences paying to see films and fought to maintain a theatre-going culture, where seeing a film was an essential part of daily life.  In order to keep attendance high, studios sought the biggest stars, the best talent, and the most intriguing and sometimes raciest story lines.  Known as the pre-code (as in, the period prior to the enforcement of the Hays Code which restricted what was portrayed on film) era, the period from 1930 to about the middle of 1934 allowed for some of the freshest, most provoking portrayals on film the public had and ever would see (at least until the 1960’s).  During this period, women’s roles in films flourished, as pre-code starlets such as Barbara Stanwyck, Ruth Chatterton, Norma Shearer, and Greta Garbo were given meaty roles that went against the stereotypical ideals of femininity (as seen in the 1920’s archetypes).  Playing divorcees, professional women, ‘loose’ women who were never punished for their sexual depravity, maneaters, women who used men for their own personal gain, and on and on, pre-code actresses were really allowed to let loose on the silver screen.  Some of the most fun to watch performances were given during this period by women who modern film lovers often remember for their latter (more sober and classical) roles during the forties and fifties.

But what does all this mean in terms of fashion?  Continue reading

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A Brief History of Women’s Fashion Pt. 2: The Depression, The Bias & Return of the Waistline, 1930’s

Typically, when people think of Great Depression-era fashion, exciting thoughts do not necessarily spring to mind.  Marking the end of Jazz Age decadence, the 1930’s are often thought of as a somber decade when it comes to fashion.  However, to be honest, the 1930’s are one of my favorite eras of fashion (besides the 1960’s).  Perhaps it is the existence of extreme opposites that interests me; the 1930’s saw both the bare minimum housedress of the typical woman simultaneously with the escapist Hollywood glamour of the pre-code silver screen.  As a sort of apology for the frivolity of the flapper fashion, women’s dresses dropped their hemlines and were typically constructed of more practical, less ornate fabrics.  The waistline assumed a more traditional, natural position.  The ideal look, however, continued in the art deco fashion- streamlined, long, lean.  Meanwhile, couture fashion pushed boundaries of the silhouette with the increased popularity of bias cut draping, as well as the influence of modern art movements, such as surrealism.  Modern hardware, such as the zipper, was also popularized throughout the 1930’s. In a sense, the 1930’s is the start of the sort of classic period of vintage fashion that lasted up until the early 1960’s, a period marked by ultra-feminine silhouettes existing at a time when women’s roles in America were increasingly traditional, acting as the build up and inspiration for the second wave of feminism.  The Great Depression insisted women stay home to allow for more chances for employment for men, a trend that would last until the factory boom of the 1940’s, only to re-emerge during the nuclear family-centric, suburban docility that was the 1950’s.  Thus, women’s fashion was further feminized and defined, drifting away from the boyish, masculine silhouette of the flapper.  With a few exceptions… Continue reading

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Film & Fashion in Focus: Silent Icons of the 1920’s

Colleen Moore

Colleen Moore, America's perfect flapper.

As anyone who has seen Gloria Swanson freak out in Sunset Boulevard knows, in the 20’s, the actors had faces.  Also, they had fashion.  Often, actors in silent films were portraying archetypal characters who were easily identified and defined by their clothing, hair, and makeup.  For women, this meant two main categories of characters: the virgin and the vamp.  Beneath these two umbrella archetypes were a variety of personas- the flapper, the ingénue, the girl next door, the “It” girl.  Fashion in film helped to define these characters to the American public, and in turn says something about how women were defined by what they wore during that era.  Film also helped to spread fashion trends out of the city to outlying or rural towns, giving the rest of the country a taste of the new styles emerging from a city center like New York.  Ultimately, film played an integral role in defining the ideal style for the twenties woman, and comments silently about what clothing projects about the wearer.

the Flapper

Colleen MooreColleen Moore

Colleen Moore

Above: Box-office gold, Colleen Moore, in the many costumes of the ideal flapper.

Perhaps the most iconic persona of the silent screen, the archetypal flapper is also the most responsible of all the film personas when it comes to inspiring the fashion, both of the twenties and the modern era.  Actress Colleen Moore personifies this character, with her bold, parisienne-esque fashion choices depicted above.  From the long, lean, deep-v flapper evening dress, to the androgynous garçonne, to the eastern-inspired turbans and head-wraps, Moore’s on-screen style runs the gamut of flapper fashion.  Moore starred in films with titles like Flaming Youth, Painted People, and The Perfect Flapper, and became a sort of icon of the flapper to the American public.  Her characters were fun, carefree, adventurous, and free-spirited, but never vampy or obscene (unless you count putting perfume on your lips as obscene).  Her portrayals helped make the flapper accessible to the public, while Moore’s on-camera style gave dreamy girls who saw her films something to look up to, fashion-wise.  When most girls owned one, maybe two dresses, seeing Moore wear a different dress, usually heavily beaded or trimmed in fur, or covered in an ultra-modern art deco print, in every scene of Flaming Youth provided a sort of perfect ideal of this mysterious modern woman, the flapper, who everyone was trying to understand and explain.

Other notable flappers: Clara Bow, Josephine Baker, Joan Crawford

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