“If I were permitted to choose from the rubbish which will
be published a hundred years after my death, do you know
which I would take?…I would take simply a fashion magazine in order
to see how women will dress themselves a century after my death.
And their fantasies would tell me more about future humanity
than all the philosophises, the novelists,
the preachers, or the scientists“
I’m reading Cynthia Giles’s Vintage Clothing and came across this quote in her book. It is often said that you can tell a lot about society based on the clothing/style people wore, particularly women.
20’s you have women wearing shorter skirts with a boyish figure. Women were allowed to go out unaccompanied by men for the first time and found freedom in looser clothing, but wanted to appear a little bit manly to show their “equal” status (and to compensate for those shorter skirts. Scandalous!).
30’s you have a comparatively more feminine style with simple silhouettes that hugged the feminine frame more than in the 20’s. Don’t get me wrong, the manly shape that demphasised hips in the 20’s was still abound, but the hemlines were dropped lower again as frivolity and excess income reflected in 20’s fashion was no longer an option for the regular gal in the 30’s depression. Glamour in the long feminine silhouettes was key though- but perhaps only for the movie stars as fabrics and fancy wears were hard to come by in the depression of the 30’s. The feminine fantasy of glamour was huge as art deco characterises this decade. This fantasy (only available to the rich) must have been an escape from the daily struggles of the 30’s reflected back in the silver screens.
In the 40’s you have women going to work in “men’s jobs” as the men folk went to go fight in WWII. Women in pants was being experimented with as were shoulder pads. But there was still a feminine figure emphasised in cinched waists. Clothing was also expensive and hard to come by because of the rationing in the war so many women used their old clothes from the 30’s and brought up the drop waist, shortening the hemline creating that cinched waist. Many sturdy materials were used so that they would last for a long time because new clothing was a luxury during the war. Simple is key, because there was rationing on all sorts of materials.
50’s saw a huge return to excessive “femininity” compared with the 40’s. The hourglass shape which started appearing the 40’s was even more dramaticly sexy. Huge frilly skirts and the bullet bras shaped the fantasy of 1950’s femininity. With the war over, and the economy booming, a very visible sexy scene and style was embraced and over the top.
The 60’s saw skirts rise, and twiggy’s boy-waif figure become popular. The red lip was gone and replaced with a nude lip and dramatic eye makeup. With the sexual “revolution” came sexy clothes. But it was a sexy that rejected the over the top femininity of the 50’s and resorted to a more androgynous and never before seen type A-Line silhouette. There were many different fashion trends going on in this decade reflecting the many different ideas that came out of the 60’s.
The whole point of this is, I think it’s easy to dismiss fashion as narcissistic and frivolous. And indeed, it is in lot of ways and contributes to a culture of consumerism, ideal body types, and normative notions of gender expression in ways that I am not entirely comfortable with. What I think is interested and worthwhile is to examine how notions of gender and identity come to be played on the body through clothing. Since the stylization of the body represents to much culturally and individually (about self expression) I fin d it completely fascinating and important to think through fashion as expression of self, and markers of where society is. It gauges a cultural consciousness. It’s also interesting to me to think about the power to disrupt problematic notions of expression… as dress does come to represent more than just something you wear on your body to be warm (and not get arrested to for showing your tits or scrot). There is such a play that can be negotiated through clothing that I’m interested in exploring! This is why this quote by France spoke to me, a woman’s dress (not necessarily just women, but I’m thinking of women right now) represents so much more than just clothing. I think France knew that which is why he would want to see what women are wearing 100 years after his death. Dress is a huge marker for so many other things, not just about an individual but society at large!