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Apr 24, 2010

Fashion Confusion 101

Wise readers, is it me, or has fashion lost its way?

There is certainly no lack of creativity or striking imagery in fashion today.  But there seems to be no direction. 

During most of the last century, fashion (in the Western world) was dictated by a handful of designers in places like Paris and Hollywood, and trends got filtered down to the masses via magazines, movies, and sewing patterns.

You may not like the styles (or the effort they required), but they were undoubtedly clear.  The silhouettes reflect their respective periods and -- I'm guessing here -- anyone who sought to be fashionable tried to recreate them.




When did this end -- the Eighties, perhaps, or earlier?

One of the appeals of vintage dressing is being able to evoke a specific period so clearly based on a silhouette: big shoulders: Forties (or Eighties); wiggle skirt: Fifties.  Of course, not everyone dressed according to the fashions of the period(s), but if you look at old photographs of "ordinary" people, you'll see that many people -- of varying classes, races, lifestyles, etc. -- did.

So I ask you, do you miss having the dictates of a single influential designer or fashion capital to determine (or at least influence) your fashion decisions?  Do you feel better off in this more laissez faire fashion period (if you agree that that's what we're in right now).

Does it make getting dressed in the morning easier -- or harder?

I'd love to hear what you think!


  1. I like to think of the present situation as freedom & yep, I like it. :-)


  2. My husband and I went to the ballet last night. Clothes ranged everywhere from jeans and flip flops to formal dresses and power suits. It seems to me that in some ways it was easier to dress and know what to wear in the past when rules were stricter, but on the other hand I like not being so tied down, i.e., I wore linen pants, blouse, pashmina and sandals last night -- not sure that would have past muster in the past. I think we'll see a return to dressier dressing eventually. Everything seems to come around again!

  3. Well, I think it was easier in that there was less thought and choice required (although there's always enough room for anyone who wants to to obsess about the details). But if you didn't have the right body type for the era, what did you do?

    I do wish it were clearer what is appropriate for various events, though. I mean, I like freedom, but I know that really there *are* some rules in someone's mind (maybe different, even contradictory ones!) and it's anxiety-producing not to know for sure what they are. I'm sewing a dress right now for summer weddings and I think it will be OK for one but am a lot less clear on the other. :)

  4. I agree that it's awesome nowadays to be able to wear a wiggle dress one day, a seventies prairie dress another, a rockabilly skirt another day, and not bat an eyelash (living in NYC helps with this). However, I think that the clear styles and rules back the in day made life easier, but it also made rebellion easier too. Although I suppose rebelling against fashion norms (pants for women, skirts that showed ankles in the 20s, later androgynous styles, disco, the punk look) would eventually recycle into becoming fashion norms. What would you do now to rebel? Go naked? How would you signify that you reject dominant norms? It's harder to do this, since almost anything goes.
    I wish that rules for dressing in certain situations were more clear, but since I really like clothes, I am generally just slightly overdressed for almost all casual situations. Which is fine with me.

  5. Well, I'm a rules person; I've been that way since little so I don't think I'm going to change. I like knowing the correct style for an event. For me there is comfort in knowing that I'm dressed appropriately because I'm following the "rules". I love when an invitation states "formal attire required". I know what to do with that and don't have to deal with the "is this dress okay?" anxiety before the event.
    It is nice to be able to choose the hemline you like best though. Now I just need to stop wondering if I chose the "right" one!

  6. I guess my question is, What is "fashion?" If everyone is doing their own thing -- even if they look fantastic doing it -- is it fashion? To me the word suggests something that is popular with a great many people, whether it's dictated from "on high" or percolating up from the street. When I say fashion has lost its way, I mean there's no consensus on how people are supposed to dress or look. Not that there aren't fantastic things being created.

  7. I think that with the start of the last decade women especially gained more fashion freedom because there isn't only one style, one colour or one fabric available during some period. Skirts nowadays might be long or short, wide, flared or tight and with those new trousers around, pleated around the hips and narrow at the ankles, we also have every possible form of pants to chose from - and yay!!! to this.

    Why? Because now you can really create your own style without looking out of touch with the daily world around you. Even better you can wear what suits your shape - how horrible it was for the females in my family when in the late sixties, early seventies EVERY skirt available ended above your knees. And believe, not every woman loved that.
    The rules set up by designers, especially in the thirties, forties and fifties, required to shape your body or RTW would not fit - and making a round woman look like a thirties girl or a thin one looking sexy in forties gear - that wasn't always fun.

    I guess we just love the idea of those clothes but not the restrictions that came with them. And we might even miss the rules what to wear when and I myself surely would love to see more welldressed people and less jeans everywhere, everyday, always. But gaining all this and losing the right to decide what shape I want to wear Monday, which one on Friday - no.

    So, yes, I think that fashion lost its own way, or THE one and only way. It might be fashionable now to be your own stylist who gets a lot of influence from designers.

    Puh, trying to write what I would like to say in English is pretty exhausting and I am not sure if I made it. Need another piece of homemade Pizza now. All this effort ... I did this for you, Peter and Cathy ;-D

  8. Oh, I'm sure it would have been easier to choose what to wear! On the other hand, I do love the ability to wear whatever I want - my vintage style might provoke more strange looks otherwise, but since no one knows what anyone might wear, the only comments I ever get are on being "dressed up."

    I do wonder though, as fashion has become so derivative, always looking back... what will future generations of designers look back to? Is there anything new out there? I do note a lot of "architectural" styles on runways, but I don't see real people wearing them. I also think that while fashion used to dictate all, fashion has (since the 80s) been looking to the streets for inspiration, which was a really huge shift. I love fashion, no doubt, but on occasion some direction would be nice!

  9. Rather than one mainstream fashion, there are a lot more subcultures these days and I think we might find the fashions within those subcultures are fairly defined.

    We might have the freedom today to dress as we want, and in styles that suit our shape, but to be honest if you look in the street today and compare what you see with how people used to dress, perhaps society does need more direction!

  10. I think the answer of "what is fashion" get's lost in translation a little bit.

    I'm going to sound a bit on the pedantic side here, so bear with me...

    When we talk about the "fashion" of earlier decades, we think mainly of the clothing styles that were fashionable to wear. Ie: a fashionable young lady of the 20's would wear the fashion of the day (the style, as it were) which were dropped waist tunic dresses, cloche hats, oriental influence, etc etc.

    Ditto for other decades (nipped waists, a line dresses, gigantic shoulder pads and the like)

    In times past, these fashions/styles were handed down from a variety of places, depending on one's age and class and perceived persona. Youngsters take/took their cues mainly from their peers who take/took their cues mainly from film stars or characters or other pop icons (sweater girls, the James Dean look, Annie Hall, torn fishnets & off the shoulder T-shirts...)

    The older generation and or the wealthier of the younger generation may perceive themselves differently, or (and this is key) may want to project themselves differently. Thus, their fashion cues come from different places - the political arena (including wives), foreign dignitaries (queens, princesses) and European haute couture houses. modern times, there hasn't been one clear "trend" for a time period. If the eighties were all big shoulders and neon, the nineties became what? Grunge? Can anybody thing of a fashion trend in the nineties that the European houses all showed?

    I think that the concept of "Whatever, I'll do what I want" combines with (sadly) the death of many of the trendsetting couturiers from days gone by has absolutely changed the face of fashion.

    No longer is it 'Dior came out with a New Look, we should all copy it, must have it' mindset. Now it has become 'Dior is doing that, so we need something different so it DOESN'T look like we're copying'

    That, coupled with the changing face (and behavior) of public figures has caused "fashion" to become far more of an anarchy - it's every man or woman for themselves, and the more "signature" your look, the more "fashionable" Hence, the outrageousness of someone like Lady Gaga, and the subdued sophistication of someone like Angela Jolie on the red carpet.

    Plus, many people who in the past would have been style icons are now seen in their everyday clothes at a higher rate than in the past. If pictures of say, Jennifer Aniston in a T-shirt and jeans show up in a magazine out of context, then people think, well she's a celebrity and SHE can wear T-shirt and jeans, that must mean it's OK....

    does that make sense?

  11. Also, nowadays there's a lack of visible non celebrity fashion icons.

    Where are the Princess Graces? The Jackie Os? The Hepburns and even the Lady Dianas?

    Instead, we have Paris Hilton and Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan. Lovely images to want to emulate, no?

    (I could go on another tangent about who the media portrays and why, but I'll spare you)

  12. It's the difference between the "trickle down" and "trickle up" concepts in fashion. Like you said, back in the day trends were determined by the fashion elite and trickled down into the world via patterns, magazines and attainable clothing stores.

    Today I can put on a mix mash of clothing, determine it as my personal style and it can likely catch on locally, then nationwide and eventually trickle up to a designer runway.

    It's like asking "does life imitate art, or art imitate life?" Actually it's exactly the same as asking that. Fashion is art.

    People have learned that their wardrobe is personal expression which I find to be a wonderful thing. I feel for the ladies in the 30's and 40's who were plain sick of dresses and wanted to wear pants badly. As a previous poster mentioned, there are lots of subcultures which determine their own styles. We're able to know and learn about them now thanks to the tv and web. There are entire magazines dedicated to individual fetishes and style preferences.

    I guess it comes down to supply and demand too in a way. In the 40's all that was supplied was beautiful nipped waisted dresses and classy heels. Though they are still available today (hence Kelly Osbourne) there is a much more varied supply and as consumers we are free to demand what suits our personal taste. Why choose the nipped waisted 40's dress when latex, vinyl, chains and mohawks are more my style and are available?

  13. Oh my gosh, what an interesting, provocative topic . . . but it's the weekend and my mind isn't plugged into the "intellectual discourse" socket. Love the comments . . . now I'm back to sewing my simple shift dress out of a 1991 "vintage" Vogue Calvin Klein pattern (geeze, it's practically 20 years old now that I think about it).

  14. I'm new to your blog, and I am seriously liking it--it's different, but in a good way. :-)

    I really like how there isn't as much of a specific trend. Not that I would follow it if there was, mind you, but I just prefer to mix and match styles that suit my tastes/figure. I don't think I could do that as easily if we had a set trend. I do often wish there were more options for the non-stick-figure types'd think with the current "obesity epidemic" there'd be more stuff designed for those of us who aren't Lindsey Lohan-esque. But, I'm a t-shirts and jeans kind of gal, so what do I know? :-P

  15. What an interesting discussion. I wonder if fashion is harder to define in our digital, global age because (like many things) its faster-paced, shorter-lived ... and considered "disposable"? I suspect the ladies of earlier decades held onto and wore their frocks a little longer.

    We have masses of fashion information at our disposal and, with the internet, the ability to buy almost anything we like. Fashion is easily diluted. Maybe from here on we will note only general characteristics (e.g. from the 90's onward we seem to have had more fitted, but perhaps less structured clothes) and not defined silhouettes?

  16. I have nothing to add other than I think Kelly Osbourn is totally cute.

  17. While at work today, I started a well thought out comment but I seem to have lost it :( After reading all the other comments that were posted everything I was going to say has been said by others. Definitely a great topic, Peter!

    As a side note, Peter, I went to a home show this morning, and I kid you not, they had clowns! Again, I thought of you :)

  18. I observed a crowd of people exiting from a small-town theater (play, not movie) today. I was stuck in traffic as the theater-goers crossed the street. Ages ranged from young to elderly. In that whole crowd, there were 3 skirts. Three. No dresses. And this town usually dresses up.

    As for me, I love to wear skirts - they are my garment of choice for everyday wear - not that I wear one daily, but ALMOST daily.

    Pondering...I'm glad Cousin Cathy prefers things that twirl.

  19. I like it best when there are no rules. However, what will future fashionistas construe as the 'naughties' look? Or the 'twentyteens"? Do you think the naughties look will be remembered as volume/ Babydoll, and the teen silhouette as more bodyhugging with a defined waist?

  20. I agree that a variety of information sources available in this digital age have created many channels for input, hence the loss of one clear fashion voice. But I don't mourn that loss. Fashion is something you buy; style is something you develop.

    If the loss of fashion means we get to develop our own style and wear what we like and what suits us best, I am all for it. I love seeing what other people come up with, even if I don't personally like the effect or the fabric choice or whatever.

    If there are no real rules, I think it is incumbent upon hosts to define their expectations when possible. For instance, I was invited to a party that helpfully specified "cocktail attire." At least this defines the parameters somewhat (and hopefully will motivate me to sew that dress I've been planning in pink silk dupioni!).

    Although a 20-year-old asked me last year if men wore tuxes at cocktail parties, so maybe the lack of knowledge of any sense of rules is endemic. At least he was headed in the right direction, sartorially.

  21. Today, because it's anything goes (especially if you are young and thin), I can never find anything I like or would want to wear, which is why I am very very glad that I sew. I went to our local (now, I admit, we don't have access to the biggest lines here but)branch of a national department store (and no, I am not talking about Sears) to look for a straight skirt in any color at all. Skirts? yes. Printed, knits. No plain colors and nothing without a ruffle at the bottom. As I said, I am glad I sew.

  22. Two random thoughts... One is that I see fashion as "dictated from on high", created by real visionaries, not always wearable as is on the street. So "fashion" gets reinterpreted and refined over a number of years into the street style we actually wear every day. With the huge number of style blogs and the online communities and sub-communities that have developed around what people wear, the power of fashion might currently be diluted by the accessibility and DIY of style influencers who have nothing to do with high fashion.

    The second thought is that maybe every style era feels undefined while people live it, but when they look back, they are clear about what trends many people adhered to, or at the very least the predominant cultural values that dictated the popular style colors, shapes, design elements, etc...

  23. I've thought that too, Antoinette. Like, when you're wearing it and it's the current style, it doesn't feel like "fashion" per se, it's just neutral. And then decades later you realize, Oh, THAT'S what the Seventies were about: bell bottoms, and knits, or such-and-such type patterns.



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