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Jun 12, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: Today's fashions inspired by....the PAST!!!

I'm sure MPB readers will understand my surprise--no shock, to read this article in today's New York Times.  I simply cannot believe that fashion is now looking backwards for inspiration.

And yet it's true.  Vintage looks are in again (!!), like the Jantzen suit (above right), which I'm sure you'll agree is straight out of the 1950s with its top and bottom and....where's the similarity again?

It's all due to bad economic times, see.  You really have to read the article.

I know times are rough, but are they so rough that we want to escape -- by purchasing Fifties-inspired Eddie Bauer jackets -- no doubt made in Macao or Malaysia -- that are supposed to make us feel some of the security we felt back in the glory days of the Cold War? 

Here's the sobering truth according to said article: May retail sales were down 1.2%.  Very, very bad.  (If you lost 1.2% of a dollar, you'd have 98.8 cents, btw.)

"People want to believe in things that are American and want to be part of things that have longevity" says Eddie Bauer's CEO.  (Well sure, he's the CEO -- and wasn't Eddie Bauer in Chapter 11? Obviously they needed to try something different.)

What does "believing in things that are American" even mean for a clothing company that manufactures its products overseas?  I mean, how stupid do they think we are? 

But wait that's not all.  These "heritage" looks often cost more.   "Prices tend to be higher than the standard products — L. L. Bean, for instance, charges about 25 percent more for its “Signature” pieces.

So it's win/win for the companies.  People are looking to connect to the (arguably) more secure past through recycling old looks and they are willing to shell out 25% more for it.  Companies can re-issue old designs, moreover, instead of investing the R&D costs of something new.

So there it is in black and white: fashion is looking backwards for inspiration.  Somebody get Ralph Lauren on the phone.

 (A jacket from L.L. Bean's Signature collection)

Why does this article read like a press release?  Couldn't you as easily choose three or four other retailers and write an article arguing exactly the opposite?

Here's a bit of insight from Nick Coe, President of Land's End:  “The days of frivolous spending or buying stuff that’s disposable have gone away,” he said.

Huh.  Somebody better tell that to Walmart.

Readers, what do you think?  Is this information newsworthy?

Has the sour economy inspired you to dress like you did during flusher times?   Does it make you want to want to invest in a good old American bullet bra, put some Perry Como on the record player, and snuggle up to Grandma's dog-eared copy of "Forever Amber"?  

Is this article as bad -- or as dull -- as I think or is it just too early in the morning?

Your eloquent insights, please, wise readers!


  1. I think whomever wrote that article and whomever decided it was press-worthy has/have lost the plot. I think fashion always looks to the past for inspiration and it has nothing to do with the economy. The whole 'american' thing makes me giggle...who are they trying to kid, anyways?

  2. Just another stupid marketing ploy for those with deep pockets and shallow minds.

  3. How authentic can these signature looks be when L.L. Bean has "removed the plastic lining of the “kill pocket” in the back of the coat, originally meant to hold freshly shot bloody ducks?" How inauthentic! What next--they will try to sell us special bags meant to hold our deceased fowl?

    Seriously, though, this is just lazy marketing and it's insulting to the intelligence of the consumer. Lots of people will probably go for it, though.

  4. I have never been one to spend on current fashion or disposable "things" so not much has changed for me. But as times "seem" to get more complicated and as I have just seen my son through two deployments and a heart attack which have changed his life, I DO look for simpler times and have been listening to Perry Como on a record player, searched e-bay for a bullet bra (they do not go cheaply) and have started a collection of vintage cookbooks.

  5. Every time I see ads for "American classic" anything, I am reminded of "Classic Coca-Cola", that drink made of high-fructose corn syrup which is making people sick all over the world. This cures me of any desire to buy something just because it's a "classic."

    If I like it, sure, I'll buy it. But I want to buy products because they're good, but I don't want to pay extra for a "heritage" of ... what, advertising?

    Stacy's comment made me laugh as I remember wearing boat shoes in the 80s and never actually getting on a boat while wearing them.

  6. A bullet bra definitely would not make me feel any better about the current economy. lol. The economy doesn't really guide my fashion decisions, at least not that I'm aware of. It may prevent me from buying as much as I'd like, but I don't go into Nordstrom and think, "Hmmm, the economy is in the toilet, so maybe if I buy some 50's inspired fashion I'll feel better because things were so much better back then!" Actually, if you ask my mother, she'll tell you things were not better or simpler back then; they were just different.

  7. For myself, I am yearning for the safe and secure feeling I used to get from traditional, American harem pants!

  8. Is this article were in the Fashion and Style section, I would see your point. Since it is in the business section, not so much. They are not trying to get the reader to buy the stuff. Rather, they are trying to show examples of how people are selling their stuff, which may or may not assist other readers in their quest to sell stuff. That is how I read it, anyway.

  9. It's never too early for satire, Peter! ;) A little bit of irony thrown in is just the icing on the cake.

    I dress the way I do because I like it and it's affordable. That's the naked truth.

    I either sew or thrift what my family and I need (with few exceptions) and I am often scandalized by the prices when I do go in 'new' shops. I don't buy 'disposable' fashion because I can't afford to replace things every year.

    These big companies are just cashing in on trends to generate more sales. I think they've finally realized that a lot of their business has been lost to the handmade movement and they're desperately trying to get it back. What better way than to manufacture things that are popular and that may appeal to savvy shoppers and creative people like ourselves?

    If handmade is the new black, then vintage must be the new pink.

  10. Your post is NOT dull, Peter. You are never dull and that is why I go to MPB first every morning. Also, you have the cutest smile I've ever seen outside my own children ! Hmm I think I have a crush on you ! Wooo weeee !!

  11. Right, because the folks who have really been hit by the economy taking a dip are going to go buy L. L. Bean's $100 hunting shoes or Jantzen's $150 bathing suit vaguely inspired from their archives.

    This article might have been better if they ran it by someone in the fashion department. What about all of the people who already like vintage? We must have been psychics who saw all this coming.

    And just because I saw a little hint of this in the comments - I think it's a mistake to refer to the 50s-60s and earlier decades as "simpler". What exactly was simpler? That's a little too romantic for me and untrue to history.

  12. Well I agree with the posters who have pointed out that the fifties were not necessarily that simple or golden. Imagine coming home from school with a piece of paper that said H BOMB on the top to give to your mother. Imagine doing bomb drills (called tornado drills) and being told that because the plant your dad worked at produced bombers, your city would be a likely target of Soviet bombers.

    Also, wasn't there a recession in the early fifties?

    Fashion was no more forgiving to the female form than it is now. I was a kid, but it looks like to me that women were corseted rather extremely to get a small waist. The skirts flared out in contrast to the small waist. I guess the bullet shaped bra was a way to make the figure as provocative as possible. Not my idea of fashion simplicity.

    A lot of articles you read about popular culture are rubbish.

  13. My mom says fashions go in 30-year cycles. I'm seeing the return of some '80s-preppie stuff, and it's been 60 years since the '50s, so looks to me like she's right. Also about the human tendency to remember the past through rose-colored glasses. Other folks have pointed out very well that the '50s weren't some golden, stress-free era (and it was before Civil Rights, too. For all its warts, I think I'll stick with the present).

    Noticing a lot of "limited time only" signs in stores these days, and this article seems along that line ... marketing ploy to get you to buy stuff.

  14. what I've noticed is that the fashionable female silhouette in Europe and the US goes in and out in a regular cycle - think the 1930s (straight) to the 1940s (big shoulder, small waist) to the 1950s (hourglass) to the 1960s shift dresses (straight). I don't know why this is, but you can see it in the 1700s in British fashion (the late influence of the Napoleonic court, for example, with its white gauze columns as dresses) and it may well go even earlier, though the cycles definitely speed up as you enter the 20th century.

  15. This post isn't boring, but oh, that NY times post was dull. It seems like retailer are not just waking up to the home made movement, but also the second hand/thrift vintage movement. Hasn't vintage styling been in so the past two decades or so? Hasn't Zooey Deschanel's career (as style icon) been about this since the early 2000s? So dull. NYTimes, step up already?
    What especially bores me is that alot of these styles have been available for a long time. Like Esther Williams bathing suits. Like Modcloth. Like "classic cut" khakis. Like all of GAP pre 2002. Geesh. And the Times wonders why folks prefer non-newspaper media outlets (like awesome blogs).

  16. I've asked my ma about the 50's - I was born in '59 - and she doesn't remember it as all that golden or simple. Mostly hard work, hard work and more hard work in a girdle and without air conditioning. I don't think she misses much about those days. Any convenience technology that comes along and she's right in there - life can't be convenient enough for her. I think nostalgia only works when you haven't actually experienced the historic moment we're supposed to be casting our gaze back to so longingly.

  17. I've felt a lot of chaos in my life lately. This likely explains why I have gravitated towards fashions that make me feel more powerful. Why, just today I put in an old pair of shoulder pads (the biggest ones I could find). I went out to Walmart feeling confident and strong... until I realized that I probably shouldn't have worn shoulder pads with a tank top. Lesson learned.


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