Jan 8, 2013
Good news, friends: I awoke this morning feeling only slightly damp (no, my pillow hadn't leaked!), I walked the dogs, and I haven't been back in bed all day. Even better, I am now nearly 100% caffeine free as I completely lost my taste for coffee (or dairy) during my illness. I'm calmer with less gas.
Moving right along, readers, has there ever been an historical event or movement in your lifetime that you look back on and say, that affected me directly? Maybe it's women's suffrage (well, if you're 100), the pill, or the internet. For me, it is the post-WWII suburbanization of America. Since for various reasons my family stayed in the Bronx (where my mother remains, in the same apartment no less) while countless schoolyard and apartment building friends disappeared to far-off places like Long Island, New Jersey, and Rockland County, my entire childhood was spent in the shadow of huge demographic and economic shifts that left New York City reeling, the Bronx in particular. Of course, today, a good many of those original evacuees are aging in the suburbs, too old to drive, and without easy access to the services they need, but at least they didn't have to live with the Puerto Ricans!
Anyway, I bring this up today only because I want to discuss a now-forgotten garment that epitomizes what I consider the suburbanization of fashion itself. I speak of the panel print shift dress. Now we all know what a border print is. But a panel print -- ever heard of it? (I hadn't.)
To me these sunny, casual frocks not only scream "I live in the suburbs," they also proclaim " -- and we have a pool."
Panel print frocks popped up sometime in the early Sixties and lasted through the early Seventies, when a combination of political assassinations, oil embargoes, and a lost war knocked the optimism out of even that most cheerful of types, the home sewer. Wearing an over-sized strawberry or mutant hibiscus no longer felt in step with the times.
Readers, I have never even seen a panel print in a fabric store, have you? (I noticed on one pattern they're referred to as "engineered prints.") I did find this one for sale on Etsy. Looks like it's the real deal too!
Of course, you may already have noticed that many of these panel prints are also suitable for border prints. Either way they give me the same queasy feeling: forced frivolity.
On a four-year-old, maybe...
NOTE: Please do not confuse the cutesy panel print with the cutesy applique -- another blog post altogether!
Readers, am I guilty of sociological overreach, or can you really see larger societal trends in something as simple as a sleeveless shift dress pattern? Remember, too, that only one decade earlier, women were sewing frocks like these: hardly the stuff of pool parties or backyard barbecues.
When people wonder what killed formality in dress, it was the suburbs and the suburban lifestyle. When there's little public space, no sidewalks, no place to see or be seen other than a shopping mall, nothing to dress up for, you end up with Butterick's "Skimmer Shift." Then jeans. And here we are in 2013, watching Mad Men and wondering whatever happened to silk taffeta cocktail dresses.
In closing, what do you make of this largely Sixties American phenomenon, the panel print dress?
Does it ring any bells or just make your teeth ache?