Tuesday, November 1, 2011

An Addendum

Right after recording some of the intoxicating descriptions of dress quoted in Wilson's Adorned in Dreams (see previous post), I found myself short of breath in the next chapter as Wilson describes the style of the various factions of anti-bourgeois revolt in New York, London and Paris.

In New York, 'at a period when everyone, men and women, invariably wore hats in the street, these bohemians went hatless, bobbed their hair and wore a 'bluestocking uniform' of loose shift and brown socks. Djuna Barnes herself made a black cloak her signature. Her appearance was at times so bizarre that children laughed at her in the street. One of the most extreme women in the Village, who called herself the Baronin von Freytag-von Loringhoven, wore black lipstick, yellow face powder, and shaved her head.'

Then there was the 'arty', 'gipsy' fashions in London: 'at that time it was fashionable in artistic circles to wear one's hair in a bun on top of the head and a velvet ribbon round one's throat to match one's lipstick'; and up and down King's Road in the 20s and 30s, women resisted the flapper style by dressing in 'full peasant dirndl skirts, tight waists, kerchiefs.'

Wilson also writes that 'one early nineteenth century romantic fashion was cropped, unpowdered hair for both sexes. Neckties were worn loosely and casually knotted; an air of dishevelled beauty suggested, paradoxically, a mind above mere dress; and, ever since, untidiness has been used to suggest an artistic or intellectual calling' (!)

Earlier in the book, she cites Anne Hollander who argues that because of visual representations of historical periods on stage and in film, our view on what people used to wear are often inaccurate. Our vision of the past is conflated into symbols that signify an era, whether people wore them or not: "'powdered hair' equals the eighteenth century, 'a ruff' the Elizabethan period and a 'Juliet cap' Renaissance Italy (although the latter garment was invented for Theda Bara in 1916 and did not even exist in the sixteenth century.)"  

Fascinating!

ps. I just pressed 'publish', kept reading and came across this gem on mourning dress during the First World War. In England during this period, the Victorian custom of wearing black crepe and jet whilst in mourning was abandoned because so many were dying 'it came to be felt as a kind of mockery.'
And in Paris, "young women went about all day with tall cylindrical turbans on their heads ... and from a sense of patriotic duty wore Egyptian tunics, straight and dark and very 'war', over very short skirts; they wore thonged footwear ... or else long gaiters recalling those of our dear boys at the front [...]  the fashion now was for rings or bracelets made out of fragments of exploded shells or copper bands from 75 millimetre ammunition ... and it was also because they never stopped thinking of the dear boys, so they said, that when one of their own kin fell they scarcely wore mourning for him, on the pretext that 'their grief was mingled with pride.'"

No wonder fashion designers are always trawling the past for inspiration, my mind is firing in the direction of where to find thonged leather Egyptian style sandals that I can wear with a tunic and a turban.

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