web analytics

Posts tagged ‘feminist fashions’

Getting To The Point Of Pencil Skirts & Their Popularity

By , 22 October, 2009, No Comment

Christian Dior created the pencil skirt in the early 1950’s, as part of his H-Line collection.

Christian Dior H-line Fashions, 1955

Christian Dior H-line Fashions, 1955

The narrow and long (past the knee, originally) design of pencil skirts was reminiscent of the long skirts worn in the 1900s — right down to the similar hobbling effects of the 1910’s hobble skirts.

The Hobble Skirt Postcard, Circa 1910s

The Hobble Skirt Postcard, Circa 1910s

Note where the hobble skirt narrows around the knees, much like the narrowness of pencil skirts. This is why, even when pencil skirts have a slit or pleat in the back, pencil skirts still require some practice to walk in, some experience in elegant wearing.

Early Christian Dior Pencil Skirt Suit

Early Christian Dior Pencil Skirt Suit

The earliest pencil skirts were parts of suits, worn with jackets and tunics which covered the waist; this somewhat tended to minimize the hips while lengthening the legs.

Black Velevet Tunic Suit With Slim Pencil Skirt, 1952

Black Velevet Tunic Suit With Slim Pencil Skirt, 1952

But eventually, pencils skirts were worn with more fitted fashions, further accentuating the rounding of hips and behinds beneath nipped-in waists. (And would eventually evolve into the more flower-like full skirted fashions, and, on the other side, the wiggle dress, which we think of when we think of New Look fashions.)

Vintage Suit Ad: Pencil Skirt on Left, A-Line Skirt on Right

Vintage Suit Ad: Pencil Skirt on Left, A-Line Skirt on Right

In any case, wearing pencil skirts was far less practical in terms of ease of movement. This impracticality had, in fact, much to do with the success of the new skirts.

The lack of ease in movement may not have been part of Dior’s “Big Design” but his designs, and the many others who followed suit, certainly were able to capitalize by simultaneously a-dressing several post WWII cultural movements.

Pencil skirts were not only a new fashion silhouette — which women, tired of the more functional (and repaired, recycled) wartime clothing would of course be nearly giddy to have — but these skirts were also a more traditional and feminine style. Eager to be beautiful again, women loved them.

And men loved these skirts which highlighted and celebrated the female form too.

Vintage Lilli Ann Suit With Pencil Skirt Ad

Vintage Lilli Ann Suit With Pencil Skirt Ad

No one can blame either men or women for celebrating their reunions, the return of couples and families, but the physical restrictions of pencil skirts encouraged the hobbling of women.

Such fashions, with their physical restrictions, helped move women away from their wartime work (making room for the returning men) and placed women upon their pedestals as domestic goddesses, objects of desire and housewives. Female.

Feeding this return to gender roles via fashion were the recently available mass production advances made during the second World War and the post-war prosperity; ready-to-wear was affordable and most everyone had the the ability to afford the luxuries of lots of new clothing. The vintage popularity of pencil skirts remains with us today, making the pencil skirt more than a fashion classic, but a fashion basic.

Vintage Merrimack Ad For Velveteen Pencil Skirt Suits

Vintage Merrimack Ad For Velveteen Pencil Skirt Suits

John Galliano Claims Film Noir As Inspiration For Dior, Spring 2010

By , 6 October, 2009, No Comment

John Galliano continued his “tailoring-with-underwear” theme with Christian Dior’ Spring 2010 couture collection. According to Sarah Mower, this collection is based on a forties film noir theme:

Galliano said he found the cinematic cue while thinking about Lauren Bacall. “She was a great Dior client; there are amazing photos of her in the salon with Bogart. It was that and Arletty in Hôtel du Nord,” he said. That central character—a provocative, smoldering femme fatale with a side-parted, over-one-eye hairdo and red lips—gave him free reign to script a wardrobe narrative. It started with abbreviated wartime trenchcoats, flipped through silver lamé dresses, arrived at a sequence in which the heroine is seen in her scanties, and then followed her out to make a drop-dead entrance in some nightclub or other.

Christian Dior, Photo by Monica Feudi

Christian Dior, Photo by Monica Feudi

Dior Runway, Spring 2010, Photo by Monica Feudi

Dior Runway, Spring 2010, Photo by Monica Feudi

But when I look at the photographs of what walked down the runway, what I saw was fashion stories depicting wealthy women deemed homeless, each doomed to wear whatever she had on her back that night her house burst into flames. That may sound like “film noir” to some, but to me, it was far more 1980’s Madonna than 1940’s Bacall; right down to the ZZ Top Legs video girl ankle socks.

Pink Pumps and White Ankle Socks in ZZ Top's Legs Video

Pink Pumps and White Ankle Socks in ZZ Top's Legs Video

Of the 47 looks shown, only two seemed to have the elegance of Bacall and real film noir style in mind. The first, a bustier bodice with skirt, seems to have forsaken the less-is-more mantra with a bulky necklace.

Glamorous Bustier Skirt Dior Combo SS2010

Glamorous Bustier Skirt Dior Combo SS2010

This red ensemble is fabulous though — had Bacall dared to bare her bra, this one seems most likely to be chosen.

Elegant Vintage Style in Red, Dior 2010

Elegant Vintage Style in Red, Dior 2010

All Christian Dior photos by Monica Feudi.

The Story Of Circle & Poodle Skirts Continues

By , 16 August, 2009, 4 Comments

Continuing the story of the circle skirt… The story began with a simple skirt Juli Lynne Charlot made for a Christmas party (not the actual circle skirt shown here, but how cute is that?!) and the skirts were quickly transformed into a multitude of novelty themes.

1950s Christmas Themed Circle Skirt

1950s Christmas Themed Circle Skirt

Fashion legend says that at some point it was suggested to Charlot that she put animals, including poodles, onto her skirts and that when Charlot did so, the popularity of the circle skirts increased greatly — which has led to the skirts being called poodle skirts.

In fashion reality (or at least by my own personal definition), poodle skirts are different than novelty circle skirts… And fit a different market or fashion niche. As we shall see.

While adult women did wear novelty circle skirts, especially in the beginning,the heavily petticoated novelty skirts (what I call poodle skirts) quickly became not only de rigeur for girls, but seen mainly as a fashion trend for the youth.

The poodle skirt craze among teens is often attributed to those new rock n roll dances; teens found the big circle skirts enchanting while dancing. But it’s quite probable that mom & dad preferred their Kitten to wear a longer full skirt that hid at least part of her figure (especially when stuffed with crinolines and petticoats to prevent anything more being seen) to the more fitted along the hips structured fashions; watch Kitten’s skirt swing, not her hips sway. *wink*

(Of course, the irony was that fuller skirts looked like fuller, more womanly, hips and that boys dreamed of ladies’ underthings, so…)

But let’s not overlook the marketing machine in all of this either…

10 Year Old Girl Wearing Poodle Skirt, Christmas, 1954

10 Year Old Girl Wearing Poodle Skirt, Christmas, 1954

During the 1950’s, companies began to court the youth market as they never had before. This shift in attention to teens had fashions, like the poodle skirts, forcefully marketed to young girls rather than the former long history of marketing fashions to adult women. The proof of this can be seen in the ephemera trail which shows that ads for poodle skirts in magazines published for teens clearly outnumbered those in publications for women (which focused on less voluminous circle skirts).

There were other factors for the popularity of poodle skirts for teens too.

In the 1950’s you also had less of an emphasis on sewing as a skill for women. More ready to wear, priced more affordably, began to edge out the need to know how to sew. Girls still took the sewing classes, but they knew far less & had less interest in sewing as their mothers did. (The difference between my grandmother & mother’s ability to sew may only seem anecdotal; but I assure you, it was happening all over the atomic 50’s suburbs!)

However, the ease of making a circle skirt, and the influx of printed novelty fabrics that allowed one to make a circle skirt without even having to sew on appliques, tempted those teen girls… She could save a few dollars by making her own skirt rather than buying one — do that a few times, and Kitten ends up with more skirts for the same amount of Daddy’s money. *wink*

Also, speaking contextually of women’s lives and fashion at the time, it’s easy to see how such full, un-tailored skirts would seem unfamiliar — perhaps even ill-fitting — to a woman wearing more traditional fashions at the time. Even the full skirted New Look fashions had a more tailored, refined look about the hips (and either had shorter crinolined skirt lengths, or longer skirts with voluminous folds or a softer “outness”), indicating the more mature woman’s sophistication and duties in life as compared to their whimsical, dancing daughters.

Mother & Daughter, Wearing Different Fashions, Waving Goodby To Daddy In The 1950s

Mother & Daughter, Wearing Different Fashions, Waving Goodby To Daddy In The 1950s

Of course, this lack of tailored appearance was part of the design; if circle skirts had required more seams, Charlot never would have made one! (Nor would the idea of circle skirts have been so readily snapped up by the Mexican souvenir making market, which realized a full skirt with a simple waistband, zipper or no, was not only easier & cheaper to make, but required less actual sizes to be made than tailored or more accurately sized skirts — another reason why such souvenir circle skirts with novelty prints or details are still made today.)

1951 Wide Wool Skirt (And Jeresy Top) Ad

1951 Wide Wool Skirt (And Jeresy Top) Ad

All of these things created a schism, of sorts, leaving poodle skirts and circle skirts with more flirtatious petticoats a far more fashionable dress for teens & young women than for their mothers & grandmothers.

In short, the poodle skirt was one of the very first “too young for you” fashions.

Of the authentic vintage circle novelty skirts that remain, the waists are typically smaller & hems shorter; percentage wise what’s left indicates that the fashion was a marketplace primarily for teens and younger women. What this means for vintage fashion collectors and the fashionistas who covet authentic 1950’s poodle skirts & vintage novelty circle skirts is that it’s slim pickings on the full skirts with novelty prints, appliques, embroidery & other details.

Vintage Embroidered Circle Skirt

Vintage Embroidered Circle Skirt

But the good news remains that circle skirts are in fact very easy to make. You can purchase a circle skirt pattern, old or new — and don’t overlook making them in Charlot’s original manner either: Just cut a circle from fabric, make a hole in the waist, and decorate!

Still to come… How to wear circle skirts!

Vintage Butterick Circle Skirt Pattern

Vintage Butterick Circle Skirt Pattern

Of All The Gin Joints… Femme Fatale Fitted Suits Walk Into My Life

By , 13 August, 2009, 5 Comments
Mildred Pierce

Mildred Pierce

When most people think of the fashions women wore in film noir, they think of the sultry, clingy, glamour girl gowns worn by torch singers. They are stunning — but me? I always think of the fabulous female forms in those fabulous fitted suits.

Maybe someone has done an accounting to see which sort of fashions appeared most often in film noir features… I don’t have any idea, myself.

But even if the glamour girl gowns out-number the fitted suits, the suits are more far more iconic to me.

The suits conveyed a sense of power on the part of the women — even if in their situations they were doomed and therefore powerless by definition.

And when they performed the simple act of removing their suit jacket, oh the sexual tension!

Casablanca

Casablanca

Every film noir script or pulp detective novel I ever wrote (yup, I’ve got folders full of ’em!), always featured a woman as powerful & wise as she was beautiful & jaded — and she always walked in wearing a fitted suit above those clicking high heeled shoes. And so, here’s a salute to the film noir femme fatale fitted suit!

1940’s fitted black suit by B. Altman & Co. Fifth Avenue New York:

Black Fitted Vintage Women's Suit

Black Fitted Vintage Women's Suit

A stunning vintage Adele Simpson suit with Ermin collar:

1940s Adele Simpson Suit With Ermin Collar

1940s Adele Simpson Suit With Ermin Collar

Pretty vintage lemon yellow gabardine suit:

Vintage Yellow Gabardine Suit

Vintage Yellow Gabardine Suit

A vintage rayon suit in a rainy grey color and deco detailing:

Vintage Femme Fatale Suit

Vintage Femme Fatale Suit

And this 1940’s women’s black suit jacket — with blue glass beading:

1940s Suit Jacket With Glass Beading

1940s Suit Jacket With Glass Beading

High-Five Friday: Vintage Fashion & Film Edition

By , 9 July, 2009, No Comment

Another High-Five Friday!

1. Your Momma Wears Capri Pants, a feminist fashion history lesson including Audrey Hepburn (and some snark) at Kitsch-Slapped.

2. Find a fabulous celebration of two years of vintage film posts at Out Of The Past — congrats, Raquelle!

3. Antique Jewelry – Investment and Fashion at Central Kentucky Antiques and Collectibles.

4. Clifford Aliperti, of Vintage Meld, is also the NY Classic Films Examiner, so add that to your list of usual haunts.

5. The 3rd edition of the New Vintage Reviews Carnival, where “old stuff” (vintage film included!) is reviewed monthly, is out and if you’ve got something to share, you can submit your own posts (or those you find elsewhere) via the carnival submission form for the next editions.

Let’s Make Love

By , 29 May, 2009, No Comment

I don’t usually watch movies on AMC (commercials, you know), but Tuesday night Let’s Make Love was on & as I haven’t seen it in quite awhile…

Let’s Make Love (1960) is one film that has greatly mixed reviews — even from big fans of Marilyn Monroe. As a big fan of Marilyn’s, as well as of George Cukor films, I’ve even had varied responses to the movie.

My first viewing, when I was maybe 14 years old or so, I was very uncomfortable with the film. Marilyn’s big body & blatant sexuality were uncomfortable issues for me which I’ve only quite recently begun to understand. In this film, after some comical “history” of Yves Montand’s character (billionaire Jean-Marc Clement), we meet a scantily clad Marilyn in nothing but a black nylon catsuit and a large lavender cable knit sweater, cooing My Heart Belongs To Daddy as she gyrates & thrusts about a stage.

Marilyn Monroe In Let's Make Love

Marilyn Monroe In Let's Make Love

Such displays of ample charms in a teenage girl’s blushing face are rather easy to understand. Obviously, being confronted with such female eye candy made me subconsciously question my own sexuality — or, perhaps more accurately, question how I was perceived sexually.

But beyond that, was Marilyn’s appearance.

A bulky sweater over such an hourglass figure (set atop nothing but black pantyhose covered legs yet), gives the impression of an apple on a stick. (Ladies with big bosoms know this; more on that later.) It didn’t get any better when she shed her sweater.

Marilyn Monroe Dancing In Black Nylon Catsuit

Marilyn Monroe Dancing In Black Nylon Catsuit

Since I was watching Let’s Make Love decades later, times had changed and I’d already been taught “thin was in!” so the risqué display of her voluptuous figure wasn’t just a matter of shameful sexuality, but inappropriate as well. The lesson 14 year old me already knew was that only thin girls had the right to flaunt it (even if what “it” they had was in much smaller amounts — or maybe it was because they had less of “it” they could flaunt it?). And at 14, with more than budding breasts but a B-cup “rack” that men were already leering at me for, I felt far more like “lumpy” & “obvious” Marilyn than the properly svelte & sexy supermodel who was supposed to let it all hang-out (in one long lanky line, resembling a 13 year old boy’s body). It was embarrassing.

Years later, I’d developed even more — and not just in bust & hips, but intellectually & emotionally. But this only posed a new set of issues with regards to watching Let’s Make Love.

At some point (probably about the time I began to accept my own “points” — my big breasts), I became rather obsesses with Marilyn Monroe. I can’t claim to have read every biography because Marilyn’s the most biography-ed entertainer; but I read as many as I could get my hands on. Like many fans (or obsessives) of Monroe’s, I spent as much time turning her into my own individual legend (icon of our culture’s sexuality, and, in a perverse way, a role model for my brand of feminism) as I did learning about her. But I did learn about her.

And so when I saw Let’s Make Love a few years later, I knew of the troubles that she struggled with in her personal life and career during the making of the film… Doomed marriage to Arthur Miller, the icky affair with Montand, and Cukor’s horrid treatment of the star. And so once again, my personal reactions to the film were coloring my view of it. Sure, she wasn’t at her best or brightest in this film, but poor Marilyn was now a martyr to her struggles with men. It was a wonder she was there at all, even bothering to fulfill her contractual obligation to the hated Fox studio!

Wardrobe Test

Wardrobe Test

Now, years later, on a cool May evening I watched Let’s Make Love again. I tried to strip away the personal reactions, the knee-jerk response to defend Marilyn, and just watch the film.

In many ways it is better than I remembered. While she’s mainly in the movie to exist as eye candy, Marilyn’s work with The Actors Studio is noticeable when she’s given the opportunity to do something other than be lovely. And she is lovely — even if my knowing eye can see strain & yes, the dreaded “age” and “weight” which are bad things for any actress, let alone one only allowed to be beautiful & sexy. And call me crazy, but I love her singing voice (I own several Marilyn CDs) and there’s lots of it in this movie.

But what really sticks out this go-around is that the movie itself is aged & tired.

No, not just for “today” — it was aged and tired when it was made.

Montand & Monroe

Montand & Monroe

Contextually, the film struggles to balance between the playfulness of the 50’s reserved conservatism (a wiggle in a dress, a wiggle of an eyebrow) and the more frank peek-a-boo sexuality of the 60’s (Marilyn’s black catsuit). Audiences were changing; but Hollywood wasn’t quite ready to pander to Beatniks — not at the expense of the establishment’s rich wallets.

So, Fox puts Marilyn, the classic sex pot, together with Montand, the rising French star, for some generational shared “mmms” (even adding a bit British teen idol effervescence with Frankie Vaughn) hoping to tease both the establishment and the hep cats & kittens into movie tickets. It gives Marilyn a risqué dress & career, but makes it clear that she’s a good girl — with a preacher for a daddy — and marries her off to the wealthy guy who can take care of her. (Note at the end of the film, when she surrenders to love, that she mentions night school, but not the theatre.)

Basically, the film tries to say, “Yes!” to the spicy 60’s Bohemian artistic lifestyle — but in the end, it’s stuffed in rather flavorless 50’s ring bologna.

Rompers: I Interviewed A Designer, And I Liked It!

By , 28 May, 2009, No Comment

I first learned of Mandate Of Heaven designer Carissa Ackerman and her vintage inspired fashions when I saw a vintage styled romper, in a very 30’s green shade, on Katy Perry.

Katy Perry In Green Romper At MTV Awards

Katy Perry In Green Romper On MTV

While the romper was credited in a (very) few places as a Mandate Of Heaven piece, I wanted to be sure… So I contacted the designer and asked her to confirm that Perry wears her designs and that the romper in the image below was hers.

Carissa wrote back, saying, “Yes it is mine; thanks for noticing. She wears my pieces well.”

Katy Perry On TRL, June 2008

Katy Perry In Mandate Of Heaven Romper On TRL, June 2008

Once I finished drooling and dreaming over Mandate Of Heaven fashions (shown throughout this post)…

Vintage Inspired Mandate Of Heaven Romper WIth Tulle Skirt, Spring 2009

Vintage Inspired Mandate Of Heaven Romper WIth Tulle Skirt, Spring 2009

I asked Carissa for a quick interview about something that I’ve been reading a lot about lately… And while I loved the interview, no cherry Chapstick, or kissing, was involved. *wink*

Jaynie: Carissa, some would/have argued that such rompers are, like babydoll dresses, inappropriately immature — suggesting it’s dressing women like babies or little girls. Personally, I see rompers as much more functional — they were, after all, playwear for children, regardless of gender. How do you see such fashions?

Carissa: Haha; while the criticism you mentioned is prevalent, it is also completely misinformed.

Playsuits/rompers/onesies/sunsuits/shortsuits were introduced for women and children as playwear at pretty much the same time- the beginning of the last century. They were part of a general movement towards less constrictive clothing within western society for both groups. The amazing American designer Claire McCardell was a master of this movement in women’s clothing, making her an ideal Google for the playsuit curious. Her innovative designs are now seen as the precursors to the hugely pervasive, and regrettably less elegant, women’s sportswear industry.

Retro Style Pink Polo Playsuit By Mandate Of Heaven

Carissa Ackerman In Retro Style Pink Polo Playsuit

The practicality of playsuits paved the way for the leotards, one piece swimsuits and t-shirt and short separates people now favor for activewear. While advancements in design and technology, as well as feminine athletic achievement, have pushed true activewear beyond the capacity of a woven cotton onesie, the same movement towards physical liberation that originally inspired playsuits as activewear has now evolved to embrace them for day and evening. Women today want freedom of movement at all times, making playsuits an ideal wardrobe option. It’s an awesome power to look cocktail appropriate and still be able to turn a cartwheel at any time.

Honestly, I think people that are hung up on this “little girl” criticism are really reacting to greater issues and insecurities within their own lives- but that’s just my opinion.

I think so too, Carissa; and I’m not just sucking up for a free romper. *wink*

Mandate Of Heaven Men's Shirt Playsuit

Mandate Of Heaven Men's Shirt Playsuit

If you love Carissa’s philosophy & style (I sure do!), check out the Mandate Of Heaven store — and look for select Mandate Of Heaven styles at Patricia Field. And don’t forget to keep up with Carissa and her fashions at the official blog.

When Pyjamas Weren’t The Cat’s Pajamas… Or Were They?

By , 19 March, 2009, 5 Comments

When shopping for vintage fashions from the 1920s – 1930’s, it’s especially difficult to find women’s pajamas and pantsuits. You certainly can find advertisements, editorial fashion articles, and illustrations extolling such styles when paging through vintage magazines…

Vintage Pajama Illustration By A.K. MacDonald

Vintage Pajama Illustration By A.K. MacDonald

In fact, you see them so often it sets your heart to pitter-patter.

Vintage French Magazine Fashion Page Featuring Pyjamas (Yes, That's Louise Brooks, Second From Left!)

Vintage French Magazine Fashion Page Featuring Pyjamas (Yes, That's Louise Brooks, Second From Left!)

But finding such items available for sale is one of the toughest searches a vintage-loving fashionista can have.

Given that flappers were all about freedom, it’s easy to think that fashions with ‘male trouser bottoms’ — which offer more mobility and less worry about ‘upskirt’ issues — would have been all the rage, leaving you to find vintage pyjamas and pantsuits from those decades. But pants and pyjamas were not as popular a purchase as you’d imagine.

Vintage Pyjamas

Vintage Pyjamas

Some of the reason for such unpopular pants has to do with simple economics.

Most flappers, especially in terms of dress, were younger single women. As such, they would have had, in very general terms, less money to fund their wardrobe purchases. (And as most women knew how to work a needle and thread, rather any dress of the time could, in a pinch, be altered to suit a flapper’s style.) Often their living arrangements would limit their ability to entertain at home as well, meaning the lounging pajama was not only unnecessary, but ill-advised in mom and dad’s house where pajamas were tantamount to declaring a morality debate.

Cosy-Leg Pyjamas 1936

Cosy-Leg Pyjamas 1936

Older women who would have had more discretionary income to throw at the latest fashions would have also had, in general, positions which required them to join the stance against pants that their more traditional or conservative friends and family had. So they too eschewed the manly fashions, opting for the ‘more feminine’ skirts — with longer hemlines too.

Louuise Brooks Models Fashions

Louise Brooks Models Fashions

Pants also had the misfortune of being marketed at the wrong time, for once The Great Depression hit, fashion was a frivolity few could afford. It wasn’t the time for new trends.

But as we learned, for the flapper who could afford both her lifestyle and her fashions, showing off one’s legs was a serious priority… And pants were not seen as the way to a man’s umm…. heart.

You can argue that such pursuit to be chased is not feminism; but power is something you wield and that includes the power to attract a mate — should you want one for keeps or the moment. (And this debate regarding sex & power is one that Third Wave Feminists are still having.)

In any case, less purchases of pajamas and ensembles with pants during the 1920s and 1930s means less of these gorgeous & sophisticated vintage pajama styles are available for purchase today. Which means when you are lucky enough to find it, you’ll pay a pretty price for it. But you should happily do so, for you know-not when you’ll find it again…

Vintage Satin Lounging Pajamas

Vintage Satin Lounging Pajamas

Which brings us to the expression, “the cat’s pajamas” (or “the cat’s pygamas”).

Like “the bee’s knees,” the phrase means something or someone is the best, a charming desirable, splendid or stylish. Unlike the “bee’s knees,” the phrase has been traced to its origins. It was coined in the 20’s by Justin B. Smith, and made popular by cartoonist Tad Dorgan‘s use of the expression. While the word “cat” has a long history of association with women & their wiles, it not surprisingly resurfaced strongly in the roaring 20’s to refer to the unconventional flapper spirit. Combined with the word “pajamas”, for the new fashion trend, the expression captures both the inherent “female nature” as well as the new “masculine” path. Like feminine curves in the straight masculine lines of pajamas, a charming & stylish paradox is achieved. Voila!

The irony, of course, is that while flappers & their pajamas enjoyed a relatively short run at the time, the phrase continued…. From the unflappable flappers to the blushing pin ups to present day.

The Cat's Pajamas Pin Up

The Cat's Pajamas Pin Up

(Note: Thanks to A Slip of a Girl for showing me the pretty vintage illustrations by A. K. MacDonald!)

Rolled Stockings, Bees Knees, And All That Jazz

By , 18 March, 2009, 13 Comments

The first time I heard the song And All That Jazz from the movie Chicago, the line, “I’m gonna rouge my knees. And roll my stockings down,” struck me… Did women once rouge their knees?

Zeta-Jones wearing rolled stockings in Chicago

Zeta-Jones wearing rolled stockings in Chicago

Yes, Virginia, like courtesans who rouged their breasts (or, more accurately, their areolas), flappers heightened the color of, and therefore the attention to, their knees. My guess is though, that they rouged post placement of their stockings. *wink*

1920-flapper-wearing-rolled-stockings

Woman From The 1920s Wearing Rolled Stockings

Why were knees so important? Well, as we (I hope) all know, the 1920’s were about female liberation, especially in terms of fashion. Gone were the bustles and skirts which rendered women unable to enjoy even the simple joy of riding bicycles. Without the bottom part of the hourglass, less emphasis was put on the top half, and corsets which whittled waists and pronounced bust lines were escaped.

Now, I’m not against corsets or figure forming via foundation garments, but if it’s not fashion but rather enforcement which limits activities, akin to foot binding, then I’m not a fan. And to some extent, Victorian dress was as much about women’s place in society as it was the placement of breasts — about the ease and accessibility to life and their own sexuality.

Naturally, such freedom would lead to a mocking fashion frivolity in which women, especially young women, would relish in the abandonment of fashion’s constraints & an exploitation of fashion loopholes such as higher hemlines to express themselves, their attitudes and their intentions to live life fully.

Where once legs and even ankles had remained lily white in the dark shadows of skirts, now flappers dared to bare. They exposed skin to kisses of sunlight, trading the pasty pallor of invalids for the rosy complexions of those who lived life fully. As skin kissed by sunlight is also exposed to kisses from beaus, flappers used bare skin and its coloring to garner attentions and announce intentions. Like bees to flowers, flappers drew admiring glances and those that gave them. They used the natural appeal of revealing what had so recently been forbidden to see — and they used the artificial appeal of cosmetics.

It’s no coincidence that a more portable & easier to apply form of lipstick (in the tube) and other cosmetics (in compacts) were made at this time. And as odd as it may seem to us to color the knees, legs were all the rage so why not color & accentuate them?

Legs were so much the rage in the roaring 20’s that there was even the expression, “the bees knees” which means Its origins aren’t completely clear, but two theories seem possible…

One is that because bees carry pollen back to their hives in sacs found in the middle of their legs (the ‘knee’, if you will), the phrase alludes to the goodness to be found around the bee’s knee. Euphemistically, it’s racy; which certainly fits the 1920’s. And it reminds me of those lines from Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise:

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Speaking of dancers…

Another possibility for the origins of “the bee’s knees” may be found in the dancing legs of Bee Jackson. Jackson, once a member of the Follies, is said to be the first white girl to feature the dance we all associate with the 20’s and flappers, the Charleston.

Dancer Bee Jackson

Dancer Bee Jackson

Bee Jackson went on to become a world Charleston champion and her legs were insured for a whopping $10,000. Surely the glimpses of this Bee’s knees could garner a catchphrase along with admiring glances and erotic thoughts, and inspire other young ladies to dance and to show off their legs with short hemlines.

Obviously, such states of fashionable undress were seen as brazen & inappropriate by many; and not all women dressed (or acted) like flappers. While the moral majority & fashion minority may not have agreed, everyone knew of flappers and rolled stockings. In fact, there was even a 1927 film called Rolled Stockings.

Rolled Stockings Movie Poster

Rolled Stockings Movie Poster

The film stared the fabulous and iconic Louise Brooks as Carol Fleming, the girl two boys — actually brothers — Jim and Ralph Treadway (James Hall, Richard Arlen), fall in love with. The movie is believed to be lost, so not only have I never seen it, but don’t know a soul who has. However, there are a few remnants of its existence, such as promotional photos like this one:

Promotional Louise Brooks Photo

Promotional Louise Brooks Photo

You’ll no doubt notice that lovely Lulu is not wearing rolled stockings — but the irony continues! According to Hal Erickson:

Not unexpectedly, one of the publicity photos taken for this film was a close-up of a pair of rolled stockings, ostensibly filled by the trim legs of Louise Brooks; in fact, Brooks refused to pose for this cheesecake shot, whereupon her legs were “doubled” by her co-star, Nancy Phillips.

Rather strange for a woman who posed for nude photos… I guess completely bare equals “artistic nude” while rolled stocking promotional photos are exploitative? Or maybe she thought rolled stockings ruined the lines of a lady’s leg?

In any case, I can’t find a single photo of Louise with rolled stockings — but here’s one of Louise with her younger sister, June, who is wearing rolled stockings.

Louise Brooks (L) and Sister June (R)

Louise Brooks (L) and Sister June (R)

June looks so sweet — like a young woman wearing knee-highs, not some risqué flapper. But that’s just the way time — and stockings — roll by… *wink*

Reproduction Rolled Stockings Movie Poster

Reproduction Rolled Stockings Movie Poster

Katharine Hepburn Style

By , 22 January, 2009, 6 Comments

Tuesday’s prime-time viewing on TCM featured Katharine Hepburn films. If I had to pick one film which exemplifies The Great Kate to me, it would be The Philadelphia Story (1940).

The Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story

The film is as complicated, quirky, and human as my vision of the great actress. I don’t want to tell you too much about the plot, because seeing it for the first time is something so special (though additional viewings do allow you to see additional sublime facets you may have missed before), so instead I will cheat and let Lisa Kudrow (via an article by Johanna Schneller, published on the passing of Hepburn) tell you about The Philadelphia Story:

To her, the ultimate Katharine movie is The Philadelphia Story, “because it’s so confusing. I don’t know what I’m supposed to think or who I’m supposed to root for,” Kudrow told me. “The father is away with his mistress, his wife doesn’t discuss it. It falls to the daughter [Hepburn] to address it – and somehow she’s the spoiled, selfish one! Her father’s complaint is, ‘As a man gets older, he likes to look into a young woman’s eyes, to remember that youth is still his. Usually a man gets that kind of solace from his daughter.’ But his daughter is difficult, so he gets to have a mistress? What the hell kind of argument is that?”

As for Cary Grant’s character, Kudrow continues, “he was a drunk! He had a drinking problem! But she’s a bitch because she wouldn’t stand by him?” And yet, she is the hero of the film. Only Kate could pull that off.

If Kate’s character in the film is complicated, it likely has nothing on the actress herself off-screen.

For someone so direct and forthcoming, Kate was rather protective of her private life — yet her independence and practicality are well documented. Her progressive upbringing included lessons from her family in activism, education in human sexuality & birth control, belief in women’s rights, a formal education resulting in a Bachelor of the Arts degree in History and Philosophy from Bryn Mawr College, but a deep confidence. Unapologetically, the young woman not only divorced, and admitted to lovers, but she had things to say about marriage — things which many deem unkind, but which I see as blunt, yet honest (and oft witty) observations:

“It’s bloody impractical. ‘To love, honor, and obey.’ If it weren’t, you wouldn’t have to sign a contract.”

“If you want to sacrifice the admiration of many men for the criticism of one, go ahead, get married.”

“Only when a woman decides not to have children, can a woman live like a man. That’s what I’ve done.”

“Being a housewife and a mother is the biggest job in the world, but if it doesn’t interest you, don’t do it – I would have made a terrible mother.”

“To be loved is very demoralizing. Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get – only with what you are expecting to give – which is everything.”

“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”

You might not agree with Hepburn, but you certainly can’t doubt her sincerity or call her a hypocrite; especially with regard to the last two quotes. For 25 years she and Spencer Tracy carried on a deep love affair, despite his marriage. Although the whole world knew of their relationship, the couple never appeared in public out of deference to Mrs. Tracy.

Of their relationship, Hepburn had this to say:

In her book “Me,” she revealed how, at the age of 33, she discovered what “I love you” “really means.” She called her life with Tracy “absolute bliss.” “I loved Spencer Tracy,” she wrote. “He and his interests and his demands came first….I really liked him – deep down – and I wanted him to be happy.” The night he died, in 1967, she called his family, and his wife, Louise, came over. “She was in a peculiar spot,” Miss Hepburn wrote. “She could never bear to admit failure. Now he was dead. And he would never come back. She had dreamed – hoped – imagined that he would….She just could not settle for the fact that her marriage had been a failure.” Miss Hepburn also addressed Tracy in the book: “You were still married to Louise….You couldn’t leave her if she didn’t want to be left.”

Whenever people speak of Katharine Hepburn, they invariably mention her style of dress. “She wore pants all the time!” they cry. Some, including the detractors, credit her with bringing pants into vogue for women:

During her college years at Bryn Mawr, Hepburn lived a wild party life. Her penchant to break conventions was already apparent in her unorthodox dress: baggy men’s trousers, oversized sweaters and men’s shirts, shocking even for the extravagant tastes of the “roaring ‘20s.”

…“With stout resolve,” reports a fashion book, “she almost single-handedly broke down the dress code for women” by insisting on wearing men’s trousers on set and off, everywhere and all the time. Her style was so informal and untraditional that she never, even after becoming a star, owned a dress or skirt of her own. One of her many awards came from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in1986 – in recognition of her role as non-conformist in modern fashion.

I cannot find the “fashion book” apparently quoted from (nor is it properly credited in the article), but if such a quote exists I would think that both the author and Hepburn herself would agree that Dietrich and Garbo had a great deal to do with the females adopting the fashion of men’s trousers. Certainly Garbo & Dietrich paved the way for pants and so much more. As Hepburn said in an interview with NBC, “I just had good timing. The times fit me: Pants came in, low heels came in, the terrible woman came in, who spoke her mind.”

Casual Hepburn

Casual Hepburn

But perhaps what makes Hepburn’s wearing of pants so shocking to so many is that Dietrich and Garbo were known (at least throughout Hollywood, where such secrets were guarded in order to prevent box office issues) to be bisexual (if not lesbian), while Hepburn was a known, practicing (perhaps too much!) heterosexual; her sexual femininity was not in question.

But Hepburn’s love of pants was very much a part of her adventurous and practical nature, as this story from Sarah Standing’s childhood illustrates:

Like a child, she had an instant disrespect for formality. I don’t think that, in the 30-plus years I knew her, I ever saw her wear a dress off-screen. “Shoot! How can you possibly explore in a dress?” she would ask. At eight, I was a tomboy, not caring what I wore so long as I could get it dirty, and I was amazed I had met a grown-up who thought exactly like me.

Of her preference for wearing pants, Hepburn had this to say, “I wear my sort of clothes to save me the trouble of deciding which clothes to wear.” With a life as complicated as Hepburn’s, it’s no small wonder she’d prefer such a fashion look. It’s simple, classic, functional — and as uncompromising as the icon herself.

The Practical & Adventurous Style of Kate

The Practical and Functional Style of Kate

Busy women today would be wise to build a wardrobe like Katharine Hepburn.

Hepburn’s style was defined by tailored and crisp pieces: high-waisted and wide-legged trousers and loose fitting button-down shirt-styled blouses. Sometimes she wore a simple knit top or sweater. If you get solid pieces in one color palette or coordinating shades, you’ll never have to worry about finding something that matches.

1940s High-Waist Pants Pattern

1940s High-Waist Pants Pattern

When the occasion or weather warranted it, Hepburn added a classic blazer, or put on a menswear coat or jacket.

1940s Pants and Jacket Pattern

1940s Pants and Jacket Pattern

Hepburn would keep accessories to a minimum: simple jewelry pieces, bold but clean belts, & comfortable yet stylish loafers.

Katherine Hepburn Style

Katherine Hepburn Style

And always — but always — keep the hair shining and the skin glowing. Her makeup and hair was always just a few steps above natural, at once emphasizing the beautiful contours of her face and making her seem real and solid. But above all, it was the textures of her hair and face which seemed to beckon to be touched.

The Textures of Katharine Hepburn

The Textures of Katherine Hepburn