My father recently acquired some old family photographs. I want copies of every single one of them, but so far I’ve only managed to scan a couple.
The baby in that top one is my grandmother. Would you just look at my great-grandmother? Pearls at the beach! Ack! I love it. The second one is my grandmother again, but a bit older this time. All of those ruffles slay me. The last one is of my grandparents together. I’ve had this one for a while now and that dress has really got to be one of my absolute favorite dresses of all time. I have no idea what color it actually was, but I always pictured the bodice in a dark green velvet, with the skirt being a warm ivory.
And this one….
Is really completely off topic, but the boy on the left there is my father and I just really think that teenage Elijah looks a lot like teenage dad. And I also kind of think Elijah would dig that jacket.
Over the years I’ve discovered that I adore fashion and clothing, and yet I have absolutely no interest in current trends. A huge part of the appeal for me is the story behind the garment. And it just seems like the only story behind most modern styles is that so-and-so famous person wore it and it caught on. That means nothing to me. Which is not to say that I’m not influenced by current fashion. We none of us live in a vacuum! Everyone’s views and tastes are shaped by the time and environment that they live in. I’m just not passionate about it.
What really fascinates me is where clothing and history meet. Those times in the past where situations arose that shaped a style. Events that may not even seem to have any relation to fashion at all, but which in retrospect, have had a huge impact. Think of the invention of the bicycle and how it was really the start of the downfall of the strictly bound corset. Women suddenly had this new found freedom in a mode of transportation that was relatively inexpensive and socially acceptable for them to utilize on their own. The only catch? Dressed as they were, they couldn’t bloody well breathe to make it up those hills!
In particular I’m truly intrigued by those periods of times where clothing yourself and family was a struggle, say during wartime or a depression. What really inspires me are those times when women, and men too I’m sure, but mostly it was women, looked at a situation and said, “okay, we’re going to make this work, but we’re going to make it beautiful too”. Times when creativity and ingenuity were paramount. Think flour sack dresses or blouses cut just so, to use a minimal amount of fabric while still remaining feminine and flattering. Think of women going in droves into factories and farm work and needing to keep their hair out of the way for safety’s sake. That could have been a strictly utilitarian endeavor, but women went and cultivated styles that were glamorous instead. Have you seen some of the dresses and other articles of clothing from after WWII made of silk maps? With cloth rationing still on the escape maps printed on silk being brought back by soldiers must have seemed as good a source of fabric as any. Look at knitting in times of lack, when stripes become en vogue and intricate fair-isles made from odds and ends, along with whatever you could harvest from a worn out old sweater, start cropping up. Even the rebound effect of luxuriating in fabulously full skirts and the completely frivolous use of fabric after rationing was lifted is an intriguing glimpse into a particular period in time.
As I said, it’s the story that captivates me, whether it be a hand-woven fabric made in some ancient tradition, the alchemy of yarn dyed with local flora, or a little snippet of embroidery that’s the mark of a doting mother’s hand. Perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to making clothing. Hand made garments have their own unique tales to tell.
For a lavishly illustrated look at some of the fashions of years gone by, taking you all the way back as far as we can gather, check out Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style. It does not disappoint.
What about you? Are there any eras you are particularly drawn to? What is the appeal?
Last week I forgot to announce the next challenge! It’s August 15: Just for Fun.