Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fickle Fashion


Summer makes me think about the fashion of the past. How at ease we are now. How comfortable.  It wasn't always so...

It’s said that women are slaves to fashion. Unfortunately, it’s a very true statement. Here are a few cases that show how fickle women’s fashion has been through the ages, and how we women have meekly followed the trends:

Ruff-Ruff: It’s said Queen Elizabeth I was often sewn into her clothes (it would be 300 years before the zipper made dressing easy.) But beyond that tidbit, I don’t understand the ruff from this era. In order to get fabric to hold its form it has to be stiff. Perhaps this is where the phrase, “Keep your chin up” came about. At least men were subjected too. Enough ruff.

The Anchor Skirt: That’s not a real term, just my take on the shape of the ridiculous side-contraptions that swept through Europe from Russia to France in the last half of the eighteenth century. I understand women often try to camouflage their hips, but please. Didn’t they get tired of entering a room sideways? See 18th Century Fashion
The Great Reveal: After the American and French Revolutions, fashion said off-with-your-head to any dress that required blueprints to create and to wear. The result was gowns that let the skirt fall free from an “empire” waist. As a result, women were discovered to have legs! It seemed as though a dose of reason had finally taken over fashion. But stupidity was just around the corner …  See Regency Fashion

Idiot Sleeves: I didn’t name this one—it’s the real name of the huge sleeves of the Romantic Era of fashion (1825-35). Skirts were simpler but full again—though sometimes they were short enough to reveal a woman’s ankle. Apparently the cling of the full leg of the previous Regency fashion was too much to bear. Or too tempting?See Vintage Fashion

Frankly My Dear: Hoops. Big ones. A hundred years earlier, women had to walk sideways through doors. Now they had to watch how they sat down or the entire world would get a show. At least this style gave women a pretty bell silhouette. Ding-dong-ding swung the bell as they walked.See 1860's Fashion

Baby Got Back: The 1870’s and 80’s brought about the bustle. Padding and cages and over-draping and flounces, pushing out the back of the dresses. Now women had to sit on the edge of their chairs to leave room for what was behind. Backless bustle-chairs were created to solve this problem. At least when they walked there was a nice sway. See 1870's Fashion  See 1880's Fashion

Baa-Baa: The leg-o-mutton sleeves of the 1890’s made wearing a coat difficult. Supposedly the enormous width of a woman’s top half made her waist look tiny. Maybe I should try it. I can use all the help I can get. See 1890's Fashion

Here’s the Skinny: The second decade of the 20th century brought a skinny silhouette. Finally women could sit comfortably in a chair, walk through doorways, and not fear a high wind. Yet some of the skirts went too far (surprise, surprise) and the “hobble skirt” was born. It’s self-explanatory. See Edwardian Fashion

Dapper Flapper: WWI was over, Europe was free of its oppressors (for the moment) and women took note and freed themselves from corsets, hoops, waistlines, as well as sleeves and long skirts. Bare arms, shoulders, knees, and calves. Yikes! Fabrics were sheer and flowing—great for dancing the Charleston, smoking cigarettes, and drinking a dry martini. See 1920's Fashion

The Pants in the Family: The forties had women taking on men’s jobs while the men were at war. Again. With the responsibilities came the ease of menswear. Finally women were allowed to wear pants! No one wore menswear better than Katherine Hepburn.
See 1940's Fashion

Corsets Again?: From the fabric rationing of WWII came the circle skirts of the fifties. And small waists and pronounced bosoms. Think Deborah Kerr’s wardrobe in “Indiscreet” and "An Affair to Remember." Dreamy. All girl. This would be my choice for fashion. It was fabulously pretty and elegant. Of course, this was also the age of Cary Grant and all his luscious movies, so I can’t be certain he’s not  a big part of my choice. See 1950's Fashion

Hobble Skirts II: Pencil skirts accentuated the bottom half and sweaters and cone-like bras accentuated the top. Girdles were essential. No thanks.

Jackie Oh!: Our first lady was the epitome of class in her tailored suits and sheath dresses. But Mod was also in, and took the sheath to higher heights. Our favorite girl was “That Girl” Marlo Thomas.
See 1960's Fashion
Dippie Hippie: The seventies was all about one thing: anything goes. Mini’s, maxi’s, midi’s. Caftans, bell bottoms, granny dresses, gypsy skirts, polyester knit, and psychedelic tie-dye (I wore them all.) It was grungy and dirty and unkempt, but it was oh-so comfy. But would comfy ever coincide with classy?  See 1970's Fashion

Power Woman: I hate to admit it, but I still have a few suits from the eighties. How do I know they’re from that era? The ridiculous shoulder pads and stupid neck ties—tied in bows. Women were trying too hard to look powerful. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.  I need to call Goodwill for a pickup.

And now . . . Oddly, it’s hard for me to pinpoint fashion right now. Comfort is in, but pants are skinny and wide, long or capris. I have dresses that are reminiscent of the 20’s, 40’s, and beyond. Fashionable boots have high heels or we wear flip-flops. It’s almost hard to wear something that’s out of style. As I sit here in my jeans, sandals, and corsetless torso I can count myself lucky that fashion is one element of my life that I don’t stress over. Have we women finally—finally—found enough confidence to make our own choices? Perhaps. Until the next fashion show piques our interest. Just no hoops please.//Nancy


  1. Love this post! Fashion history is so fascinating! While I enjoy reading about it, I'm glad I get to wear today's comfortable fashions. Or "un-fashions". It's my choice!

    1. I agree, Barbara. I'm so GLAD I live in 2014. Just looking at the photos of those corsets and bustles makes me uncomfortable. I like BREATHING too much LOL.

  2. Choice is the key, Barbara. I choose to be comfortable!