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Thursday, March 1, 2012

How Fashion Reflects The Times / The Origin of Trends.

When I wrote this paper, the ideas beneath the surface of fashion were compelling to me. I realized fashion was not just clothing. Fashion's petticoats concealed the mindset, current events, and history of society. The style one chooses to wear might be a costume, a time capsule, a revelation, a pronouncement of beliefs, or an exposition - among many other things.

Two decades ago, I was immersed in learning about the world of fashion - which was a wonderful escape from the gamut of quotidian events. Until that time, I had only sketched designs but Professor Baldwin, with a watchful eye and generous encouragement, taught me to bring ideas to life and to produce garments of good quality.

Coming from a family that places great value on education and the mentors who impart that knowledge, I appreciated Professor Skinner's Textiles and Fibers class and enjoyed conducting research for another course she taught - Dynamics of the Fashion Industry. Professor Skinner required a paper - entitled "Fashion: A Mirror of the Times (1990-2000),and specified the research should include past evidence of style influence and predictions for future trends. I'll reprint the paper here - with its bibliography and only minor changes in terminology. Do remember you are reading the research in its original form. Though I'd like to rework some of the thoughts, the paper is more genuine and representative of my 1992 thoughts - with minimal edits.

Fashion: A Mirror of the Times

I believe the "retro" trend in clothing could be traced to the radio stations' revival of "golden oldies". Musicians began producing new versions of old songs, or "remakes". Rap musicians sampled other artists, mixing bits and pieces of old songs into their own creations. In a sense, fashion has reflected this "cut and paste" trend.

Grateful Dead fans had already adopted 60s tie-dye shirts, and miniskirts appeared on aerobicized bodies during the economically-sound 80s. Around the same time, bike messengers reintroduced highly-visible "day-glo" neon colors such as fluorescent yellow and orange, hot pink, and acid green, while adding the new touches of "belly bag" wallet/purses, and body-hugging Lycra shorts.

The late 80s, like the "roaring twenties", gave us women with cropped, then very-short hair. Thigh-high, or "go-go" boots made a comeback with miniskirts, leggings, and with the "catsuit", which first appeared in a 1964 "Space Age Collection" by Pierre Cardin. (Deitz, p.165) A 60s-inspired movie, "The Doors", reinforced the retro-hippie "flowerchild" look. Psychedelic Pucci prints were revived, as well as peace symbols, and black-and-white "op art" prints. The "mod-look" in makeup returned with false eyelashes, kohl liner, and pale lips. Chain belts, "mood" rings, and chunky lucite accessories were retrieved from jewelry boxes. A 1968 spring/summer Spiegel catalog showcases many of the same items seen in '90/'91. Masses of hair (and Warren Beatty), reappeared - bringing to mind the movie "Shampoo". Once again, hair was worn parted in the middle and teased into a "bump" at the crown. Hair extensions became popular tress-makers - and not just for rock stars. Television screens broadcast advertisements for hair-loss remedies.  

Designers with a penchant for "rock-star-in-the-limelight-retro" cashed in on music influences. Anna Sui, for example, finds inspiration in such rock icons as Janis Joplin, Sonny and Cher, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Nicks. (James, p.280)

By 1990, almost a fifth of Jamaica's population had moved to the U.S. (Brimelow, p.31) Jamaican immigration introduced us to "reggae" music, which may have indeterminately influenced "rap" music. MTV spotlit the styles of these musicians as they rode a swelling wave of popularity. Many rappers and black entertainers sported the Jamaican "dreadlock" hairstyle. Regardless of racial/cultural background, teenagers of all types quickly adopted the "homeboy" style, which originated with black American street youth: overalls (with one strap unhooked), hooded shirts under jean vests and jackets, and knit toboggans. Rap musician (and energetic dancer) "Hammer" brought easy-to-move-in zouave pants to the mainstream.

Race riots following the brutalization of Rodney King prompted a Newsweek writer to note: "Americans are a hyphenated, intermarrying, and increasingly blended people - and we are likely to become both more diverse and more nearly like each other as time goes by." (Morganthau, p.28)

The December '91 "Seventeen" magazine offered pages of makeup tips for teens of African-American, Native-American, Asian, and Hispanic origin. ("Cross Cultural Colors", pp. 78-83) As the nation's largest ethnic group, African Americans became a target market for many retailers. J.C. Penney - for one - opened "Authentic African" boutiques, featuring West African-imported clothes, hats, handbags, and other accessories. (Mallory, p.73)

The most successful televised and narrated show topic of 1991 was the Persian Gulf War. (Martel, p.201) Evoking memories of Vietnam, on the second day of "Operation Desert Storm" over 1,000 anti-war demonstrators were arrested in San Francisco. (Rosenblatt, p.30) In 1991, "Americans decided to pitch in. More than half of all adults did volunteer work.  ...churches began filling up again." (Castro, p.41) Patriotism became popular as a result of the war. In February of 1990, "The New York Times Magazine" advised combining three colors at once as a fashion statement, "but never red and white with blue" was the tip. ("Today", p.114) In 1991, that advice no longer held true.

Possibly as a result of these events recalling the late 60s/early 70s, the movie "JFK" was released. "Retro" remained fashionable with short A-line, tent, and trapeze dresses predominating. "Flip" hairstyles reappeared.

The "Lollapalooza" alternative music tour is 1992's Woodstock, progressing through 30 cities. Contrary to Woodstock, which "celebrated personal liberation", Lollapalooza urges political involvement with voter registration stands. Non-alcoholic " 'smart drinks', loaded with vitamins, amino acids, and choline, promising to feed the brain and heighten awareness" are touted to the crowds. Side attractions consist of bizarre stageshows, ear and nose-piercing, and temporary-tattoo booths. (Leland, p.55)

The April 1992 issue of "Newsweek" depicts Comme des Garcons' head-to-toe black turtleneck dress that conceals the lower portion of the model's face, just below her eyes. (Darnton, p.51) With flowing black chiffon at the arms, and a long narrow skirt, the resemblance to traditional female Arabic dress may not be mere coincidence given the inundation of Gulf War footage.

Women were given more active roles in the Gulf War than any previous to it. Post-war films such as "Terminator II", "Thelma and Louise", and "Batman Returns" portrayed leading females as aggressive and capable of violence. 1991 was a year of controversy. Anita Hill accused Supreme Court candidate Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. The William Kennedy Smith date-rape trial and the charges of sexual assault at the Tailhook convention were other events that revealed female discrimination. As if in response to these events, hemlines dropped drastically in 1991. A breast implant scare may have impacted dress mode as well. Women were seen wearing long, slim skirts typical of styles seen in the 40's and 70's, and with their thigh-high slits these skirts promoted "cleavage for the legs", drawing attention from the bust. (Talbot, p.57)

Skirt lengths, as well as tie styles, are said to reflect the economy. In 1992, the U.S. experienced "a wicked recession...the lowest on record since the Great Depression of the 1930's." (Pomice and Black, p. 44) The long skirts support this theory...and taking the idea to its extreme were the flashy ties (indicative of a poor economy) being worn by women as well as men. (Wandyca, p.306)

In 1990, Madonna appeared in the gangster-themed film "Dick Tracy", with Warren Beatty. Around the same time, she released the song "Vogue", referencing among other twentieth-century icons - Marlene Dietrich. The black-and-white "Vogue" video prompted a new dance fad called "voguing", inspired by early Hollywood glamour poses. Madonna appeared a la Marlene Dietrich in the video, wearing a boxy double-breasted, pinstriped "gangster" suit. ("Video Files", p.48) Other gangster movies following "Dick Tracy" were "Goodfellas", "Godfather Part III", and "Bugsy" - also with Warren Beatty. Along with the gangster films came an influx of menswear styles.

Though blue-collar workers have traditionally suffered lay-offs in times of poor economy, the 90s set records - as corporations eliminated droves of white-collar workers in order to survive the recession. (Pomice and Black, p. 44) Many materialistic "yuppies" of the 80s are becoming "dumpies", or downwardly-mobile professionals, of the 90s. (Nussbaum, p.57) One fashion spread in "The New York Times Magazine" was representative of the "dumpie" trend. Captioned "...I Hope I Get It", the photos showed sweaty-browed men in suits standing or sitting in interview lines, vying for jobs. (September '92, pp.42-47) "Sassy" magazine presented another point of view - with headlines such as: "Yo! Mister Man-in-the-Suit, This is the Way You Dress forWork", and "Aprons...for Welders, Carpenters, and Chicks Like You." Teenage girls appeared in "anti-fit" baggy pants, work boots, overalls, white tank tops, and work aprons, wearing bandannas and knit toboggans over their long hair. ("Industrial Revolution", pp. 70-75) This is evocative of the late 60s, when "hippies" chose blue-collar work clothing to rebel against establishment. (Rogers, Dorothy S., and Lynda R. Gamans, p.8)

The trend toward non-fashion is even more evident in the Paris New Wave designers' collections. Martin Margiela held his avant-garde fashion show in a Salvation Army thrift shop. Termed "shabby chic", the styles were frayed and raveled. Bright colors and obvious sexuality are rejected in favor of black, earth tones, long skirts and concealment. (Darnton, p.50) The avant-garde designers seem to send the message: "Times are tough...Life is serious. Sex is dangerous." (Darnton, p.50) Margiela assembled plastic garment bags - that previously covered clothing shipments - to produce jumpers. (Betts, p.228) From 50s ballgowns, Margiela refashioned waistcoats. (Betts, p.240) Margiela reportedly shopped flea markets for garments to recycle. (Darnton, p.51) Much of the clothing is said to evoke "images of homeless" and has been called "politically correct fashion for an age of international uncertainty." (Darnton, p.50)

I project these trends will continue, but in a more subdued manner. Vintage clothing stores, flea markets, and thrift shops will become "trendy" places to purchase clothing.

MTV is expanding to Japan, Europe, Australia, Latin America, Russia, Hong Kong, China, Korea, and Taiwan. (Landler and Smith, p.57) This widespread medium has already influenced fashion and will continue to do so. The exchange of culture will inform and influence all involved.

In addition to issues and events leading to the advanced image of women, black Americans, and the Hispanic population, I propose we will see the elevation of the Native American also. The movie "Dances With Wolves" was a step in this direction. "1492: Conquest of Paradise" and "Last of the Mohicans" will also bring the Native American to the forefront. Movies such as these, in addition to the increasing interest in and need for the environmental movement will start a back-to-nature and back-to-basics trend. In a 1990 "Smithsonian" article titled "It All Began With Conservation", Wallace Stegner notes American Indians have "stressed the web of life, the interconnectedness of land and man and creature" since the beginning of their life on Earth. (p.35)

I don't think this "nature" trend will be boring. I can imagine beautiful cottons and washed silks printed in realistic, lush-green foliage patterns, and shades of blue like the ocean tides. Coming across some jewelry made from "ocean glass" - bits of broken glass bottles left to litter the beach, but tumbled to smooth perfection by waves against sand - I caught a glimpse of what "recycled fashion" could be.  

I welcome your thoughts here. At the very bottom of the post - click on "comments" next to the pencil icon. I will receive an email with your comment, which I'll certainly read - and maybe publish. All comments interest me - particularly positive ones, but even if you disagree with something I've written and your comment is relevant and thought-provoking - you'll soon see it under the post.

3/1/2012 Postscript: Consider the trend-shifts to organic and upcycled clothing. Note the influence of James Cameron's "Avatar" and how it reflected cultural trends and even paralleled the American Indian experience. Observe the shift of influence from cinema and music to the impact of social media in cultural and fashion trends of the twenty-first century. Also,notice the reemergence of trends which are direct results of world events and the economy. 

Note: Before writing this report, I sketched fashion designs and collected fashion tear-sheets for more than a decade. To see some of these entries from my 80's fashion sketchbooks and scrapbook, search the Toile La La archive for posts from late September and early October of 2012.


Betts, Katherine. "La Nouvelle Vague." Vogue, September 1992, pp.228,240,264,276. 

Brimelow, Peter. "Time to Rethink Immigration?" National Review, 22 June3 1992, pp.30-46.

Castro, Janice. "The New Frugality." Time, 6 January 1992, p.41.

"Cross Cultural Colors." Seventeen, December 1991, pp.78-83.

Darnton, Nina. "Night of the Living Dead." Newsweek, 6 April 1992, pp.50-51.

Deitz, Pamela. "Origins of Casual Style." The New York Times Magazine, 
20 August 1989, pp.164-167.

"Industrial Revolution." Sassy, October 1992, pp.70-75. 

James, Laurie. "Sui Success." Bazaar, September 1992, pp.274,280,395-396.

Landler, Mark, and Geoffrey Smith. "The MTV Tycoon." Business Week, 
21 September 1992, pp.56-60.

Leland, John. "A Woodstock for Post Punks." Newsweek, 17 August 1992, p.55.

Mallory, Maria. "Waking Up to a Major Market." Business Week, 23 March 1992, pp.70,73.

Martel, Jay. "The Year in Television." Rolling Stone, 12 December 1991, pp.199,201-202.

Morganthau, Tom. "Beyond Black and White." Newsweek, 18 May 1992, pp.24-30.

Nussbaum, Bruce. "Downward Mobility." Business Week, 23 March 1992, pp.56-60,62-63.

Pomice, Eva, and Robert F. Black. "The Sick Economy." U.S. News & World Report, 
13 January 1992, pp.42-48.

Rogers, Dorothy S., and Lynda R. Gamans. "Fashion: A Marketing Approach." New York:
CBS College Publishing, 1983.

Rosenblatt, Roger. "Gone to Soldiers Everyone." Life, March 1991, pp.25-27,30,32,34-36,38.

Talbot, Mary. "Fashion: The Long and Sport of It." Newsweek, 14 September 1992, p.57.

"Today." The New York Times Magazine, Part 2 of 25 February 1990, p.114.

"Video Files." Rolling Stone, 13 December 1990, pp.47-48,50.

Wandycz, Katarzyna. "Recovery Ties." Forbes, 22 July 1991, pp.306-308.