Sunday, November 29, 2009

Who Decides What We Wear?

This was originally posted January 21, 2009.

In the 1920s, upper class society and their social calendar set the stage for what would be fashionable each season. In the spring and summertime, the wealthy had grand balls, the races, garden parties, and art exhibitions to attend. So the "fashion houses" launched their new lines of clothing for each season...and the rest of the world watched.

Clothing designers were almost exclusively housed in France and that is where America got their fashions as well. After the new line was launched, America reported on it, and women got busy getting in style.

This was no small task! For the wealthy, many changes of clothes were required for each day as not only the season determined what was appropriate to wear, but also the time of day. Even maids had "morning" uniforms and "afternoon" uniforms! I know how exhausting it can be to change clothes several times a day because I used to do that when my babies would spit up on me several times a day! :) OK--I'm no wealthy, upper class woman!

Later, during World War II, Paris was cut off and American and British designers became the trendsetters for a time. New York became the fashion center and while Paris did regain their influence later, it was never exclusive again.

But in the 1930s, American women transitioned from watching Paris for all their fashion clues, to watching the movies. Many designers followed along and offered designs based on movies rather than whatever it was Europe was doing.

In fact, so strong was this "Hollywood influence" that pants became acceptable for women to wear in part because of two actresses photographed wearing them! One was Marlene Dietrich and the other was Katherine Hepburn. (here is an interesting letter written at the time--go to the 3rd paragraph of her post) Later, jeans (called dungarees) became popular with young people after Marilyn Monroe was photographed wearing them.

How easily molded are we?

More to come!


  1. The letter you linked to was very interesting!!

    But I have to be careful, because my annoyance with casual dress in high-class restaurants is starting to feel vindicated ;-).

    I've often been jealous of the beautiful scarves and luxurious material that my Indian and Bangladeshi friends get to wear. Although I SINCERELY appreciate the fact that I don't HAVE to wear them, I'm a little sad that I don't GET to wear them. Does that make any sense??

    It is extremely difficult, at least in my country bumpkin life, to find opportunities to wear truly beautiful clothes. Once you're past the era of high school proms (unless you're in a sorority), it seems like the occasional wedding is the only time you'll have a reason to shop through the shiny, shimmery formals. This is probably the reason I love the annual holiday ball in my department, and is definitely the motivation behind the Murder Mystery parties I sometimes host. And some glorious day I'm going to host a masked ball for New Year's Eve. And/or Midsummmer's Night Eve.

  2. Oh Megan, I understand. I think we are FAR too casual. Now don't get me wrong...I am very comfortable and I NEVER wish to return to hose and heels on a daily basis! But I think we don't have nearly enough opportunities to dress up nicely.

  3. I am enjoying your series of posts on this issue, mostly because I enjoy the historical backround given. :)

    In my life, I have found that I am far more casual now then when I was younger and I think it has to do withthe fact that I need to feel comfortable all the time. I have a two year old and runnign after and taking care of him required the following "uniform": jeans and a few t-shirts. Perhpas, as he gets older I will find my pre-kid self and dress up again. Until then, I'm still in jeans..

  4. Classic MaMa--I'm wearing jeans as I type!

    I think your point will come under my next post.

  5. Fascinating post. I'm with you all. I am glad that I don't HAVE to wear fancy stuff, but I wish that I would GET to. There is almost no reason for me to get dressed up.

  6. Very interesting Brenda. I can't wait to read more.

  7. I don't wear jeans (my only pair are now humorously too big) and I don't own sweats. I've never really been that kind of girl.

    However- I don't dress up every day either. I have a couple pair of nice pants I wear A LOT (although they don't look so good now. BAGGY!) and I wear skirts a lot too.

    Mostly this has to do with living in a gated neighborhood and never knowing when someone will stop by, so I have to be ready to see people!

    I know how easily we are influenced. Look at the young girls in America. It's frightening.


I don't get to talk to a lot of actual grown-ups during the day, so your comments make me really happy! :)