Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What's Old is New Again ... and What's In Again Has Been In Longer Than You Knew ...

I was making a point at Absolute Write yesterday, that scandalous clothes, language (and even technology) weren’t all invented within the past hundred years, and this and a few other items have brought forth this post, on things I have been thinking about recently.

Two Nerdy History Girls has a nice piece on leopard print fashions of the 18th century, it’s a fun look at one of those periods in fashion which a certain quarter has *always* enjoyed deriding (even at the time – “macaroni” really wasn’t always intended to mean “my dears” ...).  Yes, Virginia – leopard didn’t start with synthetics in the 1950s.  And I have to say, in a currently-recurring theme I hope as dearly as any of you may will die a merciful death very soon, that “Nosegay Macaroni” would make a hilarious name for a band ...


As you might guess from the images of modern clothing above, I’m ruminating on new trends which reach back centuries – indeed, half a millennium now, and more.

The first photo above shows an edgy new blouse design.  But slashing (or the paned sleeve) was particularly popular during the Tudor period in England, the fashion being to pull the linen of the tunic through the richer over-fabric.


The second image, the grey top, reminds me of dagging.  Dagging, an even earlier innovation, became so popular it came with its own backlash, much like the macaroni above.  Perhaps the most famous image of this fashion comes in the Arnolfini Portrait, the finely illustrative detail of which is shown here:

Image:  Wikipedia

Dagging was another type of slashing; in which extravagant masses of fabric were artfully snipped to interesting flinders.  This was often at the sleeves, which were for long ages were a focal point for fashion statement and expense (as, we can see from the first modern images, they still often are).  Sleeves, though we forget it today, were one of the true innovations of human history.  They seem obvious to us now, but for millennia, we were creatures of draping and few seams:  think about how long humanity got on without any form of modern trousers!  Same with the inset sleeve – though we did form arm-tubes for centuries, by cutting front-and-back pieces of cloth shaped to encase arms, the contemporary sleeve did not take the world by storm until just a few hundred years ago.  Being such a singular item, naturally it provided opportunity to show off sophistication and wealth, as well as the body itself.

Another trend I have been seeing lately, which seems new and fresh if you don't know the silly things I do, goes back even farther than the sleeve.

Painted jewelry - currently most popular as embellishment on pointedly common items such as tees and thermal henleys, jeans, and even shoes – has become a meta-statement on lavish style (and yet, as noted below, these designs can be fairly pricey for what the garments actually are).  Used on textiles and pieces not meant to herald outstanding occasions nor the physical value of gold, or even cloth-of-gold, and gemstones, the attitude is one of glamour by way of grunge.  It seems to me, culturally, both to reflect the longing many of us have *for* exquisite show, and the rebellion too against what extreme wealth represents to most people.  The layers within what we say in wearing knockoff-Chanel chain prints, or flocked or glass-beaded tees emblazoned with cartoon festoons of jewelry and even hardware are almost endless, given the complex relationships and attitudes we have to our economy, our taste for self-decoration, the level of awareness of what “fashion” means beyond the most current trends, and what simply flatters or appeals to us ... these layers are more fascinating than the simple choice of a tee to wear on a Saturday.

The contrast of exuberant design with ordinary material is taken even further with the neverending fad of "sublimation" - what my dad used to call "expensively flawed" (an item created to feature its own imperfections - and sublimation prints intentionally include voids in their design, caused by creases in fabric laid down for a flat-stamp print).  I have hated sublimation prints since the beginning, and dearly hope that this "trend" (long since no longer a trend, actually) will die an unmerciful death very soon now.

Anyway.  Printed jewelry - to wit:

It may be of interest that (well, it is to me, and this is my blog) ... in fact, these pieces were once worn in secret layers.  There is a passage in The Ax and the Vase in which Queen Clotilde, in penance, fasts and eschews wearing jewels.  She has undergarments painted with faux necklaces of crosses, the only form of adornment she will wear.  The point of these un-displayed decorations was to adorn a statement of faith:  these are not for show, and are worn next to the heart.

The very strong resurgence of this style for outerwear has interesting echoes, as the ancient and antique forms of faux jewels were rendered with purposes much like (my character – not the historical Saint) Clotilde’s.  Hidden decoration worn next to the skin, covered by outer garments and unseen, was not uncommon for holy women in particular, even before the period of Catholicism and the Christianity we would recognize today.  These garments have been found amongst grave goods, and, if I recall, were attested to in the record as well.  This inspired this piece of my story, so rooted both in the formation of Catholicism, but also the volatile and passionate relationship of the particular king and queen who helped to guide this very formation.

A curious side note:  many of these designs explicitly echo modern tattoo design.  Ed Hardy became one of the most popular brands for the uber-hip during the 2000s, but his start was as a tattoo artist.  Tattoos sometimes being for display - sometimes not - and more often than not, representing something deeply personal/important/intimate/spiritual/emotional for a wearer, this is a fascinating evolution of expression.

The sinuous lines of Hardy's more vintage-inspired designs hark back to the sort of trompe l’oiel garments I’m mentioning here, but also to actual jewels and textile embellishments – gold, embroidery, beading, swagging, and the voluptuous expressions of conspicuous consumption we alternately embrace and then revile, and always have through the history of human fashion (... and politics ...).  The look evokes richness – and, indeed, Hardy’s prices are hardly discount – even as the designs are rendered on decidedly egalitarian pieces.  More layers:  and what has the message become, when the flouting of signifiers of wealth curves back and is expressed in ... designer wear, which (though it is nothing of the kinds) is intended to convey exclusivity and fashion snobbery ... ???

1 comment:

Mo said...

The original leopard-print fashion was, of course, done on leopard hides, as we can tell from hieroglyphics (not that the Egyptians did anything but steal the idea from the Nubians, who got it from whoever got it from the first hominid to come out ahead in a leopard-fight).

The slashed sleeve may not have originated there, but I do remember that it was a fad in Truk in the 80s or 90s, rendered on T-shirts. I am sure that they are receiving royalties...

Anyhow, cool post. It's odd, but I have to admit that I really like your fashion history posts.