Monday, 15 August 2016

70s Style

It wasn't all psychedelic granny squares and loon pants. I was narrowing my flares by 1973.

Clothes design was the new rock in the late 60s: Rabanne, Courreges, Mary Quant, Ossie Clarke – but by the early 70s they all seemed to fade away, leaving us with disparate trends worn all at once. Flowery blouse over woolly jersey and under cord pinafore dress, in different colours. Fashion chaos. It was called the layered look. Wearing two shirts at once was really trendy for about 10 minutes.

There were famous designers in the 70s but they were very upmarket and couture and typists/students like me didn’t wear drapey loungewear. With it went an early 70s fashion for a scarf tied as a tight turban coming right down to the eyes, which were heavily made up. The ends of the scarf were twisted into a rope and wound round the head. It was a cross between an oriental turban and something vaguely 30s.

But I remember Foale and Tuffin who made quilted jackets out of ethnic fabric. Quilting was a thing. I had a genuine Chinese jacket that I struggled to do up, and a shiny black quilted tabard that I wore with terracotta harem trousers and wedged espadrilles (circa 1976).

Circa 1970, the “unisex” trend shocked those people who love to be shocked. Girls and boys wore pudding basin haircuts, baker boy caps, big clumpy lace-up shoes, V-necked tank tops, tweed Oxford bags, waisted jackets with big lapels in a brown, orange and yellow palette. And there were unisex hair salons. (Any minute now we might get unisex toilets.)

In the early 70s there was a brief vogue for primary colours, especially red and blue. Also for wearing short-sleeved, tight cardigans over a shirt. (My shirt was red – from Woolworths, my cardi was blue and I wore this ensemble with blue hotpants, red tights and blue tap shoes.)

Also in the early 70s there was a Goth look influenced by Biba with very dark eye makeup and lipstick (she pioneered black and khaki nails), 40s dresses, and a LOT of purple. This ensemble was worn with a holey crocheted shawl, platform boots, a choker and a grim expression. There was an expensive glam version way out of our price range, and a suburban version that dropped the shawl, kept a late 60s half pony-tail and added a smile.

Another suburban style: A-line skirts, knee-high boots, Cleopatra hair, tailored and waisted jackets with big collars and a choker. Underneath the jacket is a blouse in the same style, in flowery fabric and with a lot of tiny buttons.

And my favourite combo: silver V-necked cardigan over brown velvet maxi skirt for evening wear. Choker and boots optional.

And a tamed hippy look: long hair parted in the middle, fringed suede waistcoat, A-line suede miniskirt, platform boots that reached mid-calf, fringed suede bag. The palette was ochre, olive and brown, or if you were prepared to stand out in Godalming, brown and purple. Perfect for skipping through puddles and dancing through fields. Unfortunately you needed a slim figure and a sweet, dim smile.

There was a Minnie Mouse, 40s revival look with polka dots and high-heeled strap shoes (that Roxy Music album cover is 1972).

Middle class girls wore baggy sweaters with daring V necks – that hadn’t been seen since the 50s. Older ladies were still wearing “big hair”, with high round necks or polo necks which did them no favours at all. You wore a narrow belt over the jersey (or a jacket), sometimes in the same fabric and with a plastic 30s style buckle. Belts were a cheap way of looking stylish.

Sociology lecturers wore corduroy dresses or smocks with wide short sleeves and a yoke right across the bust, worn over a too-small polo neck. This costume went with a Purdey hairstyle, which quickly became a drab uniform for polytechnic staff. When the fringe got too long, you cut it yourself, too short and straight across. The male version was longish curly hair and a wild beard, plus glasses, concealing the entire face apart from the nose.

Serious people were very serious in the 70s, and it was the done thing to be drab. Oddly enough, the drab people all paired off, despite thinking that love was a bourgeois construct and romance a tool of patriarchy.

Knitting patterns showed smiling women with long, straight hair doing practical things – like feeding horses. Thick woolly jumpers in “natural” wool expressed “togetherness” (according to actress Sophie Grabol), also a rejection of capitalist values. Boucle yarn was in, and by the late 70s: Aran, Aran, Aran, worn with a man's flat cap or tweed solar topee and a big grin.

I adopted the look, from the top:
Gaucho hat
thick Aran cardigan, leather belt
several “prairie” tiered skirts, the underneath ones showing
Fellow students thought it was a bit avant garde. It was hard to get Aran cardigans, you either went to Ireland or knitted your own.

Knee boots came back, and we tucked our flares into them, creating a Russian look. Designers created Russian style tunics to go with it, and Cossack trousers. Did knee boots spell the end of the flare? Or cycle clips? Or leg warmers? With skinny jeans you don’t need cycle clips.

We wore 15 denier tights in "American Tan" (orange) in the summer because bare legs just weren't possible. If it got too hot, you dyed your legs orange with Q Tan which smelt of digestive biscuits. In the 80s we just went “What the Hell?” and walked around with bare (white) legs, and manufacturers brought out ecru tights to match.

I'm still following the advice of Catherine Milinaire's Cheap Chic (charity shops, army surplus). Some of our odd mix and match looks were the result of earning very little (our low salaries assumed that we were still living at home or that daddy had bought us a flat). And army surplus clothes preserved 40s designs. I wore Land Girl brown corduroy breeches and navy serge sailor trousers. But it was difficult being a large girl of 5ft 9in.

60s clothes here.

Monday, 22 February 2016

The Polite Approach by Moira Redmond

Where do we go from here?

The Polite Approach is an etiquette book written in the 80s by Moira Redmond, of the blog Clothes in Books. Have things changed since then? In some ways yes, in others, not much. It is an easy read, in a humorous style.
Nobody really needs to know how to address a bishop in a telegram - if they ever did. Her best advice is about conversation (see under "personal security and privacy"). "If someone asks you questions you are not obliged to answer" - questions like "Are you pregnant yet?" Her recommendation? "Looking very shocked and asking 'I can't believe you asked me that!'"

And don't dish out medical disinformation, or information about others' ailments that they didn't volunteer ("She can't eat cheese because..."). Don't live others' lives for them (unless, in my opinion, they are being conned by a professional).

"Anyone who laughs at you or sneers, or makes assumptions about you based solely on your name, accent or income is being very impolite, and is someone you need not bother with." Unless you sound posh, she says, in which people will assume you're rich, and this will make you popular. (In some circles! In others, it will make you very UNpopular, and the butt of people's jokes. Especially in the lefty 80s.)

One thing that really has changed is that we talk on the telephone far less. She reminded me how ghastly it was when people rang who hadn't even "got a first sentence ready". (So much for spontaneity, which was much praised at the time.) The people who rang when you were sleeping after a night shift - and told you off for being asleep at that hour. If you used a friend's phone for a long-distance call you were supposed to estimate the cost and reimburse them (I remember having to do this in a shared house, writing down all phone calls in a book... Did long-distance calls really cost that much?).

"You shouldn't be asked to conduct remote control conversations through the bathroom door." And something else I don't miss: the people who rang and asked you what you'd been doing when the phone rang. Why did it take you so long to answer? And then they monologued for two hours. People who phoned at work wanting a very personal discussion ("Oh, but I thought you had your own office!").

Answering machines had just come in: "People get frightfully worked up about these useful objects. Half the world thinks they're an abomination and not only refuse to use them but see it as an insult to be asked. The other half... are infuriated by people who won't leave a message." I was enraged by those who left an irritated message, adding their phone number as an afterthought in a rapid, inaudible gabble. I changed my message to say "Please leave a number SLOWLY." I then got sarcastic messages ("Was that slow enough for you?").

Social kissing was relatively new: "It has undoubtedly become an accepted social gesture... despite some people's horror and sneers..." Kissing, answering machines – wait till someone invents that frightful Facebook!

Redmond is helpful on dating, especially on the initial fiction that you are going to a movie because you want to see the latest blockbuster or art house product, and going for a meal because you're hungry or you've never tried Estonian cuisine... But then we come to "staying the night".

"If you wish to go home together that is not a question of etiquette, and you are on your own." Oh, Moira, that's just when we NEED etiquette! Back then night buses were few and we couldn't afford taxis. You leave the restaurant, after no previous discussion, no lingering looks or handholding (probably politically incorrect in the 80s) – does one of you say "Your place or mine?" Or should the woman, instead of saying brightly "Well, that was lovely - I must rush or I'll miss the last tube!" hover wordlessly while gazing into the bloke's eyes? Or should she say, "Well, what happens now?" Any suggestions gratefully received.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Fashion Crimes of the 20th Century

20s, 30s

Little girls’ skirts became very short – miniskirt length. In summer, they wore matching bloomers underneath (same material as the dress.) In winter, they wore bloomers and leggings – buttoned gaiters reaching from ankle to hip. These disappeared in the 40s, but the bloomers survived into the 50s. The very short skirts slipped down the class system until little girls begin wearing - gasp! - trousers in about 1965.

From the 30s to the 60s, women’s shoes had thin soles and were freezing in winter. They were designed for people who took taxis everywhere. You could wear galoshes over them, but there were no practical boots until the mid-60s. Older people were rather shocked by them, and thought the boots “kinky”.

I remember one contemporary who always put on hat and gloves to go to the Bodleian (Oxford University’s library); however, we free spirits thought that a touch formal. But I had been plagued by gloves, as an adolescent. They had to be worn or carried on all but the most informal outings; without them, it seemed, my station in life would not be apparent. Puzzled but biddable, I spent several years losing slimy nylon objects until eventually liberated by student life and common sense. (Penelope Lively, A House Unlocked)

Middle-aged women had a “best” outfit for the opera, a charity ball or the Palace: an evening dress with a long, full skirt, a draped or pleated bodice, and shoulder straps. They were frumpy, and weren’t kind to most 50-year-olds. The ladies still wore diamonds from the 19th century: rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, sometimes even a tiara.

By the 60s, all change – arms and shoulders were covered, and older ladies wore tailored evening dresses (short or long). There was nowhere to put the diamonds (which now didn’t look right), so bodices were covered in rhinestones, sequins or paillettes. The same kind of dress (sometimes sleeveless) was worn as concert gear by singers, well into the 70s. I remember waiting impatiently for them to catch up. Now women singers and musicians are chosen for their looks and wear barely-there dresses. I’m not sure this is an improvement.

Despite mod and miniskirts, most middle-aged women didn’t even buy new clothes, and still wore thick wool coats and ageing hats. But some went misguidedly overboard for the “dolly bird” style, with minidresses and white knee socks.

The top of the minidress was modest and puritanical with a high neck, long sleeves and a white collar and cuffs. The skirt showed your pants when you were standing up. The following year girls wore the dresses as shirts over trousers.

In the late 60s some adults suddenly decided to “move with the times”, grow sideboards and their hair long, and wear white turtleneck shirts with a dinner jacket (if men). Women adopted the fortune teller look. It wasn’t an era for dignity or tailoring. Some unfortunately stuck like that.

Little old ladies in Peckham wore a uniform: turquoise waisted knee-length raincoat from M&S, American tan tights, shoes. In winter, their legs were cold as they didn’t wear trousers, or boots. And their skirts were too short.

An outfit I wore briefly: afro hair; big russet cardigan in tweed effect yarn, with a belt; crimplene A line midi skirt diagonally striped in navy and white. We’ll pass over the home-made calico smock and blue snakeskin clogs...

Teachers wore a pudding basin haircut, and a corduroy dress with wide short sleeves, a big collar, and a yoke across the bust. They wore the dress over a shirt.

Conservative people took up hippy fashions and tamed them: psychedelic robes became lurid maxi dresses.

It was quite a milestone when people of our generation started wearing suits – it seemed like selling out to The Man.

Professional women wore suits with short-sleeved jackets (especially in yellow or lilac – they hung on too long among MPs).

Stylish hats were plonked onto long hair – hats need an updo.

An outfit I wore briefly in the 80s: I took a YHA sheet sleeping bag, cut off the top and bottom, cut some “armholes” and sewed up the “shoulders”. I then dyed it French navy. I wore it over a gathered broderie Anglaise petticoat (also home-made) with a belt. A Bananarama felt hat went with it.

More extreme fashions.

If You Want to Get Ahead...

For most of the 20th century, middle class men and women wore hats out of doors. Going bare-headed meant you were very Bohemian, or too poor to afford a hat. Working class men wore caps; working class women wore shawls over their heads. During the war and after, women wore headscarves tied under the chin.

In the 1960s, change was in the air and the middle classes got the idea that society was now classless: Cockneys became celebrity photographers, and young people copied the way they spoke. Somehow ditching hats was part of this new egalitarianism. If you had no hat, you couldn’t raise it or tip it to anybody. And forget about being respectable!

Oddly, at the same time broad-brimmed hats (with a long colourful scarf around the crown) became a fashion item. These quickly ossified into a respectable hat for the kind of lady who had never shed the headgear - in beetle green, orange or chocolate.

In the 70s women wore woolly cloche hats in cold weather, or safari hats (based on the solar topee); in the 80s they wore saucer hats at weddings and the races, but universal hat-wearing was over.

For several decades, people went mainly bare-headed. They got wet in the rain, and cold in winter, their hairstyles were ruined and the sun got into their eyes. By the noughties, the only hat options for men (on sale at roadside stalls or in newsagents and hardly a fashion item) were baseball caps (unwearable by the middle classes because American) or ski hats (what the Americans call beanies).

Men have more hat opportunities now. In the 60s it was quite cool to tie a headscarf at the back of the neck, but sadly headscarves of any kind have never returned.

More clothes here.

The Way We Wore: Extravagant Fashions

Madame de Pompadour: small hair

There are fashions that get more and more extreme until they vanish. Hair gets higher and higher, crinolines get wider and wider – but you wonder how people lived with some of these. A dance dress so long that you had to pick up the skirt and hold it over your arm?
Leg o’ mutton sleeves 1830s, 1890s, 1930s Sometimes called gigot sleeves - that's French for leg of mutton.

Big hair and hats 1910s These huge dos were constructed over pads made of the wearer's own hair. You kept the combings from your (waist-length) hair in a "hair-tidy", and made it into what were called "rats". Lovely!

Big hair 1770s The heroine of the novel Evelina describes having her hair curled and done up over a cushion that sat on the top of her head – and then covered with white powder. I don't know why this hairstyle is blamed on Madame de Pompadour.

Beehive hairdo 1960s Terrible tales were told of women who never took their hair down and ended up playing host to some six-legged friends. The same stories were told of ladies from the 18th century. Early 60s hairstyles were ludicrously labour-intensive - the setting on rollers, drying and then back-combing took hours. You wore a chiffon scarf over it to keep the rain off - anything heavier, like a hat, would have squashed it.

Crinolines reached new breadths in the 1860s.

Panniers 18th century They're called after the saddlebags you use on your bicycle (or horse or donkey). You end up with a skirt shaped like the back of a sofa.

Platform shoes 1970s (and 16th cent Venice). Groovy!

Corsets made waists smaller and smaller from the 1830s on (though tales of 19-inch waists are exaggerated, say fashion historians).

Miniskirts 1960s I know they’ve been back several times, but they've never been so short as they wre in the late 60s. You had to adopt a new way of sitting – knees together, feet apart. If you dropped anything you had to curtsey to pick it up again. And you couldn't bend over at all.

Trains Late 19th century You had to drape them over your arm when you danced. Sometimes they had a loop on the hem that you put your little finger through. You also had to cope with a reticule hanging from your wrist.

Stiletto heels and pointy toes 1960s, early 00s, 15th century.

Boys' shorts, or "short trousers" were originally teamed with thick wool stockings, and came down to the knee. In the 60s/70s, when hems rose and girls’ shorts became tiny, prep school boys’ shorts did too and the poor lads suffered from hypothermia.

Opera-length gloves In the late 1800s, shoulder-length kid gloves were worn with evening dress. At dinner, you removed the hand bit and tucked it into the arm bit. Their status was defined by the number of buttons.

Fontange: In the early 18th century, fashionable ladies wore a “fontange”, a lace and ribbon covered framework that stuck up from the top of the head. “Technically, fontanges are only part of the assembly, referring to the ribbon bows which support the frelange. The frelange was supported by a wire framework called a commode.” (Wikipedia) According to fashion historian James Laver, a later variation was to tilt the framework forwards like a unicorn’s horn. The whole shebang morphed into the mob cap, and as hairstyles expanded, so did the caps. Eventually the cap perched on top of an outrageous padded updo.

Did these offensively decadent fashions really exist during the French Revolution: a red string round the neck, and a hairstyle à la guillotine? Parisian women really did add straw to their coiffures, inspired by mad Ophelia in a visiting English production of Hamlet.

More clothes here.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Eighties Buildings

Chancery Lane

INSPIRATIONS: Toytown. Egyptian revival (again). Art Deco. Palisades. Coronets (cylinder with spikes round the top). Totem poles. Let’s shove together the Platonic solids and make them huge. Give it that “assembled from a kit” look. Let’s copy those Victorian warehouses we’ve been renovating. And put a Greek temple on the top. Combine the following:

angular greenhouse on the top of a building

lunettes (and anything lunette-shaped)
giant fanlights
triple giant fanlights like a child’s drawing of a cloud
shallow curves
giant silver tubes

stripes, stripes, stripes


bay windows
dark-blue mirror tinted windows, copper tinted windows
square windows divided into squares
windows with shallow curved tops
round porthole windows
wraparound windows
square windows with rounded corners
diamond windows (square windows tilted 45 degrees)
oriel windows

outsize, misused classical motifs
giant pediments
round towers

catslide roofs
Swiss chalet roofs in case it snows
Italian villa overhanging roofs
barrel vaults, barrel roofs
sharply peaked roofs

treillage (garden trellis-work)
lattice, red lattice, red window frames
as above, in Kelly green

ribs, slats, struts, Meccano
steel and glass porticos
metal clapboarding
corrugated metal

ziggurat-inspired stepped patterns
upside-down ziggurat patterns
upside-down ziggurat windows with square panes

pillars, big fat squat pillars, fluted pillars
arches and pillars that support nothing

pastel pink and green
terracotta, brown, pink, yellow ochre
pink marble

silver and glass
tinted glass
rusticated bottom storey, all-over rustication

buildings that look like spaceships
metal balconies

rows of square or circular motifs along a “pediment”, or circle in square motifs

atria with splashing fountains, waterfalls and trees (nice)

formal gardens with lattices, struts, slats, pergolas, gazebos, oriental plants, fountains

Put them all together and you've got Postmodernism.

More eighties style here.

Friday, 1 January 2016

More 80s Style

optical fibre lamps
globe lamps
lamps with a globe in two hands
All these were sold by shops that also sold indoor water features and reproduction phrenological heads.

tulip wall lights
lamps in the shape of old movie cameras or spot lights
quarter-circle wall uplighters
uplighters of all kinds
replica 30s bankers’ desk lights
No cylindrical lampshades were seen during the 80s. They were a throwback to the 50s, 60s and 70s (shudder). Lampshades were all conical, coolie-hat shape, often pleated.

Kilims (woven oriental carpets) were very in, and were quickly turned into fabric design and plastic tablecloths. These lived on in cafés for far too long, in shades of navy, ochre, burgundy and forest green. And you had the fun of saying “kileem” when anyone rhymed them with “gym” or called them “keelims”. "Kilim" was the 80s’ "quinoa". The kilims (and cushions made of old ones) faded, rotted and were thrown out.

square mirrors with a row of smaller squares round the edge
mirrors with art nouveau lilies
mirrors with Op Art (Albers)

Mockintash mugs with roses (still around the 90s and you couldn’t NOT like them, same with the Clarice Cliff knockoffs)

Lazy Susans (revolving wooden tray for your pepper and salt grinders) Part of a genre of shiny, lacquered wooden kitchenware (salt and pepper grinders, salad bowls and servers, pestles and mortars) that arrived in the 70s. You could even get a chequerboard wood pestle and mortar.

glass heads, glass blocks

marble – and an Ancient Roman bling look in general
marble platonic solids (white, black, peach)
chequerboard marble ashtray
obelisks, sometimes marble, small ones to store your rings
fake marble tiles with fake marble tile dadoes

ornate “antique” bird cages (Corsican ironwork?), minus the birds
"hippo birdie two ewes" cards

dark brown cupboards with fake leaded glass, or early 1800s Chinese-style lattice-work
black ash furniture
plaid sofas and chairs
cylindrical steel planters
modular seating
built-in bench seating round the walls
venetian blinds

More here, and links to the rest.