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.

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