Friday, June 29, 2007

Fashion Evolution

Clothes, fashion, the evolution of fashion, who wears what and why - these are chief among the topics that occupy my conscious and subconscious thoughts. Lately I've been preoccupied with how much fashion has evolved in the last 100 years. In fact, I'd estimate that it's evolved about 180 degrees.

I remember years ago seeing - and being surprised by - a baby photo of the wonderful, urbane man who would one day become my father-in-law. He had been born in 1920. What surprised me so about the picture was that he was wearing a dress! I was probably 20 years old at that time and had no idea that boys had ever worn dresses for any occasion.

That's when I learned that boys did wear gowns - sometimes for baptism like in modern day. In fact Susie's kids all wore the same beautiful gown when they were baptized. But going back in history, boys routinely wore dresses past toddlerhood until they were "breeched" - that is, transitioned into breeches, or short pants. Apparently the thinking of the time was that dresses provided uninhibited movement. Hmmm. That doesn't explain why often boys' hair was grown long and adorned in ringlets.

Further, it seems that well into the 20th century pink was the color associated with boys and blue was associated with girls. According to The Child in Fashion:1750-1920, in 1918 The Ladies Home Journal wrote 'the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl." The book goes on to explain that "Pink, being most closely associated with bold, daring red, was considered more masculine, while blue (always an easier color to achieve in dyes) was softer and more subdued. Too, blue is the color associated with the Virgin Mary, and, in the Middle Ages, the color of true lovers and faithful servants." So, there you go: blue for the more subdued gender, the faithful servants. Wow!

By the time I was a young school girl, boys had long been wearing pants since infancy. But girls had not. In fact, my public elementary school had a dress code requiring girls to wear skirts or dresses. During the winter I, and other girls, wore leggings under our dresses to keep our legs warm against those freezing Illinois winter winds through which we'd walk to school (not quite "5 miles, uphill both ways" but long enough in cold winter weather.) In fact, one of my most embarrassing moments was when, having arrived in my classroom I was standing at the coat closet that ran nearly the entire length of the room and was almost akin to center stage. I pulled off my leggings and my panties came down with them. I was mortified and paralyzed by embarrassment. In retrospect, it's likely no one else noticed - even as I finally fumbled to remedy the situation - but at the time I couldn't imagine a more horrifying experience. I would never have believed that 40 years later people would purposefully wear pants so low slung as to show their underwear!

During my childhood days I did wear pants sometimes - for after school and weekend play. And I wore shorts during the summers. But, to this day I still prefer dresses and skirts over pants. Actually, I think those folks back in the old days were on to something. Skirts do provide more ease of movement, at least to a point.

Now, in 2007, the apparel company I've formed is launching with pants - for boys AND girls. For our first season, there's not a dress in sight. (Actually, I see a dress in the Spring/Summer offering. But that's a ways off.) That decision was based on the marketplace. Girls routinely wear jeans and trousers; they're just so practical. So, in 100 years' time fashion has moved those 180 degrees - from boys (and girls) wearing dresses to girls (and boys) wearing pants. It really makes me wonder whether we'll ever traverse that remaining 180 degrees to the point of boys or men in dresses again. Lately I've found myself silently coveting the beautiful, classic diamond stud or gold hoop earrings of some of the men I've seen out in public. And, recently I've seen several men wearing earrings on both ears. Coming full circle may happen some day after all.

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