Sunday, March 28, 2010

Borrowed Splendor - Eastern influence on Western dress

1. 1960s Metallic brocade turban 2. 1960s Paisley mens tie 3. Mid-century paisley makeup purse 4. 1970s India print wrap skirt 5. early 1960s Chinese silk brocade ensemble 6. 1986 Hermes scarf (all items from

If you look up the word exotic in the Merriam-Webster dictionary it reads…“not native to the place where found” and “strikingly, excitedly, mysteriously different or unusual” When we describe western fashion with “exotic” elements we use words like bohemian, hippie even ethnic. I find these words to be inadequate considering the rich histories behind the original textiles, especially those from the Eastern regions of the globe. The textile trade in the East is an ancient one. It would require volumes to do these histories justice and this is just a blog but consider this…those iconic block printed cottons from India that we westerners love so much, well their ancestral counterparts were found in Egyptian tombs dating back nearly two millennia.

For centuries the west has been importing textiles from the many near to far east countries and for centuries we have been borrowing style and design sensibilities from the same. Hundreds of regions and cultures each with their own ancient textile histories….India/Pakistan, China, both the Near and Far Middle East, Japan, Indonesia and Southeast Asia, that’s a lot of inspiration to choose from! Luxurious materials like silks, velvets and brocades, some woven with real silver or gold thread. Fabrics with complex hand prints and fine embroideries… sheer linens, fine cottons…. Intricate prints and patterns that mesmerize and those that calm the mind with their balance and simplicity….. The list is endless and I daresay that most of modern western fashion has some eastern influence.

Nearly every twentieth century western designer has looked to the east at some point. From Poiret to Valentino…on the street or amongst the black ties. “Exotic” fashion trends have and will continue to come and go with regularity. In 1940s Hattie Carnegie did a stunning line based on beautiful prints and draped sillhouettes from Malaysia. The mid 60s saw an explosion of eastern influence on fashion. A Donald Brooks velvet ensemble with Salwar trousers was featured in Nov. 1965 Vouge along with a Galanos floor length metalic chiffon kaftan coat and dress set. If you flip through vintage magazines you can find countless examples of East meets West fashion and the love affair continues to this day....
Kimono styles were all the rage in the 1920s

Monday, March 8, 2010

Those Dirty Keds!

I spend a lot of time perusing vintage magazines, for work as well as fun. I find them to be one of the best tools for researching vintage fashion but I also get a huge kick out seeing what was going on in Pop culture at the time. This morning I came across an ad that just tickled me pink , even better it was a true flash from my own past.

Let me start with a little story…

As a girl, in the mid 60s, the beginning of May marked the time for new sneakers. The weather was turning warm and it was time to retire the brown lace up oxfords that had served me well over the school year. Mom would take my sister and me to the shoe store where we would wait our turn in smooth vinyl seats with chrome handles, our stocking feet dangling above the floor. The salesman would soon come over and measure our feet on his trusty “Brannock” being careful to measure twice, once sitting and once standing.

Size determined... off to the back room he went, emerging soon after with two pristine shoe boxes, the word Keds printed in bold letters across each. Then the salesman would loosen up the laces and slip our feet into the brightest, snow white sneakers you ever saw. Deftly, he would tie them up and we were asked to stand... toes were checked to make sure they didn’t touch the end and we were told to walk up and back the aisle. When both Mom and salesman were satisfied that our new sneakers fit properly, back into the boxes they went and the sale was rung up.

The job of buying the sneakers was over but making them presentable was another thing …you see, in the mid 1960s no self respecting girl would allow herself to be seen in a pair of clean-white-right-out-of-the-box sneakers. A humiliation like that could never be lived down. To look cool, sneakers had to be dingy and worn (don‘t ask, there are no answers for these things).

The minute we got home, on went the sneakers, and out the back door went I. Stairs were a nuisance so off the porch I would jump, landing in the bald patch of yard at the edge of our sidewalk. There was a method we kids had for making new sneakers look acceptable … first you had to scuff up the rubber sides which was done by dragging your foot at every possible angle in the dirt and grit. Next came the cloth uppers which got a thorough rub down with same said dirt… laces too.

The final results were never ideal but they would do. You see the perfect look did not happen for a few weeks, after the wear and tear of summer play had worked it’s magic. By July every sneaker in the neighborhood had taken on a lovely gray patina and frayed holes had begun to appear . By August they reached their prime.

I had forgotten about this little ritual until I saw the above Keds ad in and old Ladies Home Journal from May 1968. Click and enlarge the picture at the top of this blog. You need to read the text, it’s the best part. Like they said “A clean pair of white Keds? Ridiculous!”

....'till next time take care and Peace to all.