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Posts Tagged ‘fashion’

Dressing Down

Two scenes from twenty-first-century America.

Mid-20th C. America (source)

Young friends cycle to church for Sunday services. They stash their bicycles by the side of the building, walk in sporting their aerodynamic spandex, and take their places in the pews.

Later that day a waitress at a nearby restaurant approaches a silver-haired couple squinting at their menus. “So, what can I get you guys?” she asks the pair.

Across a range of behaviors, from dress to forms of address, Americans have become strikingly informal: we deviate from convention more than we used to, and the conventions we do observe entail less deference to institutions such as churches and statuses such as advanced age.

Read the rest of this column at the Boston Review here.

Update (Nov. 19, 2017):

For a much fuller discussion (and criticism of) changes in men’s fashions, see this essay by G. Bruce Boyer.

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Clothes Make the Common Man

About a year ago, popular writer and high-society socialite Danielle Steele announced that she was departing San Francisco, throwing out this complaint as she left: “There’s no style, nobody dresses up – you can’t be chic there.” Nostalgia columnist Carle Nolte agreed: “There was a time when people thought it was important to dress well in this city . . .  Men wore a suit to work, or a sport coat. Women wore heels and dressed for success. . . . Now San Franciscans, men and women, wear jeans to work, rumpled shirts, running shoes, flip-flops, baseball caps. When they go out on the town they look even worse.” Steele and Nolte have a point.

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The picture above, the Giants’ Polo Grounds in early 1900s, can be contrasted with the picture below, the Giants’ AT&T Park in the early 2000s. One notices the new informality of the clothes (and the new logo’ed gear, and the women, and the small children).

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The greater informality of middle-class people in public life can probably be rooted in the 1960s. I recall the shock some people had that young men walked about in their tee-shirts and then in their tee-shirts with slogans printed on them. But the concern about clothes and what clothes say about American culture, the connection between evolution of clothing and the evolution of our democratic sensibilities, has a long history. What we wore always said something about who we, as a people, were.

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One of the global reform campaigns of our time is the effort to persuade women to breastfeed their babies. Michele Obama has made this plea in the United States. There is an active global campaign to dissuade mothers in developing countries from turning to bottled formula. One difficulty in making the case, especially in poorer nations, is that bottle feeding seems so modern and chic, so fashionable. It is a bit odd to think of such a “natural” process as feeding newborns as a matter of fashion, but it is – and so it was in American history, too.

Although mothers nursing their infants seems to meet a basic biological drive, the history of breastfeeding in the United States shows that what is “natural” is very much shaped by cultural influences; such influences can wax and wane and so embracing the “natural,” too, can cycle. Breastfeeding as the ideal way to mother has gone in and out of fashion.

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