Wednesday, 17 June 2009

the past in question

turning it on

Apart from wanting to go on holidays again, I've been very busy with university which has been surprisingly awesome. I've been trying to understand the whole Twilight-nonsense, luckily Kevin has directed me to a website which explains all and made me laugh very hard. You should all read it, keep in touch with youth culture and stuff, you know. My indiepop credibility has gone down the drains recently because I developed a rather questionable affection for certain well-known English singers with a penchant for romanticising their homeland. I blame this on feeling blue for the past weeks. You feel blue for only a day and you're immediately convinced that young men with guitars are more than just self-absorbed drug addicts.

Speaking of which, and by that I mean "romanticising the past", am I the only one who thinks it's more than strange to see so many girls who are into vintage clothes talk about how "lovely" women in the 30s and 40s looked? Isn't it weird to totally disconnect the political reality from fashion? Let me explain. Maybe I'm being too much of an historian and over-sensitive, but it always makes me confused to see someone write that their outfit was inspired by "ladies from the depression-era". Even more puzzling, I recently read somewhere, I forget where, that someone was inspired by the thought of young women in WW2 waiting for their boyfriends to come home from the war. Now this really made me almost angry. That really means romanticising the past, doesn't it? Wearing an outfit that makes you feel like such a woman and feeling that this is a good thing, a romantic notion - is that just "inspiration", free from all connotation, or is it ignorant? Because if I said that, if I was inspired by my grandmother waiting for her boyfriend to come home during WW2, I'm also thinking of lack of food and bombs and destruction and certainly not of clothes. But maybe that's just because I'm from Europe and the past is indeed a whole different country for me here. I can't really get inspired by it. I'm just glad the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s etc are over.

I find it really hard to disconnect fashion from its sociopolitical background, quite apart from serious stuff like wars and economic depressions. For example, even though I think the whole 50s New Look silhouette is beautiful and flattering on other woman, I also can't help thinking of the female stereotype of that type which, frankly, makes me want to throw up.
Obviously I have simply studied history for too long and have now finally turned into one of those overly political creatures. I shall buy some spray paint tomorrow and practise my street art.


  1. I've stopped trying to romanticize the past in association with clothes a long time ago because I realized that it did feel rather wrong considering the political strife that many of these eras were involved in. I think it's easy to forget to imagine clothes from the last century in context.

    I also remember reading (I don't remember exactly where, though) that someone was inspired by women waiting for their boyfriends while they were fighting a war and it made me angry as well. That is a terrible thing to be inspired by - war should certainly not be a sartorial source of inspiration. The same goes for being inspired by the Depression-era. It's hard not to think of the tough times that people were facing during this period. The lack of food, unemployment, cities that were dependent on industries just crashing and suffering from the economic downfall...

    This is just a long comment to say that I agree with you.

  2. I appreciate this comment a lot. Actually I think I saw the war-comment-thing on flickr and then I couldn't make up my mind if I should say something or not, especially because the internet seems to be divided into really mean, anonymous people and overly sweet girls who don't criticise at all.

  3. I catch myself wanting to look like a snapshot from the 40s or 50s, if only for the inherent elegance and quality of cuts, sewing, colour and silhouettes of the era; when I see photos of my grandmother in the post-war period I'll think she looked nice. But by no means would I want to live in the time; fascism, racism, homophobia, chauvinism are all off-putting - and the aesthetics brought on by war are depressing allegories, insofar as they are maintained. Nevertheless I feel somewhat on the fence in this debate. I am incredibly inspired by vintage fashions, and I feel that the clothes can be detached from their political, historical connotations and employed in a modern setting (in fact, if I walked out in a 50s dress, hat and white gloves, I assume people wouldn't think of me as a housewife, unable to vote and valued only for her fertility - in modern society I think the conscious choice to wear vintage is more of an appreciation of the positive things of the past, and an expression of individuality).

  4. That is to say; you should have the gift of seeing things in context, whilst also being able to utilise items and details of the past in positive contexts. Things were absolute hell for a lot of people back then, but things are still bad for a whole lot of people, and (I feel like such a hypocrite for saying this as I'm the biggest pessimist/Weltschmerz endorser in the world) there were positive things in the past, as well. Things always have more than one side.

  5. People disconnect themselves from the meaning behind things all the time. In my opinion, it's just the way people are these days. I must agree that perhaps it was a mindless thing by the person to write, but that doesn't mean to say they aren't allowed to be influenced or inspired by such a notion, regardless of how obscure - or in this case, perhaps inappropriate - it may seem. Some people (Casey Chaos of the abysmal band Amen) is inspired by feotus' he collects in jars and I for one certainly cannot explain this. That was a pretty weird connection... I'm feeling pretty grunge today, so here goes: people are inspired by Kurt Cobain, but that doesn't mean they will stop washing their hair, replace toothpaste for an apple and commit suicide. His lyrics and point of view are what inspire most... hopefully.
    I think it's the same thing here. I sat pondering what you wrote, and though I understand where you are coming from, I doubt anyone looks at someone like Dita Von Teese and thinks that her take on 40's fashion isn't commendable. Practically doesn't mean that the clothes were not inspirational or beautiful. The way characters dressed in one of your favourite films/bbc documentaries Pride & Prejudice are beautiful, and we can look at them and say "yes I like that" without thinking about real life at the time, and how hard it was for poor people (a very vague and simplified comment, I know). You can listen to Ghost Town by The Specials and appreciate how good it is, and I'm positive many people often overlook its social and political context...
    If she said she was inspired by romanticism, then I'd allow her to be. If I imagined myself waiting for my boyfriend to come home to the war, I'm sure I would end up dressing extremely prettily and modestly and would no doubt spend ages mulling over what to wear. In this way, I think its pretty commendable.

    Fashion is a concept. Louise Gray (check her out if you haven't by the way. The most perfect designer on the planet)'s take on Raver fashion (leggings made to look like painted legs) started with the idea of what it would be like to be a raver (surely) at their peak - drugs, alcohol and, well, raves. I hate rave, but I'd dress in her clothing. John Galliano's collection a couple of years back, I seem to remember.., was inspired by himself - a man. I'd wear it but I don't want to be a man (what on EARTH am I getting at here!?)

    My point is, you SHOULD disconnect yourself from context. Clothing is clothing. It is (or should be) fun, and exciting. It should be ok for us to be inspired by anything. It isn't disrespectful, in some way I suppose it's appreciative of the women that manage to appear so controlled and glamourous in these times. Just because we have rights and freedom to wear anything doesn't mean we can't because of the past. We can because of the past - and you love the past!!! x