Saturday, August 1, 2015

Women's Fashion Through the Years and Through the Movies

Marlene Dietrich in her iconic tux.
Once we lost the bone corset and the hoop skirt made out of wire (basically sounds like articles that belong in a torture chamber rather than on a woman's body) fashion changed quite drastically. After the suffrage movement, there was a big need for women to behave, look, and mimic men. The 20's era of women's fashion wasn't the most feminine, but it was quite unique. It was a time where a dress that goes above the ankle was still scandalous. The dresses were ones that hung like oversized burlap sacks over the feminine physique because they also lost the need to wear girdles or bras. They decorated them with fringe, rhinestones, and feathers, cut their hair short like men so it would be less to handle. It was a way of becoming more masculine while still showing off the beauty of womanhood. The make up of the times also changed drastically, considering at the turn of the century, there was barely any make up being worn by women, except for in high society circles. To touch on the opposite side of the spectrum, dark lipstick and eye-liner took over, where women started to look like burlesque performers and/or clowns. One woman in particular took that sentiment to a very literal level; Marlene Dietrich wore a tuxedo in Morocco and subsequently many times in real life. She later said that she never dressed for a man's attention, but for 'the look'.

Joan Crawford in a gown by Adrian who was the foremost designer for celebrity dresses in the 1930's, making all of his women more feminine, beautiful, and chic.
By the thirties, things had settled, the right to vote was ours and we as a species had calmed down. The dresses became flowy and long with empty backs and were made out of silk and satin. They were curve hugging and striking, very much accentuating the female anatomy. Now that most women had started to work; mostly as shop girls and stenographers, while in the office they would don pencil skirts and fitted suits adorned with fur. Katherine Hepburn was one of the few brave souls of that era to always wear pants. It was a risky move that eventually became her trademark. Later in life, she was asked if she even owned a skirt by Barbara Walters and she quipped 'I have one, I'll wear it to your funeral'. 

Grace Kelly encapsulated demure but still eye-catching fashion of the 1950's, of course barely anyone looked like her or had a body that carried clothes better.
Let's skip on over to the 50's and early 60's. Tiny wastes were in, as were shoulder pads, and demure button-downed dresses. The woman had moved back to the kitchen, was prescribed dexedrine and spent her day doing laundry and vacuuming. Just think of Betty Draper in the first two seasons of Mad Men. This is why vamps like Marilyn Monroe with her low cut dresses that she was basically sewn into was such a scandal. With a body built for sin, she had no reservations about hiding it, especially because in the start, it was her bread and butter. 
Marilyn Monroe in her infamous 'Happy Birthday Mr. President' dress made of nude-colored fabric and beads that barely hid anything and definitely made a statement. It was the pinnacle of her penchant for shocking fashion statements.
By the late 60's, with the second wave of feminism being a prominent force in American dissent, pants were now just as common on women as they were on men. It was a questionable time for fashion. Low-riders (I don't care how flat your stomach is) are not flattering, neither are elephant flares and knits. But by the Summer of Love, we were lucky people were wearing ANYTHING. The hair got long and unkempt, and basically it was a free-for-all, I suppose the biggest fashion icons of that time were Ali McGraw and Barbara Streisand, who each in their own way, made the questionable fashion choices of that era chic. 

Dustin Hoffman pulled off the horrible fashion statements of the 80's much better than any woman on celluloid that I can remember. 
The 80's...why don't we skip that. We can sum it up in very few words; shoulder pads, flacid bows, and Laura Ashley. It was perhaps the most unflattering time for women's fashion. Someone once said that the shoulder pad problem was so bad that women clearly wanted to look like a bunch of line backers. Perhaps the female fashion icon of the 80's is Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie

Believe it or not, my mother dressed me like this for the majority of my adolescence still when I started dressing myself in Birkenstocks, electric blue eye-shadow, and micro-mini's, I have to say she had the right idea. 
Now, on to the era that I really love...and also hate to a degree, the icons of which were Courtney Love in her baby doll dress and lace up pleather boots, Kate Moss and her androgynous skinny jeans and oversized t-shirts, and of course Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green with that hair cut we all remember, and down-to-earth casual 90's style. It was a time to get back to basics. But for some reason I was always dressed in embellished Blossom-esque hats, velvet overalls, and fake suspenders (I'm serious). The 90's were definitely two eras of fashion. The early ones were all about women dressing very earthy like they are standing in line for Lilith Fair tickets, and the second part was filled with body glitter, cargo pants, and plum lipstick. Thanks for that Gwen Stefani. 
Walking art. Nicole Kidman was the only one in my opinion that could pull off a designer gown better than the model on the runway.
And what are we up to now? Thank god the first decade of the 00's is over and we no longer wear Juicy Couture, trucker hats, and midriff tops (it was such a dark time). One fashion icon that has held her own for close to two decades now and still doesn't miss a beat and always ends up on everyone's Best Dressed list is Nicole Kidman. With the body of a porcelain doll that eats a rice cake a year, she can wear sweat pants from Walgreens or Valentino couture and make it look gorgeous. Not that she'd ever be caught dead in sweat pants. Taylor Swift also has her whole renewed image going. Starting from a country bumpkin look with her long blonde curly hair, and cowboy boots to a closet full of Louboutins and sailor shorts (also, since when did the cat become an accessory, much better than Paris Hilton's ferret, am I right?). My current favorite has to be a cross between Emma Watson and Tilda Swinton who both got back on the androgyny train and still manage to make it look sexy, feminine and incredibly chic. Whether on the red carpet wearing Balenciaga couture or grocery shopping, they are on fleek (can't believe I just said that). It's important to mix the feminine sensuality with sophistication and they've both done so brilliantly while being about 20 years apart in age. Oh and by the way, wearing a lot of designer high-end clothing does NOT make you chic. Every red carpet Kristen Stewart attends she's draped in Zuhair Murad (one of the most innovative designers right now) and she can't even stand up straight? It's a crime to fashion...and to women. Now if we could just lose the skinny jeans, the ironic vintage T's, and the raccoon eye-make up we'd actually have a good era going on right now. Let's get at it. 

Below, clips to illustrate my point. 

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