Fashion & Politics 2010: Flying Blindly Backwards

Consider the fashions today.   Do you think the images mean anything significant?

Witness Tommy Hilfiger’s faux family lounging around their Ford woodie Wagon on butterfly chairs and atop Tartan metal coolers—striped university colored scarves and camel haired coats, tweeds and turtlenecks.  Here we have quintessential prep school graduates, a family of rich people with nothing to do but attend football games and prepare picnics for each other.  When the same ‘folks’ dress up,  Nordstrom dresses the men in pinstripes while dinner parties at Kate Spade have men in suit and tie, women in basic black cocktail dresses–unchanged since 1950.

Guess channels the hoodlum look of Rebel without a Cause-in a mini-series picture ad—the Bridget Bargot cutie with puckered presumably (the ad’s in retro black and white) powder pink lipstick offers a cherry from her coke, meets a James Dean lookalike, his pompadour dripping with Bristol Crème, on the next page , licks her straw suggestively and of course comes together, Broadway musical –style, with him on the final page.  In an alternate Guess spread we have a Jackie Kennedy cum Sophia Loren type in white cashmere coat, signature huge sunglasses, retro suitcases  and a lacy slip of a dress rushing somewhere under the spotlight of a set.  Pencil skirts and platform shoes, Madras plaids and Pin-up gals gallop all over the pages of Vanity Faire and Vogue

Kathy Griffin’s “Salute the Troops” show on vhl  is pure Varda – provocative blondes like those on calendars my Dad stashed in his studio.  Oh we have the occasional throwback of tie dyes and ruffles of the 60s in Juicy Couture and  Elle, in its 25th Anniversary issue, includes this look but simply as one of the “Classics” that also include the  “Safari Look” –think how splendid it is for the great white man and his cohort/wife to go out and  slay big wild animals on the ‘Dark Continent’–, the “Camouflage Look”—isn’t war wonderful—so many jobs!!  Think how good Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq have been for the economy???  Well, for Haliburton anyway.  and –the “Motocross Look” look –  really West Side Story returns (see above) .

Meanwhile Vanity Faire does a big article on the Barbizon Hotel where, in the 40s, after successfully passing “looks, dress and demeanor” tests, young girls just out of their Seven Sisters sorority houses came to live and work a year or two in Manhattan before retiring to Connecticut or Westchester to replicate their privileged childhoods through to the next generation. Pictures show a genteel Grace Kelly having brunch, and a virginal blonde Ginger Rogers being tempted out of bed by a –surprize–dark haired vamp—one Katherine Hepburn—This was the world of the Plaza Hotel, of skating at Rockefeller Center, shopping on Fifth Avenue and seeing Broadway plays.  Aldo’s got their blonde perched atop a 50s Nickelodean and Sam Edelman has a girl in a rubber swim cap and slippers—shades of Esther Williams and of water ballet garb at country clubs in the 50s– while in another ad, a preppy in Bermuda shorts, aviators and a sports shirt with hanky in the pocket waterskiis in front of presumably his mansion in Miami.

Lest we leave out the hair dye ads my mother followed—was it Clairol who gave us the blonde, redhead and brunette triplets??  They’re back nearly intact in Clairol’s Nice’nEasy ads and Express delivers the same long curly locks on three lovelies, with one a very light African-American (toss that to the multicultis)

Or check out September Vogue’s spread wherein a platinum blonde channels Lana Turner in high necked cashmere sweaters and either pencil or circle skirts.  She wears a dainty diamond studded cross, her signature of virginity complemented by the crossed arms saying “don’t touch me ‘til we’re married.”  But just in case her purity’s too convincing—- the girl reclines invitingly on a Danish modern couch on one page and on another, she reveals just enough cleavage beneath her leopard cardigan (read—there’s a sexual kitten waiting for you) to keep the boys coming round to woo her.  The editors, though, seem to cast her as a married virgin: “In another age, suburban wives kept house—and themselves—pristine”

“We are so ready for Spring”  fashion editors at Vogue proclaim and guess what we are given?  A blonde girl in pink perches on a New York  Times dispenser—can intelligence be acquired, by osmosis,  directly from the bottom up??  Another blonde  in  5” golden platforms and a flowered pencil skirt snaps photos while her stripe-suited suitor leans against a Bentley—she’s no tramp though, appearing later in the spread in a flowery puff sleeved dress down to her ankles.

Flip through Vanity Faire, Vogue, Glamour, Elle, People, Us, or whatever popular rag you choose and astonishingly you’ll discover that the Liberation movements of the 60s apparently never happened.  You’ll find most women are young and blonde–still. Black woman are rare and have Caucasian-style straight hair and the few Asians are lovely sylph-like creatures—more Geisha than real.  Latinas?  Almost absent—Jennifer Lopez does the trick for the Americas, doesn’t she, after all?

In this age we have media-grabbing Palin and her “don’t tax me” Tea Partiers who want to vanish the last fifty years, who  would like us to return to the nice world of Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver—an utterly white world where Black people are still in the kitchen, where Latinos are still in Mexico or wherever they’re from and Asians haven’t really gotten on the boat yet.  Ah yes, the delightful world of cottages with big lawns, cocker spaniel puppies and country clubs down the street, a world of Ivy League privilege of the very very few.  It was a pre-Feminist, pre-multicultural world, a world where no one would think of sitting in where they weren’t welcome, a world of proper courtesy and everyone had a place in society—a safe world where corporations were just growing into their megalithic own but where the small town and the local business were the ideal to which the well-off white people—just like all the pretty people in the ads of 2010– strived—pre-Beatnik—pre-Hippie—pre-antiwar protest,  pre-Civil Rights, pre-everything that jarred the white world out its smug complacency and absolute power.