October 15, 2012
Stories about dress code enforcement have continued to pop up in the news. For work, school and leisure, strict rules about proper etiquette are bulleted on website after website. No trench coats to high school. No low-backed dresses to prom. No visible tattoos and piercings on teachers. No hooded sweatshirts if you’re going out dancing. No zippered jackets when visiting a magic castle. No satin (unless it’s from Betsey Johnson or Dolce & Gabbana) to pledge a sorority. Lots of regulations from the powers that be—some with explanations, others just because.
When it came to dressing for high school in the early to mid-1960s, the clean, neatly shorn and well-pressed conformity of the student body, with its tucked-in shirts and shined shoes, was expected. I came upon a handful of strongly worded dress codes from the ’60s itemizing what was acceptable and unacceptable—from clothes to hairstyles, accessories and makeup—and I’ve excerpted my favorite bits or reprinted full guidelines. What could get you sent home from school reflected the cultural trends on the cusp of ’60s counterculture revolution. Perhaps square school administrators were pulling in the reins in anticipation of the bell-bottoms and long hair that were just on the horizon.
From Pius X High School in Downey, California: no “flat tops” or “duck tail” haircuts!
1. The clothing and grooming of the student should reflect his serious attitude toward school and his own person. Two extremes are to be avoided: both a careless, untidy appearance, and a vain, effeminate use of extreme fashions. What the school seeks to promote in a student is a clean, neat, neat [sic], well-groomed, manly appearance.
3. The student may not wear: tennis shoes, sandals, shoes with taps or cleats (they mar the tile in the building), Levis, jeans, denim, pegged or draped trousers, a vest except under a coat, a shirt as a jacket, insignia of other than Pius X High School organizations, dirty or torn clothing.
5. The hair may not be worn in the following styles: “flat top” (any haircut with the hair shorter on the top than on the sides and back), upswept, “duck-tail”, or unusually long.
At Broward High School in Hollywood, Florida: no sun glasses may be worn in the classroom without permission!
1. Are to wear skirts, blouses, or dresses.
2. Shirt tails are to be tucked in.
3. Extreme sun dresses or culottes are not to be worn and bare mid-riffs are not allowed.
4. May not wear hair scarves, curlers, clips or other hair setting paraphernalia in the classroom.
5. Socks or peds must be worn with sneakers.
1. Must wear shirts properly buttoned and long trousers.
2. Belts are required if trousers have belt loops.
3. All shirt tails must be worn inside trousers.
4. Faces must be clean shaven.
5. Extreme or unusual haircuts are not permitted.
6. Socks must be worn.
ALL STUDENTS– Sun glasses may not be worn in the classroom without written permission from the Dean.
Thong sandals are not to be worn.
At Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow, New Hampshire: no “Beatle-boots” for boys!
1. Dungarees, shorts, and Beatle-boots are not acceptable.
2. Faces are to be clean-shaven.
3. Sport shirts may be worn, but fully buttoned.
1. Make-up is to be kept in moderation.
2. Skirts and dresses shall be worn at a proper length for teenagers.
3. Slacks and shorts are not acceptable as regular school wear.
Stay tuned as we continue to look back at dress codes and clothing etiquette. In the meantime, do you remember abiding by a dress code at school? Were you ever sent home for wearing the wrong thing?
August 27, 2012
“A spacesuit is made out of a flight suit, a Goodrich tire, a bra, a girdle, a raincoat, a tomato worm.”
From the book Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, by Nicholas de Monchaux
Or, that’s what a spacesuit was made from in 1969 when astronaut Neil Armstrong, who died this past weekend, donned the bulky, Pillsbury-Doughboy-looking suit of great engineering and design ingenuity to take humankind’s first steps on the moon.
A spacesuit is “the world’s smallest spacecraft,” explained MIT professor, engineer and spacesuit designer Dava Newman at the PopTech conference in 2011. This pressurized outerwear, designed for human survival in space, has to provide an astronaut with protection against the extreme environment, deliver oxygen, modulate temperature and equally important, allow mobility for the wearer to work.
Over 300 spacesuits, including the one Armstrong wore on the Apollo 11 mission, are in the Smithsonian collection at the National Air and Space Museum. They are lovingly cared for, conserved and covered in muslin (to absorb the hydrochloric acid the suits emit) at a Smithsonian storage facility outside of Washington, D.C. And they require a lot of care. As Amanda Young, the former conservator for these suits and author of Spacesuits: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Collection, explained by Smithsonian in 2010, they were designed to withstand extreme conditions “for a short period but it turns out they can resist nothing for a long period of time.”
The evolution of the spacesuit has been one of trial and error, nixing skin-tight, multilayered garments that took a team to get on and off, as well as individualized, pressurized rolling balloon structures. But Armstrong’s handmade, completely customized suit (complete with an American flag stitched on the shoulder), the first garment to touch the surface the moon, was a product of the industrial division of the women’s bra manufacturer Playtex. The L.A. Review of Books, in reviewing Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, described how, as underdogs, the Playtex team secured the contract with their innovative-thinking, couture-level sewing skills and sheer determination:
ILC’s team [International Latex Corporation, a division of Playtex], a motley group of seamstresses and engineers, led by a car mechanic and a former television repairman, manages to convince NASA to let them enter their “test suit” in a closed, invitation-only competitive bid at their own expense. They spend six weeks working around the clock—at times breaking into their own offices to work 24-hour shifts—to arrive at a suit solution that starkly outperforms the two invited competitors. In open, direct competition with larger, more moneyed companies, ILC manages to produce a superior space suit by drawing on the craft-culture handiwork and expertise of seamstresses, rather than on the hard-line culture of engineering.
Playtex’s design and construction, seen by millions after Armstrong made his lunar landing, brought space age fashion collections to a frenzied pitch in the late 1960s. Designers had been toying with styles for a few years in anticipation of the moon landing. Spearheaded by designers Paco Rabanne, Pierre Cardin and Andre Courreges, their far-out interpretations of garments-of-the-future became all the rage.
Today, with the future of NASA’s space program uncertain, we look back on those retro futuristic fashions with wistful nostalgia. But, with the enormously exciting success of the Curiosity roving on Mars and people like Richard Branson planning intergalactic vacations, we need to continue innovating on what we’ll wear in the cosmos. Dava Newman is at the forefront, working on a “bio-suit” that will work like a second skin in space.
To learn more about what we may be wearing on Mars and check out a prototype of her team’s design, watch this short video from PopTech. I imagine Armstrong would’ve been moonwalking like Michael Jackson if he’d been wearing one of these.
August 24, 2012
My parents were married on June 20, 1971. Just before they left the celebration at the Hotel DuPont’s Gold Ballroom in Wilmington, Delaware, for their honeymoon, my mother changed out of a floor-length lace gown into hot pants. Red, white and blue polka-dotted hot pants and a long skirt with a slit up the front. That wardrobe choice is not surprising given that 1971 was the year of the hot pants.
As my parents drove away with “Just Married!” scribbled across the back windshield of their car, I wonder what song was playing on the radio. That question crossed my mind because when hot pants took the fashion world by storm (a quick lightning storm considering the brevity of the trend), their effect could also be felt in the music industry. So it’s quite possible the newlyweds were grooving to Lee Sain’s “Them Hotpants” while my mom was actually wearing them.
This week, Gretta Cohn, producer of WNYC’s Soundcheck, put together a great story, Hot Pants: A Short, Happy and Musical Career, which looks at the short-lived fashion trend and how it played out in music. Along the way, she checked in with her own mother to gauge how the rump-emphasizing, stare-inducing, song-inspiring bottoms were embraced (or rejected) by the women’s liberation movement. Swap out hot pants for Helen Gurley Brown and her sexually charged Cosmo covers, and we were having a similar conversation on Threaded last week.
Accompanying Cohn’s article, which I’ve excerpted below, is a related audio segment from Soundcheck’s podcast and a hot pants-themed playlist with songs from the likes of James Brown (“Hot Pants (She Got to Use What She Got to Get What She Wants)”), Bobby Byrd (“Hot Pants/I’m Coming, I’m Coming”) and the Dramatics (“Hot Pants in the Summertime”). It’s amusing, if not disconcerting, to think that my mother and Cohn’s mother played a part in getting these musicians hot and bothered for hot pants.
Enjoy the post and playlist – with your hot pants cocktail!
The excerpt from Cohn:
In the first months of 1971, hot pants (as the B-52s later put it) burned, sizzled and just plain exploded. They were on the runways, in shopping malls and the pages of McCall’s Needlework and Crafts magazine. Women wore short shorts in the office and at the altar. And, they were on the pop charts too, starting with James Brown’s tribute to the garment, the three-part single called “Hot Pants (She Got to Use What She Got to Get What She Wants).”
Like many fashion fads, the skimpy shorts (maximum inseam of two inches) were not destined to become a mainstay, despite how on-trend they were initially. In its December 31, 1971 issue, Life magazine summed up the year, sartorially speaking, this way: “Hot Pants: A short but happy career.” But the pants, which were hot until they were not, made a long, lasting impression.
There are many reasons why 1971 was the perfect moment for a hot pants explosion. New fabric technology, like polyester, allowed for tiny, stretchy shorts ideal for the dance floor. The form-fitting garments fed into and came out of new dieting trends, as women were increasingly obsessed with “watching their figures.” And the sexual revolution opened the door for more revealing clothing, and more skin.
But like so many fashion trends, hot pants didn’t originate in the United States. The British fashion designer who takes credit for launching the legs of millions is Mary Quant—known widely for pioneering the mod look in the 1960s with fitted shirts for men and miniskirts for women. And it was overseas during his 1970 European tour where James Brown saw hot pants for the first time. He decided he’d bring them back home, musically speaking.
It was hardly an off-topic tune for Brown, as RJ Smith, Brown’s biographer told me:
“He wrote a song called ‘The Spank,’ which was his word for the female anatomy,” Smith says. “An album called Goodness Sakes Take Look at Those Cakes… A half a dozen songs with the title ‘Popcorn.’ He just liked tuchis. He liked it so much he kept singing about it.”
Read the complete post on Soundcheck.
August 10, 2012
The XXX Olympiad nears its end, and soon our athletes will be saying goodbye to the crowds and the cameras, finally exhaling, and heading back across the pond to the States. Yes, packing is on my mind again, but it must feel weird to stand there, looking around your Olympic village digs, packing up your clothes and gear, and then carefully folding your opening ceremony outfit, wondering what you are going to do with Ralph Lauren’s fitted navy blazers and cream trousers/skirts and matching head wear?
Besides embarrassment at Lauren’s scandalous mode of manufacturing (made in China!), I wonder what the athletes thought of their duds. Yes, the customary opening night uniforms were weird. But they often are. By now, it is nearly a tradition for Olympians to parade around in front of the world in questionable dress. Let’s take a look at some notable moments.
1984 was mild: on their home turf of Los Angeles, the American team dressed down in unisex tracksuits, red visors and white kicks.
Four years later, the U.S. female athletes looked oddly girly, in prairie skirts, oversized baby blue sweatshirts with swirly designs, and little red ribbon neckties – like athletic Stepford Wives, except for the right-on-trend 80s hair.
In 2000, in Sydney, being American apparently meant wearing rodeo formal. Look closely: that was only 12 years ago. For the women, it was Anne Taylor meets cowgirl with white ten-gallon hats, red boxy blazers like some kind of western Working Girl, dowdy full skirts, patriotic silk scarves and prim white stockings. The men were prep school seniors with an odd ensemble that somehow included tasseled loafers and cowboy hats.
Back on home turf for the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City, we returned to the casual look. Berets, fleeces warm-up jackets, and…white turtlenecks? Oh, and then-President Bush stopped by to hang with the Olympians.
At the 2008 Beijing games, the unisex uniforms had an updated classic, tidy look: well-fitting navy blazers with the Ralph Lauren logo over one breast pocket (just a minor product placement) and the Olympic logo over the other, white trousers, straightforward red, white and blue striped ties and the most prominent accessory – white pageboy caps.
Preparing for a blustery opening ceremony at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, U.S. Olympians work unisex, practical outfits – black hiking boots, puffy North Face-style coats – with a couple of notable details: the white tapered pants tucked into E.G. Smith-style socks were a very deliberate choice in the skinny jean era, as were the cozy, handmade-looking knit caps (reindeer and all!).
While the opening ceremony outfits have evolved over the years, that sense of pride and excitement has not, and that’s the point of wearing matching costumes, right? For the sake of America’s pioneering spirit, I want the next designer to forget Ralph Lauren’s retro-classicism, and maybe branch out into the great beyond. I mean the Japanese already showed up in swirling, rainbow-colored capes in 2000. Where can we go from there?
July 11, 2012
I was in that stage of packing where the suitcase was empty and the bed was piled haphazardly with clothes and the closet looks ransacked, when I suddenly and fondly recalled preparing for summer camp at Timber Tops in the Poconos. Every year we’d get that list from Timber Tops, a numerically descending inventory of summer: 15 pairs of socks, 15 pairs of underwear, 10 T-shirts, 5 pairs of shorts, 3 towels, 2 bathing suits, 1 pair of long pants, 1 long-sleeved shirt, 1 pair of sneakers, 1 pair of flip-flops, toothpaste, toothbrush, sunblock, bug spray. It was such a methodically satisfying process, gathering those items: Here was everything you needed for fun and freedom, and all you had to do was go down the list, cross the items off, fold them neatly into a duffel bag and head into the woods.
Today, no one gives you a list. What should the young professional woman in New York City pack for her frequent and varied travels? If only someone would itemize the few basic pieces I could throw in a bag at a moment’s notice that would accommodate any location or circumstance, garments that are easy and flexible but still feel stylistically appropriate (which, for me, discounts the ever-popular pants that unzip into shorts). Looking at my suitcase, I wanted a Timber Tops list for adulthood.
And then I remembered Joan Didion’s packing list from The White Album, which I quickly found on my bookshelf:
To Pack and Wear:
2 jerseys or leotards
1 pullover sweater
2 pair shoes
nightgown, robe slippers
bag with: shampoo, toothbrush and paste, Basis soap, razor, deodorant, aspirin, prescriptions, Tampax, face cream, powder, baby oil
2 legal pads and pens
This is a list which was taped inside my closet door in Hollywood during those years when I was reporting more or less steadily. The list enabled me to pack, without thinking, for any piece I was likely to do. Notice the deliberate anonymity of costume: in a skirt, a leotard, and stockings, I could pass on either side of the culture. Notice the mohair throw for trunk-line flights (i.e. no blankets) and for the motel room in which the air conditioning could not be turned off. Notice the bourbon for the same motel room. Notice the typewriter for the airport, coming home: the idea was to turn in the Hertz car, check in, find an empty bench, and start typing the day’s notes.
—Joan Didion, The White Album
That list has stuck with me since I read The White Album and Didion became one of my favorite authors. I had the opportunity to meet Didion once, and in person she is a smaller-than-small apparition who speaks in a whisper, but you could still hear her robust, unceasing voice: Hers are words powerful enough to shift the way I saw the world. And this here, her packing list, was an itemized lens through which she saw the world. Her traveling uniform, her stuff—bra; nightgown; Tampax—could just as easily find their way into my own suitcase. I love how the simplicity of the list, what she travels with, stands in contrast to the complexity of the writing that comes from those travels.
And I’m not the only one! A January/February 2012 article in the Atlantic by Caitlin Flanagan captures the sentiment as well:
I once watched a hysterically sycophantic male academic ask Didion about her description of what she wore in Haight-Ashbury so that she could pass with both the straights and the freaks. “I’m not good with clothes,” he admitted, “so I don’t remember what it was.” Not remembering what Joan wore in the Haight (a skirt with a leotard and stockings) is like not remembering what Ahab was trying to kill in Moby-Dick.
Women who encountered Joan Didion when they were young received from her a way of being female and being writers that no one else could give them. She was our Hunter Thompson, and Slouching Towards Bethlehem was our Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He gave the boys twisted pig-fuckers and quarts of tequila; she gave us quiet days in Malibu and flowers in our hair. “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold,” Thompson wrote. “All I ever did to that apartment was hang fifty yards of yellow theatrical silk across the bedroom windows, because I had some idea that the gold light would make me feel better,” Didion wrote.
Author and poet Meghan O’Rourke, mentioned in this Atlantic piece, also shared my enthusiasm about Didion’s packing list. I asked her why. She responded via e-mail:
There’s something about the precision of that list, and how the intimacy of the domestic detail broke the 4th wall between writer and reader, reporter and her text—making it all seem more real. I think it was also seeing myself reflected in it: the way I always worry over what to pack and wear when about to do something professional. One would never see a man write about his packing list—so there was a jolt of the familiar, of making a space for women who do this work. Also, frankly, it was the appeal of the uniform—going out into the world can be so vexing; Didion had found this kind of armor, a feminine armor, and I responded to that.
In Didion’s list, there was an intimacy in her plain documentation. Some telling detail in mundane disguise. And it made me curious about other packing lists in literature, art and so forth. I’ve dug up a few others that I’ll be sharing over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, what would you include in your list?