Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Shoe Timeline Part 6: 1960-1970


What’s going on?  What isn’t going on is the more appropriate question.  As Bob Dylan said just five years before he plugged in his guitar and caused a notable stir, “The times they are a changin’.”  And they were in constant shift.  Rebellion against the nuclear family and “the man” came to a head, with many different sectors threatening a revolution, which never came.  Hippies and freaks, heads and druggies, Dr. Timothy Leary and the Beatles, the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Andy Warhol and Marilyn Monroe, Charles Manson and the Sexual Revolution, One the Road and the Beatniks, the Black Panthers, Civil Rights Movements, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a slew of assassinations, the British Invasion and eastern influence: indeed, many factors contributed to the melting pot of unrest and unrest turned into creation.  Suffice it to say, the 1960s isn’t an easy decade to pin down in a paragraph.  An important thing to keep in mind is that, in the middle of the country, many Americans are still holding onto the ideals and ideologies made so popular in the 1950s, while, on the coasts, a population of people (primarily youth) is beginning to “tune in, turn on, and drop out.”  There was a big philosophical dilemma amongst this subculture, and that was how to maintain a greater good while still receiving personal satisfaction.  They answered this question with communal living, drugs, music, and protests.  The majority of people who weren’t involved in this movement were scared of it.  They found hippie practices immoral and devastating to the previous decade’s “family friendly” atmosphere.  Arguably, the hippies were both, but they were also central to the shift of consciousness in America, when, for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, there were real things to care about; big things that affected millions of people worldwide. The end of the '60s was a tumultuous one, culminating in the Manson murders, the height of the Vietnam protests and the institution of the draft, the Rolling Stone's answer to Woodstock where the Hell's Angels kill several concert-goers, a huge police raid of a gay nightclub in San Francisco, and the break up of the Beatles.

 What were they wearing?  Women’s fashion became an enormous industry in the ‘60s.  Although in the previous decade women had been slaves to fashion, there was neither the modeling industry nor the 70 million children of baby boomers coming of age.  The ‘60s learned quickly to cater to this demographic and made excellent (if not highly depraved) work of commodifying identities.  By the time the hippie movement became a “fad” (1967, three or four years after it became a movement), any corner shop sold love beads, tie-dyed shirts, Go-go boots, and miniskirts. And, with the installation of Twiggy, one of the world’s first big-name models, women had quite a few identities to buy into. 

Men, too, had fashion icons during this time, most notably those four boys from Liverpool.  Yes, the Beatles, whose “mop top” label served well as a style for society to emulate, were much more than just architects behind a new music scene.  Still, this was initially a conservative look; not a far cry from the suits of the past decades.  As the ‘60s became more and more, well, the ‘60s, men’s fashion had an extreme makeover.  Think Austin Powers, in his velvet purple suit and frilly undershirt, add a five-inch wide psychedelically decorated tie and you’ll have a fairly accurate image of where fashion grew to during the decade.  In between, we had more people following the Beatles’ influence.  When they left their suits for Nehru jackets, people followed suit.  When they grew their hair even longer, people followed suit.  And the worst of the worst in fashion – and this is not the Beatles’ fault – polyester suits that stayed popular into the 1970s. 

Additionally popular during this age were the Beatniks, a group Jack Kerouac had form in 1948 and who remained active through the 1950s, though not nearly as popular.  (Can’t imagine why…) Essentially a group of starving artist hipsters, the Beatniks dressed in black with accompanying black berets and mutually lamented in emotional discontent, then wrote about it.  Similarly starving artists (read: youth who felt disenfranchised but not motivated to join the hippies) began to copy this style, with the apparent hope that dressing like a Beat would encourage artistic development and/or get them a publishing deal.

The Beatle Boot
What were they wearing on their feet?  Women had a variety of shoes to choose from.  The population that stayed away from the movements of the ‘60s kept their feet in stilettos, but others migrated to significantly lower, clunkier heels and Go-go boots and other platform shoes.  For men, the Beatles had in influence even in their footwear.  The “Beatles Boot,” also known as Chelsea or ankle boots, boasted most popularly a pointed toe (though version came with a rounded toe) and a small, Cuban heel.  These shoes were popular with men throughout the decade.  The more conservative man still had his Oxfords and loafers to fall back on, but they missed out on the Crayola box of colors and new materials (like suede!) that shoes were coming in.  The ‘60s made up for decades upon decades of stagnant men’s fashion. 

Hippies had a whole different scene going on on their feet.  The shift towards natural life meant that hippies wore moccasins, sandals, or often no shoes at all.  (We’ll see this barefoot movement come back into style at the turn of the century.)  For the hippies, their general style of no shirts, no shoes, and no service, coincided perfectly with the undefined freedom for which they were searching.


What’s going on? After the tumultuous end to the ‘60s in which revolutions imploded yet most everybody was still generally disillusioned, the game changed a slightly.  The ‘60s had left some significant marks, including some tangible ones, like civil rights and women’s liberation.  (I know what you’re thinking:  wasn’t there already a women’s liberation?  Yes, in the 1910s and 1920s, but then the 1950s happened.)  Due to these new societal advancements, there were elements of both extreme tension and free expression rampant in society.  The once-disenfranchised masses now wanted to rub in the faces of the people who had stifled that same freedom – namely white males.  Of course, there is such a thing as too much freedom in America, particularly for women, and, despite the pretext of freedom, white males still held the majority of the power.  So they pushed Valium and other mood stabilizers. Valium, the best selling pharmaceutical from 1969 – 1982 offered to help stave off housewives’ boredom as well as help working women balance their busy schedules; in reality, it put women back in their presumed place.

What were they wearing?  One of the more notable expressions was the turn to fashion androgyny.  Many of the fashions from the ‘60s carried over, including the ever-flattering muumuu, and everybody wore them without too much regard for gender rules.  A good word to classify fashion from this decade is “chaotic.”  Women could wear a miniskirt one day and a granny dress the next; and, for that matter, so could men!  Other options included bell-bottoms, halter-tops, painter’s pants, hot pants, and hip huggers.  Of course, no woman was complete with her Ferra Fawcett feathered hair-do! 

Once again, men had a golden decade in fashion.   Well, erm, that is to say they certainly weren’t constrained.  Rule of thumb:  if it was loud and kind of painful to look at, men wore it.  Their fashions were generally rollovers from the sixties – like the polyester suit and wide ties – but the 1970s put these already garish fashions on steroids, introducing clashing patterns and unnecessarily bright colors.  Needless to say the fashion police were on sabbatical during this decade.

What were they wearing on their feet?  If you weren’t wearing sneakers or anti-establishment shoes, you were wearing PLATFORMS!  The age of disco and its complementary big shoes encouraged all disco lovers – which was essentially everyone except rockers and conspiracy theorists from the ‘60s – to sport this gaudy footwear and to shake their groove things, shake their groove things, yeah, yeah. 

McDonald's? No, no, no. McHealthy.

Boy on right shows off his healthier option.  Well done, boy on right!
Yesterday McDonald's announced a revamp of its Happy Meal menu that would cut back on the fries portion (1.1 oz instead of 2.5), offer fries AND apple slices instead of either or, offer double serving of apples to replace fries, not offer the caramel dipping sauce that now automatically comes with the apples, first offer children and parents 1% regular or chocolate milk (though soda will still be available), and the big wigs have committed to "exploring" alternatives for the apple slices; ideas include carrot sticks, broccoli, or low fat dairy items.  Sum total, McDonald's boasts reducing Happy Meal calories by 20%.  This would bring the most caloric Happy Meal choice (4 piece chicken nuggets with small fries and 1% regular milk) from 520 calories to a more reasonable 380. 

No one is arguing that this new incentive towards "better nutrition" isn't a good thing, but unfortunately McDonald's is, of course, marketing this as healthy, which it still isn't.  Fried chicken nuggets and 1.1 oz of fries is not a balanced meal, despite the fruit and the low fat dairy beverage. In McDonald's defense, the restaurant offered to eliminate French fried entirely from the Happy Meals menu, but it was the parents and children who objected. That fact poses a dilemma:  When it was critics (mostly parents) of Micky D's unhealthy kid's options who pushed for this change - mind you, McDonald's is certainly not doing this for the added business - but they either won't or are afraid to go full turkey on the least nutritious part of the Happy Meal, one kind of has to ask what the hell was the point? (Aside: I really dislike any argument where I feel compelled to defend McDonald's.)

This is a garden salad.
The 20% calorie reduction could easily be accomplished by insisting that your child get apples instead of fries, sharing the small fries with your child, or simply choosing not to eat at McDonald's except once in a blue moon and instead introducing your McDonald's going family to DIY alternatives like turkey burgers, oven-baked French fries, or - Heavens to Betsy! - a salad.  You should know what those are; McDonald's offers them.  In case you don't, I've included a picture.  One allure of McDonald's, though, is their relatively cheap prices (on average a family of four, two adults and two children, can eat for about $20).  And, despite dropping portion sizes, McDonald's does not intend on reducing their prices, which means that the many parents who often have to choose between nutrition and value can choose to buy similar meals at other fast food restaurants. 

This kid f*^$ing loves McDonald's!
As aforementioned, McDonald's really isn't gaining anything on this nationwide new deal, especially since these confused PTA pushers can't seem to decide on what it really is they want from the multi-billion dollar corporation.  Last year in San Francisco, the city passed an ordinance that barred McDonald's in the Bay area from handing out toys with Happy Meals that didn't offer certain caloric standards, 35% or less calories from fat (except from nuts, eggs, or low fat dairy), and 640 mg. or less of sodium.  The city passed this on the belief that the Happy Meal toys filled children with a sense of glee and thus a great association with Happy Meals.  This is a significant step in the right direction and an excellent cue for these wishy-washy parents to drawn from.  The truth is this: no one is more responsible for your child's health than you.  There will always be McDonald'ses out there promising happiness in every meal.  But you can choose to offer this option to your child or not.  And you can choose to stand up for healthier options, because, apparently McDonald's listens. 

Dollywood hates the gays?

Well, okay, at least in my mind it's difficult to imagine anyone in the South explicitly hating anything because they're all so darn polite, but academics and thinkers and basically anyone with a brain knows that there are still a significant amount of prejudices rampant in the South (and across America and the world).  Apparently, however, according to Yahoo! news, a "lesbian" couple visiting Dollywood in Pigeon Ford, TN was essentially asked to hide their gay pride. (I put "lesbian" in quotes because this is how Yahoo! refereed to the couple, even though one partner identifies as a man, which technically makes them an "non-traditional" straight couple.)

Semantics aside, Jennifer Tipton and Olivier Odom, some friends, and two of their friends' children visited Dollywood July 9, 2011.  Odom wore a shirt reading, "Marriage is so gay." When they tried to enter the water park, the guard asked Odom to turn her shirt inside out because Dollywood is "a family park."  Not wanting to make a scene in front of the children, Odom complied, but is clearly and understandably upset by the notion that, because she supports a "non-traditional" lifestyle, she is automatically potentially offensive to others.

Despite the fact that neither TN nor the couple's home state of North Carolina acknowledges gay marriage, Odom and Tipton filed a complaint with the park because, as Odom said, "If marriage equality is going to happen, it's not going to happen if people sit at home quietly," or silently accept imposed lifestyle ideologies.  The couple issued a complaint to Pete Owens, Dollywood spokesmen, asking ""to implement policies that are inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; conduct staff sensitivity training; and issue a public statement indicating that the park is inclusive of all families." 

"The park is open every day to everybody," Owens said. "We try to provide an environment for families of all shapes and sizes to enjoy themselves."  (A savvy observer will note that Owens did not explicitly state that the park tries to provide and environment for families that differ from the nuclear one.)  Owens also states that the couples' complaint sparked a conversation amongst park employees about the ever-contentious dress code, which is obviously not the point Tiptom and Odom were trying to make.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Shoe Timeline Part 5: 1940-1950


What’s going on?  War.  Another World War, in fact, because evidently, the First World War – you’ll recall, the war to end all wars – didn’t quite cut the mustard.  Once again, Europe was ticked off at Germany, whose economy had depleted so rapidly after World War I that the people were looking to cling to any shred of hope, any leader who was eloquent and motivating.  Enter: Adolf Hitler.  America didn’t officially enter into the war until 1941 when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, though America had been supplying weaponry to the British.  When Hitler declared war on America a few days after Pearl Harbor, America, content to have their war with Japan and be done with it, was placed in an interesting predicament. Solution? Join the allies. And ultimately drop the first atom bomb.  Suddenly, just like during World War I, everyone was doing their all for the war effort.  Women found themselves back in manufacturing plants, making weapons for the war; men lied about the age to enlist. What persisted throughout this era, though, was the cinematographic dreamland that was Hollywood.  It had helped America get through the Depression, and it’s glitz, glamor, and big screen depictions of better times continued to remain a small source of optimism. 

What were they wearing? Although Parisian fashion fell out with the multitudes the decade prior due to the lack of funds to support fashion, when the Germans occupied Paris, Parisian fashion was not only out, it was entirely unattainable.  Additionally, with most manufacturing plants designated to making weapons and things essential for the war – like uniforms and boots for the winter – big wigs put restrictions on how much fabric was permitted for those left at home.  Consequently, designers had to cut some corners and voila!  Coordinating separates.  A-line and pencil skirts matched with feminine blouses or a simple jacket.  The lady’s suit – a shorter skirt with a straight jacket – came into fashion at this time, particularly because eveningwear became too callow.  I guess nobody really felt like dressing to the nines while reports came in daily about the latest casualties in Europe. 

Dior's "New Look"

It’s hard not to feel badly for men of this era.  Women at least received some sort of new look, despite the shortage of available materials, whereas menswear was simply stripped.  Their fall back – the suit – was now manufactured without vests or pockets, and their pants were no longer allowed to have pleats or cuffs.  Too much fabric.

By 1947, though World War II and its aftermath dominated the ambiance of the 1940s, designers were ready to get back to the cloth.  It was during this year that Christian Dior came out with a look that would influence the fashion for the next decade, appropriately called the “New Look.”  Dior returned the “feminine silhouette” to women’s fashion – read: another tiny waistline.  Men, on the other hand, got their suits back.  And they were better than ever!  Men could buy them in an ever-increasing array of colors, and also at their disposal were hand-painted ties featuring anything from foliage to pin-up girls.  The war does funny things to people. 

What were they wearing on their feet?  Because leather was strictly for military use, designers had to get creative.  They dug around in their bag of creative ideas and found reptile skins, cork, and mesh were the most durable materials.  In a sense, designers of the 1940s were quite ahead of themselves:  alligator handbags and snakeskin boots were right around the corner!

For men, Oxfords remained a popular style, but Brogues and Moccasins were also in fashion.  Women had some limited choices due to limitations on material, which also meant that heels could only rise to one inch in height and only came in six colors.  Come the 1950s, you can bet those women were missing those one-inch cork heels.


What’s going on?  Baby boomers and Elvis’ pelvis.  Ed Sullivan and the Yankees.  Leave it to Beaver and the nuclear family.  Housewives and father knows best.  Marilyn Monroe and American Bandstand.  In many ways, the 1950s was to World War II what the 1920s was to World War I.  Suddenly people had money again, and those who had survived the war were back with their families.  And, thanks to FDR and his G.I. Bill, had money for a home and for education.  This was a very family-centric decade, when televisions first became household items; food more consistently came from a Supermarket than a farm; gender roles were identified and not broken; Americans took to their cars (and to their hula hoops!); and damned if everything wasn’t just-so. 

What were they wearing?  Rosie the Riveter appeared again in World War II, but it’s the 1950s, so it’s time to shove that women’s liberation stuff back where it belongs:  the bottom of the dumpster.  Women’s liberation was having children to raise, a house to clean, parties to plan, and a husband to obey.  And oh, how liberating it was!  No more pesky jobs or working, no, no! A woman’s place was a home.  With a broom and some dish gloves, but don’t forget the pearl necklace.  In all seriousness, though, if there were one word to describe this decade it would be “prepilicious.”  It was considered normal for women to don themselves with Dior’s “New Look” (1947) and other similar designs.  From a very young age, mothers taught their daughters to be ladylike, wear their poodle skirts and cardigans, their pearls and their white gloves, their petticoats and their pedal pushers.  Adult women accentuated every ladylike curve, and the media encouraged them to constantly play up their femininity.  Often, this meant wriggling yourself into the modern version of a corset: the girdle.  Once again, the natural form was out, and the illusion of having an hourglass figure and a Scarlet O’Hara waist was a sign of a life well lived.  And don't forget the stockings!  After living with them for the better part of a decade, they were at long last available again...and to all women to the apparent elation and appreciation of all men!  Aren't you just shrieking with joy?

If the women of this decade dressed conservatively, men from this decade were downright boring.  Except for their socks.  Their Day Glo colored socks were quite exciting.  But other than the occasional James Dean or Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli-type “rebel” dressed in a leather jacket and jeans with a Pompadour hairstyle, most men wore – are you ready for this? – grey suits.  Flannel was the fabric of the time, and the television assured Americans that every workingman after returning from work placed his hat on the hat stand and said, “Honey, I’m home!” 

What were they wearing on their feet?    
The 1950s saw the birth of the stiletto heel, which some attribute to designer Roger Vivier and others to designer Charles Jourdan.  Regardless of which sadistic man created this shoe, the ideal 1950s woman added to her womanity with a pair of stilettos in which she vacuumed, made dinner, entertained, and sat around the house complaining about how much her feet hurt.  Meaning “thin-bladed knife,” the thin, long heel of a stiletto – often only half a centimeter thick and five inches tall or more – is a dangerous and highly impractical shoe.  Uneven sidewalks, water grates, tile floors, and dirt all wreak havoc on stiletto wearers, who must teach themselves to walk in such heels to avoid near certain calamity.  However, as many advocates will happily point out, their purpose is not practicality, but rather a certain aesthetic.  In the 1950s that certain aesthetic was femininity, and stilettos replaced hats, pearls, and even gloves as the must-have accessory.  Not owning a pair of stilettos was a sure sign that your had resigned yourself to a life of spinsterdom, where you would live in a house alone with ten cats and lament about never having the joys of children to nurture or the comfort of a strong, loving American man, or all the materialistic goods the nuclear life entailed.  Additionally, it was necessary to own as many as possible to pair with any outfit you might so desire to wear.  God forbid your shoes didn’t perfectly coordinate with your dress!

Younger girls, school age or younger, thankfully didn’t wear stilettos; although you can be certain that dear old mommy bred her from an early age to want to.  Instead, they wore loafers, pedal pushers, or ballet slippers, all with those adorable little bobby socks. 

As you might have expected, men’s shoes are still a bit boring.  Oxfords were still popular, as were buck shoes, and Converse sneakers.    

Praise for "The Hunger Games," Book 1: The Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins' triology, The Hunger Games, launches the reader into a post-apocalyptic universe that is scarily not so distant from our own.  In Panem, a dictatorship consisting of thirteen districts, in what was once North America, quality of life ranges from plush and frivolously lucrative to downright disparity.

Collins introduces us to 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, an avid hunter, from District 12, the coal mining district.  Katniss' father died several years prior in a coal mining accident, which sent her mother into a state of depression and left her nearly catatonic.  Consequently, Katniss has assumed the role of leader of the house, hunting and providing for her family along with her best friend and potential love interest, Gale, trading her game at the Seam (their equivalent of a black market) - both illegal acts - and receiving tesserae, a measly grain that is delivered to her family monthly at a grave price.  For each tesserae year Katniss receives tesserae, her name is entered into the tribute lottery.

Reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's disturbing and remarkable story, The Lottery, all districts except the Capitol must supply two tributes to compete in The Hunger Games.  When her 12-year-old sister Prim's name is picked for the 74th annual Hunger Games, Katniss, fiercely protective, assumes her place.  When she discovers that the other tribute is none other than Peeta Mellark, a boy to whom Katniss believes she owes her life, the head games begin.

Katniss and Peeta are whisked away to the Capitol where a team of stylists polishes and costumes them, creating Katniss' persona:  the girl who was on fire.  Their mentor, Haymitch, the only tribute from District 12 to ever win a Hunger Game, uses a strategy where her presents Katniss and Peeta as lovers.  Peeta, we discover, is genuine, while Katniss is simply a confused girl, fighting for her life.  Regardless, the Capitol - supporters of the Hunger Games - absolutely eat up this arrangement.

In the arena there can only be one victor.  Everyone must fight to the death or risk being overtaken by myriad vicious and dangerous ploys that the Gamemakers create.  The arenas vary from year to year, and always present new challenges so as to keep the audiences, who watch either because they have to or because they enjoy it, entertained.  Life in the arena is about as far from normal as possible, yet remains a horrifying reality for the 24 tributes forced inside.  Muttations - mutated creatures with gruesome powers - natural disasters, and numerous mind games wreak havoc with the contestants, and we become consumed with Katniss' inner turmoil:  Peeta or Gale? Will her mother and sister survive without her? What is it like to kill a human? If she survives, how will she get past it?

Defying all odds, Katniss and Peeta become Panem's sweethearts - the William and Kate of their day. Using this newfound celebrity, they outsmart the Gamemakers, but leave the door wide open for future personal drama, which we certainly find in book 2, Catching Fire.

Collins weaves a deranged commentary on class, race, and love that leaves us wanting to turn the pages. Despite The Hunger Games being classed as Young Adult Fiction (YAF), this tale is surprisingly adult in its premise. This reviewer would recommend knowing the young adult who chooses to read this book and also recommends that parents read along, because there are numerous graphic images and difficult situations. All in all: 4.5/5 stars.

Pros:  Readability. Plot. Psychologically disturbing. Well-developed characters. Excellent analogy to present social problems.

Cons: The apparently required love triangle present in YAF. Time switch can be unsettling.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Shoe Timeline Part 4: 1920-1930


What’s going on?  With the war to end all wars ended, the 1920s were a time of celebration.  Full and functional factories plus a climbing stock market meant that many people had money to burn and were looking for fun, which they found in Speak Easies, bathtub gin, the Model T Ford, and the first movies with sound.  Flappers abounded, suffragettes fought for women’s rights, and optimism soared:  it was a great time to be alive!

What were they wearing?  Thanks to Hollywood messing with your head again, you probably think flappers were found all throughout the roaring ‘20s.  Well, they weren’t.  In fact, they didn’t appear until 1926 and the phase only lasted for about two years.  Before the flappers, women’s fashion hadn’t changed much.  After the flappers, skirts were shorter – a daring knee length – and shoulders were broader.  Day-to-day women’s fashion reflected the androgynous trend the flappers started.  Shapeless dresses that flattened the bust and cinched below the waist so as to not emphasize any curves, coupled with a short haircut made women appear almost mannish, if it weren’t for their heels and makeup.  Remember, too, that an ongoing movement led by women for a woman’s right to vote was in full swing in the ‘20s, so fashion, as it does, followed popularity, and echoed the sounds of suffragette voices crying: We want equal rights with men.  Apparently that included dressing like them.

Are those some absolutely enormous pants,
or are you just happy to see me?
Men had two new options for pants:  knickerbockers and baggy pants (1925).  Knickerbockers came in four styles – plus-four, plus-six, plus-eight, and plus-ten – depending on how far below the knee you wanted them.  Many – saw these pants as frivolous – despite their popularity with society’s upper echelons – and Oxford University banned them in 1925, at which time they conveniently introduced the baggy pant. 

The baggy pant measured anywhere from 22-40 inches wide (big enough to hide a pair of knickerbockers comfortably underneath for those inevitable rule breakers).  Americans loved this British pant, particularly in Tweed or flannel.

What were they wearing on their feet?  Again, men had their fallback black patent leather shoes for the formal occasions.  Casual wear required two-tone shoes, either black and white or tan and white Oxfords.  Fringed tongues and lace-ups were the most popular variety.

Women had some outrageously cute shoes during the ‘20s.  Bar shoes (a.k.a. shoes with straps) were enormously popular during this decade of frivolity because one could party-hardy and their shoes wouldn’t fall off.  Ankle straps and t-straps were the most popular varieties and were for evening and afternoon respectively.


What’s going on?  Well…the fun is over.  As of 1929, the stock market – booming the decade before – crashed.  And many people are left without work and money.  To add insult to injury, there is very little water in the Midwest and torturous storms called dustbowls decimate property and kill civilians who can’t help breathing the stuff in. The United States battles The Great Depression while Adolph Hitler rallies for Aryan control of Germany.  Displaced farmers, bludgeoned by drought and poverty, press their luck and head out to California, the Promised Land. 

What were they wearing?  When your family’s farm has gone under, you can’t afford to put food on the table, and your life has otherwise turned into a country song, you start to put things into perspective, which is what had to happen in the 1930s when people realized that all the fun they’d had just a decade before was a distant dream.  Only the very, very well off could afford to continue buying into fashion; anyone else couldn’t even afford to look at a Chanel gown.  Thusly, the fashion industry had to create clothes that were inexpensive, classic, and durable.  Women, particularly those women who had once been able to afford the luxury of fashion, didn’t want to be draped in rags.  They wanted dresses that were above fashion (think the classic little black dress, or a straight-legged black, brown, grey, or navy trouser).  So, designers gave women a dress with a higher waistline, an option of mid-length or long – depending on day or evening – and zippers.  Enter the zipper, because nobody could afford buttons.  Fashion sang the most tragic country song of the decade, it would seem, with lyrics that went a little like:  I ain’t got no farm, I ain’t got no money, so I have to wear this crappy dress.  Yes, it’ll last me decades, and I bought it for a nickel, but I miss my furs, nonetheless.  I can’t afford the buttons, so I’ve gotta use this zipper, and I have to wear this clunky shoe, not my silken slipper.”  Actually, contrary to that made up country song, furs were still big in the 1930s; a rollover from the ‘20s, certainly, and one of those luxuries people fought hard for.

Bette Davis
It was during this decade that movies became a hallmark of entertainment.  Even though normal people couldn’t afford the fashions they saw movie stars wear, they could afford the low ticket prices, and gawk at the glamorous outfits worn by the stars of the day, like Bette Davis, Fay Wray, Katherine Hepburn, Mae West, and and Gretta Garbo.  Furs, of course, were a feature, accenting well their empire-waisted gowns with ties at the back.

I’ll give you two guesses as to what men were wearing in the 1930s.  You guessed it:  suits!  You’ll recall suits being popular as menswear since the Rococo fad of the 1700s, whose aftermath apparently robbed men of any fashion creativity.  But never you fear, suits of the 1930s came in a variety of colors:  black, basic grey, charcoal, navy, slate grey, steel grey, and brown.  My, my, what an exciting life of infinite choices!

In 1935, President Roosevelt created the New Deal, which, among many other (more important) things, ushered something new into men’s fashion:  a new suit!  The “London Cut” offered tapered sleeves, high pockets, wide pointed lapels and shoulder pads, pants, shirt, tie and hat, all in the color of the times – grey.

What were they wearing on their feet?  Again, contrary to the made up country song, there was a variety of shoes available during this time, include a style that we haven’t seen since antiquity:  the sandal!  Women had their pick of the cute shoes from the ‘20s, rounded toes with clunkier heels, pumps, flats, lace-ups, slip-ons, buckled, and, yes, sandals.  Sandals began their reinvention as beachwear, but gradually evolved into shoes that were evening and party appropriate.  Another evening shoe was the “plain court shoe” (a pump) with a flirty peep toe and sling back heels. 

Men’s shoes, on the other hand, were pretty darn sobering.  They came in all the colors suits came in (shockingly, except for grey) and retained their two-tones, made even more popular this decade by Fred Astaire.  The one new contribution to men’s shoes this decade was the loafer. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Shoe Timeline Part 3: 1900-1910


Clifford Barrymore Cartoon
of Teddy Roosevelt with his
freed bear.

What’s going on?  The 1900s saw the development of many a clever invention, including the Model T Ford, the vacuum, Einstein’s theory of relativity, crayons, popsicles, the FBI, baseball, and the health corset.  Yes, it was a golden age for thought!  Unless you were in Russia where free thought (among a montage of other things) was rather frowned upon outside the aristocracy, hence the Russian Revolution.

What were they wearing?  I’m sure you’re curious about the aforementioned health corset.  Well, health professionals – who, it is worth mentioning, are predominantly men – finally got wise to the idea that tight-lace corseting may be damaging to internal organs that spent hours up hours, day after day cinched in a corset and eventually would move to accommodate the changing shape of the body.  But, these health professionals did as health professionals still do and bended to the ways of fashion.  Doctors encouraged women to wear a health or s-curve corset, which actively forced the hips back and the bust forward as a way of making the waist appear smaller.  While this corset did cinch the waist, it was not tight-laced, the lacing being replaced with the ever easy to use hook and eye clips.  But, even if this corset did take some of the pressure off of women’s internal organs, any positive effects were counterbalanced by the horrendous things the health corset did to women’s posture.  Additionally, the health corset created a horrible case of uni-boob, though this is considerably less health adverse. On top of these newfangled health corsets, women wore long, heavy trumpet skirts, big, feathered, hats, and, oh, yeah, the high-necked lacy collars came back! 

You look dazzling, my dear.
Oh, no, wait.  That's me!
Ladies, I’m sure you’ve had the tooth-and-nail experience of trying to get your man in a tux.  “It’s itchy,” he says.  “I can’t breathe with a tie,” he whines, and retreats to his go-to torn pair of sweats.  Well, if you’re the kind of gal who likes a man in a tux, the 1900s might be for you (so consider that next time you time travel).  Just as hard as it can be for you to get your man into a tux, the women of this era likely struggled equally as hard to get theirs out of one.  Tuxedos were worn for all occasions and during all seasons, because, honey, coming off the heels of America’s Industrial Revolution, class was in.

What were they wearing on their feet?  Well, as previously mentioned, men’s shoes didn’t change much.  However, brown and grey were added to the color repertoire. 

I'll take the ones with kitten heels.
Women, too, had little option for footwear because people were still stuck in the Victorian mindset that any flesh that could be seen was sinful, so women covered up their legs with floor-length skirts.  Thus, their shoes were fairly plain and similar to the ones from the late 1800s.  The wealthy, however, had an upgrade in dress shoes.  Silky slippers were out and pointy-toed, heeled shoes custom made to match an evening gown were all the rage.


What’s going on?  Well, there was this little thing known as World War I (aka the war to end all wars) that had a firm hand in determining the fate of the…world in many aspects, including stylistically.  Because men were off fighting the good fight – more simply put, smacking down the Germans – middle and upper class women had to step out of their normal housewife and mother positions and get their butts to work!  Of course, working class women had been doing this long before the upper echelons had, yet nobody paid gave this fact much note because, well to put it bluntly, because they were poor.  (We’ll see this theme repeated in about thirty years.)

What were they wearing?  Men between the ages of 18 and 45 pretty much got to wear their service uniforms.  For those younger or older, or those who were sent home or managed to buy their ways out of the war, the dandy look was extremely fashionable.  Wide pants, high collars, bow ties, and bowler hats, straw, or boater hats (depending on the level of elegance), and either a three button cut away frock or a double-breasted straight lined jacket signified one’s status as a dandy and thusly a gentleman. 

Women, many of whom were sent into the workforce for the first time, could, for the first time since the Middle Ages, buy a dress that didn’t require a corset!  Ah, a sweet, full breath of air!  In actuality, the corsets were more or less moved to around the knees in a popular fashion called the hobble skirt that boasted such tightness around that women often couldn’t walk (not that they would want to with their tiny shoes).  But, nevertheless, in the absence of corsets fastened around their waists, women could sit, digest, and carry children without damage to their internal organs or fetuses.  Additionally, fabric became lighter, the colors became brighter, and, generally speaking, the dresses were looser.  It was 
 also during this time that fashion finally had a woman designer – the infamous Gabrielle Chanel opened up shop in response to the majority of male shop owners/designers being sent off to wear.  Even in her early days, Chanel’s fashions were practical but expensive, and a big hit with wealthier clients.  Also a big hit with the wealthy was fur; everybody wanted fur.  Fur: don’t leave home without it. 

 From left to right: "Portrait of a Woman with Fur Coat;" women lounging in Chanel chemise gowns, from Le Petit de la Mode;
Harem pants and an umbrella, for that exotic Eastern look when you get caught in the rain!

It is during this era that we begin to see a large shift in fashion trends: men are confined to one or two styles while women have a large number of options.  They could choose from Chanel’s chemise dresses, sheaths, sacks, tunics, and Harem trousers, just to name a few.   This trend continues throughout the rest of the century.

"Four Little Dudes" with eight little spats.
What were they wearing on their feet?  For men, patent leather shoes – you know, the same-old, same-old – were still popular, but only for formal events.  Spats were the rage for the regular day-to-day, and, in 1917, sneakers (Keds) made their debut. Women, on the other hand, had by necessity finally stopped obsessing over small, corseted waists as a sign of wealth and good breeding, so appropriately focused their attention to making their feet tiny.  As a sign of wealth and good breeding.  The habit of wearing shoes one size too small was a popular custom amongst both men and women, but women would go to such lengths as to cut their pinky toes to make their feet as narrow as possible.  For women, boots were still popular for day-to-day activities, and “Louis” heels – short-heeled, embellished shoes inspired by Louis XVI – were all the rage by night.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Passion

I consider myself a fairly run-of-the-mill person, stirred by the ups and downs of celebrity relationships, rooting for certain couples on reality TV shows like Big Brother, The Bachelor, and Survivor, and judging the longevity of the relationships of certain couples who appear on The Newlywed Game.  I think what stirs me most, makes me want to invest my energy into caring about these relationships is their passion.  As a society obsessed with romance and relationships and how to get them, keep them, lose them, and sprinkle them with syrup, we place an undue amount of emphasis on passion.  Passion, passion, passion - where's the passion?  We've lost our passion.  What do we do when the passion's gone?  Um, cook dinner?

I'm not a relationship expert or a relationship scholar, just someone who's lived and loved, and have friends who have done the same thing.  Both sexes seem to get stir crazy when that proverbial passion is lost, but they have different ways of showing it.  Women, it seems, get anxious, start to feel inferior, question whether or not they're doing things right or whether or not their partner is still invested.  Men, the incredible communicators they are, shut down even more, and often seek refuge in other places.  No, no, not cheating on you - refuge with friends or work or a hobby.  Something that "excites" them.  Women go shopping. 

I have spent thousands of dollars searching for that dopamine rush, and have some hot pairs of shoes to show for it.  Still, what is it about "passion" - a noun that few people can even define - that gets us so hot and bothered?  For one, it's exciting.  First dates and first kisses are amassed with nervous energy, titillating provocation, and newness as well as uncapped potential.  As the dates and kisses become more routine, we wrongly assume that out relationships are dying when, in fact, they're usually maturing.

One sure thing about passion is that it's not sustainable, at least not in its original form.  The couples who last will always be passionate about each other, but it's very rare that, after a period of time, a couple will feel the spark of creation, or be nervous around each other, or haven't yet passed the "is it okay to fart?" stage.  Passion is great, no arguments, but a mature relationship can be wonderful, too.  Unfortunately, this tends to be an either/or situation.  Would you rather be worried about shaving your legs before a first date or able to sit around in your sweats?  Would you rather hope to find a date for Friday night or know that there's going to be someone there when you come home?  It's a matter of personal preference, and it is what separates the fabulously exciting single life from the more laid-back, comfortable world of commitment.

What happens, however, is that couples tend to become too comfortable in their world and completely neglect to do things the other person finds attractive or helpful or even livable.  More than losing passion, comfortable couples tend to forget that the other person is their own separate entity.  Okay, women, so you've been together for a year and you don't need to shave your legs, but would it kill you to make them silky smooth once in a while?  Or to get out of those sweats and into a dress?  Or to surprise him with some new lingerie?  And guys, would it kill you to remember to bring flowers once in a while?  Or do the dishes?  Or send a suggestive text telling us something dirty you'd like to do when you get home (and we don't mean gardening!)?  Remembering little things goes a long way in sustaining a committed relationship and keeping it from dipping into the terrifying "no passion" universe.

The Lovely Bones - A Review

As a enthusiast of Alice Sebold's book, I was anxious to see the movie.  The book has a haunting, ethereal, yet surprisingly warm and hopeful feel that the movie sometimes grasps, but, more often than not, the movie borders between horrifyingly violent and sappily sentimental. 

As expected, Stanley Tucci (George Harvey) portrays a genuinely creepy psychopath; the protagonist's, Susie Salmon's, killer who has lived next door to the family for years and continues to do so. The young heroine, Susie, "played with unnerving self-assurance and winning vivacity by Saorise Roman, cares desperately about the poor living souls left in her wake, but it is not clear that [Director Peter Jackson] shares her concern."

Roman, with exquisite softness and care, guides us through her family, coping with the loss of a daughter and sister, Harvey's house where he makes dollhouses, and the tangled webs they all weave as Susie seeks out justice for herself and, you know in her heart of hearts, for her family.

Jackson makes this movie too Lord of the Rings meets Alice in Wonderland to parallel the book.  He creates Susie's purgatory, the "in-between" - in the book, the mostly undefined scenery from where she watches and narrates - in far too explicit, almost psychedelic detail.  Sure, he has the time period down, but Jackson seems to be lacking any real human concern.  And that is at the center of this Dickensonian tale. 

Nevertheless, this movie is worth a see, but make sure you read the book, too!

Shoe Timeline Part 2: 1600's - 1800's


What’s going on?  War.  Enlightenment.  War.  Religion.  Religious wars.  Beheading.  More war.  This is the century that boasted such notorious scum as Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, and the beginning of French high fashion with Louis XIV.

Yes, yes, you like my shoes?
I love my sexy red heels.
What were they wearing?  As far as fashion is concerned, the 17th century was a particularly dandy time, especially if you were French and middle class.  French fashion became all the rage and, for the first time in history, the middle class had the resources available to copy the fashions of the nobility, which meant two things:  1) there was a constant race to get the best of the best and outdo your neighbor, and 2) with the exception of the working and lower classes, clothes were no longer a distinguishing marker of socioeconomic status. 

The rigidity of fashion from the previous century tamed, and clothing became a bit looser and easier to wear, though ostentation was still quite evident and, as some historians have noted, feminized.  The middle of the century ushered in the age of men’s petticoat breeches, pants often as wide as skirts, flounced from underneath with petticoats, and decorated with ribbons.  French fashion was quite frivolous – frilly laces and bows, collars made from actual flowers, satins, silks, and other expensive, hard to get materials, and an apparent disregard for money.  Yes, during the 17th century, men’s fashion was fashion as we know it today – extreme, valued, and available to those who could afford it.

Women’s fashion during this century took almost half the century to evolve.  Gowns and stays remained quite rigid until about 1650, when gowns became lighter and softer, though the tight bodices continued throughout the century. 

Charles I and his pimpin'
cane and riding boots.

What were they wearing on their feet?  Thanks to Charles I of England, whose childhood bouts with rickets required that he wear boots for support, boots became all the fashion rage with men.  But when petticoat breeches came into style, men found that they needed shoes that showed off rather than hid their calves.  Louis XIV had a particular obsession with a red heel and white stockings, and these elegant shoes became the mode. 

Women's Red Heel from 1600s
By about 1660, women were so fed up with their fashion being behind men’s that they began to take matters into their own hands…and feet.  Taking into account Louis XIV’s affinity for the red heel, women began crafting similar but different version of that fashion.  They raised the heel to a daring height of six inches and, instead of using rosettes and ribbons as decoration as the men were, they added intricate beading and lace.  Also during this time, small feet for women were en vogue, so, naturally, women decided the best course of action would be to bind their feet with their own hair and lace their shoes so tightly that they sometimes fainted.


Marie Antoinette a la rose
What’s going on?  American colonies gain their independence, and Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, become the king and queens of pop culture.  Europe, for the time being, was content to sit back and relax.  France was the center of Europe’s hiatus from conquering, and encouraged the middle and upper classes to instead go play and frolic and flirt. 

Marie Antoinette's hair,
accompanied by Marie Antoinette.
What were they wearing?  Perhaps the best description for fashion in the 1700s is this:  Rococo and a bottle of…champagne.  Characterized by grace, opulence, and lightness, Rococo style was a combination of the Italian baroque (barocco) and the French rocaille (shell), hence the 18th century’s focus on curves and decoration.  Although the frivolity of fashion recessed slightly during the end of the preceding century, Louis and Marie brought it back in epic proportions.  Marie Antoinette is known for her flippant statement, “Let them eat cake!” regarding the plight of the working and lower classes, who were none so amused with the absolute lack of regard this power couple had for France’s revenue.  Women during this century kicked fashion into high gear – and high fashion.  Wide dresses were widened, tall hair was made taller, high heels were higher; the more extreme the better.  Men, too, prescribed to this ideology, wearing long, full coats set about with ruffles and lace, form-fitting breeches, and any amount of bedazzling jewelry.  Additionally, both sexes of this time never went anywhere of import without their piece de resistance accessory:  the 17th century wig.  Women’s hair grew so out of control in this time that it took Louis and Marie’s beheading to bring it back to manageable proportions.  Women went so far as to construct maritime and garden scenes in their hair, or sometimes even decorated it with live birds in birdcages.  Perhaps the height hair was simply trying to stay in proportion with the width of the dress, which grew to an astounding six feet during this century.  Practically speaking, this meant that women couldn’t sit in chairs with arms or walk two-by-two down a corridor.  Although history cites the French Revolution as the lower classes rebelling against excessiveness in a time when so many were financially needy, perhaps the description could be broadened to the lower classes becoming so outraged with absolutely ridiculous levels to which the upper echelons were taking fashion.  It is a fact that, after the French Revolution, fashion calmed considerably.   

18th-century silk, embroidered shoes.
What were they wearing on their feet?  Popularly referred to in America as “pilgrim’s shoes,” men in the 17th century sported black, medium-heeled, pointed shoes with a big square buckle.  Be careful not to mistake this seemingly tamer take on men’s shoes for any sort of toning down, however; far from it.  Black was once again the new black, and these spiffy shoes supported the other, dandier accessories:  snuffboxes, handkerchiefs, and muffs.  Women’s shoes, on the other hand, continued to grow in opulence.  Lavished high heels with buckles and braids, made from silk and painted leather graced the feet of the upper and middle classes.  This is arguably the original shoe fetish century, with Marie Antoinette herself boasting 500 pairs.


What’s going on?  What isn’t going on is more the question.  In Europe, the 19th century gives us Napoleon Bonaparte, the little, conquering man, Europe’s scramble for Africa and the colonization of a continent, King Leopold’s Congo, the madness of George III of England, and the ushering in of the Victorian era.  In America, there’s the gold rush, the Civil War, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  It’s a rich and fodderful century. 

"Portrait of a Woman," Janos Donat, 1810
What were they wearing?  For a small time, women got a temporary reprieve from the restricting corsets they had been wearing for the past two centuries.  Dresses with an almost ethereal and romantic quality were in style, until about the 1850s when those in power decided that it was once again time to make women slim via unbreathable fashions.  Once again waists were cinched and skirts were wide, many thanks to the Victorian era’s infamous prudence, which undoubtedly noted too much sexual potential in the arm-bearing, loose-fitting Empire Style of the early part of the century.

After the French Revolution, men’s clothing took a turn for the boring.  No more opulence or bedazzling, no.  Instead, men wore neutral colors in simple fabrics.  But, with a nod to the past century’s luxury, men donned top hats and carried canes as accessories.  The 1800’s marked a stalemate in men’s fashion and the ushering in of a new trend, in which men’s fashion rarely changed.  True, at the very end of the 1800’s fashion introduced the tailcoat as eveningwear, but other than that, things stayed remarkably one note. 

Victorian women compare waist sizes and gawk at the sad girl who forgot to lace her corset tighter.

What were they wearing on their feet?  Shoes followed suit as far as women’s style was concerned at the beginning of the 19th century; no more heels, no more binding feet with hair, no more forcing toes into points.  Enter the age of the slipper, made from soft materials and offered in soft, pastel colors, reflecting Europe’s obsession with the ballet.  But once Victorian fashion took control, slippers only made an appearance as a dress slipper, which meant only people with money had cause to wear it. Because Victorian fashion wasn’t actually as concerned with fashion so much as it was concerned with Puritanical existence, shoes were no longer of any importance.  Women’s shoes were now only made in three styles:  the aforementioned dress slipper, the clog, and the boot, a hard, tight-fitting leather monstrosity, apparently suitable for everyday use but a bitch to break in. 

Those are smart shoes, boy.  They'll last you into the 21st century.

As with men’s fashion in this century, men’s shoes, too, hit a stalemate.  They were black and practical with very little changing as far as styles and popularity.  What we now think of today as a men’s dress shoe began in the 19th century and, one may note, hasn’t had many alterations.