Archive for Thursday, September 25, 2008

History shows fashion is fleeting

September 25, 2008

Recently, we attended a 100th birthday party for my wife's aunt in central Kansas. She is a truly amazing woman who has led a long and fascinating life.

One of the stories told about her was during her career as a teacher and coach of women's sports in the 1920s at a church-related college. She was coaching a women's soccer team and was called on the carpet by the college president. It seems that her girls weren't wearing hose when they played. Apparently, she was able to explain that the hose would be torn up and wouldn't serve any purpose. A teenage girl who was a soccer player was shaking her head in disbelief and pointed out that "maybe they didn't play so rough in those days."

That incident caused me to remember a time when I was in high school journalism and several of us were looking at old yearbooks and snickering about the clothes worn by teenagers in the 1920s. Someone commented that "one thing is sure, in the future they won't be laughing at the way we dress." Of course that wasn't true. I'm sure that today's teenagers think that we looked pretty silly in our plain white T-shirts and jeans with our hair held in place by Rose Hair Oil or some other product. Girls must be amused at the ankle-length skirts and white blouses favored by teenagers in those days. Certainly, the penny loafer and saddle oxfords are well removed from today's tennis shoes. Girls had to wear dresses to school unless it was a special time such as working on homecoming floats or decorating for a dance when jeans might be allowed. Occasionally, they were allowed to wear jeans to school on Fridays.

All of this started me thinking about how much fashions have changed in the past 100 years or so. Skirt lengths have gone up and down more than the stock market. Even basketball shorts have gone from very short to very long. Yes, the 20th century was a time for change in apparel.

Frankly, men's fashions haven't changed as much, but there are vast differences in what is worn today. There was a time when almost everyone wore a shirt and tie. Now, ties are losing favor and company logo shirts are all the rage in the work place.

Once, no self-respecting man would wear a hat or a cap inside the house. Many men in the under-40 age group think nothing of wearing a hat everywhere they go and can't understand why some would consider that a problem. On the other side of the coin, women now rarely wear hats and, like their male counterparts, prefer bill caps. If you stop to think about it, one has to wonder why women could wear hats everywhere, including church, and men couldn't.

For hundreds of years, women's dresses were always long - at or below the ankle. That changed in World War I when women had to step into the workplace world. There was shock when hemlines reached the mid-calf level in 1915. Mary Jacobs patented the first bra in 1914 and women's fashions were changing forever.

The flapper dresses of the 1920s raised a lot of eyebrows and skirts remained short until the 1950s when they got long again. The rebellious 1960s and early 1970s changed women's fashions with the skirt shrinking to a micro-mini. Yes, the 20th century saw huge changes in fashion for both men and women. Now, men wear shorts all summer, something that took some of us time to get used to.

In general, I'm glad that clothing is more comfortable than in the old days. I have a hard time understanding how the old-timers survived summer in wool suits, shirts and ties or ankle-length dresses with many heavy petticoats.

There are some fashions that I don't understand. For example, a lot of teenagers wear jeans with rips and tears in them. No, they aren't so poor that they can't afford better, it is some sort of bizarre fashion statement. I suspect that will be something laughed about when their children look at pictures a couple of decades from now.

I'll never understand the low hanging jeans either. In fact, I really wonder how some of these guys walk around without losing them. Again, I suspect that this is a fashion that will fade away in the next few years. Come to think of it, back in the late 1950s, really cool guys wore their jeans low and didn't use a belt. Certainly, this changed as they got older and couldn't get their jeans over their tummies and belts became vital.

What it comes down to is that fashion trends are always changing. What is in today will be gone tomorrow and occupying the shelf at a thrift store. The really neat clothes worn by today's teenagers will cause laughter when their children look at old pictures in years down the road.


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