Saturday, March 30, 2013

1960s Dresses: You'll Never Go Back

Cover of Twiggy
by Jack Curtis

It has become something of a cliche, but there is truth in the quip that the sixties didn't start until 1963.

It's as though the decade didn't realise it was a thing until it was a third of the way through, and then set about inventing itself with a gusto of unparalleled social and creative change.

But if there are three things that spring to the western mind at the mention of the word "sixties", they are probably music, politics and fashion.

Women's fashion took some interesting steps from a glamorous 1950s vibe to the full-blown flower-power look, even though the latter was by no means adopted by everyone.

In fact, the sixties was a bit of a fashion watershed, before which people tended to dress the more or less the same as each other, but which signalled the birth of the fractured subcultures we see today, when people can wear a wide range of clothing (preferably not at the same time) but still be seen as fashionable.

Take dresses, for example. A dress from 1962 or even later is barely indistinguishable from what, say, Doris Day might have worn, or an actress playing opposite Cary Grant or James Stuart in a Hitchcock thriller.

As the decade progresses, however, we can see an evolution as they got shorter, simpler and closer to what we now associate with the 60s look - think Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and their ilk - more stripes and spots than flowers and tie-dye.

It's strange to think that before the mini dress there had been no real equivalent in the world of fashion.

You'd have to go back to the Romans to find anything approaching it, although the flappers of the 1920s came as close as they dared (and of course, the parallels between the attitudes of the two post-war eras have a lot in common).

But now the genie is out of the bottle, it can't be put back and the short sixties-style dress is part of the grammar of women's fashion, gracing catwalk, street and nightspot. And why not? It's fun, it's liberated and it's perpetually chic.

Modern interpretations of the 60s dress are fine and occasionally dandy, but for the truly authentic look you have to go to source, and that means donning your kinky boots and heading down to your local vintage clothing store (or one of their superb online outlets).

A pre-loved example will have a definite authentic feel to it thanks to the craftsmanship, materials, patterns and cuts that a new off-the-peg garment could never match.

Inevitably when you start browsing through the selection, you'll wonder what stories the dress could tell you about its 60s life - although you'll probably want one that didn't end up grass-stained by too many festivals and summers of love.

Vintage clothing such as 60s dresses are always sought after and command good prices, so Jack suggests browsing retro clothing stores online and on the high street to find a great deal. The higher quality vintage clothing stores usually stock a good selection as well as accessories and other garments too.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Dylan Voted Into Elite Arts Academy

FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2012 file photo, Bob Dylan performs during the 17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards in Los Angeles. The century-old American Academy of Arts and Letters on Monday, March 11, 2013 said that Dylan has become the first rock star to join the ranks of its artists, who include Philip Roth and Jasper Johns. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
Bob Dylan in 2012
If he lived in England, he'd surely be Sir Bob Dylan.

The most influential songwriter of his time has become the first rock star voted into the elite, century-old American Academy of Arts and Letters, where artists range from Philip Roth to Jasper Johns and categories include music, literature and visual arts.

According to executive director Virginia Dajani, officials couldn't decide whether he belonged for his words or for his music, so they settled on making him an honorary member, joining such previous choices as Meryl Streep, Woody Allen and a filmmaker who has made a documentary about Dylan, Martin Scorsese.

"The board of directors considered the diversity of his work and acknowledged his iconic place in the American culture," Dajani said recently. "Bob Dylan is a multi-talented artist whose work so thoroughly crosses several disciplines that it defies categorization."

Dylan's manager, Jeff Rosen, had no immediate comment on Dylan's reaction - Dylan did accept membership, a condition for the vote to go through - or whether he would attend the academy's April dinner or May induction ceremony.

Dylan usually tours in the spring and is already booked for much of April for shows in the East and Midwest, none of them in the New York City area.

"I would guess it's unlikely," Dajani said of whether Dylan would show up for either occasion. On Tuesday, the academy announced three other honorary choices, all from overseas: Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, South African writer Damon Galgut and Belgian artist Luc Tuymans.

Voted into the academy's core membership were the novelist Ward Just, known for his stories set in Washington, D.C.; the influential minimalist artist Richard Tuttle and the acclaimed painter and printmaker Terry Winters.

Excluding honorary picks, the academy consists of 250 artists, musicians and writers. Openings occur upon a member's death, with current inductees nominating and voting in new ones. Members have no real responsibilities beyond agreeing to join, although some become active in the academy, which awards prizes worth as much as $200,000.

Founded in 1898 and based in upper Manhattan, the academy once was designed to keep the likes of Dylan away, shunning everyone from jazz artists to modernist poets.

Even now, the vast majority of the musicians come from the classical community, with exceptions including Stephen Sondheim and Ornette Coleman. Dajani and other officials have said that the academy is reluctant to vote in rock performers because they already have organizations, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to honor them.

The 71-year-old Dylan is already the first rock performer to receive a nomination from the National Book Critics Circle, for his memoir "Chronicles: Volume One"; and the first to receive a Pulitzer Prize, an honorary one in 2008. He's routinely mentioned as a Nobel candidate and for decades has been scrutinized obsessively by academics and popular critics.

Dylan has had fans and even friends in the academy, among them the late poet Allen Ginsberg. A Dylan admirer and 2012 inductee, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, will give the keynote address at the May ceremony. The title will be "Rock 'n' Roll."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Rewearing Comes Of Age

by Ann Brenoff, Senior Writer, The Huffington Post:

Michelle Obama, official White House portrait.
Michelle Obama (Wikipedia)
I admit I've never been much of a fashionista. I spent 1968 through 1971 in what I suspect was the same pair of bell bottom jeans and two black T-shirts that I wore in rotation.

In fall, I topped it with a black baggy sweater and in winter, piled on a navy peacoat.

Yes, of course I laundered everything. I might not have any fashion sense, but I've always believed in good grooming.

And now along comes First Lady Michelle Obama, who gives us many reasons to click the Like button in general, but is scoring high marks for one thing in particular of late: She is rewearing some of her clothes. This, the pundits say, gives us all permission to re-wear our clothes.

Now at the risk of being mistaken for the 200-year-old relic Volkswagen in Woody Allen's 1973 classic movie, "Sleeper," did I somehow miss the memo where it said we weren't supposed to wear outfits a second time?

Seriously, when did it become bad form to grab the outfit you wore last Thursday and put it on again this Tuesday - or is this just another one of those generational differences things?

I do believe that the only dumb question is the one you are afraid to ask, but nevertheless I was a little embarrassed to seek an expert on this matter. I decided to keep it in the family, figuring the scorn level would be minimized if I just went to a co-worker.

Here's what Anya Strzemien, the executive editor of HuffPost Style had to say: Yes, people seriously do not re-wear outfits.

"Particularly famous people who are photographed a lot, which is what makes Michelle doing it all the more of a statement," said Anya. "As for the non-famous, it kind of depends on financial circumstances. I think others just try to not wear exactly the same thing too close together."

Anya and me? We travel in different worlds, but probably not as different as you might think. Every generation has its uniform. Mine in the late 1960s were my bell buttons. You saw them - and my long hair parted straight down the middle - and knew my politics instantly.

You looked at my makeup-less face and knew what music I likely listened to. The black T-shirts told you what I read, what movies would appeal to me, and my guitar-strumming bearded boyfriend was as much a fashion accessory as a cup of Starbuck's is today.

Anya, too, has a uniform. Her accessories pop, she has a "go-to" outfit that doesn't involve an elastic waistband, and when she leaves her house every day, she has a put-together look that I wouldn't begin to know how to achieve.

I've always envied women who knew how to combine stylishness with comfort, but deep down I suspect we all sacrifice one for the other. Four-inch heels will never be comfortable, no matter how much you beam your pearly whites at me and claim you could run a marathon in them.

It also occurred to me - as I looked down on the skinny jeans I'm wearing for the third time this week - that for the first time in my life, I may be ahead of a fashion curve. Michelle Obama has made it OK to re-wear your clothes - something I have been doing my whole life.

And now if FLOTUS could just do one more thing for me: Make it OK for us to wear flats for every occasion. After that, we can tackle world hunger, peace in the Middle East and cure cancer once and for all.
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