Wednesday, March 23, 2011

FFB: The 1950's Are Back?

For this week's Feminist Fashion Bloggers post, we again had free reign to write on whatever topics interested us. I was having a hard time figuring out what I wanted to write about, but then I took a good look at the outfit I'm wearing today...full skirt, belt, Mary Jane style wedges. Quite 1950's inspired, I think. I'm personally really excited that 1950's shapes seem to have come back in fashion over the last couple of years. As a woman with some curves, I find that the hourglass look works quite well on me...certainly far better than a couple of years ago's prevailing trend of empire-waisted loose-bottomed shirts. One of the less flattering things on me: tops and dresses with a line that serves to neatly cut my chest in two, horizontally. The Quadra-Boob is not a great look on me.

And you all know I've grown to love a nipped waist, a full skirt, and heels.

I enjoy how these items of clothing make me feel feminine, emphasize my shape in ways I enjoy, and are generally aesthetically appealing to me. (My collection of vintage 1950's sewing patterns may also speak to my enthusiasm for that era's style.)

But should I be worried about the repercussions of glamorizing the "feminine" clothing from an era where woman had a whole lot fewer rights than they do now? Northwest Is Best had an interesting FFB post a couple of weeks ago, Why 1940s Style Is Not a Fashion Trend arguing that it degrades the sacrifices made by women in the 1940's to adopt the "1940's Look" as a trendy style. Similarly, in the 1950's, women again lost the wartime freedom of working in factories, and moved toward being pretty suburban housewives. This 2005 post by LadyKalessia makes a few other interesting points about adopting 1950's styles today, including the danger of women trying to achieve the hourglass shape and tiny waist through diet rather than what used to be standard undergarments.

Now in 2011, I can easily choose to wear a skirt and blouse; my mother had no other option in elementary school and middle school (and it was BIG NEWS in her high school when the girls started to be allowed to wear jeans). I tend to think that my ability to choose pants or a full skirt makes the skirt a perfectly acceptable option, but I realize there's a lot of historical weight associated with the roles of women back when particular "vintage" styles were first in vogue.

What do you think? Is it possible to reclaim the 1950's silhouette and style without always referencing the housewife-in-the-kitchen stereotype? Does it matter whether one only adopts certain elements of a vintage style, or are any identifiable 1950's elements referents to that stereotype? Is reproduction vintage clothing any different than true vintage items? Or are we far enough away from the time period that the clothing can be considered for its aesthetics and style, rather than for its history and prior cultural context?

Outfit details: Red sweater, Forever21. Plaid skirt, thrifted. Belt, from a thrifted dress. Tights, LOFT. Shoes, Kenneth Cole Reaction, thrifted.

For other FFB posts today, check out the collection on the new Feminist Fashion Bloggers group blog. If you're interested, you should join us! We're only doing the weekly posts through the end of the month, but plan to continue some sort of coordinated posting monthly.


Shybiker said...

Two months ago, I did a lengthy guest-post on Fifties Fashion which addresses several aspects of your question.

First, the conventional wisdom about how women's lives diminished in that period is not entirely accurate. (I cite stats to the contrary.) And, more importantly, fashion-style can be separated from other things happening in society at any given time. When clothing symbolizes something, that's a choice we make to give it certain meaning; we can always revoke that choice and have it mean something else. The fashion itself is blameless and can be viewed differently, especially after several decades pass.

cervixosaurus said...

I always think that, well, sure women were oppressed in the fifties but we still are!! And we have to wear something! Plus there are plenty of types of clothing with more loaded associations than high waisted skirts, such as mini-skirts and corsets. Plus I love high waisted skirts :)

poet said...

I absolutely think it can be reclaimed, but it may take some time and much individual effort until the stereotypes connected with certain garments / styles / silhouettes are eradicated. And I agree with cervixosaurus that the association of 1950s silhouettes with oppression is not necessarily the strongest one to start out with.

MrsBossa said...

Northwest is Best's post had a similar effect on me - it was an incredibly refreshing take on vintage looks after the constant eulogising about Mad Men fashion. I have always loved 50s fashion; I always felt it suited my frame and I simply loved the silhouette. I don't think there is anything wrong with adopting elements of these looks if they make you feel comfortable and happy, not least because fashion is constantly self-referential anyway. As you say: we have the choice now. That said, I did not feel comfortable wearing my 50s midi skirt while cooking in the kitchen - that was a bit too close to housewife for my liking!

Terri said...

Surely, it doesn't take a girdle to make your look many women in the 1950's did. Personally, I like a full skirt simply for the range of movement it gives my legs. My brain equates feminism with 'freedom of movement.'

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