Styling or lieing?

In the early 1980s I had a weekend job at a vintage clothing store. One of my tasks was to change the front window display every week.  It was a small window – really only large enough for one mannequin, but I was apparently good at display because almost every Saturday morning after I had finished the window, two or three customers would ask to try what was on the mannequin. It was very frustrating.

Shown backwards, as a top, as it appeared on the cover the May 1954 issue of Harper's Bazaar

Shown backwards, as a top, as it appeared on the cover the May 1954 issue of Harper’s Bazaar

Very often I would create outfits from things that weren’t even garments or that could be worn the way I was showing them. One weekend I put a gold lace peignoir backwards over a piece of black satin that acted like a slip, tucked the bottom under a 1950s butterfly print circle skirt, wrapped a turquoise belt around the waist and stuck cowboy boots underneath with the ankles wrapped in various 1960s gold chain necklaces and belts. The overall look was very chic – sort of Cyndi Lauper goes west. We must have had five people ask about that outfit, and one woman was so adamant that she offered to pay double the ticket price for the various pieces if she could have it for that evening. I felt guilty because she was buying a look – one that I had invented but that wasn’t real without a lot of sewing. I should have been congratulating myself for being such a good stylist, but that word was not used much outside of hair salons in the 1980s.

Jacket by Claire McCardell, 1954

Jacket by Claire McCardell, 1954

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when I found this amazing Claire McCardell red and black polka-dot jacket on Couture Allure today that appears on the cover of the May 1954 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, except that it doesn’t appear as a jacket. A stylist, probably Diana Vreeland herself, looked at the McCardell jacket and thought it would be more effective for the cover of the magazine if worn backwards, and I think Vreeland might have been right!

The moral of this story is that in fashion, not everything is as it seems or was meant to appear.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian. He was the founding curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, and the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. He has amassed a collection of nearly 8,000 items dating from the mid 17th century to the present, and has written various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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2 Responses to Styling or lieing?

  1. Julia says:

    I understand completely the point you’re making. Growing up I was spoiled with shoes, but we didn’t get a lot of clothes. Very rarely my mother would buy us something trendy at the beginning of the school year. That helped us to be more creative. We spent a lot of time thrift shopping and I remember after college when I worked for Liz Claiborne there was a woman that’s job was to go to Europe and bring back the latest fashion. Maybe she was a stylist? When she wasn’t traveling she would always stop me by the elevator in the morning to ask what I was wearing. It was a nice boost to my day to be complimented on my thrifty outfits when I was surrounded by so much fashion.

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