Fashion Humour

Early 1970s cartoon by New Yorker magazine cartoonist Barney Tobey
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Fashion in Song – Yankee Doodle Dandy c. 1760

Yankee Doodle Dandy was originally sung by British soldiers during the French Indian wars (1754-1763) in mockery of unsophisticated colonials. There were many verses and different versions of lyrics over the next few decades, but the one that stuck was the one about the macaroni.

Yankee Doodle, Norman Rockwell

Yankee (American yokel), Doodle (foolish idiot), Dandy (this could be interpreted as anything from a fashion conscious fop to a derogatory reference akin to faggot) was an attack on someone’s sophistication, place of birth, intellect, looks, and even sexual orientation. It was the sort of thing that if hurled thoughtlessly in a pub could lead to fisticuffs.

The song is about one ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ who went to town on a pony (not a horse), and stuck a feather in his cap thinking it made him look très chic – like a ‘macaroni’. This pasta-inspired term was used to describe fashionable, sophisticated British gentleman who were cultured and eloquent with affected effete behaviour (aka manners). They became known for an exotic Italian pasta dish they brought back to England from their Grand Tours in Italy. This is funny considering how déclassé macaroni is considered to Italian foodies these days, however, the term was used to describe all forms of pasta not just elbows covered in yummy melted cheddar cheese (which ironically became a popular dish in 18th century America.)

Unfortunately, for the Yankee Doodle in the song, the feather in his cap only emphasized his bumpkin buffoonery. However, in a contemporary-like twist of re-appropriating slurs, Americans began singing the song themselves, reportedly after the battle of Yorktown in 1781 as a way of rubbing it in that the Yanks beat the Brits (aka Yo Mama…)

From a fashion point, what is interesting about this song is that it identifies a mistrust or dislike for overly-sophisticated and groomed males in American culture that continues to exist. Whether its feathered hats, or umbrellas, or sandals, or man-bags – many elements of men’s dress considered appropriate or fashionable on the other side of the Atlantic have been looked askance as affected and effete in the U.S.

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Rainbow Jeans

After Joe Owen finished his tour of duty in Vietnam, he was working for an American Jeans manufacturer and was in Toronto on business when he met future business partner Richard Brown. In 1975, the two were still in their mid twenties when they started their business Rainbow Jeans in Montreal. Owen handled the creative side while Brown oversaw marketing and sales.

In their first year, they saw sales of $585,000. Three years later they were selling their jeans across the country and in 1980 they sold 824,000 pairs of men’s, women’s, and children’s jeans – about $15 million in sales. The following year they began to expand their product line to include other types of clothing. In 1984 they introduced their jeans brand Steps.

Unfortunately, the rise of designer brand-name jeans in the 1980s was too much competition for the young company, and with the onset of a recession, the company ceased operating in 1990.

BTW – the rainbow motif was not associated with the gay movement when they founded their company in 1975. Rainbow striped elastic suspenders and cloth belts were popular in the late 1970s for rollerskating and disco looks. When the rainbow was first used as a symbol of the gay movement in San Francisco in 1978 the pink triangle was the established motif. However, the pink triangle had negative connotations as it had been appropriated from the Nazis to identify homosexuals, like the yellow star was used for Jews. By 1984, when Rainbow jeans created their ‘Steps’ label, the rainbow symbol was becoming the more popular and positive symbol for the gay movement, which is probably why they created the Steps label so as not to alienate potential customers. Since then, the rainbow has become associated with celebrations, like gay pride parades, but the pink triangle continues to be used as a symbol at more serious gay political events.

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Hanger Games — Louis M. Marble

I found this hanger in an antique mall today (I have a growing personal collection of early hangers…) but the label was very worn, and it was difficult to make out what any of the words were. However, I was able to read that it was patented on November 2, 1897. With that I managed to uncover a lot of history. Turns out the hanger was made by the Belmar Manufacturing Company in Canton, Pennsylvania, sometime between 1898 and 1902.

The Belmar Mfg. Co. began in a barn in 1897 shortly after Louis M. Marble patented his coat/trouser, skirt/bodice combination hanger. After a few months to develop the machines to make the hangers with the help of his business partner Matt Tabor, Marble incorporated the Belmar Manufacturing Company (Belmar is an anagram of Marble) and moved operations to a building on Washington Street in Canton. A fire in 1904 destroyed much of the original structure, but it was quickly rebuilt on a larger scale.

Starting with just five workers, many of the earliest employees stayed with the company for years. According to an article in the Nov 30, 1950 edition of the Canton Sentinel: George Dell worked at Belmar for more that fifty years; Elmer Rockwell, 47 years; George Goff, nearly 45 years; Charles Renstrom, more than 40 years and Leon Smith about 38 years. At its peak of operation in the late 1920s, the company employed nearly 350 and was the largest industry in Canton, Pennsylvania (population of about 2,000).

The combination coat and trouser hanger was made alongside other hanger styles. Marble patented more than a half dozen hanger innovations and improvements between 1897 and 1941. Coincidentally, his father, Edgar Marble, had been the Commissioner of Patents from 1880 to 1883, and worked as a patent lawyer until 1908.

Louis Marble had graduated from Cornell university in 1892 with a Bachelor of Science and was also interested in food preservation. During WWI, the Belmar plant maintained a dehydration plant and made potato flour and dehydrated vegetables for soup for the U. S. Government as their contribution to the war effort. 

Louis Marble remained active in the business until his death on November 27, 1944. In June 1945, the business was sold but continued to operate for many more years, although by 1950 the workforce had shrunk to 110 employees.

Belmar pant clip hanger, 1960s

Belmar made nearly 50 different styles of coat, dress and trouser hangers made from cherry, beech, and maple lumber that was kiln dried, cut, shaped and smoothed, and then varnished, waxed or painted. They were the largest wooden hanger manufacturer in the U.S. for decades, producing between 10 and 12 million hangers per year. The exact date of their closing is not known.

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What to do with a short leading man…

Ingrid Bergman looking up to Humphrey Bogart in 1942’s Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart was 5’7″, and his leading lady in Casablanca, Ingrid Bergman, was 5’9″ — so how do you get them to appear nearly identical in height in scenes like the one at the airport ? You start with the hats. Bogart wore high crowned fedoras while Bergman wore low slouched, turned-down brim styles. Next, you go to the feet. Bergman’s feet are rarely shown, because they are in low heeled shoes, while Bogart wore strap-on clogs for scenes where he and Bergman had close conversations.

Bergman in low-heeled sandals and turned-down and slouch-brimmed hats to play down her height
Bogart’s 3 inch platform clog strap-ons
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Canadian Fashion Connection – Stanfield’s

In 1882, Charles Stanfield established the Truro Woollen Mills in Nova Scotia. His sons took over the business in 1896 and developed a patented process for making unshrinkable wool union suits in 1915. Stanfield’s went on to diversify its product line, adding women’s rayon underwear, and men’s cotton undershorts and shirts in the 1920s. The company is still in business.

Stanfield’s in store display, 1920s
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Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Rosina Schiavone Ferragamo

While we are in Italy, here is another name that eludes research. Rosina Schiavone Ferragamo is often cited as being the sister of the more famous shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo. Her birth date is recorded as 1905, but I have not been able to find a death date – unusual considering she was designing shoes under her own name from the mid 1950s (the MET has several positively identified from then), until the mid 1980s, when there were also leather clothes being sold under that label (see eBay). Even more peculiar is that the Ferragamo company, family, or museum all fail to mention her existence. Perhaps there was a bit of a family scandal…

Patchwork suede pump by Rosina Schiavone Ferragamo, c. 1969, FHM collection
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Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Oppio

In 1940, Anna Ancillotti Chiarugi established a dressmaking business in Sovigliana-Vinci, near Florence. Her four daughters Sandra, Lucia, Rosaria and Stella Chiarugi inherited the business in 1975 and seven years later renamed the company Oppio (Italian for opium). The label found international success, but by 2009 the company had been bought out or sold.

Embroidered and applique knit two piece dress, mid 1980s, by Oppio
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Canadian Fashion Connection – Guy Cramer

Canadian born Guy Cramer is the C.E.O. of HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp. in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. Twenty years ago Cramer developed a system for making computer generated digital camouflage patterns. His first client was the King of Jordan. In 2003, Cramer was commissioned to develop a pattern for U.S. military uniforms. He has since developed over 10,000 patterns which are all under copyright.

Guy Cramer amongst some of his many camo jackets
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Paris hairstyles, 1944

These production tests from the film Falbalas are interesting because the film was shot in Paris in early spring 1944, before it was liberated. The film revolves around the couture fashion industry, and shows the sharp contrast between Paris couture and its extravagant use of fabric and the real world of fabric rationing. I think the hair is also interesting for its use of permanents!

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