When Robert Haven was at the museum last summer we had a donation of several kimonos come into the museum. Robert was good enough to share with us the traditional way Japanese kimono are folded for storage:
The stiff straw boater (aka skimmer) became a popular summer hat for men in the 1890s and remained popular until the 1920s. Typically worn for semi-formal occasions, they were usually donned with lightweight summer suits, or blazers with white flannels and often worn at boating events, which is the origin for its name. Finer, softer, Panama straws became more popular with younger men by the 1930s, although boaters were worn into the 1950s by older men.
There rose a peculiar observance in the U.S. in the early 1900s called ‘Straw Hat Day’. This was to be the first day when men wore their straw boaters, abandoning their wintery felt hats for the summer season. The exact date for this observance varied from place to place and year to year, but usually occurred around mid-late May. The Fall counterpart ‘Felt Hat Day’ when the boater was put away, occurred around mid-September to early October. Like the wearing of hats in general, this observance gradually disappeared – the last time it was mentioned in the New York Times was 1963, well after straw boaters had fallen from fashion.
When the convention was being especially observed in the early 1920s, a tradition of destroying your summer hat at the end of the season began as a lark but got out of hand when it escalated into the Straw Hat Riot of 1922. What began as a small group of teenage boys snatching and destroying hats on September 13, two days before Felt Hat Day, grew into a mob of ‘hooligans’ destroying straw hats and beating men who resisted their hats being taken. After eight days and several arrests, the hat smashing orgy was stopped. Magistrate Peter Hatting (no kidding, that’s his name…) was quoted in the September 14 New York Times: ‘It is against the law to smash a man’s hat, and he has a right to wear it in a January snowstorm if he wishes.”
Although this 1922 event was the worst event of this nature, every year saw occurrences of unwanted hat snatching and destruction until the boater fell from popularity by the end of the 1920s.
Last year’s kerfuffle over leggings worn on air flights, has now shifted to rompers. American Airlines threatened to kick this woman and her son off a flight between Jamaica and Miami unless she covered up. The alternative was to wear a blanket as she boarded the plane. She took the blanket option, but is now calling American Airlines to task over the incident. The airlines has a vague ‘inappropriate dress’ clause on their agreement with passengers but needs to be more specific if it expects to enforce a dress code without accusations of racism, sizism, etc. Keeping in mind this flight was in summer, and between Jamaica and Miami. I suspect most passengers were not wearing much more than this.
Today is Whit Monday, a Christian calendar holiday occurring the day after Whit Sunday, which is the seventh Sunday after Easter. The date marks the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. The date became a holiday in Europe and became associated with the unofficial start of summer. As the date moves around according to Easter, which also moves around, Whit Monday can occur anywhere from mid May to mid June. Christ appears in white robes according to New Testament writings, and so the donning of white clothing for the holiday that is also the ideal colour for beating the heat. This is the origin of wearing white for the summer season, which ends, unofficially on Labour Day — and don’t even think about wearing white shoes after Labour Day!
Even though it’s a bit of a joke, every year some fashion magazine or blog brings up the ‘no white after Labour day’ rule. But there never really was a ‘rule’.
Until the 19th century white was an impractical and unaffordable colour to maintain. However, a series of developments in the 19th century changed all that:
Firstly, cotton became much cheaper to buy, thanks to the invention of the cotton gin. While most cotton in the 18th century was printed for outerwear, partly as a way to obscure staining, by the early 1800s, plain white cotton dresses became a high fashion statement. Cleaning methods were also improving during the 19th century, making white an easier colour to keep clean. Peroxide and chlorine bleaches became the ultimate cleaning methods for keeping white clothing snowy white.
Secondly, fashion, which was still entirely European in origin during the 19th century, was adapted for colonial climates. India, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America were hot and humid, and dark wool suits and dresses were displaced by white wool, linen, and lightweight cotton as more suitable materials for the climate. After Whit Sunday (the 7th Sunday after Easter) on the Christian calendar, it was customary for girls to parade in white dresses – heralding in the unofficial launch of the summer season. White became associated with the summer season.
Thirdly, the middle class was becoming wealthier and more influential during the 19th century, and they had more leisure time. Coal-fueled townhouses and sooty industries made white an impractical colour for most of the year, but for summer holidays in the mountains or seaside, white clothing and ice cream helped to keep everyone cool.
Fourthly, sportswear was a new concept in the late 19th century, but as men and women took up the fashionable sports of tennis, badminton, croquet, and lawn bowling, crisp white clothing was the perfect way to look good, keep cool, and hide sweat. Wimbledon still retains a white-clothing rule for its players.
Labour Day was first observed in 1872 in Canada, and in 1894 in the United States, and the early September date soon became the unofficial end of the summer season. Before global warming, September was also the beginning of cooler weather, harvest, the resumption of school and university classes, and general business as usual.
By the 1950s air conditioning was still a luxury for most households, but it was becoming standard in office buildings. More workers were also buying automobiles and living in leafy suburbs – the seasons began to blur. Winter holidays were becoming more popular as summers became more bearable. It was in this postwar era, when white was no longer primarily a practical choice for beating the heat that the unspoken tradition for wearing white in summer began to break down. Women’s magazines began to suggest white as an inappropriate colour to wear after Labour Day, unless you were a bride. This ‘rule’ was only made up as the tradition dwindled in importance each year until only white shoes were considered inappropriate for wear after Labour Day. Now, that too is no longer a consideration in our age of year-round sandals, sneakers, and flip-flops worn in the office.
I don’t know of a museum that specializes in European folk dress – those strange costumes worn for specific carnivals or traditional ceremonies. I am sure European regional museums collect local garments, but wouldn’t it be great to see these pulled together into one spectacular exhibition and catalogue! I don’t even know of any good book that covers this information…
Gilles costume from Carnival of Binche, Belgium – a local festival held in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday where men and boys dressed like the two pictured here, throw oranges to (and at) spectators.
Jester festival commemorating the battle of Murten in 1476 when the Thun army captured Charles the Bold’s court jester. The jester, called Fulehung, chases crowds through the streets of Thun, Switzerland and hands out candy to kids.
Here are all the fashion terms from the Complete Beatnik Dictionary:
So if you are a flutter bum (good looking guy) and want to get all chrome plated (dressed up) in some threads (clothes), you can put shape in a drape (dress well) in an ivy (suit) with a bent Brummel (bow tie), leathers (shoes), and a lid (hat). Or maybe you just want to kick back in your goat (goatee beard) and shades (sunglasses) and wear rags (sportswear), like some johns (pants) and earth pads (shoes).
Better check your Mickey Mouse (watch) if you are picking up a dolly (cute girl) for a date. She may need a lot of time on her nest (hairstyle), by hitting the bottle (bleach her hair), or get a wig chop (haircut) and become a fuzzy duck (girl with short hair). To make cover (get dressed), she could wear a crazy quilt (new dress), and put on her binoculars/peepers (glasses) to see if pinky’s out of jail (slip is showing) before getting into some twin trees (high heels).
And if the date is good, it could lead to a rock torniquette (diamond wedding ring).
Politics continues to make its presence known in the world of fashion this year. This past Sunday, guests attending the Golden Globe awards wore black in support of the ‘Me Too#’ campaign and ‘Time’s Up’ legal fund to end sexual misconduct. This must be the first time since Black Ascot in 1910, when everyone attending the horse race dressed in mourning for the late King Edward, that black has been worn so universally at one event.
The Musee des Beaux Arts has created some phenomenal fashion exhibitions in the past. This is where the amazing Yves St. Laurent retrospective was launched in 2008, as well as where the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition was conceived and began its long world tour in 2011. This summer it has two exhibitions I wanted to see, although the first was not strictly a fashion exhibition.
Revolution was created in collaboration with the Victoria & Albert museum (modified and expanded for the Quebec audience.) The exhibition looks at consumerism, protests, drugs, concerts, civil rights, sex and everything else that was revolutionary about the late 1960s. Several galleries tell parts of the story in a categorical approach to the topic. The artifacts were spectacular – ranging from John Lennon’s suit from the Sgt. Pepper album cover to the chain mail outfit made by Paco Rabanne for Jane Fonda in Barbarella… really iconic pieces.
However, this exhibition had some organizational issues. Firstly, the audio sets were just music and added no further information to the show. The labelling was largely unreadable – dark text was often applied to vertical glass, becoming illegible in the dimly lit galleries. Some label information was missing or wrong: A Wiccan robe decorated with silver lurex was identified as dating from 1953 – unlikely as lurex was barely available in 1953, and besides the show was about the 60s, not the 50s. I could find no label to identify a peacock chair, and Greenpeace was not founded in California, but in Vancouver B.C. in 1971.
The show was also not well laid out for accessibility. In the second to last gallery, a massive wall projection of scenes from Woodstock was playing and the floor scattered with large pillows so that visitors could lie down to enjoy the projection. This left a narrow walkway at the back where other visitors stood to watch the film. The problem is they stood in front of the glass cases that had the REAL artifacts worn to Woodstock! Why anyone would waste their time watching clips they can see on Netflix while ignoring the actual garments worn by Roger Daltry, Jimi Hendrix, and Janice Joplin is beyond me!
Fortunately an exhibition of wedding attire by Jean Paul Gaultier downstairs more than made up for any complaints I had about the Revolution show.
Love is Love is a spectacular exhibition of wedding attire created by Jean Paul Gaultier that includes pieces he has designed over the last twenty-odd years. A massive tiered wedding cake in the middle of the gallery holds the bulk of the dresses and suits, shown in non-traditional pairings, while other unusual wedding outfits line the outer walls that have been covered with a scrim creating ghostly 3D images of chairs and picture frames – the presentation is fantastic.
In one corner is a mannequin on a swing with a massive train that had been the backdrop for the duration of a fashion show, until the wedding dress (traditionally the last image in a fashion show) appeared and the backdrop turned into her train. Gaultier’s clothes always surprise you – there is nothing typical about his work. Superb tailoring stands next to patchwork frou-frou and while some garments appear to be original ideas, others are unapologetically appropriated and reinvented.
The artifacts in Revolution, and the artifacts and presentation in Love is Love are worth seeing. Revolution concludes October 9, and Love is Love ends October 22.