It was a pleasure to have David Wolfe, Creative Director of the Doneger Group and his daughter, LIM Professor of Fashion History Amanda Hallay share their knowledge of fashion with the Underfashion Club in Shaping the Century at The Cutting Room on Tuesday, September 29th 2015. This father-daughter act was a dynamic tête-à-tête on fashion trends and the impact that seismic social changes have had on the cultural landscape.
Amanda Hallay shared trends from the past 100 years and David Wolfe shared predictions for the future 100 years of fashion. Amanda began the presentation by stating that the 20th and 21st centuries have been a story of silhouettes — that the industry behind intimate apparel and lingerie is what truly created fashion.
The Western ideal of a woman called the “Grecian ideal” was introduced as a base of comparison for the many fluctuations in ideal figures that came with each decade. The Grecian ideal, which arose from Grecian art, was 5’9″ with small, high breasts, a natural waist, full hips and curvaceous legs.
The ideal has been shorter, taller, smaller and larger over the past century because “Fashion is not an island — It’s a response!” Fashion is a response to the world that wears it — a response to what’s happening in the world. Amanda shared the political and cultural climate for each decade and the shifts in ideals that arose as a response to it.
In the 1900s, electricity was making its way into everyday life. It was an exciting new world that was more mobile than ever before with the invention of new tools like electric tram cars, subways, and telephones.
The ideal figure of the 1900s was elegant, tall with a long neck, full bosom, tiny waist and full hips. This dramatic shape was achievable through corsetry. The look was inspired by art nouveau, a classic style that brought people back to nature as a reaction to the many unfamiliar technological changes that society was experiencing.
In 1910, more and more women were working and embracing new technology, suffragettes were campaigning, and World War I began.
The 1910s ideal was petite with sloped shoulders, small breasts, a curved waistline, and smooth hips. This shape was achieved with slips that smoothed out the shape.
The 1920s witnessed World War I, our first modern war with weapons that killed millions of men. More women were working and the fight for equal suffrage was won, giving women in America the right to vote. Women were more independent than ever before.
The 1920s ideal was petite and flat chested with no waistline and emphasized hips. This shape was achieved with a girdle and bandeau, the precursor to the bra. It was inspired by the geometric shapes of art deco, which were seen in commercials, typography, furniture, architecture, and, of course, fashion.
The 1930s experienced the Great Depression. People escaped the dust storms and dullness of reality through movies that idolized high glamour. Fantasizing about high society was the ultimate escapism in response to the Great Depression.
The 1930s ideal was sleek and slinky with stoop shoulders, a very low breast, natural waistline and streamline hips. Smooth corsetry helped women achieve a silhouette that appeared smooth and slinky. This smooth figure, combined with the trendy debutante slouch, was considered aristocratic.
The 1940s were defined by Word War II. Women were joining the forces and working in factories. However, the allies were losing the war and fear struck the country.
The 1940s ideal was strong with broad shoulders, high breasts, a taut waistline, molded hips and curvaceous legs. We moved from corsets to the girdle that pushed everything up in a patriotic fashion. This strong ideal was a response to our fear of losing the war.
The 1950s served as a reaction to the past. It drew a line that separated itself from the struggle that the country faced during the first half of the century. People were fascinated by science and newness. The atomic age, the space age, and the Cold War were all happening simultaneously.
The 1950s ideal returned to the hourglass shape. She had small, sloped shoulders with enlarged breasts, a cinched waist and voluptuous hips. This was achieved with a roll-on girdle that cinched and accentuated the most curvaceous aspects of the female figure. After the chaos of war, people wanted to feel in control of their bodies and lives and strong foundation garments provided that constriction.
The 1960s was defined by the generation gap, separating the youth from the boomers. Anti-war sentiments and the civil rights movement was very influential.
As a result, the ideal look was adolescent with narrow shoulders, small breasts, and boyish hips. Underwear had no structure. The goal was to appear as young as possible in order to separate yourself from the previous generations that were associated with war.
The 1970s world was full of conflict. The Watergate scandal, outrageous gas prices, the Iran hostage crisis, and the coining of the term “serial killers,” marked a chaotic time. Women were also burning their bras and often went braless.
The 1970s ideal was willowy with natural breasts, a taut waistline and toned hips. Intimate apparel wasn’t structured. The goal was to exude comfort, not conflict, because the world had enough of that.
The 1980s were all about excess, with trickle-down economics and an obsession with watching the rich on TV. It was all about the money.
The 1980s ideal was a superwoman — big and strong with prominent curves. The wonderbra helped women achieve this strong, busty silhouette.
In the 1990s, everything was about technology. Not much was happening in the fashion world during this time.
The 1990s ideal was scrawny with a prominent clavicle, visible rib cage and hip bones.
The 2000s is all about getting our ideal body ourselves by going to the gym. Apart from shapewear, underwear isn’t expected to provide structure.
What will be the next ideal? David Wolfe took the stage from Amanda Hallay to share his predictions for the the upcoming century of fashion.
He reminds us that fashion is a response. There is constant change in what we wear because our society is constantly changing.
Is fashion out of fashion? In 2015, Li Edelkoort published the anti-fashion manifesto, stating that fashion is now obsolete. David highlighted a number of provocative statements from it, such as “It’s the end of fashion as we know it,” “Fashion is now insular and placing itself out of society which is a dangerous step,” and “Marketing killed the whole thing … governed by greed and not by vision.” One salient quote that’s reflected in modern fashion was “Clothes will dominate the future.” Clothes, not fashion.
Fashion is now only worn by few. Clothes are what people actually wear. Fashion is still alive and well, it’s just that people are more interested in looking at it than wearing it. Fashion is sensationalism, theatrics, and costumes while clothes are simple, timeless, and ageless. Fashion trends are presented in museums and worn by celebrities.
Many designers are creating clothes for people that no longer exist — designs that aren’t compatible with most people’s modern lifestyle.
In response, people are defining their own fashion trends. This woman has worn the same kind of outfit to work for the past 3 years. It reflects a popular modern trend — people want to be stylish, but they don’t want to play the fashion game.
In response to the “just clothes” trend, many designers are sneaking modern, cool, minimal, yet exciting clothes into their runways. Genderless fashion is also trending. It’s characterless and functional, taking the “just clothes” neutrality to the next level.
Colors, prints and textures are being combined in daring, unexpected new ways. Combinations that wouldn’t have previously been seen together are now mixing for an exciting, busy look that doesn’t fail to catch the eye.
David begins wrapping up the presentation by introducing the real trend he’s most excited about — the thing that’s making our lives exciting and new: developments in technology.
Technology is now extending to clothing and accessories in order to serve as tools designed to improve our lives. These devices connect with your smartphone to relay information to you, such as when you’ve been in the sun too long or the state of your posture. There are even glasses that read your brainwaves to help you focus!
Developments in textile manufacturing have also created practical stain-proof fabrics.
There are even more exciting new ideas that seek to integrate fashion with technology, such as clothing with solar panels that are specifically designed to charge your phone.
David states that since fashion’s already explored every facet of shape, the only way to make something new is to make a familiar design with unused mediums. Using 3D printed materials and LED-infused fabrics in clothing takes what’s familiar and transforms it into something that’s new.
There’s also a whole new potential customer that designers may soon be marketing to: robots. When human-shaped robots become mainstream, we will want to dress them up.
This sort of technology is not as far into the future as it may seem. In fact, the first family-friendly household robot will be available for purchase as soon as November 2016.
We caught the complete presentation by David Wolfe and Amanda Hallay on video. See it on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jio6KpJ0-iY
If you attended and had your photo taken at the event, you can view it on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/1QPFwT3
Many thanks to David Wolfe and Amanda Hallay for giving such a fabulous presentation! We hope to see you all next time!