By Heidi Trautmann
My grandmother used to say: girl, don’t throw your dresses away, trends are always coming back…and she was right. My grandmother taught me many things; proverbs for all situations in life, don’t waste your time with many words, she said; cooking and baking, tending chicken and turkeys, planting potatoes and harvesting them, along with all the rules for preservation over the winter months…. and she taught me to design and sew my own dresses. You must develop your own style, she said, in everything, and then you will feel comfortable in your skin.
Having one’s own style is not the rule in fashion in general and when you start thinking and researching about the issue of fashion and go back in time you are drawn into many sideways of philosophy, religion, society and identity.
There is one book I came across which I really enjoyed reading: “Costume” by Rachel H. Kemper”. It covers all aspects from beginning of mankind until the 1980s. According to her the first human beings covered their bodies out of fear, for protection against attacks, elemental forces of nature, but also to frighten away the enemy by painting the body with scary symbols or wrapping themselves into the skin of a beast. They were hunters and collectors and covered their bodies with whatever they found and killed. Later, when the migrant hunters started to settle, they started to produce material from what they gained by farming. Communities developed and automatically leading figures, chiefs, royalities, and they wore their own costumes to distinguish themselves from lower classes, the ordinary folks; thus it all started….society, I mean.
Costumes, fashion changed with changes in politics, that was so in the old times and is so today. Extreme modest and conservative fashion of the day was to be found in repressed and religious societies, a good example is the Spanish Court in the 16th century, ideological thought control in the times of Inquisition; other such thought controls were in communist countries with sort of unisex fashion, I would rather call it costumes in the thinking of today. Whereas in the era of the French Directoire an extreme form of freedom was introduced into the saloons of society along with the freedom of thoughts. I would compare it with the topless fashion in the 1960s. I still remember young women walking through the elegant streets of Munich in their topless costumes which usually was a skirt with straps across or the monokini for the beachgirls. Bars indicated the new fashion with posters at the door ‘topless bar service’.
Another very free fashion but not so extreme were the early 1900s with the appearance of art nouveau in fine arts, architecture, in fashion and hairstyle; a lifestyle developed, it came with the emancipation of women; the first short hems which made it easy for the ladies to dance the Charleston.
There was the very elegant time of the era of Audrey Hepburn, a fashion which was copied by most women in Western countries. Industrial and technical development had also moved the boundaries between classes, and thus fashion reached the middle classes; great fashion houses designed pret-à-porter fashion for the Department Stores. Wearing a hat and gloves was the rule when you left the house. No more hats and gloves today, only for protection without any demand on beauty.
In the 70s we had the minis which are in now again and the problems young women with big thighs have were just the same as we had them in those years. The Minis were followed by the Maxis which in the long run proved to be too unpractical with the ever increasing rhythm of modern society. High heels with sharp pointed shoe tips, my husband used to say, these women should apply for a weapon certificate…..but look around today, these shoes are the hit and the girls can hardly walk in them….gone is the elegant carriage.
When we were travelling across the entire Mediterranean in the 90s and later, I realized a very uniform fashion the young people, young women and men, were following; no matter where we went on land; black and purple, Jeans and clinging skirts, purple lipsticks; a little bit pirate like as if wanting to display their disgust with society. The fist against society; and all were alike, long hair that asked for the same movement of head to shake it back. Identity. The entire body language, mimicry, the language even became uniform, one was frustrated…not sad, unhappy or angry…and other collective terms have replaced the rich vocabulary of our languages.
For the last couple of years I have realised a new trend in life style, young people are wanting a little less realism and anti movements, they go for romantic feelings again; there are the enormously successful films such as Lord of the Rings, Avantar, or films with witches and little draculas, or books that are sold by the millions, such as Harry Potter and the like; or when you watch the romantic feelings displayed on facebook, poems and paintings of Edwardian times.
Dresses are more coloured now and have fringes and laces. Jeans are still worn but more often replaced by pretty dresses.
What is completely out of fashion routine is the handmade fashion, or the dress maker; you can hardly find good and learnt dressmakers.
In general I appreciate our modern times; the boundaries between society classes have softened, no dress code dictations, you don’t have to wear anything special for occasions such as theatre and opera. People are appreciated for what they do and not what they are. With the possibility for all members of society to obtain higher education, and with it wealth and recognition, visual differentiation is no longer valid provided that we will not be submitted to a radical change of political, religious and social laws and forms.