For those who razz me about my on-the-road recycling program, your days of merriment may be over. If you’ve shopped for ladies’ clothes lately, you might know why the curtain may be coming down on that act.
Never before have I riffled through Von Maur’s markdown racks and walked away empty-handed, time and time again. The dreamy vision of Zac Posen’s “New Romantics” cotton sateen print shirt dress that I beheld in the Brooks Brothers window on the corner of the Avenue of the Americas and W. 51st St. turned into a horrific nightmare in the dressing room. For someone whose coworkers stop by to see what she’s wearing that day, this is a crisis indeed.
I forgot about my disaster recovery plan for continuing the business of my wardrobe for some recent brief shining moments on the Ohio State University campus, when I stopped by Campbell Hall’s Gladys Keller Snowden Gallery to see American Aesthetics, an Ohio State Historic Costume & Textiles Collection exhibition.
The exhibition featured the work of Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta, fashion designers who created a trendsetting American aesthetic during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. After Beene’s first collection was featured in the cover of Vogue in September 1963, his tastes evolved from his popular sheath dress to soft-draping garments. Blass’s use of tailoring and luxurious fabrics created a classic look, while De la Renta was known for his dramatic colors and embellishments. When you think of fashion designers, your first thought might be of their high-end ready-to-wear lines. But this trio also sought to reach additional potential customers with lower-priced, more casual “bridge lines” like the “Beene Bag,” “Blassport” and “Miss O.”
My make-believe shopping spree began with the minimalist, A-line shifts that were so popular during the 1960s. Their monochromatic color schemes, creatively placed seams and stiff fabrics produced a simple, structured look. I’d live in Beene’s light blue linen dress, but when the occasion called for it, I’d also give an occasional turn to de la Renta’s navy-and-white cotton sleeveless ankle-length gown with circle motifs.
All three designers relied on ruffles to create a romantic look. When the occasion called for it, I’d be very happy to slip on Beene’s 1970s black organza strapless gown with stiff silk organza ruffles at the neckline and hem, but I’d have to bring along my luxurious begonia pink silk wrap in case of a chill.
I’ve loved Lurex sparkle ever since discovering it at Gorsuch during my Colorado ski adventure. In this process, metallic yarns are made by laminating or depositing the metal onto a film, which is then cut into thin strips for weaving. This makes the yarn less expensive and lighter than using gold or silver. My knees went weak when I saw de la Renta’s 1960s A-line shift dress of light green silk with a silver Lurex Orientalist pattern with silver metallic braid trim. Oh, how I wished I could have taken this dreamy number home with me!
No shopping needed in the “Little Black Dressing” portion of the exhibition – I already have frocks very similar to Beene’s late-1960s black wool crepe sleeveless dress with full pleated skirt, as well as Blass’s 1960s sleeveless black heavy wool crepe princess seam dress with flared skirt and an attached beaded belt at the dropped waist. But look how those rhinestone bows sparkle on those black satin pumps!
Unexpected combinations are a good way to jazz up a conservative bent for clothes. Beene introduced fabrics normally meant for everyday use, such as grey flannel and wool jersey, to evening gowns. De la Renta combined a V-neck argyle sweater with sequins. Blass paired practical corduroy with luxurious chiffon and covered sweaters with sequins. And I’d snap up this snappy set of a coat with fox collar, skirt, trousers, vest and scarf in brown and ivory wool Glen plaid with a matching paisley silk blouse, all designed by Blass for the 1975-1976 season. Imagine the variety of combinations I could create with this entire wardrobe in itself, I thought!
I imagined spreading this dress with its bright blood-orange double knit short-sleeve bodice and brown wool tweed straight skirt out on my bed, picking the perfect pin and bracelet to wear with it. Then, for a big reveal, I’d cover the whole thing up with a matching wool tweed A-line coat with an asymmetric one-button tab opening repeated at the wrists, all created by Blass for his 1967-1968 line.
Leave it to my CSG classmate Teddi’s aunt, Gladys Geanekopulos, to buy this sharp “Op Art” pattern coat and chemise dress ensemble of brown and beige wool plaid that Beene designed in 1966, displayed complete with a magazine advertisement for it. True tailored perfection!
Wait! What shoes would I wear with my new outfits? These two-tone beige Salvatore Ferragamo slingbacks would do very nicely indeed.
These Ferragamo gold metallic leather shoes would be just perfect with that Lurex number, but I reminded myself that I already have a similar, but more sensible bronze leather pair, custom-made for my “cookies.”
These outfits took care of what I’d wear to work or for special occasions, but what would I wear during my down time? My make-believe shopping spree continued in the Thompson Library Special Collections exhibition area, where five paper dresses from the Historic Costume & Textiles Collection were on display.
Paper dresses, you might ask? Why, yes, they were quite the fashion trend for a few years in the 1960s! For one dollar, you could order a simple A-line shift, made of cellulose pulp that was reinforced with a nylon webbing to improve durability and drape. Sleeveless and collarless, it fastened with ties or Velcro. It arrived with instructions for using scissors to cut the dress to the desired hem length, and for care — the dresses were not to be washed because soap and water caused them to lose their fire-resistance. “Be a real paper doll with just a snip and a stitch! It’s easy and fun to style your dress to match your mood!,” a vintage order form read.
Mars of Asheville, North Carolina’s “Waste Basket Boutique” collection included the Yellow Pages dress, featuring a collage print design of Yellow Pages telephone book advertisements. A cap-sleeved paper dress with multicolored paisley and floral motifs came with matching paper fabric yardage, in case you wanted to make a complementary accessory.
Now, how to fix my hair? I found the answer in a nearby display case filled with a collection of circa-1925 hair fashion ephemera related to the Marcel Waver metal curling iron manufactured by the Marcelwaver Co. of Cincinnati. Of course!
A decade ago, I fashioned my own version of a Marcel-waved ‘do, clipping large clamps into damp hair every night before bedtime and waking up to tightly waved tresses. Standing transfixed by the case, I pored over an accordion-style booklet of eight silver-print photos that showed the start-to-finish process for using the Marcel Waver, an instructional pamphlet, and an original curling iron that was used as a salesman’s sample. Maybe it’s time to resurrect that phase.
American Aesthetics closed on April 30, so here’s one last look at that dreamy Lurex dress. Bookmark and check back on https://costume.osu.edu/ to see what the next exhibition will be.