Friday, August 27, 2010

Audrey Might've Worn a Fedora

Draft:Earlier Drafts:
This strapless top's silhouette is surprisingly versatile.
These heels "go" with e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.  But I've said that already.

fedora (Target)
black strapless top (ShopMamie)
multi-chain necklace (Talbots)
black Audrey pants (Gap)
nude suede heels (Seychelles via Piperlime)

This week Katie reassessed her closet and determined that her attraction to floral prints may indicate that she's a more "ladylike" dresser than she realized.  Liz noted that Katie had previously described her style as "easy elegance," and asked if Katie considered the terms "ladylike" and "elegant" synonymous.  Their exchange was helpful to my own thinking because, although this week I've grappled with the definition of "ladylike" and danced around the idea of elegance, I hadn't speculated about the ways in which the two meanings may intersect. 

Months ago, noted photographer and illustrator Garance Dore published a post entitled "What is Elegance?" on her personal fashion blog.  I like Dore's definition of this frequently-used, often-abused term, for it emphasizes conduct over clothes and decorum over dressing habits.  It encourages me in a You're-Never-Fully-Dressed-Without-a-Smile sort of way.  People can be elegant with or without the "right" style savvy, she suggests.

Rex Harrison's character Henry Higgins learns a similar lesson in the 1964 film My Fair Lady.  When his efforts to refine Audrey Hepburn's street-smart protagonist Eliza backfire, Henry realizes that Eliza's je ne sais quoi renders her more elegant than any of his rules of form.  She is dignified despite, not because of, his insistence on social and sartorial graces.

I mention this film because, not-so-ironically, it derives from the same Mad Men era we've been discussing this week.  Consistent with the social undercurrents of 50s/60s fashion, the movie's very title challenges the notion of femininity.  For starters, it's possessive, suggesting that the fair female in question might be owned by, or at least indebted to, her teacher/admirer.  Therefore, it also implicitly asks, when exactly does Eliza become a "lady," before or after Henry instructs her in navigating high society?

I think the meanings of "ladylikeness" and "elegance" might intersect here, at the concept of social shrewdness.  Dore's characterization certainly esteems "politeness," "attention to others," "poise," and "a sense of culture" as primary qualifiers of elegance.  And media evidence from Audrey's classic films to Frank Sinatra's 1950s tune "Luck Be a Lady" demonstrate that, for women coming of age in these pivotal decades, "lady" likely had similar connotations.

If this is true, are these terms simply equivalent to "ethical conscience" or "social awareness" or something like it?  Do they mean being kind or even genteel enough to get along in society?  What implications would accepting these definitions have today?  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm interested in sorting through these ideas because so far next season's fashion marketing has depended on them.

Even if we don't reach any conclusions on the terms, I'm glad our posts this week have sparked such lively conversations about the development of feminism and the resurgence of vintage fashion.  We're energized by your insightful comments, comments like Mackenzie's: 

"I'm with you that 'ladylike' is a difficult word to use in grappling with your clothing ... But the silhouettes themselves? Rock, rock on. Not wearing something because of its previous connotations of bondage is just as much a form of bondage ... Let's all wear what makes us happy and only call it 'ladylike' if we are ready to be called 'ladies' in whatever we wear."

Prompted by Mackenzie's suggestion to wear what makes me happy, I've compiled an outfit inspired by Audrey Hepburn's monochrome look in the 1957 film Funny Face.  I've thrown in a fedora to gesture at Sinatra, too.  The overall ensemble is my nod to his confident swagger and Audrey's gamine boldness.  How does it resonate with you?

Thanks for the great discussions this week!  Have a happy weekend.

  • How do you define "elegance"?  "Ladylikeness"?  Do you think they're synonymous?
  • Why do you think Audrey Hepburn is regarded as a fashion icon?  What does she represent to you?
  • How do you think our style mindsets are like or unlike those of the 50s/60s?
  • More practically, this one-size-fits-most fedora business is not working for me.  Is this hat supposed to cover my ears?  How are you guys wearing them?


Scholar Style Guide said...

Participating inexpensively in the fedora trend must require a perfectly average sized head/thickness of hair. Every cheap one I tried on shot right off my head like a water balloon off a faucet. Regardless, I think this ensemble looks great on you, though I wonder how you are holding that necklace up without falling over.

I'm still troubled by the terms "ladylike" and "elegant" because for me, they are so fraught with connotations of wealth. It's nice that Garance equates these things with elegance, and I find her kind of charming, but from what I can tell, she only ever surrounds herself with other wealthy people. So I can't help but feel a little skeptical of the way she defines elegance. It's completely reductive to say, but it seems as though, if you have all those qualities she lists and you're poor, you might be called "socially aware," but if you have all of those qualities and you're wealthy, you're "elegant."

But I just called her "charming." What does that mean? To my mind, it's kind of in the same arena as "elegant," without the wealth connotation. Because I feel like people from any socio-economic background are plenty charming. Especially Audrey Hepburn. That's certainly the first word that comes to mind when I think of her.

Just one more thought, because mostly I want to hear what others have to say: HOW is it possible that we have devoted nearly an entire week to 50s/60s style and we haven't even MENTIONED Jackie Kennedy?! We'll have to get to her sometime in the future. : )


Scholar Style Guide said...

Oh, you're so right. Jackie O. deserves a week of her own.

- AM

What Would a Nerd Wear said...

i love these pants too! they also make me think of audrey hepburn.
and p.s. definitely a week on jackie kennedy :)