Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Method to the "Mad Men" Madness

Earlier Drafts:
These earrings prompted me to reconsider the size and quantity of my accessories.
These woven sandals acted as casual alternatives to my flip-flops.

navy and taupe patterned top (Levi's)
taupe striped wide-leg pants (Old Navy)
woven sandals (Target)
pewter earrings (Fossil)

One way to adopt a trend is to practice its principles.  My budget might prevent me from investing in a trend's specific styles, but I'm learning to participate in it by instead embracing its methods.

Here's what I mean.

This week our posts have referenced the 50s/60s-era throwback styles which seem to be gaining momentum as the fall fashion season nears.  We've mentioned Mad Men several times in relation to this sub-movement because the award-winning television series is largely responsible for the vintage resurgence.  The ensembles featured on the show are indeed jealousy-inducing, but because contemporary iterations are currently out of my price range, I haven't purchased any.  Thankfully, while dreaming up ways to participate in the looks the show has revived and still maintain my financial integrity, I stumbled upon this clip on the Mad Men website.

(Under the "Videos" tab, click on "Mad Style."  Then select "Mad About Style: Dresses.")

In it, Janie Bryant, the show's costume designer, and Simon Kneen, Executive V.P. and Creative Director for Banana Republic, chat about the semiotics of the female cast members' frocks.  The clip offers a peek into the construction of the Mad Men sartorial vibe, and it also gives insight into the more general early-mod revival.  Of particular interest, however, is that two minutes into the blurb, Kneen reminds us of a post-WWII-era principle of dressing:

"In those days, they would talk about 'building a wardrobe.'  It was going to do you probably for five or six years.  People would alter their dresses.  They would change their hemlines.  Fashion is a little bit disposable today, and people are looking for newness."

Kneen's observation is a poignant one, as it reminds us that women did not always begin anew with trend-conscious wardrobes every season.  Instead, they modified their old wardrobes to suit.  The takeaway for me?  I need not always buy new - that is, buy more - in order to look new.  Sara at Orchids in Buttonholes elaborated on this topic yesterday in a post which refuted the "dress better by buying more" sentiment by advocating what I think is a 50s/60s-era spirit of thrift.  Her post convinced me that my budget - and my creativity - would benefit if I imagined my garments as having longevity.

Truthfully, I'm slow on the up-take with this one, because other blogfriends have been testing the recycled wardrobe waters for months.  Tania at What Would a Nerd Wear just completed a "30 for 30" month-long challenge, in which she simultaneously declared a shopping hiatus and challenged herself to repurpose 30 pieces she already owned.  Liz began a similar challenge yesterday; she has limited herself to two back-to-school purchases, and she's maximizing their wearability by styling them in more ways than one.

As for me, today I'm reviving a very old pair of trousers by styling them into a new look.  I normally wear these striped pants to work with wedge heels and a button-down, but pairing them with flat sandals and a loose-fitting top gives them a more relaxed feel.  What's more, repurposing them will save me from purchasing some out-of-my-price-range versions currently featured as "New Fall Arrivals" in my favorite shops.  A bit of economy goes a long way.

One caveat: it's possible that following this Mad Men-era principle might pose a Catch-22 situation.  Common advice often dictates that a sustaining wardrobe must be an expensive one.  But "investing" isn't always a euphemism for "splurging."  At least, I don't think it has to be.  Sometimes "investing" can simply mean "maximizing" or "getting creative with what we have."  After all, I'm always investing something in my clothing, whether it's money or creativity.  For now, the latter suits my financial situation best.  So, in this way, adhering to a tenet inspired by the current trend allows me to participate in one of its ideologies, even if I can't afford its clothes.

  • Does this principle resonate with you?  How are you practicing it personally, and how have you observed others participating in it?
  • Can you think of other fashion trends that have sparked worthwhile dressing principles?  I have a hunch that my husband's obsession with thrift stores originated with some haute couture movement in which he takes little interest, for example.
  • Besides restyling, in what other ways would you suggest I maximize my wardrobe?  I've considered taking a few items, like this skirt, to a seamstress for some dramatic alterations.  I know others of you are more daring in your sewing projects.  Please tell us about them!


Scholar Style Guide said...

Nice look!

I like the way that you're rethinking "investement" pieces as items that may not require a financial investment but rather a mental and creative one. I think that, considering my budget, this is how I tend to view my wardrobe.

In the previous two posts, we discussed how fashion technology allows for more comfortable clothing. I think we should also consider that new fabrics and technologies (and companies trying to save a buck) also led to clothing that can be manufactured cheaply and sold at low prices. These items, even basic ones, simply will not last past a certain point. This lack of quality necessitates buying new items.

Naturally, I'm not trying to make a blanket statement; of course you can find well-constructed clothing with good fabric quality. However, you're going to pay for it.

Nor am I trying to say that cheaply made, poorly constructed clothing is what drives consumers to think that new is better. It all seems part of the same cycle.


Iris said...

In my blog I have been chronicling my attempt to remix the items in my wardrobe for one year of work outfits. I have not completely stopped shopping but, I am being much more selective and critical about everything I buy. So far I think it has paid of saving me alot of money and helping me to be creative with the things I already own.

Diana said...

I love shopping in my closet and finding old things that I had forgotten about! (I'll admit that my closet is big and somewhat disorganized, but this leads to lots of hidden gems.) It's a lot of fun, plus it makes me feel virtuous. ;) On a recent visit to my parents' house, I found an old blouse that I used to wear in high school in the 90's, and I have been wearing it with a vest and jeans.

Some things I have been doing lately to revive old wardrobe items are: (A) wearing a top as a skirt - this is often as easy as a belt and some safety pins (B) skirt as "slip" showing under another skirt or dress (totally cribbed from Audi of Fashion for Nerds) (C) embellishing old tees and tanks a la J crew.

Have you seen the New Dress a Day blog? It's super inspirational - the blogger is refashioning a new item of thrifted clothing each day for a year, with a budget of $1/day.

Scholar Style Guide said...

Katie, I hadn't thought about apparel technologies potentially backfiring, but you raise a great point. Some of the advances we relish - like cheaper fabrics being more readily available in larger quantities and cheaper prices - also have negative consequences in that they create a need to perpetually shop. I'm sure some would justifiably argue that this manufacturing practice isn't entirely inadvertent. I guess it's up for debate. Still, like you say, it's all part of the supply-and-demand cycle.

Iris, it's good to hear this principle is working for you!

Diana, thanks for the tips and for the blog reference! The New Dress a Day blog is bold in a refreshing way. It helps to have mad tailoring skills, I bet. Here's the link for interested readers:


Scholar Style Guide said...

Like Iris, I've found that blogging has encouraged me to practice this principle without putting it in as many words. Blogging about style (and reading others' blogs) has inspired me to "repurpose" items by rolling up sleeves, mixing and matching, altering items I didn't love, and mixing "dressy" items with "casual" items to create a more hybrid look. Like Diana, I get a lot of satisfaction out of finding new ways to wear "old" items.

And while I generally agree with the idea that "you get what you pay for," I think marketplaces like etsy make it possible to buy high quality items at more affordable prices. A lot of people are selling genuine vintage apparel on there as well as handmade clothing that I imagine is of higher quality than what we might get at discount retailers.

I LOVE this look on you. This is a great example of how well pattern mixing can work if it's done with a critical eye.



Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the mention! I'm very much of the build-a-wardrobe mentality, though it took me awhile to get to this point. It's a great one for me to have and I continue to work on it, but it often makes decision-making very difficult. There is so much more out there than the 50s and 60s, so many more things to chose from, so much more that is accessible because of online shopping, that finding THE thing that will work best for me takes far longer than it would if I were around back then. It's wonderful that we all have such a range to chose from, but it's also very overwhelming at times. So there's that difference, too, between then and now.

I love how you've styled those trousers - their pattern plays wonderfully off that of your blouse, and the overall look is very floaty and late-summertime. Such a great revival - I hope those trousers get more remixes because they're truly a fun piece.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you mentioned newdressaday! She is really inspiring on the repurposing front. Most of that stuff I would have seen no potential in at all.
- Mackenzie