“The rise of haute couture in the early 20th century dovetailed with advances in communication and travel, and so, too, the public’s unusual interest in this rarefied world. There are well-known stories of Paris policemen and taxi drivers being able to recognize couture, like a cop in the ’30s who refused to arrest a feminist agitator on the grounds that she was dressed by Molyneux. By the ’60s, everyone knew about the latest fashion, if not from Mary Quant, then from the Beatles. But sometime in the late ’80s, fashion discovered semiotics. Clothes suddenly acquired meaning (think of the efforts to “decode” a Helmut Lang show or almost any by Martin Margiela). You truly needed to be an expert to appreciate why a jacket was worn inside out or why a dress that made you look like a bag lady was cool. Susan Sontag described a similar shift in the arts in the mid-60s, noting that “the most interesting and creative art of our time is not open to the generally educated; it demands special effort; it speaks a specialized language.” Today, as high fashion moves closer to mass media — with brand-hosted YouTube channels, films, huge spectacles — there is pressure to simplify. I also wonder whether the surge of new brands — their shows often crammed with weird and banal designs — hasn’t caused elite designers to rethink matters. Hence more straightforward clothes.”

Cathy Horyn in The New York Times.

-Pete

“Ask yourself always: am I harmoniously put together, am I appropriately clad for the deed at hand, and am I free of non-essentials?” — Edna Woolman Chase, Vogue editor 1914-1952
Why There’s No Good Writing About Fashion
Anne Hollander, author of Sex and Suits (among many other things), recently passed away. She penned this really good piece for Slate back in 1997 on the dismal state of fashion writing. An excerpt:

Fashion now seems like a club with a private jargon that leaves no room for the play of sensitive literary exposition. And good critical writing about clothing hardly exists at all. There is no tradition of clothes criticism that includes serious analysis, or even of costume criticism among theater, ballet, and opera critics, who do have an august writerly heritage. This fact may be what makes the fashion journalist hate her job—the painful sense that real work cannot be done in this genre, that it would be better, more honorable, to be writing about something else.
There are heartening exceptions. One is Amy Spindler of the New York Times, who seems to take clothes seriously without excess or apology, deploying a quick imagination and an interest in detail that give her writing a fine attentive sting. (A Versace show “opened with razor-sharp bias-cut asymmetrical navy dresses, stern except for a frill at the hem and a swatch of black lace that masked eyes.”) There was Kennedy Fraser, late of The New Yorker, whose witty essays on fashion published in that magazine during the 1970s have since, happily, been collected. Holly Brubach, who succeeded Fraser at TheNew Yorker, kept the standard high during her time there. A big exception is the fashion journalism of France, where a noticeable respect for fashion has been a standard common attitude since the 17th century. Fashion is as acceptable in France as any imaginative work, and criticism about it has certainly flourished there. […]
But fashion has been without honor in the English-speaking world for so long that we are afraid to take it seriously—solemnly, yes, as we take so many things, but not with ordinary seriousness. When we are not in raptures, or disapproving in the name of female realities, we are likely to wax sociological and psychological about fashion, to weigh it down with quasiscientific meaning—out of some ancient fear, perhaps, of its obvious debt to Eros.

It’s well worth a read, and you can see the rest here. 
(Thanks to Ivory Tower Style for the link)

Why There’s No Good Writing About Fashion

Anne Hollander, author of Sex and Suits (among many other things), recently passed away. She penned this really good piece for Slate back in 1997 on the dismal state of fashion writing. An excerpt:

Fashion now seems like a club with a private jargon that leaves no room for the play of sensitive literary exposition. And good critical writing about clothing hardly exists at all. There is no tradition of clothes criticism that includes serious analysis, or even of costume criticism among theater, ballet, and opera critics, who do have an august writerly heritage. This fact may be what makes the fashion journalist hate her job—the painful sense that real work cannot be done in this genre, that it would be better, more honorable, to be writing about something else.

There are heartening exceptions. One is Amy Spindler of the New York Times, who seems to take clothes seriously without excess or apology, deploying a quick imagination and an interest in detail that give her writing a fine attentive sting. (A Versace show “opened with razor-sharp bias-cut asymmetrical navy dresses, stern except for a frill at the hem and a swatch of black lace that masked eyes.”) There was Kennedy Fraser, late of The New Yorker, whose witty essays on fashion published in that magazine during the 1970s have since, happily, been collected. Holly Brubach, who succeeded Fraser at TheNew Yorker, kept the standard high during her time there. A big exception is the fashion journalism of France, where a noticeable respect for fashion has been a standard common attitude since the 17th century. Fashion is as acceptable in France as any imaginative work, and criticism about it has certainly flourished there. […]

But fashion has been without honor in the English-speaking world for so long that we are afraid to take it seriously—solemnly, yes, as we take so many things, but not with ordinary seriousness. When we are not in raptures, or disapproving in the name of female realities, we are likely to wax sociological and psychological about fashion, to weigh it down with quasiscientific meaning—out of some ancient fear, perhaps, of its obvious debt to Eros.

It’s well worth a read, and you can see the rest here

(Thanks to Ivory Tower Style for the link)

“Research has become relatively easy. You can just type in what you’re looking for and find it in an instant. The hardest thing now is the edit. Internet fashion has become this all-consuming beast which regurgitates fashion images with little regard for merit or relevance. Everything becomes elevated. I’ve come to really appreciate the make of a garment, the technology within it, the story behind it. The things you can’t see on Tumblr.”

Michael Power, 2014 graduate of the famed Central St. Martins postgraduate fashion/design program, on the fallacy of internet clothing research.

-Pete

(Source: dazeddigital.com)

Why Put This On Cares About Ethics

A reader wrote to us today, in response to our editorial policy and an article on how “style bloggers” earn money with appearance fees, editorial placement fees and other payments from brands. Here’s what he said:

With regards to the ethics thing, I gotta say it is very clear when a style blog is educational (like yours) or commercial (like many others.) And when it’s commercial, it isn’t ‘unethical’ to do what you’re paid to do, especially if it’s relatively harmless. Those style bloggers aren’t that much different from these brand ambassadors, marketers, endorsing celebrities, etc. and the stuff they do isn’t entirely useless from an economic point of view.

First of all: this is a journalistic endeavor. Like almost all such efforts, it is also a commercial endeavor. We sell advertisements against our content. Our goal is to make money by making content that people find valuable. So let’s dispense with the idea that there are people in it for money and people in it to educate it who I guess are volunteers(?) or maybe paid out of some sort of government fund, like PBS(?).

Secondly: I’m glad you are of the opinion that you can tell what’s an ad and what isn’t. We all feel that way. But the truth is: if disclosure isn’t required, we can’t. We might be able to guess right sometimes, but ultimately you get to a kind of exhausted, “well, it’s all ads anyway” state, which poisons the well for everyone.

We get dozens of solicitations a month to write paid content on this blog. Paid reviews, paid mentions in rundowns, paid links. Brands straight-up ask us how much an editorial mention costs. They wouldn’t be doing this if others weren’t taking the money. Because many brands have been conditioned to assume that bloggers will take their money to trick their audience, they don’t want to buy an honest advertisement of the sort we run. The kind that separates editorial from advertising, as journalists have done for a hundred years.

You say that “style bloggers aren’t that much different from these brand ambassadors, marketers, endorsing celebrities, etc,” and you’re right. I guess where we differ is that that fact bums me out, big-time. Frankly, while I don’t read any brand blogs or other pseudo-editorial, I don’t care that much if companies run their own media, as long as they disclose. The problem comes when they don’t.

Look: our operation isn’t perfect. We work very hard to separate editorial from advertising, but we can’t afford a full-time business person, so while we sell ads with a standard rate card, they’re administered by us. And we sell pocket squares, too. But we try to be consistent and transparent, we always disclose our relationships such as they are, and I think our reputation is clean and well-earned.

And I don’t want to paint with a broad brush and say everyone is doing this, although too many are. There are plenty of folks working hard to respect their audience. And plenty of brands who aren’t engaging in shenanigans, and are instead supporting folks who are doing good work and connecting with audiences by being trustworthy.

If I were to ask something of my colleagues, it would be this: make a policy and post it. Whatever it is, write it down, look at it, and make sure that’s how you want to run your business and your life. You can refer to it in the future when you’re not sure or when temptation arises.

Here are a few that I found helpful, as a guy who didn’t go to j-school:

NPR

The New York Times

NYU Journalism School

The BBC

I’d also remind you that this isn’t just a matter of ethics, it’s also a matter of law. Cloaking marketing in the guise of editorial is illegal in the US, and you can read the FTC guidelines here.

In some ways, the fashion business is a game of mirrors. Some people are content to play it that way. I’m glad some people aren’t.

Basically this is a list of unethical garbage that we don’t do.

Redditor daou0782 explains the difference between a $450 black t-shirt from Rick Owens and a $5 black t-shirt from Hanes. He then talks about the importance of details, and how there are two ways to appreciate clothing: clothes as means-to-an-end, and clothes as an end in itself. I don’t wear long, drapey, black tees, and wouldn’t pay $450 for one, but daou0782’s post is pretty interesting and sensible. 
(Note, this is the third Rick Owens post at Put This On in the last two weeks, which is kind of strange.)

Redditor daou0782 explains the difference between a $450 black t-shirt from Rick Owens and a $5 black t-shirt from Hanes. He then talks about the importance of details, and how there are two ways to appreciate clothing: clothes as means-to-an-end, and clothes as an end in itself. I don’t wear long, drapey, black tees, and wouldn’t pay $450 for one, but daou0782’s post is pretty interesting and sensible. 

(Note, this is the third Rick Owens post at Put This On in the last two weeks, which is kind of strange.)

“[Someone who] dresses well but not remarkably.” — Coco Chanel, when asked how she would define a fashionable person. (This post was inspired by The Prophet Pizza)

Oxford Bags

Yesterday’s post on fashion cycles reminded me that I have these photos sitting on my computer. These are “oxford bags” - a style of ridiculously baggy trousers that was popular in the early 20th century. They were often made of flannel wool, and originated with undergraduate students at Oxford University (hence the name). At the peak of their popularity in 1925, the bottom hem of men’s pant legs was almost always under 20 inches in circumference. (For reference, most “fashionable” trousers today have a circumference of 16 to 18 inches for suits, and maybe 15 to 17 inches for odd trousers). Oxford bags, in contrast, sometimes measured 40 inches or more. 

You would not be wrong to think of them as the gentleman’s version of Jncos

Above: The relationship between the frequencies of men’s beards and the width of women’s skirts, charted over time from 1823 to 1970. The graph is taken from a paper published in The American Journal of Sociology. According to The Atlantic: 

Robinson’s theory as to why fashion—both sartorial and hirsute—seems to come in waves is this: Young people tend to eschew the tastes of their elders, but old trends seem new again after a sufficient amount of time has passed. So while long skirts may fall out of favor for one generation, their grandchildren will think they’re the cat’s pajamas.

Above: The relationship between the frequencies of men’s beards and the width of women’s skirts, charted over time from 1823 to 1970. The graph is taken from a paper published in The American Journal of Sociology. According to The Atlantic: 

Robinson’s theory as to why fashion—both sartorial and hirsute—seems to come in waves is this: Young people tend to eschew the tastes of their elders, but old trends seem new again after a sufficient amount of time has passed. So while long skirts may fall out of favor for one generation, their grandchildren will think they’re the cat’s pajamas.