More things we know by now: I am, it seems, a completely incurable nostalgist for all things New York and something of a weird local history fetishist,. (Wait! We need to point out some greatest hits of my obsession! The jail on Ludlow for suffragettes! Lady pirates of the Hudson! The dangers of petticoats in snow! My undying love for Bruce Davidson’s Brooklyn Gang!)  Naturally, the sketches, prints, and etchings of Australian-born artist Martin Lewis (apparently a friend of Edward Hopper, whom I’m always weirdly drawn to for similarly NYC-biased-reasons) cater pretty directly to that weakness.  

Lewis’ drawings and etchings appeal to me so much, I think, because despite being from the 1920’s and 30’s, they still look so familiar to me — the stylishly dressed midtown crowds pushing against the wind, the angles of the street corners, the open fire hydrants on hot summer days — streetcars and cloche hats aside, this still looks pretty much like every day to me.  But mostly I think it’s something about the quality of light and shadow he captures — on streets still busy at night, during a thunderstorm, at dusk on a fire escape — which I don’t really have much to say about other than that is is exactly how it looks here and this is how I think of this city, as mostly grey with extremes of light and shadow. Am I too grossly romantic? Either way, the images are pretty awesome.

More after the jump, but you can also find a plethora of them online from the Dia and at the Brooklyn Museum.

Thread for Thought takes on all the recent nationalistic/ fashion exhibits in museums (including the Met and the Brooklyn Museum), questioning how we can define “American fashion” and the difficulty of defining fashion and categorizing it for exhibition purposes.

I do find this particularly interesting, especially in the recent era in which fashion is recontextualized and democratized by the internet (if it isn’t obvious, growing up in middle-middle-class suburban New Jersey didn’t exactly provide me any direct access to experience, awareness, or knowledge of much other than Abercrombie, Hot Topic, and Old Navy — the internet did all that.)  So do our concepts of what is “national” relate to what is historically American (cowboys? hip hop?), what is mass-market (the Gap? or designer RTW? Walmart? Urban Outfitters?), “American designers” (who all show in New York, which is not exactly representative of America at large, and with most of their production probably overseas), or what? And in terms of style — what does a global economy and instant worldwide information access (INTERNETZ) do to what defines style? (Threadbared as per usual does a great job of summarizing the digital influence on fashion  in the past decade.)

I dress an awful lot like you  Scandinavian and Australian girls whose blogs I read daily.  So to what extent do trends remain local and to what extent do they spread globally and rapidly, through the internet? (Why do girls in London still look specifically London to me still, although much of their style is similar to fashion in Brooklyn? Are generational fashion differences purely generational or influenced by tech-savviness as well?  Do wealthy folks in Iowa order the pieces they see on their favourite LA fashion bloggers online, which they wouldn’t have been able to purchase before without travelling to a major city? Why is it that in other countries I get told I don’t “look American”? Has the internet been responsible for the Japanese obsession with American streetwear/hiphop fashion? What the hell is up with me having so many readers in Germany, Brazil, and Croatia? Can we talk about those 70 million global pageviews that gets and what this means for teenagers in Singapore, Sweden, Colombia, Poland, and New Zealand?) 

prohibition and 20’s glam, televised and otherwise

I’ll admit it — I’ve kind of turned into a Person Who Watches Television after years of sort of having a high horse over sticking my nose in the air and making obnoxious comments about not having owned a television in yeeeaaaaaars. But amongst others (True Blood, Mad Men, and, um, Glee), HBO’s Scorsese-directed star-studded Boardwalk Empire has captivated me — secretly I’m kind of a big dork for period pieces (accurate or not) and I just can’t get enough of the architecture and clothes and even the advertisements against the backdrop of the Jersey shore in the 1920’s.  Because, seriously, is there anyone who doesn’t grossly overromanticize the 20’s? You basically can’t go wrong. 

Slick HBO dramas aside, Contexts recently put together a great little summary of some of the less obvious facts about life under prohibition - things like that wine was still somewhat legal, which in turn kicked off the wine industry in California, that speakeasies weren’t quite as secretive and glamorous as we’d like to think (damn!) and that alcohol could still be prescribed “medicinally.”  (Whiskey for toothaches, plz.)

And of course, as it turns out, the LIFE archives are rife with photoessays of prohibition-era images, and the US Coast Guard even has a hilarious collection of images from their liquor patrol boats of the time period.  And searching the Google-hosted LIFE image archive (ps this is my favourite thing ever basically) pulls up hundreds more images from the time period, and despite the historically less-than-glamorous facts, the photos are just as rich and stylish as HBO’s pricey reproduction.  More images of both after the jump!

hell’s angels

SO. My obsession with the LIFE Magazine archives has come up before, as well as my affinity for photos of white trash gangs of the 50s and 60s (how many times can I post Bruce Davidson photos?) Also I have recently become a Person Who Watches TV On The Internet after years of being a Person Who Does Not Watch TV And Makes Snarky Comments About People Who Do, which I feel medium-serious conflicted about, but either way amongst the TV I have been watching on the internet is Sons of Anarchy, so maybe I just secretly am into really badass motorcycle chicks and trashy clothes or something.  SO IT IS NOT A SURPRISE that I basically peed myself over this formerly-unpublished photo story about Hells Angels in California in the mid-60’s.  CAN WE PLEASE NOTE the a.) curlers and b.) broken nose above?!

More after the jump, and the full story (minus crappy watermarks from saving) here

And today, in Slightly Offensive Things We Already Knew And Sadly Could Have Done Ourselves With A Box Of Crayons And A Map Of The City, And We All Also Already Saw On Gawker But I’m Reposting Anyway: racial demographics of NYC!  More cities available at Eric Fischer’s Flickr. Fun extra credit project here: compare this to the Netflix rentals by zip code the NYT put together a few months back. (As well as all the highly entertaining maps at Very Small Array, which you also probably should be looking at occasionally if you are not already.)
(As a both self-critical and critical-of-demographic-statistics side note which I noticed after being all “WTF is that cluster of pink in Crown Heights all about?!” and realizing that I had some sort of charming metal thing going on where “Hasidic Jews =/= White People” (which, wait - is that subconsciously antisemitic of me, or would it be culturally insensitive to consider them “white people” especially considering the isolationist real estate dramarama with the community in this city?) — I also find it interesting how little this map also conveys — aformentioned tensions with Hasidic communities in South Williamsburg and Crown Heights can’t be understood at all from this map alone, nor the heavy Russian or Polish populations throughout parts of Brooklyn, nor the fact that East Harlem is mostly Puerto Rican while Bushwick is largely Dominican and other Latino, etc, etc.  I’d also really love to see this map as a time lapse over years — did you know Bushwick was once largely populated by Germans?)

fashion history + the silk city

Secret history geek that I am, I loved this little video with a brief history of the fashion industry and Fashion Week here in NYC, more than a little bit in comparison to the NYFW madness going on around me.  I was psyched to see a video from a publication that addressed fashion history in terms beyond what the biggest designers sent down the runway and the richest, whitest women wore to the most public events; it’s easy for us to forget the sheer number of people participating in the fashion industry, the large majority of whom cannot wear any of the clothing actually produced, and also of the extent to which the development of an American fashion industry is closely intertwined with the development of both American and NYC identity and history, on all levels from labor organization to architecture. 

Which got me thinking historically about things I’d forgotten — much of my family hails from Paterson, NJ, nicknamed the “Silk City” for its heavy silk an textile production in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and a huge percentage of my family worked in the textile and clothing industries in various ways, from working in the silk mills to working at the now-defunct Meyer Brothers department store, which is taking epic amounts of internet research to find anything about ANYWHERE, alas! (My grandfather is full of stories of working in the “dye-house,” as he calls it. He was probably, like, 14.)

And so: Lil’ history lesson after the jump! So you can stop looking at everyone’s iPhone shots of the runway for 10 minutes!

Thread for Thought pulls together another nifty little piece about fashion in literature (for more great ones: a series of posts detailing the history of cross dressing/drag, the politics and evolution of mannequins.)

I feel like I’ve (and half the internet, or at least half the internet I read) been beating the dead horse of Look Guys Fashion Is Relevant In A Lot of Ways And Is Like A Big Cultural Signifier of Different Stuff for ages now, but this stuff IS really interesting, I SWEAR, and in some ways somehow I’d never thought of the role that descriptions of clothing and style played in much of the fiction I’ve read in my life.  

And while I tried to come up with several uber-highbrow examples here for you — that amazing painfully metaphorical passage about shopping for hats in Good Morning Midnight which is half the reason this blog is titled such! Nora’s dress crinkling in The Dead! probably something about class and femininity in Austen or the Brontes! anything ever about corsets and petticoats! something fascinating about costuming in Shakespeare! this essay about colourful fabrics marking alterity in drab, foggy, 16th century London which I loved to death when I had to read it senior year of college! 

But somehow the first thing I could really come up with was this weirdly striking memory of reading The Little House on the Prairie series when I was in third grade or so and there being achapter in one of the books where the mother takes the girls to buy fabric for a new dress, and there’s something about floral muslin or something. I remember being completely baffled by the concept that people mother’s had to travel far to fabric stores to pick out fabric for a new dress, and also not understanding what the heck muslin was, but whatever it is (I know now, jeez) it’s firmly entrenched in my memory along with blind sisters, badgers, and houses made out of sod as a sole indicator of Americana and pioneer life.   

Apparently in 1904, this was EXTREMELY RACY — ankles, oh noez!! This stuff fascinates me — both changing ideas of what is and isn’t risqué and the strange associations/double entendres of everyday activities.  What’s the deal?  

I’ve found lots of these mildly racy, early twentieth-century images of mending, and it isn’t that surprising. Associations between mending and sex are conventional and familiar from centuries of genre painting and portraiture: a woman looking at the work in her lap gives a man an opportunity to look at her; a female servant bent over her darning displays her hands or chest; an idle stitcher clearly has her mind on other things.

[More at Socimages.]

Eline just posted this and I had to steal it since that “romanticizing weird old shit” fetish problem thing I have apparently isn’t just limited to New York — posters from a sealed-up-since-1959 metro tunnel in London (where I’ll be in a week! tell me all your secrets of amazing places to go/things to do there that I might not know about yet!)  More pictures after the jump and the whole thing here.

1885 sketch of an ice cream cart (no Tasti-D or Mr. Softee?!?!?) and 1937 Weegee photo of summer on the LES, both via Ephemeral NY.

American Women: Fashioning a National Identity

The Met right now has a special exhibition from the Costume Institute and the Brooklyn Museum called “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity,” which of COURSE I’m conceptually, ecstatically losing my shit over. Let’s just quote their press release for moment:

"It will explore developing perceptions of the modern American woman from 1890 to 1940 and how they have affected the way American women are seen today. Focusing on archetypes of American femininity through dress, the exhibition will reveal how the American woman initiated style revolutions that mirrored her social, political, and sexual emancipation. "

Oh, HELL YES. Though that description is (of course) a little exaggeratedly positive and optimistic, pretty much anything involving old dresses and phrases like “archetypes of American femininity” is going to get me going. Here’s their lil’ video of the exhibit:

While I haven’t had the chance to make it uptown to see it yet, I hiked out to the Brooklyn Museum (where the Met borrowed the dresses from) with my mother today and got to check out an extension of the exhibit - ”American High Style" - a collection of 85 or so pieces meant to re-introduce the BK Museum’s couture and costume collection after years in storage.  While it’s a little heavy, as expected, on the couture end of things (too many evening gowns! not enough day dresses! not everyone was rich and partying, goddamnit!) it was beautiful and well worth the trip.

Pix after the jump — excuse the sub-par quality. I WAS BEING STEALTHY with a point’n’shoot.

The Delineator, published by the Butterick pattern company from 1873 to 1937 (thanks, Wikipedia!) was one of the preeminent women’s fashion magazines of its time.  There’s plenty of copies and scans of various issues, ads, and illustrations floating around eBay and the internet… It’s crazy comparing this — text-heavy, flowery descriptions of the latest fashions, complete with intricate etched drawings — with today’s magazines or even, you know, MY BLOG.
Something else to note in reading these early issues is that a huge portion of it is dedicated to explaining to women how they can make these fashions for themselves or what fabrics will work best, though I guess the fact that it was circulated by a pattern/sewing company had some effect on that, as they sneak in a lot of references to their available patterns. (More of that 1883 issue here, and a 1891 one here.)
Prior to photography, obviously, fashion magazines had to rely heavily on illustration and text — I loved browsing the cover archives of the magazines and seeing how their cover design changed to reflect not only the fashions, but the developing art styles and flexibility of new printing techniques of the times. (Those first ones? Probably all etched and letterpressed… crazy… Must have limited layout and production so much.)  Some examples below from the magazine’s full run, more complete archive here.
Loved this ed/photoset/whatever-it-is that showed up on Rackk and Ruin today (and this one too, actually, from Flair magazine and almost exactly the same in style); not really sure where the images are from or for what magazine etc, but just so dead-on with that sort of romanticized blue collar urban Americana… Reminded me a lot of (and I’m guessing was inspired by) Bruce Davidson’s  Brooklyn Gang:

Loved this ed/photoset/whatever-it-is that showed up on Rackk and Ruin today (and this one too, actually, from Flair magazine and almost exactly the same in style); not really sure where the images are from or for what magazine etc, but just so dead-on with that sort of romanticized blue collar urban Americana… Reminded me a lot of (and I’m guessing was inspired by) Bruce Davidson’s  Brooklyn Gang:

Loved this ed/photoset/whatever-it-is that showed up on Rackk and Ruin today (and this one too, actually, from Flair magazine and almost exactly the same in style); not really sure where the images are from or for what magazine etc, but just so dead-on with that sort of romanticized blue collar urban Americana… Reminded me a lot of (and I’m guessing was inspired by) Bruce Davidson’s  Brooklyn Gang:

Loved this ed/photoset/whatever-it-is that showed up on Rackk and Ruin today (and this one too, actually, from Flair magazine and almost exactly the same in style); not really sure where the images are from or for what magazine etc, but just so dead-on with that sort of romanticized blue collar urban Americana… Reminded me a lot of (and I’m guessing was inspired by) Bruce Davidson’s  Brooklyn Gang:
Forget brass knuckles, spiky shoulders, or nail-heels, I just want brass fingernails now.  Ephemeral NY’s recent post on girl gangsters of 19th century turned me onto a Wikipedia rampage (how else am I going to waste time while my hair dries in the morning?) Turns out there’s ton of information on legendary ass-kicking criminal ladies of late 1800s Gotham (who all had awesome names — Hellcat Maggie? Battle Annie, the “most-feared brick hurler of her time”? Gallus Mag, who bit off the ear of Sadie the Goat, who was a fucking pirate in the Hudson?)
My best friend Arthur always jokes about wanting the return of violent 70’s New York (presumably we’d all be hanging out with Debbie Harry and Stephen Sprouse in unheated lofts on the Bowery - somehow just seems more romantic than the reality of getting mugged living in a half-heated loft/brownstone in Bushwick today.)….but personally I’m way more into late 1800’s corrupt Tammany Hall Manhattan riddled with Irish-Catholic-vs-WASPy gang fights and filthy tenements, half-constructed museums and bridges, booming journalism and muckraking exposes, suffragists and saloons… why didn’t they give us THIS stuff in history class? It makes me depressed that I spent childhood falling asleep over multiple-choice tests under fluorescent lights and now I’m in my 20’s Wikipedia-ing 1870’s gangsters in my spare time instead of DOING ANYTHING PRODUCTIVE WITH MY LIFE.
At the end of the day of course it’s all still just violence based on ignorance, racism, hate, blahdyblahblah, ethnocentric, blahdyblah racist, blahdyblah disease and lady pirates aren’t that romantic, but come on, cut me some slack here. WE’RE TALKING ABOUT ONE-EARED BRASS-NAILED LADIES IN TORN DRESSES AND LACE-UP BOOTS RUNNING AROUND MY STREETS WITH PISTOLS TUCKED INTO THEIR CLEAVAGE. This shit is AWESOME.