When it becomes a message written in silk, cotton and thread… according to Veronica Horwell who writes for the Intelligent Life magazine. This idea intrigued me and the more I thought about it… the more I thought she had a point. Dresses can change lives… or in the broader scheme.. fashion can shock, it can push, pull and poke at the the rules until expectations and norms shift gear.
Think about Horwell’s examples… illustrated beautifully by Andrew Archer… Scarlett O’ Hara, dressed in emerald velvet and begging Rhett Butler for $300 to pay her taxes on Tara… a desperate plan, where her wits and her dress were her only recourse. Next is Liz Hurley, Versace and those very sexy safety pins that single handedly launched her career… Celia Birtwell’s print wedding dress from 1969… floral, hippy and completely anti-establishment… this gown represented the turbulence of the late ’60’s… And Marilyn Monroe… ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’… that dress won’t be forgotten and nor will she.
Charles James’s ‘Four -Leaf Clover’, worn to the coronation ball in London by Austine Hearst in 1953… her dress, so sensational by all accounts with it’s 7kg skirt of silk and velvet, overshadowed the Queen… or at least took up more floorspace… In 1942 Claire McCardell designed the ‘popover dress’ in response to the demand for a wartime outfit that was inexpensive and practical. This wrap around dress sold at just under $7 and was ingenious… timeless…. the DVF wrap of it’s day. Yves Saint Laurent created the ultimate poster for modernism with his Mondrian shift and Virginie Gautreau aka Madame X (artist, John Singer Sargent christened her this) shocked society with this simple gown in 1883. Singer Sargent persuaded her to pose in this dress for her portrait… without wrap….. without gloves… it was a great scandal and reputations were ruined… But a magnificent dress it was and a dress that we would consider tame by today’s standards.
Dresses… change lives, launch careers, ruin careers… a clever designer can do so much more than clothe the body. What dresses do you think changed society or at least altered perceptions? I was thinking Twiggy and the mini… Jackie Kennedy… and her shifts… For a little insider inspiration the Design Museum has put together a superb collection.
Fifty Dresses that Changed the World… here
For European readers you can find it… here
To download the free app, ‘Intelligent Life’ click… here
Have a happy Friday… xv