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“When you’re accustomed to wealth, you don’t show it, right? That’s why the white kids in school could wear bummy sneakers”*…

 

Chucks

The Converse Rubber Shoe Company’s non-skid All Star sneakers, from 1923

 

It was not until the 1920s that industrialization made sneakers widely available and affordable. Once an emblem of privileged leisure on the tennis court, the canvas-and-rubber high-top adapted to the new, egalitarian team sport of basketball. The Converse Rubber Shoe Company—founded in 1908 as a producer of galoshes—introduced its first basketball shoe, the All Star, in 1917. In a stroke of marketing genius, Converse enlisted basketball coaches and players as brand ambassadors, including Chuck Taylor, the first athlete to have a sneaker named after him.

Politics, however, fueled the rise of sneakers as much as athletics. As [Elizabeth Semmelhack, curator of the traveling exhibtion, Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture] explained, “the fragile peace of World War I increased interest in physical culture, which became linked to rising nationalism and eugenics. Countries encouraged their citizens to exercise not just for physical perfection but to prepare for the next war. It’s ironic that the sneaker became one of the most democratized forms of footwear at the height of fascism.” Mass exercise rallies were features of fascist life in Germany, Japan, and Italy. But sneakers could also represent resistance. Jesse Owens’ dominance at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games stung the event’s Nazi hosts even more because he trained in German-made Dassler running shoes. (The company was later split between the two Dassler brothers, who renamed their shares Puma and Adidas).

When the U.S. government rationed rubber during World War II, sneakers were exempted following widespread protests. The practical, inexpensive, and casual shoe had become central to American identity, on and off the playing field. The growing influence of television in the 1950s created two new cultural archetypes: the celebrity athlete and the teenager. James Dean effectively rebranded Chuck Taylors as the footwear of choice for young rebels without a cause.

Sneakers became footnotes in the history of the Civil Rights movement. In 1965, I Spy was the first weekly TV drama to feature a black actor—Bill Cosby—in a lead role. His character, a fun-loving CIA agent going undercover as a tennis coach, habitually wore white Adidas sneakers, easily identifiable by their prominent trio of stripes. This updated gumshoe alluded to the “sneaky” origins of sneakers, while also serving as shorthand for new-school cool. Sneakers played a more explicit part at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, where American gold medalist sprinter Tommie Smith and his bronze medal-winning teammate, John Carlos, removed their Puma Suedes and mounted the medal podium in their stocking feet, to symbolize African-American poverty, their heads lowered and black-gloved fists raised in a Black Power salute. The ensuing controversy didn’t hurt the success of the Suede, still in production today.

Around the same time, the jogging craze necessitated low-rise, high-tech footwear that bore little resemblance to the familiar canvas-and-rubber basketball high-top. But these state-of-the-art shoes weren’t made for running alone; they were colorful, covetable fashion statements. In 1977, Vogue declared that “real runner’s sneakers” had become status symbols, worn by famous non-athletes like Farrah Fawcett and Mick Jagger. Instead of one pair of sneakers, people needed a whole wardrobe of them, custom-made for different activities—or genders. Sneaker companies embraced women’s liberation as a promotional ploy, advertising shoes specifically designed for female bodies and lifestyles.

As the suburbs became overrun with joggers, America’s cities saw a rise in basketball players, particularly New York, where a bold new style of play transformed the game into a spectacle of masculine swagger. Like break dancing, schoolyard basketball ritualized a competitive physicality, which bled into mainstream (white) culture. “In the 1970s, New Yorkers in the basketball and hip-hop community changed the perception of sneakers from sports equipment to tools for cultural expression,” the sneaker historian Bobbito Garcia explains in the Out of the Box catalogue. “The progenitors of sneaker culture were predominantly … kids of color who grew up in a depressed economic era.” The 2015 documentary Fresh Dressed highlighted the prominent role of sneakers in the history of black urban culture—and its appropriation by whites.

The humble canvas sneaker, since the ’60s supplanted in the sports world by more ergonomic designs in futuristic materials, found new life as an everyday shoe. Over the next few decades, canvas sneakers came to embody youthful rebellion as much as athleticism. Beatniks, rockers, and skateboarders adopted them because they were cheap, anonymous, and authentic—not necessarily because they were comfortable or cool. Converse, Keds, and Vans got their street cred not from sports stars, but from the Ramones, Sid Vicious, and Kurt Cobain. (In 2008, Converse angered Nirvana fans by issuing special-edition high-tops tastelessly covered with sketches and scribbles from the late frontman’s diary.) The All Star, formerly available only in black or white, suddenly appeared in a rainbow of fashion colors.

The ascent of aerobics in the early ’80s left Nike, known for its jogging shoes, struggling to adjust. In February 1984, the company reported its first-ever quarterly loss, but that same year Nike signed basketball rookie Michael Jordan to an endorsement deal—arguably the birth of modern sneaker culture. Jordan wore his signature Air Jordans in NBA games, in defiance of league rules. Nike happily paid his $5,000-per-game fine, while airing ads declaring: “The NBA can’t keep you from wearing them.” And so when the first Air Jordans hit stores in 1985, the sneakers carried with them a distinct whiff of sticking it to The Man, despite their $65 price tag. But not everyone wanted to be like Mike. As Jordan grew rich off of his Nike partnership, he was accused of staying silent on political issues affecting the African American community. “Republicans buy sneakers, too,” he allegedly responded.

The growing popularity of sneakers on both sides of the political divide set the stage for a raging culture war over the shoes’ ties to criminality, or lack thereof. In “My Adidas” (1986)—one of many hip-hop sneaker shout-outs—Run-DMC defended their laceless Adidas Superstars against sneakers’ thuggish image as “felon shoes,” rapping: “I wore my sneakers, but I’m not a sneak.” (The band was rewarded with an Adidas endorsement deal, a first for a musical group.)

But Nike’s all-white Air Force 1 sneaker, released in the same year as “My Adidas,” may have merited the name of “felon shoes.” Having enough money to step out in “fresh”—i.e., pristine and unscuffed—Air Force 1s became a point of pride among street drug dealers. “Like the complicated icon of the cowboy, the drug dealer was also a symbol of rugged individualism whose fashion was hypermasculine and easily marketed … in ways that capitalized on both its American-ness and its exoticism simultaneously,” Semmelhack writes in the exhibition catalogue. The AF1, far from a public-relations disaster, became an instant classic…

Athletic shoes, a $65 billion global market, are about much more than athletics—conveying ideas about national identity, class, race, and other forms of social meaning: “Sneakers Have Always Been Political Shoes.”

See also “A Brief History of America’s Obsession With Sneakers,” “The Psychology of Sneaker Collecting,” “What’s driving retail’s sneaker obsession?,” and “The History of Sneaker Culture.”

[TotH to friend SL for pointing me in this direction]

* “When you’re accustomed to wealth, you don’t show it, right? That’s why the white kids in school could wear bummy sneakers; it’s almost like, ‘Don’t show wealth – that’s crass.’… As kids we didn’t complain about being poor; we talked about how rich we were going to be and made moves to get the lifestyle we aspired to by any means we could. And as soon as we had a little money, we were eager to show it…”   – Jay-Z

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As we tuck into our Chucks, we might recall that it was on this date in 1975 that Austrian tennis player Onny Parun defeated two-time Grand Slam singles champion Stan Smith in the first U.S. Open match ever played at night.  Today Smith is probably better-known for the line of Adidas sneakers named for him.

stan smith source

 

“You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap”*…

 

Fast Fashion

 

Remembering that the world has roughly 7.7. billion inhabitants…

In 2015, the fashion industry churned out 100 billion articles of clothing, doubling production from 2000, far outpacing global population growth. In that same period, we’ve stopped treating our clothes as durable, long-term purchases. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has found that clothing utilization, or how often we wear our clothes, has dropped by 36% over the past decade and a half, and many of us wear clothes only 7 to 10 times before it ends up in a landfill. Studies show that we only really wear 20% of our overflowing closets.

For the past few years, we’ve pointed the finger at fast-fashion brands like H&M, Zara, and Forever21, saying that they are responsible for this culture of overconsumption. But that’s not entirely fair. The vast majority of brands in the $1.3 billion [sic- it’s $trillion] fashion industry–whether that’s Louis Vuitton or Levi’s–measure growth in terms of increasing production every year. This means not just convincing new customers to buy products, but selling more and more to your existing customers. Right now, apparel companies make 53 million tons of clothes into the world annually. If the industry keeps up its exponential pace of growth, it is expected to reach 160 million tons by 2050….

Churning out so many clothes has enormous environmental costs that aren’t immediately obvious to consumers. But it is becoming increasingly clear that the fashion industry is contributing the the rapid destruction of our planet. A United Nations report says that we’re on track to increase the world’s temperature by 2.7 degrees by 2040, which will flood our coastlines, intensify droughts, and lead to food shortages. Activists, world leaders, and the public at large are just beginning to reckon with the way the fashion industry is accelerating the pace of climate change…

It’s not just our closets that are suffering: “We have to fix fashion if we want to survive the climate crisis.”

The apparel industry is not, of course, unaware of all of this.  For a look at how they are responding, see Ad Age‘s “How Sustainability in Fashion Went From The Margins To The Mainstream“… and draw your own conclusion as to efficacy.

[photo above: Flickr user Tofuprod]

* Dolly Parton

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As we wean ourselves from whopping-great wardrobes, we might spare a thought for a man who contributed t our ability to measure our progress (or lack thereof) in addressing climate change: George James Symons; he died on this date in 1900.  A British meteorologist who was obsessed with increasing the accuracy of measurement, he devoted his career to improving meteorological records by raising measurement standards for accuracy and uniformity, and broadening the coverage (with more reporting stations, increasing their number from just 168 at the start of his career to 3,500 at the time of his death).  The Royal Meteorological Society (to which he was admitted at age 17) established a gold medal in his memory, awarded for services to meteorological science.

150px-GeorgeJamesSymons(1838-1900) source

 

“When you put on a uniform, there are certain inhibitions that you accept”*…

 

What do Catholic school girls and Joseph Stalin have in common? They’ve worn a uniform to conserve their mental energy for a higher purpose than just fashion. Lately, this utopian ideal of dress has become trendy among busy and thrifty women in the rise of the work uniform. After all, sartorial sameness conveys gravitas in the office.

In theory, we should all be wearing uniforms. Fashion is one of the world’s nastiest polluters, second only to oil. The rich wear intricate clothing to peacock their wealth, depleting the lower classes of their innate power and self-esteem. High fashion favors taut, unrealistic figures, leaving the rest of us with emotional complexes about our bodies. Uniforms could alleviate many of these problems.

And yet, any attempt to standardize dress across an entire culture has failed…

What does it mean to all dress alike? “A Brief Cultural History of Uniforms.”

* Dwight D. Eisenhower

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As we straighten our ties, we might spare a thought for Francis Scott Key; he died on this date in 1843. A lawyer, author, and amateur poet, he wrote the lyrics to the United States’ national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  Indeed, he wrote lyrics beyond those most of us have heard:  a pro-slavery, anti-abolitionist campaigner, Key wrote a (now mostly omitted) third stanza that promises that “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.”

 source

 

Written by LW

January 11, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Fashion changes, but style endures”*…

 

Once upon a time, spotted prints went by a host of other names. Slate’s Jude Stewart provides an overview: in the 19th century, “Dotted-Swiss referred to raised dots on transparent tulle,” and in France, “quinconce described the diagonal arrangement of dots seen on the 5-side of dice.” Meanwhile, “[t]he large coin-sized dots on fabric, called Thalertupfen in German, got their name from Thaler, the currency of German-speaking Europe until the late 1800s.”

But then came the polka, the dance so popular that mid-19th century Europe came up with the word “polkamania” to describe its own excitement. As the polka craze swept west across the continent, enthusiasts claimed the polka jacket, then the polka hat (neither of them spotted), and finally, the polka dot. There is only a tenuous connection between dot and dance, yet surely the two are linked—it’s possible that polka dots reflect the same regulated, short bursts of energy that inflect the polka itself. Regardless, we know that the American women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book was the first to print the term, in an 1857 description of a “scarf of muslin, for light summer wear, surrounded by a scalloped edge, embroidered in rows of round polka dots”…

More fashionable fun at “A Brief History of Polka Dots.”

* Coco Chanel

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As we avoid pairing with plaids, we might send elegant but perky birthday greetings to Sonja de Lennart; she was born on this date in 1920.  A fashion designer who began her career at the close of World War II, she created a wide-swinging skirt with a wide belt (which, as readers can see below, she modeled herself), a blouse, and hat–a collection that became known as the Capri Collection.  A couple of years later, in a move away from the wide and rather masculine trouser profile being worn by women of the day, she added a tighter, three-quarter length pant to the collection, the Capri pant.  Audrey Hepburn made the slacks famous, wearing them first in Roman Holiday, then Sabrina.  As a result, Edith Head embraced the entire Capri line’s look, and so they adorned Doris Day, Jane Russell, Katharine Hepburn, Gina Lollobrigida, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg, and Mary Tyler Moore… along with black turtleneck-wearing Existentialists in Paris.

source

 

Written by LW

May 21, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most”*…

 

 click here for larger version

For Lapham’s Quarterly‘s fashion issue, designer Haisam Hussein reinvents the color wheel to show where various shades of colors were invented—from Int’l Klein Blue (Paris) to Scheele’s Green (Sweden), Turmeric (India), and Mauve (London).

Alongside the graphic itself are the origin stories for each color, which, as we’ve seen before, can be less than appetizing. White Lead, for instance, was created in Japan circa the year 700 by exposing lead sheets to vinegar and fermenting horse manure—then used by the elite class as face powder. Tyrian purple is derived from the secretions of sea snails, and Orchil (Florence) dye is made from dried and ground lichen that is activated with ammonia, such as that from urine.

[via]

Explore here.

And on a related note: “Pantone: How the world authority on color became a pop culture icon.”

* John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice

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As we tackle tints, we might spare a thought for Alexander Calder; he died on this date in 1976.  A sculptor known for monumental stationary works called stabiles, he is also considered the father of the mobile (a type of moving sculpture made with delicately balanced or suspended shapes that respond to touch or air currents).

 source

 

Written by LW

November 11, 2015 at 1:01 am

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