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Posts by Paula Baxter

What Was the Houppelande?

I’m always delighted and relieved when people actually make comments. Thanks, Colin and John, for pointing out that the “Dark Ages” are less so than they first seemed, and that the Church had an active interest in keeping bodies draped. John also noted that tailoring and court fashions truly changed the tenor of dress. I’ve wondered in return if this was an early example of human nature and its craving for interesting dress trumping the religious morality of the times... With fashion firmly established during the Middle Ages, what can be said about the creation of 

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Medieval Tastes and History Today

The transition to the Middle Ages, or the Medieval era, occurred when information—including fashion changes—became better spread by trade and travel. Royal courts exchanged information (and spies) on what rivals were doing and wearing. Monarchs and court favorites were studied for their fashion innovations, in a manner quite similar to the recent media scrutiny of Hilary Clinton’s South Sea pearls during her confirmation hearing. The upper classes

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Concerning the Dark Ages

 The influence of the early Christian Church was pervasive in this time period. Divided between Byzantium in the east and the Western Roman Empire, men and women were more draped in garments than ever before. Although the term the “Dark Ages” has fallen out of favor in recent years—in fact its use can incite the mildest of medievalists—it can be used to indicate the period between the fall of the Roman Empire (3rd century A.D.) up to the ninth century, when cultural standards waned along with command of 

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The Greco-Roman Canon

“Many there are, who seem to slight all care. And with a pleasing negligence ensnare; Whole mornings oft, in such a dress are spent, And all is art, that looks like accident.” ----Ovid (43 B.C. – A.D. 17) With so much of Western civilization built from the heritage of ancient Greece and Rome, it’s instructive to look at some essential dress features. Right away, it becomes clear that men took the lead in fashion, leaving women to assume a relatively standard form of dress that left them covered from neck to ankle. And yet, as you can 

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In the Beginning

“Fashion as we know it in the West, is not and never was a universal condition of dress. It is a European product and is not nearly as old as European Civilization.” ----Quentin Bell (1910-1996)

The Bible says that when Adam and Eve sinned, they were forced to cover their nakedness. The clothed body certainly became an essential part of the human condition. What people did with their clothing, however, was derived from diverse motivations. Geography, climate, and a 

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It's All About Stories

Ah, the new year! What lies ahead for us? 2008 produced many surprises on the economic front, a youthful, energized President-elect, and a world-weary sense that we need to learn from our mistakes. The past half-dozen years have been one long shopping frenzy, but now the coins have left our collective pockets, along with our 401[k]s. While the flames smolder and smoke from our bank statements and credit cards, it’s time to review how we got to this point. As always, fashion as a social force can be blamed in part. We were led to believe that everything was ours for the 

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Ode To The New Year

Thanks for reading my posts on modernity and fashion, Letting me exercise my long-running Art Deco passion. While the exhibition’s been given an extended stay,* To other topics I really should stray. What subjects shall I choose to beguile your time? And is it necessary that they all should rhyme? For fashion is a most powerful force, Too important to simply let it take its course.

No, we must examine and ponder its inner meaning If we are to have any hope of gleaning, The reasons behind what we wore and when, Details that spark the times we pretend, 

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Merry Christmas Consumer

"In the absence of the sacred, nothing is sacred. Everything is for sale." -Oren Lyons (Onondaga) 1992

If I can complain about Thanksgiving as a holiday, why not Christmas? My beef is with the pervasive present-giving expectations that drive our economic ship of state. While Christmas was originally a religious holiday, a visitor arriving from another planet would be forgiven if he/she/it missed this fact entirely. The current reality is that the Victorian-tradition fir tree, laden with ornaments and lights and attendant wrapped 

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Thirties Style

“Nobody told me there’d be days like these, Strange days indeed, Most peculiar, Mama!” ---- John Lennon Nobody Told Me (1984)

Can we find any lessons about the 1930s, a time of global economic depression that ended in a world war, to inform us about our own painfully reminiscent current situation? First of all, despite the woes of that earlier period, people were just as grounded in thinking about fashion as we are now. Many people point to the escapism of the big Hollywood movies of the 30s and their celebration of unending glamour. Even Coco Chanel led the 

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A Powerful Appearance

What did the modern woman gain from the development of feminine clothing in the Art Deco era? Two looks surface in particular. If the 1920s were the age of elegance with couture-inspired dress silhouettes, then the1930s brought a new pragmatism to fashion. Social conditions dictated that women exercise their personal power in both private and public spheres. The freedoms granted to women in those decades were still limited, however, despite the machinations of a Wallis Simpson or a Marlene Dietrich.

The trappings of feminine 

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Art Deco's Couturier Patrons, Part 3

No consideration of the effects of Art Deco style would be complete without a look at Jeanne Lanvin (1867-1946). She started out marrying and having a daughter, and then as a single mother, took to millinery and dressmaking to make her mark. She opened her couture house by selling mother and daughter outfits. Her “robes de style” developed in the 1910s, a waisted, full-skirted dress with panniers (a basket-like structure popular in the 18th century) on each hip. By the 1920s, she chose to devise chemise-style 

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The Windsor Touch

A fashion leader of the Art Deco era was Edward, Prince of Wales (1894-1972), the son of King George V. A handsome, eligible bachelor, he was a major figure in the London social scene. His penchant for golfing, cocktails, and setting the latest fashion trend meant that eyes were always trained on his doings.

Like many other Princes of Wales, he had a long tenure in that role. This gave him plenty of time to make subtle, but critical, dress alterations. He disliked the heavy Victorian and Edwardian clothing regulations that governed his father and grandfather, choosing instead 

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The Working Girl

“Carelessness in dressing is moral suicide.” ---Honore de Balzac (1799-1850)

“Carelessness in workplace dressing is economic suicide.” ---Paula A. Baxter, 2008

The most significant social trend with implications for fashion in the Art Deco era, however, was the steady increase of women in the workplace. I remember my grandmother telling me how she was one of the first women to work in the 1930s in her upstate New York hometown, taking a secretarial job at Elmira College. She often recounted (with more than 

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Clothing the Masses

Well, Santa pulled into Herald Square at the conclusion of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This is the popular culture signal for the traditional Christmas shopping season to begin. What will it be like this year, with all the media worries about shoppers keeping their wallets firmly closed?

In the meantime, one of the best developments in the academic study of clothing and dress is the consideration given to the “culture of fashion.” One study, with the same title, addresses changes in clothing 

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Hopi Thanksgiving

While trawling through the Digital Gallery’s large section on Thanksgiving, I found this great color postcard that was printed around 1908 or 1908. First of all, I love the word pun. For many years, I used to work out at my local gym in a tee shirt that read “Don’t Worry, Be Hopi” that I’d bought from an Indian arts shop on Second Mesa.

November is Native American Heritage Month. So we should take a moment to recall all the important contributions that our indigenous peoples have made to our 

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Gaining Ground

Where am I going with this recent riff on women attaining modernity in dress? I’d like to know what other women think about the long road to dress reform. The issue of fashion is ours to discuss, and there are still some ambiguities in where we are heading. Feminine pleasure in dresses is still strong, and rightfully so. Women deserve all the clothing options they desire. What matters, however, is that their choices are healthy ones. I make no secret of my disdain for stiletto heels. It doesn’t matter how “sexy” a woman looks in them—they still can seriously 

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The Artist's Ideal

And then there was the idealization of woman at the hands of the artist. Women had some discretion over their choice of dress in earlier centuries, following fashion when they could. But masculine expectations would intervene from time to time, especially when artists got involved. Fashion as art became a means of turning a woman into yet another decorative object, as seen with the Pre-Raphaelites and the men of the Aesthetic Movement.

The perspective of scholarship allows one a look at the larger social 

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In Olden Days

“In olden days, a glimpse of stocking, Was considered something quite shocking….”

Here’s evidence that sex was used to sell fashions back as early as 1915. In spending so much research time on the clothing of the Art Deco era, I did take notice of what was transpiring in the preceding decades. Voluminous garments were cut to suggest a very feminine shape. The Victorian and Edwardian fashion aesthetic favored the full figured, voluptuous woman, yet while her body was draped in layers of cloth, that innate eroticism was muted. Yet ready to blaze forth at 

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Advertising Whimsy, Part 2

These hosiery ads take a slightly different approach. Here, the modish subject is still involved with a mischievous small animal, but now she is engaged in braving the elements. What does this say about the product being advertised? Yes, their stockings are reliable; they’ll hold up in the most difficult of conditions! Selling intimate apparel in early twentieth century America required practical social imperatives. In a time when stockings had to be moved from luxury to necessary goods, consumers needed to be convinced. 1921 is still a long way from the time of Victoria’s 

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Advertising Whimsy, Part 1

My colleague Susan Waide put me onto the illustrations you see here and in my next post. They’re all advertising illustrations by M.C. Woodbury, executed between 1920 and 1922, for the McCallum Hosiery Company in Northhampton, Massachusetts. I love them for their period feel, and for what they say about fashion advertising in the U.S. at that time.

We’ve grown so used to lingerie ads that are filled with sexual angst, or at least that’s what I remember from fashion magazines since I was young, and still see today. What strikes me about these two ads is the 

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