When Did We Stop…?

Recently, I was preparing to do some restoration on a small collection of 30’s hats I had acquired, and was reached to my library for inspiration.  For years, I have owned a Dover Press series of books; selected pages from the Sears catalogs and other popular clothing vendors of each decade from 1890 to 1960.  I frequently use these for getting a sense of the silhouette for a costume I am designing, or to help a customer understand what a 1930’s (or ’40’s, etc) might actually look like.  The images up until the ’40’s are drawings, not photographs, and are examples of what an average American was likely to wear.  Research shows that Paris was several years ahead and some styles were never embraced by the average citizen.

thumbing thru I noticed that there were specific hats featuring older women as models.  By older, I mean women in their mid to late 70’s. They look lovely and the hats suit them. Tag lines under these women read things like “Models of Dignity”, and “Gracious Ladies”.   These women are scattered throughout; only sometimes is a tag line attached to show it was something Special for this demographic.  Older women modeling fashionable clothing…wow!

It is a given that each year shown is a sampling of the most iconic styles, and so I assume the pages reproduced are a fair representation of the rest of the pages showing hats. I didn’t find any older models after 1936,  until a page from the 1950’s catalogue shows another group of “Gracious Ladies”. Oh, how I would love to see a complete catalogue! Maybe there were entire sections devoted to women over 30.!

Now, my role models are the small pictures of genuine women in the Harper’s Bazaar feature, “Fabulous at Every Age”.  This column is an excuse to show interesting combinations of clothes and accessories that look good together, while offering some recognition to a growing number of stylish women who don’t let age inhibit their ability to be chic. Recently, recognition of these women has come to the fore with fashion blogs such as “Advanced Style”. Seeing older women as an example of how stylish a shopper could look is almost unheard of today, and all but non-existant in mainstream media. As we age, Bazaar can pat itself on the back for being one of the first to offer recognition, even if I strongly disagree with their choices and am baffled by their unwillingness to address the very real changes our bodies go thru in regards to fit.

Part of me would rebels at what most of my age group would consider “appropriate” clothing.  I feel like I should wear whatever *I* think is appropriate, and to hell with what others may think.. My sense of appropriate does not include puppy dog ears as a hairstyle, big bows, or hip hugger pants that reveal my belly button..but I have a 50+ friend who wears those, and I am torn between being embarrassed for her,  and cheering her choosing what makes her happy.

I also believe you should wear the right costume for the part if it makes fulfilling that role easier; when visiting family in small-town America you can bet I dress much more conservatively than at home in Austin, where my style tends more towards “Gracious Lady”, or “Queen of My Own Universe”, rather than “Models of Dignity”.

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