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Why Do We Dress the Way Do?

06/06/2014 03:16 pm ET | Updated Aug 06, 2014

ARRIVE at a party in a fringed flapper dress or a hoop skirt, and you're in costume. Come in the style worn by Katharine Hepburn or Barbara Stanwyck in the 1930's -- a dress of woven silk gauze and chiffon that clings to the figure and plunges in the back -- and you're perfectly turned out. The story's the same, minus the chiffon, for men.

...If you appear in the artfully tailored suit favored by that international heart throb the Prince of Wales, circa 1933, you're at the height of style...the most notorious fashion statements of the 1930s were the black shirts and brown shirt of fascism. Yet this era of dictators and worldwide economic depression also bequeathed to us the elements of modern style.

     So writes Deborah Cohen in the Atlantic magazine and she goes on to discuss the current analysis of the late Charles James.

• THE article, discussing the modern style that emerged from the Depression is titled "Why We Look The Way We Look Now" and discusses the trend toward showing the figure beneath clothes today, with bodies diverging along class lines.   

      I was interested in this because most of the people I see around New York on the streets look like rag pickers.  And in Hollywood, the people  appear pretty much the same trashy way, wearing almost nothing,  provided there isn't a movie premiere. Or fundraising party. Or an award event. 

Clothes seem to me to be costing a lot for a minimalist look.  Showing off abs, breasts, bottoms, trim upper arms, etc. is more the style that would make the late Charles James alternately happy and also outraged by digression from really creative couture.  

•NOW that Maya Angelou has left us, I want to say goodbye. She was, as you've seen, in a class by herself. (Her most famous book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is again one of the nation's top five best-sellers.) She was already world-famous, spiritually guided, intellectually beyond the rest of us laggards and most mortals when we first met. And I can't pretend I knew her well.

But she was unfailingly cordial in spite of her victories over life and literature and she wasn't always serious and unapproachable. She had charm to spare.

The last time I saw her in person was at a New York Public Library memorial to Andrew Heiskell. He'd been an idol of mine since his halcyon days at Time, Inc. and I'd worked as a feature writer on one of Times' magazines, Sports Illustrated. He'd moved on, in "retirement" to work for the Public Library.

Thus, it wasn't so odd to see Ms. Angelou paying her respects to someone who had done so much for the New York Public Library. As the memorial ended, I found her sitting in the first row and she enfolded me in her arms as I attempted to drop to my knees before her.

"Always a pleasure to see you, dear Liz," she smiled as she raised me up into her arms. (Come to think of it, she raised all of us up!) This day, she asked, "How did you know the remarkable Andrew Heiskell?"

I told her that the day I was introduced to him, back in the early 60's, I'd made a social faux pas in a burst of enthusiasm where I stammered, "You can't be all bad, Mr. Heiskell; no man could be all bad having been married to the beautiful actress Madeleine Carroll." (After all, this particular wedlock had happened ten years before.)

Just as my all-too-personal remark to Mr. Heiskell had made him laugh out loud, Maya Angelou laughed, too.

I told her my stupid remark had turned me into an unforgettable person to Andrew and we had a delightful friendship, especially after his long happy marriage to the iconic Marian Sulzberger. (The two of them helped save the New York Public Library, Bryant Park and, eventually, 42nd Street.)

As Ms. Angelou and I parted, I kissed her hand and she said once more that it was astounding how remarks made from the heart affect us all, even Andrew Heiskell "who liked being reminded by you that he had great taste in women!"

Maya Angelou was totally amazing, almost godlike in her fervor, poetry, inspiration -- and her great good sense of humor.

After the many horrors she suffered growing up, I hope she is laughing and having a grand old time in whatever she conceived of as "heaven."

•I WATCH the morning talk shows on NBC and ABC whenever I am conscious on Sunday mornings.
I want to congratulate NBC's Meet the Press on now and then giving the viewer a break -- in case one turns in a little late -- by re-identifying the guest correspondents, politicians and experts, repeating their names occasionally instead of just assuming that you and I can remember every "expert" in the western world.

Even the "regulars" like David Remnick of the New Yorker...Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal...So and so the senator, congressman, governor or what have you, should be re-identified at the bottom now and then.

ABC is the worst in this regard. Names of people are tossed in willy-nilly at the opening without clarification or non-garbled enunciation...you tune in one second too late and are left wondering and puzzling which one is the Tea Party-er and/or the Obama apologists, etc. The inevitable slug at the bottom keeps telling you ad infinitum what "they" are talking about -- "Snowden Tells All" or something, obviously evident. But seldom re-identifies the talkers.

• THIS HAPPENS too, on all the morning - afternoon shows where the hysterical audience screaming obscures even the spoken words of introducers -- celebrity guests are muttered once, and it's up to you to figure out who they are, if you heard it.

And while I'm at it -- almost all of these shows feature women on their feet, screaming and waving their arms and taking "selfies." No matter how insignificant the "star," the sports figure, the winner, the loser from another show, the rising TV person of the moment or the "prize" person -- the screaming for everything never stops.

Maybe enthusiastic standing ovations and endless yelling and waving of arms says something about the needs of American TV audiences (mostly women) wanting to let themselves go. But personally, I don't get it!