I was so excited to write a review of the new humorous book, Forgotten Fashion, by Kate Hahn, that I skipped over the second part of the title: "An Illustrated faux History of Outrageous Trends and Their Untimely Demise". Yes, the tales are made up, and no, I didn't know it the first time I read the book. The faux trends seemed so true to life, television (especially Project Runway), and culture, to me, as to be completely believable.
The 28 faux trends profiled in Forgotten Fashion span the years 1903 to 2005. The book is written in a tongue-in-cheek Lemony Snicket style and the brilliant illustrations help to tell the tall tales.
Take the 1903 Sidesaddle Motoring Coat: the tale of the "Ladies Ford Arabian", a motorcar made for Detroit debutantes. It came with a Sidesaddle Motoring Coat which "was cinched at the waist with a belt of the same white patent leather that covered the Arabian's bumpers." Is this not Episode 7, "Fashion that Drives You," of this year's Project Runway, where the contestants had to make an outfit out of recycled parts of a Saturn car? (Leanne won.)
Then there is the 1910 Pacing Trouser. These were pajama-like drawstring trousers intended for middle class vacationing Englishmen, to wear while strutting on the boardwalk. The problem with the Pacing Trouser, the author devised, is that it moldered when it got home from vacation, because it was made from seaweed cloth -- good for the sea air but likely to wilt in city smog. But! A modern day "green" use was made of the wilting trousers: they were thrown on garden flowers as fertilizers. Does this not sound like Episode 2, "Grass is Always Greener," also of this year's Project Runway? (Suede won.) Can you see why I thought the book was real?
1923's Robe De Champagne is the story of a dress imbued with the irresistible scents of cognac, bread, almonds and roses. I thought this was real too, as it reminded me of Jessica Simpson's edible perfume from a few years ago when she was still with Nick Lachey. (And it had a memory whiff of the novel, Perfume, by Patrick Suskind, about a guy who gets away with murder because he smells good.)
Even without my knee-jerk free-association to television, culture and media, these stories are believable. I might as well have been reading about Brooks Brothers no-iron shirts, when I read the 1953 Poly-Chem Oxford piece. The Poly-Chem Oxford was the "creation" of MIT educated chemists to produce a business man's shirt to last 50 years. These amazing shirts repelled stains and kept their buttons but were too perfect and boring to really last.
I was transformed to my real-life yoga studio while reading Poncehttes, the 1970's Stylish Clothes for Spiritual Guests. This line of bell- sleeved tunics, caftans, and ponchos in colors of "sand", "storm" and "clarity" were the fabrication of a Manhattan rich girl who "let go" enough to meditate at the Mayan pyramids but remained "connected" enough to show her line at Bergdorf's while devotees sat on floor pillows, and Sandalwood incense swirled in the air.
The 1980s-Tiffany/Debbie- Gibson-Shopping-Mall-Show trend was crafted into Fuschette, a story about bratty girls who sing bad lyrics to real songs while selling sweats, bright colored leggings, and Lycra. It features the classic conflict of a driving, business man father and devoted but rebellious daughter. Also from the 80's, is the 1985 Gilded Pinstripe Power Suit, environmentally bad (shorn Peruvian llamas) and over the top luxury of actual gold thread. It made me wonder: what will Wall Street people wear post "Fannie" and "Freddie"?
I fervently wish some of these trends did exist, if only for a brief moment in time. The 1978 Mach 2 Lingerie is a sky high tale of free wheeling jet travel, France, and airline stewardess outfits. Back in 1978, when you could board a jet without worrying about terrorists, you received a complimentary bag of luxury items, including a bikini, perfume and champagne, all worn on the plane's tiled discos floor "which flashed red when the plane broke the sound barrier". The 1957 Four O'Clock Dress, a faux trend worn by women during "the single, lonely, long-shadowed hour after the pot roast was placed in the oven but before husband's key was heard in the front door", will, I hope, spark a return to dressing for dinner every night.
The line between real and faux can be blurred. Sometimes, it's hard to remember whether a trend was real, or, a dream had while falling asleep to a late night TV commercial for, say, the Infinity Dress...