On April 22 in Fashion History

(A random smattering of neat things that happened On This Day In Fashion…)

… in 1942, fashion editor Virginia Pope chaired the “Expressing Your Personality in Dress” fashion clinic at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City for the Women in Style committee.

… in 1947, Summer Millinery Week—the hat equivalent of Fashion Week—kicked off in New York at the Cotillion Room of the Hotel Pierre, with designs shown by “eight leaders in the field:” including Vogue Hats, Bernice Charles, Jeanne Tete and Harryson Hats.

… in 1965, Rudi Gernreich followed up the previous year’s topless bathing suits with topless bathing suits for little girls. “Since the suits are for toddlers and preteens,” the New York Times mused, “there seems little likelihood of Gernreich’s creation being Read More »

On April 21 In Fashion History Roundup

(A random gathering of neat things that happened On This Day In Fashion…)

…in 1927, Mae West begins the first day of a 10-day prison sentence, and complains to warden that her coarse blue cotton workdress and heavy cotton stockings and underwear are “uncomfortable.” West was serving time for her Broadway show, “Sex,” which the courts deemed obscene. Although West’s work clothes “are coarse, faded and Read More »

Happy Birthday, Swimsuit Issue! SI Introduces a New Sport: Modeling

On this day in 1964, Sports Illustrated released it’s very first swimsuit issue. The idea was a bit of a lark, a one-off supplement to keep guys warm (and buying magazines and turning pages) during the cold weeks between football and baseball seasons. (In ye olden days, there were blissfully long months between the major sports seasons, with boxing, tennis and basketball filling in as secondary diversions. Sportswriters could get desperate for copy. For instance, in the month following the first swimsuit issue, SI featured Bridge—the card game—as a cover story.) The 10-year-old magazine had put a swimsuit model on the cover once before in 1955, but the companion feature story presented real-life muckety-mucks palling around their Caribbean vacation homes in sportswear and summer dresses, not pretty models posing in scant swimsuits.

What is surprising about the inaugural swimsuit issue is it actually seems…sporting. Photographer J. Frederick Smith shot model Babette March laughing in the Read More »

The Bra That Wasn’t There

They called him an “enemy of the church,” a menace and, my personal favorite, “the Bolivar of the Bosom,” a reference to the 19th-century general who helped lead Spain to independence. But Los Angeles–based designer Rudi Gernreich didn’t have a fixation on breasts, as many critics angrily contended. Nope, Gernreich was quite happily gay, for one thing, and his appreciation for nudity transcended gender and singular body parts. He insisted his interest was not in exploiting women’s bodies, but in freeing them from binding, structured garments. He aimed to create clothing that followed the tides of fashion, though most of his designs—the topless bathing suit, the thong, the see-through blouse and psychedelic color combinations—were more innovative than consequential. Which is how on this day in 1964, Gernreich came to launch the No-Bra Bra, a featherweight pairing of two bias-cut triangles of sheer nylon net molded with only a single small dart. The elasticized shoulder straps, wrote fashion doyenne
Eugenia Sheppard, “are as narrow as strings…and invisible as nothing.”

Light and invisible as it may have been, from Gernreich’s perspective, the bra wasn’t small enough. “I kept trying to make it briefer,” he said, “but there’s still too much going on.” Read More »

Against All Odds, Topless Bathing Suits Go on Sale in New York

You’d think they had just taken a dare to wear white Hush Puppies after Labor Day. Store managers and buyers all over Manhattan were pinching their noses, squeezing their eyes shut, and hoping that no one would notice. But reluctantly, they did it anyway: On June 16, 1964, topless bathing suits went on sale in stores in New York.

B. Altman & Co., Lord & Taylor, Henri Bendel, Splendiferous and Parisette all begrudgingly placed orders, with one anonymous store representative telling the New York Times, “We will not promote it or display it. If a customer asks for it, we will take her into a fitting room and show it to her. Please don’t quote me.” Abraham & Strauss ordered them but tucked them away in a drawer, saying they were obligated to keep some on hand in light of their slogan, “Don’t say you can’t find it until you’ve shopped A. & S.” Read More »

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