What now, Mr Porter?
“In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, now heavens knows, anything goes,” wrote Mr Cole Porter in 1934.
Most of us think we can forget about all the old and outdated fashion rules today. But can we really, Mr Porter?
I am not old but I’m not young – I remember a time of ‘fashion’ rules, and we all adhered to them. The less well off you were, the more important they were, for the simple reason you couldn’t afford to fall even further down the social scale. It was important that you remained respectable.
Going into ‘town’ – which in my case was less than three kilometres away on the tram, was an event worthy of socks and shoes (I was four at the time), my best dress, a hat on my head, and gloves on my hands.
In a mere four years, the trams had been replaced by buses, and the dress code was far more relaxed – I remember wearing floral flares with a matching floral bolero vest, and a t-shirt underneath. On my feet was a pair of yellow rubber thongs!
But there were still rules. I remember when I was about 17, my friend K and I flaunted these rules and each wore shorts to catch the bus into town. These shorts were not like the tiny denim shorts no bigger than a pair of underpants worn today, but they weren’t knee length either. K had long, slender legs so she looked good; mine were less long (and to be truthful less slender) but were smooth and tanned to the golden hue of a Scandinavian backpacker, which compensated for a lot.
As we took our seats at the back of bus, we met L who I had been to primary school with, but she then went off to an exclusive girls’ school, and, more importantly, had graduated from the Billie-North Academy of Modelling and Deportment. “How brave of you girls – to wear shorts into town – that’s something I could never do!” L was an aspiring model and carried the much-coveted beauty-case and large black portfolio which presumably held photos of her modelling poses.
Photo courtesy Ann Street Studio
L was not being mean, she was simply obeying the rules, and for aspiring models, they must have been more stringent than regular girls. L could never look less than perfect, even on the bus. I did follow L’s career and saw her photo a few times in the newspapers, but the biggest coup of her short career would come a few years later when she corn-braided her hair and won a Bo Derek “10” look-alike contest.
Photo courtesy Style Tv
When I entered the world of work, there were lots of rules about what you could and could not wear. Like many young girls of my era, I started at the typewriter but fortunately for me, I didn’t work in the typing pool. Long gone were the days of rows of glamorous girls pounding the keys, waiting for the chance to be chosen to take dictation, and ultimately work their way up to type exclusively and take shorthand for just one man – to be a secretary.
With change there is always the good and the bad. The good is removal of the unfair advantage that some girls (and they were always girls) had and made advancement a level playing field – it was about the number of keystrokes.
Photo courtesy blogs.lexpress.fr
In one of my first jobs, the organisation’s typing pool was on the floor below the one I worked and was ruled by the Head Typiste – A. Under A’s rule, the typing pool became much more utilitarian – she instilled a ‘group think’ mentality and insisted the girls wore uniforms. Some of you may remember these, much favoured by check-out operators and clerk typists of the 1970s. Simple cotton shifts that zipped up the front and the most popular colours were the pastels – lemon, pink and blue.
The 1980s brought in the ‘dress for success’ decade. It didn’t matter what job you were in, you dressed for the job you wanted. I met one of my best friends, A, when we passed each other in a corridor both sporting suits that boasted an impressive set of shoulder pads, which would have been the envy of Joan Crawford. Still in our early 20s, our outfits were more suited to women decades older. Pants, as work-wear, wouldn’t really become commonplace until the late 1980s.
Photo courtesy blogs.lexpress.fr
Whether it was tasteful or not, we knew what to wear, and when. For those who thought they were going somewhere with their careers, they invested in suits, a good leather bag, and pumps (which we used to refer to these shoes with closed-in heels).
Party girls had disco dresses and other frippery to be seen around at night. Those who were sporty had tennis dresses and aerobics outfits – who can forget the G-string leotard, and the ‘must have’ Reebok pumps. We even knew what to wear to a barbeque – jeans and a cute top in winter, and strappy dress in summer.
The rules started to blur in the 1990s and beyond. By the late 1990s, if you wore a suit to work, it looked odd. Anything with a remotely padded shoulder was removed from your wardrobe. The cardigan reigned supreme. It was worn over a shirt, instead of a jacket, to dress down work-wear. It was the perfect accompaniment to cover a strappy slip dress or cami, when the weather turned cool. And, the more sparkly the cardigan, the better!
Was it the move from the over-the-top 1980s to the sometimes bleak minimalism of the 1990s? Gone were the adornments and embellishments – it was about frayed and asymmetrical edges, flat hair replaced big hair, and everything was pared down for a while. But, inevitably we got bored, and longed for different choices. And choices we are given – they are now called trends, and they come and go at an alarming pace.
Most of us will not overhaul our wardrobe for each new trend. For me it depends on my budget, whether I think I can carry the trend (most often I cannot), and if I give myself the green light, I cherry pick a few key pieces and incorporate them into my unedited wardrobe. I would hardly call myself a die-hard fashionista but I do like clothes – I appreciate their cultural and historical significance, and keep sort of up-to-date. But we haven’t been given a new set of rules… and it’s confusing.
Magazine articles encourage us to flaunt those old rules – there’s colour blocking trend, which is still with us, and gave us a new spin on colour combinations. No more safe options are allowed – the more brazen the better – and colours never usually combined are defiantly paired together. And, already regarded as a new classic – pattern mix – florals and stripes.
For the more cautious dresser, this can be one of the most intimidating styling secrets around. This look borrows from boho-chic and the preppy aesthetic, and is a fresh and modern way to put together a casual fashion-forward ensemble.
Denim-on-denim used to be totally verboten – and this was less than 10 years ago – but now it’s okay, and there are seemingly endless ways of combining denim with denim.
Is it okay to wear sneans?
The ‘Sophisticette’ was born in the late 1980s, and therefore is very familiar with the ‘anything goes – new rules’ fashion aesthetic, and wears it very successfully. If I had to choose a style icon for her, it would be Angelina Jolie. They both favour the deceptively simple designs in predominately muted and neutral colours, which showcase their spectacular beauty.
I would have to say my style icon is Grace Kelly – I like fashion ‘rules’, am big on grooming, and like things to match, but, realistically, I think I sit firmly in the Kerri-Anne Kennerely camp – but like KAK, I keep trying until I succeed!
About six months ago, on a mini-break in Melbourne, we planned to visit a few exhibitions that required a significant amount of walking, and I made a huge fashion faux pas. I thought it was okay to wear my Adidas Climacool running shoe in fuscia pink with jeans cuffed and rolled at the ankle, teamed with a long-sleeved tee with the same fuscia stripe… but before I could make a ‘mis-step’, the Sophisticette said “you can’t go out in public wearing ‘sneans’ What exactly are ‘sneans’ you ask?
Wearing ‘sneans’ is the mortal crime of combining sneakers and jeans. As we ventured on our travels on that hot, sweltering summer’s day in Melbourne, it became obvious that the ‘sneans’, or its hybrids, knew no cultural boundaries. Within the space of a mere few hours, I saw ‘snaris’ (a fetching combination of the sari and sneakers), ‘snorts’ (shorts and sneakers), ‘snapris’ (capri pants and sneakers), and all within walking distance of the cultural precinct of Australia’s most cosmopolitan city.
Having coming so close to wearing the ‘sneans’ in public, I thought it sensible to create a few simple rules for everyone to follow: you can wear a sports shoe (sneaker) if you are playing sport, or are travelling by car or on a bus, train, bike or walking to play sport. You must also be appropriately sports-attired: tracksuits, yoga pants, sports shorts, tennis dresses are all acceptable. Jeans, cargo pants, capri pants, skirts, dresses (especially maxi dresses) are not acceptable.
Photo courtesy blogs.lexpress.fr
But like so many things – not all sneakers are created equal. This means that you can wear some sneakers with some clothes. And, if you get the idea that not everything is equal, you’ll learn the next lesson very quickly. Some combinations are best worn by the young, very beautiful, or very confident: Vans, Chuck Taylors aka ‘Chuckies’ in supermodel speak, or plain canvas lace-ups can be worn with jeans, cargos, shorts, dresses – the works. What’s the difference you ask? These are designed differently and are thinner and more tapered, and do not look like you are wearing marshmallows on your feet. Another good rule is when in doubt… don’t!
To give you a visual, think Jerry Seinfeld when he rocked the ‘sneans’ every single episode. Remember how at the end of each show, Jerry would inform his fans about some startling social phenomena, such as re-gifting? Jerry Seinfeld is a genius – how could have he not recognised the comedic value of the ‘seans’? Jerry can’t get away with wearing the ‘sneans’ – no one can, and no more examples need to be given.
The Sophisticette said with a little gentle persuasion we could ‘de-snean’ B&W, a repeat serial offender, and then move on to other family and social circle members who might also benefit from this knowledge. But six months later, the rules have changed again, thanks to the haute sport trend – it appears that this look is big right now and will continue to dominate for the next few months. And, who knows what it will leave as its legacy!
And, maybe Jerry’s got it right. I can see why – sports-inspired clothing can be flexible, flattering, and (unusually for fashion), comfortable. But surely, as in the past, sports-luxe should be reserved for leisure activities… but now it’s coming into the mainstream as everyday wear.
Fashion designer, Riccardo Tisci, has some ‘rules’ for his sports-style aesthetic – “Sneakers look best on women when worn in an elegant way, with a mannish pantsuit and open-collar shirt. It’s a strong image. My sneakers with Nike are a celebration of different tribes. They have an iconic style.” Yes, they do, just like Katharine Hepburn. Actress, Katharine Hepburn, flaunted the conventional image of femininity in the 1940s with her trademark style of white button-down shirt and slacks that made her a fashion icon. She was the embodiment of American casual style way before Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein made their fortunes out of creating this look. In later years, Katharine wore either plain white sandshoes or sandals (which look almost exactly like the ultra-modern ‘orthopaedic’ (Prada) shoes that encapsulate the sports-luxe trend today).
Victoria Beckham, who is known for her cutting-edge fashion, but not at all for her school sports-captain type activities, presents us with the white pleated skirt. A must-have if you have the legs, the tan, and the youth. Her runway models wore it as a flirty micro-mini underneath a black-belted gym-slip of a dress. Again, I get it – perhaps Victoria is paying homage to Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel who is credited for making practical sportswear part of a clothing design range, and designed leisurewear specifically for an active lifestyle of playing tennis and golf. These were comfortable elegant clothes, like pleated tennis skirts, which enjoyed a comeback in the 1970s and were the favourites of athletic models such as Lauren Hutton and Farah Fawcett.
I don’t know when fashion adopted the word ‘hero’, but it was probably around the time the shoe adopted the word ‘fierce’. Nonetheless, this nomenclature is here to stay. Every collection must have a ‘hero piece’, which for 2014 sports-lux it is the humble bomber jacket, and can be worn with lamé sweat pants – but I don’t think sneakers is for this look. This season’s high-waist, wide-leg silhouette is ultra-flattering. Add a structured tuxedo jacket for a fresh take on the pantsuit – and maybe you can get away with a high-heel wedge sneaker.
We know in the ‘real-world’ of fashion bloggers it is certainly okay to wear sneakers with street clothes. We’ve seen ‘selfies’ of them in their bright-coloured sneakers matched or clashed with their brightly coloured ensembles – and a midi-length skirt is usually part of the outfit.
Most telling of all, Riccardo Tisci says: “I always wear the white pair (Nikes) when taking my runway show bow. That’s my look and I stick to it.”
And, does this mean Jerry Seinfeld was an early adapter of this trend… and perhaps a male style icon for the new millenium?