Tag : war

July 27, 2020 by

Politics Shapes Party Dresses

In all the years I’d been wearing, collecting and swooning over vintage fashion, I remained a pure formalist. My appreciation was based on the nuances of cut and color, shape and design. It wasn’t until I began a more methodical kind of research into some of my favorite silhouettes that I began to see how they were part of a broader cultural context. The subject in question was Dior’s “New Look” in women’s clothing, introduced in the spring of 1947, featuring rounded shoulders, a cinched waist and a very full skirt. I was writing a novel, Not Our Kind, set in that year, and my two protagonists—one Jewish, one most emphatically not—were both aware of Dior’s recent game-changer, so I was prompted to find out more about it.

To understand fully the implications of this new and quintessentially “feminine” silhouette, I had to look back just a few years, to World War II, when rationing and privation went hand in hand with patriotism and national pride. The urgent need to direct fabric (and so many other resources) to the war effort had a direct impact on clothing styles. Women’s jackets were fitted and short, and skirts simple and narrow, and both were made with the minimum of material and labor.

So two years later, when the war is over, Dior’s New Look bursts on the fashion scene not like a bombshell—there had been enough of those—but like a meteor shower, dazzling and gorgeous. You can see this even in the jacket—inches longer, trimmed in fur—but it’s the skirt that really drives the point home. That beautiful, long, twirling skirt required 18 yards of fabric, and then another 18 to line it. And then there was its length—a typical skirt of the war years measured 15 inches from the shoe; Dior lengthened his skirt so that measurement was only 9 inches.

Some might see this as gross indulgence, a wanton squandering of resources and time. But this skirt was a powerful symbol of the hopes and dreams of a nation—of several nations—meant to place the horror of the war in the rearview mirror. The elegant, swirling skirt proclaimed the bad times and the deprivation were gone, all past. Now there would be beauty and bounty—vive la différence. And that this dress by Dior photographed by Richard Avedon was shot on the Place de la Concorde may be a coincidence, but it couldn’t be a more perfect expression of the designer’s intent. Peace, harmony, and the embrace of a glorious future were the subtext of a skirt whose graceful, twirling folds evoked a flower unfurling its petals.

Dior’s iconic suit is a good example of how what we wear is an emblem of the times in which we are wearing it, so it’s intriguing to speculate on what kind of effect the present pandemic will have on fashion. In quarantine, women have been jettisoning bras and Spanx in favor of leggings, and loose, unstructured or oversized pieces in soft, skin-caressing fabrics. On fashion sites like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar there’s been a lot of attention lavished on pajamas—flannel, poplin, silk-trimmed-with-maribou feathers—along with robes, shawls and slippers. The message is clear: we’re staying home in comfort as well as style.

And yet, when the virus is conquered, or at least contained by the triumvirate of testing, treatment and vaccines, women will once more venture out of their homes. What will we be wearing? It might be reasonable to assume that the home-grown comfort will remain with us in spirit and that we’ll be seen trotting around town in caftans or yoga pants and Sketchers.

But I can also envision another scenario, one not unlike Dior’s extravagant response to the austerity of the war years. Our collective post-pandemic aesthetic may well lean toward exuberant color, extravagant pattern and excess of many kinds. Masks are sure to be with us for a time, and we’re already seeing them cast as fashion accessories, rendered in such prints as leopard and toile de Jouy. Gloves—washable, flexible, colorful— may soon follow.

While it’s only a supposition, and not a certainty, I’m casting my vote for the latter trend. Just before Covid-19 exploded, I bought a lime green raw silk coat, circa 1967. Embellished with clear, Lucite buttons and lined with—get ready—hot pink and white polka satin, it’s the perfect garment in which to celebrate victory over the pandemic. Mr. Dior would have agreed. 

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The Lilith Blog

July 17, 2014 by

In Wartime, a Surreal Modesty Contest

PICTURED: The #1 existential threat to Israel's safety.

PICTURED: The #1 existential threat to Israel’s safety.

Political pundits of the world, pay attention: while you’ve been trying to make sense of the bloody conflict in Israel and Gaza, an unidentified group of women in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, has identified its cause—and laid out a solution.


Project EDEN (standing for, bizarrely, “Eat ice cream, while helping Defend Eretz Yisrael Now) is a local initiative with grandiose goals: inspired by “talks of the Rebbe,” the Chabad-affiliated project aims to single-handedly “influence the safety of the Yidden [Jews] in Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel]” and provide “sure-fire protection.”

So how, exactly, do these dairy-product enthusiasts plan to hold Hamas missiles at bay from faraway Brooklyn?

By policing women’s bodies, of course. 

The unidentified brain trust has begun a “Tznius [modesty] campaign for girls” – and don’t worry, it has “great prize incentives, in the merit of the safety of Israel.”


“Every girl who comes to day camp dressed in Tznius attire (i.e. clothing which keep necklines, elbows, knees and feet covered at all times) will receive an EDEN card,” according to COLLive.com, a Chabad-affiliated community news website.

Eight EDEN cards are redeemable for ice cream and entry in a $100 raffle—and, of course, the eternal knowledge that flashing your elbows has not caused Jews to die in the Middle East.

The group is soliciting donations to spread this project to as many summer camps as possible, lest even a single prepubescent girl in Crown Heights be unaware of the lethal power of her knees, feet, and collarbones.

It’s kind of an ingenious system, once you accept the premise that female bodies are capable of such massive destruction. (No wonder governments worldwide have such a vested interest in controlling them.) It combines ice cream and summer fun with punishing modesty standards and a veritable blitzkrieg of collective guilt.  One wonders, if this were implemented more widely, what the next Iron Dome defense system would look like: perhaps a series of opaque, but breathable, literal iron domes for females to wear from the moment of birth? (The dimpled elbows of toddler girls have long been underestimated in their potential for causing death.)

Clearly, as Israeli troops enter Gaza, modesty is needed as never before: not prayers, not kindness, not good deeds or mutual understanding, and certainly not carefully considered compromises from politicians in positions of power. The way to “help our brothers in their time of need,” apparently, is to suppress every inch of skin their sisters possess.

And then give them some ice cream.

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