Fashion is only as superficial as we let it be. Today I’m wearing a schoolgirl outfit in honor of the date—that September back-to-school feeling of new beginnings—and because, ovulating, I just want to be bent over and I must confess, I still believe… hit me baby one more time. My eye makeup is heavy, my hair shorn like a little boy, and my feet are in Vans Original Classics, even though my bare legs would look so-much-better with a little lift, because I want the world to know that I believe in gender ambiguity and that I’m really fucking tough. The hem of my grey wool miniskirt is raw because it had to be shorter this morning but, please, infer unraveled chic and Japanese avant garde. My white tennis shirt (a Uniqlo purchase inspired by what Carven is doing for men) is crisp and I better not spill any coffee on it because that would ruin everything. The whole ensemble though, these proportions, now that I think about it, is probably the result of my internalizing Jil Sander Navy for Spring 2013 which in turn seemed to be channeling Sue Lyon in Kubrick’s Lolita.
I debated while brushing my teeth whether to go braless or Lolita training, preferring the -less for its feminist connotations but opting for white lace because my shirt is sorta see-through and workplace propriety, you know. My vintage Ferragamo purse is something my Republican grandmother would approve of but the drug paraphernalia in it… I’m wearing cat-eye tilted wayfarers because my hair is kinda Jean Seberg and À bout de souffle! I won’t detail my underwear but I will say I seriously considered going without (only if I opted for the bra, of course) but it’s New York and that would be disgusting.
But there’s more. Each of these garments has a history—nay, a genealogy, as in Foucault, with a meaningful origin and an ever-convoluting network of connotation, constructed over time, which mutates and multiplies with every new adaptation. If you care to learn about the history of some of the most pervasive garments in America, then I suggest you visit the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s latest exhibition Ivy Style, which opens today. Organized by the museum’s deputy director, Patricia Mears, in consultation with Richard Press, former president of J. Press, and leading menswear writer G. Bruce Boyer, Ivy Style showcases college-originating looks like the letterman jacket, the khaki pant, and the penny loafer.
Did you know that the “blazer” is so named for the red emblazoned jackets of Cambridge U’s Lady Margaret Boat Club rowing team? You do now and you would know this, and much more, from a visit to Ivy Style. The show at FIT explores early moments in preppy (as in preparatory schools) style, as well its modern adaptations—the best of this is by Thom Browne. Seeing a perfectly preserved 1920s Brooks Brothers suit in RL is an auratic experience. Seeing all the adorable men in meticulously assembled heritage looks who are bound to attend the show is, um, another kind of experience.
Ivy Style is both a scholarly nerd out and a great source for fall fashion inspiration. Because after you’ve learned about the history of the loafer, you can go buy a pair. May I suggest the red ones from J.W. Anderson’s Topshop collaboration? This morning, Britain’s leading up-and-coming designer J.W. Anderson launched his highstreet collection. It’s heavy on the tartans, paisleys, and Breton shirts (contemporary basics with fascinating histories, wiki it), as well as Ivy Style standards like varsity jackets, cloth oxfords, and kilts. So there’s your perfect fall ensemble for today: a visit to Ivy Style and a push through the crowds at Topshop for J.W. Anderson.
When clothes are treated superficially—when we don’t even try to engage with them as more than image or consumable—we can’t engage with them ethically. If you’re a true book lover, you’re likely going to buy from an independent store, or to support your favorite publishing house; a true food lover will source locally, eat organic. The same should hold for fashion lovers. Deepen your knowledge of fashion and you’ll not only have more fun, you’ll be a better citizen. Then we can talk about the colonial history behind J.W.’s paisleys and what Made in America means vs. Made in Britain (which a lot of Topshop clothes are). Then we can talk about the checklist of “problematics” in the Ivy Style show (of white wealth in prep schools and the fact that the exhibition—the museum, not the catalog—excludes the fascinating Japanese appropriation of Americana and the heritage revival it then exported back to the U.S.A.). Then we can wear our blazers and know them too. Fashion isn’t superficial, many of us just let it be.
Ivy Style will be on view at the Museum at FIT from September 14, 2012, to January 5, 2013.
J.W. Anderson’s Topshop collaboration is selling out as I type this.