The flapper is the Roaring 20s’ enduring emblem – a liberated, young woman with bobbed hair, rolled down stockings, and a public thirst for cocktails.
(My grandmother longed to be one, and succeeded, as best one could in Cairo, Illinois, only to marry an older man at the age of 17, and give birth to my father a few months before the stock market crashed, bringing the frivolity of the decade to an abrupt halt.)
Our abiding affection for the flapper is stoked on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age novella, The Great Gatsby, and its many stage and screen adaptations, with their depictions of wild parties featuring guests like Miss Baedecker (“When she’s had five or six cocktails she always starts screaming like that”) and Lucille (“I never care what I do, so I always have a good time.”)
The vintage fashion blog Glamour Daze’s newly colorized footage of a 1929 fashion show in Buffalo, New York, at the top of this post, presents a vastly more sedate image than Fitzgerald, or Ethel Hays, whose single-panel daily cartoon Flapper Fanny was wildly popular with both young women and men of the time.
The scene it presents seems more wholesome than one might have found in New York City, with what Fitzgerald dubbed its “wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world”. The models seem more eager amateurs than runway professionals, though lined up jauntily on a wall, all exhibit “nice stems.”
My young grandmother would have gone ga ga for the cloche hats, tea dresses, bathing suits, lounging pajamas, golf and tennis ensembles, and evening gowns, though the Deep Exemplar-based Video Colorization process seems to have stained some models’ skin and teeth by mistake.
Added sound brings the period to life with nary a mention of the Charleston or gin, though if you want a feel for 20s fashion, check out the collection’s non-silent Movietone clip devoted to the latest in 1929 swimwear – this is a modernistic beach ensemble of rayon jersey with diagonal stripes and a sun back cut…
It’s the cat’s pajamas. As is this playlist of hits from 1929.
Explore Glamour Daze’s guide to 1920s fashion history here.
Watch the original black and white footage of the Buffalo, New York fashion show here.
Admittedly jewelry is not one of our areas of expertise, but when we hear that a bracelet costs €10,000, we kind of expect it to have a smattering of diamonds.
Designers Lyske Gais and Lia Duinker are getting that amount for a wristlet comprised chiefly of five large paper sheets printed with high res images downloaded free from the Rijksmuseum‘s extensive digital archive of Rembrandt drawings and etchings.
Your average pawnbroker would probably consider its 18-karat gold clasp, or possibly the custom-made wooden box in which it can be stored when not in use the most precious thing about this ornament.
An ardent bibliophile or art lover is perhaps better equipped to see the book bracelet’s value.
Each gilt edged page – 1400 in all – features an image of a hand, sourced from 303 downloaded Rembrandt works.
An illustration on the designers’ Duinker and Dochters website details the painstaking process whereby the bookbracelet takes shape in 8-page sections, or signatures, cross stitched tightly alongside each other on a paper band. Put it on, and you can flip through Rembrandt hands, Rolodex-style. When you want to do the dishes or take a shower, just pack it flat into that custom box.
But what about that special art loving bibliophile who already has everything, including a Rembrandts Hands and a Lions Paw boekarmband?
Maybe you could get them Collier van hondjes, Gais and Duinker’s follow up to the book bracelet, a rubber choker with an attached 112-page book pendant showcasing Rembrandt dogs sourced from various museum’s digital collections.
What does it take to wear an ancient Roman toga with dignity and grace?
Judging from the above demonstration by Dr Mary Harlow, Associate Professor of Ancient History at the University of Leicester, a couple of helpers, who, in the first century CE, would have invariably been enslaved, and thus ineligible for togas of their own.
The iconic outer garments, traditionally made of wool, begin as single, 12-16m lengths of fabric.
Extra hands were needed to keep the cloth from dragging on the dirty floor while the wearer was being wrapped, to secure the garment with additional pleats and tucks, and to create the pouch-like umbo at chest level, in a manner as aesthetically pleasing as every other fold and drape was expected to be.
As formal citizen’s garb, the toga was suitable for virtually every public occasion, as well as an audience with the emperor.
In addition to slaves, the toga was off-limits to foreigners, freedmen, and, with the notable exception of adulteresses and prostitutes, women.
Wealthier individuals flaunted their status by accenting their outfit with stripes of Tyrian Purple.
The BBC reports that dying even a single small swatch of fabric this shade “took tens of thousands of desiccated hypobranchial glands wrenched from the calcified coils of spiny murex sea snails” and that thus dyed, the fibers “retained the stench of the invertebrate’s marine excretions.”
Achieving that Tyrian Purple hue was “a very smelly process,” Dr. Harlow confirms, “but if you could retain a little bit of that fishy smell in your final garment, it would show your colleagues that you could afford the best.”
The students also share how toga-clad Romans dealt with stairs, and introduce viewers to 5 forms of toga:
Toga Virilis – the toga of manhood
Toga Praetexta – the pre-toga of manhood toga
Toga Pulla – a dark mourning toga
Toga Candida– a chalk whitened toga sported by those running for office
Toga Picta– to be worn by generals, praetors celebrating games and consuls. The emperor’s toga picta was dyed purple. Uh-oh.
Their youthful enthusiasm for antiquity is rousing, though Quintilian, the first century CE educator and expert in rhetoric might have had some thoughts on their clownish antics.
He certainly had a lot of thoughts about togas, which he shared in his instructive masterwork, Institutio Oratoria:
The toga itself should, in my opinion, be round, and cut to fit, otherwise there are a number of ways in which it may be unshapely. Its front edge should by preference reach to the middle of the shin, while the back should be higher in proportion as the girdle is higher
behind than in front. The fold is most becoming, if it fall to a point a little above the lower edge of the tunic, and should certainly never fall below it. The other fold which passes obliquely like a belt under the right shoulder and over the left, should neither be too tight nor too loose. The portion of the toga which is last to be arranged should fall rather low, since it will sit better thus and be kept in its place. A portion of the tunic also should be drawn back in order that it may not fall over the arm when we are pleading, and the fold should be thrown over the shoulder, while it will not be unbecoming if the edge be turned back. On the other hand, we should not cover the shoulder and the whole of the throat, otherwise our dress will be unduly narrowed and will lose the impressive effect produced by breadth at the chest. The left arm should only be raised so far as to form a right angle at the elbow, while the edge of the toga should fall in equal lengths on either side.
Quintillian was willing to let some of his high standards slide if the wearer’s toga had been untidied by the heat of rousing oration:
When, however, our speech draws near its close, more especially if fortune shows herself kind, practically everything is becoming; we may stream with sweat, show signs of fatigue, and let our dress fall in careless disorder and the toga slip loose from us on every side…On the other hand, if the toga falls down at the beginning of our speech, or when we have only proceeded but a little way, the failure to replace it is a sign of indifference, or sloth, or sheer ignorance of the way in which clothes should be worn.
There was a period in the late 20th-century when having hair long enough to sit on was considered something of an accomplishment.
Judging by the long hair pins unearthed from Austria’s Hallstatt burial site, extreme length was an early Iron Age hair goal, too, possibly because a coronet of thick braids made it easier to balance a basket on your head or keep your veil securely fastened.
Gromer, the vice-head of the Vienna Natural History Museum‘s Department of Prehistory, published precise diagrams showing the position of the hair ornaments in relation to the occupants of various graves.
For example, the skeleton in grave 45, below, was discovered with “10 bronze needles to the left of and below the skull, (and) parts of a bronze spiral roll in the neck area.”
Although no hair fibers survive, researchers cross-referencing the pins’ position against figural representations from period artifacts, have made a pretty educated guess as to the sort of hair do this individual may have sported in life, or more accurately, given the context, death.
As to the “bronze spiral roll” – which Donner persists in referring to as a spiral “doobly doo” – it functioned much like a modern day elastic band, preventing the braid from unravelling.
Donner twists hers from wire, after arranging to have replica hairpins custom made to historically accurate dimensions. (The manufacturer, perhaps misunderstanding her interest in history, coated them with an antiquing agent that had to be removed with “brass cleaner and a bit of rubbing.”
Most of the styles are variants on a bun. All withstand the “shake test” and would look right at home in a bridal magazine.
Star Wars fans will be gratified to find not one, but two iconic Princess Leia looks.
Our favorites were the braided loops and double buns meant to be sported beneath a veil.
“The braids do kind of act nicely as an anchor point for the veil to sit on,” Donner reports, “Not a lot of modern application per se for this particular style but it’s cute. It’s fun.”
Either would give you some serious Medieval Festival street cred, even if you have to resort to extensions.
Donner’s video gets a lot of love in the comments from a number of archaeology professionals, including a funerary archaeologist who praises the way she deals with the “inherent issues of preservation bias.”
The final nine minutes contain a DIY tutorial for those who’d like to make their own hairpins, as well as the spiral “doobly doo”.
If you’re of a less crafty bent, a jewelry designer in Finland is selling replicas based on the grave finds of Hallstatt culture on Etsy.
Watch a playlist of Donner’s historical hair experiments and tutorials, though a peek at her Instagram reveals that she got a buzzcut last fall, currently grown out to pixie-ish length.
Download Grömer’s illustrated article on Hallstatt period hairstyles and veils for free (in German) here.
Remember how it felt to be bundled into tights, socks, jeans, a thick sweater, a snowsuit, mittens, only to realize that you really needed to pee?
Back in 1665, the Little Ice Age compelled the well-to-do ladies of Delft to turn themselves out with a similar eye toward keeping warm, but their ensembles had a distinct advantage over the Christmas Story snowsuit approach.
Relieving themselves was as easy as hiking their skirts, petticoats, and voluminous, lace-trimmed chemise. No flies for freezing fingers to fumble with. In fact, no drawers at all.
Historical costumer Pauline Loven, a creator of the Getting Dressed In… series, builds this elite outfit from the innermost layer out, above, noting that clothing was an avenue for well-to-do citizens to flaunt their wealth:
A long, full, Linen or silk chemise trimmed with lace at the cuff
A waist-tied hip pad to bolster several layers of cozy, lined petticoats
An elegant silk gown comprised of several components:
A flat fronted skirt tucked into pleats at the sides and back
A laced up bodice stiffened with whale bone stays
A stomacher for front-laced bodices
A loose fitting, fur-trimmed velvet or silk jacket
Silk or woolen thigh-high stockings gartered below the knee (created for the episode by heritage educator, and knitwear designer Sally Pointer)
A linen or silk kerchief pinned or tied at the breast
Square-toed leather shoes with a curved heel (created for the episode by Kevin Garlick, who specializes in handmade shoes for re-enactors.)
Fashionable accessories might include a foot warming, charcoal powered voeten stoofand understated jewelry, like the pearls Johannes Vermeer painted to such luminous effect.
If that doesn’t tip you off to the direction this historic recreation is headed, allow us to note that the attendant, who’s far from the focus of this episode, is garbed so as to suggest The Milkmaid by a certain Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes…and whose initials are J.V.
“In Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar, all the characters are wearing fringes,” writes Roland Barthes in his well-known essay on Romans in film. “Some have them curly, some straggly, some tufted, some oily, all have them well combed.” This fringe, Barthes argues, is “quite simply the label of Roman-ness”: when it comes onscreen, “no one can doubt that he is in Ancient Rome.” Ever since cinema first told historical tales, hair has been among its most effective visual shorthands with which to establish an era. This is in part due to hairstyles themselves having varied since the beginning of recorded history, and — in one form or another — no doubt before it as well. But how many of them could we pull off today?
In the video above, Youtuber Morgan Donner addresses that question as directly as possible: by trying out half a millennium’s worth of hairstyles herself. As a woman, she’s been provided much more to work with by fashion history (to say nothing of biology) than have the successors of all those fringed Roman men. She begins in 1520, a period whose art reveals “a fairly consistent center-part kind of smooth look going on” with braids behind, all easy replicable. 110 years later “things get actually quite interesting,” since fashions begin to encompass not just hairstyles but haircuts, properly speaking, requiring different sections of hair to be different lengths — and requiring Donner to whip out her scissors.
About a century later, Donner takes note of a pattern whereby “styles get bigger and bigger and bigger, and then — foof — they deflate.” Such, it seems, has become the general tendency of not just culture but many other human pursuits as well: the gradual inflation of a bubble of extremity, followed by its sudden bursting. It’s in the 18th century that Donner’s project turns more complex, beginning to involve such things as lard, powder, and hair cushions. But she gets a bit of a respite when the 1800s come along, and “it’s almost like everyone collectively decided that they were tired of it, and you know what? Messy bun. That’s good enough.” Yet in hair as in all things, humanity never keeps it simple for long.
Viewers of film and television historical dramas (which themselves have been booming for some time now) will recognize more than a few of the hairstyles Donner gives herself throughout this video. But the deeper she gets into the 20th century, the more of them remain in living memory. Take the 1940s’ shoulder-length curls with pinned-back layers on top, which many of us will recognize from pictures of our grandmothers. That particular hairstyle doesn’t seem to have been revived since, but from the 1960s on, Donner works through a series of looks that have provided no little inspiration to our retromaniac 21st century. At the end of her historical-tonsorial journey, she fires up the clippers and buzzes herself completely — thus beginning hair Year Zero.
The Rivethead preoccupation with fashion is inescapably related to their anxiety over being confused for subcultures they profess to hate: Goths, Punks, Metalheads, Death Rockers… The fact that so many subcultures claim black as their color of choice contributes to the confusion.
There are two points upon which theorists of post-industrial British subcultures generally agree: 1) No matter the music or the fashion, the boundaries between one subculture and another were rigorously, even violently, enforced (hence the wars between the mods and rockers), and; 2) The music and fashions of every subculture were subject to cooptation by the machinery of capitalism, to be mass produced, packaged, and sold as off-the-rack commodity, a phenomenon that occurred almost as soon as punks, mods, rockers, goths, teddy boys, skinheads, New Romantics, etc. began appearing on television — as in the post-Grundy Irish TV appearance of four young individuals above from 1983.
The interviewer introduces these punks, goths, and mods by referring first to their employment — or lack of employment — status, and then to the number of children in their family. Comments dripping with class disdain sit alongside a characterization of various subcultures as “gangs” — the Hell’s Angels thrown in among them just to drive the point home. Of course, there’s more to say about the denizens of early-80s UK subcultural street corners — more than these four representatives have to say themselves. It is communicated through performance rather than verbal exposition, through the affiliations of clothing, music, and pose — as in the mini-historical slideshow of late-20th century British subcultures below, from the 50s to the 80s.
In 1979, British theorist Dick Hebdige published what many considered the definitive analysis of these working-class scenes, which frequently centered around forms of racial and cultural exchange — as with mods who loved jazz or punks who loved ska and dub reggae; or racial and cultural exclusion — as with fascist skinheads and chauvinist teddy boys who glorified the past, while other subcultural ideologies looked to the future (or, as the case may be, no future).
Hebdige’s Subculture: the Meaning of Style begins with a story about French writer Jean Genet, humiliated in prison by homophobic guards over his possession of a tube of Vaseline:
Like Genet, we are interested in subculture – in the expressive forms and rituals of those subordinate groups – the teddy boys and mods and rockers, the skinheads and the punks – who are alternately dismissed, denounced and canonized; treated at different times as threats to public order and as harmless buffoons.
The irony of subcultures is that they identify with social outsiders, while re-enforcing boundaries that create exclusivity (cf. the quote at the top, from Hebdige-inspired Subcultures List). When the novelty and shock recedes, they become ripe fodder for commercial cooptation, even luxury branding.
What we usually don’t get from tame retrospectives, or from patronizing mass media of the time, are deviant outsiders like Genet who cannot be reabsorbed into the system because their very existence poses a threat to the social order as so construed. So much of the fashion and music of post-war Britain was directly created or inspired by West Indian migrants of the Windrush generation, for example. In too many popular representations of postwar British subcultures, that essential part of the working class UK subculture story has been entirely left out.
When the Romans pushed their way north into the German provinces, they built (circa 90 AD) The Saalburg, a fort that protected the boundary between the Roman Empire and the Germanic tribal territories. At its peak, 2,000 people lived in the fort and the attached village. It remained active until around 260 AD.
Somewhere during the 19th century, The Saalburg was rediscovered and excavated, then later fully reconstructed. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site and houses the Saalburg Museum, which contains many Roman relics, including a 2,000 year old shoe, apparently found in a local well.
If you think the Italians have mastered the craft of making shoes, well, they don’t have much on their ancestors. According to the site Romans Across Europe, the Romans “were the originators of the entire-foot-encasing shoe.” The site continues:
There was a wide variety of shoes and sandals for men and women. Most were constructed like military caligae, with a one-piece upper nailed between layers of the sole. Many had large open-work areas made by cutting or punching circles, triangles, squares, ovals, etc. in rows or grid-like patterns. Others were more enclosed, having only holes for the laces. Some very dainty women’s and children’s shoes still had thick nailed soles.
The image above, which puts all of the Roman’s shoe-making skill on display, comes to us via Reddit and imgur.
Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in July 2016.
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