Andy, did you hear about this one?

I was twenty-one on the steamy July evening we crowded into Phil's airless student apartment to watch a man walk on the moon. If you had asked me then what I'd predict we'd see fifty years later, I'd have said regular lunar landings, maybe even an outpost. We would be wearing Paco Rabanne-ish jumpsuits made of discs that you snapped together like pop-beads; surely the zipper would be obsolete.

That evening, I wore nothing that young women of fifty years earlier, in 1921, would have worn and yet, this past summer, I saw twenty-one year olds in exactly what I was wearing in '71: tank tops, a miniskirt or cut offs—no one was in what was not around then unless you count stretch denim and the logos of brands whose designers were not yet born.

What year is this?

All of these clothes are from Summer 2019: left, Acne Studios dress; upper right, skirt, Ralph Lauren; lower right, shoes, Isabel Marant.

Kurt Anderson, in a 2008 Vanity Fair article, said that the recent past, since the '00s, looks like the present—that we are in a design rut, "consuming the past instead of creating the new".  I'd say the pause stretches even further back to sometime in the '60s, when design and culture shifted simultaneously and seismically. Young women wore what they pleased—shorts and tees, little shift dresses, bell bottoms—except to the stuffiest establishments, and who wanted to go there anyway? My sister and I begged our mother, then in her fifties, to shorten her skirts so her knees showed.

In 2019, we hear hype about "gender-neutral clothes"; brands such as Céline Dion's children's line are dedicated to the idea. (Recall OshKosh B'gosh?) In '71, the term unisex was today's gender-neutral. I'm not sure the new brands will survive; badly-cut shirts are not pleasing to wear no matter how you identify.

There is talk about a return to the moon by around 2024 (Project Artemis), and in the meantime can't they make shoe lifts made of super-tech material so they don't wear down? Could women get trouser and shirt sizing like men's—or for that matter just standardized sizing?

Why in 2019 is a pair of cotton trousers sold with a "dry clean only" label? And why do we have dry cleaning at all? Fifty years ago, did you expect to still be paying for your clothes to be cleaned with chemicals, and have to lug them there and back?

Even "green drycleaning" has its issues. Shouldn't everyday clothing be made so owners can maintain it? (We know that "dry clean only" labels are placed in pieces that are entirely washable, just a horrible CYA move.)

The moonwalk was the most dramatic experience of the future literally landing that I will likely witness. I will not be here to ponder the fashion of the day fifty years from now—as REM's song goes, "Let's play Twister, Let's play Risk/See you in heaven if you make the list." But at some point, there has to be a visible shift. Could it be that the young person of 2069 will look like today's? That would be a century of stasis.

For now, still offered what we saw in '71 give or take a shoulder pad, we should demand that the apparel industry catch up to the times in terms of ethical manufacturing.

Here is a terrific article on the industry's contribution to environmental degradation. If anything will keep a woman out of certain well-known chains, this ought to: "Fast Fashion Lies:  Will they really change their ways in a climate crisis?" by Anika Kozlowski, Assistant Professor of Fashion Design, Ethics and Sustainability at Ryerson University, Toronto.

We should also refuse to overbuy so that we keep goods out of the landfills on this precious planet, no matter what we choose to wear.


Laura J said…
Was in Toronto-/ thought: wow big city shopping! But the excesses overwhelmed me. From the racks of 2$ T-shirts in China town to the assortment of astronomically priced designer wear on Bloor(were they too made in the same sweat shops?) —can we actually wear all this? Will it last do we need it? End result: no purchases and a slight feeling of revulsion. Sigh.
Duchesse said…
LauraJ: How I wish we could have connected before your trip. There are small local boutiques where you would have been very happy. They are not on Bloor, or in Chinatown, but they are downtown, easily accessible.

Next time, if interested, contact me and I will offer some suggestions.

Marla said…
I was a freshman at a large university in Southern California in the fall of 1973. Today I live in San Diego, very close to the state university. Classes started last week and I've been driving by a few times when the streets were filled with students. I was amazed to see that each and every young lady was dressed pretty identical to my own college days, right down to the long, straight hair, parted in the middle, no bangs! I was stopped at a traffic light thinking you could take a photo and the only thing that would tip you off that it wasn't 1973 was a phone in every hand!
Madame Là-bas said…
We had an exchange student from Québec with us. My aunt had sewn me some pieces of clothing to take with me on my visit. I loved quality fabrics and I chose a soft buttery yellow Boussac (?) cotton princess line mini as my "star piece". I even had a scarf to wear with it. Of course, I had some trendy items too. Nothing was dry cleaned in my wardrobe. I would like a laundry like I use in Mexico where the clothes are laundered and pressed. We have a communal laundry in our building and I don't trust the machines for my better clothes. I really wanted long straight hair in the 60's.
LauraH said…
A big 'yes' to ethical manufacturing at all levels and for all products. I try to buy ethically made stuff but it is not easy to find. Clothing is bought, if at all, for the long term - I expect to get years of wear out of what I buy, shoes included. Pet peeve is those awful synthetic glued-on soles which make repair a nightmare.

A big goal now is to drastically reduce the amount of plastic waste especially on the food I buy. Not easy. I remember going to the butcher shop with my Mom, nothing pre-packaged there! Same goes for farmers markets. Butcher counters are making a comeback, thank goodness. I bring my own bags and containers. For Toronto readers, check out places like the Unboxed Market where you can re-use containers and food is not pre-wrapped in plastic. Pretty Clean Shop is excellent for sustainable house and personal products, even refills on body lotion, shampoo, etc. Also

Sorry if I got off track.
Duchesse said…
Marla: I know! When I was visiting family in OR, I saw groups of young people sitting on the UO campus, in fringed suede jackets, granny dresses, big bell bottoms, even strumming guitars. Total time warp. My age 35-44 nieces and nephews did not find this odd, but they had no memory of the first wave.

Mme Là-bas: I had the same hair goal in the '60s and worked hard to get the look, until one day in '71, walked into a salon and asked them to cut it so I could have a style with my natural curl. Another thing to thank that era of the womens' movement for.

LauraH: Go right ahead, and thanks! Sometimes I pass wall after wall of single-use plastic-packaged goods and wonder what in the world they are thinking to offer this for staples like you describe.
Not to mention the things that come in heavy clear plastic that must be ripped open with a cutter. Tweezers, not just electronics or valuables.

I've noticed the same thing. But as for the hair, I was wearing an Afro in high school. We are the same generation but I'm some years younger - just turned officially over-the-hill (income supplement).

Usually the shoes are the clue, even without smartphones, but I have seen definite copies of late sixties-early seventies shoes and sandals. I do not see a lot of bell-bottoms in Montréal though.
Leslie M said…
I really enjoyed this post and “Fast Fashion Lies” is a revelation. I don’t buy from fast fashion stores, but that doesn’t mean I am not contributing to the problem. It is something to seriously consider after learning that fashion has a larger carbon footprint than all international travel. I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s easier to control purchases as we age and don’t “need” the latest, cheapest, knock-off. Resale and consignment can be a much better option, and more fun, as you have pointed out. Don’t you know that Ralph Lauren skirt will not make it to the purchaser’s 60th birthday? This stayed with me all day. Now, I wonder the impact of cheap jewelry.
Duchesse said…
Leslie M: Cheap jewellery is no better, often made by the same vendors. There is little transparency and a lot of misrepresentation.

Pearls sourced from environmentally-conscious producers like Kojima Company and Komoka are about the most responsible jewellery you can wear, and those merchants pay fair wages to the craftsperson or jeweller who makes the finished piece.

For other jewellery, buy that which is made by artisans whom you know, who use recycled metals and stones.
Mardel said…
I see the same thing here, and wonder about this static world we live in, as if both capitalism and the industrial revolution have evolved to a point where we have lost creativity, it is buried under a pile of instant gratification. Perhaps saying we don't need it is the first step.
Laura J said…
Will definitely let you know when I am back in town. I normally shop consignment or local boutiques — I was miso reacting to the immense quantity of stuff— appreciate Laura h’s comments.

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