Sunday, 24 April 2016

Dress Down Sunday: Fashion is Spinach by Elizabeth Hawes


published 1938

** blogfriend Shay points out in the comments that you can find this book free online

LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES




Elizabeth Hawes



[The economics of fashion magazines and advertising]

If advertisers were bright enough to make ads which the public really wanted to read, if Celanese would only print attractive little stories and bright quips on the pages for which it pays, then a fashion magazine could be published which was all ads. Then the business manager wouldn’t forever have to remind the editorial board that if they don’t do something about Lady-Dee corsets, we will lose the advertising.


 
Elizabeth Hawes 1933


As it is, Lady-Dee corsets takes a certain number of pages a year, for which they pay some $1500 each, for the purpose of telling the world about what divine corsets they make. At the same time, Lady-Dee corsets expects the editorial department to tell the world what divine corsets they make and do a much better job of it than any advertising agency on earth.

It’s not that the editorial department can’t come through. It is that, sometimes, they don’t just happen to think that Lady-Dee corsets are wonderful. They ignore Lady-Dee corsets, wilfully. The advertising manager comes in. He bangs his fist on the table. He gets results. A photograph of a girl in Lady-Dee corsets and cellophane comes out in the editorial pages. The account is saved….

The thing of it is, what the public sees in the pages of any fashion magazine is not always what is selected for the good of the public but often what is selected for the good of the advertising department.

commentary: See earlier entry for more on Fashion is Spinach, and how I came to read it.


The book is jammed full of financial details: Elizabeth Hawes studied economics at Vassar, and obviously took the subject very seriously. She explains where the money goes on a dress. She looks at the way manufacturers work. She examines specific markets such as handbags. And all this is done in the most entertaining and convincing way possible.

I always enjoy books on the fashion industry,  and this is one of the best – as it winds its way through the 30s you feel you understand more about life and about clothes and about Elizabeth Hawes. And you wish she could have made clothes for you. She says clothes must be comfortable and beautiful. She wants you to be able to move in them. She explains why anything bought ready-made is probably not going to fit you properly. She wants to make clothes for everyone.

And in addition to this, she was a feminist, a political and social activist and a strong believer in unions – she later worked herself as a union organizer. She just sounds great: someone with a warm heart and a concern for people.

She was married for a time to the film director Joseph Losey.

One picture is editorial from a magazine in the 30s, via the Clover Vintage tumbler, the other is from a corset advert.










11 comments:

  1. Nice to see more on this book, Moira. And the more you say about Hawes, the more interesting I find her. She certainly had an expert perspective on both the financial and social, if you will, side of fashion, no doubt about that. Sounds like a real treasure trove of insight.

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    1. It's probably a foregone conclusion that I would love this book, but I think anyone with an eye for 20th century history would love it to - she brings Paris and New York to life...

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  2. It's not the sort of subject towards which I would naturally gravitate, but this sounds fascinating. At some point I may well buy this. All the behind the scenes stuff, the reality of how the business is run, gives it another dimension. Definitely a possibility. Thanks for the tip!

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    1. You don't have to buy it... you can download it from archive.org.

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    2. Thanks again Shay - I will add your link to the posts.

      One of the endearing things about the book is that one minute she's talking about art, and taste, and other inponderables, in a quite arty way, and then suddenly she is doing the dollars and cents of exactly what goes into paying for a dress, and she REALLY knows her stuff.

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  3. I love this kind of thing. I am always fascinated by other people's jobs - and it sounds as if this throws such a light on the period.

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    1. Exactly - as Gary says, expertise is fascinating, and this comes in a great package too. And of course then I had to go to Google images to find the kind of clothes she did. Lovely.

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  4. As I said before, Elizabeth Hawes is someone I admire greatly. Her treatment at the hands of the Red-baiters was deplorable and heartbreaking, all the more horrible when you realise that although she was certainly on their radar, her treatment was so harsh because they had confused her with ANOTHER person with the same name, and were treating her as if she were this person. Bettina Burch's biography is a great read.

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    1. The mistake aspect of this is particularly tragic. But she obviously did have very liberal/leftwing views for the time, and had no problem with simultaneously making clothes for rich people: she wanted everyone to have good clothes, and there'll be no argument on that round here....

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  5. That is a great excerpt. This sounds more and more interesting.

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    1. It is such a good book, I enjoyed it immensely, and I'm sure will read it again.

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