Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Secrets of a Little Black Dress…

The Story of Black by John Harvey

published 201



Black dress

Black dress 2



commentary: Simon Lavery, the proprietor of the Tredynas Days blog, recommended this book to me, and I am very grateful: John Harvey, an academic, has written two books on the colour black, and you can read Simon’s (fascinating) take on them both here.

I enjoyed The Story of Black very much – the author deals with every aspect of the colour: in art, in literature, in consideration of race, in its associations with sadness or death, and of course in clothes. I decided to run his story of the Little Black Dress above as is, with the photo, because of such interest to me and I’m sure to many of my readers… As explained in the text the fabulous photo is NOT from the era it represents, it is a modern reconstruction.

There are all kinds of riveting stories in the book – with my interest in clothes, I was also very intrigued by the history of what witches traditionally wore: the short answer is ‘not necessarily black’, as that is a modern idea.

It’s a lovely book, very well-produced and with many beautiful illustrations: When he describes something, you know you will turn the page and see what he is talking about. John Harvey is plainly a polymath, and his examples come from poetry, from the history of coal-mining, from East and West, from Ancient Greece, from Turner and Milton. A serious, academic and well-researched book, but accessible and endlessly entertaining.










27 comments:

  1. This sounds absolutely fascinating, Moira! And it's so interesting how powerful a role black has played in a lot of ways. Just from the bit you've shared, I like the writing style, too: informed, but not 'information overload,' or full of jargon. So glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. I love books like this Margot - proper academic research, but very accessible and inspiring to the imagination,

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  2. Fascinating - and I could have sworn the photo was an authentic 1920s picture. I have never liked 1920s fashions very much, partly, no doubt, because I don't have the figure for them (in one word: hips) but this picture actually makes me wish I had, in which case I would immediately have the dress made up and wear it exacrly as in the Picture.

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    1. I mean exactly, not exacrly, and picture, not Picture!

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    2. Yes, I know just what you mean - I love the look of them, but that straight up and down doesn't suit, because I am far from straight up and down...

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    3. Yep, hips and boobs. I remember a seen from the film Thoroughly Modern Millie where the Julie Andrews character is complaining (while trying to get her flapper beads to lie straight) that only rich girls were flat-chested. While gazing enviously at the Mary Tyler Moore character.

      (original deleted because I forgot to tick the Notify me box.)

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    4. It's always a mystery how fashions in unchangeable things can change...

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    5. As you say, these things are unchangeable: women have hips and boobs regardless of fashions, and when you see pictures of real women at the time it is quite clear that a majority of them looked quite clumsy in the straight-up-and-down dresses. Particularly when, adding insult to injury, there was a seam across the hips - the very worst place for a woman with curves.

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    6. Yes, no style could be less designed to follow the natural curves of a mature woman's body...

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  3. So glad you liked it, Moira - and thanks for the link

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    1. Thanks again for the tipoff - and I still have his other book to read.

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    2. Simon and Moira together -- my two favorite bloffers!

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    3. Argh. well, bloggers. How did I not see that? Ha.

      Maybe you're bloffers, too?

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    4. We knew what you meant! Always annoying when you can't edit.

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  4. Does sound interesting. Black is more than simply a non-colour, and with modern Goths it's a statement in itself. In Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN stories the Grim Reaper is now an attractive, fashionably dressed young woman, but she's still clothed all in black!

    ggary

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    1. Yes, you are well in tune with the ideas in the book!

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  5. I do actually have a FABULOUS little black dress from 1928 but I've not been able to identify the designer (yet) although it is obviously a VERY posh, high end little black couture quality dress! I think it may be a Lanvin though, as I've seen Lanvins constructed in a similar way, and the way it is cut almost seems like stylized Lanvin L's

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153040344221270&l=9337798db8

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  6. I'm not really sure why he couldn't find any 1920s little black Chanel dresses, whenever in the 2010s it was published. To be fair, I'm not sure any of that exact Chanel design have survived, but there are other surviving Chanel models made along very similar lines, such as these two from 1926 and 1927....

    http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/81482

    http://www.smb-digital.de/eMuseumPlus?service=ExternalInterface&module=collection&objectId=908426&viewType=detailView

    However, of course, as he does acknowledge, Chanel didn't pioneer the little black dress. Black had been a very fashionable (and practical) choice for women for many years since the mid-19th century....

    I also feel that the replica dress may have slightly misinterpreted the drawing - the original illustration (larger view here: https://do5ctr7j643mo.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/10004052/1926-Ford-dress-drawing-in-Vogue-US-1024x1375.jpg ) shows the dress worn with a pearl necklace and two pearl bead bracelets, and slightly gauntlet gloves. There does appear to be some kind of lace cuff to the dress, or perhaps edging to the glove but I think it's clear that the gloves don't have a lace edging and that there is something creating a zigzag effect against the cuffs. To me, that is kind of at odds with the austerity of the design, because you have a severe dress, geometric straight lines, plain white gloves, simple round beads, and then some kind of contrasty froof at the wrist that doesn't really work. Slightly disappointing, actually.

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    1. Thanks for all the great links Daniel, they make for a fascinating look at the subject. And thanks for sharing your expertise...

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  7. Also - I think if you know the period then you'd probably pick up on a few subtleties about the 1990s photograph that indicate something is slightly off. Black gloves, rather than white. The skirt is actually VERY short for the period, almost scandalously so - even though it was fashionable, you don't often see photographed models showing off quite as much kneecap. Also, the black stockings strike me as more of a 1990s styling decision than a vintage decision. It's all very subtle tiny details, but when you've looked at LOTS of 1920s photographs, there is a sense that things don't "feel" quite right.

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    1. Yes, I have a small collection of pochoirs from La Gazette du Bon Ton, and the Vogue illustration you linked is definitely closer than the photo here.

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    2. Yes I do know what you both mean, and the more you look the more you see.

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  8. Definitely not the John Harvey of the Resnick books? I think I'll leave this one well alone.

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    1. I Googled the author of this book, and Resnick was what kept coming up! You stick to your John Harvey and I'll stick to mine.

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  9. That is funny, as soon as I saw the author's name I also thought of the author of the Resnick books. It sounds interesting but still not for me.

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    1. It was very much my kind of thing, Tracy, but not a taste I expect everyone to share!

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