April 2, 2011- Research

            Recently I found a book at my local library detailing the history of American fashion and beauty, from the first settlers of Jamestown to the plastic surgery addicts of 2010. Because this book included not only fashion but beauty as well, exercise, diet, and makeup trends gave me complete feeling of the times.
            Within the first page of the book the reader learns that Native Americans were the first creators of foundation cream—they smeared a layer of grease or animal fat under face paint to keep it in place. Next we learn of how Native Americans influenced European men and the first American settlers to wear fur. Fur trade would become the first American beauty business among the colonists. However, as influential as Native Americans were, European fashion would have the biggest effect on Americans for the next two centuries. Then, with the American Revolution, came groups like ‘The Daughters of Liberty’ who boycotted European goods and encouraged woman to spin their own cloth. As the ideal waist size rose and fell, diets and exercise proved for some rather ridiculous new inventions and beauty advice. Then the first photograph, produced in 1839, showed woman around the U.S. how woman of the time really looked, not just painters or engraver’s versions of them. Advertisers soon realized that people would buy their product if endorsed by a ‘beautiful’ person and magazine subscriptions shot through the roof. Between 1890 and 1919 woman began to free themselves from the restrictive garments of the past. Woman’s rights movements flourished, makeup became widely accepted, and woman began to join the work force. Electricity soon became the next big thing and everything from massage machines, to perms (permanent hair curling), to electric “fat reducing” corsets were quickly in vogue. As the ‘roaring twenties’ rolled in, men and woman abandoned the traditional clothing of previous centuries and embraced styles like the flapper and the “King Tut craze”. The movie industry and Hollywood were soon producing movie stars and creating celebrities known to everyone. The movie craze continued into the Great Depression of the 1930s as the beauty industry proved to be the only depression proof industry. During the depression people went to the theater at least once a week to watch the larger than life stars dazzle in a world of luxury and prosperity. The beauty industry was probably the only industry in which new companies could start up and succeed during the 1930s and Revlon, Almay Cosmetics, and Clairol were some of these new companies. Then, in 1941, World War II hit the U.S. and fashion took a momentous turn. With the War Production Board restricting materials at rapid pace, woman and men were forced into simpler styles. Woman needed more reasonable clothing and hair styles as over six million of them joined the work force to support the war efforts. However, with the ending of the war, women were forced back into the home and a style that had not been seen for more than two decades was rekindled. In 1947, Christian Dior released his “New Look” which called for corsets, long full skirts, and full hips and breasts. Television was also making its way into the homes of Americans and TV advertisements became a powerful new tool for the beauty industry. Suddenly, not only movie stars were influencing fashion, but political figures, like First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, were as well. Finally, fashion moved into the modern era, where woman in pants are accepted, beauty through surgery can change “anything”, and movies, TV, internet, and instant communication influence our every step.
            Having been the most interesting book I believe I have ever read, I wanted to retain as much information as I could to help me with my growing inner database of fashion. As I read, I found the new information so completely amazing that every five minutes I would stop and tell the closest person around the new fact I had just learned. I hope my knowledge of the history of fashion will help me be able to quickly identify the time period of various articles of clothing. The book also helped me to understand how trends change and the importance of politics, economics, and social media on fashion and beauty image.

Some interesting images from the book...

real ad from 1892

ideal waist size in early to mid 1800s was 16"

1920's bathing suits

plastic surgery obsessed Jocelyn Wildenstein

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