Are some decades just bet­ter at fash­ion than oth­ers, asks Lisa Arm­strong

Are some decades just bet­ter at fash­ion than oth­ers, asks Lisa Arm­strong

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

The 80s were such a po­lar­is­ing decade, po­lit­i­cally, cul­tur­ally … so it’s not sur­pris­ing that the fash­ions still split the jury. In the week of Princes Wil­liam’s and Harry’s doc­u­men­tary about their mother Di­ana, the fault lines have clar­i­fied: those who look back on the decade’s clothes fondly tend not to have been around when it was ac­tu­ally un­fold­ing.

Those who shud­der at the clunky pro­por­tions, un­so­phis­ti­cated footwear and mul­let-ant hair ten­den­cies are gen­er­ally those who had to live through them first hand. I hated fash­ion in the 80s and I still do. But that could just be me.

It does raise the ques­tion of what makes an era clas­sic — the 1950s — and what leaves it in the dung-heap of cu­rios­ity. Time is a huge fac­tor. In 1937, James Laver, the art his­to­rian and V&A cu­ra­tor, worked out a 150-year time­line for fash­ion. To pre­cis, he sug­gested that a design that was 10 years ahead of its time is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered in­de­cent, while 10 years af­ter its mo­ment, it’s usu­ally re­garded as hideous. Twenty years af­ter, it’s dis­missed as ridicu­lous; 50 years makes it ap­pear quaint, 70 years charm­ing, 150 years, and it’s back to be­ing beau­ti­ful.

Laver was ev­i­dently on to some­thing, even if his time line has it­self suf­fered from a time warp. Re­vi­sions hap­pen much faster now.

But are some decades in­her­ently bet­ter at fash­ion than oth­ers? The 80s has been re­vived at least three times al­ready. Yet the res­ur­rec­tions have al­ways felt a bit forced, ex­tremely di­lute and only of real in­ter­est to lovers of kitsch and the so-bad-it’s-good genre.

The 1950s on the other hand, apart from their 20-year ex­ile to fash­ion Siberia dur­ing

Di­ana has, for bet­ter or worse, come to de­fine the 80s. While the princess shim­mered through the decade, clothes from that pe­riod of­ten look like cu­riosi­ties now.

the 60s and 70s have been in style for woman across the board for decades. Shirt­wais­ters, kit­ten heels, bracelet length sleeves — they’ve all be­come such sta­ples that we barely even think of them as the prop­erty of a spe­cific era.

Is it be­cause those small waists and ac­cen­tu­ated hips and breasts play to a clas­sic ideal

of fe­male beauty? Or is it be­cause in some de­tails, the 1950s, with its sim­pler plea­sures and ex­pec­ta­tions, though not its so­cially re­pres­sive mores, ap­peals?

If each era is a re­ac­tion against the pre­vi­ous, it fol­lows that some decades will sub­scribe to our in­stinc­tive aes­thetic pref­er­ences, while oth­ers will chal­lenge them. Lucky Grace Kelly for com­ing to the world’s at­ten­tion in the 1950s. And lucky Au­drey Hep­burn and Jackie Kennedy for float­ing across the 1960s, the first

Hep­burn and Kennedy were out­stand­ingly stylish and el­e­gant, anda would prob­a­bly have looked won­der­ful in any era, yet even theyt weren’t at their bestb in the 80s.

half of which, with del­i­cate, la­dy­like ath­letic lines, was par­tic­u­larly suited to them both.

Hep­burn and Kennedy were out­stand­ingly stylish and el­e­gant, and would prob­a­bly have looked won­der­ful in any era, yet even they weren’t at their best in the 80s. Google pic­tures if you don’t be­lieve me.

Both women helped de­fine their eras, just as Di­ana has, for bet­ter or worse, come to de­fine the 80s. While the princess shim­mered through the decade (she had the same gauzy qual­i­ties of Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe), her clothes from that pe­riod of­ten look like cu­riosi­ties now.

It wasn’t un­til the mid-90s that she truly hit her stride. Now there was a fash­ion decade. (Or is that just me again?)

The sleeker sil­hou­ettes, the melt­ing away of brash 80s colours, jar­ring ac­ces­sories and awk­ward pro­por­tions … the 1990s were to the 1980s what the Ro­man­tics were to the be­wigged, pan­niered Bour­bons.

How clever of the 90s to map Di­ana’s per­sonal tra­jec­tory from spurned Royal to in­de­pen­dent global fig­ure.

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