Wrapping Up 2017

We’re getting near to the end of 2017, so here’s a few domestic announcements to wrap up the year. First, I’m officially back on social media. There is now a new MFW Pinterest site, complete with multiple boards, that provides a bunch of image content to help illustrate some of the topics covered in the book and the blog. I’m also back on Facebook, and Tumblr.

This surge of activity is related to publication of Made for Walking: A Modest History of the Fashion Boot (Schiffer Fashion Press), which comes out in May of 2018. There’s been a lot of progress in the past few weeks, including checking of page and galley proofs, indexing, and finalization of the design. It’s looking very good. You can preorder your copy on Amazon.

As I mentioned earlier this year, while the blog and book overlap, there are plenty of good reasons to keep following MFW online. It seems like every week I find another story that I wish I’d had time and space to include in the book and I don’t see that drying up anytime soon. And I’m still living in (almost certainly vain) hope of an email from Sally James.

And, I think, that’s all for 2017. Happy New Year to you and yours and I’ll be back in 2018.

PS: initially I couldn’t think of an image to run this with, until I remembered the awesomely inappropriate talent show number from Mean Girls (2004), featuring (left to right), Lacey Chabert, Rachel McAdams, Lindsay Lohan, and Amanda Seyfried, all of whom have gone on to bigger and better things. With a script by Tina Fey, this movie is a gem. Go rent it

Image source:

panicmanual.com All Rights Reserved. For further information: please contact your local UIP Press Office.

 

 

Giving Sexism the Boot – Jurassic Word: Fallen Kingdom

There are many reasons why I didn’t like the Jurassic World reboot of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. The latter was a thoughtful take on the limits of science; why our ability to do something cool should not stop us asking whether it’s ethical. The former is a loud, dumb action movie that replaces this with big guns and ex-army heroes.

In the first film, scientists led the way – paleontological knowledge helps our heroes navigate the collapsing world of the theme park. In Jurassic World, the sole scientist is an amoral geneticist who is apparently unconcerned about the havoc his creations have unleashed, and authority is instead transferred to a guy who has an intuitive “understanding” of how dinosaurs think, based on working with dogs. It truly is a movie for our times – the loss of trust in science and the substitution of empathy for reason.

But this blog is about fashion, so lets talk about misogyny. In Jurassic Park, the female lead, Ellie Sattler (played by Laura Dern) was a paleobotanist with a PhD. In the second movie, Jurassic Park: Lost World, it was Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), another PhD level paleontologist. In the Jurassic World movies, it’s Claire Dearing, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, a high-powered company executive. This should be a good thing, and quite appropriate given the shift in the narrative towards re-engineered dinosaurs as an established tourist attraction, but the movie instead portrays Dearing as a career driven ice-queen, unable to relate to kids or family, who needs humanization at the hands of the movie’s empathetic he-man male lead. And all of this is encapsulated in her choice of footwear.

Dearing wears a business suit and high heels. For the whole movie. The heels in question were nude Sam Edelman pumps with a 3.5″ heel. The suit gets torn, stained, and muddied, but the heels stay defiantly in place. She treks through the jungle in them; flees from dinosaurs in them; runs, jumps, and climbs in them. Her shoes are even a running (!) joke in the movie, and it’s a joke that’s very much at Dearing’s expense. “Look at this loser,” we’re encouraged to think. “And she thinks she’s hot shit. Hah!” It’s nasty undercurrent in a film that had a sizable audience of young girls.

Clare Deering’s shoes became a lightning rod for the wider issue of misogyny in Jurassic World, which was discussed in articles in the LA Times and the Atlantic, and on any number of websites and discussion forums. It came to overshadow the film to the extent that Howard had to repeatedly address the issue in various interviews. She made a game attempt to justify it in terms of Dearing’s innate practicality, as in this interview with Yahoo UK:

“From a logical standpoint I don’t think she would take off her heels. I don’t think she would choose to be barefoot. I don’t think she would run faster barefoot in the jungle with vines and stones…I’m better equipped to run when I have shoes on my feet. So that’s my perspective on it. I don’t think she would carry around flats with her. I think she’s somebody who could sprint a marathon in heels.”

As time went by, she got more testy on the subject, as in this 2015 Cosmopolitan interview:

“She doesn’t at all expect that she’s going to be tromping through the jungle… And you know what? She’s in high heels because she’s a woman who has been in high heels her whole life and she can fucking sprint in them. She can. That’s kind of how I perceived it. She doesn’t have to be in menswear and flats in order to outrun a T. rex.”

Which sort of misses the point. The shoes themselves aren’t really the issue; they only became a problem because of the broader context of the film, and the ongoing debates about the treatment of women in Hollywood and the wider world. At the same time as Jurassic World was released, a furious debate was taking place in the UK regarding the right of employers to specify that women wear high heels as part of a corporate dress code. Under the circumstances, Jurassic World‘s choice of humor seemed a little tone deaf.

That brings us to next year’s sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Advance reviews of the trailer for the movie, which was released a few weeks ago, focused on a major change from the first movie. To the delight of many, Claire Dearing is now wearing boots. Specifically, as seen in the images shown in this post, a very sensible pair of flat heeled, knee length boots in brown leather. Boots are an interesting choice, and not just because they are much more practical for the whole running-away-from-dinosaurs aspect of Jurassic World. As we’ve touched on elsewhere in this blog, and as the forthcoming MFW book explores in more detail (did you notice that none-too-subtle plug?), boots were a primarily masculine form of fashion that was coopted for use by women. Even though the knee-length boot is a more-or-less exclusively feminine item today, it still carries with it a certain amount of male swagger.

This is particular true of the style known as the ‘equestrian’ boot, which Dearing wears in the new film. It is form-fitting, which emphasizes the shape of the leg, but also has buckles, straps, and a rugged sole tread that give it decidedly business-like edge. It harks back to earlier generations of movie heroines, of which the closest would be Rachel Weisz’s archaeologist, Evie Carnahan, in the Mummy movies of the early aughts. And you can, most assuredly, run in them, as can be seen in the trailer.

So, was the shift from shoes to boots an intentional one on the part of the film makers, seeking to re-empower the Claire Dearing character after her treatment in the first installment? Who knows, but a tweet from the director, Colin Tevorrow (left) certainly suggests that they were sensitized to the question of her footwear. It remains to be seen whether the film represents a reset on other fronts. Somehow I doubt that I’ll be there on opening night to find out

 

Selected References:

  • Bilefsky, Dan. 2017. Sent Home for Not Wearing Heels, She Ignited a British Rebellion. New York Times, Jan 25, 2017. Accessed 12/23/2017
  • Garber, Megan. 2015. The Perma-Pump: Jurassic World’s Silliest Character. The Atlantic, June 15, 2015. Accessed 12/23/2015
  • Libbey, Dirk, 2015. Jurassic Park High Heel Controversy Finally Put To Bed By Bryce Dallas Howard. Cinemablend.com. Accessed 12/23/2017
  • Miller, Marissa G. 2017. Jurassic World 2 Trailer Has Bryce Dallas Howard Wearing Boots Instead of High Heels. W Magazine, Dec 4, 2017. Accessed 12/23/2017
  • Semigran, Aly. 2015. Jurassic World Has a Serious Woman Problem. Refinery 29, June 12, 2015. Accessed 12/23/2017
  • Warner, Kara. 2015. “Jurassic World” Star Bryce Dallas Howard Thinks Heelgate Was Feminist. Cosmopolitan, Oct. 20, 2015. Accessed 12/23/2017
  • Woerner, Meredith. 2015. ‘Jurassic World’ battles sexism claims, in heels. Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2015. Accessed 12/23/2017

Image Sources:

  • Close-up, Bryce Dallas Howard on the Set of Jurassic World 2 in Hawaii 07/07/17: HawtCelebs.com
  • Jurassic World Shoes: Daily Telegraph
  • Bryce Dallas Howard – “Jurassic World 2 – Ancient Futures” Set in Honolulu 07/07/2017: CelebMafia.com
  • Colin Tevorrow tweet, 1 Dec 2016 – @colintevorrow

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Scandal

I don’t know what it is, but this blog is getting a bit fixated on mortality these days. First it was Ruth Pearson, then Mary Millington, and now we have Christine Keeler, who died this week at the age of 75. Keeler was the last of the major players in the Profumo affair, a scandal that gripped the attention of Britons in the early 1960s, led to the eventual downfall of the Conservative government, and ushered in the era of more liberal, progressive, and – some might say – permissive society that most people imagine when they think of the sixties. As the poet Philip Larkin, much quoted in the aftermath of Keeler’s death, put it, ‘Sexual Intercourse began in 1963/ Between the Lady Chatterley ban and the Beatles first LP.

The years from 1962-63, as those who’ve followed this blog will know, were also pivotal ones in the development of the fashion boot, something that is explored in detail in the forthcoming MFW book. This is the period when the boot completed its transition from utilitarian rainwear to the world of high fashion. Looking back eight years later, Daily Mail fashion writer Iris Ashley remembered that in May 1962 “there was only one pair of boots (not counting Wellingtons and riding boots) in the whole of London…. Hand-made they were by Anello and Davide, and I nearly got shot for photographing them in the rain and getting them dirty.” But things were changing. “Boots will put the kick in fashion this fall and winter,” Raymonde Alexander wrote in the Atlanta Constitution in July of that year, while Patty Peterson’s fall forecast for the New York Times in August predicted “boots for all occasions” as a major accessory trend.

This can be very clearly seen in the 1962 Paris fall collection of Balenciaga, who revealed something quite startling; the first over-the-knee fashion boots for women, side-zippered in leather and suede, worn with checked and pleated skirts, white blouses, and wool and leather coats and gloves; the Daily Mail hailed the emergence of “a new sporting type of woman, one who can walk the countryside with elegance in very high leather boots and leather jerkin,” while the Atlanta Constitution described it as “an unexpected group of country clothes.” And in 1963, of course, there was what Vogue hailed as “the most feminine foot, the most luxurious boot – black crocodile… musketeer boots – shiny, thigh-high, shapely as legs. With this look they brought down the house at St. Laurent.” Roger Vivier’s iconic boot was paired with black suede jerkins, a visored leather cap/hood, strap sleeved short coats, leather gloves and tights. In an era when a lady still wore gloves and a hat to go out, this was radical stuff.

So I wondered – was there a link to Keeler in all of this? “Her finest moments,” as Julie Burchell wrote in the Telegraph this week, “may have taken place naked, but Keeler’s dress sense was to have a pleasing impact on Sixties style. When she came out of court, women in floral frocks and fussy hats perched atop home perms line up to jeer at her; in her sleek black suit, tossing her dark glossy mane, she had an air of being one of Nature’s aristocrats.” This struck a chord, because it seemed to echo something that Iris Ashley had written in the Daily Mail in October of 1962, just a couple of months before Johnny Edgecombe began the unravelling of Profumo’s career by firing five shots at a house where Keeler was staying. “Keep an eye on the young…” Ashley urged. “The under twenty-fives…. These are the girls who made long hair piled high into fashion, the girls who’ve been living in tunic dresses and Chanel-type suits – these are the girls who are going mad for capes. For daytime, they wear them with high boots.”

So, was Christine Keeler one of those under twenty-fives in high boots? It seems, based on this image and the one at the top of the page, that perhaps she was. The former was taken on April 23, 1963, the latter in Keeler’s apartment on March 17, 1963, the week before she was due to give evidence in Edgecombe’s trial. Her two outfits – a blouse and an oversized sweater, both worn with ski pants tucked into knee-length boots – would have been seen as shockingly edgy by Burchell’s latter-day tricoteuses, with their  floral frocks, fussy hats, and home perms, but it pointed to wider changes in society.

The approval of the oral contraceptive pill had given women an unprecedented level of control over their fertility. While social conservatives tut-tutted about promiscuity and extra-marital sex, the major impact of this new contraceptive technology was in transforming women’s economic role. By uncoupling the onset of sexual activity from the age that women first married, it allowed them to invest in education and other forms of human capital as well as generally become more career-oriented. Soon after the birth control pill was legalized, there was a sharp increase in college attendance and graduation rates for women. And as Beth Levine so presciently noted, the emergence of the boot and the pill were contemporaneous. They were both, in their in own ways, symbols of women’s growing independence.

Image Sources:

  • Christine Keeler, 1963. Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images, Editorial #592272662
  • Suit with boots by Balenciaga, Vogue, 1962
  • Composite image of YSL boots, 1963: original images from Vogue & L’Officiel
  • Christine Keeler (left) getting into a friend’s mini during a court case connected with the Profumo Affair, 25th April 1963. Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images, Editorial #71870367.

Selected References:

  • Alexander, Raymonde. 1962. Fashions Will Stand on Solid Footing as Boots Kick Off the Fall Season. The Atlanta Constitution, July 16, 1962. Pg. 17
  • Anon. 1962.Balenciaga Is Praised by Buyers. New York Times, Aug 2, 1962. Pg.18.
  • Anon. 1963. Paris: The First Full Report: Vogue’s First Report On The New French Clothes And The Fresh Excitement Of Paris. Vogue, Sept 1963: pp164–181, 243, 245
  • Anon. 2017. Christine Keeler, model at the centre of the Profumo Affair – obituary. Daily Telegraph, Dec 5, 2017. Accessed 12/9/2017.
  • Ashley, Iris. 1962. Iris Ashley with Balenciaga Yesterday. The Daily Mail, Aug 29, 1962. Pg. 4.
  • Ashley, Iris. 1962. On the Wave of a New Rave. The Daily Mail, October 31, 1962. Pg. 10.
  • Ashley, Iris. 1970. Fini the Mini. The Daily Mail, July 30, 1970. Pg. 4.
  • Burchell, Julie. 2017. Christine Keeler made me realize the respectable life was not for me. Daily Telegraph, Dec 9, 2017. Accessed 12/9/2017.
  • Peterson, Patricia, 1962. Fall ’62 Forecast. New York Times, Aug 26, 1962. Pg.248.

 

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You know you’re getting old….

… when you discover that yesterday would have been Mary Millington’s 72nd birthday (1945-1979). Growing up in Britain during the 1970s, it was hard to avoid her likeness, which was splashed all over the London Underground on posters promoting her fantastically popular (and truly awful) sex comedies. The story of Mary Maxted (her real name) is both fascinating and very sad, and has been chronicled in a biography by Simon Sheridan (1999) and a recent documentary, ‘Respectable’ (2016); it’s well worth exploring for anyone interested in seventies Britain. Anyway, here she is, in a typical (and quite NSFW) pose in some provincial English town – the towering platform boots were a common accessory for the tiny Mary (4′ 11″).

Selected References:

  • Pocklington, Rebecca. 2016. Who is Mary Millington? Everything you need to know about tragic porn star honored with a blue plaque. Daily Mirror, April 7, 2016. Accessed 12/1/2017
  • Sheridan, Simon. 1999. Come Play With Me: The Life and Films of Mary Millington. FAB Press.
  • Sheridan, Simon. 2011. Keeping the British End Up: Four Decades of Saucy Cinema. Titan Publishing, 4th Edn.

Image Source:

  • Whitehouse, via Vintage Erotica Forums