I have been thinking a lot about Elizabeth Hawes recently – about her ability to combine politics and fashion and her varied career that encompassed multiple books, as well as her couture and readymade fashion designs. Working in Paris in the 1920s as a sketcher – copying couture design, but also sending information on trends back to America from resorts such as Biarritz, gave her unique insight when she returned to New York the following decade and began designing. Vassar-educated, she brought a sharp eye to all she saw, and developed a keen wit to cope with some of her travails – especially when working within the constraints of department store readymade ranges. What is so compelling about her is the tensions her interests brought to her work – combining socialist ideals with a dress business was not always easy and her writing reflects her exasperation, as well as her inspiration, derived from the fashion industry.
Working, as she did, within a number of fields, she was able to reflect on these experiences in ways that are fascinating to examine now. At the moment, I’m looking at her 1938 book Fashion Is Spinach. If you haven’t read it –then do! It is lively and entertaining, but also a sharp, opinionated critique of the ways women are sold fashion, rather than encouraged to develop longevity through personal style. Throughout, her fascination with fashion and its potential to shape identities remains constant. I’ll write more once I’ve started to develop my research on her, as I want to think further about fashion and politics as themes within her work. For now though, here are a few choice quotations to whet your appetite:
‘I don’t know when the word fashion came into being, but it was an evil day. For thousands of years people got along with something called style and maybe, in another thousand, we’ll go back to it.’
‘Some people seem to like it [fashion]. There are a good many people who don’t, but just accept it as inevitable, throwing away perfectly good old clothes and buying new ones every year.’
‘The only useful purpose that changes in fashion can possibly have is to give a little additional gaiety to life.’
‘Chic is a combination of style and fashion. To be really chic, a woman must have a positive style, a positive way of living and acting and looking which is her own.’
Sources & Images: Elizabeth Hawes, Fashion Is Spinach, New York, 1938