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If you ask Vancouver fashion historian Ivan Sayers for his view on the threads typically worn today, he will likely give you a blunt answer. “I try not to think about it,” he states.
Truth is, his career goal was to become an archeologist so it’s in Sayers’ DNA to dig for older things and uncover the society from which they arose.
Sayers says he’s too close to the era to analyze modern garments properly, and he hardly ever goes into clothing stores. “Now, it’s more about novelty,” he said.
Haute couture is about quality, he said, that showcases the best fabrics and cuts and measures proportions and ratios as an art form. The expectation is that it is meant to last.
“Nowadays, people want something they can wear once or twice,” he said. “Go to Value Village. You will see thousands and thousands of garments — some of them with their tags still on them.”
But contemporary styles aren’t what Sayers will be speaking about next week at Coquitlam’s Place des Arts.
Rather, he’ll concentrate on one of his favourite fashion eras: post-World War II, in particular, women’s garments from the 1940s to 1963 and how designers such as Dior, Balenciaga and Schiaparelli changed the landscape with their collections.
During the war, when limitations were put on fabric and women worked for the campaign, women’s clothing was more masculine with padded, square shoulders and no embellishments, explained Sayers whose parents were part of the Canadian Army.
With Dior’s 1947 “New Look” came an extreme reversal from rationing to indulgence.
“It really was about walking away from the war and trying to turn to a newer and happier society.”
The emphasis was placed on full skirts — the lower half of the body versus the top in the ‘40s — that created a more feminine approach to fashion as well as a demand on fabric.
Besides the exaggerated figure, shoulders became more round, colours were softer, patterns were prettier, and glitter and romance (in the form of beads, sequins and artificial flowers, for example) were prominent. Gloves were ornamental rather than practical and shoes were high. The style is what Sayers describes as “beauty by impairment” because “you couldn’t do aggressive things. It was the woman who was the ornament. It might not be politically correct but it was the thought of the moment.”
Some reasoning behind the glamour was that men were in short supply and, as a result, women had to dress up to catch a husband in order to make a home, he said.
“After the war, there was a big push to create the perfect society that supposedly the war was fought for. In other words, women were going to give up their careers and have children.
“The fashion was sort of geared to that reality.”
However, that fell by the wayside heading toward the late ‘50s and early ‘60s as fashion changed tack to reflect a more youthful “Barbie doll” style.
Sayers’ presentation in Coquitlam on Jan. 16 — the first in the 2014 Salon Speaker Series at Place des Arts (and is already sold out) — will also include items from his extensive personal collection such as a 1954 dress from the French designer Paquin.