Levi’s and the T-shirt coined California’s fashion

By
April 10, 2003

Mills College Weekly

The Oakland museum bustled with energy on Sunday as visitors flocked to view more than over a 100 articles of clothing and accessories displaying the eclectic and dynamic m‚lange of fashion that can only be classified as Californian.

From 1930s Hollywood glamour gowns to the non-conformist dress of the hippies residing in San Francisco in the late 1960s, this tribute to California fashion runs the gamut leaving very little out of California’s fashion evolution. Immediately entering the museum, there is what has come to epitomize American casual elegance, an ode to the jean. Here the earliest pair of Levi jeans, from 1953 stands erected next to the latest version of a pair of Levi jeans now made of hemp. Originally known as bibless overalls-made for practical work in the Gold Rush era-the exhibit unravels the surge of the denim craze. A fixture in western films, the jean pant was finally catapulted into American mainstream fashion in the 1950s by Marlon Brando and James Dean 100 years after Levi Strauss invented them.

On display amid a backdrop of black and white photographs of celebrities such as Shirley Temple in jeans, is the very pair of jeans prepared for James Dean for “Rebel Without a Cause”. A close look of this stained, worn jean reveals that James Dean was actually quite small in real life and not the grandiose persona he seemed to portray on screen.

The Sportswear collection, which chronicles America’s new casual attitude toward clothing, was incredibly dull with two notable exceptions. One of the many photographs displaying America’s new active lifestyle, which contributed to the gravitation toward sportswear, features eight Mills College women in front of Orchard Meadow in 1939 during archery practice.

The other worthwhile display, the “Monokini” is housed in the swimwear section. According to the designer, Rudi Gernreich, this topless one piece created in 1964, was, to liberate women, and to allow them to “let it all hang out”. One of the most famous bathing suits to date, the suit is made of knitted wool, takes the form of a typical one piece, with two thin straps converging down the breast plate, leaving as you guessed it, the breast area bare.

This historical tribute to American fashion would not be complete without the major influence of the Hollywood heavy weights. The perfect marriage, Hollywood and fashion combine to leave a major imprint in American closets. Designs in the exhibit “Hollywood dressing the Stars,” feature dazzling gowns by legendary designer Bob Mackie for Marlene Dietrich; dress, jacket and shoes worn by Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct”; and the suit worn by Brad Pitt in “Ocean’s Eleven.” The collection would not be complete without the famous white silk chiffon halter worn by Marilyn Monroe in the 1955 film, ” The Seven Year Itch”, and Jennifer Beal’s, bland off the shoulder gray sweater, from “Flash dance” in 1983.

The exhibit winds to a close with “Fashion Fusion” a dizzying array of a multitude of influences that shape and define California fashion and diversity. Cross-cultural influences can be derived from the clothing of the 1930s and ’40s at Gumps department store, which were inspired by traditional Japanese and Chinese cultures. Hand made clothing of the wearable art movement of the 70s and 80s create a kaleidoscope of colors. The counterculture fashion is represented in the form of embroidered hippie garb. Also on display is a white Quincenera dress, a cultural symbol of the Mexican culture. However, what this m‚lange of cultures failed to represent, was the African/African American influence on California fashion. Michael Jackson’s sequined glove can’t possibly be the only iconic fashion contribution from the black community.

Despite this oversight, “Iconic to Ironic: Fashioning California Identify” should give Californians much to be proud of in the fashion realm. The exhibit playfully reveals Californians major contributions to the fashion world. Although people on the west coast are not known to be serious fashionistas like New Yorkers, we did help discover a true fashion must: the t-shirt. And let’s not forget the much-needed creation of “Casual Friday.” We must also embrace the most influential contribution to fashionistas everywhere-the jean pant, which has made its way into every American’s closet. The true beauty of California’s fashion identity is that it cannot be categorized, nor can it be contained into one little beautifully boxed package.


Levi’s and the T-shirt coined California’s fashion was published on April 10, 2003 in Arts & Entertainment

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