Vogue Authorizes Six Kinds Of Womanhood


To tie in with the Met’s upcoming Costume Intitute show, Vogue produced an editorial (allegedly) offering modern takes on classic American fashion. Vogue calls them “historic archetypes of our national style.” We call them reductive stereotypes of bygone ages.

Vogue says it can tell us how these “six quintessential looks are bold (again) today.” We say, is this actually intended as a manual for getting dressed? Because that leaves us with some important questions.

For instance: Why hire a photographer as capable and creative as David Sims, and ask him to shoot head-to-toe runway looks in front of a greige background? Does Vogue have him chained up in a studio somewhere in Chelsea as we speak? And what, pray tell, about this look says “silver screen siren,” exactly?

Lara Stone, as sirens go, is perhaps a little more in tune. But it’s interesting to note that, for an editorial supposedly about the headwaters of American fashion — the styles the women of this country wore from 1890-1940 — only two of the 11 models, Karlie Kloss and Chanel Iman, hold U.S. passports. The designers, as best as I could tell without full credit information available online, are mostly Americans. Rag & Bone, Tommy Hilfiger, Proenza Schouler, Marc Jacobs, Rodarte, Vera Wang, DKNY, and Diane von Furstenberg all are included, but so are Marni and John Galliano.

Some of the shots are pretty cool — although this particular Marc Jacobs look is probably the ugliest thing he put on the runway last September — but as an editorial, a story told in pictures and clothes, this hardly coheres. Is it truly trying to tell us something about how we dress today, or how we should dress? Something about “America”?

As fun as it is to look at pictures of Sasha Pivovarova in Rodarte impersonating a “Bohemian” from the era when, in Vogue‘s parlance, there was “bebop in the air and Ezra Pound on everyone’s lips,” the truth is these images could come from virtually any of the many studio-shot editorials with models who jump that the magazine runs month after month after month. The theme isn’t strong enough.


Articulating a Gibson Girl look for the modern age is a little difficult, given that few designers seem now to look to it for inspiration. Gibson Girls, with their long skirts, bizarre posture, and pompadour hair tend to get squeezed out because their clothing lacks both the theatrical sharpness of the Victorians, and the genuine daring of the bloomer-clad suffragettes. But, seriously? This is the best Vogue could do? An Alexander Wang look that owes more to the 1980s than it does to the 1890s, styled and shot just like in the lookbook? There’s nothing Gibson Girlish about it. Gibson Girls wore swan-bill corsets, not sweats.

It’s also interesting that of all the archetypes of historical fashion that the Costume Institute chose to concern itself with in this year’s exhibition, Vogue recreated them all, save one: the Suffragist.

They kept “Bohemians,” “Flappers,” “Gibson Girls,” “Heiresses,” “Patriots,” and “Screen Sirens.” But not “Suffragists.” I’m not sure what message they’re trying to send, but “Suffragists” is the only one of these titles that refers to a group of women defined by their strength as a social and political force. The others are mostly all defined by how they look. Obviously, it’s a costume exhibit, and this is a fashion magazine: matters of style are of amplified importance to both. But why decline to find page space for this one particular part of the exhibit?

The frame-the-shot-with-a-bit-of-the-studio thing is either a nice nod to Richard Avedon, or damning evidence that American Vogue has no new ideas. Perhaps it’s both.

What, exactly, about this look reads as patriotic? Is it the ugly Proenza Schouler shirtdress? (Which, by the way, costs $2,440.)

I guess someone finally got her lovely, slender female paratrooper.

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