TIME fashion

See Photos of Vintage Back-to-School Fashions

Corduroy slacks and Cossack coats were must-haves for boys, while girls mimicked their mothers styles

When LIFE published several pages on youth fashions going into the back-to-school season of 1939, the stakes were high. “Failure to conform brings agonizing grief,” the magazine explained, “for children are mannerless humans who revel in ridiculing their fellows.”

Boys who wanted to fit in that season were advised to sport corduroy or dress slacks with a work, polo or plaid shirt. “Cossack coats,” a nickname for short, heavy-zippered jackets, were preferred on cold autumn days. Young boys, LIFE reported, eschewed any style that made it look as though their mothers had dressed them. According to a leading style expert of the time, mothers fell into one of two categories: “those who try to keep their sons little boys, and those who try to anticipate the time when their sons will look like their fathers.”

In contrast, the magazine continued, young girls’ “secret sartorial aspiration is to dress exactly like their mothers.” A schoolgirl’s wardrobe—including two dresses, a wool jumper, blouses, sweaters, a coat and “an all-occasion frock for dressier occasions”—could be purchased at a department store like J.C. Penney for $15, equivalent to around $260 today. For a splurge, they might add a suede hat, made popular by the movie star Marlene Dietrich.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

TIME Style

How Poverty Shaped Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel
Apic / Getty Images Gabrielle, called Coco, Chanel (1883-1971), seen here before 1914

Aug. 19, 1883: Coco Chanel is born

Coco Chanel’s story is the classic tale of rags-to-designer-tweed, a stylish Dickensian drama. Born in dire poverty to unwed parents on this day, Aug. 19, in 1883, she was shuffled off to an orphanage and raised by Catholic nuns after her mother died.

Smart and unsentimental, she made the most of her hardship, gathering her experiences like fabric for future designs. The 2009 biopic Coco Before Chanel shows the wheels turning even in the orphanage, where, as TIME’s reviewer put it, “she stares at the nuns around her, downloading the crisp whites of their wimples for future use.”

Everything Chanel encountered among the very poor became material for the fashions she’d later design for the very rich. “She invented the genre pauvre, or poor look,” TIME wrote in 1957. “[She] put women into men’s jersey sweaters, created a simple dress based on a sailor tricot. She used a ditchdigger’s scarf, a mechanic’s blouse, a waitress’ white collar and cuffs, popularized slacks, backless shoes, cotton dresses.”

Of course, the very simplicity of her fashions was part of their charm, as TIME concluded in 1960, praising “their straightforward design and use of ordinary fabrics,” and noting, “They can be easily copied, cheaply mass-produced.”

Chanel herself said, per TIME, “Some people think luxury is the contrary of being poor. No, it is the contrary of vulgarity.”

Her childhood had instilled in Chanel resourcefulness and razor-sharp survival instincts, which were the keys to her success — but didn’t necessarily make her likeable.

Although she couldn’t sketch and didn’t like to sew, according to a 1931 New Yorker profile, she established herself in the fashion world through a series of liaisons with wealthy men, starting with a French officer who, per the New York Times, “installed her in his chateau, taught her to conduct herself with high style on horseback and, generally, gave her the skills she needed to make her way up through society.”

But her opportunism caught up with Chanel after World War II, when the maker of one of the world’s best-selling fragrances came away smelling not-so-sweet. She had a wartime love affair with a German officer, collaborated with the Nazis in France and may even have spied for them. And, under the anti-Semitic laws of Vichy France, she sought to dispossess the Jewish business partners who had helped finance production of her famous perfume, arguing that the company “should be Aryanized,” according to the author of The Secret of Chanel No. 5.

The stain of her wartime misdeeds lingered. When she reappeared on the fashion scene in 1954, per TIME, “her name still had ‘disgraced’ attached to it.” Americans, however, managed to forgive and forget, at least enough to snap up her clothing line. The Chanel suit, if not Chanel herself, retained its lasting appeal.

By the 1960s, she was more controversial for lashing out against the most beloved fashion of the time: the miniskirt.

“Dégoütant,” she said of the trend in 1966. “Now I know why men don’t like women anymore.” She kept the hemline of her iconic skirt suits where it had always been: just below the knee.

Read more about Chanel from 1960, here in the TIME archives: High Priestess of High Fashion: Gabrielle Chanel

TIME beauty

H&M Sister Store Features Transgender Models in Ad Campaign

& Other Stories also hired a transgender crew for the shoot

H&M’s sister store, & Other Stories, launched an ad campaign featuring transgender models on Friday.

& Other Stories joins other stores and brands like Barneys New York and Make Up For Ever in creating ads that include a more diverse range of models, including transgender ones, in hopes of broadening the standards of beauty and gender identity.

The forward-thinking brand not only featured models Valentijn De Hingh and Hari Nefstylist, who are both transgender, they also hired crew members who identify as transgender—photographer Amos Mac, stylist Love Bailey and makeup artist Nina Poon—to work behind the camera on the shoot.

“The fashion world is embracing transgender models and we think that’s great,” & Other Stories’ creative director Sara Hildén Bengtson said in a press release. “But we couldn’t help to ask ourselves how the traditional fashion gaze can change if we keep the same normative crew behind the camera. So we invited five amazing creatives, all transgender, to make our latest story.”

TIME fashion

See 100 Years Of Men’s Swimsuit Fashion In 3 Minutes

A very revealing video—in more ways than one

Before you hit the beach this weekend to ogle at the array of board shorts, Speedos and everything in between littering the seaside, take a quick gander through men’s swimsuit history with this video.

This look back through swimwear history is very revealing — in more ways than one. The slightly racy video from Mode Glam, starts all the way back in 1915, which is when men first donned bathing attire, according to the site. The vintage swimsuit could double as long underwear, a look that had only marginally improved by 1925 when men’s swimwear bore an uncanny resemblance to a wrestling singlet.

As fashion’s long march continued, the parade of bathing beauties hit the beach in smaller and smaller swimwear, hitting their peak in the 1970s. While the 1980s are generally known as a time of excess at least their swimwear was moderate.

Read next: Watch a Woman Recreate 100 Years of Fitness Trends in 100 Seconds

TIME Culture

Why and When Did Americans Begin To Dress So Casually?

Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

It's all about freedom

I study one of the most profound cultural changes of the 20th century: the rise of casual dress. I study casual dress as it evolved on the beaches of Miami. I study casual dress as worn by the Black Panthers and by Princeton undergraduates. As a professor, I teach seminars on material culture and direct graduate students as they research and curate costume exhibitions, but my bread-and-butter as a scholar is the “why” and “when” our sartorial standards went from collared to comfortable.

I happen to own 17 pairs of sweatpants, but I am a convert to casual. As a teen, I scoffed at the wrinkled khakis of my high-school colleagues and scoured the thrift stores of central Pennsylvania in search of the most non-casual clothes I could find—wasp-waist wool dresses, opera gloves, and evening bags. By my mid-20s, I realized I no longer wanted to pry my 6-foot-tall body into uncomfortable clothes and stay in them for hours. While my Clergerie-clad best friend chased down taxis and potential husbands in 3-inch heels, I chose cowboy boots and a pair of overalls that same friend said made me look like an oversized baby. For me, casual is not the opposite of formal. It is the opposite of confined.

As Americans, our casual style uniformly stresses comfort and practicality—two words that have gotten little attention in the history of fashion but have transformed how we live. A hundred years ago, the closest thing to casual was sportswear—knitted golf dresses, tweed blazers, and oxford shoes. But as the century progressed, casual came to encompass everything from worker’s garb (jeans and lumberman jackets) to army uniforms (again with the khakis). Americans’ quest for a low-key style has stomped on entire industries: millinery, hosiery, eveningwear, fur, and the list goes on. It has infiltrated every hour of the day and every space from the boardroom to the classroom to the courtroom.

Americans dress casual. Why? Because clothes are freedom—freedom to choose how we present ourselves to the world; freedom to blur the lines between man and woman, old and young, rich and poor. The rise of casual style directly undermined millennia-old rules that dictated noticeable luxury for the rich and functioning work clothes for the poor. Until a little more than a century ago, there were very few ways to disguise your social class. You wore it—literally—on your sleeve. Today, CEOs wear sandals to work and white suburban kids tweak their L.A. Raiders hat a little too far to the side. Compliments of global capitalism, the clothing market is flooded with options to mix-and-match to create a personal style.

Despite the diversity of choice, so many of us tend towards the middle—that vast, beige zone between Jamie Foxx and the girl who wears pajama bottoms on the plane. Casual clothes are the uniform of the American middle class. Just go to Old Navy. There—and at The Gap, Eddie Bauer, Lands’ End, T.J. Maxx, and countless others—t-shirts, sweaters, jeans, sports shoes, and wrinkle-free shirts make “middle classness” available to anyone who choses to put it on. And in America, nearly everyone wants to put it on because nearly everyone considers himself or herself to be middle class.

The “why” behind casual dress is a hand-clappingly perfect demonstration of fashion theorist, Malcolm Barnard’s idea that clothing does not reflect personal identity but actually constitutes it. As one of my students put it, “So, it’s not like ‘Hey, I’m a hipster and then I buy skinny jeans and get a haphazard haircut,’ but more like in becoming a hipster, I get the jeans and the haircut.” Yes.

In wearing cargo shorts, polo shirts, New Balance sneakers, and baseball hats, we are “living out” our personal identifications as a middle-class Americans. Our country’s casual style is America’s calling card around the world—where people then make it their own. It is witnessed by the young boy on the Ivory Coast wearing a Steelers jersey and in the price of Levi’s on the black market in Russia. Street styles in Tokyo harken the campuses of Harvard and Yale in the 1950s—tweed sports coats paired with t-shirts and saddle shoes. Casual is diverse and casual is ever- changing, but casual was made in America.

As far as the “when” of our turn to casual, three major milestones mark the path. First, the introduction of sportswear into the American wardrobe in the late 1910s and early 1920s redefined when and where certain clothes could be worn. The tweed, belted Norfolk suits (complete with knickers and two-tone brogues) of the Jazz Age seem so formal by our “flip-flops-can-be-worn-everyday” mentality, but these garments were truly revolutionary in their time. As were the sweater sets and gored skirts worn by women. The trend towards casual flowed in one direction, as one period observer noted in a 1922 article in the San Francisco Call and Post: “Once a woman has known the joys and comfort of unrestricted movement, she will be very loath to go back to trailing cumbersome skirts.” The mass acceptance of sportswear coincided with the consolidation of the American fashion industry, which had previously been disjunctive and highly inefficient. By the end of the 1920s, centralized firms produced designs, worked with manufacturers across the country, and marketed specific kinds of garments to specific demographics.

A second milestone towards casual was the introduction of shorts into the American wardrobe. A flare-up in the popularity of bicycling in the late 1920s brought about a need for culottes (looks like a skirt but is actually shorts) and actual shorts—usually to the top of the knee and made of cotton or rayon. Shorts remained time-and-place specific for women (gardening, exercising, and hiking), until the Bermuda shorts craze of the late 1940s, when women turned plaid wool shorts into legit fashion and began experimenting with length.

At all-male Dartmouth College in May 1930, the editors of the student paper challenged their readers to “bring forth your treasured possession—be it tailored to fit or old flannels delegged” so that the men could “lounge forth to the supreme pleasure of complete leg freedom.” The students listened. The Shorts Protest of 1930 brought out more than 600 students in old basketball uniforms, tweed walking shorts, and newly minted cutoffs, and introduced shorts into the American man’s wardrobe.

With a higher tolerance for different genres of dress and a newfound appreciation for non-constraining garments, Americans moved into the 1950s with more options to self-create than ever before. Fundamental to this freedom—apart from the suburban department store boom and the onslaught of media (magazines, television, film)—is a “unisexing” of our wardrobe, a third milestone on our quest to go casual. While bohemian types wore pants in the 1910s and 1920s, women really didn’t wear them until the 1930s, and it was not until the early 1950s that pants made it mainstream. There were still discussions and regulations about women in pants well into the 1960s.

That decade saw seismic shifts in “unisexing.” Women adopted t-shirts, jeans, cardigans, button-down collared shirts, and for the first time in nearly 200 years, it was fashionable for men to have long hair. James Laver, a renowned historian of dress, told a group of fashion industry executives in 1966, “Clothes of the sexes are beginning to overlap and coincide.” He recounted a recent experience walking through his town “behind a young couple” who “were the same height, both with long hair, both with jeans, both with pull overs, and I couldn’t tell them apart, until I looked at them from the side.”

To dress casual is quintessentially to dress as an American and to live, or to dream of living, fast and loose and carefree. I’ve devoted the past decade of my life trying to understand “why” and “when” we started dressing this way—and I’ve come to many conclusions. But for all the hours and articles, I’ve long known why I dress casual. It feels good.

Deirdre Clemente is a scholar, public historian, and teacher. She is the author of Dress Casual: How College Kids Redefined American Style (UNC Press, 2014) and has published articles in The Atlantic and Harper’s Bazaar, among other publications. She served as a historical consultant for the Baz Luhrman film, The Great Gatsby (2013). For more information, visit www.deirdreclemente.com. She wrote this for What It Means to Be American a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Television

Cindy Crawford is Developing a TV Series About Models in the ’80s

Cindy Crawford
Jason Merritt—Getty Images Cindy Crawford in Los Angeles in 2013.

The fictionalized show about the fashion world will be the former supermodel's television producing debut

Cindy Crawford is pulling back the curtain on the fashion. The renowned model is set to produce an upcoming NBC television series about the fashion world of the ’80s, EW has confirmed.

More specifically, the project tentatively titled Icon, according to Variety will follow the wars between Ford Modeling Agency and Elite Model Management. The show will be fictionalized, with no actual names being used. Crawford will also not be appearing in the series.

The project marks her television producing debut. Robin Bissell (The Hunger Games) is attached to write. Anne Heche and James Tupper will executive produce.

This article originally appeared on EW.com

TIME celebrity

Michael Jackson’s White Glove Is Up for Auction

Michael Jackson white glove
Cliff Schiappa—AP In this July 7, 1984 file photo, Michael Jackson wears a white glove during his performance kicking off the "Victory Tour" at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

Starting at $20,000

One of Michael Jackson’s trademark single white gloves is currently up for auction — but fans will have to shell out at least $20,000 to get their hands on it (or rather, in it).

Nate D. Sanders’ auction house is handling the sale, which ends July 30 at 5 p.m. PT. Jackson gave the glove, which features crystal beading and light wear and tear, to personal artist Paul Bedard — who worked on multiple pieces of art for Jackson’s Neverland Ranch — in 1984, and Bedard went on to sell it in 2005.

Head to Sanders’ site before July 30 to bid and see photos of the item.

This article originally appeared on EW.com

TIME Brands

Here’s Why Converse Redesigned Chucks After 98 Years

The new Fall 2015 Chuck Taylor All Star II sneaker in blue, white, red and black.
Converse via AP The new Fall 2015 Chuck Taylor All Star II sneaker in blue, white, red and black.

“You can’t be afraid to fail”

Tuesday, July 28, brings the much-hyped debut of the Chuck Taylor All Star II–a new, improved version of the classic Chuck Taylor. It features all-white foxing, a Nike Lunarlon sock liner and perforated microsuede liner, a foam padded collar, and a tongue that never needs straightening.

Converse All-Stars, the iconic canvas-and-rubber sneaker, debuted in 1917; and until the early 1990s, it was the epitome of “cool”– worn by pro and college basketball players during the 20s through the 70s, and then adopted by cutting edge artists, musicians and actors from James Dean to Kurt Cobain.

After stumbling into bankruptcy in the 1990s, Converse was bought by Nike in 2003. And today, Chucks are selling at a rate of two pairs per second of every day. It would be hard to come up with another product that so readily generates goodwill.

So, that raises the question: why would this sportswear and lifestyle brand — owned by Nike — fix something that clearly wasn’t broke? Fortune sat down with Converse CEO Jim Calhoun, who explained the iconic sneaker’s unique position in culture and why they retooled it.

“Even at the height of your game, you always need to be asking and answering the questions–what can we do better, how do we get there faster, how do we get bigger?” said Calhoun, CEO since 2011. “As a brand with our history, [as] people who knew what it was to be at the height of your game and knew what it was to be bankrupt, I think we have a healthy sense of just never being complacent. Another adage is you fix your roof when the sun is shining.”

Converse took two years to ask thousands of people who own Converse — as well as those who don’t — what they liked and didn’t like about Chuck Taylors. The answers boiled down to innovation, technology, and comfort. “The expectations of kids is that things will be broken in, ready to use, super comfortable, super functional from the minute it leaves the store,” he says. “It’s a good lesson for a company like us to say, hey, if that’s their expectation, we can fight that, or we can understand that and go with that.”

It’s a risky prospect, as Converse All Stars enjoy a very rare status. “What on this planet that is popular with young people has changed so little over such a long period of time?” asked Calhoun. “It’s the true definition of timeless, because our consumers are young kids, and the surest way to get young kids to think something is uncool is tell them that their mom, dad, grandparents and great grandparents all wore these.”

When the demographic of Converse began to change in the 70s, it was because subcultures (like surfers, then skaters) were adopting the Chuck Taylor All-Star, yet today the shoes are both mainstream while still keeping that association with creative and alternative cultures.

“I think the idea and the need to be authentic and to celebrate the unique and individual you has actually become mainstream. We see it around the world, I think we see it in gay rights, this idea of hey—being different is something to celebrate, not hide,” he says, adding, “I’d love to sit here and tell you that we knew that saw that or planned that. It’s been fortuitous. But I think it’s now at the center of what we do and what we hold very precious.”

So it wasn’t by design, but the Chuck Taylor both resonates as a timeless classic and appeals to self-expression–sort of a blank canvas made of canvas. But that doesn’t mean it has to be spare. The Chuck Taylor All Star has finally gone electric. “Nike’s a great partner in that sense–using all of their R&D dollars and their learning as well as our own. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”

Anytime a big brand retools a classic product, it raises the specter of the disastrous revamp New Coke. What if the Chuck II tanks? “You can’t be afraid to fail,” Calhoun said, noting, though, that Chuck 1 isn’t going anywhere. “Both products will also be in the marketplace at the same time, and I’m going to be really fascinated to see how the consumer votes.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME beauty

U.K. Fashion Retailer Topshop Drops ‘Ridiculously Shaped’ Mannequins After Complaints

The company has been accused of showing a lack of concern for body-conscious youth

British high-street retailer Topshop has agreed to stop using unrealistically thin mannequins in its stores after a shopper’s complaint went viral.

Laura Berry posted a photo to Topshop’s Facebook page of a “ridiculously shaped” mannequin at a store in a shopping mall in Bristol, reports the Guardian, and said the company was showing a “lack of concern for a generation of extremely body conscious youth.”

“We’ve all been impressionable teens at one point, I’m fairly certain if any of us were to witness this in our teenage years, it would have left us wondering if that was what was expected of our bodies,” wrote Berry, a customer-service assistant from Gloucestershire, England.

Topshop says the mannequin is based on a standard U.K. size 10 (U.S. size 6), but Berry points out she’s not sure that it even looks like a U.K. size 6 (U.S. size 2).

“Perhaps it’s about time you became responsible for the impression you have on women and young girls and helped them feel good about themselves rather than impose these ridiculous standards,” Berry said.

Topshop responded to the post publicly saying the mannequin was “not meant to be a representation of the average female body,” but said it was “not placing any further orders on this style of mannequin.”


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