american

Carolyn decided.

"Carolyn decided, again with her relentless logic, that if we won the football game against Stranahan, she'd do it with Larry. We creamed them. Carolyn's face walking off the field of honor was not the usual bright cherry red from screaming her lungs out but an ashen and drawn white. Connie and I went over to her to bolster her.

From  Take Ivy  by  Teruyoshi Hayashida et al.

From Take Ivy by Teruyoshi Hayashida et al.

Then the three of us went back to the locker room to wait for our dates--all Princeton haircuts, Weejun shoes, and Gold Cup socks." (99)


Brown, Rita Mae. Rubyfruit Jungle. New York: Bantam Books, 1973.

You know exactly who these boys are.

Above All, Foreign.

"Meanwhile, he stands there. Slowly, deliberately, like a magician, he takes a single book out of his briefcase and places it on the reading-desk. As he does this, his eyes move over the faces of the class. His lips curve in a faint but bold smile. Some of them smile back at him. George finds this frank confrontation extraordinarily exhilarating. He draws strength from these smiles, these bright young eyes. For him, this is one of the peak moments of the day. he feels brilliant, vital, challenging, slightly mysterious and, above all, foreign. 

Professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), 1960s. From  Harvard Psych Dept. website .

Professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), 1960s. From Harvard Psych Dept. website.

His neat dark clothes, his white dress shirt and tie (the only tie in the room) are uncompromisingly alien from the aggressively virile informality of the young male students. Most of these wear sneakers and garterless white wool socks; jeans in cold weather and in warm weather shorts (the thigh-clinging Bermuda type; the more becoming short ones aren't considered quite decent). If it is really warm, they'll roll up their sleeves and sometimes leave their shirts provocatively unbuttoned to show curly chest-hair and a Christopher medal. They look as if they were ready at any minute to switch from studying to ditch-digging or gang-fighting. They seem like mere clumsy kids in contrast with the girls; for these have all outgrown their teenage phase of Capri pants, sloppy shirts and giant heads of teased-up hair. They are mature women, and they come to class as if dressed for a highly respectable party." (46)

 

Isherwood, Christopher. A Single Man. London: Meuthen & Co., Ltd, 1964.

 

Kids these days! A thoughtful and scornful observation of early '60s students. Made me think of Take Ivy, the highly idealized style book by Teruyoshi Hayashida. The distinction between professor and student is the pearl in the oyster here, reinforcing our nostalgic ideas about Berkeley, the American '60s, etc. Also: the word "garterless."

The Whole George

"Staring and staring into the mirror, it sees many faces within its face--the face of the child, the boy, the young man, the not-so-young man--all present still, preserved like fossils on superimposed layers, and, like fossils, dead. Their message to this live dying creature is: Look at us--we have died--what is there to be afraid of?

Isherwood portrait, 1950s (?). Photographer unknown. Lifted from the  Book Drunk  blog.

Isherwood portrait, 1950s (?). Photographer unknown. Lifted from the Book Drunk blog.

...

It stares and stares. Its lips part. It starts to breathe through its mouth. Until the cortex orders it impatiently to wash, to shave, to brush its hair. Its nakedness has to be covered. It must be dressed up in clothes because it is going outside, into the world of the other people; and these others must be able to identify it. Its behavior must be acceptable to them.

...

By the time it has gotten dressed: it has become he; has become already more or less George--though still not the whole George they demanded and are prepared to recognize. Those who call him on the phone at this hour of the morning would be bewildered, maybe even scared, if they could realize what this three-quarters-human thing is that they are talking to. But, of course, they never could--its voice's mimicry of their George is nearly perfect." (8)

 

Isherwood, Christopher. A Single Man. London: Meuthen & Co., Ltd, 1964.

 

Writers on fashion theory: dress as identity, identifier.

With the Stuffing Out

"She was a giant of a woman, her face was set not only to meet opposition, but to seek it out. The downward tilt of her large lower lip was like a warning sign: "don't tamper with me." Her bulging figure was encased in a green crape dress and her feet overflowed in red shoes. She had on a hideous hat. A purple velvet flap came down on one side of it, and stood up on the other. The rest of it was green and looked like a cushion with the stuffing out. She carried a mammoth red pocketbook that bulged throughout as if it were stuffed with rocks.

Vintage photo with attitude (and hats) from the wonderful  Wildfell Hall .

Vintage photo with attitude (and hats) from the wonderful Wildfell Hall.

To Julian's disappointment the little boy climbed up on the empty seat beside his mother. His mother lumped all children, black and white, into the common category "cute," and she thought little Negroes were on the whole cuter than little white children. She smiled at the little boy as he climbed on the seat. Meanwhile, the woman was bearing down on the empty seat beside Julian. To his annoyance, she squeezed herself into it. He saw his mother's face change as the woman settled herself next to him, and he realized with satisfaction that this was more objectionable to her than it was to him. Her face seemed almost grey, and there was a look of dull recognition in her eyes, as if she suddenly had sickened at some awful confrontation. Julian saw it was because she and the woman had, in a sense, swapped sons, though his mother would not recognize the symbolic significance of this. She would feel it. His amusement showed plainly on his face.

The woman next to him muttered something unintelligible to herself. He was conscious of a kind of bristling next to him, a muted growling, like that of an angry cat. He could not see anything but the red pocketbook upright on the bulging green thighs. He visualized the woman as she had stood waiting for her tokens, the ponderous figure rising from the red shoes upward over the solid hips, the mammoth bosom, the haughty face, to the green-and-purple hat. His eyes widened. The vision of the two hats, identical, broke upon him with the radiance of brilliant sunrise."

 

O'Connor, Flannery. "Everything That Rises Must Converge" from Everything that Rises Must Converge. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1965.

 

Read the story or listen to it on Selected Shorts to get in on the joke! Beautiful use of clothing in fiction, underlining the plot and punctuating the moral, that exclamation point of a hat.

In the World and Of the World

"He looked straight ahead, down Fifth Avenue, where graceful women in fur coats walked, looking into the windows that held silk dresses, and watches, and rings. What church did they go to? And what were their houses like when in the evening they took off these coats, and these silk dresses, and put their jewelry in a box, and leaned back in soft beds to think for a moment before they slept of the day gone by?

The most fashionable. Unknown model and unknown photographer, 1940s.

The most fashionable. Unknown model and unknown photographer, 1940s.

Did they read a verse from the Bible every  night and fall on their knees to pray? But no, for their thoughts were not of God, and their way was not God's way. They were in the world, and of the world, and their feet laid hold on Hell." (32)


Baldwin, James. Go Tell It On The Mountain. New York: Signet, 1963 [1952].


Clothing, the worldly; religion, the eternal. The taking off of clothes enters his religious mental discourse here without sex, but instead a ritualistic aspect.

The Single Strain

"Annabel had invented the game; or rather she had evolved it from an old one. Basically, it was no more than the ancient sport of what-would-you-do-if-you-had-a-million dollars? But Annabel had drawn a new set of rules for it, had narrowed it, pointed it, made it stricter. Like all games, it was the more absorbing for being more difficult.

Ad for Gunther's Furs, 1937. Silver fox coat: so terribly common.

Ad for Gunther's Furs, 1937. Silver fox coat: so terribly common.

Midge played with a seriousness that was not only proper but extreme.

The single strain on the girls’ friendship had followed an announcement once made by Annabel that the first thing she would buy with her million dollars would be a silver-fox coat. It was as if she had struck Midge across the mouth.

When Midge recovered her breath, she cried that she couldn’t imagine how Annabel could do such a thing—silver fox coats were common! Annabel defended her taste with the retort that they were not common, either. Midget then said that they were so. She added that everybody had a silver-fox coat. She went on, with perhaps a slight loss of head, to declare that she herself wouldn’t be caught dead in silver fox.

For the next few days, thought the girls saw each other as constantly, their conversation was careful and infrequent, and they did not once play their game. Then one morning, as soon as Annabel entered the office, she came to Midge and said that she had changed her mind.

She would not buy a silver-fox coat with any part of her million dollars. Immediately on receiving the legacy, she would select a coat of mink.’

Midge smiled and her eyes shone. ‘I think,’ she said, ‘you’re doing absolutely the right thing.’” (30-32)

 

Parker, Dorothy. "The Standard of Living" in The Portable Dorothy Parker. New York: Penguin Books, 1973.

But how would one know such things if one didn't have such a tasteful best friend? I just love that she changes her answer and that makes everything right, just the saying of it, and how satisfied Midge is with the professed upswing in taste.

You are High Priority

"You do not have to be a big fat queer to get a ride from Homobiles...but it does help! No, just kidding. But, you know, you have to understand that the real reason we are here is for people that don't get rides, normally, from anyone else.

Try getting that hair into a normal taxi. Lady Bunny, from  here .

Try getting that hair into a normal taxi. Lady Bunny, from here.

And so, if you're putting on all this padding, high heels, a wig, and three sets of false eyelashes and a bunch of glitter, you are high priority at Homobiles."

 

From "The Making Of...The Homobile" by the Kitchen Sisters.

How you look affects how you are perceived! No one should be denied a ride.