Silk Road Spirit

Scarves, Shawls & Pashminas for Men and Women

Flower Power: Political Movement or Fashion Trend?

Solveig MuusComment
To me, it’s fascinating how popular culture influences fashion, and fashion influences pop culture. In the 1920s, for example, women won the right to vote, and a certain liberation followed. Flappers flew, women threw off their bustles and girdles, and in some cases, even in high society, they threw off their undergarments altogether – witness those early films featuring Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Claudette Colbert and others, dressed in those slinky satin gowns without a stitch on underneath. I think you could make a case for fashion following culture in that era.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, a new morality emerged, and we saw the rise to prominence of such moral dictators as Edgar J. Hoover and Joseph McCarthy. Filmmakers endured strict censorship, and American families moved to the suburbs. Women squeezed back into their Maidenform bras and girdles, and accessorized with matchy-matchy belts, handbags, gloves and shoes. Is fashion following culture, and the mood of the country here? I think so.

The 1960s brought a new kind of liberation in the form of the birth control pill. Free love. Miniskirts were born, and as skirts rose, so did easy access, if you know what I mean. Or did ‘easy access’ give rise to rising skirts? Hmmm… Was ‘flower power’ a political movement or a fashion trend?

In my opinion, the 1970s were a slovenly period in our fashion history, and I can say that, because I came of age in the ‘70s. I, personally, wore overalls and either a red or a blue bandana on my head for most of a full year sometime in the ‘70s. We all walked on the backs of our blue jeans, the rolled up, frayed pieces of the jean straggling on behind us. Narrow wale corduroys, one in every color, and painter’s pants (complete with the hammer-holding loop) were de rigueur. Clogs. Adidas (this was before Nike came to pass). Earth shoes. While I lived through this era, I can’t begin to tell you why we dressed that way. I can’t honestly associate it with a political trend, and I certainly don’t think Nixon or Ford is to blame.

My point is this: Fashion and Culture are inextricably linked. I’m hardly the first one to notice that what’s popular in the culture finds its way into the fashions of the day. It’s no secret that manufacturers market their wares to the masses based on what’s popular in the culture. Sales of shirts and hats sporting flags increase when we go to war; sales of pink things increase proportionately with our increased awareness of breast cancer issues. How many offers did you receive in the month of March for green items, just because certain people wear green once a year on St. Patrick’s Day? I received eight offers by email alone. In these cases, fashion definitely follows culture.

If America falls in love with a little-engine-that-could film called “Slumdog Millionaire,” and we are moved by the story, and by the film’s Indian setting, not to mention the exotic beaded tops (kurtas) and patterned scarves worn by Latika, the lovely leading lady, then all things India will be hot for a while. Our interest in Indian culture thus piqued, new Indian restaurants will pop up, the rich saffron and curry color palette of India will find its way into our furniture and home décor, and fashion-forward women everywhere will wear the scarves and traditional salwar kameez of India with pride.

A case in point: On December 5, 2008 the AP published an article (I read it in the Minneapolis Star Tribune) stating that Pantone had declared Mimosa (the yellow flower, not the drink) would be 2009’s hot color. Expect to see it on the runways, etc. This was after Slumdog premiered in theaters, but long before it swept all the awards. Then on March 3, post award season, I read a blog post by Elizabeth Wellington on Philly.com’s fashion blog 'Mirror Image' titled “Slum Dog Millionaire's Freida Pinto in Pantone Color of the Year, Mimosa Yellow.” The article accompanied a picture of the film’s leading lady in that beautiful mimosa scarf that she’s wearing in the movie’s exhilarating final dance sequence, and in all the publicity trailers.

Which came first? Fashion or culture?