Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Fashion after 9/11: A question for readers

I'm working on a chapter of my book, The Thoughtful Dresser, about fashion in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 - how the horror of the attack affected us. I remember the first new copy of Vogue I saw after the attack, it must have been about three weeks later, and feeling slightly sickened by it, wondering how I could have been preoccupied with such trivia, which of course wore off in time.

I'd be interested in your thoughts and recollections, particularly American readers.


phyllis said...

The one thing I distinctly recall is seeing so many fashions with American Flags on them, and that lasted for about 2 years after 9/11. Prior to 9/11 Americans were not at all prone to wearing clothing with a flag on it, other than the occasional Old Glory tee-shirt worn by babies on the 4th of July.
Flag imagery was to ubiquitous that it was the first thing an Icelandic friend of ours noticed when came over shortly after on a business trip.
It was everywhere, and it was also the most common “free download” for companies that sell digitized machine embroidery designs into the home sewing market. The pattern companies got into it too, and so did the fabric mills; star & stripes fabric was sold in hundreds of patterns on everything from silk to polar fleece.

Naturally, it was all about commerce really, and more than little disingenuous.

Toby Wollin said...

My one big memory is that the knitting pattern magazines got into it also, which meant that there was editorial with photos of the burning Twin Towers. Not that knitting can't be political, but it really seemed terribly out of place.

Linda Grant said...

Good grief!

lagatta said...

I guess the very scope and symbolism of the WTC bombing made it different in impact than the London Underground and bus bombings, (and the Madrid commuter train bombings), as well as the fact that both the UK and Spain had experienced bombings (by the IRA and ETA) in the years before.

Warnings or not, it is rather miraculous that nobody was killed in the Manchester bombing.

Vogue is an institution - and not only in the US - but didn't a lot of other magazines go under in the wake of 9/11?

lagatta said...

Thinking about it, I have to correct what I said about prior bombings, as the US had experienced a mass bombing (by a far-right domestic terrorist) in Oklahama City a few years before.

chiara said...

One thing I remember very sharply.
About one of 2 days after 9/11 (I was living in NY at the time), I was home because school had not re-opened yet.
I went in a drugstore. And bought a new nail polish.
I think I was trying to convince myself that things were ok now. That I could again enjoy what made me smile before. It was almost a way of returning back to normal (I had always loved nail polish).
And after I paid, the girl (I remember her face as if it was today) told me -have a nice day-if you can.

California Dreamer said...

So many illusions were shattered so abruptly on that day that most Americans realized things would never be the same, not ever. As we watched the empty skies and waited for the next attack, a weird malaise drifted over the country. For the next year, it was as if everyone in the United States was clinically depressed.

Naturally this would impact fashion, which seemed irrelevant. I know there was a trend forecast for the military look that immediately disappeared. Red white and blue just seemed more like what we wanted to wear, in our homes, on our cars, and on our lapels. I still have my rhinestone flag pin, suitable for all dressy patriotic events. But we were truly wearing our hearts on our sleeves.

Fashion took a double hit, because not only was it trivialized, but the economy was also veering sharply downward. I recall a fall InStyle from that period that was so thin, it almost looked like Ladies Home Journal.

The poor fashion journalist in fall 2001: working at a job that seems pointless and for which past indicators were useless, watching advertising revenues vanish, and looking out whatever windows might be available to them at the smoking wreckage of their beloved city--for American fashion is deeply rooted in New York.

But for me, one of the images that lingers was printed in InStyle in (I believe) September 2002 inside the back cover. It was a photograph of the New York skyline--and where the twin towers should be, a hand holding up a postcard of the Twin Towers in exactly the right spot.

Strange that a fashion magazine should so unerringly put its finger on my pulse. Unless that's what fashion does.

Anonymous said...

I was talking to my grandmother at that very moment. She lived thru WW2 (in the US) which was bad enough in the US and much worse in Europe and elsewhere. She let me know that everything was gonna be alright, so frankly it had no real impact to me wrt fashion. Fashion went on thru the grimmest days of WW2 and in many ways gave people something they needed. Sometimes all you have and can control is how you look.

I never got into that red-white-blue thing and all the stuff that went w/ it.

AFAIK, mags didn't fold as a result of 9/11.

miss cavendish said...

Our local elementary school immediately dressed ALL students--without parents' knowledge or permission--in American eagle t-shirts with some kind of aggressive message (don't remember what). There was an assumption that putting propaganda on children (who couldn't even begin to comprehend the message) would be welcome.
And sadly, in many families, it was.

Linda, if you want more details--such as the t-shirt's message, I'm sure I can find them.

miss cavendish said...

And oh--you could compare this new wave of flag-bearing fashion with, say Ralph Lauren's older American flags knitted into sweaters.

phyllis said...

The Red, White & Blue theme also turned up at weddings. My brother got married the following year and the bridemaids wore bright flag red, the bride white of course and there was plenty of blue in the deocrations. No flag imagery, no stars & stripes, but the meaning was obvious.

Anonymous said...

We moved to the US on September 1, 2001. I remember being in the stores midtown and being wowed by the variety, the amount and range of clothing available in NYC. After September all seemed so excessive. All I thought about wearing was black, for the many funerals we attended, and for the depression we all felt.

My son, too, was forced to wear some kind of Americana t-shirt and for a frightened boy who wanted nothing more to move wasn't good.

I do remember red, white and blue ribbons and American flag pins being sold everywhere...on the streets, in malls ( in stores and by vendors outside the stores.) And if you didn't wear one, some people were rather aggressive about why you weren't wearing one.

I still hate wearing black because I wore so much of it then.

~Tessa said...

When 9/11 hit (my son's third birthday) I was mostly in the yoga pants days of a mom with small children. When they named 9/11 "patriot day" children were encouraged to wear red, white and blue to school. Since it was my son's birthday he wanted to wear his new Pokemon shirt. We compromised with one red sock and one blue sock.
P.S. During that bleak time I looked to Vogue and other fashion magazines to cheer me up.

Rosaria said...

In 2004 I saw a brooch in a jewellery shop and the design was the last vestiges of the WTC - the skeletal remains of the steel structural supports. (I'm not an architect, but I think you get my drift). I think it was well meant, but I thought it was in appalling taste.

Miss Janey said...

Miss Janey doesn’t remember much about the fashion mags right after 9/11. But Not long afterward, she invested in a lot of flat, comfortable shoes for work, just in case. The image of all the women trying to flee the city in tall heels- some of them carrying their shoes and walking barefoot- made an impression.

Stephanie said...

This will be long...
I live in NJ, just across the river from NYC, my husband's family and my mother all live in NYC, and my husband was, that very day, supposed to be in One World Trade. At about 6:30 a.m. or so, he received a call from work to let him know they were sending someone else and to go into the office in Staten Island, NY instead. (The man who went in his place was running late that day, missed the initial hit, but was so traumatized by the sight of people jumping out of the windows that he became unhinged and, as far as I know, is still on disability to this day).
My mother-in-law works for the FBI, Joint -Terrorist Task Force Squad (with NYPD), which at that time was in the Fedral Building at Fed Plaza. Believing themselves to be a prime target, they were evacuated and during the evacuation, the towers fell. My tiny 4'11" mother in law had to walk through flying sheets of debris, smoke, dust and ash from Fed Plaza in Manhattan to Brooklyn by way of the B'klyn Bridge. She wore heels that day and still does and said at the time that she'd cheerfully bury the heel of her shoes in the skulls on those responsible. All in all we knew of 14 people who died that day, including my MIL's boss, the only person killed that day outside the tower (he was sheared in 2 by debris just outside the building, before it collapsed).
I was home on maternity, and paralyzed with terror. That feeling did not fade for a very long time. It didn't seem right to care what the heck you wore when so many had lost so much. I don't think I looked at a magazine, shopped or even wore lipstick for weeks. When I returned to work in Staten Island University Hospital about 2 weeks after the attack, every inch of available wall space was covered in flyers made by people whose loved ones were unaccounted for.
I think the only "fashion trend" to stem fom 9/11 at the time were flag pins and a strong presence of "American" looks...jeans, etc. And so much black...
I still haven't ventured downtown, all these years later.

Linda Grant said...

Stephanie, thank you so much for sharing that truly harrowing story. I'm so sorry for what you and your family and friends have suffered.

Anonymous said...

I was an undergraduate in the fine arts program at SVA, in some strange coincidence it was my first day working in this little gallery in Brooklyn heights we could see the WTC right across the water. It was not a period in my life when I read fashion magazines, but I might be able to help sketch out what people on the streets were wearing.

The day of, people we’re just wearing whatever they wore to work, business casual hasn’t changed all that much in the last 10 years. It was button down shirts and dark slacks. French cuffs were popular that year, cuts were moving from sharp and minimal to frothy and romantic.

In the days immediately following there was a total breakdown of dress code or standards. Everyone was wearing ‘comfort’ clothes. I saw people wearing sweat pants to the office, people grocery shopping in their pajamas, it was the beginning of fall and a lot of people we’re wearing big lose sweaters.

After the first few days where we threw on anything clean and spent more time looking at missing person flyers then in mirrors, people started to dress again. I have never seen so many natives rocking I heart NY T-shirts. You didn’t have to buy them; there we’re just giving them away on the streets. FDNY merchandise was also suddenly popular, people got hats and windbreakers and key rings. Dressing and acting normal became an act of defiance. We forced our selves to go out, to turn of the TV’s and newspapers constantly showing pictures of us at our worse put on a sleek outfit and sit in a silent bar or cafĂ©.

Over the next few months there would be an increasing interest in camouflage prints, but that was latter and probably well documented.

Toby Wollin said...

Miss Janey - your comment about low heeled shoes reminded me. We'd moved our offices to a different building and were(still ARE) on the fifth floor and the building has a rather uncooperative elevator. We also had a lot of issues at that time with younger employees coming to work in super casual stuff - pj bottoms, tatty tops and flipflops. After 9/11, the boss put out a dress code which included: No flipflops, no backless shoes of any sort, etc. If obviously struck him that if we had to sudden evacuate, running down even five flights of stairs in flipflops was an invitation to someone falling, people tripping over them and disaster.

Anonymous said...

As Phyllis and others said, the flag was everywhere. The SENTIMENT was of FIERCE PATRIOTISM and of course the stars and stripes best symbolize the US. I remember the flags not just on clothes but everywhere...good time to be in the flag selling business. They were flown in front of homes, but also flow on pick-up trucks and displayed in the back of car windows. Patriotic slogans were written on car windows.

Arabella said...

I left my family, friends and job in England a few weeks after 9/11, to go America, marry my American boyfriend and live there. I had given a lot of my possessions away; the clothes that I took with me were chosen carefully.
The plane was grounded in Paris for a long time - a battery problem - and everyone on board was nervous. The cabin crew served champagne in all cabins - that's how jittery we were. (The man sitting next to me was quite serene though, and I've always wondered if it was because he was on his way to South America to take part in a Physics Olympiad).
Anyway, by the time we landed in Miami I was so completely sozzled I left my prized posession - a black Italian cashmere coat with lovely carved buttons - in the overhead locker.
I didn't realize till I was through security and past all the heavily armed military guards. So scared, grateful to be on the ground, confused and drunk, I didn't go back for it. Still miss that coat.
And then I lived in Florida which was covered in flags. The husband had to explain that it wasn't always like that. Flip flops were red white and blue.

Belle de Ville said...

My friend's daughter was working as a consultant in Manhattan and her apartment was downtown near the twin towers. She actually came out of the subway at the World Trade Center and looked up and saw the first building on fire. She ran back down into the subway and went back uptown... completely truamatized. Because her apartment was in the area that was closed off, she wasn't able to get back into her place for weeks. So fashion-wise she was out of her wardrobe for were many other people from lower Manhattan.
On another note, I wore a conservative black suit when I gave the eulogy at the memorial service for my best friend who died on the the first plane that crashed on 9/11. Another person who spoke at the memorial, a major film studio head no less, couldn't be bothered to put wear a suit and tie.
As far as the flag thing, in the accessories business there was a resurgence of American flag brooches which hadn't been popular since the Retro period during WWII.

LeeLee said...

I am from Oklahoma City, and I knew several people who were either killed or injured April 19, 1995. I am also from a military family and married to a soldier. Everyone expected me to be draped in the flag after September 11. I understood and appreciated the sentiment (for the most part) but the flag code is fairly clear that the flag is not to worn except on military uniforms and other such official garments.

After Sept. 11, many people in OKC wore various New York items - NYPD hats and shirts, Yankees and Mets clothing, etc. to show support and solidarity. Our bombing was smaller in scale, but horrific nonetheless.

I had a college professor who moved from Queens to take a job in OKC because we had survived our bombing - she simply couldn't stay in New York any longer. She felt we were the only people who could possibly understand how her city felt.

Ms Baroque said...

Interesting, all of this. I read Stephanie's account, gripped. Such a terrible story.

Slightly off-topic fromt he fashion, I remember how strange it felt at the time, this idea that it was only America who has suffered this attack - here in London, as you no doubt remember, Linda, we felt in the front line too. On Sept 11 everyone thought Canary Wharf was next; my office was closed and we were sent home. and I know English people who had family and friends in the WTC, of course - London and New York are so closely linked.

Of course, America had never really suffered an attack like this before - Oklahoma was slightly different, in that it was a one-off, crazy thing, unlike the IRA campaigns for example, which went on year after year and killed many people on otherwise quite normal days...

I can't remember fashion after 9/11 - except for that first surreal issue of Vogue, which I do remember. I was, bizarrely, working in a pretty fundamentalist Muslim community at the time so I had bigger fish to fry... there were pro-bin Laden posters up in Stepney!

But the following summer I went home for the first time in ten years and was STAGGERED by the number of flags, EVERYWHERE. I found it very offputting. And yes, yes, to whoever said about the T shirts, the flag hats and T shirts, everywhere - I wanted to get some T shirts for my boys and it was hard to avoid the flags. Working where I did I was hypersensitive to politically incendiary clothing. And I felt that people in the US didn't have any idea of how close London felt to that disaster.

Of course I felt it - I was born in NYC and I remember the shock of seeing on the news on 9/11 the ambulances from Beth Israel - the hospital I was born in - waiting for casualties. That made it even more immediate somehow.

Belle de ville, is it possible that the studio head's casual dress was a gesture at being more "American" - casual and everyman, not Europeanly formal? I was much struck at my dad's memorial service last year in CT by the - well - inappropriateness of many of the clothes people wore! Partly a protestant thing, partly a distrust of clothes. Oh, it's the same thing.

And to Chiara, I always buy nail polish in times of stress. Funny that! It's like the one small thing you can make nice.

Anna said...

(caveat: I'm not American, I'm a Kiwi living in Australia)

I don't know if you've ever heard of a book called 'The Fashion Pack' by Marion Hume, but the book deals with the fall-out of 9/11 among the fashion industry.

She used "The New York Times - 'Tom Ford, Ensuring a place for Gucci in hard times', by Lynn Hirschberg, 2/12/01" as a source, which you may find useful.

And the book itself, while fluff, is quite enjoyable.

Linda Grant said...

Thanks a million for those references, Anna!

rb said...

I don't really remember how I felt about fashion in the days/weeks/months afterward, but I remember what I was wearing when I learned of the attacks.

I also remember what my friend who lost her husband on 9/11 was wearing the first time she visited me aferwards - a corset top, and I kept thinking of the term "merry widow."

Anonymous said...

I was on the 2nd day of my cross country drive moving to the West Coast; I had passed through NY only the previous day. I turned on the radio and heard, "plane hit the 2nd tower," and knew instantly which pair of towers they meant, and that something was terribly wrong in the world, and that the bad thing had come here, home; had penetrated the safety of our massive homeland. Mercifully, I was not around TV much and was spared from the endless imagery.

Labor Day weekend had been spent visiting friends in NYC, and the fresh memories now felt as a guilty, carefree, and innocent pleasure.

Feelings of shock lingered for months. 9-11 marked the beginning of a turning point in my life. That, plus the wars which followed, made me aware how much evil there is in the world, that things are not generally getting better, and brought on a heavy dose of cynicism which must come sooner or later, as we grow up.

Anonymous said...

I live in rural Mojave without a TV & we didn't have high-speed internet then. A friend from Manchester woke us up with the news. Called friends in NYC & family in Washington-area. Didn't have the nerve to watch any online videos for the first few days. We listened to the radio (and read news online). Locals were behaving a little awkwardly to the Pakistani pharmacist & the (turbaned) Sikh convenience store owner in the village. The Marine base about 30 miles away was on high-alert.

After a few days, I took a break and watched a bunch of Preston Sturges movies on video. Weekender neighbors came out specifically to get away from the TV. I remember enjoying leafing through Vogue & Vanity Fair.

It was like taking a break from the war.

In a bizarre coincidence, the big financial corporation we do freelance graphic design for had just rebranded and removed the prominent American flag image from their brochures. The new style came out soon after 9/11 & there was hell to pay. It gave us lots of paid work fitting the flag back in!

-- desertwind

Anonymous said...

i have a very soft, pale churned butter yellow leather jacket that I got in Florence the summer of 2001. two weeks after September 11 i had it on while in my car. i was living in Palo Alto, California at the time. i pulled up behind a fire truck that had black bunting draped on the back and started to cry. a big tear plopped down onto and left a small stain on the jacket. i decided to leave it there as a memento.