Tuesday, September 13, 2016

American Fashion Then and Now

Generally speaking, commentaries written about society rarely age well, but one that has is The Beautiful People.  Written in 1967 by former New York Times journalist Marylin Bender, the book is, to quote the front of the dust jacket, "a candid examination of a cultural phenomenon- the marriage of Fashion and Society in the 60's".  The Sixties was a turbulent decade in which upheaval was the norm rather than the exception, and Fashion and Society were not immune to that era's seismic changes.  The 1960s saw fashion designers achieve newfound social status, while many socialites left their lofty perches to become shills for the fashion companies, ultimately becoming what we now refer to as brand ambassadors.  Sound familiar?

So many of Bender's observations remain relevant today, especially this one:  "American fashion is flower-printed sheets and towels by Porthault, fine French 18th-century furniture, English silver, baby pillows, silver-framed photographs and a clutter of small objects all over the place."  The same could be said of today's American fashion, although French furniture and English silver may not be quite as popular as they once were.  (I still have an appreciation for both, and I'm sure many of you do, too.  On the whole, though, younger sophisticates don't quite have the passion for either one.)  Porthault remains a favorite among the cognoscenti, as do silver-framed photographs, baby pillows, and clusters of small objects.  Take a look at sophisticated homes from the past and today, and you'll see that although things have changed greatly over the decades, there are some elements of fashion (and good taste, for that matter) that have thankfully remained the same.

Flower-Printed Sheets & Towels by Porthault
The former London bedroom of Jayne Wrightsman

A bedroom in the former Washington, D.C. home of Deeda Blair

 A bedroom in the Long Island home of Veronica and Jamie Beard (Simon Upton, photographer)
Fine French 18th-century Furniture

Consuelo Balsan in her Southampton Drawing Room

Billy Baldwin's prized Louis XV chair

Jayne Wrightsman's former Palm Beach drawing room
English Silver

A Tiffany tablesetting, which included English flatware, by Sister Parish

Dinah Shore's antique English flatware
Baby Pillows

A baby pillow nestled among bed pillows on Joan Kennedy's bed
Silver-Framed Photographs
Silver-framed photographs in the home of Blair and Alistair Clarke

Silver frames in the Palm Beach home of Pauline Pitt
A bevy of frames in Earl Blackwell's chic home
Clutter of Small Objects
Stanley Barrow's bronze collection

19th c. stirrup cups on the mantel in the Millbrook home of Fernanda Kellogg and Kirk Henckels

C.Z. Guest's collection of blue and white porcelain


  1. Lovely homes, one and all. The only major change here at our abode is the number of silver things that have been put away. Just tired of polishing.

    1. Polishing silver can be quite a chore!

  2. Anonymous10:11 AM

    What a lovely email this is! Thank you! Your post,"The Peak of Chic," has been one of my favorites ever since I found it. It is always fresh and refreshing!
    CFA in Florida

  3. Great post! I love books like this and seeing the old photos and comparing them to now. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Another old saying? Good taste never goes out of style.

  4. Anonymous1:13 PM

    Timeless style remains forever elegant. In the 1950's, the clean lines of mid-century modern was all the rage, but that trend ended as will the stark, "trendy" interiors of today, but the rooms pictured in this book will never go out of style.

    BTW, send me your silver, after a rough day in HR, I find polishing silver to be very therapeutic. Thank you for the post Jennifer, LK

    1. LK, I just might take you up on your offer re: polishing silver!

  5. Dear Jennifer,

    I just ordered this book from Amazon, thanks to your fabulous post! This may be one of my favorite quotes ever, as it certainly encompasses all of my favorite things... "American fashion is flower-printed sheets and towels by Porthault, fine French 18th-century furniture, English silver, baby pillows, silver-framed photographs and a clutter of small objects all over the place." So many of the more traditional elements of design are slowly coming back in style, which couldn't thrill me more. I am so done with trends! These are rooms designed to stand the test of time.

    The Glam Pad

    1. Andrea, I hope you enjoy the book. Let me know what you think of it.

    2. The only thing I would add to that quote is "and fine English 18th & 19th century furniture".

      As for the silver, well, I love mine and could not bear to put it away. My yard man does a fabulous job of polishing it about 3-4 times yearly - cleaning lady is useless - leaves polish all over the silver.

      If only the young could learn to appreciate fine bedding. I'm doing my best - buy lovely bedding from Cologne & Cotton in the UK for my two adult children, and just today when DGS1 was helping me put sheets on the guest room beds for upcoming houseguests, we talked about how nice it is and how nice it looks and feels.

    3. srb, And fine bedding holds up well, too, meaning you'll have it for a long time.