After a Fashion

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June 5, 1926 cover by Rea Irvin.

Fashion advertising in the early New Yorker can tell you a lot about the mood of the city’s smart set. As I’ve observed before, the magazine’s advertisements were rife with Anglo- and Francophile messaging, but they also reveal much about our changing times. A good example is the upscale retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, which these days uses the tagline “Authentic American clothing since 1892.”

In its early days, A&F was known as an elite outfitter of sporting and excursion goods, supplying aspiring country squires with expensive shotguns, fishing rods and the clothing and kit necessary for successful and stylish expeditions beyond the drawing room:

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“Sporting goods” meant something a bit different in 1926.

The company went bankrupt in 1976 and operated through mail order until 1988, when the The Limited clothing chain bought the name and operation and turned the focus to the young adult market:

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Cover for A&F Fall/Winter 1998, photo by Bruce Weber (Image Amplified)

Over the past couple of decades there’s been a lot of criticism regarding the abundance of A&L ads featuring shirtless, white men and the corresponding dearth of minority models. The newer ads feature a lot less skin and a sprinkling of minorities, but the product line is still a far cry from the one offered in 1926. Except for the elitist part.

As for other purveyors of fine fashion in the pages of The New Yorker, B. Altman made this stylish pitch for its line of bathing suits:

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And here’s an advertisement for Croydon Cravats, featuring the ubiquitous Father’s Day necktie:

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As for fashion in the comics, this drawing by I. Klein found humor in the multicultural appeal of the summer straw hat:

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African Americans in the early New Yorker were nearly always depicted in minstrel-style blackface, and Jewish immigrants (such as the one Klein depicted at right) rarely lacked the Orthodox beard. Such is the case in this Peter Arno illustration where cultures clash rather than mix:

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And let’s check in with the New Yorker’s fashion critic (and Arno’s soon-to-be wife) Lois “Lipstick” Long, who slummed with the Proles at Coney Island:

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LIPSTICK AT CONEY ISLAND…(l to r) Silent film star Charlie Chaplin, Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield, sculptor Helen Sardeau, Lois Long and screenwriter Harry D’Arrast pose in a Coney Island photo booth, 1925. Photo scanned from the book Flapper by Joshua Zeitz.

Finally, given the terrible circumstances in the Middle East and especially Syria, this small item in “Of All Things” is both timely and prescient:

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Next Time: Taxi Dancers…
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Published by

David O

I read and write about history from the perspective that history is not some artifact from the past but a living, breathing condition we inhabit every moment of our lives, or as William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I read original source materials, such as every issue of The New Yorker, not only as a way to understand a time from a particular perspective, but to also use the source as an aggregator of various historic events. I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections and insights as I stumble along through the century.

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