Wednesday, June 12, 2013

WKRP 'Dungarees Vs. Suits' Speech & the 1970's

(Originally published for Vintage Fashion at The Examiner.)

'WRKP in Cincinnati' (MTM Enterprises) is a TV series that ran from 1978 until 1982 centering around a stuffy, old Ohio radio station as it transitions into a more marketable rock and roll station. Meanwhile, social mores in the late 1970's were being adjusted as mindsets were changing in terms of race, gender, class, etc.

The 1970's era was a period of disenchantment, distrust, and frustration for many who felt forced into realigning their own standards of living within an evolving society. In 'WKRP in Cincinnati', the end of this transformative decade is depicted through the ideals and antics of devoted employees at one increasingly laid-back radio station.
In the first season of 'WKRP', there is an episode called 'The Contest Nobody Could Win' in which the concept of 'dungarees vs. suits' is presented by Herb Tarlek, the station's advertising account executive. 
The character of Herb is known for his questionable behavior and wardrobe choices. He wears loud, patchy, bizarre and borderline offensive suits. That Herb's suits are considered unattractive during the height of an era with some of the most unattractive suits is telling.
At WKRP, Herb Tarlek represents those with more conservative values who were harboring some very specific worries prevalent in the period between 1970 until 1980. After the many heated value struggles in the late 1960's, American society had to regroup and re-establish in many ways. Herb is deeply troubled by this transition and he worries that people are even wearing jeans at work -- which is what he equates with revolt.

It's also telling that Herb uses the word 'dungarees' instead of jeans; it's as if he's yet to grasp this fairly foreign concept of wearing denim at home or at the office. People working in typical office environments did not wear jeans at the time -- and WKRP, being a rock and roll radio station, was an exception. In today's office environment (even in more corporate ones) executives often wear jeans and dress casually every day of the week. The wearing of suits has become a far more unexpected wardrobe choice for average office workers than their wearing jeans.
Men's fashion choices in the 1970's reflected their ideological positions more definitively than they do today. Men who felt more comfortable with preceding eras even wore suits on the weekends -- albeit a more casual suit. A suit, even for leisure time? (Where did you think the term 'leisure suit' comes from?)
Herb worries that not only disobedient sons (youth culture) are wearing 'dungarees', but their fathers are even starting to wear them. He worries that the dungarees are crowding in on the suits, gaining power. He exclaims in frustration that 'even the mothers' are wearing them. His sympathetic cohort Les Nessman references 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', which ties very well with Herb's distress. Herb fears that, with the world around him rapidly changing (and subsequently, his own conservative values), he might also turn into a dungaree-wearing pod person. And Herb would rather not wear dungarees; he loves wearing his signature suits.
Here is an excerpt from Herb' Tarlek's dungarees vs. suits speech (and watch the video of the scene.)

Herb: It's the dungarees versus the suits, Les. The whole world is in two armed camps. Over here we have the dungarees, and over here the suits. Remember the riots in the 60's? It was the dungarees vs. the suits. And Watergate. Those guys arrested were wearing dungarees and who suffered for it?
Les: The suits!
Herb: Exactly.
Les: But there were issues, Herb.
Herb: The issues, the issues, Les, were a smoke screen. Now listen. When a son disobeys his father, what's he wearing?
Les: The son...? [thinks] Dungarees!
Herb: And what's the father got on?
Les: Probably a suit.
Herb: Do you see what I mean, Les?
Les: Yeah!
The episode 'The Contest Nobody Could Win' provides an interesting time capsule from the 1970's. Herb Tarlek's 'the dungarees vs. the suits' speech encompasses and captures a great deal in just a few words.
In an interesting twist, there is a subsequent episode in the first season of 'WKRP' called 'Hoodlum Rock' in which a punk band named Scum Of The Earth makes an appearance. The band's gimmick is to dress in very tailored and conservative suits; this initially appeals to 'the suits' at WKRP -- until they realize the band is displaying anti-establishment values with their choice of name, style and behavior.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Classic Endorsement: Jean Shrimpton in 1967 for Lambretta Scooters

Lambretta Scooter 1967 and Jean Shrimpton

(Originally published for Vintage Fashion at The Examiner.)

The Italian line of motor scooter Lambretta, by Innocenti, was a popular alternative to the Vespa (also Italian) in the 1950's and 1960's. The idea and principles guiding what the Lambretta would become were conceived in the Pre-WWII era.
Lambretta 1967 Calendar
The scooter was designed by Corradino D'Ascanio, who was hired by Innocenti to create a motorbike that could appeal to both men and women. D'Ascanio's result was a vehicle with a 'pass-through leg area design' to allow women wearing dresses or skirts to ride.
Lambretta 1967 Calendar
By 1967, Lambretta hired Jean Shrimpton to pose for their calendar to memorable effect. Jean Shrimpton was known for her beautifully balanced features, her great poise and for being the premiere representative of Swinging London and mod fashion.
Lambretta 1967 Calendar
Jean Shrimpton was the right model to endorse the Lambretta as a sleek vehicle of choice for the globally predominant youth and mod culture of 1967. Shrimpton's stature in the fashion world would also draw attention to the elegance and design of the Lambretta.
Lambretta 1967 Calendar
The Shrimp was styled in miniskirts and colorful ensembles for the Lambretta calendar. She posed next to each scooter as if she and the scooter were modeling together; again, this would draw attention to the beauty of the Lambretta. Shrimpton's look and her relaxed poses were also in synch with the elements of fun, freedom and functionality inherent in the use of a motor scooter as one's mode of transport.  
Lambretta 1967 Calendar
Despite countless fashion shoots and magazine covers, images of Jean Shrimpton posing with scooters for the Lambretta calendar in 1967 remain some of her most iconic.
Lambretta 1967 Calendar

A Potentially Cruel Summer for Denim Overalls (a.k.a. Support Your Local Dungarees)

(Originally published for Vintage Fashion at The Examiner.)

Summer is quickly closing in on us. The first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere this year begins at 1:04 AM Eastern Time on June 21st. We're not quite there -- but at this time of year (the tail end of spring) it's especially difficult to hear Bananarama's 'Cruel Summer' without imagining hot summer days. And denim overalls.

The British trio filmed their iconic 'Cruel Summer' video in New York City in the summer of 1983. They filmed it in August, when it was over a hundred degrees. It was their first visit to NYC. People who've been in New York in August can attest that the humidity there can be cruel.
Summers are not as heated and oppressive in other parts of the U.S. In northern California -- specifically in foggy San Francisco -- summertime tends to be colder than spring. Therefore, summers in San Francisco can be considered somewhat cruel. Even natives have trouble accepting the strange climate in the city by the bay, despite being privy to it year after year.

The idea of wearing minimal clothing for three months is generally appealing, and what a 'cruel summer' is, in terms of climate, can largely depend on one's geographical location: is it cruel because it's too hot, or not hot at all?

This summer might also be a cruel one for denim overalls. An injustice of sorts has befallen the lowly overall, and here's why. Rompers have been a spring and summer staple for years, and denim overalls made a bold comeback more recently. This past winter, an almost overzealous case for denim overalls (for adult women) was being made around the globe.

In the UK, for example, denim overalls were already on sale in various shops by March. Citizens of Humanity denim overalls appeared (as worn by denim editor Kelly Connor) in Vogue's Jeanius series in April; Connor made a case for dressing hers up in order to be wearable and more grown up. Having received so much attention, and so early, denim overalls seem a little 'over' already. Otherwise, this would've surely been their summer.

All any pair of denim overalls asks of anyone is to be worn for a little fun, relaxation, or goofing around. Their origins are the opposite: denim overalls were work clothes. Manual work clothes, at that. So in the summertime, denim overalls long to be worn how Banarama wore them: like three rag dolls kicking, jumping, and slouchily skipping along -- after having been stuck in an oppressively hot city when everyone is away on holiday.

Meanwhile, willing participants in cooler climates feel the cruel irony of longing to wear those overalls the way they wish to be worn. Come June, July and August, remember: if you're able to wear a pair of dungarees just to kick back, you should. Loose-fitting overalls everywhere will appreciate the support.