Today, the exhibition Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s opens at The Museum at FIT. The show looks at women’s clothing and menswear, from a global perspective, during a decade when truly modern clothing came to be. The forces behind the changes in fashion in the 1930s were partly cultural, economic, and political… and partly technological, as innovations in textile manufacturing and tailoring techniques allowed for a wholly new type of apparel. The gorgeous accompanying book, which we will publish next month, is edited by fashion experts Patricia Mears and G. Bruce Boyer and includes not only smart and interesting essays by William DeGregorio, Mei Mei Rado, Ariele Elia, and Colleen Hill, but also stunning photography of the most beautiful clothing.
But back to the point about technological advances… the forward march of technological change in clothing is evident as much as anywhere in sports gear. With the start this week of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, we were given the opportunity to do a little A/B comparison. This Popular Science post synthesizes nicely the new features of the US Olympic alpine ski suit – including an effort to have the texture of the suit mimic sharkskin, in order to minimize air drag; the resulting textile was put through the paces in 100 “wind tunnel tests.” Elegance in an Age of Crisis features “Ski Togs” from Saks Fifth Avenue in 1935. And while these were not destined for Olympic time trials, the accompanying text in the book notes that “innovations in stretch materials, such as ‘Ski-O-Twill’ (made of Lastex®) and tricotine provided 25 percent more stretch. The ‘Neva-Wet’ finish kept water out of the ski suit.” Without these improvements, how would we ever have achieved sharkskin?