Rebecca C. Tuite
 

Chapters in Edited Collections

 
 
© Estate of Gordon Lameyer, Lilly Library, Indiana University, as seen on the cover of  The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume I, 1940-1956.

© Estate of Gordon Lameyer, Lilly Library, Indiana University, as seen on the cover of The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume I, 1940-1956.

“Sylvia plath and fashion”

in Sylvia Plath in Context. Edited by Tracy Brain. Forthcoming from Cambridge University Press, November 2019.

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From the full skirts and nipped waists of Dior’s New Look, to the Shetland sweaters and Bermuda shorts of America’s college girls, and even the tanned bodies and flirty bikinis of mid-century pin-up stars, Sylvia Plath’s fashion life places her at the nexus of many iconic moments in fashion history. This chapter explores the fashion sensibilities detailed in Plath’s journals and correspondence, fashion’s influence on her poetry, prose, artwork and her forays into the professional realm of fashion as an editor and a writer; proving that Plath occupies a fascinating place both within and without the fashion industry at the mid-century.

 
Designing Woman  . 1957. USA. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. 118 min. © MGM

Designing Woman. 1957. USA. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. 118 min. © MGM

“Home furnishing takes a cue from Paris, too.”: The Fashion Professional at Work & Home in Postwar Hollywood Films, c. 1957-1961

in Interiors: Film and Television. Forthcoming from Bloomsbury, 2020.

During the 1950s and 1960s, a period noted for close interrelationships between fashion and interior design, a number of Hollywood films emerged that prioritized representations of women working in the fashion industry and the design of both their professional (public) and domestic (private) spaces. These films presented a holistic view of the way in which female fashion professionals were expected to extend their style beyond the sartorial, and create rich and revelatory interior spaces; prompting the consistent melding of clothing and interior decoration on screen. This chapter focuses on three films, namely, Designing Woman (dir. Vincente Minnelli, 1957), Funny Face (dir. Stanley Donen, 1957) and Back Street (dir. David Miller, 1961) and explores how each of these films contributed not only to a visual and thematic understanding of what it meant to work in the fashion industry at the time but also to broader notions of high style and taste in interiors as well as clothing.

 
“Fashions for the Nicest Hours of the Day,”  Good Housekeeping,  November 1955, 95.

“Fashions for the Nicest Hours of the Day,” Good Housekeeping, November 1955, 95.

 

“‘Get bathrobe and slippers and nightgown & work on femininity’: Sylvia plath, self-identity and sleepwear.”

in The Bloomsbury Handbook to Sylvia Plath. Forthcoming from Bloomsbury, 2020.

From aqua bathrobes to pink fuzzy dressing gowns, leopard print slippers to floral flannel nightgowns, sleepwear looms large in Sylvia Plath’s life and work. For Plath, sleepwear functioned as an expressive tool for navigating her own identity as a woman, wife, mother, writer, student and artist. It’s in slippers that she revels in the quiet familiarity of marriage; in a nightgown that she negotiates images of femininity; and in sewing little nighties for her daughter that she experiences pride in her identity as a mother. However, Plath also experienced sleepwear as an intimate expression of conflicting images of womanhood at the midcentury, and the challenges of balancing domesticity with work; all of which Plath felt deeply, even issuing herself a firm instruction in her journal: “Get bathrobe and slippers and nightgown & work on femininity.” This chapter considers the way in which sleepwear functioned not only in Plath’s personal day-to-day life, as detailed in her journals and correspondence, but across her myriad creative works, including her poetry, prose and artwork. It also situates Plath’s relationship with sleepwear in the broader context of the contemporary sleepwear industry, referencing key brands, trends and advertising, and sleepwear’s presence in both popular culture and women’s periodicals, and unpacks the symbolic and material significance of key garments referenced by Plath in order to understand how such clothing could, and did, contribute to shaping Plath’s self-identity at the midcentury.

 
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg  . 1964. France. Directed by Jacques Demy. 92 min. © Parc Film, Madeleine Films & Beta Film.

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. 1964. France. Directed by Jacques Demy. 92 min. © Parc Film, Madeleine Films & Beta Film.

 

the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Film and Television Costume

Various entries in a 3-volume encyclopedia. Editor-in-Chief: Deborah Nadoolman Landis. Forthcoming from Bloomsbury, 2020.

An historic new project, The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Film and Television Costume Design, is a 3-volume compendium of film and television costume history. This project, the first of its kind, will be published in 2020.

 

Academic Articles

 
 
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“Fashioning the 1950s “Vassar Girl”: Vassar Student Identity and Campus Dress, 1947–60.”

Journal of Fashion Theory 17, no. 3 (2013): 299–320.

In 1957, Clifford Coffin photographed real Vassar students as models for the annual Vogue college issue. High fashion and elite education were combined and the photographs underscore the significance of the “Vassar Girl” as both a cultural and sartorial icon during this decade: a media-cultivated, almost mythical presence that permeates 1950s American media, popular culture, and fashion discourses. What these images more pressingly demonstrate is that, by the 1950s, the “Vassar Girl” was a powerful entity in American culture: seemingly both real and imagined, but lucrative all the same. Genuine Vassar students had to navigate a series of sartorial assumptions and expectations to assert and formulate their own identity, both within and without, the campus culture, providing material for a rich exploration of individual and collective identity of Vassar students at the mid-century.

Following the collection and analysis of original oral testimony of hundreds of mid-century Vassar graduates and studies of iconic garments of the period, this article provides an explorative analysis of the ways in which fashion functioned in the construction of personal and collective identity at Vassar, and the construction and perpetuation of a “Vassar Girl” aesthetic and brand in American fashion and media discourses of the 1950s. Grounding the exploration in an analysis of Vassar’s revolutionary psychological and developmental study of its students during the 1950s (the Mellon Study), this article will undercut media discourses and hyperbole to root considerations of dress and identity in the statistical and narrative proof of original college records from the pre-feminist era, which was also the last full decade of all-female education at Vassar.

 
Mollie Parnis, one of the subjects of  The Hidden History of American Fashion , designed this grape-printed dress, which appeared in U.S. Vogue, May 1, 1953.

Mollie Parnis, one of the subjects of The Hidden History of American Fashion, designed this grape-printed dress, which appeared in U.S. Vogue, May 1, 1953.

BOOK REVIEW: The Hidden History of American Fashion: Rediscovering 20th-Century Women Designers & The Fashion Forecasters: A Hidden History of Color and Trend Prediction

The Journal of Design History, September 2019.

A review of The Hidden History of American Fashion: Rediscovering 20th-century Women Designers, edited by Nancy Deihl.

 
The “Fleurs Modernes” print from the Schiaparelli for Waverly Collection. Image courtesy of  Architectural Digest

The “Fleurs Modernes” print from the Schiaparelli for Waverly Collection. Image courtesy of Architectural Digest

“Couture, Taste and ‘Fabrics with a French Accent’: Elsa Schiaparelli’s Designs for Waverly Fabrics in the U.S., 1956-1965.”

Forthcoming.

It was the spring of 1957 and the reviews were in from Paris: “The most interesting collection I have ever seen, breathtaking in beauty, sentimental with the simple elegance of Schiaparelli. An ensemble to satisfy the most discerning of tastes.” However, this was not a laudatory judgment on the latest couture collection to emerge from Schiaparelli’s world-famous atelier at 21 Place Vendôme in Paris; rather, this was a review of Schiaparelli and Waverly’s first collaborative range of furnishing fabrics: Schiaparelli for Waverly. This inaugural event encapsulated much about the marketing strategy that would come to define the Schiaparelli for Waverly collection in American media: A strategy that emphasized Schiaparelli’s long-standing heritage as couture designer, perpetuated notions of France (and Paris specifically) as the pinnacle of taste, class and style; and blended high-fashion with the latest technologies in Waverly’s groundbreaking textile development to make new, synthetic ‘miracle’ fibers and fabrics palatable to middle-class consumers for introduction into the typical American home.

This article focuses on fabric samples from the Schiaparelli-Waverly collection, as well as the advertising, marketing and editorial features produced for and by the collection, in order to frame the Schiaparelli-Waverly range in the broader context of fashion’s influence on interior design in the 1950s, while also considering the more nuanced associated issues of American taste, emerging textiles technologies and pervasive notions of ‘Frenchness’ in mid-century American culture, style and interiors.

Rebecca C. Tuite for “Ivy Style”

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BOYFRIEND JACKET: THE VASSAR GIRL AND THE IVY LEAGUE LOOK

When Marilyn Monroe steps onto the screen in “Some Like It Hot,” wearing elaborate furs and gowns, her soft blond curls swept into an elegant chignon, she spends much of her time pretending to be a wealthy, well-to-do Vassar student. She is a classic example of Hollywood’s vision of the Vassar Girl: the stereotypical rich, white, smart and attractive debutante. However, the real trends in Vassar style were not being set by a Hollywood costumer. During the 1950s, Vassar students became fashion leaders of everyday campus style for women. Just as Princeton became recognized as the leading school for setting menswear trends, so Vassar quickly became known as the most fashionable college for women, popularizing a look for girls that was the equivalent of the Ivy League Look for boys…

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Bicycle Week: The Yale-Vassar Bike Race

The Yale-Vassar bike race found its origins in a drunken wager. At a meeting of Yale’s Trumbull Beer and Bike Society, one student declared he could beat another in a bicycle race all the way to Vassar. However, this valiant duel between two determined Trumbull residents quickly became a popular annual tradition in the early 1950s and a day on which the iconic style of the Seven Sisters and Ivy colleges revealed a sense of humor…

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Voice In The Dark: Richard Frede’s Entry E, 1958

“Entry E” is something of a pulp novel, telling a tale of Ivy League life in America that was considered startling on its release in 1958. But for all the adolescent angst and raucous action in this story, there is plenty of mid-century Ivy League style and quiet consideration of the “Ivy Man,” described in knowledgeable detail by the book’s author, Richard Frede, a Yale graduate…

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Crashing The Boys Club: The Birth Of The Brooks Brothers Woman

Although Brooks Brothers didn’t officially launch a full women’s department in its flagship store until 1976, young American women had been infiltrating the bastion of sartorial masculinity for quite some time. Since launching its pink shirt for women in 1949, Brooks had begrudgingly acknowledged the large number of females who wanted to wear the brand. But within five years women were no longer satisfied with a tiny customer service desk located in a dark and secluded area of the store…

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Dedman, Don’t Wear Plaid: Julien D.’S Satirical Look At Yale

“Yale men everywhere join in one brotherhood at eventide to remember the golden days of yesteryear and the great gothic towers of this university whose flying buttresses and grinning gargoyles symbolize a Yale Spirit that will not die – not even if you beat it with a stick,” wrote Julien Dedman (Yale Class of 1948) in the introduction to his 1950 compendium of cartoons, “Boola Boola! A Satirical Peek at Yale, Its Foundations and Other Unmentionables.” Perhaps it’s just as well that the Yale spirit was so unshakable, as Dedman took aim at everything from boring Whiffenpoof performances to Burberry sportcoats, dastardly Dostoevsky assignments to disappointing dates with Vassar girls in his lampoon of life at Yale in the 1950s…

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What A Catch: Vassar Versus Ivies Touch Football

“Vassar College’s touch football team today issued a challenge to the Kennedy family in Washington: play us,” announced The Poughkeepsie Journal in November 1962. The reason for such sporting confidence? In the fall of that year, Vassar students had formed the first all-female college touch football teams. With names like the Joss Jocks, Noyes Nymphs and the Senile Seniors, the good-natured teams started out by playing against each other for fun. However, in typical trailblazing Vassar fashion, football quickly became much more than a casual campus pastime…

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The Man In The Brooks Brothers Shirt

There is little doubt that Mary McCarthy’s short story “The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt” is now probably more famous for its punchy title — a dream for the Brooks Brother’s marketing team —  than it is for the actual story. But it remains a classic part of the mystique of the Brooks Brothers Look, and indeed, the Brooks Brothers Man. Taken from Mary McCarthy’s 1942 novel “The Company She Keeps,” which is less a straight narrative and more a collection of six short stories, “The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt,” forms the third chapter in the story of Margaret Sargent, a young woman trying to redefine her life following a Reno divorce…

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Tied Together: Ivy Guys, Vassar Girls, And The College Scarf

Back in the heyday of the Ivy League Look, when a boy was going steady he’d remove the locker loop on the back of his oxford-cloth buttondown, signalling to other females that he was spoken for. And how did a female student signal she was taken? By wearing her boyfriend’s college scarf. The practice was especially popular at the two schools that most set the style in campus fashion: Princeton and Vassar. Observing the trend from New Haven, the Yale Daily News noted in 1959 that Vassar was a sea of scarf wearers, writing, “Alarmingly enough, orange and black specimens are almost as prevalent as blue and white. As one girl explained, ‘After all, Princeton boys are desperate to give away scarves.'”…

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Double Date: Vassar Girls And Their Beaus, 1951

Vassar students and their weekend dates take a stroll around Vassar’s beautiful Sunset Lake. The weekend ‘mass exodus’ of the Vassar campus as students went off in droves to neighboring Ivies is well publicised, but students did enjoy some chaste dates on campus too. Afternoon walks and dinners at the Pub in the Alumnae House were especially popular. It’s entirely likely that these four enjoyed a double date over “Vassar Devils” at the Pub, which were incredibly gooey chocolate sundaes and the toast of Poughkeepsie throughout the 1950s…