I remember in 2015 hearing about a book called Fashion and Jazz and thinking, “Obviously, I am the target audience for this book,” and purchased it immediately. However, I don’t know that you particularly need a deep knowledge of fashion to appreciate what the author has to say and the stories he conveys in this book. Alphonso McClendon‘s “Fashion and Jazz: Dress, Identity and Subcultural Improvisation” is a deeper look into the social and political implications of dress and jazz, including race, class, and gender. These performers were jazz innovators, pop stars, and style icons who continue to inspire people (like me) even today and it’s worth taking a look at why and how they got there through the lens of fashion.
McClendon is a professor at Drexel University, with extensive experience in what I would call the nuts and bolts of the fashion industry, but it is clear from his bio, even beyond this book, that the intersection of fashion and jazz (and topics emanating from that intersection) are a passion outside of his work in today’s fashion industry. Of personal interest to me, he has an undergraduate degree from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, so now I’m curious as to any other ties he may have to my home state.
And, yes, you get an entire chapter on Billie Holiday (“Beyond the Gardenia”), one of jazz’s penultimate style icons, as well as coverage of Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter, and he touches on so many others. The entire book is 150 pages long, so one could devour it in a single afternoon and I would say that’s an afternoon well spent.
A lot of black Lindy Hoppers are speaking right now and a lot of us are listening, but I know a lot of us also want to take action to help. I have been looking for more ways to be an ally and to use my voice to help make our community more inclusive to black dancers. Lindy Shopper is my most public voice, but this is a fashion blog – I wasn’t sure how I could help writing about clothing and shoes.
Then I saw a Facebook post made by dancer Angel Sheniev Cadenza, which detailed ways in which racial isolation is present in the dance scene, and one of those was was the following: “Racial isolation in the dance scene to me…It is planning to attend a vintage-themed dance event and having almost no black reference points to create your look because all the vintage themed resources are created by and for whites, and black people are almost non-existent in historical media.”
I spend a good amount of time poring over photographs and videos from the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s studying the subjects’ clothing and I knew that there were a lot of black reference materials (a good place to start is the Vintage Black Glamour Facebook page, which you should all be following because it’s fabulously curated with lots of historical information), but I can do better and share this information here. I realize newer dancers may not know all the vintage clips of the swing era, so let’s explore that. The focus of this blog is source material, where to purchase clothing and shoes, so I’ll try to tie that in, as well – we should be inspired AND know where to get the look.
Back in 2010, I started a series called “What’s Old is New” and I realized that I never actually made this into a series, so I’m going to pick this up and continue it (after posting it in Angel’s thread as a possibility of how I could contribute to this discussion and received positive feedback)…so here we go. If this is a misstep, then I apologize and I will stop and continue listening.
The first and only post in my What’s Old is New series was about the clothing in the Marx Brothers’ film “A Day at the Races,” which features Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and I found sources for some modern day inspirations/approximations of the garments worn by the women dancers in the film. I still love their outfits, the quintessential mid-calf 1930’s skirts in bias cut plaid are just awesome.
Let’s take a look at another classic clip featuring Whitey’s Lindy Hopper’s, a 1941 soundie called “Hot Chocolate (Cottontail),” featuring Duke Ellington and his Orchestra playing Cottontail. The dancers are wearing clothing that is not quite costume, not quite street clothing, somewhere fun and in the middle.
The pinafore/jumpers on the women are just adorable and I am dying over the huge sleeves on their blouses. The men have a bit more variance in their dress, ranging from overalls to jackets with maybe the largest collar I’ve ever seen on a shirt. Finding exact replicas of these garments would be hard, you’d likely have to get a copy made, but we’ll find some pieces that capture some of the fun of these garments.
For the blouses, my first instinct was to go to the House of Foxy website and they deliver – their Elsie blouse has those amazing sleeves (available in mustard, black, and white). They also have a great Peter Pan collar blouse available in ivory, ivory gingham, black gingham, and a black/gray/red floral print – I know I have missed seeing these available outside of thrift/vintage shops and I’m glad House of Foxy is offering some twists on the basic (or not so basic) blouse so we can find some reproductions we may not feel as hesitant to dance in. I own the Peter Pan collar shirt and some other pieces from this company and the quality is stellar, would purchase again.
I didn’t see but one vintage 40’s jumper that caught my eye on Etsy (but it’s awesome – black velvet with pockets on the front!), but they tend to pop up somewhat often, as these jumpers and pinafore dresses were fairly common – the thing you won’t find is the shorter skirt length, but then you can decide what length you want and what look is more your style.
Men, I don’t even know where to begin with that giant collar, it’s amazing and a sight bigger than any 40’s, any 70’s, anything I’ve ever seen. Since a trend in the 70’s was 30’s style and the collars were of superior width and breadth in that decade, I went looking in vintage because I honestly don’t know of any modern retailer carrying an approximation of this. Even Simon James Cathcart’s polos aren’t cut that big, but if you wanted a nod to that big collar, this would be a reasonable place to start. The 40’s shirts were a bust, but there were some promising 70’s options on Etsy – like this Art Deco print or this yellow long sleeved shirt. There were more great printed shirts on Etsy with wide collars so take a gander!
As for the overalls…I’ve got nothing. Sometimes garments are so special that they can’t be found and/or have to be made.
I went looking for the light car coat in the video and the first hits were Burberry and Prada, so I retreated to Etsy and found one from the 60’s that fit the bill. That they were doing aerials in a coat is pretty awesome, but you’ll probably save yours for before and after the dance.
There are other pieces I wish I could find! In particular that two tone paneled skirt, what a great piece to have in your closet.
Feel free to chime in with other pieces you have found that look inspired by this clip in the comments! This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but a starting point for ideas and sources.
Albuquerque swing dancer Alyx Hodges has designed several sets of Jamberry fingernails, featuring artwork from vintage jazz, swing, and jazz dance posters! You can order a set through Alyx’s Jamberry group on Facebook – essentially, you buy gift certificates through Jamberry and, because Alyx created this custom set, you have to order them through her. I’m not one to ever have my fingernails done, but the thought of having Artie Shaw or Duke Ellington on my nails is VERY tempting…
In a world of random and ironic tee shirts, clearly shirt designers have overlooked the Lindy Hop and vintage jazz community. I do have the token Threadless tee with the Victrola and another that says “I Came to Dance,” but where is my tee shirt with Duke Ellington or Fats Waller plastered on it?
It’s apparently Along Old Harlem Way – this Etsy seller comes to the rescue with two shirts featuring Duke, Fats, Ella, Jelly Roll Morton, Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, Frankie Manning, and King Oliver’s Jazz Band. Maybe if we buy more of these shirts, she will make more designs with more amazing jazz musicians and dancers…
Also for sale in this Etsy store are several items of jewelry, hair ornaments, and art prints featuring Louis Armstrong, Josephine Baker, and Louise Brooks.