When watching an old movie, how long does it take you to pinpoint the decade? How long before you can identify the year? Maybe I possess a (previously unidentified) talent, but I can guess the time period in about 2-3 minutes. The women are the very first barometer. Even in a women’s prison film, the style of dress, eyebrow and shoe should speak volumes. If there are no women handy, men will do. Hair, hats, cut of the pants, will all point to a decade if not a year. For the more advanced player, do try a period film. Cleopatra is a good example of such an exercise. I’m no anthropologist, but I’m going to venture that there was no blue eyeshadow before the common era.
Parlor games aside, I am struck by the notion that I can not identify any style of dress or hair after the 1980s. Of course I can still pinpoint a film’s time period. Sort of. By the cars and size of the mobile phones. But the fashion and style? Not really. I would be willing to concede that one never notices what will eventually become iconic, while actually living in the period. But, and this is a big but; I am referencing over 20 years of indistinguishable style and fashion! If you don’t believe me, try it yourself. Your assignment is to describe to me a working woman in 1998. What is she wearing?
Now, I don’t necessarily think a loss of iconic time specific style will be the death of our society. I just wonder how it happened. Is it the result of cheaper mass marketed clothing? Perhaps this is what comes from sanitizing the design process for competitive cable television? Is it the result of brand worship? Did America even know which shoes to fetishisize before the 1990s? Perhaps it is more positive: could it be that the fashion playing field has become so democratic that there is not one style we can pinpoint as that of a recent decade. Or, is fashion now like public behavior; anything goes? Does a generation of women who think nothing of styling their hair in public (often in the vicinity of my dinner) feel a specific style would stifle her spontaneous, chip clip creativity? Is style just too committal?
Life will go on, no doubt. But it makes me a little sad, that in my doterage, when I turn on my subcutaneous video imagery receptor and watch a film from my “youth” I won’t be able to imagine myself in the time period.