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July 11, 2014, 9:24 am

Miniskirts suited you then? Not today

Many of us have friends and associates who must keep up with the current fashions. You can easily tell who they are; clothing styles change one day and they show up wearing new, fashionable outfits by the next day. Some even roll out in new fads before they are in stores. This is because of those monthly magazines that come to their homes; and the fashion shows they frequent.

Fortunately, I do not fall in this category. My wardrobe tends to be very conservative; things that I wore 15 or 20 years ago can still be worn today. My size has not changed much and I make every effort not to abuse my clothing. Nor do I get caught up in the new styles, which saves me a lot of money. “Keeping up with the Joneses” has never been a major influence on what I wear.

Today’s clothing styles invariably take me back to some that were popular during my day. You remember those styles that came, went and are back again. Such is the case with the miniskirt. If you grew up back in the day, you will recall the miniskirt. You may also recall hot pants. This was in the. ’60s. You must remember also how hemlines on skirts and dresses kept creeping up. By the mid-1960s, anyone who had the body to pull it off was wearing a miniskirt. Hemlines were four to five inches above the knee in New York City and seven to eight inches above the knee in London. Within the past few years, we have seen a resurgence of the miniskirt. Yes, today miniskirts are just as short, but perhaps a bit tighter. Back in the day, however, there appeared to be more discretion in wearing them. Only those who could wear one did so. Today, too many people wear miniskirts when they lack the physique for them. I have a rule about miniskirt:; You have no business wearing one today if you wore one back in the day. Believe me, it will not fit the same and will not look the same!

Then there are fashions from back in the day that should remain there, never to be resurrected. For women, stockings with seams are one. For both women and men, the platform shoe is another fad, from my point of view, that should have remained buried in the past. But today, platform shoes are back, at least for females. Other styles that should remain in the past are bell-bottom pants, iridescent suits, Nehru jackets and Bermuda shorts. One fad so bad it was not even suitable back then was knickers. I cannot imagine anyone embracing this style today.

The dress hat for women is another story. While wearing hats is a tradition for many females, in some circles it is also viewed as a fad. Those of us from back in the day can really appreciate the dress hat. You may be like me with fond memories of your mother and grandmother wearing their fine hats, occasionally with a veil, to church or to some fine affair. Occasionally, you will see someone sporting a dress hat, and to me, it always signals style and class. When a lady tops off her dress hat with long matching gloves, it is indeed special. I would love to see hats dusted off and gloves worn year-round instead of only during the winter. Hats and gloves are bygone styles of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s that I would love to see return.

These styles bring back memories of how we used to convert our clothing into the current styles of my day; not by spending money and not by purchasing new wardrobes, but by making our own alterations or patronizing skilled tailors or homemakers with excellent sewing skills, who were found in every neighborhood back in the day.

I had not given much attention to alterations from the past until last week when I drove by a dry-cleaning establishment near my home. A sign in the window advertised the narrowing of suit lapels. I have not seen a sign like this in many years. If you were around back in the day and wanted to appear fashionable, you took your suits and sport jackets to a tailor to have the lapels narrowed. Many of us did not have the money to run out and buy new suits or sport coats when the three-to-four-inch-wide lapels were clearly out of style. I know you had suits, as I did, that were hand-me-downs with wide lapels. Much of my wardrobe came from my uncle. Whenever he visited,, he showed up with three or four suits he no longer wanted. While they were well cared for, their lapels were dead giveaways that they had been around for a while.

If the width of your lapels was so important you had them narrowed, then I know you went the extra mile to have additional buttonholes and buttons placed on your jackets. There was a time when everyone wanted more than two buttons on his jacket. So, many of us sought out tailors to modify the number of buttons. These jackets were not cut for more than two buttons, but we changed them anyway. Having three or four buttons was more important than the imperfect look that resulted from forcing a two-button jacket into a four-button one. The forced fit just lacked a factory-tailored appearance. But at least we were in style.

When I was in college in the late ’50s, one of my classmates, a “Philly guy,” showed up on campus wearing those skinny stovepipe trousers popular during that time. When I saw his pants, I just had to sport this look; to me, it was really cool. A Glen paid sport coat with black narrow-leg pants still stands out in my mind as one of the coolest looks from the past. Like most of my college friends, I could not run out and purchase this new-style pant. When I arrived home for a break, everyone was wearing narrow-leg pants. So I did what my friends did; I went to my tailor to have my wide-leg pants narrowed. I turned to my sister, and with my assistance in opening up the wide legs, she did the sewing to narrow them. I completed the job by ironing a new crease in the narrowed legs. Call me a cheapskate if you will, but many of us took on a lot of projects ourselves; things that people with money readily paid for, but not those of us with limited means, back in the day.

Do you recall what was done when cuffs on a man’s pants became popular? Most males were wearing pants with plain bottoms, no cuffs. In most cases, there was insufficient material to make a cuff. So, we went off again to our tailors or to someone who could sew. When there was insufficient fabric for a cuff, only a fraction of it at the bottom of the pants leg was slightly turned up to give the appearance of a cuff. In fact, tailors back then referred to this as a “fake cuff.” When bell-bottom pants became popular, did you open up the pants leg and place a matching fabric in the inside seam area to enable you to be in style? Or, did you envy the buttoned-down, Ivy League shirts worn by some of your friends to such an extent that you simply sewed buttons on your collars? Sounds corny, I know, but we found any creative ways to be in style with a needle and thread, back in the day.

Most fashion-minded people enhance their wardrobes today by patronizing their favorite clothing stores, buying new outfits or even new wardrobes. Even if an alteration is an option to get in style today, a major problem is locating a skilled tailor or someone with good sewing skills. There was a time when there was a tailor on every corner or an expert sewer in every family. Well, those days are gone. If you happen to have a good tailor today, it is someone you have probably dealt with for many years and you dread the day when he or she is no longer around.

 

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146.