This week Serah-Marie forwarded me a press release from a company called Cakewalk Designer Dress Rentals. It’s a simple concept: the company offers Canadian women the chance to rent “the latest designer duds” at a “serious fraction of the cost.”
Aside from the ill-considered use of the word “dud,” it almost seems like a good idea. It makes elitist fashion accessible and, as the PR points out, it “greens” fashion by recycling a garment that might otherwise be worn only once or twice. Sounds great, right? So why does this leave a bad taste in my mouth?
When I was in high school, most of the kids in my classes wore Ralph Lauren and Bass Weejuns. Our family couldn’t afford that stuff. I remember feeling like a country bumpkin in my cheap, blue-white Bi-Way shirts. When mom and I went to the Salvation Army, I would scan the racks for secondhand Polo and LaCoste. (To this day I can spot a Ralph Lauren button-down Oxford by only a square inch of fabric on the shoulder.) I quickly learned which eras mirrored others and how to approximate styles. In my painfully insecure teenage years I learned to fit in without being rich.
After high school, I realized my skills could help me “make” runway looks, too. I learned to mix and alter, and to skew a season’s lines to suit my body type and liking. I could spot the quality garments on secondhand racks. My tastes matured and my personal style evolved. I stopped trying to fit in and started having fun. When it came to fashion, all that scrounging had cultivated my imagination. I didn’t have the option to rent a designer dress – and I didn’t need to.
For your consideration, here is a two minute clip from William Klein’s fashion-centric satire, Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo? (1966). If you want specifics, you can find them here and here – but if all you want is a reason to see it, you won’t need more than this…
As an added treat, (and in case you’re unfamiliar with her strange and wonderful face), the girl on the far left is 60s model and mod fashion icon, Peggy Moffitt. Typing her name into your browser will produce some of the best images of that decade.
“Her hair is bad, and I think that I can see a nose piercing. Also, she’s not wearing our best styles. She will not be considered.”
Early in the new millennium, I was working in a little vintage shop in Toronto’s Kensington Market. Along with second-hand fare, we were one of the first stores in the area to offer custom tee-printing right on the cusp of that particular retro trend. When we discovered American Apparel, we were thrilled. While other tee suppliers offered only standard-fit, coarse, blocky oversized tees, AA came out of nowhere, producing affordable “blanks” with a stylish fit and feel – and they were sweatshop free! Along with stock for the shop, I regularly ordered things just for myself (including two dozen pair of their incomparable “bum bottom” panties which, sadly, have been discontinued). I was totally impressed and sure that AA would soon be a household name.
And I was absolutely right. From their unfriendly business practices (AA refused wholesale to a friend because he wouldn’t match their “suggested” retail markup in his tiny, independent shop), their controversial – and yet still somehow deadly dull – ad campaigns (and let’s not forget founder and current CEO Dov Charney’s well-publicized and rather unsavoury sexual tics), the company has sparked much debate.
So I can’t say I was terribly surprised when I found these screen shots from the company’s intranet posted at Gawker (via Born in Flames). And I can’t say I’m terribly worked up about it – since it’s not something most of us didn’t at least suspect was going on anyway. I mean, what kind of job requires you submit a full-body photo with your resume? (Don’t answer that.)
It is amusing, though. Makes me wonder if some of these people weren’t once part of a sorority sisterhood…