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IT TURNS out that I’m a fashionista. Or would that be fashionisto(?), though Merriam-Webster is gender-neutral in defining “fashionista” as “a designer, promoter, or follower of the latest fashions.”

I include myself in this au courant crowd on several counts: These days, unless otherwise provoked I rarely wear any shirt other than a graphic T-Shirt. If it’s cold (yes, we do have winters in southern California), then I switch to a long-sleeve black turtleneck. In addition, I might have been seen in travel wearing aviator sunglasses, headphones, a silk scarf, Oxford cloth button-down shirt, backpack, Dockers, loafers, and, if appropriate, my Gore-Tex rain gear.

Add these up, and my fashionista score is 10 out of the 111 items selected as iconic in The Museum of Modern Art’s Items: Is Fashion Modern?, an on-going exhibition at MoMA through January 28, 2018. I could make it 11, but in fact I haven’t worn my Moon boots in years.

My score sounds even better when you realize I wouldn’t be seen in a bikini, a little black dress, or a Wonderbra on a bet.

The full list of MoMA’s 111 items includes lots of familiar attire: ballet flats (think Audrey Hepburn), Levi’s 501 Jeans, baseball caps (don’t get me started), flip-flops, the miniskirt, Mao jacket, sari, shirt dress (reminding me of Betty White when we both were young), tights/pantyhose (in one of the world’s best risqué jokes), and yoga pants.

Clockwise from upper left: São Paulo Alpargatas (flip-flops) 1962, Doc Martens 1960, display figures with hijab, cheongsam, 1925.

A MoMA “Inside/Out” essay gives rationale for inclusion on this list: Whence did it arise? Why was it significant? And does it remain so today?

The essay also pays homage to an earlier exhibition, Are Clothes Modern?, set at MoMA back in 1944–1945. That was the first time MoMA had addressed this field of design. It was also a time of Olive Drab and Brownshirts, worn respectively by the patriotic and despicable types (just like today).

An interesting assessment in Are Clothes Modern?, 1944–1945: In Bernard Rudofsky’s “Buttons and Pockets,” he concluded “Fully clothed man carries seventy or more buttons, most of them useless. He has at his disposal two dozen pockets.”

A related essay addresses “Talking About Plus-Size Fashion.” It makes the point that 60 percent of American women wear larger than US size 14, rather than the size zero of the typical model.

“The mathematics of different bodies: This diagram illustrates the grading process that adapts a skirt pattern into a range of sizes.” Image and caption from “Talking about Plus-Size Fashion.”

In the early 20th century, for instance, the term for larger sizes was “stoutwear.” And today, the essay notes, what’s the point of calling something “plus size” when indeed the majority of women wear clothes within this range? Other euphemisms are cited: “curvy,” for instance. The essay discusses philosophical aspects of this. In fact, one of its contributors is working on a Ph.D. at the Centre for Fashion Studies at Stockholm University.

For those of us unable to visit MoMA between now and January 28, 2018, there’s a hardcover catalog of the exhibition available. Says its blurb: “The 111 texts … trace the history of each item in relation to labor, marketing, technology, religion, politics, aesthetics, and popular culture.”

Items: Is Fashion Modern?, with an essay by exhibition curator Paola Antonelli, 288 pages, 500 color illustrations, The Museum of Modern Art, 2017.

Wife Dottie reads SimanaitisSays. Hmm… maybe she’ll recognize this Christmas hint? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

2 comments on “FASHION? ART? BOTH

  1. Michael Rubin
    December 2, 2017

    “One of the world’s best risqué jokes….” And that joke is…..(waiting, waiting).
    Meanwhile, can claim ownership of a black turtleneck, Bass penny loafers, oxford cloth button down shirt, Levis and aviator sunglasses. Alas, in a fit of closet clearing, tossed my original Converse tennis shoes, part of the uniform of a Southern California guy – tan Levis, Pendleton shirt and Converse shoes. Ray-Bans, too.

    • simanaitissays
      December 2, 2017

      Sorry, the joke’s risque nature precludes its appearance here at SimanaitisSays. I can note, though, that it’s all-gender-acceptable.

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