Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I've been digging through the pattern magazines lately, and with half a dozen laid out from six decades, a whole lot of history is splashed across the pages; the 1950 ones are laden with baby stuff, the 1960s are full of space-themed everything, the Seventies are all earth-toned, What's more fun than the patterns or the colors (if an avocado is that sickly shade of green, you shouldn't eat it, and I don't think you should put it on your head, either) are the models' poses.

Never mind the hair and makeup. We can make fun of all of that some other time. I'm talking about the actual poses, since they repeat so much. Pick up any mass-market magazine right now and look at the women: everybody has skinny eyebrows tweezed into a sharp half-circle, and they're all smiling so hard their bleached-bright teeth show all the way to the jawbones. If it's a food ad we're looking at, the models are holding spoons in the vicinity of their mouths, but they're too busy smiling in a sort of rigid, clown-face way to take a bite. That's going to be the face of this decade, like it or not...and when we look back at photos from these years, we won't like it any better than we do some of the other regrettable fashion phases.
I'm not talking about pictures of people being real; I mean exaggerated movie-star glares or profound gazes, usually with a tipped-down chin. There's a shawl I want to make, but the pattern was written about 1952 and the page features a woman snatching the shawl up around her, glowering at the camera in a half-frightened, half-enraged way. I can't help it; it'll forever be the Scared Angry Lady Shawl. She looks as if the photographer has made a grab for her wrap and she's about to shriek "No! It's MINE! I'm telling!"
And how about this collection from the Eighties? All of the guys are vaguely outdoorsy and staring into space, and all of the women are either clutching books to their chests while peeking shyly out from behind big hair, or standing, hands on hips, displaying their "important bow blouses". Blouses are important. They keep you warm in cold offices and keep you from getting arrested in case you're not wearing a bra. However, the bow at the neck didn't make them or their wearers all-powerful. There's another thing: why, through the Eighties and Nineties, did so many models hold one hand up, wrist kinked back, hand bent to a finger-snapping motion? It looked as if they'd been holding up a card and hadn't noticed they'd dropped it.
Maybe that one came back from a brief appearance in the early Sixties, when it seemed to go with the "I'm ever so sophisticated" pose--nose in the air, fingers snapping on one or both hands. Most magazines seemed to favor that one with First Lady white gloves and pillbox hat, but I can't picture Jackie Kennedy being caught dead twisting herself around like that.
Speaking of politicians, my all-time favorite ridiculous pose came in a rash of political ads during the 1990s. For four or five years, every politician had to be pictured striding out of the office, slinging a suit jacket over a shoulder, and pausing for a moment on the steps of the Capitol--or, if need be, some state office building--to squint into the setting sun. It was supposed to convey a long work day, a job well done, and an eye to some distant future. What it looked like was "Oh crud, it's late, I forgot to call home, and now I can't remember where I parked."
Oh, dear, what are we going to do with the late Sixties and early Seventies? A lot of us who were alive then would really, seriously like to Photoshop our high school yearbooks, because the clothes were...that is, the hairstyles were...and the poses...oh, never mind. At least people in magazines were getting paid to look like that. You cannot tell me anyone is really fond of the picture of a girl smiling vaguely at the camera, or more like the general direction where she and the photographer both think the camera might be. She's wearing a hot pink minidress and white fur boots. This makes sense to her. So does the fact that she and the draperies are having a polite conversation.
In a couple of years, the magazines change from neon green and hot pink to brown and beige, harvest wheat and wilted lettuce. The girls have quit bleaching their hair because it isn't natural and the guys have quit shaving. They're leaning on wagon wheels or holding farm tools, the idea being that they've gone back to the land, the problem being that they look as if they have no idea what to do with anything they found there. Apparently, they were planting the seeds for the Eighties bow blouse harvest.
There was a brief burst of really bad modeling copied from porn ads, in which all the women are pouting about everything from undergarments to floor wax. Some actress must have made that look sultry and tempting, but by the time it ran through a few layers it just looked as if the photographer had threatened to slug the model and she was caught in the middle of saying "Oh, yeah, bub? How'd you like a swift kick?" Speaking of the adult entertainment trade, there was a billboard around here for a gentlemen's club (I doubt most of the customers were gentlemanly.) The picture was one of the dancers lying on her side on the floor, one knee drawn up, hand clapped to her forehead. It was supposed to look like the throes of negotiable passion. What it looked like to nearly everybody was "OW! I went down that whole flight of stairs on these blankety-blank six-inch heels and I got such a splittin' headache!"
Ah, yes, back to this year's magazines. Sooner or later, somebody will figure that the giant super-white teeth in the smile that never reaches the eyes are not quite natural, and some photographer will get so daring that he encourages a model to take an actual bite of the strawberry she's been holding at arm's length for an hour. (That'll be her entire calorie allowance for the day, but that's modeling for you.) Pretty soon, thanks to the unimaginative nature of Madison Avenue, all of the models will be eating in pictures, so the next photographer will have to think of another idea everyone will copy. Maybe he'll pick an ordinary person and take a picture of them doing what they really do every day...
Nah, never happen.

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