By Rena Galanis
The USA is a young country and like most toddlers and teenagers, it can be rebellious, self-centred, arrogant and challenging of the status quo: All the ingredients for rip-roaring style and it has it in spades.
The land of plenty has given us the most popular item of clothing in recent history – jeans, as well as its constant companion, the t-shirt.
When Levi Strauss put out the now famous closet staple in 1873, it was designed for miners and the working class. The humble t-shirt was constructed for similar purposes (see post The Basic T-Shirt, Never Fade Away.)
Popularized by films of the ’50s and stars like Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean and Marilyn Monroe, these pieces took on a life of their own with the emerging baby boomer population coming of age and with the help of a little music movement we like to call rock’n’roll which, just happened to take the country by storm.
Elvis Presley swaying his hips in a pair of dungarees, guitar strapped to his chest and a sneer that would launch the genre around the world, was a kind of “Fuck you” to the establishment back in the day. And what teenager doesn’t want to raise the middle finger to their parents’ moral constructs, at least once?
With the youthquake movement of the ’60s taking hold, American youth, both male and female, firmly embraced denim and contributed to a world-wide phenomenon which, really, has not been paralleled. Flash-forward to 2014 and denim sales are in the multi-billion dollar category.
But the US style history certainly doesn’t end there. Colliding influences have come from New York high life to the rugged mid-West, to the more laid-back cool of Southern California tomboy/girls.
American designers are an eclectic bunch and have taken on the challenge of catering to all these divergent groups with visions ranging from the ladylike, the business woman, the preppy, the surfer girl and the modern-day hipster. And that’s just for starters.
Not shy to borrow from their cultural ancestors (this is a land of immigrants, after all) designers have pilfered from a variety of sources and continents, but end up producing in a very US-way.
Some examples, past and present, include Oscar de la Renta for a European-influenced elegance; Bill Blass and Donna Karan known for luxe style in ready-to-wear for the working woman; Ralph Lauren who created a lifestyle brand around the clean-cut, Ivy League preppy; Calvin Klein for a pared-down, simple elegance; Perry Ellis and Marc Jacobs who ushered in youthful irreverence and attitude; relative newbies like Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang, and Thakoon – just to name a few.
So, here’s to the US of A! You have given us Ray Bans, Converse, tomboy style, jeans, t-shirts, tank tops, army/navy, the hippie/bohemian, preppy style and minimalism, to name just a very few contributions to the fashion world.
Like teenagers we just can’t ignore, we have watched and followed.
Below is a list of 15 of the most unforgettable, US style icons. Click on one of the photos for details/close-ups and a slideshow: