Monday, July 9, 2007

Grapes of Wrath & Sullivan’s Travels

The big discussion about overalls the other day reminded me of this photo from Pitti.

More than just about overalls ,to me, this look is about how Japan sees our (American) historic costume – i.e. 30′s Dust Bowl – in a much more romantic way than we even see ourselves.

As I have shown on this blog, there is a big American trend going on in Japan right now.

They romanticize us (Americans) the way we do the Italians or French (except there is also a big classic Italian trend in Japan right now also).

So instead of focusing just on just the “yes” or “no” of overalls maybe this post will get you thinking of other ,seemingly, forgotten American classics that might make it back in our closets this Fall.

This is how a look ,that I might not wear myself, can inspire me to look at a movie or book or see a related but completely different item of clothing in a different way and maybe work that item into my wardrobe.

From this look, I might only see the white collar shirt in a more casual way than I usually think of it.

Speaking of books like Grapes of Wrath…

… this photo also reminds me of that great Preston Sturges movie Sullivan’s Travels (1941) with Joel McCrea and the incredible Veronica Lake

Here are some of the other images from January’s Pitti of Japanese doing American classics


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  1. Anonymous

    July 9, 2007 at 10:08 am

    I’m not finding these on your blog.

    Could someone please include a link to Sart’s other Japan photos showing this American dustbowl trend? This seems the only photo.

    And a link to the discussion of overalls, please?

  2. Anonymous

    July 9, 2007 at 10:18 am

    Mr. Japan looks more like he’s evoking Wood’s “American Gothic” than anything else.

    The photos you’ve chosen Sart, display a huge spectrum to display your point about, err, “inter-war chic.”

    From the grungy looks of overalls and
    Newsboy/Gatsby caps to the elegant looks of satin gowns and fedoras, there’s got to be some happy medium.

    There’s also a mental block, for me, when it comes to what I’ll call the “historical connotation” of minorities appropriating fashion from this particular era in American history.

    A kind of whispered, tongue-in-cheek “[bleep] you” perhaps?


  3. Anonymous

    July 9, 2007 at 10:35 am

    I love these interpretations! Maybe it’s the petitness of these men, but it makes me wish I was a boy, cuz then I would wear all of them. I especially love the fitted white overalls and the one at the bottom in the white jeans.


  4. The Galleryst

    July 9, 2007 at 10:47 am

    It is fascinating to see the Japanese trend in romanticising American and Italian styles from the past, especially when one considers the political environment for the period being romanticised and the relationships between the countries during those periods. This goes for both the Japanese and American romanticising of the past and style of other cultures.
    Perhaps repeating cultural trends from the past is a way of coming to terms with ones national political history. Or perhaps other cultures offer a fresh pair of eyes to see how cool “the other” used to dress. Either way you look at it, contemporary society benefits from such an interpretation and rejuvenation of the past.


    July 9, 2007 at 10:49 am

    I totally understand what you are trying to say and I applaud the sentiment. And, if I may be so bold, perhaps those of us that don’t always know the latest and the greatest and don’t really follow trends but our hearts in what we consider fashion(too cheesy?)are the people that have that certain “look”. I believe it is the people that are true to who they are that wear clothes (any style)so effortlessly.

  6. Alexandra

    July 9, 2007 at 10:54 am

    The discussion on overalls was from July 5th of this year. You should be able to scroll down your window to the women in overalls – otherwise open all posts from this month. It is with a lovely photo of a woman in overalls.

  7. positively the same dame

    July 9, 2007 at 11:09 am

    well now you’ve really hit a nerve, or rather a sweet spot — the brilliant preston sturges, the great sullivan’s travels! i have a deep and abiding crush on joel mc crae to this day — what a gorgeous, funny, SEXY man! veronica lake and her hair got so much attention that he was basically overlooked, but oh, lordy, don’t get me started. palm beach story with claudette colbert! preston sturges, what a genius…talk about inspiration…for fashion, for life.

  8. Anonymous

    July 9, 2007 at 11:37 am

    politics aside, this post reflects very well on your discernment and eye.

    and to be able to take a outsider’s view criss-cross-criss cultures!

    i believe u are a true style leader. In glossy mags, when they write about history of shapes and colours of this look or that designer it stops at a shallow materialistic point of view. I applaud u and the pple who comment on this site for going deeper into the culture and making a more meaningful discussion of fashion.

  9. a lady

    July 9, 2007 at 11:41 am

    I love the first look in particular–the straight leg on a white overall, for one thing, and the round collar for another–and I adore Sullivan’s Travels. and Steinbeck, for that matter. well thought out.

  10. Lisa Shobhana

    July 9, 2007 at 11:56 am

    i love these looks and these photos! thanks for posting these! i think it’s fantastic that the Japanese have taken these classic American looks and made them their own. very inspiring!

  11. Stacy

    July 9, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    Wow! What a great post! No doubt, those are some beautiful photograph, but it is your insight about the way the Japanese romanticize American culture that really got me excited. I too, will look at my wardrobe in a new light…thank you.

  12. Anonymous

    July 9, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    do you have any photos of Japanese women utilizing the American dustbowl trend?

  13. Lotta K

    July 9, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    This is really interesting to me. As a foreigner living in the US (I am Swedish) I have thought of this a lot, but never been able to frame it the way you did. Interpretations, like you say, by ‘outsiders’ borrowing elements, are romantic. Yet, at the same time, the term ‘original’ (someone used it, not you I think) bothers me. Maybe what it is, is in-context, and out-of-context.

    I had a pair of Lee’s overalls that I wore a lot. They were baggy and I wore little tanktops underneath. Some of my private school college students copied the look so I assumed I hit the right side of cool. But when I wore those overalls to a small California farming town I got stares. A stranger in the street commented that at least my ‘stylish’ scarf balanced the denim. What had happened was that I had gotten myself into a context where those overalls belonged, and I was completely unprepared for it. All I had known for all of my life up until then was the romanticized version of the American overall. So yeah, what you say about the Japanese I recognize. That’s how others view America and what is American a lot of the time. And Americans do the same when they pick and chose what [to them] is “Japanese” or “European”.

    Sorry this comment is long. Love your blog!

  14. lewehrman

    July 9, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    I love this on going discussion of overalls and other classic american pieces. This is the type of discourse that is fun, interesting and does not malign anyone.

    I have been a big fan of overalls and other classic american pieces but am a francophile and have been dressing like an imaginary idealized french girl for a while.

    I will revisit my old favorites because it just seems right.

    Also, the outdoor label Patagonia that mostly caters to non-fashion sports enthusiasts has a HUGE following in Japan with a fashion crowd. One gentleman paid several thousand dollars for a worn jacket that someone in the Pacific Northwest might wear to fish or hunt.

    It is true. It takes another culture to highlight things that we take for granted. Thank you for that.

    For more open and respectful fashion discussion, visit Cathy Horyn’s NYTimes blog On The Runway.
    The discussions are fascinating and the posters know their shit!

  15. iopine

    July 9, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    Those Japanese “American” looks are so Ralph Lauren . . . wonderful!

    I love watching “To Kill a Mockingbird;” the semi-rumpled (albeit suited) Atticus Finch and his completely-rumpled, overalled children are fantastic.

    Much use of the overall in that film. I think it’s my favorite film of all time.

  16. positively the same dame

    July 9, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    how about the photo of the fellow with the pink shoes and lacoste bag in bryant park? that was a wonderful example of this trend, don’t you think?

  17. Michael

    July 9, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    When are you going to release a coffee table book? This would be a best-seller and great gift. I would definitely buy a few…my coffee table is desperately waiting!

    Keep up the great work.


  18. daniqueconijn

    July 9, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    I really like the way you look to certain things!
    Some people just see that,, and other people just read it and love it..
    You can see how the past gets repeated again, it was just better back then. but,, we recreate using the past,, that’s quite a talent as well

  19. ANDY

    July 9, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    Thanks for the John Ford photos.

  20. Gus

    July 9, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    Being a denim junkie has lead me to contacts in Japan. I was amazed to find that the Japanese have collected rare examples of early US denim and work clothes paying huge sums for the right details (throat latch and gussets on a 30′s work shirt for example). There are now several companies in Japan making incredible re-issue 30′s-60′s work clothing such as Buzz Rickson, Real McCoy and Sugar Cane, to name only a few. They use authentic looms to weave the fabrics and the attention to detail is un-real! The fact is they are making it just like we did in the US 70 years ago. I love that fanatical detail and incorporating it into current fashion is very cool. The Japanese taught me to appreciate the details and fabrics of American work clothing.

  21. ANDY

    July 9, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    It all comes full circle. What we think of as “American” workwear actually has roots in Japan. Japanese immigrants in Hawaii during the late 19th century essentially invented denim. From the sugar cane fields, it evolved and eventually became dungarees, then Levi’s. If you look at Japanese farmer’s clothes and kimonos made from scraps of homespun hemp and cotton, it’s easy to make the jump to the first look you show in this post.

  22. Fitzroy Davis

    July 9, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    I found it eye opening when I found mention of an American trend happening. I think that in fashion we are so quick to pin great fashion to Europe, or to laud its presence in fashion so much so that it suffocates any hint to there being an American contribution. Perhaps it is because I, as one post said, take for granted clothing that we deem the norm as I live in its context. I personally am always so tempted to think that even the most American looks (particularly menswear) must be British; however, from denim to Sperry Topsiders, I appreciate and realize even more that we truly do have our own fashionable American identity. Take this as an insider’s attempt to look from the outside in.

  23. Candid Cool

    July 9, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    I’m sorry the last gentleman made my heart stop a little

  24. positively the same dame

    July 9, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    oh, andy, good for you ;-)

    i also love this discussion. i can remember being in college in 1974 at the university of virginia and wearing overalls (that i had embroidered on the front panel) with a tube top underneath and rubber platform slides, long blond hair, and huge sunglasses, all of which could of course be seamlessly worn today.

    wonderful topic, sart. thanks!

    my mother and older brothers and sisters lived in yokohama while my father served in the korean war, and they tell me that the fascination for all things american was in full force even then. oh, and blond hair! my mother would leave the kids in the car while she ran into a store or something, and when she came out the car would be surrounded by a crowd, all pressing up to the windows to see the blond hair. the funny thing is that because of that time in japan, my mother fell in love with all things japanese, and i grew up in a household and wearing clothing that was strongly influenced by her passion for that country.

  25. Butch

    July 9, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    Sorry, but I don’t believe there’s a way to make overalls work on men unless that’s ALL they’re wearing…and that’s not necessarily a look for city streets, is it? (At least, most of the time.)

    The other Japanese interpretations strike me as misses. Because we’ve seen better. Because the quality isn’t there; Because…

  26. Anonymous

    July 9, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    Nice blog.

    I recently came back from Vegas, which was a blur of porn-star looking girls… :(

    People need to know the difference between sexy and down right gross.

    It’s refreshing to see real style on your blog.

  27. Anonymous

    July 9, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    The last two pics are styled in a very ‘American casual elegance’ way but why is no one mentioning the overwhelming Englishness of these looks? The U.S took this trend in new and interesting directions BUT for me this is all rooted in a very British sensibility.

  28. william d. anderson

    July 9, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    hmmm. that’s interesting.

  29. Anonymous

    July 9, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    I believe this is called “dad’s style.”

  30. Anonymous

    July 9, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    i wish overalls would make a comeback! they’ve always looked cute, but i believe they were trendy when i was in elementary school, haha. (which was over 10 years ago)

  31. Anonymous

    July 9, 2007 at 6:11 pm

    is it just me or does Joel Mcrea look like Tom Ford in that photo in the backseat of the car

  32. Anonymous

    July 9, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    God bless you, Sart, for your ability to showcase the larger meaning of what fashion can be in our lives. I’d love to see your thoughts on how other cultures rework the trends/traditions of not just Americans but also other peoples. Love the movie references too!

  33. Romeika

    July 9, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    Amazing pictures and i think you’re absolutely right on your interpretations.

  34. Blaise

    July 9, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    There’s always something about the Japanese and how they see things..

  35. Anonymous

    July 9, 2007 at 11:46 pm

    I’m with Candid Cool about the last guy. That hair…his look remids me of The Paper Chase….

  36. Anonymous

    July 10, 2007 at 12:59 am

    i miss new yorkers.

  37. Nadine

    July 10, 2007 at 1:07 am

    All these guys look great, especially the last one. I am not American and I can totally see the romance!

  38. Anonymous

    July 10, 2007 at 1:59 am

    the guy in the last picture with the white pants and longish hair…swoon.

  39. niels

    July 10, 2007 at 3:03 am

    I cannot refrain from comment all this being an overall addict, being 58 (old ?, I dont think so myself!) male, wearing overalls almost all places, including coctailparty in La Rochelle 2 years ago, in the same outfit as I wore for Christmas, I have it on my moblog,, men can also wear overalls in many ways, not only women. I am also wearing them in California, on campus and on cafés in Paris! so I believe it is a matter of wearing them with self confidence ! and perhaps that is becoming easier as you age !

  40. adda

    July 10, 2007 at 4:56 am

    Okay, this post made me think straight away of a recent image that I think captures the overalls and Grapes working perfectly, please have a look!

    Also Sart, if you’re interested in seeing some real and true hobo style you should definitely check out the brilliant bluesman Seasick Steve


  41. Lucy Gazelle

    July 10, 2007 at 5:21 am

    Re: The dustbowl look … I was at the Vintage Textile and Fashion Show in Sturbridge in May and watched with interest as several bevies of male Japanese designers came in early and pounced all over the dealers who had old khaki fatigues, canvassy bookbags, old basic American clothes. It wasn’t antique denim; that I was used to seeing elevated to heights of buyer nirvana, it was just old boy-scouty, camp-wearing, vaguely military-fatiguey stuff. Now I see what they were doing with it!

  42. Diana

    July 10, 2007 at 5:52 am

    Exatly this is the way I like being persuaded about certain looks or hidden details. With a little history, with short stories. I think I have already written it, but that’s the way I like your blog Mr Sarto.

  43. Per

    July 10, 2007 at 6:27 am

    I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “trend”. The Japanese have cultivated American and European classic style into something completely their own by now. Beams, for example, has been boing for 30 years by now. Selling forgotten Ivy League, English and Italian brands to Japanese customers.

  44. Anonymous

    July 10, 2007 at 6:57 am

    Please link more Movie Pics in the future! It’s such an inspiration.

  45. satin pump

    July 10, 2007 at 8:29 am

    very interesting , I LOVE !!!

  46. recovergirl

    July 10, 2007 at 8:51 am

    Yes. I agree. Please continue these types of posts that educate us about the origin of style. Such a fun ride.

  47. Bijoux du Jour

    July 10, 2007 at 11:21 am

    For me, the overalls on the two people mentioned are completely different. This man’s overalls are white and fitted. He looks dapper with his white collar, bow tie and lean jacket. The woman from the 5th was wearing grossly oversized generic blue overalls. I thought she looked sloppy, which is what I hate about overals. I love the way people in other countries take a piece of typical American clothing and make it their own, but I still like to see people WELL put together with clothes that fit and some attention to detail. The Japanese have this down to a science.
    The dustbowl as a romantic notion is a little disturbing considering the politics and poverty of the time, but we also romanticise eras of our own clothing that come from unsavory times. I’m particularly fond of 40′s fashion myself, and there we were in WWII.
    Thanks to The Sartorialist and all of you who make this blog an interesting discussion of fashion!

  48. jkh

    July 10, 2007 at 11:28 am

    positively. your post hits a nerve.
    i have always been wearing edward green shoes mostly for their unmistakably elegant heel and marvelous toe tip form giving. – lately – as super elegant shoes have finally (– how long did that take???–) reached the mainstream i find myself withdrawing from my old domain slipping more into ultra heavy brogues with commando-sole, like the ones worn by the guy in your first picture (best in summer with shorts and no socks).

    i also love the way you pin point this coming trend to the “grapes of wrath”-theme.

    well done, scott. you’ve got a great eye.

    ‘informed intuition’ as some call it.

  49. cordelia

    July 10, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Please, Japanese, go on doing american classics!

  50. Anonymous

    July 10, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    sorry, but denim was _not_ invented by Japanese or Hawaiians!

  51. Anonymous

    July 10, 2007 at 7:25 pm

    Sart, here is a fun clip from Sullivan’s Travel. It explains a little how Joel McCrae (and Veronica Lake) came to be wearing the dustbowl duds.

    – desertwind

  52. Mandy

    July 12, 2007 at 2:57 am

    This is a great post, and a good example of why I love your blog so much. Your open, positive, appreciative tone is such a refreshing change from all the critical bitchiness out there. Reading your blog and enjoying your fantastic photos is always a bright spot in my day. Thank you so much. :)

  53. Lillbet

    July 20, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    After having lived in The Land of the Rising Sun for nearly 6 years I can tell you honestly- it’s not something new, the Japanese have always been fascinated by American culture, most especially dress!

    They take what is best from other cultures and make it their own. The cut of the overalls is a fantastic representation of this idea.

    Nice post.

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