Diana Vreeland (1903–1989) was, and continues to be, an iconic figure in fashion history, whose distinctive personal style and penchant for fantasy influenced her work at Vogue and the exhibitions she organized at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Diana Vreeland was born in Paris in 1903 to Emily Key Hoffman and Frederick Young Dalziel. The Dalziels moved to New York in 1904, where the socially eminent family enjoyed a prosperous lifestyle. According to Vreeland's biographer, she was a vivacious child who was interested in fantasy and the transforming powers of artifice from a very young age. In 1924, Diana married Thomas Reed Vreeland, a socially prominent banker. The couple moved to London in 1929, where they remained until 1933. In London Vreeland started her career in fashion by opening a lingerie shop in the city, and her frequent visits to Paris familiarized her with haute couture. As a patron of designers such as Jean Patou, Elsa Schiaparelli, Madeleine Vionnet, and Main-bocher, Vreeland's flair for dressing, combined with her social standing, made her the subject of commentary in the social pages and in magazines such as American Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Town and Country.
"Mrs. Vreeland is unquestionably the Madame de Sévigné of fashion's court: witty, brilliant, intensely human, gifted like Madame de Sévigné with a superb flair for anecdotes that she communicates verbally rather than in epistles, Mrs. Vreeland is more of a connoisseur of fashion than anyone I know" (Beaton, p. 359).
Harper's Bazaar and Vogue
The Vreelands moved back to New York in 1935. Diana began her first job in fashion editorial work at Harper's Bazaar in 1937. She was promoted to the position of fashion editor in 1939, working under editor-in-chief Carmel Snow, and remained at the magazine until 1962. Vreeland first came to the readership's attention with her 1936 column entitled "Why Don't You?" The feature encapsulated her personal belief in the ability of fashion to transform women by offering such extravagant and fantastic suggestions to her readers as "Why don't you … Turn your child into an Infanta for a fancy dress party?" (August 1936) and "Why don't you own, as does one extremely smart woman, twelve diamond roses of all sizes?" (January 1937) Vreeland honed her editorial skills at Harper's Bazaar by working closely with such photographers as Richard Avedon and Louise Dahl-Wolfe to implement her ideas and transfer her imaginative vision to the fashion pages.
Vreeland became publicly known as the archetypal fashion editor, famous for such proclamations as "Pink is the navy blue of India" (Donovan). Her inimitable persona was further popularized when she was parodied in the 1957 film Funny Face.
In 1962, Vreeland moved to American Vogue as associate editor. In 1963, Sam Newhouse, the owner of Condé Nast, promoted her to editor-in-chief in an effort to reinvigorate the magazine. Having complete control over the look of the magazine, she imbued its pages with her distinctive style and flair for the fantastic. During Vreeland's tenure, the magazine's editorial spreads presented a popular audience with exoticism, aristocratic glamour, and such atypical models (atypical because of their youth, multicultural appearance, and unisex body types) as Veruschka, Penelope Tree, Twiggy, and Lauren Hutton. Vreeland firmly believed that the magazine had the ability to transport the reader, just as clothing had the ability to transform the wearer. The mundane realities of life did not interest her.
The Costume Institute
By the late 1960s, Vreeland's extravagant fashion editorials were deemed out of touch with the times and her position at Vogue was terminated in 1971; she was replaced by Grace Mirabella. In 1972, Vreeland became involved with the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the museum's acclaimed collection of historic costumes. Vreeland's fashionable and colorful personality was perceived as an opportunity to revitalize the costume exhibitions. Vreeland was brought in with the title of special consultant and acted as a creative director for twelve exhibitions from 1972 through 1985. Through these highly popular exhibitions, which included "Balenciaga," "The Eighteenth-Century Woman," "Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design," "The Glory of Russian Costume," "La Belle Époque," and "Yves Saint Laurent," Vreeland succeeded in placing her distinctive stamp upon the museum world. She transferred her unique style of fashion marketing to the museum gallery, taking inspiration from the runway, retail trends, fashion editorials, and her own fertile imagination. Her costume exhibitions were spectacular sensory experiences; as she herself admitted in her autobiography, she was interested more in effect than historical accuracy.
In 1976, she received the medal of the Legion d'Honneur from France for her contributions to the fashion industry. In 1984, she published her memoirs, entitled D.V. Vreeland died in New York City in 1989, but her status as an icon has had a lasting influence on the world of fashion. In 1993, the Costume Institute celebrated her memory with an exhibition entitled "Diana
Vreeland, Immoderate Style." She was the subject of a one-person off-Broadway play entitled Full Gallop in 1995. The repeated reexamination of Vreeland's impact on fashion attests to her impact as an arbiter of style who fostered the visibility of fashion on a popular level.
Beaton, Cecil. The Glass of Fashion. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1954.
Donovan, Carrie. "Diana Vreeland, Dynamic Fashion Figure, Joins Vogue." New York Times (28 March 1952).
Dwight, Eleanor. Diana Vreeland. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2002.
Martin, Richard, and Harold Koda. Diana Vreeland: Immoderate Style. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993.
Silverman, Debora. Selling Culture: Bloomingdale's, Diana Vreeland, and the New Aristocracy of Taste in Reagan's America. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.
Vreeland, Diana. D.V. Edited by George Plimpton and Christopher Hemphill. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.
Michelle Tolini Finamore
(b. c. 1903 in Paris, France; d. 22 August 1989 in New York City), legendary fashion editor, author, and arbiter of taste.
The date of Vreeland's birth is somewhat obscure; various sources record it as taking place in 1901, 1903, and 1906. What is more certain is that Vreeland was the first child born to an American mother, Emily Key Hoffman, and a Scottish father, Frederick Y. Dalziel, who was a stockbroker. Vreeland first became aware of the fashion and art world during a childhood spent in Paris, where her parents entertained such notables as Vaslav Nijinsky, Sergei Diaghilev, Ida Rubenstein, and Vernon and Irene Castle.
With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the family moved to New York City. Here Vreeland and her younger sister, Alexandra, attended private school, practiced ballet, and took horseback riding lessons. In 1922 Vreeland made her social debut. Like many young women of her social circle, she never attended college. Two years later, while vacationing in Saratoga, New York, she met banker T. Reed Vreeland. The two married later that year and had two sons. Vreeland lived in Albany, New York, for four years (she became a naturalized citizen in 1925) and then moved to London, where she managed a lingerie shop. By 1936 she was back in New York and writing for Harper's Bazaar. Her column, "Why Don't You … ?," offered readers beauty and fashion advice. Vreeland's success as a writer lay in her ability to combine whimsy and fantasy with an almost unerring eye for fashion. Within a year she was promoted to fashion editor, shaping the magazine into an influential arbiter of high fashion and good taste.
Vreeland's full ascent into the vanguard of style did not begin until she left Harper's Bazaar in 1962 to become associate editor of Vogue. Her time in that position was short-lived; a year later she became editor in chief, a position she held until her departure in 1971. During this period Vreeland proved to be far more than a fashion editor. "Far surpassing a fashion editor's role of reporting fashion," observed another fashion writer, "Vreeland predicted it, set it, personified it.… She was 'seen' wherever she went, listened to whenever she spoke, and quoted endlessly."
Vreeland's keen eye was more than a match for the riotous changes that took place in fashion during the 1960s. Her style dictates were obeyed by all who wished to appear hip. Under her direction Vogue moved from being a showcase of haute couture to promoting Vreeland's emphasis on the offbeat and the youthful. She coined the phrase "beautiful people" and "pizzazz," both of which became catch-words used to describe individuals who were trendsetters. Her comments on the state of fashion and world affairs were hot copy for newspapers and magazines around the world. She became famous for such statements as "pink is the navy blue of India" and "the bikini's only the most important invention since the atom bomb."
Vreeland also used Vogue to push her own cultural agenda. An early advocate of physical fitness, she devoted ample space in the magazine to exercise regimens as well as to skin and hair care and other aspects of personal grooming. Her conversation was filled with unrivaled hyperbole. Even her handwritten memos were the stuff of conversation and were routinely circulated, copied, and cherished.
Vreeland's foresight created some of the trademark styles of the 1960s. Vreeland popularized boots, costume jewelry, and pants for women, as well as see-through tops and the "peasant look," which consisted of loose, patterned blouses and full skirts. When Vreeland believed in a "look," she not only reported on it but also promoted it endlessly until it took hold in the popular imagination.
As part of her unconventional approach to make Vogue the fashion magazine of the 1960s, Vreeland also experimented with fashion photography, employing such innovative photographers as Richard Avedon. She also moved away from the sophisticated and feminine fashion models, instead championing models who exemplified an unconventional look. She helped launch the careers of model Lauren Hutton and designer Roy Halston. She helped to make pop artist Andy Warhol a cult figure and graced the pages of Vogue with images of the English model Twiggy and the rock star Mick Jagger. One reporter concluded that Vreeland "not only chronicled fashion, she influenced it, transforming what she saw through the use of daring photography and originating the deft, inimitable descriptions that became her signature."
Vreeland practiced what she preached, cultivating her own distinctive style. Instantly recognizable with her jet-black hair, bright red nail polish and lipstick, rouged cheeks, forehead, and earlobes, Vreeland wore simple yet dramatic all-black ensembles. Both her Manhattan apartment and her office at Vogue were painted red.
Critics suggest that Vreeland's energy might better have been applied to subjects other than that of fashion trends. She disagrees. "People always say there are more interesting things than fashion. But show me a fashionably dressed woman and I'll show you someone who accomplishes something."
By 1971 the kaleidoscopic whirl that marked the fashions of the 1960s had ended. Vreeland was "released" from her position as editor in chief, though she remained with Vogue as a consulting editor. Never one to wax sentimental, Vreeland that same year began a new job as a consultant to the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met). Multicultural fashions, so much a part of her legacy during the 1960s, were showcased at the Met, with exhibits featuring Chinese mandarin robes, Russian peasant outfits, and gypsy caftans. During the 1970s Vreeland wrote five books on fashion and style and was repeatedly honored for her contributions to the fashion world. Among her numerous awards were an honorary doctorate in 1977 from the Parsons School of Design as well as recognition from the Italian fashion industry and the Rhode Island School of Design. Vreeland died of a heart attack at Lenox Hill Hospital, Manhattan, in 1989.
Five years before she died Vreeland summed up her views on fashion, stating that "fashion … is a social contract.… Designers keep proposing something new, but whether their ideas come to fruition depends ultimately on whether the society that counts accepts them or rejects them." For many, Vreeland helped bridge the gap between a designer's vision and the public taste, without sacrificing a sense of fantasy and daring that has seldom been rivaled.
There is no biography of Vreeland, but she wrote an autobiography, D. V.: Give 'Em What They Never Knew They Wanted (1984), which was edited by George Plimpton and Christopher Hemphill. Biographical information on Vreeland can be found in Anne Stegemeyer, ed., Who's Who in Fashion, 3d ed. (1996). See also Hilton Als, "D. V. on Display," The New Yorker (22 Sept. 1997). Obituaries of Vreeland are in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Times (London) (all 23 Aug. 1989).
Fashion, Military Influences on
Military fashion enters the civilian wardrobe in varied ways. With modern, nonmercenary armies, countless veterans return with favorite jackets, trousers, or other items. Paramilitary organizations, including schools and police, have modified military traditions to enforce systematic social identity in forms as varied as middie blouses for school and recreation, tartan for school identity, police outfitting, and even World War I Sam Browne belts for child safety officers.
Military traditions often enter civilian dress in ways that are only partly remembered. The regimental tartans that identified Scotland when England proscribed indigenous Highland dress to Scottish civilians have been a recurring feature of modern civilian dress, with attenuated links to Scotland and to the military source. Not only the plaid, but even the kilt and over‐the‐shoulder drape are of military origin. The trenchcoat, made first and continuously by Burberry of London for Boer War and World War I service for officers needing protective cloth, closings, and latched wrists and collar, has become a basic of dress for both men and women. Its origins in officers' coats are remembered in name, but many today might more readily associate the coat with glamorous espionage and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, even as contemporary fashion specifications for most trenchcoats include vestigial D‐rings (designed for hand grenades) still worn by modern suburban commuter‐warriors. The popular Eisenhower jacket of the 1950s emulated Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's wool field jacket (M‐1944), modeled after that of Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery. This popularity benefitted from the “theater of war” picturing Eisenhower as Allied leader; his sartorial decisions assumed his mantle of leadership. Arguably, even exposed T‐shirts are sanctioned by sailors and soldiers in World War II and romanticized by photography and such films as South Pacific.
Some apparel from World War II waited a generation or more to be accepted in civilian fashion. The fatigue jacket was introduced to service in 1943; the same jacket, beginning with military surplus, became popular fashion in the 1970s, ironically largely associated with militant antiestablishment advocates of Black Power and the Vietnam Antiwar movement. The subjective but powerful value of military clothing can be demonstrated by the fact that war protesters of the 1970s frequently wore anachronistic military gear to express their opposition to the war of their time. Camouflage and desert camouflage—especially after the Persian Gulf War—has been widely adopted in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1988, fashion designer Stephen Sprouse used Andy Warhol's red‐yellow‐blue camouflage for clothing that would have made any wearer stand out in a crowd.
If fashion is vested in recent wars, historical warfare also becomes transmuted for peaceful purposes. Christian Francis Roth displayed medieval inspiration in his “soft armor” outfits of 1993, resembling medieval armor in gray flannel. In 1994, Ralph Lauren created armor in silver leather accompanied by Lurex knit gowns akin to knightly mail. In 1968, the Civil War–inspired dresses, based on Confederate officers' frock coats, by Geoffrey Beene (born in Louisiana). In 1989, Lauren emulated the tailoring of World War I uniforms. Lauren has regularly used band collars, epaulets, braid, pea coats, aviators' jumpsuits, and military tailoring as signs of crisp, effective women's attire. In the 1990s, Jean‐Paul Gaultier has returned repeatedly and ironically to the sailor's middie blouse.
American democracy celebrates military officers for their perfect tailoring, but is unique in world fashion in admiring equally the quartermaster's issue to the enlisted man. Abhorring enforced homogeneity, American culture nonetheless revels in the selective possibilities of uniform. Fashion for both men and women admires alike the common soldier or seaman and the officer. Moreover, uniforms for women in the military, including the WAVES uniforms designed in the 1940s by Mainbocher, have set a standard for orderly, smart dressing.
[See also Culture, War, and the Military; Film, War and the Military in: Feature Films; Military Uniforms.]
Richard Martin, and and Harold Koda , Swords into Ploughshares, 1995.