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Human Ancestors Were Fashion Conscious

Neandertals fashion

The 2013 Academy Awards were, as always, as much about making appearances as about making films, as red carpet watchers noted fashion trends and faux pas. Both Jessica Chastain and Naomi Watts wore Armani, although fortunately not the same dress. And Best Supporting Actress Anne Hathaway switched from Valentino to a controversial pale pink Prada at the last minute because her original dress looked too much like someone else’s. Of course, no actress would be caught dead wearing the same style 2 years in a row. A new study of ancient beaded jewelry from a South African cave finds that ancient humans were no different, avoiding outdated styles as early as 75,000 years ago.

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The Dirty Secret About Our Clothes

textile mill

In the Colours of Nature dye house, Vijayakumar Varathan is busy prepping a vat of indigo. At 51, he looks frail, with a tanned body made mostly of bones, but he runs to and fro, setting up an open fire where he’ll brew cauldrons of natural colorants made from plants.

He’s worked here for 15 years. But until his early 30s, Varathan mixed chemicals in a conventional clothing factory in the same region of southern India. There he developed a disease that caused layers of his skin to peel off. Even today, it is discolored. “It was pretty bad,” he says, in his fragmented English. “But I didn’t have a choice.”

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Fashion’s Potential to Influence Politics and Culture

The Black Panther Party

Political dressing is fashionable right now, but is it fashion? Celebrities and stars turned up dressed in black at the 75th Golden Globes Award ceremony. Instantly the media was in frenzy over what they dubbed “political fashion statements on the red carpet.” This is just the most recent droplet of a rainy season of purportedly political fashion.

It all started with the pantsuit parties in solidarity with U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. It then progressed with white supremacists uniformed in polos and khaki during their infamous Charlottesville demonstrations last year.

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The Resurrection of Dov Charney

Dov Charney

Dov Charney paces across the bedroom in a bathrobe and sweatpants, flip-flops and socks. “Don’t worry, I know this business!” he says, nearly yelling into his phone. He’s unshaven, and his sandals slap the travertine floor as he walks. “Trust me! I’ve sold $5 billion of apparel!”

It’s February 2016, barely a month since a judge ruled that Charney had failed to win back American Apparel, the company that suspended him 20 months earlier, the company he built from scratch. It had been a bitter fight. There were lawsuits and demonstrations by workers protesting the new management, allegations of death threats. As ever, Charney was a polarizing figure. Some saw a progressive visionary who paid his workers a decent wage and proved that textile jobs didn’t need to be outsourced for a company to make a profit. Others saw a sexist “troglodyte” (the Web site Jezebel) who slept with staffers half his age and whose recklessness destroyed the business.

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Fashion Without Conscience: A Story of Modern Slavery

A sewing factory in downtown Los Angeles

Before dawn six days a week, Norma Ulloa left the two-bedroom apartment she shared with four family members and boarded a bus that took her to a stifling factory on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles. She spent 11 hours a day there, pinning Forever 21 tags on trendy little shirts and snipping away their loose threads in the one-room workshop. On a good day, the 44-year-old could get through 700 shirts.

That work earned Ulloa about $6 an hour, well below minimum wage in Los Angeles, according to a wage claim she filed with the state.

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Why Fashion Keeps Tripping Over Race

the black allure by emma summerton vogue italia

The guests at the Lanvin show in Paris had all been waiting more than an hour for the presentation to begin, and they were getting restless. This tardiness was out of character for Alber Elbaz, widely considered to be one of the most talented designers around—as well as among the most hospitable. He refrains from trussing models into unforgiving silhouettes that prohibit walking and make the consumption of anything more caloric than Saltines a wild-eyed risk.

It would turn out that the reason for the delay of his spring 2011 show was a matter of shoes. Elbaz’s original choreography had the models sashaying down a concrete walkway, about the length of a New York City block, wearing perilous stilettos. Apparently, during rehearsals, the skyscraper heels brought some of the models to tears. So Elbaz dispatched staff to retrieve kinder footwear. The result was a tardy show, but a beautiful one, with virtually half the models—an ethnically diverse lot—in flats.

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The Power of Fashion

William Fan

When William Fan designs a collection, he thinks in terms of material and silhouettes. Of a combination of fine materials such as silk and wool and of the cuts of functional workwear. What he does not think about are men and women. Because Fan’s style knows no gender—he designs classic shirts, casual trousers, jackets and coats. The single concession he makes: all his clothing comes in the sizes XS to XL, because people’s bodies after all have different heights and widths.

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