In the 1934 film The Thin Man, there’s a scene where Nora Charles (played by Myrna Loy) hears someone knocking on the door of the apartment she shares with her husband Nick (Pittsburgh’s own, debonair-for-days William Powell — oh, the list of chic men from Pittsburgh could fill a future column, I drool).
But back to Nora: So, Nora hears someone at the door and then there is a bit of a debate as to who will answer the door. A fun, sexy, I-married-my-witty-best-friend debate ensues. I won’t spoil it for you, but someone dons a deep, u-scope necked, fur-lined, satin, medieval, handfasting robe to answer the door. If you guess this is Nora’s ensemble, remember this was the 1930s, you never know who is wearing a satin robe. This elaborate robe was at the foot of the bed just waiting for its chance to literally, well, shine.
In an earlier column, I asked women and femmes, “For Whom Do They Dress?” As of this writing in March of 2020, more and more people are starting to work from home and the answers to How, Why and For Whom we dress has changed rapidly. Now that only you, your co-workers or students (via video conference), partner, kids, and/or pets may see you — for whom we dress and what we wear is being reconsidered.
This question was at the core of the 2012 The Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition entitled Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations, which contrasted the work of these two revolutionary Italian designers, women who shaped the style of their time while often decimating fashion conventions. One of the most interesting areas of the exhibition, especially considering our current time, was the area themed “Waist Up/Waist Down.”
“Waist Up” focused on Schiaparelli working in the early to mid 20th-century. She dressed the women who entertained at home, the ladies who lunch, the cafe society, the during- and post-war life lived mostly indoors. Then there was Prada’s “Waist Down” approach: commuting to work, the stand-up presentations, the all-work up top with a party-at-the-bottom mirror encrusted skirt.
Schiaparelli, like many designers of that era and up through the 1960s, was interested in the clothing you wore inside, from intimate negligees, pajamas, and nightgowns to the potentially semi-public entertain-at-home loungewear. For some women, it may have been the first or only time wearing trouser-like garments. This style is not condemned to history. Its lines form the basis of the oversized pantsuit style of recent years and could be found in the streetwear and hip-hop styles of the 1990s (think: TLC and Aaliyah) to contemporary designers and influencers like Yoon Ahn and Aleali May.
Our loungewear is our workwear. Our pajamas can be our workout gear or our going-to-the-store wear. Pittsburgh designers like Kiya Tomlin meld sustainable fabric into clothes that can be worn comfortably anywhere — she even has an adult onesie jumpsuit. Local shop Make + Matter’s Otto Finn and Flux Bene take traditional silhouettes, such as the kimono shaped jacket and outdoor workwear, then repurposes them for a contemporary yet comfortable look. They imagine the many places and reasons to dress, with a well-crafted timeless piece that can serve many purposes.
The lounge/work/play wear in 2020 is more practical than the Charles’ marabou silk robe but need be no less elegant. Find the garment to take you from outside to the upstairs, from cooking to writing or a video conference, that presents yourself to you and to others in a way that offers chic comfort in a time of uncertainty.