Fashionable modern attitudes were created not by designers or fashion followers but by an actor who died when he crashed his Porsche more than 50 years ago.
James Dean virtually invented the future for everyone under 30. His film Rebel Without a Cause presented, for the first time, the disaffected young American who seemed to personify all the angst, frustration and resentment felt by young people about a system that seemed to exclude and victimise them. Hippies, flower power, draft dodgers and punks all sprang from Dean.
So did a new way of showing sexuality through dress. Brooks Brothers suits and Terylene trousers were out; ad hoc mixtures of denim, leather, white T-shirts and cowboy boots were in. The new sex was about raw empowerment, for men and women, and it made facial expression (James Dean had the first truly modern face), stance (hunched shoulders, slightly bent knees) and demeanour (he frowned much more than he smiled) important elements of fashion. Although his looks were initially followed mainly by men, designers such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein used them for women. It is entirely the result of Dean that women now wear vests, jeans and boots. Another of Dean’s films was called Giant – exactly what he has been for fashion.
(First published September 2005)
Photo; James Dean on the set of Giant.