A short while after the infamous and tragic Hollywood blacklist began to slowly unravel, another was in its infancy. This list, albeit less sinister and more shallow, was perhaps equally reviled and much more long-standing. Depending on how you define the word “law,” it, too, had to do with flouting some serious violations. Style violations, that is.
In 1960, designer, and one could say, professional judger Richard “Mr.” Blackwell, threw down the gauntlet against high crimes of fashion with his first “10 Worst-Dressed Women” list. Though his turns of phrase were unerringly salty (personal faves: “a trio of truck stop fashion tragedies” and “a tattered toothpick trapped in a hurricane”), for some unknown reason, many who were at the receiving end of his withering repartee actually considered it a badge of honor.
What really stands out, though, is that Mr. Blackwell always kept it clean and gentlemanly. His list was solely and unapologetically about the clothes, rather than the people wearing them. In fact, in 1968, he was quoted by the Los Angeles Times in saying that designers forgot their jobs were “to dress and enhance women. … Maybe I should have named the 10 worst designers instead of blaming the women who wear their clothes.” (Maybe so, but it would have robbed the world of an expert in the fine art of sass).
It’s something to think about, particularly for those selling promotional wearables. Unlike a designer’s muse, the only person hurt by an ill-fitting, logoed shirt is the end-buyer who has given it out. People aren’t giving much thought to who actually designed the clothes if embroidery places the blame elsewhere. There’s no need to speculate on how that makes a client look. Mr. Blackwell might say they, “pack all the glamour of an old, worn-out sneaker.”
I’ve thrown this topic out there a couple of times before in this blog, but it never hurts to repeat. Are your women’s designs made to fit real women? With our industry’s turn toward retail styling, no one can afford to put this on the back burner.
Sadly, on Sunday, October 19, Mr. Blackwell passed away. But his fans take heart in knowing he’s in a better place, where all the ensembles are effortlessly elegant, tastefully understated and sophisticated as all get-out.