Russ and I took a drive to San Francisco one Sunday to catch the art exhibit Weapons of Mass Seduction: The Art of Propaganda at the de Young Museum. I went there expecting to see lots of wartime posters. The whole Keep Calm and Carry On explosion some years back got me curious about other wartime slogans. Did you know that the Keep Calm and Carry On poster was printed but never actually distributed? Here’s the whole story. The idea was to boost morale during World War II across the British Isles. One poster that was distributed had this message: Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory.
I loved everything with Keep Calm and Carry On on it. I bought the pencil cases and pencils in London in a little market. The bracelet I purchased in a Tiburon gift store. I wore it nearly every day during a difficult period in my life. I needed to be reminded of that slogan. Wearing a bangle with that message pressed deep was like getting the benefit of a daily multi-vitamin or something stronger like an Ativan tablet. It helped to curb my anxiety.
My kids couldn’t miss the fact that I loved this saying so much. They purchased this print for me one Mother’s Day and I have it hanging in my office next to my computer. I got it when I was just thinking about committing to my blog. Many times it has encouraged me to get that blog post finished! And that typewriter. It’s just so vintage!
When clothing is a form of propaganda
So I went to the Weapons of Mass Seduction exhibit and saw posters, but I spent the most time studying the propaganda kimonos hanging from the ceiling behind glass. They were fascinating from a historical point of view; they were engaging as fabric art. Seeing these pieces made me want to go home and create some sort of message in clothing or accessories. Oh, to be that talented!
This looks like a painting, right? The soldiers, the clouds, the planes, the tanks. It looks foreboding to me.
So here’s the big reveal! This is actually an undergarment, circa 1938.
Here’s the explanation of it.
Using my present time thinking, can you imagine wearing such an elaborate and beautifully executed garment that only you would see? Take a minute and think about what you’d want to be reminded of during the day that a garment could emote. I think I’d want an undergarment that had some of my favorite nature scenes in it. I feel so blanketed with nourishment when I’m in gardens, especially botanical gardens. I appreciate the wonder of them, how gardens are filled with mystery and beauty. Seasons come and go and come and go. I find that rhythm comforting.
Or maybe I’d like an undergarment that reminds me of the loved ones in my life. If I was about to do something new and had trepidation, the faces of my loved ones would remind me that even if I fall on my face, they are there for me. They’ll love me no matter what.
A newborn’s wrapping garment, circa 1935
Here’s a near newborn. Say hi to Sienna. She’s the first grandchild of my friend, Joan. If that darling confetti blanket had a message inside it, I wonder what it would be?
This exhibit is at the de Young through October 7th. To learn more about it, click here. The exhibit is so stimulating. Russ and I kept talking about it over dinner at Da Flora that night. It’s one of those exhibits that educates you about the past but also helps you identify the applications of propaganda in our current lives. Simply fascinating!
So what messages do you want to put in your undergarments or inside the blanket belonging to your grandchild? Let’s start the discussion!
KathySeptember 13, 2018 at 3:49 am
The exhibit is breath takng. Thank you for sharing. I admire the creative transition to today’s discussion topic. Our first grandchild is due January 2019…a little girl…we can’t be happier. I am a tad like my mother (an understatement) and struggle with needless worry so often…tying my stomach in knots and keeping me up at night. What has helped me and will hopefully help our little one is knowing that: Worry ends where Faith begins. That’s my message in a blanket! Faith in a higher power can quell the most difficult of times and keep you centered in peace.
BrendaSeptember 20, 2018 at 1:19 pm
Such a gift you’ve given us! I’ve always taught my image consultant students that they can’t focus on two things at once. They may feel fearful and wonder if they’re doing a good job with their client but if they keep the focus on the client and what she needs, their fear will disappear. Worry ends where Faith begins–excellent. Great reminders about the high power too. Thanks!!!
Ramona PuckettSeptember 13, 2018 at 4:42 am
Thank you for this! A fascinating story about our history and I love San Francisco, haven’t been there in years. Hmm, maybe I should make a trip out there. My babies are grown and gone and the grandsons are 7 and 8, my message to them would be faith, hope and love. Thank you again!
BrendaSeptember 20, 2018 at 1:17 pm
Thanks Ramona. How lucky your grandchildren are to have a grandmother sharing those messages as I’m sure you do in your actions.
Katherine CramerSeptember 13, 2018 at 7:17 am
I feel removed from political propaganda. Especially these days. Truth can be hard to come by.
Years ago at The SF Legion of Honor, I saw a historical exhibition of Lingerie. One piece delighted me. Cotton tap pants with rabbits, carrots and greenery embroidered along the leg edges. It was so different than any other piece at the museum.
I would also want the love of Nature to be private inspiration.
BrendaSeptember 20, 2018 at 1:16 pm
That exhibit fascinates me. I’d have loved to have seen that. Thanks for sharing your private inspiration, Katherine.
Kathleen O'BrienSeptember 13, 2018 at 10:50 am
I really try to remove myself from political propaganda and just propaganda of all kinds. Life is too short and there’s too much else delightful and loving in life. As Thumper said in “Bambi” – If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!
My message in the blanket would be “You are loved” and “You are amazing”. We just don’t tell people that enough!
BrendaSeptember 20, 2018 at 1:15 pm
I totally agree that we don’t say those words enough. I need to do better. Thank you!
KellieSeptember 13, 2018 at 2:13 pm
You should check out https://www.worldofwearableart.com/about/
We were lucky enough to visit the exhibition in Nelson when we were in New Zealand recently. It was stunning!
BrendaSeptember 20, 2018 at 1:14 pm
Oh, thank you so much, Kellie!
TJSeptember 13, 2018 at 2:20 pm
I could not imagine wearing an item covered in war scenes, let alone wrapping a new born in it. The only thing I take away from this is the reminder that the World Wars – both I and II – have left a deep psychological scar on the face of humanity. My great-grandfather was affected by mustard gas in WWI and he became a monster to his children when he returned, the results were very damaged children, my father being one of them, and so the psychological scars he raised me with also imprinted on me in many ways. I don’t think we realise enough how those wars shaped our society as we know it today. ‘Baby Boomers’ only came about as a result of WWII. The traditional modern industrialised suburban household only came about after WWII. My grandmothers lived through both World Wars. They never threw out a scrap of fabric or a piece of food, evening their ’90’s. It was a grim time and left an indelible scar on the psyche of most of the world’s populous. I don’t think I would be able to separate my grief enough to appreciate this as artwork.
BrendaSeptember 20, 2018 at 1:14 pm
Gosh, I totally appreciate what you’re saying. And the wars continue and lives are being changed forever. Thank you for sharing this. You’ve given me much to think about.
Trinnie QSeptember 13, 2018 at 5:41 pm
Gosh! So much here. You told the story of my family TJ ! My message in a newborn blanket would be similar! You are beautiful, wonderful and wanted. Always be kind darling . Thanks Brenda. Beautiful as always. Sending love from Oz x
BrendaSeptember 20, 2018 at 1:11 pm
Love hearing your messages. Such words of love that many of us never heard. We’ve had to fill in the blanks and stumble along trying to find those messages and bring them inside. I’d have loved to have heard those messages, Trinnie. They move me. xo from Sonoma
LizSeptember 13, 2018 at 6:49 pm
During the Tokugawa era in Japan there were sumptuary laws that defined what classes of people were allowed to wear certain fabrics and designs and in how many colors. This was true for many societies in many places in the world throughout history as well–look at purple reserved for European nobility or yellow for the Chinese imperial family.
So wealthy merchants in Tokugawa Japan frequently wore plain-looking outer kimono with incredibly beautiful linings or undergarments.
I’m not sure why the kimono you show, presumably made for an adult, had a hidden lining when the invasion of China was incredibly popular, but as to the male baby’s blessing garment, we have to keep in mind that the Japanese Army secret police, the Kempetai, had “eyes” everywhere just before and during WWII. The parents of the child wearing this kimono were probably well aware of the Kempetai’s interest in knowing who was “sufficiently” loyal to the governmentand who wasn’t. Punishment for insufficient loyalty was swift, brutal and frequently deadly, without regard to age or gender.
If the boy who wore this kimono was presented for a blessing at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo or at any one of the Hachiman ( God of war) Shinto shrines in the country, his parents of course would have wanted such a motif for their son. To a great degree their lives depended on this overt demonstration of patriotism, and at these shrines to loyalty and patriotism the Kempetai would have been watching. The lining of the adult kimono might have represented an “insurance policy” just in case its wearer was suspected of being insufficiently behind the war effort.
We probably shouldn’t judge these people for doing what they needed to do in all too many cases to protect their families and themselves.
We have our own judgements and prejudices regarding certain articles of clothing (like the hijab) and the appropriate use of the US flag, so I’d hate for people to rush to evaluate these garments without giving some thought to a possible backstory.
Nicole KSeptember 17, 2018 at 3:47 pm
Thank you so much for putting these garments in context. I look forward to seeing the exhibit with your comments in mind.
BrendaSeptember 17, 2018 at 6:32 pm
Yes, yes, yes, Liz. Thank you for this in-depth explanation. What you describe says a whole lot more about the context than the exhibit did. I really appreciate this!!! Many thanks, and how do you know all of this?
Elaine @ Following AugustineSeptember 13, 2018 at 9:10 pm
Oh my goodness! So many things to comment on here. First of all, your Keep Calm and Carry On bracelet reminds me of the silver bangle that I received in my Christmas stocking last year (I’m pretty sure my daughter-in-law was the Santa who put it there). It is engraved with “She believed she could, so she did”. I wear it almost every day!
The propaganda garments are really quite disturbing. They say a lot about the Japanese mindset, particularly during WWIl. We in North America are privileged to live in a culture where individuality is encouraged. Not so for many parts of the world. So, what would I want on my undergarment? I’d want a message of peace and since there’s nothing that brings me greater peace than a walk on the seashore, I’d want an ocean scene.
And lastly, what an absolutely adorable baby! Kathleen’s blanket messages of “You are loved” and “You are amazing” are perfect.
BrendaSeptember 17, 2018 at 6:34 pm
Yes, I really like the idea of messages in clothes. If you were to go to the exhibit, you’d shutter to see all the ways we live with propaganda here in the States right now. No one is immune! Liz gave us so much background. Everything needs context, right? Thanks for sharing, Elaine! I can see that ocean scene!
Sandra Sallin - Apart From My ArtSeptember 13, 2018 at 11:22 pm
What a fascinating show. My first thought was shock at those undergarments. But then I read one of your subscribers comments and decided to with old judgement. What a brilliant idea for a show. The De Young always seems to have excellent designer shows that never make it to LA.
BrendaSeptember 17, 2018 at 6:36 pm
Yes, I found the whole exhibit absolutely fascinating. Of course I was drawn to the kimonos as they are garments, right? I was amazed at the beauty of them. Even though the images may be hard to understand, the beauty of the work was astounding. Well worth a visit if you’re near.
MouseSeptember 16, 2018 at 4:20 pm
Now the messages are bold and blunt, found on ball caps made in sweatshops oveseas.
How much has changed? How little has changed? Certainly the elegance and eloquence of the delivery has.