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White to Lighten Us Up

The cheery suits are coming back, possibly to give us a collective boost.

January 24, 2002|From Reuters

LOS ANGELES — When times are dark, the world wears white--and somehow the old is made new again.

Judging from the latest fashion shows, the bright white suit may emerge to be the hottest fashion statement for men and women this spring, experts said.

The new look may also serve as a boost to the collective dark mood following the hijack attacks on U.S. landmarks Sept. 11 and the subsequent war in Afghanistan.

The current crop of white suits provides a more comfy silhouette, a no-brainer choice for evening wear and an irreverent, happy twist on the lean, dark suits of the recent past, trend-watchers said.

Designers such as Hugo Boss, Dolce and Gabbana, Calvin Klein, Gucci, Viktor and Rolf and Giorgio Armani all show white suits in their 2002 spring collections.

Show business personalities such as "Girl, Interrupted" star Angelina Jolie, rapper impresario Sean "Puffy" Combs, pop diva Christina Aguilera and actress Leelee Sobieski have all recently been photographed in white suits.

Historians say that white outfits have sometimes emerged following times of darkness. At the turn of the last century, American novelist Mark Twain caused a furor not only for writing his racially charged novel "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," but also for donning a white suit in the middle of a dark, depressing winter, according to a new PBS documentary.

"Mark Twain," directed by Ken Burns, reveals that in the early 1900s, Twain, reeling from crushing debt and the death of his wife and children, took to parading around Manhattan in scarlet socks and a snow-white flannel suit.

When asked why he was wearing the unseasonable color, Twain said: "What can be more depressing than the somber black which custom requires men to wear--a group of men in evening clothes looks like a flock of crows, and is just as inspiring."

"He was looking for something bright and uplifting, a statement that brought happiness, that was in stark contrast to some difficult times," said Burns. "In fact, he called his white suit the 'dontcareadam' suit."

Twain caused quite a stir that season with his new choice of threads. As reported by the New York Herald in 1907, "News of the style spread rapidly among builders of clothes. Several of them were glad to know he had the courage to break away from the only wear for men after 6 o'clock in the evening."

Since then, other famous people have raised their profiles and the public spirit with white suits. Against a backdrop of the cynical post-Vietnam and Watergate-era 1970s, Bianca Jagger wore a white suit to her wedding to rocker Mick, John Lennon wore a white suit in his famous "Imagine" video, and John Travolta popularized a white suit in the film "Saturday Night Fever."

Though most of the new white suits were designed before Sept. 11, white suits are perfect for the current climate, said W magazine executive editor Bridget Foley.

"White can be so innocent, so gentle....When put in context of suit, it becomes something else. It attains power, strength, bravado. It's a way to play to something new ... and still have a strong sensibility. It's a way to put a new spin on tailoring."

And maybe a new spin on our lifestyle.

"I think it will take," Foley said. "There's a certain impracticality that makes it alluring. It's a great new alternative evening look. It's a great Hollywood look, it's a great way to look without being fussied up. It's a great way to show off."

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