Coming up with a new twist on our favorites is an American pastime not only with fashion designers but innovative style setters. Here are a few ways you can update your own wardrobe with a new take on some American classics making the rounds in a new century:
Start with denim. It's on the top of the list of our must-haves even after Levi Strauss introduced his “Two Horse Brand” jeans in 1886 and cowboys loved them. Today, “dudes” of all ages, shapes and sizes still ride the denim wave, updating the workwear shapes in all kinds of edgy new ways. If you haven't added a pair of bold-color jeans to your wardrobe, this summer is the perfect time to take those original “blue” jeans to the next level.
Head west. And speaking of cowboy, western chic is another fashion favorite with roots in America. Stetson hats (designed by Philadelphia hatmaker John B. Stetson in the late 1800s) are still “The Boss of the Plains” and everywhere else, too. Bandannas, shirts with snaps, and cowboy boots also have stood the test of time and morphed into lots of new designs. The slip-on boot-inspired mules are my favorite.
Come on, get hippie. The '60s ushered in another American classic — the flower children who did their own version of cowboy chic with frayed jeans and patchwork jackets. This one also is trending in today's runway shows. Add in some tie-dye and fringe.
Gilding the jersey. Diane Von Furstenberg wasn't the first one to do the jersey wrap dress, another American classic. Enter Lillie Langtry, the actress who was known as “The Jersey Lily” and who popularized the skintight knit dresses she wore on stage. We're still doing the shimmy in those slinky little jersey dresses.
Making a flap. The beaded “flapper” dresses popularized in the Art Deco era of the '20s are also American classics harking back to a day when dancing the Charleston was a nightly event for many bobbed hair “Gatsby” partiers who kicked up their heels in the chic chemises. As the recent movie proves, it's never too late to dance the night away in beads and feathers.
Drink it in. The cocktail sheath made popular in 1950s America is still an inspiration for designers today. The sleeveless shift dress is a mainstay in wardrobes from TV anchors to Michelle Obama. Audrey Hepburn, however, may have worn it best. If you don't have a little black dress in your closet, put it on your shopping list! You can always slip on a little cashmere cardigan over it if you don't have those Obama arms.
Moto madness. It was a symbol of tough chic when Marlon Brando wore the black motorcycle jacket in “The Wild One” 1953 movie, and it's still a fashion favorite making a comeback this year. Look for the biker jacket to be a big trend for fall fashion.
Prepping for success. “The Preppy Handbook” may have been published in 1980, but “preppy” fashions had been worn by Americans for decades before. Tasseled loafers, double-breasted blazers, horn-rimmed glasses, button-down oxford shirts, madras and plaid pants. You get the picture. Whether you were an Ivy League college student or playing golf at the country club, Buffy and Muffy were your best friends; lime green and pink were your best colors. These days, designers such as Tommy Hilfiger have made sure that preppy is all grown up, and maybe even spiked with a little twist of punk rock star.
Tuxedo junction. The famous eveningwear got its Americanization when tobacco heir Griswold Lorillard showed up at the Tuxedo Park Country Club in the dinner jacket and matching pants favored by the trendy Duke of Wales in London instead of the more formal longer tailed coat. Today, the semiformal tuxedo is still an American classic for men and women who have adapted the look for all kinds of occasions — dressed up or down.
Nautical nattiness. We've always had a penchant for the sea and for sailors, and this year the stripes are making a big comeback, getting bigger and bigger, wider and wider. The color of choice? Red, white or blue. What could be more patriotic? Now that's all-American fashion.
Sharon Mosley is a former fashion editor of the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock and executive director of the Fashion Editors and Reporters Association.