By Marylou Luther

Illustration by Fernando Flores

Dear Marylou:  With Madonna now back in the headlines, what do you see as her major fashion contribution?—E.H., New York, NY.

Dear F.H.:  Her “work pants” and  “Eisenhower jacket” in our illustration— both by  Dickies, the workwear company that got its start as aa purveyor of overalls—inspired what I think of today’s leap into cheap.  Madonna, who wore them during her heyday in The ’80s, is said to have liked the work pants so much she signed them with a red heart and sent them back to Dickies, where they are preserved in the company archives.  The originals of the men’s work pants are from The ’30s and were later worn by G.I.s during World War II.  They were customized by Madonna’s staff with side zippers at the hem of each pantleg.  Like the original work pants, the waist-length, bellows-pocketed Eisenhower or Ike jacket originated during World War II.  The look is definitely on trend.

Dear Marylou:  What is grunge and why is it back in the fashion firmament?—D.P., Miami, FL.

Dear D.P.:  The word is taken from both its literal meaning of dirt, filth, rubbish, and its fashion meaning.  The fashioning of grunge began as a Seattle-based music movement in the 1980s and lived well into the ’90s, merging rock and heavy metal with a touch of punk.  The groups that inspired the movement include Nirvana, Sonic Youth and 10,000 Maniacs.

By bringing versions of the of the clothes worn by the music groups to the fashion runway, Marc Jacobs got himself fired from Perry Ellis for his 1992 collection but landed a spot in fashion history.  For fall of that year, he presented a polished version of the original thrown-together plaid lumberjack shirts, baggy pants, striped pullovers, Birkenstocks, Doc Martens and Converse shoes and what was to become the quintessential mark of grunge—aka the skull cap, or the stocking cap, or the beanie.

Dear Marylou:  I noticed that the bomber jacket is a hit again.  Then I look at photos and I’m confused by what they are calling bombers.  Please tell me the difference between a bomber, a biker, a flight jacket, an athletic jacket (aka a warm-up jacket), and a windbreaker.  Is the front-closing zipper the only common denominator?—A.C., Kent, OH.

Dear A.C.:  I took your question to multi-awarded menswear designer/historian/author Jeffrey Banks, who explains the differences this way:

“A bomber always has knit trim at cuffs and waistband, and sometimes at the neckline.  It can be in cloth or leather.  The name comes from the standard issue WWII garment for American servicemen.  The bomber is sometimes called a flight jacket.

“A biker jacket is also sometimes called a motorcycle jacket or a motocross jacket.  The original bikers were made in America by Schott Bros., a company that’s still in business.  They used an extra thick cowhide to insulate against wind and accidents.  A motocross is sometimes longer.  It was developed by the Belstaff company in Europe for long distance motorcycle trips.

“The athletic jacket, made for sports including running and yoga, comes with or without hoods, usually in jersey-type fabrics, often synthetic.

“The windbreaker is lightweight, often in polyester or nylon, and meant to ward off rain or wind, particularly when playing golf.  Windbreakers tend to be very packable.”


 Marylou welcomes questions for use in this column but regrets she cannot answer mail personally. Please send your questions in.

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