Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Fashion Victim: Sears Catalog/Index Of American Design Polyester Disco Shirt

Click all for bigger, more amazing.

This is one of the jewels in the crown that is my collection of daunting photo-litho polyester disco shirts from the 1970s. The background, in off-white, consists of collaged pages from an antique Sears catalog. The shirt is so well printed, you can read it:

The lurid color images printed over the catalog pages are the really great obscure part: they're renderings of antique toys and banks cut out from an old book about the Index of American Design, a post-depression WPA work project in which artists across the nation made detailed, photo-realistic drawings of classically American things. Here's more of the back:

The reason why I recognize them is that the Index of American Design is part of my work's collection, and I administrate the rights to those images as part of my job. I even have a copy of the old book these images were cut from at my desk, and refer to it frequently. See that Rooster? Here's what a proper photograph of the rendering of the rooster looks like:

Haw, I just gave myself permission to post this!

That's not a photograph of the carousel rooster, that's actually a painstakingly exact watercolor and pencil illustration! I highly recommend following the link above to read more about the Index.

But the final irony in my owning and loving this garment is knowing that if somebody today asked for official permission to make this shirt using our photos, they'd have to contact me, and I'd have to say no. (**UPDATE: this is no longer true; we've changed our policies.) And my department would have said no back when this shirt was made, too, so this is a fun, unauthorized product. To me, this shirt is the epitome of early 1970s, antique-obsessed, disco fag style.


Next: bowdlerized Gauguin polyester shirt!


Karen Zipdrive said...

Wow such a complicated shirt.
If you wear it to work, do you think anyone would bust you for unauthorized use of those images, or would you have to bust yourself?

What? No! said...

Still, gorgeous rooster. Just sayin.

sleepyinsaudi said...

I would so wear that shirt.

Patrick said...

It kinda (nod to Palin) reminds me of those tables I used to stare at while I ate at Wendy's when I was younger. Do they still have those?

Frank said...

Have you ever worn it to work? It would be very meta/ironic.

When does artwork go into the public domain?

Peteykins said...

Frank, yes, I certainly wear it to work.

My office doesn't deal with copyright/public domain issues. It's a photographic service: "in exchange for agreeing to our terms, we will provide you with the photography and permission to use it," basically. Copyright is a different issue.

So there's nothing "illegal" or "infringing" about the shirt, just unauthorized.

Peteykins said...

Oh, and the Index of American Design was public domain from the start, as it was piece-work done for the US Government.

Generally an artwork is covered by copyright for 75 years after the artist's death.

samael7 said...

As much as I'm impressed by the shirt, that watercolor/graphite picture is pretty astounding.

Sachem81 said...

I thought you might like to know that I just used your shirt in a lecture on the Index of American Design and its impact upon American culture in a art history class lecture at Boston University. Thanks for posting it!

Sachem81 said...

Thanks for posting this great shirt. I thought you would get a kick out of the fact that I just used it in a lecture I gave about the importance and impact of the Index of American Design as part of a course in the Art History Department at Boston University.

Best wishes-

Will Moore