Friday, 19 September 2014

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60 years of fashion history seen through UN guides' uniforms

uniformsSince November 1952, United Nations tour guides have conducted tours through the New York Headquarters for more than 40 million visitors and over these sixty years, the evolution of fashion was reflected in the uniforms of the tour guides.

The first uniform worn by the UN guides in the 1950’s was a tailored suit with epaulettes, giving a strict, somewhat military look. Guides were provided with summer and winter uniforms, and it is the only time when a hat was part of the uniform. The conservative style remained into the sixties, but the epaulettes were discarded to get away from the military feeling.

In 1969, contacts with PanAmerican Airlines manufacturer Evan-Picone and designer Frank Smith led to a new look. The daring new uniform featured a royal blue miniskirt with a khaki vest. The khaki vest was replaced with royal blue in 1970.

Hemlines fell in 1977 when Hollywood designer Edith Head sought "a classic silhouette that would not be thought of as any particular country's fashion attitude," selecting sky blue as the basic colour with touches of navy for contracts. The same year Guided Tours recruited male tour guides for the first time. The newly accepted male guides wore navy blue blazer-type jacket with grey slacks, manufactured by Brooks Brothers.

The early 1980s’ provided a return to conservatism with French designer Thibaut Bouet of Christian Dior, designing a navy blue sash-belted blazer and matching straight skirt, worn with a "white oxford cloth shirt, which is striped in pastel blue and grey and has a small round collar and matching string tie." The suit, in a fine, lightweight wool gabardine, was "designed for year-round wear." Yasushi Akashi, then Under-Secretary-General for Public Information, indicated that the design had required a great deal of versatility so as to suit an international staff.

uniforms2In 1988 Benetton designed and donated new uniforms, a change from past styles. The uniforms were made from a light-weight wool fabric in a black and white houndstooth check pattern. A purple twin-sweater set completed the women's outfit, while the male guides wore their suit with a white button-down shirt, tie and purple V-neck sweater.

In 2001 new uniforms were designed and donated by the Italian Fashion house Mondrian. The tailored navy blue suits for women and men, light-blue blouses or shirts and a scarf or tie adorned with the United Nations emblem, are still used today. For the first time, a maternity outfit was included. In addition, the Italian footwear company Valleverde provided dark or light blue shoes.

2006 marked a revolution in the tour guides’ dress code when it was decided that women were allowed to wear their own pants.

Throughout the years national costumes have been used as a colourful and exotic alternative to the uniforms by all who wished to wear them, or had access to one.

You can make your own fashion statement with a Guided Tour 60th anniversary pin or reusable shopping bag, now on sale in the UN Book Shop.

Uniforms past and present will form part of the exhibit to mark the 60th anniversary, planned for November 2012. For more information see Visitors Centre website or facebook page.

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