gray flannel suit

Today, however, organized labor faces quite a different situation. The White Citizens Councils - the KKK in gray flannel suits - are well aware that organized labor is part and parcel of the racial and economic progressive forces they loathe. The Councils’ prejudice against Negroes, Catholics, and Jews is superficial in comparison with their main objective - to castrate the labor movement by preventing a coalition of Negro and white workers. The forces behind the Councils have thrived by keeping white workers poor and Negro workers poorer, and, as in the past, their prime device against any strong union of laborers is to fan the flames of religious and racial intolerance.

This situation is as critical for all American labor as it is for the Negro. For labor now to sidestep the Southern racial issue means suicide. Already in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, local labor leaders, influenced by the White Citizens Councils, are urging unions to withdraw from the AFL-CIO. They want to create a Southern Labor Organization of lily-white, strictly segregated company unions. As the South becomes more and more an industrial center, it takes little imagination to see how an unorganized, company-unionized South would undermine the unions throughout the whole nation.

—  Bayard Ruskin, “New South…Old Politics” (1956)

Models wearing hats and reading newspapers. Photography by Horst P. Horst. Vogue, February 15, 1943.

Three models in gray flannel suits all have eyes on the news. The relative simplicity of their suits underline the appropriation of the traditionally male role, but fashion isn’t quite abandoned. Their hats make quite the style statement: from left, a blue felt visored beret, a red felt skullcap, and a white piqué beret. 

Original back cover illustration by Jaime Hernandez from Love & Rockets #49, published by Fantagraphics, November 1995. The portrait is one of Jaime’s favorite actors, Lee J. Cobb, star of TV’s The Virginian and featured in films including On the Waterfront (“Johnny Friendly”), The Exorcist, and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

“Jean-Michel Frank, the thirties interior and furniture designer, supposedly had 40 identical double-breasted gray flannel suits. He knew himself and is a wonderful example of restraint and extravagance.”

 - Rick Owens

Soon 3

One thing I find interesting about historical AUs is the way one has to think hard about women’s roles, and where boundaries can be pushed, and where they can’t. And where actual historical women did push them, to great and/or disastrous effect. And what would motivate them to do that in the first place. Incidentally, in the early 1950s, the CIA had a higher percentage of women in its workforce than nearly every other federal agency did: almost 40%. That’s a lot of women. I care most about two of them, though, as you can tell from part 1 and part 2.

Soon 3

Myka’s days are, in a word, predictable. She boils an egg or pours a bowl of cold cereal before work. She packs a sandwich in a brown paper bag to carry with her. She walks down the three flights of stairs that take her to street level and pushes open the door that will take her out of the cramped, mailboxed lobby, where it always somehow seems to be dusk.

The walk to work takes a little over ten minutes in good weather, fifteen in bad. When it takes fifteen, Myka tries hard not to curse every step, but by the time she reaches the complex on E Street and trudges up the leafed drive, she is either freezing or sweltering. She reminds herself, on those days, that if she were still at home in Colorado Springs, she might not have a job at all. She certainly would not have the job she does now.

So on sizzling days she fans herself; on frigid days she breathes on her hands to bring life back to them, then cups them around her ears to help hurry along the stinging return of blood. Then she puts on her headphones, turns on the reel-to-reel tape machine at the exact point she left off the day before, and begins again the laborious work of translating everything from radio broadcasts and public speeches to tapped telephone calls and other covertly recorded private conversations from Russian into English.

Keep reading