Friday, December 17, 2010

New Favorite Meme

Thanks to glvalentine, who pointed me to my new favorite meme, based on the Babysitters Club. It originated here. Anyway, Kristy is super-judgey:

I predict that now all my teaching will be done via this meme.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

New Review

Wow, Denver Post likes The House of Discarded Dreams!

""The House of Discarded Dreams" is a beguiling, surrealistic fantasy wonderfully brought to logic-defying life." See? You need this book!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


So Tom Ford feels that fat women shouldn't wear clothes. Of course, he disguises it as concern for poor dears, what with the pinching and the squeezing and the sausaging. Not like he would actually, you know, design clothes for fat women that would fit them. I was never a fan of his designs, since his Gucci days -- he tends toward the sexy silhouette and his overall esthetic is so about male gaze it's not funny. So I don't get why people get so excited about his return to women's wear -- don't we have Herve Leger and Bebe (for the not-so-wealthy) already for all your sexpot needs? But generally, I didn't care until he did this:

Oh Tom Ford, must you go ahead and represent everything that is wrong with fashion?

Monday, December 06, 2010

End of the Year

December seems to be traditionally the time for year-end summaries and talk of accomplishments and hopefulness. 2010 has been a pretty bad year for me, but there were some positives:

The House of Discarded Dreams was published. It's a weird little book and I love it and am glad to see it in print.

Heart of Iron: St Petersburg to Beijing sold and will be published next year. I talk of it as a steampunk book a lot, but really, it's an alternate history novel in which I tried to avoid things I hate in alternate history novels (such as the same historical personages occupying the same roles despite widely divergent histories.) Not so here! Also, I anticipate people complaining that insufficient time is spent on larger conflicts (the prelude to the Crimean War and Taiping rebellion). I probably should start disclaiming that I'm not interested in larger conflicts.

Tin Cans came out in Haunted Legends, and I'm proud of this story. I also wrote another short story, A Handsome Fellow, I really like. Both deal with Russian history, with the latter firmly focused on the Siege of Leningrad.

Running with the Pack saw publication, and Bewere the Night is progressing well. I'm planning another antho after that. Yes, there's a title. And it'll be all about fashion.

I also started compiling a short story collection. Anyone wants to suggest a title?

OK, here are my positives. Not bad!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

It's that time of year again!

Reposting from Dec 5 2009:

Someone recently emailed me asking if I had an Amazon wishlist. While I appreciate the kindness and consideration, I would like to say that I don't need anything. There are, however, people who do -- especially now, since things have been so difficult for many people. Consider this a holiday PSA, but if you have money to spare, donate to charity or to women's and homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity etc etc. The Hunger Site has a good list of various international charities that accept donations, and where as little as $15 can provide real help to people who need it, while Oxfam focuses on long-term local solutions to poverty and environmental degradation. Please suggest your favorite charities in comments and feel free to repost.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010 The Fashion Show

This show is my crack. By now, it left Project Runway in the dust, even though Tim Gunn is irreplaceable.
Surprisingly, Calvin is growing on me. David, however, is creepy. This impression is predicated entirely on his weird laugh every time he says "vagina" (and he says it a lot).

Isaac Mizrahi is turning into a nurturer, and Iman is just being herself and awesome. And I like the guest judges! They all have something to do with fashion (unlike, you know, actresses who get dressed by other people. I am totally writing a post about why Red Carpet is not fashion.) Deeta von Teese and Anja Rubik somehow seem
more plugged in than some obscure actress PR has been trotting out for some unfathomable reason.

Anyway, I'm excited to see Johnny Weir and Rachel Zoe as guest judges. Like, literally.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Links a la Mode -- IFB

And once again my cranky natterings are included in IFB's weekly roundup.  Enjoy many insightful posts!

links a la mode

Giving Thanks

Edited by: Holier than Now

It's  Thanksgiving here in the U.S. and many of us are looking forward to the  Black Friday sales - oh wait, I mean spending time with our families  and friends! But it's wonderful (and kind of weird) that so many of the  people that influence and support us on a daily basis won't be gathered  around our table; they'll be hanging around our web address, retweeting  our (sometimes) witty comments, liking our latest post on Facebook, etc.  Whether or not you celebrate turkey day, as a blogger it's hard not to  be full of gratitude for the resources we share on a regular basis. This  week, Tickle Me Chic helps ban the blogging blues, Previously Owned does your holiday gift shopping for you, and Make the World a Prettier Place sums up the reason so many of us are grateful just to be alive (hello? fashion!) with a visual history.

Links à la Mode: November 25th


Shopbop bags: Burch, Matt & Natt, Minkoff, IRO, Botkier, Gryson, LAMB, Chloe, BE&D, DVF

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lanvin for H&M -- really?

I’m so ambiguously uneasy about designer collabs with fast fashion chains. On one hand, the democratization of fashion and all that jazz. On the other, there’s this – people who spend $1500 on Lanvin for H&M. People talk about how much they spent, a few commenters point out that they could’ve gotten the  real Lanvin for the money, other commenters saying that this IS NOT THE POINT -- $1700 will only buy you one Lanvin thing instead of several.  And this, to me, is the most interesting point. Because… $1700 is a lot of money. Something that costs this much is so out of the question for me that I don’t even get tempted. Most designer clothing is like art to me – beautiful, unattainable, and to be admired from afar without ever thinking of ownership.

But fast fashion is all about ownership and consumption – lots and lots, because each single item is so cheap. There’s no admiration component at all. And while every single thing is cheap, the cost adds up. $99-$199 is the cost of most Lanvin for H&M dresses – a tad steep for fast fashion, but very cheap for the designer items. That is, cheap enough to tempt one into buying, and often multiple items. 

And this is really the thing: designer-fast fashion collabs end up costing more to many people because even though they would never buy the original designer, they buy the collabs. They are a cunning way of luring so many people to become consumers instead of admirers, of making them spend money on the brand they would never even consider before because it’s so out of their range. So we spend more, and get… what exactly do we get? Polyester, Made in China (and probably nowhere near fair labor practices) that carry a designer tag – a legal knock off, really. 

So we can talk about democratization of fashion, but really, doesn’t it simply increase consumerism and exploitation of cheap overseas labor? And is it really different from the more traditional designer diffusion items, like perfume, scarves and sunglasses?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Book day!

So it looks like The House of Discarded Dreams is available on Amazon. Yay!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I've responded to all subs sent before September 10th. If you sent a submission before that date, you should've received either a rejection or a hold request; if you haven't received a response, please query.

Try to get your stories to me before December 1st -- I will be accepting subs until Dec 31st, but since I'll be making most of my selections in December, there's a pretty good chance that the antho will fill up before the deadline. Stragglers beware.

Finally, I'm getting way too many werewolves and not enough other creatures. At this point, wolves are a very very tough sell. As well as Little Red Riding Hood retellings. As well as "victim turns the table" stories. Oh, and bantering paranormal investigators, if they do banter, should be at least amusing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


These are from the greenhouse at my school. Behold the gorgeousness!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Fashion Show -- Season Two! With spoilers.

So the Fashion Show, Bravo's response to losing Project Runway, has returned for season two. Kelly Rowland has been replaced by Iman, which was a wise decision. She's a host/judge supermodel, much like Heidi, but better. Oh, so much better!

Overall, what PR has ultimately chose was accessibility and grudging concession to what 'women in the streets' actually wear -- which, in the producing and judging minds, are drab, unimaginative clothes in the mold of Heidi's New Balance line and trickling down boho esthetics, with a dash of Alexander Wang and other 'edgy' but deeply conventional designers. Klum represents this reluctant, nose-holding accessibility very well -- just like many a diffusion line.

The Fashion Show, on the other hand, has Iman and Isaac Mizrahi (ironically, the king of diffusion lines), who seem to be pushing for a much more high fashion, theatrical sensibility. And in my opinion, if one was to make a TV show about fashion, this is the way to go. I know that there's bad blood between Tim Gunn and Isaac Mizrahi -- and please don't make me choose! Gunn is like a long-lost uncle; Mizrahi is hugely entertaining and says terrible things to people. Oh, and another judge is Laura Brown of Elle Magazine.

Now to the show itself. First, all challenges are team challenges - there're two fashion houses, so that creates some interesting dynamics: even though there are individual winners/losers, the emphasis is on creating a cohesive collection and cooperation. I'm curious to see how that will play out.

Then there was the challenge itself: to use Iman as the muse. Cultural hilarity referencing tribal patterns and contrasting Iman's Somalian past with her now being a part of the "modern world" -- all of it by the House of Nami (Iman backward, get it?). The end result was surprisingly good, with mostly white collection with interesting and varied shapes.

The other team (House of Emerald Syx), on the other hand, had Calvin. Calvin was appalled by the idea of having to work with people, and let his displeasure be known. They chose to work with bright colors! They lost because of lack of cohesion. Calvin made a pretty decent saffron yellow draped number, which was deemed 'cheap' and landed him in the bottom two. He stayed however. The girl who made the abominable parasite ruffle dress went home, but not before her and Calvin traded words. (I suspect that they will keep Calvin as long as possible -- he's a one man resentment engine.)

The guest judge was Rachel Roy, who was also a guest judge on Project Runway. Future guest judges will include Rachel Zoe, Johnny Weir, and Dita von Teese -- people who should've been guest judges on PR, but weren't. I was actually dreaming about PR being completely revamped, with the judging panel composed of Simon Doonan, Lynne Yaeger, and Tilda Swinton, with Apfel, Horyn and von Teese guest-judging. Thank you, Fashion Show, for partially fulfilling my dream! Let's hope the rest of the season lives up to the expectations.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Gentlewoman -- Autumn/Winter 2010

I finally got a subscription to The Gentlewoman -- I wanted it ever since Susie Bubble waxed poetic about it. Subscriptions to the US aren't cheap, but I broke and got one anyway. I wasn't disappointed.

The magazine doesn't contain a single article on weight loss, diet, exercise routine, or man-pleasing (as one would expect from something named The Gentlewoman, but still, in the world of ladymags, it's a surprise.) Instead, it contains interviews with successful women, profiles of more successful women and cultural icons, age and racial diversity, a delightful article on apples, and several features on fashion and clothes. And it's really great. I don't necessarily demand that all ladymags be deep deep reading; but anything that doesn't assume that I'm an insecure shopaholic blow-up doll is a welcome relief.

So here are some pages snapped with my phone, for the purposes of conveying the experience; I do sincerely hope that some of you decide to subscribe. Ten bucks seems like a lot to drop on a magazine, but this one is hefty and beautiful and treats its readers as people! Anyway, here.

Some ads! With Part I Table of Contents.

And a very nice portrait of Ashley Olsen, who gives a good, thoughtful interview about running Elizabeth and James.

Next up, we have more detailed interviews and profiles of people like British comic Julia Davis (who doesn't really smoke, as the caption helpfully explains):

And Yoko Ono, who is shockingly not at all maligned:


Then there's a profile of Lukwesa Burak:

Then there's a great, great feature on Inez van Lamsweerde (who's also on the cover), and whose photography is just so startling and interesting:

What I really love about magazines as a genre is the random element: there are always articles on some unexpected matters, of which I may have not thought -- but here it is, and it's cool, and I learned something. This time, it's apples!

Beautiful photography and informative text about apple varieties: not the subject I expected, but glad to have encountered.

Then there are fashion photoshoots. I liked a lot that some of the captions included bits of information about the models, not just the clothes they're wearing. Here's a page from their Long Looks feature. This is totally how I dress! Score for Team Highwaisted Pants.

Then there are several more features, on things like shapewear and seasonal clothing. Shot in black and white and unapologetic (yes, this sweater is Lanvin.) I think luxury products such as these can be appreciated as art objects -- and frankly, I prefer that. I love Lanvin, will never be able to afford the clothes, but I still can admire them. 

I find admiration for the unreachable much healthier than anxious aspiration of just-out-of-reach things, the insecure grabbing for the almost-affordable. And more inspiring than the perpetual '100 things under 100 bucks you need RIGHT NOW' features popular with Lucky (I do like Lucky) and Marie Claire -- and nowadays, even Vogue is debasing itself with those. Thank you , ladymags, I know what they sell at Target and Old Navy -- show me the beautiful things I wouldn't see otherwise, and forget the social climbing. I'd rather look at pretty things I don't even think about buying than overspend on crap I don't need. Anyway.

Last but not least, Gesticulations!

A really lovely thing about this magazine is it's quality -- good, thick paper, no annoying perfume samples in the creased pages that make the entire magazine artificially stinky... really, what a magazine should be. I'll be renewing. Too bad it only comes out twice a year!

(And since this is shaping up to be a review month... I will be writing about some books I'm reading, as well as Ella Lai's clothes. Yes, again -- she's just that good.)

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Narrator -- Michael Cisco

Michael Cisco, whose book The Traitor I reviewed here, has another book out! I'm reading it -- slowly, as the time mid-semester is precious and split between editing and everything else I want to do, but I just have to talk about The Narrator.

Short version: please go and buy it. Cisco is one of those writers (lamentably few) who write genuinely unusual things. It's a shame he's not more widely read (although I suspect that many of the folks who insist they want new and unusual really don't), and something that needs to be fixed. So read the book, you won't regret it.

It's a little less aggressively strange than The Traitor, but it drips with the same vivid and visual malaise -- white skies, sick trees, vividly drawn snatches of the landscape otherwise drowned in radiance or fog. The language is half-delirious, and the beginning of the book evokes both Notes From Underground and Felix Krull. Low, the protagonist and a student in the college that prepares Narrators (people who recite events until only words encountering them remain, replacing the actual memory of the event), is not supposed to be drafted -- but he is, due to bureaucratic indifference and incompetence of the college administrators. His panicked efforts to avoid draft reminded me of the desperation with which my high school classmates applied to colleges -- the student status granted the draft deferral, and those who were not lucky enough to get in often faked a variety of psychiatric ailments. Low's efforts brought forth this visceral memory in me, all those boys who didn't want to go to the army because they knew it will forever change them; possibly into people they wouldn't like.

Another piercing recognition came when Low describes the separation of priesthood into white and black -- an Orthodox Christian tradition, where only black priesthood (monks) are allowed to rise to the top of the hierarchy, while the white priesthood (parish priests) are usually married and childed. Cisco takes this separation to the next logical extreme, and Life and Death churches are born, even though the similarity with Orthodox Christianity are quite clear.

Then there's the war itself -- Low as the narrator is supposed to document the story, but he has as much trouble as anyone else guessing the point of it all. The looming unease and the whispered uncertainty of it again reminded me of fear of my classmates of being sent to Afghanistan -- that hushed and unknown conflict fought for no discernible reason. It is always tempting to load the story with perceived meanings of the moment and attribute them to writerly intent -- and frankly, many writers aren't clever enough to hide their intent. Not so in this case, where the intent becomes irrelevant since instead we can have meaning.

And this is really something I love about Cisco's writing -- in all the strangeness, there are always these moments of acute, almost painful recognition and identification. I don't know if yours will be the same as mine, but I'm sure you'll find a few there -- be those in the dreamlike wanderings across strange cities and battles, in the unusual crew Low joins, in the palpable terror of the mysterious Edeks. Cisco writes like no one else, and this book is unlike any other, although filled with echoes of things one remembers and Cisco somehow knows.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Uniforms-in fibers

I often hear bloggers talk about their uniforms -- outfits they gravitate toward on a daily basis, especially for the office. I'm no different, although I find that my uniforms are defined not so much as pieces but as kinds of fabrics. Fall and winter, for me, mean wool and silk -- with rayon and cupro as acceptable silk substitutes. It is a rare day when I'm not wearing a vintage silk button down with a tweedy jacket or a merino or cashmere sweater, paired with wool pants or skirts (and in some cases, wool shorts and tights -- but that's more casual, for the weekend). There are also silk scarves and silk skirts, and woolen shirts and dresses. So while the pieces may change, the animal fibers remain. There's also some leather and suede in my footwear and jackets.

In the spring and summer, my clothes turn primarily vegan -- mostly cotton with some cupro and rayon, and an occasional silk blend (little real silk though, because silk is pretty high maintenance and I try to avoid sweating on high maintenance pieces; undershirts are usually not an option in heat). Jackets and shoes become cotton broadcloth and canvas. I might even wear denim.

And it seems funny that it took me a while to realize this -- come fall, I start craving wool and tweed and cashmere; I crave seasonal fibers in a way people crave comfort foods.

So, what about you? Do you care more about garments and clothing, or is it all about fabrics? Also, I realize that I'm pretty biased against synthetics. Silly prejudice? (Although I do own a couple of vintage polyester blouses, so here we go).

(Images: Elise Crombez by Hans Feurer for Vogue Turkey October 2010, Mathilde Frachon, Chanel Iman, Edita Vilkeviciute for Vogue China October 2010 via FGR)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Project Runway -- SPOILERS! With bonus conspiracy theory.

I haven't blogged about PR in a few weeks, because really, Mondo is awesome, Andy is pretty cool, Michael C is very nice, Gretchen is controlling, and there's little else to say.

I do want to mention the episode in which the designers had to design for Heidi's line (Episode 11). And really, there were two problems with that challenge: 1) Heidi's line; 2) Heidi.

The line is awful -- I can find those limp dishrags in any contempo store, but it doesn't mean I like them. Mind you, knits can be fun -- but these shapeless grey things, bastard children of cotton cardigans and sweats, are not. I mean, asking the designers to create something that would fit into the line and the color scheme is like inviting Duff Goldman to have an E-Z oven bakeoff for a five-year-old's birthday party. Or hiring an Frank Lloyd Wright to build an outhouse. In other words, criminal waste.

Speaking of: I suspected that Heidi is maybe not exactly in touch with us commoners; I was shocked at the depth of her contempt for her customers and the vitriol she was dripping while talking to the designers. She is convinced that people who buy her clothes are those legendary middle-Americans found in Walmarts, who live their lives in sweats and cringe at the thought of squeezing their flab into anything remotely tailored. Those people would never ever get dressed before leaving the house, so let's just give them some drab loungewear to cover their unappealing flesh. And the designers! She spoke to them as if they were children: "Do you think a woman could go shopping in that? Hmmmmmm?" (That being a perfectly decent cropped cardigan made by Mondo (Mondo!), whose only crime was lack of shapelessness -- and something I would wear, which I cannot say about Heidi's line). And actually, I wouldn't even talk to children like that -- that mix of condescension and pretend sweetness shouldn't be used on anyone. No wonder Mondo snapped -- and for one, I wholeheartedly supported a designer tantrum.

Last night's episode was a pretty even mix of awesome and terrible. Awesome: Mondo being Mondo, his mom telling the world that Mondo was allowed to play the piano only if he also played baseball, Mondo showing off his piano skills (but not short-stop skills), pretty much everything else. Andy's catfish farm rocked, what with Tim Gunn in rubber boots getting grossed-out and hand-flappy over a catfish. That part was funny and sweet and made me believe that Tim Gunn was my long-lost uncle.

Everything to do with Michael C however was really sad, and his final meltdown was pretty horrific. His family situation is tragic, no doubt, but I also am having a sneaking suspicion that he was a bit set up. Let's face it, he is not the best designer -- he mostly drapes, and makes an ok drapey dress (not my thing, but people who like that sort of dress seem to like his), but no range otherwise. (Malign Gretchen as you will, but she can tailor, and even though I'm not a fan of her esthetic, she makes her clothes well). So throughout the season, I felt that the praise that was heaped on him by the judges was over the top -- just like the dishing he got from fellow designers. But Michael C has advanced past his ability, and I wonder if that was intentional. I mean, he was inspired by the Statue of Liberty and made a drapey dress. Showstopper it wasn't, and it wasn't original either. I keep thinking that the judges built him up intentionally, to dash his hopes at the last moment -- Michael C seemed so childlike at times, so without artifice and cunning, that he would make a perfect mark for something like that. And I wonder if he was set up for the sake of drama.

I feel awful just thinking that, honestly. I hope that the judges are not that cruel; I hope Michale C's uneasy history was not brought in for the sake of drama. But what do you guys think? Is reality TV twisted enough to elevate a really sweet person just to bring them down?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Links a la Mode -- IFB

So looks like my post on flattering dressing was included in Independent Fashion Bloggers' weekly roundup. I'm pretty happy about it, and there're a quite few cool posts in this week's selections.

links a la mode

The Blogging Diaries- Introspects, insights, and inspirations

Edited by: Marie Denee of The Curvy Fashionista

As  bloggers, we often find ourselves looking to other blogs for  inspiration. Sometimes we look to our closets, magazines, or in the  mirror. This week's roundup fashions some of the most introspective and  insightful posts from bloggers who reach across the blogosphere as they  look for ways to build upon, contribute to, and pull inspiration for and  from the fashion world.

  • 365 Fashion Rehab: Lessons from a (Reformed) Shopaholic: A beautiful handbag repaired (for free!). One more reason to buy quality over quantity.
  • Boheme Noir: The first ladies of Vogue - a closer look at the most important editors in chief.
  • Daisy Dayz: Friend Friday: How to learn from your mistakes and let your blog grow
  • Devilishly Pleasurable: Reflecting on the evolution of my blog and tips for better blogging!
  • Fish Monkey: The notion of flattering dressing is oppressive and unnecessary. Rather than conforming, why not chose a different shape?
  • Hazel Eye Personality:  Who has what it takes to be the next big and game changing designer? It  takes a lot of time, passion and sanity to make it in the fashion  world.
  • Independent Fashion Bloggers: Work Smarter, Not Harder–3 Ways to Massively (and Permanently) Increase Your Traffic.
  • Miss Viki: "Love Me" and what is wrong with our beauty ideals, if anything?
  • No Guilt Fashion: I put on my game face and tried out my biggest fashion trend fear
  • Passionista Place: qvc, hsn...oh my! find out why home shopping networks have become a bit of an addiction for a modern passionista like me.
  • Seamstress Stories: Reflections on the role that mirrors play for our body image and self-perception.
  • Showcase Edge: Indie Fashion Goes Back to the future. A look at designers who hand-make clothing inspired by times of the past
  • Sidewalk Chalk: I'm a poser, baby: 7 steps for posing naturally in outfit photos
  • Stylish White Female: Transitioning from vegetarian to vegan: Some things are hard to give up. Fur is not.
  • Taxonomy of my Wardrobe: Shopping the Wardrobe. My version of this month's Harper's Bazaar Buy Now wear Forever list selected from my own wardrobe.
  • The Coveted: Three Way With a Long Chiffon Skirt
  • The Curvy Fashionista: Nordstrom reaches out to plus size fashion bloggers to collaborate on its newest plus size endeavor- Sejour
  • The Demoiselles: She is not a fashion blogger. She's just a woman, sitting in her bathtub.
  • The Simply Luxurious Life: In a world that seems to be changing quicker than the seasons, what does it mean to be a lady?
  • The Wondergirl: retail-me-not: waxing poetic on two interesting happenings of late in the world of specialty retailing.
  • Vogue Mornings:How not to lose motivation when blogging, a few quick solutions to the problem many bloggers face.


Shopbop Denim: Boot Cut, Cropped, Straight Leg, Skinny, Black, Maternity, Boyfriend,"> Tall, &"> Petite

Friday, October 15, 2010

On Flattering Dressing

For a while now, I've been noodling over the idea of dressing for your shape, as explained by many style bloggers and fashion gurus, and how that notion fits with two themes I've been talking about quite a bit lately: female shape and patriarchal control.

First, the notion of 'flattering' dressing, as practiced by What Not To Wear and its ilk, is pretty much predicated on the notion that the most desirable silhouette is a tall, slim hourglass. While this is indeed a preferred shape in our society, this is by no means the only shape, and while there are certainly benefits to looking like a tall slim hourglass, a sane person may choose a different silhouette for a variety of reasons.

Now, I'll focus here on the perceived silhouette rather than the esthetic preferences of the wearer -- mostly because the wearer's preferences are often subtly (and not subtly) shaped by reactions they garner. That is, I think it is perfectly possible for someone to like wearing a femme, 50's silhouette -- but at the same time "I just like it" is not entirely true. Clothes cannot be taken from their context, and our preferences have been shaped by other people and their responses, positive and negative, whether we like it or not. So rather than argue why we might like certain shapes, I would like to discuss on why we may choose to project certain shapes to those around us.

The choosing bit is especially important to me here. Because of course, it's possible to treat clothes as nothing but coverings for your body, and thus just go grab the first pair of pants on a rack and a random shirt and call it a day. But this is surrendering control -- that is, your clothes will still be sending messages, you just won't be in dictating it. Which to me seems like a bad thing, since you cannot opt out from the whole nonverbal communication in a patriarchal society thing.

So anyway. Evolutionary psychologists and the rest of the crowd that believes that 1950's in the US were the pinnacle of healthy and natural gender dynamics insist that hourglass silhouette is the one that men find visually pleasing (blah blah fertility blah visual cues blah we generalize things from the sample of American undergrads and assume their preferences by no means are conditioned blee). Which really tells us nothing at all -- why is it assumed that all women want to appeal to only to men and at all times? But the society we live in deemed it desirable, and so we struggle to fulfill the social mandate.

Deb linked me to this post by a fat positive blogger. She brings to light several important points, but I would like to focus on two. First, some bodies are far away from the ideal that clothing won't be able to conceal the gulf -- and yet, they are expected to strive in that direction; that is fat women are expected to dress "thinner" even though they will never be deemed sufficiently thin by the mainstream
. Secondly, just being exposed to non-standard bodies that don't bother to disguise the fact that they're not standard is interpreted by some people almost as an assault -- hence the constant bitching on the internet about fat women in bikinis and complaints about older women in miniskirts. The common sentiment seems to be that the bodies who deviate from the ideal should hide themselves as not to offend the general public. This is really where the notion of age- and shape-appropriate dressing comes from -- to minimize public's exposure to the horrid, horrid deviant bodies that are too fat, too old, too anything.

And what about people who are reasonably close to the ideal? For them, flattering dressing is an option to actually pass as a societal ideal -- with heels and cunningly placed belts and flared skirts, they might be able to create the coveted illusion of a tall and slim hourglass. This is a trap even more sinister, because it feeds that pernicious aspirational dissatisfaction. I just need to throw on a pair of Spanx and wear one long unbroken line of color to create a longer leg line and... what? The ultimate reward of flattering dressing is to be perceived as societally acceptable and therefore desirable. 

And this constant assessment of female desirability is what so many feminists have been raging against. So feeding into the status quo by creating a flattering silhouette is not exactly revolutionary -- although there may be a need for it; I understand why many women would choose to project this silhouette. When not playing a game is not option, playing by the established rules seems sensible. And yes, there are rewards for conforming (just like there are punishments for not conforming). Choices are not made in the vacuum, and some are inherently harder -- there's no shame in taking an easier path. Really, who wants to struggle all the time?

But of course there's a third way. And that is distorting the body and creating a silhouette different from the norm, but with a purpose -- the tweaking, the undermining. For example, I have wide shoulders and broad back; common wisdom tells me to minimize my shoulders and balance their width with flared skirts. But I like the powerful and non-femme line my shoulders give me, and I'm likely to exaggerate it further with epaulets, shoulder pads, strong-shouldered jackets and boxy cuts. (And yes, sure, I do dress in traditionally feminine and flattering ways too; but I think it's important to have more than one silhouette in one's repertoire.)

Also, the common wisdom usually suggests emphasizing one's waist to avoid looking blocky or bulky -- fate worse than death, according to many. To elongate your legline. Both are optional -- I'm indifferent to my waist, and I like cropped pants, which are generally leg-shortening; I even like them pleated and tapered.  Alternately, I love high-waisted wide-legged pants than make my torso very short, and skew the proportion in an interesting way -- rather than legs looking merely long, they look unnaturally so. In both cases, altering of proportions can create interesting and unexpected silhouettes, quite capable of communicating one's stylistic sensibilities as well as lack of desire to be perceived as a sex object.

The key, I think, is to know what it is that you're doing, and why you're doing it. To that effect, fashion gurus are correct about one thing: it is worthwhile to know your body shape, so it can then be altered with clothes - to the desired effect. Wearing pants that are too short should look intentional rather than as if it hasn't occurred to you that pants could go below your ankle (a sadly common occurrence in academia). Knowing what your shape is ultimately allows you to manipulate it -- and to what end, is up to you. We all define the shapes we want to project, and we don't have to work toward the single one. You may choose to exaggerate the one you have or try for a different one, play with proportions, have fun. Moreover, no one should be shamed for their sartorial choices -- and I think the criticism is harder to withstand when it hasn't occurred to you that you look different rather than when it was your entire intention.

I leave you with the picture of a true fashion original, the great late Diana Vreeland. And in her honor, I rouged my earlobes this morning. It was amazing.

Monday, October 04, 2010

About those pink ribbons

With October being breast cancer awareness months, we're flooded with messages of “awareness” = thinly disguised merchandising, and slogans like “Save the tatas” and other nonsense featuring words like boobs and tits, making the whole cancer thing oh-so-sassy. There's a lot of information out there about pinkwashing, and that's all good stuff. My issues with the way breast cancer is packaged go beyond that, however.

Sassy slogans that place the focus on eroticized notion of breasts is problematic, of course, because it sort of tends to overshadow the fact that there's a human being attached to the tits that need saving; secondly, as mastectomy IS often a life saving although drastic procedure, the focus on saving the breasts can be actively damaging to survival and health of women. Also, can we please talk about serious illnesses affecting women without trivializing, sexualizing and sassifying? Can we ever talk about women's cancers as human suffering? Is that too much to ask?

Now, to the notion of buying pink-ribbon stuff. Even if you follow the Think Before you Pink guidelines, I would still advocate separating your philanthropy from your consumerism. I'm deeply disturbed by the increasing tendency to merge them together – as in, buy yogurt and we'll donate a few cents off the profits to a charity. How about I just donate to the charity I want, and buy yogurt separately? I mentioned it before – I am troubled by the notion of voting with your wallet, as consumer decisions are becoming the main vehicle for political expression and activism, for a fairly significant portion of the population. We buy hybrid cars and long-lasting light bulb to express our commitment to the environment (rather than, you know, reducing waste or carpooling, god forbid), and now we have to buy t-shirts to support breast cancer? Which create more waste and pollution, which in turn increases cancers?

And much like with the environmentalism-based consumption, charity-linked spending creates a false sense of doing something good, while contributing little. A direct donation of $20 to a proper charity is philanthropy; buying yourself a $20 shirt (that comes with a promise of profits being donated to charity) is just buying yourself a shirt (and likely contributing to unfair labor practices). Any benefit for charity etc is likely to be negligible. And that's $20 you won't be donating, and another shirt you don't need.

And at the bottom of it all, why hand over your power to make charitable contributions to some manufacturer? Ultimately, you often don't know if they are doing what they say they are doing, and you almost never know how much their manufacturing practices are contributing to the carcinogenic environment we live in. So I think I'll stick to keeping things separate – and I think there's value in recognizing when one's engaging in consumerism, rather than pretending that it's something else.

Quick things

1) Yesterday we celebrated our 11th anniversary, and tenth anniversary of Aja cat (who was our first anniversary gift). Cat faaaace!

2) And "Citizen Komarova Finds Love" was reprinted in Apex. I'm very happy about that one, since not many people saw it in its original publication last year.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Speaking of self-promotion....

Booklist reviewed The House of Discarded Dreams:

Vimbai, who studies invertebrate zoology because of a fascination with horseshoe crabs, moves into the house on the beach in order to escape her Zimbabwean immigrant mother’s intensity; she finds something strange and beautiful. There are two roommates: Zach, who has a pocket universe where his hair should be, and Maya, who works in an Atlantic City casino. Vimbai’s dead grandmother haunts them, a ghostly presence who tells Zimbabwean children’s stories and does the dishes. When the house comes unmoored and drifts away to sea, Vimbai must bargain with ghostly horseshoe crabs, untangle the many and varied stories that have come loose in the vast worlds of the house, and find a way home. From Maya’s urban nightmares to Vimbai’s African urban legends, the house is filled with danger and beauty and unexpected magic. On one level, this is a reflection of ancient fairy tales and legends; on the other, it’s a perfectly straightforward tale of finding oneself in a bizarre world. Either way, Sedia’s prose is a pleasure, her story a lovely place to have spent time, even with the horrors her characters face. — Regina Schroeder

(Your picspam will resume shortly)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

OK, this Barney's catalog has Simon Doonan all over it

Also, Lindsey Wixson is pretty awesome.More pics at FGR.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Heteronormativity, and lack thereof

Tonight's Project Runway delighted me in several ways: Tim Gunn firmly insisting that Jackie Kennedy would NOT have camel toe was a definite highlight. I was also quite pleased to see Mondo win, and I enjoyed Ivy's design -- great to see that she's returning to the neutral, ethereal, and yet sharply cut. I liked the idea of Andy's pants (execution and styling were, admittedly, lacking). Most of all, I enjoyed Mondo's own outfit: short shorts and a white tank top, with suspenders, knee socks, and tons of eyeliner. When asked, Mondo said that he was inspired by Cotton Club, and did a little tap dance. This is also the same person who put a mustache on his model during the Treacy challenge.

This is where it struck me: I do love Mondo's design, but I also adore his refusal to behave in heteronormative ways -- much like I enjoy the same trait in Johnny Weir (who recently made an appearance on Rachel Zoe, OMG). And really, having people like them on national TV is a big deal -- it is important to see the diversity of gender presentation (and people happily adopting behaviors usually associated with the opposite gender) in order for this diversity to become normalized. Interestingly enough, it seems more normalized in fashion industry: in last week's Rachel Zoe Project episode, there was a fashion crisis involving Johnny Weir showing up to an event and finding out that someone else wore the exact same outfit. Zoe's staffer, Brad, flies to the rescue, and asks Johnny if he'd seen that episode of 90210 where the two girls wear the same dress to the prom. "Of course," Weir replied. "What kind of man would I be if I haven't seen that episode?" "Not a very good one," Brad says.

Both had a jocular manner during that exchange, but it still struck me -- the way these two redefined masculinity rather than refused it. Redefined it to include watching 90210 and caring about prom dresses and high heels as masculine behaviors. This reclaiming and widening of mainstream gender roles strikes me as quite a bit more constructive than simply rejecting the mainstream and retreating into an invisible niche. And what's more mainstream than TV?

Finally, On the Road with Austin and Santino is a hilarious and sweet series. This week's episode started with Austin getting out of the car in his straw hat and carrying a parasol, and shaking hands with a female truck driver. And you know, we need that -- rather than calling this woman 'masculine' or labeling Austin as 'effeminate', we need to see that their gender is not defined by what the mainstream deems gender-appropriate. We don't get to boot people out of their gender for the things they do.

I'm thrilled to see all these things on TV: of course, most of them are on Lifetime, which is commonly dismissed as a chick network. Oh gender normativity, how you vex me.

Friday, September 10, 2010


THE SECRET HISTORY OF MOSCOW and THE ALCHEMY OF STONE are now audiobooks, available from or your local iTunes. 

Ella Lai

A while ago, I mentioned a young Chinese designer, Ella Lai, in one of my Etsy posts. Well, I ordered a trench dress from her a few weeks ago, and today it has arrived - made to order, and beautifully.

This dress/jacket (since it can be worn as either) is made of surprisingly sturdy cotton fabric, which feels like canvas, and is fully lined. Polka dot cuff, belt, and collar lining gives it an extra touch of character. It fit me nicely:

Here's a somewhat shaky closeup of the neckline and the collar:

If you look at Ella's shop, you'll notice that the clothes tend to be neutral and they look basic. But the design and the tailoring is anything but. I took some closeups of details that cannot be seen in a larger view, but when you wear the garment, you can't help but love them. The construction is just superb.

First, pleating in the center back, right under the collar:

It makes the heavy fabric drape in a very fluid way.

The placing of shoulder seams in many garments, especially outerwear, is tricky and vexing. Not here though, because the sleeves are cut in in a very ingenious way, so there's no shoulder seam as such:

And this attention to detail carries over to the branding. I was pleased to see that the dress came with a very nice tag with the designer's name:

It might seem like a small thing, but I like my indie designers, and I like it when they have professional logos. So really, I couldn't be more impressed with the craftsmanship of this designer, and I cannot recommend her enough to those who love their clothes simple, classic, and well-made.