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

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