Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bloody Fabulous Update

(From Vogue Italia 2009, picturing Nina Ricci's famous heelless shoes) I am currently reading submissions for Bloody Fabulous, and as happens with every new anthology, there is always a new set of issues. To be fair, I anticipated the majority of what is happening this time around: namely, people are trying to fake knowing about fashion. And it shows.

Firstly, fashion is not about labels. There is a reason a person dressed in a bunch of labels without rhyme or reason is called a fashion victim. Fashion is an industry that doesn't sell you beauty or sexiness or any of those things; fashion industry sells you change and the promise of self-reinvention and your new, better self emerging from the ashes; it's a promise of shapeshifting, of drag, of disguise and escape. And every successful fashion house knows it, and their label tells you what they are selling -- which disguise. It's a language, and you can fake it no more than you can fake speaking French. If you just throw a bunch of label names on the page, it looks off -- as if you blurted random foreign words and expected people to understand you. So: what labels your character wears should tell us something about the character. The fewer labels the better, since it allows for a better definition without too much product placement. There is a reason it's called The Devil Wears Prada, and not The Devil Wears Tom Ford's Gucci.

Speaking of: yes, we all saw that movie. So the chances of me accepting a story about a fashion editor who is super mean to her assistant are close to zero. Chances of me accepting more than one of those stories are actually zero.

Secondly, fashion and style are not the same although they are related. Style is all about how a person puts together their guise. To paraphrase Ru Paul, we all wear drag: we put together our clothing in such a way as to tell other people what we envision ourselves to be, what image we want to present to the world. Style is being fluent in this language -- that is, knowing how to put together a persona, as well as being sure of WHAT persona to present, whether to keep it fluid or to develop a uniform. People who do not care about fashion and style are not fluent (and that is fine, not every form of expression is mandatory); they dress for comfort and don't give it a second thought. But when you're writing about fashion, you are talking about people who are at the very least interested in style -- that is, they know which persona they cultivate. And this part is not about labels as much as it is about the lines of clothing and the silhouettes.

So when writing about people who are (or try to be) stylish as well as fashionable, it makes sense to give some thought about how image is put together. Not the labels, but the lines -- is it nipped in, girly, foofy, masculine, androgynous, eclectic, avant guard, approachable, forbidding, tailored, flowy? Knowing what selves your characters present to the world is knowing their aspirational self, or their armor. And if you set up a contrast between the true self and the projected self -- well, that's conflict right there.

And finally, it helps to know how fashion industry works if you choose it as your topic. As in, where do the models come from? Who makes runway samples? What are tailoring vs store samples? Where fabrics are sourced? Who are buyers? etc etc. Of course, not every story is about fashion industry -- there are many about people of personal style, of significant clothing, of disguises. But for all that is sacred, if you write about the fashion industry, do your research in the same way you would research history or science or any other industry -- thoroughly. If you think it's too trivial to research, or that no one will notice, you do your story no favors.

Links a la Mode

And once again, I find my post among this week's Links a la Mode. Thanks, IFB!

Getting Into The Spirit

Edited by Taylor Davies

Thanksgiving is now officially behind us, so it's time to start looking ahead to the coming holidays and all the fan-fair that comes along with them. From Black Friday shopping to holiday parties to festive DIY projects, there's a lot of inspiration in this week's Links a la Mode selections.
Along with all this inspiration, a few of our bloggers tackled some tough issues, from finding the balance between sexy and frumpy dressing in the workplace, vanity sizing, recession dressing and improving your blog posts. I thought these were important and critical to include for this week's round up, because even as the holiday season gets into full swing, and we're overcome with twinkling lights, festive parties and sequins galore - the same problems and difficulties we face the rest of the year will be here.


Holiday Sale at Shopbop: Rachel Roy, Anya Hindmarch, Rachel Zoe Bags, Coated Denim, Vix, Paige Jeans, Boots, Alexander Wang Purses, Sonia Rykiel, Tory Burch Bags, Vince Tops, Marc Jacobs Bags & Shoes.

If you would like to submit your link for next week’s Links à la Mode, please register first, then post your links HERE. The HTML code for this week will be found in the Links a la Mode group will be published later today. ~Jennine

And on a different note: yesterday I caught some Project Runway reruns (Season 4), and one of the challenges was to revive a hopelessly outdated and "out" trend. Which included fringe, cutouts, poodle skirts, neon, baggy sweaters, underwear as outerwear, dancewear, shoulder pads and seventies silhouettes -- that is, all those things that are all over current runways and stores. And sure, yes, fashion changes, trends come and go, that's obvious. My delight came primarily from watching Nina Garcia and Michael Kors four years ago ridiculing things they are enthusiastically shilling now. So trends don't only come and go, but with them they bring massive paradigm shifts, so that people can see something they used to think was ugly as beautiful, without experiencing cognitive dissonance.

Or is it that social psychologists are right, and extrinsic reward (gobs and gobs of money) is in itself enough to reduce the feelings of the dissonance, and the enthusiasm with which fashion mags offer us seventies silhouettes they thought were HIDEOUS just a few years back is genuine, because they certainly make enough cash to offset the feeling of inner conflict? I sure hope so. But I wonder how do the consumers of fashion -- that is, people who do not get paid -- reduce these feelings. I mean, we are contradicting ourselves, and are doing it for no reward. Is cognitive dissonance the engine that drives the consumption engine? Do we buy stuff to just shut up that dissatisfied voice inside that tries telling us that there is no reason to like stuff now if we hated it last year?

Oh Project Runway. You make me ask so many questions.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

FFB: Not-Sexy Dressing

This week’s topic for Feminist Fashion Bloggers group post is sexuality, but of course I am going to cheat and talk about something slightly different: the impossibility for a woman to dress in a sexually neutral manner. We live in the society where a guy can put on a pair of slacks, a shirt and a tie, and be totally work-appropriate and professional, without inviting judgment of his sexual life. For a woman, it is not so simple – striving for an attractive or fitted look tends to lower one’s perceived status (sexy secretary, anyone?), and forgoing sexiness in favor of more somber, looser clothes spells frumpville. So it’s sexy or frumpy, with a very narrow ledge in between. The width of the ledge varies depending on the workplace, the observer, and the woman’s age and attractiveness. Talk about running a gauntlet.

And this is the thing: I love clothes. I like being dressed professionally and put together at work. What I don’t love is that while I intend my clothes to be a message about my abilities, being a lady, I cannot take out any perceptions of sex. I really am not interested in seeing people I interact with at work as sexual objects; it seems only fair that women as well as men should be allowed this opportunity. I am here to do my job, and to look like I can do it well and be awesome while doing it.

What Not To Wear is an interesting case: they often implore women to look “sexy”, with Stacy asking emphatically, “What’s wrong with looking sexy?” And my answer is, of course nothing, if that’s what one wants to look like. But there ought to be alternatives other than hassled sad woman who gave up on herself forever, you know?

 In academia, one is already looked down upon if one shows interest in fashion – and part of, it, I think is the conflation of fashion with sexualized image of women. It doesn’t have to be, of course, but sadly we live in the world of binaries: sexy or frumpy, slut or blue stocking, etc etc. So the shortcut goes from well-dressed to fashiony to sexy to vapid. The opposite is of course the stereotypical female academic who takes her work too seriously to spend even a minute thinking about clothing – and those are perceived as sex-hostile and/or mannish. Being respected and perceived as competent becomes almost impossible without personal style becoming a statement of self-denial. And we need this third thing.

You know, the thing that men have, the way of dressing that says, I am here to be presentable and to do my job, and not to be evaluated in terms of my perceived sexuality. The thing that doesn’t make people think, “Gee, she spends so much time/money/effort on dressing, she must be really vapid.” The thing where wearing low heels and masculine clothing doesn’t invite people to automatically assume that one’s a lesbian or, at the very least, “has given up” (whatever that means.) But women as a sex class are denied these opportunities. We can confine ourselves to different castes of this class, but we cannot escape it. So we can certainly talk about how women have more choices than men when it comes to clothing and workwear, but until these choices include the possibility of presentation entirely outside of the sexual dimension, the variety is not really signifying anything but profits for the fashion industry.