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Clippings of Miscellany

February 3rd, 2008 by tatterdemalion

Today I made some attempt at cleaning up, my constant struggle, and found a lot of clippings I had meant to comment on. It seems only fitting to start with the review I ripped out of The Economist (January 6th, 2007). The book under the microscope is called A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder–How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place. No, I am not making this up.

One of the things this review taught me was the varying difference on what constitutes organzied. It says:

. . .A rough storage system (important papers close to the keyboard, the rest distributed in loosely related piles on every flat surface) takes very little time to manage. Filing every bit of paper in a precise category, with colour-coded index tabs and a neat system of cross-refrencing, will certainly take longer. And by the end, it may not save any time.

Indeed. I thought that what they refer to as “a rough storage system” counted as being organized. Color-coded index tabs and neat systems of cross-refrencing border on a mental obsession. (Not that I don’t know people who have such systems; I posit that mental obsessions are a lot more “normal” than most people are willing to accept.) “Disorganized” is when there is no system of storage; “organized chaos” is a perfectly acceptable storage system.

On the whole, it seemed like the book made a half-way decent case for not being a control freak and not worrying about or planning every stupid little thing, of which I whole-heartedly agree. One cited example was how America’s Marine Corps never make detailed plans in advance, because leaving the details to the last minute reduces the risk of wasting time on things that may ultimately prove not important at all. They also note, as I have, that disorder and creativity are closely linked. The book argues that all the hype and fuss about being organzied and neat does more to spread guilt, not boost productivity.

In the end, though, the reviewer gets the final word. For one thing, it was noted by the reviewer that the case for tidiness in some environments is overwhelming—surgery, for example. Yes, indeedy, I would like anyone doing surgery on me to be to be very exact, and to have all my files neatly filed with color-coded index tabs. While it might be very creative to do a hernia repair on someone needing their appedix removed, it would hardly be humorous or helpful.

And also,

The other thing is that the book is a bit repetitive and disorganised. Even readers who leve mess in their own lives don’t necessarily like it in others.

Ha. Isn’t that the truth.

The subject as a whole reminds me of a qoute I saw once—People who are organized are just too lazy to look for things.

I think one must be careful to avoid being extreme in either direction. It is not pleasant to live somewhere where everything must be just so, cleaned and organized to the point that one is afraid to breath for fear of messing up the intricate order of the air. It’s also not pleasant to live in some place that is so cluttered and disorganized nothing can be found or accomplished. I would never go so far as to say it is morally repugnant to not be roughly organized, but being roughly organized certainly makes for more pleasant living, and yes, greater productivity. I’ve yet to see, though, much benefit to highly detailed filing systems. The person I know who is most detailed in their organization has to spend about as much time trying to remember which file she filed something in than I would fishing it out of my loosely organized pile.

There is a need for moderation in all things—disorder and order both. They ought to balance each other out, not stifle everything else around it.

~~~~~

Moving on, I discovered a clipping I took from the WSJ (September 27, 2007) on anorexia and the fashion industry. It was disturbing on many levels—those suffering from anorexia, those who seem to need to be told that anorexia is disturbing, and the layers of hypocrisy from so many in the fashion industry.

A fashion label had decided to run an ad campaign, using “images of an emaciated 27-year-old woman, nude, with the line, ‘No. Anorexia.’

Already I am disturbed. How is this an ad campaign? How is this supposed to make people want to buy their cloths, to show a naked, starving woman? And what does it mean by “No. Anorexia.” What on earth are assumed to be thinking when we see that? “Gee, I wish I was that skinny”?

The article goes on to say that the managing director who O.K.’ed the ad campaign was shocked when she first saw the photos. Why? What is more shocking about seeing a nekkid anorexic, instead of a scantly clad anorexic walking down the runway? Personally, I’m more appalled by by the scantly clad anorexic on the runway—what kind of sicko wants to have their work “complimented” by starving woman? Clinically, it’s the same body whether it has designer rags on it or not cloths at all on it, and practically speaking, it’s not that much more covered when it’s wearing those things called high fashion. So what exactly is the distinction that makes it shocking when it’s not on the runway?

Someone protested that “This girl needs to bein a hospital, not at the forefront of an advertising campaign” I don’t quite understand how it is presumed this must be mutually exclusive. In my understanding of the article, the woman was fully aware of her anorexia problem, understood what the photos would be used for, and gave her full consent. Two pictures are all that are being used of her; for all I know she was laying in a hospital bed while the ad campaign stirred up fire and brimestone. Again, the thing I find troubling is that someone would find anorexia a desireable way to sell something.

The same person also complained that the campaign “glorifes a woman who is sick and could lead others to be sickly thin because of all the attention.” I am still trying to figure out how a nude, 5 foot 5, 68 lb woman with words ‘No. Anorexia’ counts as “glorifying” anorexia. I understand that anorexia is on display, but there is a big difference between displaying something and glorifying it. One can display something in a glorifying manner, or in a mocking manner, or in a disgusted manner, or in a shocking manner, or in a factual manner, or in a million other different manners. I do feel a good deal of pity who is in such desperate need for attention they would be tempted to starve themselves for it, because they are very miserable people regardless of wether or not they actually get tempted into such things. You don’t need to be anorexic to be starved for unconditional love.

Someone else stated they were bothered because it was being used for commercial purposes. I agree, but so are all the anorexic models, so where, again, is the difference?

Ms. Bertoncello dismissed comments that her company is seeking to profit from a deadly disease. “The campaign sets off an alarm, and it’s a loud one,” she said. “I am happy the ad is being talked about. whether it’s positive or negative, at least the issue is getting some real attention.” Nonetheless, she doesn’t deny that he main purpose of the campaign is to market the Nolita brand and acknowledges that all her models are thin.

Not to bad for a lady who claimed earlier in the same article that the ad “laid bare a hypocrisy that she says still lurks in the fashion wolrd. ‘If you don’t think there is a problem with some of the models working in our industry, then you have blinders on,’ she said in a telephone interview. ‘The fashion industry glorifies sickly thin models and it has to stop.’

It is pretty sick, but I’m not referring to how thin the models are. I’m referring to the people who want models that thin. It’s sick that there has to be organizations trying to restrict hiring anorexics and models—it’s sick that there is a market for people who are or appear to be anorexic.

A designer was qouted,

“I don’t agree with it,” she said. “It’s not something that we need to see—to show that body like that, that’s really sad. That kind of thing is so personal we don’t need to show it—we all know what [anorexia] is, we all know what it looks like. There are so many ways to get the message across without such shock value.”

That’s a mixed bag. I understand what she is saying; I’ve seen gratitious pictures of grief that make me feel the same way. You feel sick someone would intrudes on such personal pain for the sake of a bit of shock value. And I’m sure the guy who developed this campaign was far more interested in shock value than in compassion on those suffering from anorexia.

But on the other hand, it seems to me like she is simply uncomfortable with the hard truth of the matter. That body in that way. Is the only distrubing thing the way “that body” was shown? Would you be happier to see it on a runway in designer rags? Do we know what anorexia looks like? How come? Maybe because we see it walking down the runways all the time? Yes, it is awful to see. Does that automatically make it wrong? Does it mean we shouldn’t ever look at things that show suffering? Should we just pretend that nothing is wrong, that it’s not that big of a deal? Should we whitewash the problem, sanatize, make it all nice and neat and oh-so-much more palatable? Form committes to talk about the problem?

I have a hard time figuring out where all the “shock” is coming from, except maybe that someone just called a spade a spade, pointed out that the emperor has no clothes, so to speak. I understand that maybe lot of designers don’t like the implication that they are doing this to people. Since this anorexic has not been shown as “glamorous” but as the wasted-away human she is, it makes the designers look cruel and heartless and rather sick, instead of edgy, arty, sophisticated. That’s bad for the image of the designers; why would they want to face it up? And I understand how those campaigning against anorexia are upset that this is, after all, meant to be an advertising campaign to generate sales for a clothing company that itself is encouraging anorexia by the very models they choose to hire. That’s sick, too. And I understand being upset that some guy wanted to take picture of a naked anorexic, just to see how much he could stir up the pot.

But I don’t understand why a picture of a naked anorexic is more appalling, upsetting or shocking than those that want people to look like anorexics, than the “designs” that people put on anorexics, or the fact that people in the fashion need to be told that it is upsetting to see starving people being paraded around as clothes hangers for “high fashion”.

~~~

And finally, I found a page from the September 27, 2007 WSJ entitled When Bloomers Don’t Cut It. I’m not quite sure why I saved it, except to mock the designer (Graeme Black) who complained “Being too practical is limiting from a design point.” I would like to tell the whiner that any knuckle-head can imgaine alternate universes where perpetual motion devices really can exist; it’s the people with skill who are willing to engage the real world with all of it’s practical restrictions and make something that really works. Practicallity can indeed be a designing challange or difficulty, but I hardly think it needs to be a restriction except for those who only want to play, not work.

Or maybe I wanted to applaud the designer (Tomas Maier) who said “I like a woman who doesn’t actually like overpowering clothes. I want to see her face.” Though the cynic in me can’t help but wonder if maybe he just knows which side his bread is buttered on, and knows how to say the things people want to hear.

To be fair, the article named both designers as some of the rare few who actually designed clothes women might actually want to wear.

And also that 6267 made a big splash for a lot of people; it was also mentioned as designers who made clothes someone might want to wear, and even as being able to get a crowd weary from 12 hours of runway shows to burst into cheers. Actually, probably the biggest sign of how noteworthy 6267 is would be the fact that they even caught my fashion-hating eye. Trust me, no one was more shocked than myself.

Not to overstate the case. I just went and looked through a slideshow of 6267’s September showing, and while there were several long, full skirts that caught my eye, I was largly distracted from paying much attention to the clothes for all of the starving women.

Posted in Contemplations, Design, Fashion | 1 Comment »

In the news. . .

November 17th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

First off, I’d like to draw your attention to an article in Thursday’s (November 15, 2007) WSJ, entitled Inside a Salon That Serves the Logo-Phobic. As usual, it has been written by Christina Binkley, and as you might have guessed I am highly amused by the traditional couture houses putting themselves out of business while small places like this cater to the people who really are interested in couture.

The article opens by profiling Ms. Markbreiter, who says that “To me, logos speak more of mass merchandising.” When she recently bought an Oscar de la Renta handbag, she removed the logo tag! Horrors! It’s a full-fledged back-lash against pushing of “couture” on the mass market. As the article says, These women want exquisitely made but subtle clothing and accessories that don’t shout “fashion.” What?! People who are interested in quality clothes that don’t want to be gaudy trend-followers and name droppers?! Perish the thought!

It seem so amusing to me because the description of this boutique sounds nearly identical to descriptions I have heard of the couture world in its “glory years”. Intent on chasing larger audiences and making statements and being artistic, the couture world largely alienated its original clientel. So those costumers who are actually interested in some of the properties of what I call “the original couture”—namely, things like quality of workmanship and materials, longevity of design and fabric, personalization in fit, and custom design for individuals—are going elsewhere with their business.

Ms. Powell scours Paris, London and New York for designers–mainly independent of the big luxury chains–whose attention to detail, fine fabrics and workmanship set them apart, in her opinion. She then demands that they work with her by altering their designs or supplying extra fabric for alterations.

Ms. Powell is no stranger to the couture world.

Ms. Powell, a Sweedish woman who speaks seven languages, is a veteran of the Paris-London-New York fashion scene. As a student in Paris, she was hand-plucked by Hubert de Givenchy to work in his atelier, and she later ran the Givenchy franchise on Madison Avenue for 13 years, until Mr. Givenchy retired.

Not only do Ms. Powell and her assistant fit everything to the individual costumer, they are not at all adverse to not sticking with the original designers sacred inspiration—two examples given were taking apart a dress and turning it into a camisole and skirt, and turning a coat into a dress. In some ways, it almost sounds like a second-hand atelier—not that the clothes have been previously worn, but that instead of starting with yardage, they start with garments.

This type of costumer shuns brand names and superfluous amounts of clothing (which is usually a result of trend-following), but instead seeks quality and, perhaps even more rare in today’s clothing world, dignity.

~~~~

In other news, I recently read the latest HotPatterns newsletter. Although this company produces patterns of which I am most definitely not the target audience (can anyone say “trendy”?), I was interested in seeing how this small, independent pattern company would grow. Or not, depending on the way things went. People did seem to be quite taken by the designs, which were originally quite different than what was offered elsewhere. And they were certainly taken in with the advertising, the whole attitude that the pattern company was selling.

Personally, however, I have been less and less impressed, as each new collection only seems like a tiny variation on the one before it, and often times what designs are not stylistic repeats are very, very simple and basic pieces. If you’re going to buy from HotPatterns, you had better like straight skirts, neck-ties and gathers. And the words “super-stylish,” “totally gorgeous,” “funky,” “fabulous,” and the like, because you will be getting a lot of them.

However, I continue to keep half an eye on HotPatterns, and now I am also (thanks to the newsletter brining it to my attention) keeping half an eye on a new eMagazine, SEWN. Freshly, newly, just barely launched, there isn’t really much on the site yet (which is why one needs to watch to see what this will develop into). This is from their about page:

Why should knitters and quilters have all the fun? Garment sewists demand a magazine of our own. We want something less crunchy than the DIY stuff on the Web, but we don’t want Art to Wear either. We want designer inspiration, designer resources, and ideas for using patterns that are available commercially. We want great fabric even if we live in the middle of nowhere. We love vintage but still need to get dressed to go to work in the real world, not some costume drama. We want to learn great techniques without the schoolmarm tone. If we can get some style and makeup stuff too, that’s fabulous.

This is SEWN Magazine!

This is the fashion magazine for people who make their own fashion. We are big fans of what works. Because of that, you may see things done a little differently here than the way you were taught, if you were ever taught at all. Most of us are trying to squeeze sewing time in between the laundry and a nervous breakdown. So while we can appreciate the artistry of a Gallianno gown, we are not sewing one and don’t get us started on trying to drive to dinner in one. Fashion as an industry is a little catty and very opinionated. And so are we. We’re blunt but we’re more like the battle-axe with a heart of gold than truly mean. You’re going to get the unvarnished truth.
The writers who have been kind enough to allow us to use their work are given credit, even if at this point they aren’t getting paid. What that means is that we are fiercely protective of their work. Everything here is published under a Creative Commons license that does not allow publishing to commercial sites. If you would like to use something on your blog, contact us and we’ll ask them.

Fasten your seat belts, because we are going to be moving fast. This mini-issue is just the start of something big!

Um, how can I not be interested in keeping an eye on a magazine that describes themselves as “a battle-axe with a heart of gold”? Also, it is always a good sign to see someone using a Creative Commons license.

And also, I wonder if I’m going to get in trouble because I didn’t ask before I cut and pasted from their about page? And also, is it common now for people to actually schedule their nervous breakdowns? I always did them rather spontaneously, myself, but I suppose anything is possible in this day and age. I hear some women schedule c-sections because they’re too busy to risk going into labor at a time that doesn’t fit into their schedule.

Kind of curiously, the part of that whole about section that made me stop and consider was the line “still need to get dressed to go to work in the real world.” In that phrase, I heard lash-back against the super-expensive couture and the super-trendy couture. It was rather akin to saying “Hello?! We live in a real world! We want to make real clothes, not trashy novelties or in-your-dreams designs!”

While I very much understand this sentiment, it does lead to the question of what counts as living a real life, and what are real clothes?

I recently had a very similar discussion while knitting with Bub, as we discussed knitting patterns. Although the meaning was mostly the same, the thought in question was “What is Classical?” Because she says she likes clothes with a “classic” style, and I say I like clothes of a “classic” style, and yet I know perfectly well that we are drawn to totally different styles. “Classic” all by itself, does not really communicate much. For instance, you can say you like Classical Music. Naturally, most people would take this to rather evident what it means, but at the same time, people are not at all adverse to using terms like “Classical Rock” or “Classical Country” or any other type of music.

While I was willing to grant that there were several elements that tied us together—for example, simple lines, being understated and subtle, not gaudy or trendy but maybe with a bit of a sense of humor—but fundamentally, our ideas of what constituted “classic” had different roots. Although we both claimed classic taste, we disagreed on everything from shape, neck-lines, texture and formality. Our basic disagreements came from our attitudes toward clothing.

Her idea of “classical” is based on her early life, a life that involved cocktail parties. She would be what I would describe as “Chanel Classic”, of which, as I have mentioned before, has very little appeal to me at all. I, far more comfortable being sweaty and dirty and working hard than I am in any sort of semi-formal or formal atmosphere, much prefer what I would refer to as “rustic” or “country” classic—clothes that would be utterly out of place in cocktail party, even though they would maintain the same “classic-ness” of simple lines, understatement, etc. I would call something like this classic, while her mind is still stuck on a little black dress and a strand of pearls.

So in other words, while everyone might be cheering to hear of something based toward real people with real lives, it is at the same time utterly undescriptive.

Still, we might guess.

But we might be quite wrong.

So we will just have to wait and watch.

Posted in Articles, Contemplations, Couture, Fashion, Magazines, Websites | No Comments »

I know it's not a hammer, but it's still a tool!

July 14th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

Ok, one verrry last post on Dressaday’s Airplane Rant, and then I’ll stop. Really and truly. Honest.

Unfortunately, something tells me this post of mine is going to be pretty much wind up as a rant itself. Probably because of certain phrases, like this one from the comments from someone by the name of “wampoline”:

I have to say I was appalled at the anonymous toddler mom’s comment on this blog: “I would no sooner dress up for an airplane ride than I would for a road trip in my own personal car.” This idea of the American nuclear family traveling about in its own little bubble, uncaring and oblivious to the world around them, is insular and selfish, to say the least. Just because you have a child doesn’t mean you are not part of a larger society. And just because you are a “mom” doesn’t mean that you are invisible to other people around you. What message about the world and life is that toddler getting from such an attitude?

Sorry to say, but this comment fairly well makes my pressure-weight (you do have a pressure-cooker, right?) rattle like crazy every time I read it. Or, to borrow their language, I’m appalled every time I read this comment. To say the least.

I’m sorry, but I see nothing insular and selfish about giving a child the attitude that there are more important things in life than dressing in such a way as to give as many people as possible the most pleasure of looking at you. Caring about the people around you is not about giving them something nice to look at! And if all the people around you are selfish enough to only want to see things that look pleasing to them, they can just go insulate themselves inside their houses where they don’t have to see anything except those things which agree with their tastes. Just because I’m not invisible doesn’t, ahem, mean I need to be pretty.

Did you get that irony? Did you click that link? That link goes to a Dressaday post where Erin says:

. . .got me thinking about the pervasive idea that women owe it to onlookers to maintain a certain standard of decorativeness.

Now, this may seem strange from someone who writes about pretty dresses (mostly) every day, but: You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”. . .

But what does you-don’t-have-to-be-pretty mean in practical, everyday terms? It means that you don’t have to apologize for wearing things that are held to be “unflattering” or “unfashionable” — especially if, in fact, they make you happy on some level deeper than just being pretty does. So what if your favorite color isn’t a “good” color on you? So what if you are “too fat” (by some arbitrary measure) for a sleeveless top? If you are clean, are covered enough to avoid a citation for public indecency, and have bandaged any open wounds, you can wear any color or style you please, if it makes you happy.

I was going to make a handy prettiness decision tree, but pretty much the end of every branch was a bubble that said “tell complainers to go to h***” so it wasn’t much of a tool.

I apologizeth not.

I know that in her airplane rant, Erin didn’t technically attempt to try to place any more restrictions on airplane clothing than: Don’t stink, don’t hang out of your clothing, and don’t wear any shoes (e.g. flip-flops, etc.) that get in the way of accomplishing a smooth ride for all involved. (All of which, by the by, I agree with.) But Erin does also say:

My take is that people who wear clothes on airplanes that are better suited to washing a series of strangers’ cars at $5/pop have essentially given up all hope that they will ever be the recipient of happy chance. They’ve decided serendipity is not for them, so they’ve forsaken the notion that perhaps one day they may need to make a good first impression on a stranger. . . Before you leave for the airport, look at yourself in the mirror, and think: Could I meet and IMPRESS someone who would change my life while wearing this? And if the answer is “No,” change.

And Erin isn’t the only one who felt this way. As another commenter by the name of Cherie says:

I feel exactly the same way. My favorite Coco Chanel quote comes to mind:

“I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little – if only out of politeness. And then, you never know, maybe that’s the day she has a date with destiny. And it’s best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.”

Amen to that!

Hello?

First of all, since when did fate/chance/destiny/serendipity/enchanted-creatures-in-disguise care what people look like? From all my reading of myths, fairy-tales and the Brother’s Grimm, it was never the vain, good-looking people who had any luck. You’d be much safer as a bedraggled, virtuous wood cutter/spinner. Low class people, who probably couldn’t even pass the muster of “clean” and “not stinking”.

Really, though, I’m kind of annoyed by all this dress-to-impress preaching. Everyone always wants to pull out the what-if-you-met-an-old-flame or what-if-you-met-someone-famous scenarios, as though this is such a stunning and brilliant argument we must all fall silent in the face of it. But, if I met an old flame (hypothetically speaking), and the thing he would be most interested in was how I looked, it only goes to show why he would be an old flame. There’s no point in getting too friendly with people who won’t be friends when you look as ugly as a snotty sheep, because some days, you just are, and what’s the use of friends who desert you when you’re having a bad day?

And as for the famous person, I always imagine (pretend?) that they would be rather pleased to be treated like normal person, after having so many screaming masses dogging their footsteps. And, if they would really be more pleased if they were treated as the Sky’s one great gift to the Earth, well then, I don’t think I would really be getting on so well with them anyway. So ix-nay on the dressing to impress them, too.

Really, I don’t understand why this is so difficult for people to grasp: Clothing is a tool.

If the vehicle which most suited your needs was a pick-up truck, would you buy a car simply because the neighbors think it looks better in your driveway?

Please don’t say yes, please don’t say yes, please don’t say yes.

Thank you.

And also, please don’t get started telling me all about what we owe to society. (You know, I almost titled this post “Mother Russia“.) I do understand that there are some burdens to society. After all, that’s why there is such a thing as nudist colonies; they wouldn’t have to go colonize if they weren’t an offense to society. To me, I think society’s rights can be put rather concisely by saying, “Try not to be be an offense to those around you.” This is a long, long, long, long, long way off from having a burden to please those around you, but some people seem to get it all mixed up anyway.

Your clothes are there for your purposes. The clothes are subject to you, not the other way around. What you chose to wear depends on what you desire to accomplish.

There are the “physical” or “practical” goals. Practical goals are those that have your clothes aid you in the activity you are doing, whether by comfort, freedom of movement, protection, camouflage, durability, fast drying, warmth or any other thing.

And there are “emotional” or “psychological” aspects to clothing as well, whether it be in how you perceive yourself (I feel more confidant when I wear these clothes) or how others perceive you (I get better treatment in the stores when I wear these clothes).

But you have to be careful to differentiate between those that say you ought to dress, and how you can dress. Some would say you always ought to wear those clothes, and point to how you are “treated better” when you are wearing them. If that is what you want to do, it is certainly valid. But, you may also choose to continue wearing the clothes that suit you and (a) put up with bad service, (b) use other means of getting good service, (c) shop some place where they’ll treat you respectfully without you having to dress up, or (d) other. (There’s always an “other”, right?)

Clothing is a tool in your hands that you may (or may not) use to influence situations to (hopefully) bring about your desired outcome. In some cases, this is referred to as “dressing appropriately” or “dressing for the situation”. (Note, too, that even that phrasing rules out a single way of dressing.)

An example that springs to my mind is one that is not directly related to clothing per se, but it is related to how we present ourselves/treat others.

There was an occasion where a brother of mine and I had to take pick-up truck after pick-up truck of trash to the dump. My brother called every dump worker we had dealings with either “sir” or “ma’am”. I don’t just mean occasionally, I mean at the end of every sentence.

“Yes, sir!”

“Okay, sir.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“All right, that’s what we’ll do then, sir.”

I had a hard time not cracking up at the juxtaposition. Not that people were rude when they spoke to us. Actually, most of them never spoke. The might grunt, or nod their head, but really? It was obvious that no one liked their job, were bored out of their minds, and quite possibly some of them had never been called “sir” before in their lives. They spend their whole day working with trash, an occupation that is not exactly refined. They kind of slouched along, and avoided eye contact, and did just what they had to do.

So one could quite easily say that such formalities were over-kill or a bit out-dated. Sure, you can never go wrong with good-manners, but when in Rome do as the Romans, right? I mean, it felt a little like wearing spats and a top-hat to go eat at McDonald’s. Some of the modern generation don’t even seem familiar with the usage of “sir”—I overheard some young staffers at Lowe’s trying to get a man’s attention by addressing him as “guy”. And some generations rebel at being called “sir”. “‘Sir’ was my father. I’m not ‘sir.’

But, our multitude of trips did go quite smoothly. Sometimes the workers even went above and beyond the call of duty and helped us unload. Even if they thought us a bit weird, I think it’s safe to say they appreciated being treated with respect and not being taken for granted. Was it necessary to go to such lengths? I don’t believe so. Can acting in such away effect they way you are treated? I believe so.

In the same way, I would say your appearance can have effects, but it’s up to you to decide what you want those effects to be. If you dress to be comfortable, one expects you will be comfortable. If you dress in a crisp, business-like manner, one would expect you would be more likely to be treated in a crisp, business-like manner. If you dress in a casual, approachable manner, one would expect you would be more likely to be treated in a casual, familiar way. If you dressed in such a way as to blend in with those around you, your treatment will likely be the same as those around you. If you dress contrary to those around you, you will certainly get noticed more, though for good or ill depends on quite a lot of things. You have no obligation to dress in such a way as to “impress” someone, but if there is “someone” you wish to impress, you have the right to dress in such a way as you think will accomplish that.

It is not about serendipity, or chance encounters, or obligations to society. It’s not about what you “ought” to wear. It’s a realization that clothing is a tool, physically and psychologically. It is not, however, the tool. Though some may decide it is a powerful tool of communication and learn to use it skillfully, others may find that there are different tools that serve them better, and will not set time to the study of clothing.

Which goes back to that rather dry point: some people just don’t care what they look like. Get over it.

Posted in Contemplations, Fashion | 5 Comments »

'Coco'—continuing "The Secrets of The Couturiers"

June 7th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

I have tried hard to like Chanel’s work, but I just have never quite managed it. People would say her work was the epitome of luxury, the definition of chic elegance, that she had the perfect taste. I tried to see it, but I couldn’t. The “classic” Chanel jackets simple looked like an old couch we once had, square, scratchy, and totally un-special in every way. Her “typical” clothes reminded me of stuffy people who put on overly-dignified airs.

All the proclamations of perfection made me wonder if I was the only one who saw the emperor had no clothes, or if I was really just so different from everyone else. It didn’t help that they insisted she knew all there was to know about looking good, and yet in the first picture I saw of her she looked a good deal like a pickled frog (something like this, only perhaps even more so).

I have done further research into Chanel since then, and even though I know she did more than that infernal tweed, and even though I agree with some parts of some of the things she has said, I still can’t find anything in her clothes that appeals to me. (Though I have found that once upon a time she was quite pretty.)

Perhaps the greatest surprise to me was how greatly our outlooks clashed. It was a bit of an awakening to me how much our philosophies affect our work, which sounds positively obvious when I write it. And I guess it is. But I never looked at Chanel’s work and loathed it for what she was saying. I never even stopped to consider what her thoughts behind it might be. I just knew I didn’t like it. In reading the piece about her in The Secrets of the Couturiers (a book by Frances Kennett), I discovered I disagreed with her thoughts as much as I did her work.

As I said, that should have been obvious to me. But when one reads of someone’s thoughts, and then sees the work, one has already made up one’s mind on their opinion of the work. They will see the thought reflected in the work. It was very interesting for me to do the reverse—to see a work and find it unpleasant (without even considering what it was saying), and then discover that it flowed out of thoughts I also disagree with.

You see, Coco was a feminist. And I am not. Even though I am female. This can seem unheard of, as though of course if you are female you are a feminist; to do otherwise is to betray the core of your being. But to tell you the honest truth, most feminists make me ashamed of being female. Or at the very least, highly embarrassed. If being female means you have to be a feminist, I’d rather not be female. But if I can be a female, without being a feminist, I am perfectly okay and at home with that.

And that is my first point of contention with feminists. They aren’t perfectly okay with being female. They are not perfectly okay with accepting that men and women are different. They make a huge, ludicrous scene, marching out and declaring “Women are just as good as men in everything!”

And that just makes me want to crawl into a hole and die.

First of all, it’s a blatant lie. And if you really, truly honestly believe that, you are so ignorant and unobservant you need nanny and a seeing eye dog. Men have their strengths, and women have theirs; and we both have our own sets of weaknesses. Neither is the same as the other. We are different.

Secondly, they are admitting defeat before the battle has even begun, and so it is no wonder they’re the laughing stock of men. To say that you are just as good as someone else is to already admit they are better than you. Why else would they be used as the standard of goodness?

Chanel, in her own way, commits both these crimes. Secrets of the Couturiers quotes her biographer Marcel Haedric as saying:

Her stroke of genius was to transpose the masculine English fashion to the feminine with taste that precluded any ambiguity, as she had already done with hats. She transformed everything she touched—her jackets, her blouses, the ties on the blouses, the cufflinks at the wrists, everything she borrowed from men became ultra feminine through her magic.

But why? Why even bother “borrowing” from men in the first place? It’s like trying to make a dog look like a cat, or vice versa. Sure, they both have the same number of limbs, but what’s the point to it? If you want a cat, get a cat. If you want a dog, get a dog. Why try to make a cat look like a dog? Even a catty looking dog? Isn’t the cat good enough as it is? Why mimic the dog?

Some of the descriptions from her earliest shows sound as though they may have been more interesting.

Her first collection, 1922, showed Balkan embroideries on black crepe de chine; in 1924, she showed gorgeously drooping chiffon with floating sleeves and long loops of glass and cut steel beads.

But the things she famous for. . .

In 1925 she revolutionized ‘separates’ with her cardigan jacket two-pieces. In 1926, her straight-hanging jersey dresses epitomized the look of the Jazz Age. Square-necked, or adorned with simple white collars, the bodices hung straight to the hips, modified by careful seaming to give the eye interest. From the hips, the dresses would break out in easy pleats as the wearer moved, but the overall silhouette was one of sleekness, an uncluttered elegance. Topped by the ubiquitous cloche hat, it was a look that women of all ages (particularly young ones) could wear from morning till night. Plain, quite drab colours, beiges, fawns, greys, navys and even black, in spite of recent enforced wartime use of the colour—became ultra smart.

This style of dressing changed hardly at all through Chanel’s long career.

. . .were for the most part, shapeless. And with the tweeds she used, they constantly bring to my mind a burlap sack. Utterly straight cuts are generally most suitable on utterly straight bodies. The uncomfortable fact of the matter is that the majority of women are not utterly straight. (Though, I will grant that Chanel appears to be.) Men are straight. We curve. That’s who we are. Why try so hard to get a straight line out of a curved body?

This shapelessness is usually defended as practicality and freedom.

Possibly Chanel was thinking of Courreges’ structured creations when she said:

Men make dresses in which one can’t move. They tell you very calmly that dresses aren’t made for action. I’m frightened when I hear such things. What will happen when no one thinks as I do anymore?

Well, you certainly won’t see me sticking up for Courreges. And her complaint does hold a certain grain of truth. As the book mentions in a later chapter, p. 85,

It is no coincidence that all the women featured in these profiles of the couturiers have injected a strong note of practical innovation in their designs. There is an appreciable difference of approach between male and female designers.

To be sure; female designers have the added caution of having their bluffs being called. One who makes clothes for their own gender is expected to wear such clothes; one who makes clothes for the opposite gender does not need to face that danger. But there is a difference between being practical, and being ugly and unflattering, which, even if it is my own opinion, is what most of Chanel’s designs are for the average woman. (I do consider the fact that her cut of clothes was perhaps a tiny bit more suitable to her body-type. But even so, there is the problem that the majority of women claim that Chanel’s clothing is the epitome for a well dressed female, and it is there I strongly disagree.)

And Chanel’s complaint, ultimately, is not against the male designers, but the females which flock after them. I assure you, there are a plenty of women who were quite capable of action all throughout time; they just weren’t always the “glamorous” or “fashionable” women. One who is willing to give up her freedom for the sake of looking modern is going to be at fault regardless of what the designers are thinking.

But the thing that bothers me about Chanel’s “fear” over “un-active”, or perhaps one might say, un-independent, woman is the hypocrisy of it all. Chanel didn’t get her business going by her own independence or action, unless you count the “action” of “bewitching her lovers”: from her first boutique to her couture house, Chanel was funded not by the work of her hands and the sweat of her brow, but by the rich men she liked to hang out with.

. . .At around the age of 20 she had a job as a nightclub dancer at Pau, in the Pyrenees, where she met a young English man, who subsequently set her up in business with a small hat shop in Paris. . .During the First World War, Chanel moved out of Paris to Deauville, to work for the Red Cross. The next step in her career is so well known that it too seems almost legendary. Based in a little boutique (supplied again by some bwitched lover), Gabrielle watched the war efforts of the wealthy, at this most fashionable seaside town. . .After the war, Chanel returned to Paris and opened her salon, this time under the auspices of a wealthy English peer—the Duke of Westminster.

Don’t worry, she did have some morals.

. . .The English peer, though married, offered to divorce his wife and marry her, but Chanel refused when he made it a condition that she would have to give up her work and live a more suitable life. On the brink of considerable independent success, such an idea was not attractive to her, in spite of the inevitable loneliness which became part of her life.

Sadly, hypocrisy and a willingness to compromise everything for fashion are also things that bother me about feminism as well. As Claire Shaeffer points out in Couture Sewing Techniques, p. 17,

Poiret. . .introduced his infamous hobble skirt. Although so narrow that it had to be worn with “hobble garters” to limit the wearer’s stride and keep her form splitting the fabric, it was popular among fashionable women, including suffragettes.

Arrgh. I can just see it now. “We are intelligent!!” Hobble, hobble. “We are capable of making discerning and insightful decisions!!” Hobble, hobble. “We won’t be dragged about on senseless whims, but will make practical and productive choices for our country!!” Hobble, hobble. Not that men are without their hypocrisies and even horrible and pointless fashions, but geez, ladies, what a way to present your cause. I think I shall die of mortification just thinking about it.

To me, there is nothing appealing about nearly all the work of Chanel. You might say it’s because I don’t like tweed. (Which would be true.) You might say it’s because I find straight boxy cuts completely unflattering. (Which would also be true.) But I would say that, despite all her talk of freedom and independence for women, she never really treated women with enough respect. A woman who truly respects herself need not chase after every man and all of his fashions. A woman who feels no need to apologize for being female need not worry herself comparing herself to men; she will consider herself and who she is, not to men and how she measures up to them.

Since I am entirely comfortable with being female, I feel no need to wear men’s clothing. Even if it has been touched with Coco’s feminine magic. It offers me nothing.

Except to remind me of an old couch I used to do somersaults on.

Which was fun.

But not worth wearing tweed for.

Posted in Books, Chanel, Contemplations, Couture, Design, Fashion | 3 Comments »

What should you wear?

April 14th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

Are you a people-watcher? You know, go sit in a public place and just watch people go by, and maybe make up stories of who they are and where they’re going? Or if you sew or are interested in fashion and the like, you look at what they’re wearing, and wonder where they got it, or what they were thinking when they bought it? You’d probably really enjoy The Sartorialist. It’s kind of (ok, it really is) supposed to be about clothes, and the combinations thereof, and you will wind up getting a fair amount of runway shots and such. But a lot of them are really just people you would see on the streets of NYC (probably because, um, the guy who does the blog lives in NYC. And takes pictures of people on the street).

I think some people visit just to look at the outfits (which is a waste, because it’s much more fun looking at the people). The critique them, they gush over them. Sometimes, scarily, they’re inspired by them. I certainly would never go to The Sartorialist to learn how to dress. But that is one thing that The Sartorialist has firmly cemented upon my mind—I always thought so, but now I am convinced beyond measure. Fashion and style have very little to do with clothes. It’s all about the attitude. Nothing else matters, really. Because no matter how ridiculous or hideous anyone looks, there is always someone gushing about how “perfect” or “flawless” the thing is, and usually it comes down to attitude. Not so much the clothes but “I love the way he/she wears that!” So it’s not what you wear, but how you wear it.

Unfortunately for me, you and probably the Sartorialist, he doesn’t have any permalinks, so I can’t link to individual posts (and their ensuing comments, which can be nearly as hysterical as the outfits themselves, out of pure absurdity and nothing more. The commentators can be so pretentious and cultured when viewing something that looks like garbage, much like those that comment upon modern art. Or the Emperor’s New Clothes). However, you can “click on the picture to see it larger” and then link to that, which I am going to do, but if you want the full flavor, you’ll have to go the blog and look around yourself.

Here is one of the few I managed to find a way to link to. Side-splitting, isn’t it? People say things about this like, “Oooh I love it, edgy grunge at it’s best – and outside of Marc Jacobs. It doesn’t get much better than that!” and “love love love love love love love it.” and “love how she pulled off this colorful look so effortlessly. it just works for her…like she rolled outta bed, threw it on, and was out the door. NICE!” and “I can’t say how many times I see girls attempting this sort of look and falling short. She truly has perfect execution: the perfect length of the scarf, the slightly offsetting colour of the boots and the fabulous hair.” and “exactly what do such fabulously dressed people do for a living?!” and my personal favorite “I love the outfit. So randomly matched.” I laugh and laugh and laugh. The curious thing is that so many of those comments are from “anonymous”, which sometimes makes me half-wonder if someone is going around getting kicks out of writing all those comments.

Not, mind you, that I have any problem with that lady dressing like that. She looks happy. And that’s exactly my point. If you can’t look in the mirror before you step out the door and say “Man, I love the way those clothes look together,”—well, you’re not being stylish and fashionable. If you work against your self, who and what you really are, you’re always going to look a bit “off” or “not quite right”. The main thing is to be utterly certain that it’s what you want to wear, that it’s the perfect thing to wear. That shows—that feeling, that certainty.

And that means that fashion or style is not exactly sharable; of course I would never wear that. I’m not her. We’re not the same—why should we try to dress the same? She likes it; good for her. I don’t; good for me! I don’t feel any guilt for not liking what she’s wearing, ’cause if she likes it, that’s good enough. All I’ve got to worry about is if I am happy with what I’m wearing, not imposing my tastes on other people.

(And by the by, what do think that lady is thinking? And where do you think is she is going, and what is she doing, and why did she decide to wear those clothes in particular?)

That said, don’t go thinking this is the only type or style that the Sartorialist shows photos of; he’s really quite wide-ranging.

I’m not sure quite what you’d call this one. I think I’d settle for “Um. . .very colorful!” But you can’t deny there’s confidence oozing all over the place. No doubts here, man!

Lots of times, impeccable suits are photographed. Sometimes from the front, and sometimes from the back. And often times, close ups of the collars, or cuffs, or ties, or especially the “pocket squares”. And people in the comments fuss like crazy if the sleeves are just a tad to short or just a tad to long. Jackets have to fit perfectly, dagnabit! (And the one I just linked to, by the way, is a prize specimen. Despite the fact that the guy is listing to one side and so one sleeve is a little too long and the other a little too short, we are assured this suit fits perfectly in every way.)

Sometimes, a person just catches his eye, apart from what clothes they’re wearing, like this lady. Don’t you agree that’s a very striking face? I love striking faces. I never understand all this fuss over “beautiful” or “flawless” faces. To me, “striking” is a much greater complement—not that I’m insinuating this face is flawed or ugly. Just that it’s very, very striking. The kind of face you wish you could remember forever, because you know you’re not going to see another one like it.

Yes, this dude is fashionable. People loved his mix of arrogance (see the look on his face? see the way he stands?) and humility (OMG, that guy is filthy!!). It was a picture taken in Paris, which is what made it great in some people’s eyes. For other people, it just made them wonder how they could only take showers once a week and still always carry their bread around in their armpits.

(Tee-hee-he. Yes, I’m still laughing.)

In this one, I discover that I, too, am stylish. Because she is just wearing baggy jeans and t-shirt, just like I do all the time. ‘Cept probably not. Because I don’t wear suede boots. And I don’t like wearing scarves.

Very, very fashionable. What else would you call it? No, really, what would you call it? I love the look on his face. I’m still trying to figure out what he’s thinking. I’m not sure if he’s pleased with the attention or if he’s a camera-phobe. “Yeah, yeah, so I’m not dressed normal. What’s it to you?” And hey, what’s up with not wearing socks? Don’t you people get blisters? Sticky shoes?

Isn’t this hideous? I’m sorry, I really think it’s hideous. I think that guy must be having a mid-life crisis, and it shows. I can forgive everything except the jeans. And all the rings. What is wrong with people that they feel like they need all that metal on their hands?

This was billed as being worn “naturally and effortlessly”. I call it “genuine happiness showing through regardless of clothing”, and so I like it a lot. Doesn’t it make you want to smile? Okay, maybe I’m just a girl. It makes me want to smile, anyway.

This one makes me crack up. Yes, I know it was deliberate. But I still think it’s hysterical, and I reserve my right to laugh when I see biker-chic meets, um, French garden tea? You don’t have to laugh if you don’t want to. You can call it striking, instead, and remember it forever.

This guy is utterly, utterly batty. He might be the living definition of “batty old man”. I love it.

Personally, I wouldn’t be very happy with the dry-cleaners if I was this guy. And what is it with this no-sock wearing thing? Come on! Didn’t your mother teach you how to get dressed? I guess not. The guys aren’t wearing any socks, and the girls are wearing socks with high-heels. My grandmother would be appalled.

I loved this one. I’ve always been a big fan of capes. The Sartorialist said he loved how she dressed goth but kept the sweet innocent face. But he was still a little nervous approaching her to ask if he could take her picture. Personally, it was one of the few shots I’ve seen that made me want to say “Oh, it’s so perfect! I just love it!” in my best girly-girl voice. I love that cape, the trim on the hem, the lined hood. It’s velvet, so it must feel wonderful and have a great drape and movement. And the over-coat; I love the cut of the over-coat. And I always love long dresses, and I love it that it looks like she’s wearing comfortable shoes. And I can’t believe most people in the comments wasted their time trying to figure out what time period or look she was going for. Who cares?! I just want that cape! Please?

I am so going to have to sew myself a velvet cape someday.

This is now called the “deconstructionist” look. Last I knew, it was called the “I’m a bachelor, and the pants were too long” look. But I guess I’ve been out-voted. So I guess I can’t tell the bachelors they ought to be ashamed of themselves any more. I guess now I have to call them stylish.

Don’t you think this is a classic? It must be a classic. Why does it look so darn familiar? Don’t tell me! I like wondering.

I’m told this guy is going for the Bo-Ho look. Can anyone tell me what the difference is between the “Bo-Ho” look and the “Hobo” look?

I’m probably going to get in trouble for dissing all this high fashion. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

Speaking of such, this one is a very good follow up. It’s one of my favorites. Especially when the Sartorialist informs me that “This man has style in his bones.” In all seriousness.

Tee-hee. Yes, I’m laughing again. There was much compliments on the effort that went into getting this “look”. Tee-hee. I never knew there were so many fashionable people around here. And they can do fashion effortlessly. Accidentally, even. Wait, it doesn’t count if it’s by accident, does it? You’re just a slob who doesn’t care about your looks if you do it by accident. But if you do it on purpose—wow, you are like, totally talented, man! What a look!

My favorites, though, are usually of the distinguished gentlemen who still believe in wearing hats. Like this guy. Or this guy with a bowler; I bet you though nobody wore bowlers anymore. Bowlers were made for guys like that. It looks so perfect on him, it almost looks as though he’s been imported from the past. Apparently, in some places of NYC, the past does cling on, though fading. And the past is never without it’s hat. Sometimes it’s a happy old man, sometimes a somber old man, but they’re always wearing a hat. And the thing about wearing hats is that they do such a terrific job of framing the face, making the many years and the deeply-etched character stand out all the clearer.

So, yeah, The Sartorialist is a good place to go if you like people-watching. Or clothes-watching. But one thing that the site will always be driving home is that personal style is just that—very, very personal. No cheap imitations will do; it’s the real McCoy or nothing. No amount of fashion rules or guidelines or being up on all the treads is any amount of compensation for wearing what you want to wear. And being completely unapologetic if it does break all the fashion rules and guidelines and trends.

To thine own self be true, people, to thine own self be true.

Posted in Contemplations, Fashion, Websites | 1 Comment »

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