28 February 2010

Death Takes a (Golf) Holiday


Photo courtesy of the Fabulous Husband
Pink L/S tee, LnA, thrifted
Pink tank, Theory, thrifted
Black skull print tunic, Love Child, TJMaxx
Woven belt, Ann Taylor Loft
Green polka-dot mini, Old Navy
Leggings, Hot Chilis
Boots, John Fluevog "Mallory"

After a week of storms, variously described as "Snowpocalypse" and "Snowmaggeddon" wracked the Northeast, I was sick of bulky sweaters, loose jeans, and other functional items of clothing. So when Saturday brought a break in the weather, I wanted something bright!

I was originally going to wear a more mellow olive-green cargo mini, but due to the extra layer of leggings and my mammalian tendencies to add a bit of, um, insulation in the winter (plus aforementioned snow keeping me from going to the gym) it was a wee bit tight. So I pulled out this bright-green number. It fits well, but I realized I was dressed in that preptastic color combo, green and pink. Eek!

So, of course, I had to punk it up a bit.
I took this photo myself!
Shaggy chain, made by me
Heart locket and pendant, depths of my jewelry box
Crescent moon pendant, gift from the Fabulous Husband
Jade drop earrings, Anima Perdita Studios

The skull tunic and a series of chain necklaces of various lengths served nicely. I didn't want to go overboard, so I kept most of the necklaces thin and light, and wore a favorite pair of earrings made by the Fabulous Husband.

I don't know why I'm so attracted to the combination of pink and skulls (I have a few guesses, though): I own several pieces that feature this combination.

The boots didn't show up that well, but have no fear: you'll be seeing them lots in the future. They're one of the more comfortable pairs I own, and I've been living in them this winter. La Historiadora de Moda from Fashionable Academics has them in orange: I wish I did, too!

I also realized that this outfit perfectly fits my yearning for warmer climes. Preppy though it is, the green/pink combo screams warm weather. I could easily lose the leggings and long-sleeved tee and swap the boots for a pair of sandals and wear this outfit in summery weather.

My hair has started to frustrate me. For most of my life, it was very long (as in, past my waist): a year and a half ago, I chopped it into a grown-out angle bob. I like it, but I'm getting sick of the long front in my face all the time! So I'm thinking about cutting in big, thick, heart-shaped bangs, with malice, British, and J-rock style aforethought. Worst comes to worst, it looks horrible and I have an excuse to wear smashing hats until the bangs grow back out. What are your thoughts, O Fabulous Readers?

26 February 2010

Link-tastic! 26 February 2010

First off, some pretty nifty news: I've been accepted into the Independent Fashion Bloggers network (check out the pretty button in the sidebar!).

Secondly, apologies for the dearth of outfit posts. We've been stuck in Winter Storm Hell here in the Northeastern U.S., and my primary occupation of late has been shoveling my driveway - over and over again. As a result, I've been exploring the fashion possibilities of knee-high gaiters, snow boots, and bulky parkas. Trust me, you don't want to see pictures! Hopefully, more clement weather and cuter outfits will return early next week.

Now, on to this week's links!

Sal at Already Pretty found a great quote that pretty much encapsulates everything that anyone who thinks about fashion feels about him or herself.

I have a love-uncertainty relationship with the Fug Girls (love their funny writing and pithy observations! Uncertain about their level of snark!), but every so often they hit one out of the park - like this loving paean to Gabourey Sidibe. No, she doesn't have a conventionally beautiful figure. Yes, she is awesome and beautiful.

Gertie pokes into the history of the suspender skirt. There are theories that the skirt-with-suspenders combo (as an undergarment) goes back as far as the 1500s. Either way, I'm suddenly craving one.

Haute Macabre found some non-corporate-produced Alice in Wonderland goodies.

No Signposts in the Sea wonders about future vintage, and what an interesting question that is! I've deliberately avoided shopping at H&M, Target, and their ilk for a number of reasons lately, and now I'm really starting to think about issues of sustainability, durability, and quality of manufacture, not to mention quality versus quantity, in regards to clothing.

The Lady Likes fleece-lined tights. I can't argue. The snowdrifts outside are beyond knee-deep, and as far as I'm concerned, the more things that are fleece-lined, the better!

I call myself a fashion theorist, but compared to Minh-Ha T. Pham and Mimi Thi Nguyen of Threadbared, I'm a rank amateur. Their piece on implications and referentiality of prep clothing, especially in urban contexts discusses class theory, race relations, and the perils of historicizing.

 Related to this week's post on pushing your sartorial comfort zone is Sal's answer to a reader's query about finding your style when you're feeling lost, complete with some awesome reader feedback.

A. at academichic theorizes that there are two modes of dress: drag or uniform. What do you think? Is "drag" the appropriate word, or would you, like me, tend to use the slightly less gender-loaded, but (as we explored earlier) potentially misleading term 'costume?' Why?

24 February 2010

Outside the comfort zone

Fabulous Reader Dina posted:
For nearly a year I've spent almost every.single.day. in sweats/yoga pants and a nursing tank or other form of loungewear. I actually dread having to "get dressed" because even wearing jeans puts me out of my elastic-waisted comfort zone. I need an intervention... badly.
Which got me thinking about comfort zones and clothing.

For one thing, Dina, the fact that you mentioned a nursing tank indicates to me that you're a new mama, a point in life where there are lots of demands being placed on you, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I've never had a child, so I can't really speak from a place of authority, but I believe that new moms have every right to wear whatever they want that makes them feel comfy, because, damn, they're ensuring the future of our species. One of the reasons I haven't had kids yet is that I don't know that I have the strength of character or emotional fortitude to birth and raise a productive member of society.

However, the fact that you're saying you "need an intervention... badly" means that you're not that comfortable in your "comfy" clothes.

As our lives and circumstances change, our comfort zones in terms of clothing do too. That's one of the reasons I go through my closet constantly: one day, I realized that plaid mini-kilts just weren't me any more (OK, not really. I still love me a plaid mini-kilt, preferably worn with knee-high stompy boots).

A lot of things can influence these changes. Sometimes it's dramatic things, like having a child, changing jobs, or relocating to someplace with a totally different climate. Sometimes, it's a more subtle shift: reading an article in a mag or on a blog that gives you a new perspective on a style, seeing an inspiring photo, or even finding a new way to play with color.

Whatever the cause, it can be disconcerting. You can be left with a closet full of clothes you have no interest in wearing, possibly lacking the wherewithal (wear-with-all?) to replace them - even if you knew what you wanted instead, which you might not.

That last bit is the tricky one. Even for those in strained financial circumstances, savvy thrift shopping can provide a wealth of options. If you're feeling adrift in terms of style, though, a thrift store can be an overwhelming mishmash of possibilities and options - a little like going to a diner with a sixteen-page menu when you're starving. There are so many options that you don't know what you want!

Defining (and refining) your personal style is a lifelong, ongoing process, and it's hard to know where to start.

As my yoga teacher says, the intention is the practice. Just by thinking about ways you can find a personalized style that suits you better, you'll start to find ways to do it.

Look for the things you genuinely like in your current wardrobe. Are you drawn to certain cuts, colors, styles? For example, I know that I love full skirts, fitted sweaters, brightly-colored tights, layering tees, and secondary and tertiary colors. Conversely, what's in your wardrobe that you can't stand?

Every time you go shopping, try on one thing that scares you, or that you're sure won't work on you. Maybe you'll be right - or maybe you'll be surprised. I once knew, for instance, that yellow looked horrible on me, and that I hated it. Then one day I tried on a yellow shirt and loved it. Was it the specific shade?  The cut of the top? The phase of the moon? I have no idea, but now I know that I can rock it. Ditto for belts, scarves, short skirts... the list goes on and on. Next on my list of things to try that I'm scared of are skinny jeans and shorts over tights.

As for finding a way back into style comfort for Dina, how about one of my favorite combinations for chic comfort: a jersey dress, leggings, belt and boots?  Nobody ever said you have to wear tailored, structured items to be "dressed:" maybe stay in easy-to-wear jersey pieces, but change silhouettes or colors.

I wear variations on this outfit all the time. It's all stretchy, easy-to-wear fabrics (even the boots are jersey!), ideal for chasing around a wee one. The leggings provide more coverage and modesty than a dress with tights would. A belt gives definition to the waist and breaks up the visual line of the dress, while a colorful henley underneath adds contrast (and an extra bit of warmth!).

The bold colors are my favorite part, though: they make a simple outfit look much more deliberate and "styled." For those of you into color theory, this is a variant on an analogous color scheme. Analogous colors are pleasing to the eye and pretty common in nature - think about a vivid sunset or autumn leaves - but don't seem to be the first thing that comes to mind for many people when it comes to clothing color combinations. That's a shame, because they really do look smashing.

That's just one option: there are lots more out there. Check out style blogs for ideas, starting with academichic. Blogger E. had a baby this past summer, and has been figuring out ways to look stylish and be comfortable ever since. 

What about you, Fabulous Readers? Do you have a defined "comfort zone" in terms of style? Are you happy there, or itching to break out? Do you push the envelope, or stick with the tried and true? If you have redefined your comfort zone, what inspired the change?

23 February 2010

Lacking inspiration

I'm a big advocate of putting on presentable clothes even if I'm going to be working from home or running basic errands. I end up very upset with myself when I don't.

Today... well today was one of those days where I really didn't want to. After nearly a week of inspiring, invigorating springlike temperatures, I woke up today to a persistent snowstorm, achy muscles from a vigorous workout last night, and a general lack of vim and/or vigor.

Great lead-in to my first ever outfit post, isn't it?

Green dolman top, Michael Kors (via Marshalls)
Green shadow-stripe tee, Urban Outfitters
Gap jeans, Housing Works
Frye Harness 12R boots, Century 21
Rough amethyst necklace, Metropolitan Museum Store
Longer amethyst and clear quartz necklace, gift from mum?
Green webbing belt, thrifted
Coffee mugs, Elan Pottery
Photo courtesy of my fabulous husband. Thanks, sweetie!

Forcing myself to get dressed, even just in jeans and a cute, comfy top (and, natch, making coffee) helped my mood immensely. Green and purple are one of my favorite color combinations: I'll explain how I discovered it soon!

I've talked a lot about how what you wear affects others' impression of you. Clothing is costume: we use it to create a persona that we project to the world. That's not news. What I haven't really spoken about is the internalizing of this effect. While it's very possible to feel utterly lousy about yourself while you're nicely dressed, I find it much easier to feel good about myself when I'm wearing something that I think flatters me and feels put together.

I'm not about to turn into a mascara-on-the-treadmill kind of girl, or even a FlyLady fanatic, but I think that wearing what I perceive of as "real" clothes (gym clothes aren't real clothes: nor are pajama pants) makes me feel better and even think better as well as look better. Yes, I find it easier to write when I'm wearing the sort of clothes I'd wear to an office or professional/academic conference than when I'm lounging around the house in sweats. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think the phenomenon deserves further examination and thought. I think it has less to do with the clothes and more to do with our perceptions of them.

Does what you wear affect your perception of yourself? Can an outfit you like make the difference between a grumpy mood and a good one - or being smart and effective or fuzzy-brained? Has putting on a pulled-together outfit, even when you didn't feel like it, ever saved the day for you?

19 February 2010

Link-tastic! 19 February 2010

Gertie went to a fashion show, and her perspective is refreshing, if (as she says) not exactly revelatory. We usually don't hear too many descriptions of runway shows from people who aren't "in the industry."

CheapJAP's relationship with American Apparel has bottomed out. For years, I've tried to balance AA's positive aspects - onshore manufacturing, living wages for its employees, &c. - with its exploitative, sexist attitude. Like CheapJAP, I think this little shenanigan has tipped the scales for me. I've never been a heavy AA shopper anyway, and there are other companies that produce comparable goods under ethical conditions in the USA.

S. from academichic is getting subversive in a pretty purple cardi. This post really got me thinking: I talk about the social messages of clothes all the time, but what about the political ones? Is it possible to be pretty and subversive at the same time? Were I still in grad school, I'd be ramping up a paper on subversives and rebels throughout history and the significance of their fashion statements. Che Guevara and his iconic beret come swiftly to mind.

While you're at academichic, read E.'s commentary on fashion, style, and the relevance of Fashion Week.

The fabulous and thought-provoking Fashionable Academics want to give you a pair of tights. What's your favorite color?

While you're entering contests for cool stuff, pop over to my partner-in-crime Jen Kiaba's site and tell her what photo you'd like to see as a poster-sized print. Those of you who do outfit photos: would you want a poster-sized print of a particularly great outfit (or good hair day)? What would you do with one if you did?

Kathleen at Fashion-Incubator has some great tips on working freelance that don't just apply to fashion designers, but to any and all creative professionals. There are some valuable resources linked in the comments, too. I usually focus on the consumer's view of the fashion system, but it's important to know how the industry works on the inside too.

That's all for now! Have a great weekend, everyone!

16 February 2010


This morning, as my husband and I were debating the merits of getting up and getting coffee or just staying in bed all day (He'd been working all night, and we're mid-snowstorm), we got a call from my father. He had some sad news to share: one of my (moderately distant) relatives had died after a long struggle with cancer.

"The funeral's on Thursday," he said.

"I want to go," I said. We don't see that part of the family that often, but some things - like funerals - are Important.

After he'd hung up, the husband and I had a Dreadful Realization: neither of us owns a simple, conservative black suit in our size any more. I'm just a squidge too broad in the beam for my late-'90s Lower Broadway Web Designer suits still, and as for the husband, well, I'm glad he's not skinny enough to wear a 28" waist anymore, but that's the size to which all his suits (from a similar era of master-of-the-universeship) are tailored.

So guess what we're off to do today?

I'm easy. I'm entirely certain that, for under $100, I'll be able to find a good-quality black suit at either TJ Maxx or Marshalls - maybe, if my shopping karma is truly excellent today, I'll snag a $15 Goodwill special. He's going to be a bit harder. Last time I needed to get a men's suit in a hurry, I had Century 21 and Syms in a two-block radius from my office building. Those days are gone, and for the most part, I don't miss them.

Why is it even important?

Deaths, births, marriages, and comings-of-age are lifecycle events - the rituals that mark an individual's change of status in a society. If I wanted to get very Tibetan Buddhist about it, I'd say that they are between states: transitions from one phase to another. Entire books of social theory have been written on why these ceremonies and rituals are important.

To a large extent, modern European/American society has discarded these rituals, or permuted them into something very different than once they were. Pick up a copy of a bridal magazine (Go on, I dare you! Just make sure you do a warm-up set and put on your weight belt first) or go to an over-the-top suburban bar/bat mitzvah and you'll know what I mean.

Funerals are different. For one thing, our society has gotten very out of touch with death. We stave it off, try to deny its existence, are disturbed by its mere mention. In some ways, it's understandable: modern medicine, sanitation, and nutrition have made death a much less frequent occurrence that happens at greater and greater ages. Generally. Infant mortality has never been so low, nor lifespans so long.

But death does come, and, stave it off though we might, it is inevitable: death is the one common experience all living things share. We're not taught the skill set to deal with it gracefully, though. In a way, that's good: we don't know how to deal with it because we encounter it so seldom. When we do, though, it's awkward. We don't know what to say or how to act.

As always, my answer is sartorial. Enter the conservative black suit.

As funeral wear, the conservative black suit (women have options on trousers or knee-length skirt; men, unless they're very Scottish, should most likely stick to trou) serves multiple purposes. It conveys respect, both for the departed and for their grieving loved ones, and it serves as armor and uniform for the equally-bereaved guest.

Armor and uniform. Those are two important things, in trying times.

Uniform because it frees you from the necessity/obligation of too many decisions, at a time when - quite frankly - clothes may be the last thing on your mind. Also, it provides the comfort of solidarity: you and your fellow mourners are dressed in similar ways, and derive an automatic sense of fellow-feeling and support from it. Even if you weren't particularly close to the deceased, your donning of the uniform of mourning shows the bereaved that you are there for them, participating in their sorrow.

Armor - it is amazing how the right clothes can stand between us and the world, us and our emotions. When a dear friend's father died unexpectedly, she later told me, she instinctively reached for her corset: she needed its steel-boned support as a bulwark. Even garments that are less literally armor-like can provide the sense of security and safety that can be elusive during a time of upheaval and dramatic change.

So, as soon as the snow lets up, we're heading out to look. I'm incredulous that I'm so unprepared: for years, it's been my maxim to always have a dark suit ready to go, in case of emergencies. Birth and marriage you can anticipate.

What do you think? Is my insistence on conservative black suits (with non-shiny accessories, natch) for funerals old-fashioned? How do you dress for unexpected sorrowful events, and how does it affect your mood and behavior?

14 February 2010


I read a bunch of interesting fashion- and culture-focused blogs. Any you'd like to recommend?

Alexander McQueen's suicide rocked the fashion world to its core. There really isn't much I can say that hasn't  already been said better elsewhere. The comparison of his last collection to moths seems eerily prescient now. The editor of T (the New York Times style magazine) blames the fashion system, comparing it to the movie studio system in its final days.  Jezebel posted two awesome slide-show retrospectives: one of highlights of his work and another of celebs who wore his sometimes-outlandish creations. There's a sweet and loving tribute at Haute Macabre. Last but not least, CheapJAP honored the designer in her own inimitable style, in keeping with his spirit.

Trend de la Crème's Jill has me getting back to my Goth roots with spiderweb-inspired fashion. Ooh, creepy and cute!

Sal from Already Pretty talks about tattoos on You Look Fab. As a tattooed beauty myself, I'm always interested in hearing others' perspectives on their ink and how it fits into their lives - and wardrobes.

While we're in a guest-post groove, there's nice post on sewing and body image on Already Pretty by retro-seamstress extraordinaire Gertie.

La Carmina explores romantic, tatterdemalion Tokyo street fashion. I love the antique-shop aesthetic and innovative hats!

 There's a cute article on brightly colored makeup in the NY Times. It's not exactly breaking news, but is kind of inspiring me to head for my nearest Sephora and play.

I know I'm giving a lot of love to Already Pretty, but I can't help it: Sal's an awesome writer. Her advice on breaking into belting is just about perfect.

One of the things that was hammered into my head as a grad student was to consider my sources. So when American Apparel tells you that leggings aren't pants, perhaps it's wise to listen. 

11 February 2010

Label envy?

Above, a Cynthia Rowley dress printed on "a heavy cotton knit" (image courtesy nytimes.com): below, a Hanes Beefy-T (image courtesy hanesbullseye.com)

This article from the New York Times amused the hell out of me, and really got me thinking about the significance of designer labels.

Once, a couture label was a guarantee of quality and originality. It assured value for price: yes, the garments were extremely expensive, but they incorporated the highest-quality materials and superior workmanship (such as hand-finished hems and buttonholes) as well as the designer's unique artistic expression. If you've ever seen a vintage couture piece up close and personal, you know that these differences are more than just fancy touches: even fifty (or more!) years later, the fabrics are supple and luxurious, the construction amazingly detailed and intricate by modern standards. The inside of a Dior New Look gown bears a striking resemblance to a suspension bridge and has about the same structural integrity (note that the bridge in question is not Westchester/Rockland Counties' Tappan Zee, the structural integrity of which is rather suspect at this point).

This isn't to say that couture labels didn't always have the same cachet, the same status-symbol, um, status, that they do today. However, there was no need to splash a designer's logo all over something to convey it: the details of design were sufficiently unique, the quality sufficiently evident, that the over-the-top branding that we've become accustomed to wasn't really necessary. Creating a tailored garment takes skill: a t-shirt, no matter how rarefied the fabrics used to make it, is... not exactly the pinnacle of the art of tailoring, shall we say?

So, OK, here we have the estimable Ms. Rowley, screening photo images of her latest collection onto heavyweight cotton jersey - that's something very much like Hanes Beefy-T material, by the by - making it up into, essentially, t-shirt dresses that look (if you squint lots, and maybe have a stiff drink first) like the actual tailored ones from her Fall 2010 collection. You can also buy the photo-screened dresses as yard goods and assemble them (or not) yourself, or, on the wow-this-label-whore-thing-has-gone-too-far level, get a $150 sewing kit, that "includes one of Ms. Rowley’s labels, which you can sew into the garment of your choice to make your own statement on fashion."

Did I mention that you're paying a low, low $320 for your t-shirt dress, or $280 for the privilege of doing your own assemblage? If you assemble the dress as intended (and more on that later), and assume a decent-but-not-great labor rate of $10/hour, that means the dress takes four hours to cut out and sew up. For those of you Fabulous Readers who don't dabble in home sewing, that's practically instantaneous in terns of garment construction time. I don't have exact statistics on production times for traditional couture garments, but I'm going to guess as dozens, perhaps hundreds of hours.

As for the uber-expensive sewing kit with status label, to, supposedly, up the brag factor of your plebeian wardrobe? On some level, it reminds me of label switching on vintage garments. On the other, it's kind of amusing, in a fashion-as-metatext kind of way: you don't actually need the designer's product, just the symbol of it. It's the status part of couture without any of the innovation or artistry. Oh, brave new world!

Is this also the time and place to bring up that, ideally, nobody but the wearer sees the label on an article of clothing? That's always been my take on the women who buy dresses a size too small because they have to fit into that size 8 (or 6, or...): Honey, nobody but you sees the label. Cut it out if you must. When the label's sticking out on an article of my clothing, I'm gratified when someone tucks it in for me (thanks, Mom!), so I don't walk around looking like a slob - and thanks to my good thrift-store karma, I've got some moderately brag-worthy labels. I still don't want them sticking out!

As a social statement, though, it would be very amusing to sew that high-end label into the aforementioned Hanes Beefy-T. Or take the yard goods with the printed-on dress and do something completely different with it: Throw pillows? Big, boxy t-shirts (the dress printed on jersey knit has obvious antecedents in those horrible t-shirts from the 80s with tuxedos printed on them)? Curtains?

The only reason I'm amused at this, and not fuming over a designer ripoff (which part of me feels it is, big-time) is the obvious subtext of do-it-yourself fashion. Ms. Rowley is assuming that she has enough of a market that has sufficient sewing skill to assemble copies of her dresses, even if they are the screen-printed tee version. I'm sure there's some expectation on her part of customers personalizing and tweaking the sew-it-yourself design - in fact, if she's really smart, there will be a Web site or Facebook page dedicated to customers' interpretations of the designs. According to the Times article, this is in part a reaction to the fast-paced information lifecycle afforded by the Internet. As we all know, one of the great (and hugely beneficial, in my mind) changes that technology has allowed is multidirectional information flow - it's not just that the designers tell us about fashion: we tell them. Or at least we can, if they're listening, and I hope they are.

So what are your thoughts? Does the ripoff factor of a $150 sewing kit outweigh the participatory-fashion coolness? How should designers react to the instant-gratification nature of today's market, especially if they want to continue to offer the high-end, time-intensive tailoring that is a requirement of haute couture? If you had a sew-your-own Cynthia Rowley dress kit, what would you do with it?

10 February 2010

Letting my guard down

Ah, the problems of being fashion-focused in a small, rural town....

I live in the middle of Horse Country. For all its good points (Wide-open spaces! Fresh air! Beautiful nightly starscapes!) it's not exactly what one would call a fashion mecca. The Horsey Set thinks nothing about pulling off their knee-high riding boots and swanning about town in jodhpurs, sneakers, and disreputable barn coats or fleece jackets. If you've never seen the jodhpurs/sneakers combo, count yourself blessed: it's enough to make this Theorist shudder.

As a result of our town's remarkably casual standards of dress, I'm a lot less on the ball about my appearance for day-to-day trips into town to run errands like picking up mail from the post office or grabbing a few post-blizzard groceries than I would be if I lived in a more fashion-conscious area. I've gotten to be surprisingly OK with running these errands in my gym-going uniform of yoga pants, a fitted tee, and a giant, bright orange L. L. Bean parka that has few fashionable virtues but many practical ones (i.e., it's warm as all get-out and has lots of sizable pockets). To say it's Not Exactly my best look is a mild understatement. Usually, though, that's not a concern: the people I run into in town are dressed similarly, if not even more slubbishly.

workout clothes
Sadly, a close approximation of my normal workout clothes. Unflattering sports bra not pictured.

Unfortunately, yesterday when checking the mail and stocking up on Important Supplies (bourbon and red wine) for the upcoming end-of-the-world caliber snowstorm forecast for today, I ran into not one, but two women sporting absolutely adorable coats. One of them was even wearing a cute denim mini, brightly-colored tights, and cowboy boots. She looked adorable. I looked like a frump.

That's the sort of thing that makes it hard to say "Yeah, I'm a fashion blogger, and I'm trying to make a living as a stylist!"

It's not that I was jealous of her (although I was, a little: did I mention her jacket was really adorable?). It's that I felt I had let both her and myself down. Her, for obviously putting such effort into getting dressed, which I had not reciprocated, and myself, for leaving the house not looking my stylish best - or at least not like a slob. Her cute outfit made my day a little brighter: mine, I'm sure, did not.

I was left feeling a little sad, and not for any conventional reason of inadequacy or jealousy. I wasn't sad that I didn't measure up: I was sad that I hadn't thought to put forth the same effort - it wouldn't have been much - to looking nice instead of slovenly. If I had been on my way to the gym, it would have been different: functional clothing, functional purpose. The gym is the one place where I can let go of the stylistic construction of my body and focus on its sheer formal (form-related, not dressy) significance. I wasn't gymward-bound, though: I went home again before hitting the weight room.

I was sad that I hadn't measured up to my own standards.

I don't think we have an obligation to society to present our best, most polished face to the world every time we leave the house. Down that path lies madness, not to mention putting on mascara to get on the treadmill (if you must, go waterproof). But do we, perhaps, have an obligation to ourselves? Gleeful as I was to see other women walking around my small, unfashionable town looking quite stylish, I came away disappointed because that day, I wasn't one of them.

What are your thoughts? Am I taking myself too seriously? Crossing the line from "image-conscious" into "vain?" Or are my feelings of being caught with my guard down rather reasonable? How much does the prevailing fashion culture of your environment affect you - both how you dress and how you feel about yourself? 

09 February 2010

I hate black trousers

I really do. I loathe them with every fiber of my being.


The reasons are manifold and complex. For one thing, I resent anything so widely toted as a "fashion basic." I haven't owned a pair of black trousers in ages, but my wardrobe has taken me confidently from corporate boardrooms to dinners out to fancy events to dive bars just fine, thank you very much. I also, unsurprisingly, lack a plain white buttondown shirt, a white tee (although those might be more properly attributed to my tendency, when confronted with a white top, to immediately spill something vividly-colored and staining on it. A model of grace and decorum I am... sporadically), and a pair of black ballet flats (or any flats, really. I find them less comfortable than heels. Honestly!). Many popular "fashion basics" are good building blocks, but I've got enough of an anti-authoritarian streak to look for other alternatives when somebody tells me my life - or my wardrobe - won't be complete without something.

Second is that trousers, in general, are unflattering to the female form. Most women I know have problems finding a pair of trousers that fits them well: if they're not gaping at the back waist, they're whiskering at the crotch, or, worse yet, inflicting a case of the dread polterwang, pulling across the thighs, or hitting at just the wrong spot on the ankle. Or dragging on the ground because they're hemmed for heels and you decided you'd give those insidious, comfort-promising (but actually denying) ballet flats a go. I understand that bifurcated nether garments have a place in a woman's wardrobe. My few pair usually come out in the depth of  winter, when my usual tricks of wool tights, silk longhandles, and leggings under my skirts fail to combat freezing temperatures and invasive winds (eek!). I also, oddly, have made peace with a few pair of jeans, crops (especially ones that hit at just the right point on the calf to show off badass boots), and pantalettes/bloomers (although those get layered under skirts so kind of don't count). However, in general, the complex curves of a woman's lower half are ill-served by mass-produced garments, especially such fit-critical ones with so little to distract the eye from imperfections (in the trousers, silly, not you!). Heck, I'm even fond of trouser alternatives for guys (my husband lives in a kilt all summer and he - and I - could not be happier).

My real beef with black trousers, though, is their blandness. They offend me for the same reasons and in the same way that beige walls and unseasoned farina do: they're dead boring. A really fabulous top, pair of shoes, or accessories can salvage a back-trousers-based outfit, but they're working uphill all the way. Nothing says "I just couldn't be bothered" quite like the stereotypical office-drone uniform of black trousers and a solid-colored blouse or knit top. Actually, most uniforms I've seen have more visual interest.

We live in an era of unprecedented choice and diversity in fashion. Why, then, have so many women wedded themselves to the blandest of the bland?

Let's look at a few examples, shall we?

Here we have a rather adorable, snuggly-looking cowlneck sweater in a bright shade of lemon yellow - the perfect thing to chase away winter doldrums. However, once you pair it with standard-issue black bootleg trousers, there's really not very many places you can go with it: throw on a belt to give your waist some shape and a head out the door. You can't even see the cute, punky strap-and-stud details on your boots!

On the other hand, put on a bluish-purple pencil skirt, and you have a lot more options. The blue scrunch boots would fight with the trouser legs both in color and cut, and wearing a skirt lets you put on raspberry tights.

See how much more vivid the sweater looks paired with the bluish-purple and pink? That's because the colors are in a triadic relationship (That's not nearly as risque as it sounds. Promise). My knowledge of color theory is almost entirely hands-on, so I can't really give you as much how-and-why as I'd like about how it works, but there are several fixed relationships across the color spectrum that result in eye-pleasing combinations: triads are one. Others are complements, tetrads, analogues, and accented analogues. This tool is a great way to get a feel for the way color relationships work, as well as waste quite a few hours (you've been warned).

On to example two!

Now, using that nifty color wheel tool, you've figured out that the best colors to wear with your medium-blue cardigan are purple and turquoise. However, the eye has a long, boring way to travel to unite your colorful pumps - again, mostly hidden by the trouser cuffs - with the rest of the outfit. Swap out the trou for a navy dress, though, and add a pair of purple tights, and you've bridged that gap - plus added a color that has a tonal, or monochromatic, relationship to the original blue.

Let's say you want to wear that other wardrobe basic, the white buttondown shirt:

Even with the admittedly fabulous bittersweet necklace and turquoise belt, the white shirt and black trousers combination is... well, it's a bit staid, isn't it? By changing the black trousers out for a yellow polka-dot skirt (color and pattern, egad!) there's a lot more life to it, especially with the tomato-colored tights.

But Theorist, I hear you beg, what's with all the colors? I've met you, and you're pretty darn Gothy. I prefer, shall we say, more somber colors myself. If the great majority of my ensemble is black, are the black trou really going to make a difference?

Part of the reason I'm featuring so much in the way of vivid color is the medium: black on black really doesn't show up well on the projected light of a monitor. Another part is that, as I mentioned in my last post, this time of year invokes a moderately uncharacteristic yearning for color. This is also the time of year when I start stalking my crocus patch and saying to my long-suffering husband things like "So... how about we repaint the dining room turquoise? With green trim?"

But the black trousers really don't add anything to a work-appropriate gothalicious outfit, either:

Compare these two outfits, both based around an All Saints blouse (I adore All Saints, and if I save my pennies and am a very, very good little Theorist, may someday have one of their gorgeous asymmetrical dresses for my very own). Make your own judgments here, of course, but I think the version with the trumpet skirt, red tights, and chain-draped booties is much more visually interesting, as well as liable to be more figure-flattering to a majority of women.

I guess what it comes down to, for me, is that black trousers are a sartorially safe choice. Like the aforementioned beige walls and unadorned farina, there's nothing in there to upset anyone. If there's one thing I would like to inspire you, my Fabulous Readers to do, it is to dress bravely. I don't mean runway-fashion bravely, or over-the-top-costume bravely: choose simple, quiet acts of bravery in your daily dress choices.

That's a whole 'nother post all on its own, though. Until then, I want to hear your thoughts. Am I off base about the black trou? Are they really a vital part of a woman's wardrobe? Do you love yours to death, and own a dozen pair? Could you go a week without wearing a pair (assuming you work in an office/professional environment)? How about a month? Is my mad passion for skirts getting out of hand?

08 February 2010

Back in the groove: an apology, and some exciting new projects!

Hello fabulous readers! I've missed you all!

First of all, my deepest apologies for the dearth in posts since, my goodness, November! I'm a horribly irresponsible blogger. Yes, it has been a very grey, cold winter, and seasonal depression hit me very hard this year (sometime around mid-December, I realized I was living in yoga pants, floppy sweaters, and Uggs, and hadn't worn makeup in almost a month: clearer signs of a funk there are not), but there really are no excuses.

However, we're past Groundhog Day/St. Brigid's Day/Candlemas/Imbolg... whatever you call it, the day that marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. This has traditionally been my day of renewal, the day when I shed my midwinter funk and get my mojo back. This year was no exception.

The one upside of my two-month slough of despond was that sulking on the couch nestled under a blankie leaves lots of time for knitting. I was prolific, making a pair of socks, three hats, and most of a shawl (I ran out of yarn 11 rows from the end. It was traumatic.). I'm also working on a pair of gloves and a baby blanket. I promise I won't turn this into a knitting blog, but I may post photos later on.

On to the exciting new projects: I'm going to be collaborating with my good friend Jen Kiaba as a stylist for some of her photography. Really, I have no words for how wonderful, talented, and all-around fabulous Jen is. She's an amazing photographer with a killer sense of style, and my thrift-shopping and cafe-haunting partner of choice. Check out her site, read her blog, and visit her Etsy shop.

As a result of this collab, I'm going to be taking my fashion work a bit out of the theory realm and into the practical. I'm playing on Polyvore a lot lately, putting together outfits to serve as inspiration and suggestions for our clients. I know I'm just about the last one to the party on this one (does that make me fashionably late?), but I've discovered that Polyvore is insanely fun.

Eventually, outfit suggestions, notes from our shoots, and related ephemera will all make it onto a joint blog, where we'll cover topics that don't really fall under the purview of either of our personal writings. I'll be sure to include a link as soon as that's up and running.

With all of that in mind, I'm thinking of taking this blog in a slightly different direction than previously. Don't worry: I'll continue to babble incessantly about fashion's history, meaning, and motivations. However, I think I might interject that with a lot more in the way of hands-on, practical fashion advice: outfit posts, "how to wear" suggestions, tips (and plenty bragging!) about thrift-store finds. What do you think, O fabulous readers?  Is this a good direction, or should  I stick to my eponymous theory and leave the practicalities to the scads of gorgeous, gifted bloggers already inhabiting that realm? Do you still think I have any authority in the fashion realm after that confession above about the yoga pants and Uggs (about which I am quite ashamed: it was one of my darker moments)? Are any of you still out there?

p.s. I finally succumbed to either peer pressure or inevitability, and joined Facebook. If you're not a friend of mine already, please feel free to send me a friend request. Let me know you're a blog reader so i don't get terribly confused! You can, of course, also follow me on Twitter, where I am prone to posting update notifications.