Monday, March 31, 2014

Donning The Purple

    Of the color wavelengths in the visible spectrum, those we delineate as being purple have the shortest, most energetic waves, before leaving visibility and turning to the ultra-violet.  That is perhaps part of why purple is a color associated with profound spiritual, emotional, intellectual and psychological states.  We attach purple to the highest levels of all human conditions.  It is connected to mysticism and religion, to royalty and temporal power of the greatest kind, to mourning and loss, to violently passionate love, to inspired creativity and to seriousness of purpose. 
    Even when we see purple in use in playful ways, it retains in our psyches a weight that makes it hard to see as frivolous.  And so, it has become, for this and other reasons the go to color for persons in the highest of offices.
    Until the development of aniline dyes in the mid 1800s purple was the most expensive and rare of colorants. In fact in ancient Rome purple was obtainable only through the crushing of snail shells.  The amount needed to make enough dye was enormous, so it was reserved for the Emperor alone, thus began the notion of Imperial purple.  Over time purple expanded in its use to the Catholic clergy, first as a color worn by the Pope, and later as a color used by priests during Lent.
    This connection to the spiritual includes any part of what we call mysticism; magic, shamanism and faerie.  So much has this connection become part of our cultural road map it has reached icon status, and gets referred to almost as a joke.
    Purple in the western world is also part of the mourning tradition.  Once the full freight of grieving has passed, we are allowed to "go to purple" as a sign that grief is still there, but lessening.  As purple is the last color we can see before we "go to black" so to speak, it makes a certain sense that we choose it for this use.
    Purple is also aligned with extremity of other emotions, including passionate love, and even madness.  There is a psychological association with internal energy and volatility that is not quite controllable, which makes purple a color we connect to persons of great creativity.
    What we experience when we see purple is a rise in heart rate, and a slight, but measureable increase in mental processing speed.  We actually think a bit faster when we are exposed to purple.
    In the time I have been blogging here and on facebook I have many times posted garments that are purple, and in every case, the reaction from readers has been fast and positive.  We seem to bond to purple quickly, in the same way we respond to red, which exists at the opposite end of the visible color range. I know that I have always been drawn to purple. In fact some of my living room walls are a deeply intense shade of it. So I make a purple a color I interact with every day significantly.
    Take a moment when you can to look at where your day intersects with purple.  It could be revelatory. (slyly smiling)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fluid Sensuality

    The essential element in attire, the inescapable one, is textiles.  Whether it be cotton denim, ocelot fur, silk crepe or polyester double knit, attire requires them absolutely.  And the chief attraction of textiles, beyond the simple fact of their necessity, is the innate sensual quality they all have.  We love the feel of fabrics. Mobility, color, texture, density and pattern are all players in the game of desire that textiles present us constantly.
    Whether we fully apprehend the deeply sexual aspect of textiles or not doesn't diminish their effect on us.  We like our sheets crisp and cool, our towels densely textural, and our underwear playfully smooth.  This connection has a significant role in why and how attire has become such a powerful factor in our world. Our choices of garments are driven to a massive degree by our initial reaction to the combined factors presented by the fabric from which they are made.
    From the moment we enter a store intent on getting something for ourselves, (with the exception of rigidly controlled situations like buying uniform pants for work, where the only consideration is fit), we scan and reject instantly dozens, if not hundreds of options, wordlessly.
    Once we have narrowed the field to a reasonable level of choice, then we begin the process of sampling for effect on us.  We look for color first, then texture and pattern, then for fit and garment quality last.  If this is observably so, then the subtext is that our primary goal is the fulfillment of a series of interlocked sensual desires.  We want, very nearly above all other considerations, our clothes to appeal to all our senses.  We want to love the color, the weight, the structure, and the pliability of our clothes, often even more than we concern ourselves about proper fit.  Who among us hasn't bought a garment because the color or feel of the fabric outweighed the reality that it was slightly too big or small?
    I know that I own a few shirts that, apart from a somewhat dodgey fit, just plain feel so good that I go to them routinely.   The pure sensual pleasure of having that fabric moving over my skin is delicious, and we have all felt that before, in fact we actively seek it out.
    We also respond instantly and viscerally to patterns, and to the color combinations within them.  Our reactions are complicated, because the balance of colors and the particulars of pattern carry subliminal messages to us. Florals are perceived differently in our minds than geometric designs.
We can get feelings of warmth, lightness, season, and place from the patterns within fabrics, and all of that influences our later decisions, though most of the time we never voice it.
    Then there is texture.  Once we are beguiled by a certain texture we have noted, we really can't help but reaching out and touching it.  And if that experience pleases us, it goes a very long way indeed toward making our final choice. Texture also carries with it myriad subliminals. We can remember our childhood, recall a relationship, and dream of a place we have never been before, all because of the way a fabric feels in our hands.  Sure, we mostly don't let this rise to our conscious mind, but its there, nonetheless, working on us and our decisions.
    So sometime soon let yourself go, and immerse yourself in the fluid sensuality that is fabric.  Its a revelatory, rewarding experience.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Some Kinda Manifesto, I Guess.

    It is time and then some for me to get real about my reason for doing this blog; and its sibling on facebook.  I have been during my life a keen observer of the human condition, and of how that surfaces in our choices of apparel and adornment.  For more than 40 years now, I have been reading about, studying, and creating garments. 
    That we use our clothing and accessories to express our emotional, psychological, and spiritual states is manifestly obvious.  What continues to be obtuse however is that though this pervades every corner of our global society, and has done so for nearly all its existence, we insist upon making that fact trivial.  Somehow, we continue to choose not to acknowledge the obvious importance of the fact that we clothe ourselves, and that we do so with such wild variety, and expressivity.

    With these thoughts in mind, it is my purpose here and on facebook to attempt to address that lack of willingness. Additionally, I want to try to elevate the discussion beyond the level of reportage that only talks about trend, and silhouette.  I will attempt here to create a place where the dense, complex semiotic language we call Attire can be more fully examined. 
    We all use this language every day of our lives, and most of us, 24/7/365. Though this is a true, easily observable fact, we most often don't know what the words we are using mean; or how they relate, one to another.  I want to bring a discussion to the table that helps to clear some of the confusion, and gives a stronger understanding of what it is exactly that we do, when we dress each day.
    Along the way I want to have some fun with this as well, and share it with you all.  Our sartorial language is not a deadly serious one, and there are many aspects of it that give genuine reason to smile.

    I also will want to share the sheer untrammeled beauty of this incredibly complicated form of communication.  Sometimes there is no reaction possible beyond, wow.

    So, I hope you will stick with me on this journey, and give your input along the way.  It isn't all about me, after all. We have built this language together, and we will only come to understand it better, with each other's help.
 Many Thanks.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

We're All In This Together

  Every minute of every day we take part, nearly all of us in the production and dissemination of Attire and Fashion. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Giddy Grandeur

    Not very long after we learned to stitch hides to each other and begin to make felted and woven cloth, we started to take the other elements we used for adornment, and attach them to cloth and leather.
In short order a whole broad range of textile embellishment began, which has only grown wider and more expressive as time, materials and techniques have provided.  The process and art of fabric embellishment and embroidery is very nearly as old as textiles themselves.  Since we started with simple things like using the threads and sinews we had to put hides together to do so in a more interesting decorative way, we quickly moved forward, adding as I said, shells, feathers, scraps of fur, seeds and even leaves to our clothes.
    And so we moved along, and things kept getting more interesting and complex.  We added pieces of metal, glass and glazed clay to the process as soon as technology allowed.  And once we figured out how to make metal flexible, either by running it as extremely thin wire, or by winding a narrow strip of it around a thread core, we started working with a technique that continues to this day.
    The first image here is of the cope of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Its Flemish, and from the mid-15th century. Its an astonishing piece of work, elaborately done in gold metal and silks.  The second image is a close up of what is called bullion work, where the gold is made into a tightly coiled spiral, which is cut as needed, and held down with stitches that run through it, holding all the gold onto the surface of the fabric.
    Such extravagant work was of course the province of only the wealthy and powerful, for a very long time.  But as the modern world crept into being, things began to change and the variety and quality of embroidered goods began to spread.  By the 1700s, even those in the rising middle class could afford clothes with embroidered elements on them.  Men's and some women's garments were being made from textiles that were embroidered in advance, allowing the buyer to select from various styles, and then take the worked textiles to a seamstress or tailor to be made up as they liked.
    The most important advance that helped this process along was the development of the tambour method of embroidering.  In this technique, the material to be worked on is placed face down in a  stretcher frame. One hand holding either the thread or the already strung beads or sequins is held beneath the frame. The other hand, holding what looks like a very fine crochet hook stays above.  using the hook the fabric is pierced from above, the thread below is caught in the hook and brought up to the top, and then the hook descends again, creating a chain stitch which holds the work in position.
     The chief improvement with tambour work was speed.  Far more could be done in less time by a single person.  The downside?  Stability.  If the thread breaks during wearing a whole line of work is lost.
    After the introduction of tambour work, surface decoration reached higher and higher levels of sophistication and inventiveness decade after decade; and now with even newer materials and techniques to hand it continues to do so.
    Having entered a new century, bringing with it new developments, robotics stands ready to broaden the availability of embellished goods even further. These textiles below are all done entirely by machine, creating surface effects that just a decade ago would have required hand labor to produce.  In fact the sequined skirt you are seeing is a DIY project.  So screen goddess glam is now within the reach of home sewers.
    The amazing breadth of expressive work that can be accomplished with thread, metal, plastic, glass, and clay continues to spread out, as artists and designers investigate the possibilities.  What we are left with is a truly dazzling fluid art form that a person can wear. We have discovered yet another way to deepen the ability of our attire to convey something profound about us, with the help of tiny bits and scraps.
    And as robotics continues to get more facility, we will be able to go even further still.  I so look forward to the possibilities.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Go To The White

    Innocence, cleanliness, purity, chic, athleticism, mourning, precision.  These are all terms and states of being that are evoked by white.  
    Like its polar opposite black, white is a color of extremes, and holds within its referential boundaries the same dichotomous expression of fulfillment and negation.  Diametrically opposed to black in a physical sense, white is the presence of all color wavelengths in the visible spectrum; and when rendered in paints and dyes, the absence of them.
    Even before we knew this to be true of white in a scientific sense, we understood internally, that white and black were the extreme opposites of each other.  Consequently we have, in Western culture at least, associated white with all that is good, beautiful, and truthful, regardless of whatever existing facts might challenge that at the time.
     First and foremost, white is the color of innocence. We associate it with the beginning of life, with childhood, and simplicity.
     Connected to that assumption is the notion of purity of soul and of person.  So much do we cleave to that idea, that in the 19th century we decided that it was only right that a woman's purity should be psychologically reinforced when approaching the altar of marriage, and the white wedding dress was born.  And even now, when virginity before marriage is less and less a reality, the white wedding dress still commands enormous power in the mind, and controls the huge wedding market, comprising nearly all of the wedding dresses sold each year. 
    White is also a color we connect to timelessness, classicism, and a certain pared down chic.  Partly this is due to the presence in the group mind of images from the Greco-Roman cultures, even though many of these statues were painted back in the day.
    In contemporary society, this translates into things as varied as this series of white saris, a tunic and pants, or a body skimming gown.  And in each case there is a sub-textual reference to the same purity, simplicity, and cleanliness that is an inextricable part of white as we perceive it.
    Precision and aptitude are things we associate with science, and so we consequently clap white onto our scientific types.  Sure, one could say that white gets used in these cases because it will stand up to heavy washing, and will show soil right away, to signal the need to change, but there are more subtle cues revealed as well.  We have long held a connection between white and refined, cultivated thoughts and actions.  In some ways we use white to help signify the best in ourselves. And so we wear it when we want to appear above board, and direct.
    When we need to make sure we and others are perceived as clean, white is the go to.  Its still the dominant choice for underwear, and kitchen workers the world over are clad in white, more for our benefit, than their own.
    Lastly, we associate white with the realms of spirit. Ghosts, angels, and other spirit forms are all often evoked in white.  In China white is the traditional color of mourning, and we also often imagine our perfected selves that way, wearing white head to toe.
    Every color we we can see comes from fractured white light, and so white's position as the color of beginnings and generation seems apt.  That we "get" this notion on a subliminal level, and always have says something profound about the perceptive powers of Homo Sapiens Sapiens.  We see more than we know, or acknowledge. We are more than we appear. White is the color we ascribe to those ideas of us.