Thursday, May 22, 2014


    We rarely really let our selves out to play.  When we do, and especially when that play is associated with cultural traditions, the way we manifest our attire gets pretty amazing.  All over the world, when it comes to festival times there are some common factors that always emerge.  The first is color; brilliant, saturated color, and lots of it.
                                                          Swazi Reed Dance Festival
    Second is abundance, often in the form of volume, but also often in lush embroideries and decorative details.

    Third is a sense of joy. There is a common thread, (you should pardon the pun) that runs through the attire of festival clothing the world over, and that is an aspect of visual delight, and playfulness.  No matter the seriousness of the occasion, there is an underlying gleefulness that is inescapable.
                                                                     Wodaabe Men

    In Europe and most of the rest of the Western world, traditional festival attire is heavily embroidered in multiple colors, and the various shirts, skirts, vests and pants are often handed down generationally, since they are both family keepsakes, and also the product of possibly thousands of hours of loving work.  This is especially true of places where life is often harsh because of the climate.  Long months shuttered indoors away from icy winds and snow leave hands with time to spare, and it was both a way to while away hours, and also to keep a lighter attitude, working on something bright colored and happy in the dimness of winter.
                                                        Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria
    Wealth is also an aspect of festival attire, as in some cultures plates of silver, or metal coins are sewn directly to the clothes as a brash, and obvious statement of status.  In Russia, clothes are heavily adorned with pearls, and especial the headdress know as a kokoshnik was sometimes entirely covered with pearls, and jewels.  In the Guizhou, in the village of Upper Jidao the women wear these astonishing silver plated headdresses during festival dancing.

                                            Russian Dancer Anna Pavlova in a Kokoshnik
                                                       Upper Jidao Village Dancers

     Wherever you go in our amazing world, whatever culture you visit, this is something you will be able to see and instantly understand.  When we call ourselves to festival, we choose to live in a world of abundance and delight, regardless of what the harsher realities of our lives may insist upon. 
                                                                Kwanzaa Festival
     It stands, (for me) as one of the ways we show our indefatigable spirit as a species.  I find that both comforting, and wonderful in these often difficult times.  No matter what else may portend, we find time and space to rejoice.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Back to Basics

It seems to be important for me to restate the purpose here, so, here goes,...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why Styling?

    When the couture began in the 1800s the methods for showing clothes to clients were as simple as they were direct.  Models moved within the salon showing the clothes to clients as needed, nothing more. Some showed the clothes as intended by the designer, but Mr Worth, showed all his designs in black only, so the client could then feel free to envision them in whatever colors they wished.
                                               Clients viewing clothes in Worth's Salon
Also, clients came to a fashion house and were shown the clothes on models, whenever they wished to see them. Of course, the notion of a fashion show, where clients and press were invited to a special event when a new collection would be produced, was still a ways off.  In fact, the notion of fully seasonal collections was still unborn.  Though all the couturiers produced clothes for the major seasons, new work as prepared and shown all the time.
    The first official fashion shows were staged in department stores, like Ehrlich Brothers, which is credited with the first American fashion show in 1903. The trend quickly spread all over the retailing industry, and soon fashion shows were happening everywhere.  But the couturiers were still showing their clothes privately to clients whenever they wished to see them, rather than staging full fashion shows.

    It was probably Paul Poiret who did the first fashion parades, innovator that he was.  He even did early movie footage of his models showing the current offerings of his house.  The clothes were shown fully accessorized, but the accessories were not in any way exaggerated, they were meant to complete a look a client could carry out into the world confidently.  Of course in most cases all those accessories were available at the self same fashion house, should madam wish to purchase them as well.
                                   Paul Poiret clothes modeled in the garden at his home in Paris.     
    It wasn't till the 1960's amid the Youthquake which changed everything about how fashion got done, that special accessories and wild hair fashions that were never intended for real world usage began to appear on runways.  Prior to that time couture fashion models wore their hair simply, they were all wearing the same basic shoe, and were often devoid of jewelry as well.  Such things were thought to be a distraction from the clothes themselves.
    As the marketing of accessory items became more and more important to the health and visibility of a couture establishment the number, variety and outlandishness of them increased as well.  Similarly, in the ever more strident and far reaching popular culture, the need to gain the attention of an over stimulated populace encouraged designers to start staging expensive and lavish seasonal shows.
                                                       Chanel Fall/Winter 2011 show
    This trend has continued to the point where it is far more unusual to see a show that is bare of such things as specialized lighting, set pieces and customized special effects.  And the cost of these amazing shows can soar into the millions.  First is the cost of the clothes themselves which range in price from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars each.  Most couture presentations have around 40 to 60 individual looks, each of which must be accessorized.  The models must be paid. There are lighting techs, sound people, set designers, props people and an army of make up, hair and wardrobe folk who make sure the models are perfect, all of whom get a paycheck.  Beyond that is the pre-show advertizing and the inevitable bags of swag to be presented to the patrons, front row bags are very expensive bundles of free stuff, I assure you, but everyone going to a couture show, comes away with a bag full of goodies.  All of it costs money and only increases the need for maximum impact and press for the show.
                           Louis Vuitton Fall/Winter 2012 show with a custom locomotive.

    When you understand that a typical Couture fashion show is from 10 to 15 minutes long, this makes these shows the most lavish theatrical productions in the world.  Only the half time show for the Superbowl can boast this level of expenditure.
    So why the apparent need to crazy hair, make up and accessories?  Why include unwearable shoes insane hats and headgear that would make a show girl raise an eyebrow?  All to get, and hold our attention.

     Our world has become one trudging through a miasma or information, of which, to be honest, this blog is a part. In order to gain notice, something big, loud and extraordinary must happen. So, couture is rising to that by not only creating breathtaking spectacles, but by presenting ever more impressively outre' looks for us to get inspired by.

     Make no mistake, the couture industry does not survive on the sale of these clothes. Those days are long past.  What makes a couture business truly successful is all the extras. The hats, shoes, belts, bags, scarves, sweaters, wallets, watches and scents are what drive this multi-billion dollar enterprise.
                                                       Jean Paul Gaultier accessories
So, why Styling?  Profits, that's why.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Moving Forward, Looking Back

    Repeatedly through our history the Attire language has surged into a new phase of expressions, by not only dropping the colloquialisms of the prior era, but by looking backwards to another age.
    The first time in Western culture that we can see this with any clarity is the relaxation of shape and ornament that occurred after the change from the Reformation to the Restoration in England in the 1660s.  Overnight the dour and subdued shapes and styles of the Reformation, with its Puritan ethics, were swept aside to be replaced by softer, looser, and far more frankly sexy clothes for both genders.  But the salient point in this discussion is that the inspiration for this change was drawn from the classical world and its surviving art.
                                             Portrait of Actress Nell Gwynne By Peter Lely
                            Mixed media portrait of Actress Nell Gwynne by George Stuart

    It is surely difficult for us, from our distance, to be able to understand how it made itself known in manners of dress. But mostly it was in a desire for looser, more easily draped and fitted clothing. No one could ever look at the garments of classical Greece and equate them with mid 17th century English attire, but the people of that day could, and did.  For them, the addition of draping that was not rigidly structured was enough to evoke that earlier day.
   And the notion of referencing a previous age was not unknown in Fashion. Court masques had routinely called up their versions of ancient apparel to costume the folk who played around in those entertainments. So it wasn't much of a stretch for it to filter into more widely known clothing styles.
                                                     Masque costumes by Bountalenti
    The next time we made a real forward movement was the period before, during, and after the French Revolution.  While Marie Antoinette was on the throne, she championed the simplifying of dress in her later days, while she clung to the teachings of Rousseau.  Though the French people chose to deride her for it, saying she was denying people livings by such simplicity; she, oddly, presaged the very styles that would come to symbolize the revolution.  During the revolutionary period, a relentless removal of furbelows and ornament created a timeless sense to the clothes being worn. And immediately after the revolution, clothes acquired a look that came as close to realizing the Greco-Roman past as any ever devised.  Women were seen walking in Paris in midwinter, clad in sheer muslin dresses, devoid of decoration, with only thin soled slippers and a shawl to protect them from the often fierce Gallic winter.

     (You will have noticed that I'm not speaking of the men's clothes.  I cannot in this instance, because men's styles had already begun that long process of ossification that resulted in the dim, sad shape and palette for suits we now have for men.)
    Before the end of the 19th century Dress Reformers and the Aesthetic movement tried, with partial success, to move the conversation forward again.  And again the past was the source of inspiration.  This time though, it was the Medieval Era that took the stage.  "Greenery yellery" clothes dyed in natural dyes and devoid of corseting, began to be worn by women of style, and with enough social status to step aside any strictures of propriety.  Dresses made with long hanging dagged sleeves, and high waists recalling the illuminations of the Duc Du Barrys Book of Hours became a fashion to be dealt with.  No, it didn't make a huge impact at the time, but it did set the stage for what was to come in the 20th century.
                            William Powell Frith- A Private View At the Royal Academy-1881
                                                Purple velvet Aesthetic movement tea gown     

     Once the clock ticked over to 1900 things changed with an increasing rapidity, that has yet to falter.  By 1910, super stylish women were wearing bifurcated dresses, with hemlines that exposed the ankles.  This may seem silly to us, but remember, prior to this time dresses hit the floor and ankles were hardly ever seen. So they therefore gained considerable allure for their rarity.
    The 1930s, with the Great Depression saw another return to classicism, with the bias cut evening dress so very often referring to the ancient world, and in particular the work of Madame Gres, whose tightly gathered silk crepe gowns are still the visual definition of goddess dresses.

     The post war era saw us moving forward again by looking back, when Dior tried to recall the 19th century with his abundant and prodigiously womanly clothes.
     The later 60s and 70s saw us drawing strongly from the 20s 30s and 40s in an effort to break with what was precieved as a too strong connection to a narrow stylish vocabulary. We were, as a culture, attempting to embrace for the first time, a true world Attire language.  We failed, by the way.
     And ever since then there has not been a single collection year that hasn't taken a good deal of its overall look from some other time.
                                      Dolce Gabbana Byzantine inspired collection F/W 2013  

    We move forward, by looking back.  Sure, we draw inspirations from the past, and one can say with authority that we should look to the future; but the future without reference to the past is a dangerous, and ill-informed place. Its not a place I want to be, myself.  We gain so very much by looking back; not to live there, but we get perspective and context that aids us in facing the challenges of a new day.

Friday, May 16, 2014

An Evening Event

    Hello all.

    So, last evening a dear friend and me went to an event called FashTech in San Francisco.  It was touted as being a place where fashion and technology meet, and to an extent that was true.  Though I was hoping to see a good deal of cutting edge technology as regards the actual design and production of clothing, what was primarily on tap was more apps to use on one's phone or pad to facilitate shopping.  Also, the way things were presented was more along the lines of a trade show, than a seminar or more organized presentation.  In fact, the only display there that could be called cutting edge was a demo of 3D printing by an SF based firm. It was fascinating to watch this tabletop printer building pairs of earrings, layer by layer.
    That is not to say that there weren't a couple of interesting ideas being presented.  The first of those was    The notion here is rather like Air B&B for clothes.  People with significant wardrobes can offer them for rental to those without the space or wherewithal for such gear.  The garments are stored in a secure single location, and are insured against damage. So, if one needs a special occasion outfit, it becomes rentable for 40 or 50 dollars, as opposed to spending hundreds on purchase.  And intriguing idea.
    The second is an app for the iPad called StylSavvy that enables a shopper to shop all parts of an outfit at the same time, using a series of scroll across bars so you can see each element at once.  Also, the app is able to allow for sorting of style, color, size, price, and maker, as well as garment type.  The only drawback currently is that the app is not a portal. So, when your shopping is done, you still need to go to each vendors own site to make your purchase. But at least the selection process is completed.
    There was of course a good deal of schmoozing going on, which is only to be expected.  And I met a number of interesting folks, and made a few connections.
    I have to say, though, that I was disappointed in how my fellow SF people turned themselves out for this.  The organizer had particularly suggested people to really bring their style game on board.  Sadly, most of the women in attendance looked more like they had just left the office. And the men in attendance, with a few exceptions, seemed to think they were on their way to a ball game.
    Come on Stylish San Francisco, where were you hiding?

    So for me and my friend Paul, it was an object lesson or two, and it did give me a chance to talk my talk to some new folk, which was good practice, if nothing else. (grin)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Not So Frivolous

    Human beings are amazing creatures.  Faced with difficult conditions, we completely refuse to bow to the pressure to become nothing.  In the most extraordinary places and times, the voice of Attire makes itself heard with an irrepressible delight and inventiveness; and an indefatigable spirit.  We as a species seem hard wired to find delight in our darkest hours, and in the most deprived of states.  Sure, when we express under such conditions, we may not do so with perfect taste, or sublime construction, or deep artistic goals.  What we do, is give out our hearts.  We place them literally on our sleeves. In fact our sleeves become part of the canvas on which we paint our truth.

    This extraordinary way in which we face our world, cannot be sundered from us or beaten away from us for long. We grow back together and rise from that beating, showing our new inner strength with what we clap on our backs.
    At times that strength has made itself seen with a simple armband, a badge or a set of colors.  We have time and again fought against those who oppress and demean us, often first with the subtle language of Attire.  Or, when faced with a long period of deprivation, we burst forth to new expressive life with abandonment and a delicious playfulness.

    One of the many things that draws me to Attire as a language, and makes it such an important part of my day, and too, why I must share it with you all, is this thing about us that will not be squashed, trampled or broken.  Our essential spirit, the thing that makes us "US" is something that will not bow down for long.  Despots may reign. Fascists may seize power.  Oligarchs might shove down on the majority, but in time, like a small seedling, the nature of Humans springs forth again.  And it does so first in this quiet, hard to codify language I call Attire.
    During the reign of Henry the Eighth, the Catholic multitudes who decried the closure of abbeys and seizure of properties donned red during the Pilgrimage of Grace.  The people who fought for the French Revolution wore cockades of the French flag's colors, sabot shoes and pantalons. In the 30s the popularity of Surrealism signaled more than just a fashion; it was also a method of throwing off the strictures of the Depression.
    During the Second World War, women took whatever they had to hand and made the wildest, most inventive hats ever, to fight against the darkness and fear of their time.  The Beats of the 50's wore unrelieved black to show their disapproval of the cultural norm, and their desire to change our way of thinking. The counter-culture folk of the 60's and 70's showed their disdain for the old ways; and their need for a new way of living, in their rejection of popular culture and mass market clothing, adorning themselves in the clothes of by gone eras, or modifying clothes beyond recognition.  And the gaining momentum of the black civil rights movement saw people wearing the clothing of their native heritage, picking their hair out into afros, and braiding their hair in the manner of their forebears, and all to say, I am ME, and cannot be denied.  I will not be you, no matter what you want.
      No discussion of this process would be significant without the contribution of the women's movement. Those women who burned their bras and started wearing pants to work took the language of Attire and made it a horn blast, a call to arms.  Similarly, the Gay rights movement took their stance as outsiders and ran with it.  Sure, there were those who tried to gain acceptance by seeming "normal".  But it was the queens, bull dykes and leather boys who pushed the envelop and forced people to listen.

    So, among the many ways that Attire expresses in our world, there is a way of speaking this language that is about social change, dissidence, and a kind of stubbornness, born of our innate unwillingness to be denied for long.
    Just now, we seem to be going through a phase where these manifestations are quieted.  But who knows where and how they will spring forth again?

Monday, May 12, 2014


    We humans are a strange and diffident lot.  We manage somehow to hold entirely opposing opinions in our heads on a regular basis, and we often have a way of expressing ourselves through dress that is wildly divergent from our own reality. We routinely, and I think most often unconsciously misrepresent ourselves, to ourselves, and to others.  We refashion ourselves in a more compelling, or appealing image.

    Perhaps its our inborn ability to maintain very different positions on things that encourages this behavior in us. Perhaps its a desire to aspire that most of us possess to a significant degree; or perhaps its a simple dissatisfaction with the mundane realities of life.  However that may be, the result is that we do indeed manipulate the facts when we dress ourselves to meet our fellow humans.
    Now I'm not going to moralize about the rightness of this, especially since nearly all of us do it, me included.  I just want to take a look at it, and wonder some wonderings; perhaps to find an answer or two.
    When we pull on "that" pair of pants, the ones we know sculpt our rear especially well, we may not do so with any forethought.  Nor could we be certain that choosing a particular set of earrings means anything other than"they go with this outfit".  But the mere act of choosing to dress in one way over another, of selecting this garment over that one, is a choice we are making not only to direct our own feelings and thoughts in a particular way, but to subtly, (or not so subtly) direct the thoughts and feelings of others.

    You see, there are very few of us who are so complete in their self security that they have no problem with showing the bare facts of themselves to the world.  Nearly all of us want to tweak that image a bit this way and that.  To put our best foot forward, in whatever way we can, is our oft unstated goal.  We want to be seen to be attractive and sexy, accomplished and intelligent, worldly and erudite, powerful and significant, kindly and approachable; any combination of these, and often, with varying degrees of success, all of them at once.

    Now, where things get really interesting is when the obfuscation is entirely deliberate. Ceremonial or work attire, like a surgeons scrubs, a policeman's uniform or the robes of a zen monk, are requirements of those positions, so they carry a particular meaning that is imposed from outside the person wearing them.  But go to any place where single adults gather to mingle and you'll see the obfuscation process in full force.  In such an environment, everything is chosen with a thought to maximizing attractiveness, and especially sexual attractiveness.  In general clothes tend to be tighter, and more intensely colored than otherwise.  And when we are going to a job interview, we likely will show up in the most business appropriate clothes we own, rather than board shorts and an OP t shirt.

    Some people dress deliberately to shock or challenge us, to actively state a political or moral position, or to make certain we are aware of how creative they are.  Each of these goals requires us to think more carefully about what we wear and why.  And to that end I think this sort of conscious obfuscation leads us, potentially, to a good place.  Being more readily aware of what one wears and what its effect is on others can be a helpful thing, not only to oneself, but to our larger society.

    As our global culture becomes more complex due to greater and greater interaction between different peoples, this need for clarity on first sighting one another will only grow. Now I surely don't advocate any sort of restrictions on anyone's choices,  only that over time we begin to make better use of this tool we have to hand.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Great Inflation

    After the crisis of the French Revolution caused an instant deflation in the physical volume and level of ornament in clothing for women, a period of roughly a decade and a half occurred that, though not devoid of expressiveness, was a more severely edited version of women's apparel than had existed since the Dark Ages.  For over a thousand years women's clothing had been a matter of stiffness, increasing volume, and abundant elaboration.

    Suddenly, it was all gone,...

    The desire to be perceived as democratic, enlightened and modern supplanted all other considerations.  So for the next bunch of years, women's clothes retained a slim, high breasted, and demure silhouette. Shoes were simple flat slippers. And the primary locations for whimsy and inventiveness were the neck and the head.  Collars and hats were often quite unique and quirky.
     By 1820 though, something began to happen.  A subtle inflation began.  First it expressed itself in a slight belling out of the skirt.  Instead of being entirely vertical, the skirt shape became slightly conical, and trimmings of all sorts began to festoon hemlines, drawing the eye downward to this increasing space.

    Along with this, the sleeves, which had been cut close to the arm, or existed as vestigial puffs, gained in both elaboration, and in volume.  Sleeves were gathered, pleated, ruched, puffed, stuffed and picked out with contrasting trimmings to compliment the growing focus on the skirt hem.

    Part of this was simply because after a over a decade the simple shape of the predominant look had been wrung dry of fresh inspirations.  The other reason was there had been enough time elapsed that more obvious displays of wealth and taste were no longer deemed inappropriate.  So, faced with a design idea they had worked to death, the only choice was to push the shape outward, literally. 

    In addition to the shape of the clothing, the hair dress styles would soon become not only more inventive, but without question some of the more outre' hair fashions in history.  Styles of hair bore out-jutting wings and panels, bunches of curls, fountaining sprays and ornaments of every sort. The millinery began to do the same thing, growing in size and elaboration as the decades progressed.

    This inflation would continue for over 40 years before technology could no longer support any further increases, but it began here, in the 1820s. Its almost as though, after the frenzied extravagance of the 18th century, we all needed a bit of time to catch our breath before plunging into the fray again.
   So, the short time between 1800 and around 1820 was a calm point, soon to be swept aside by our relentless need to express ourselves.