Sunday, June 29, 2014

I See Rainbows Everywhere

    This morning dawns bright and sunny in San Francisco, and it is the the day of the annual LGBTQ Pride Parade and Festival.  So, with that in mind I thought it couldn't be a more appropriate time to do a post about the presence of rainbows in attire, and what that means and does.
    Now, when I say rainbows, I mean more than simply the literal representation of them in weave or print in textiles, but any time that the range of the visible spectrum is used, no matter how obviously, or subtly.
   Every color in the spectrum has its effects on us. These are graphable changes in our metabolism, breathing, heart rate and even synaptic response times.  That is no less true when we are faced with the spectrum in its entirety.  To be fair, no one has ever actually presented the entire visible spectrum in apparel.  Select colors are used, the ones that our minds perceive as representing the six predominating hues we can see; Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet.
    What is intriguing about the effect of the color spectrum as it gets made up in clothing, is that the effect is not a constant.  Where single colors have an effect that remains the same for most people, the visual spectrum response varies wildly depending on how it gets shown to us.  The most common responses are two.  We feel happier, and more centered.  But depending on how well the rainbow of color gets shown to us, we can also react badly.
    One of the other things that distinguishes rainbow hued garments from other things in the Attire language is that such things are always viewed to a degree as a novelty, not as something to be taken seriously.  The only time we take the rainbow of color seriously when its made up as apparel, is when the colors are removed from their correct spectrum order and thrown into new combinations, or when they are rendered in shades or tints that are distanced from the pure tones.
    So, we have two ways of seeing the spectrum when it gets made into clothing; the literal and the figurative.  Literal representations take the spectrum and show it in stripes, or ombre' the colors in their correct sequence; creating a range of reactions from us from memories of childhood, to political activism.
  Our response to figurative rainbow colors is more intellectual than emotional.  We engage the cognitive, first to reassemble the spectrum in our minds, and then view the garment again with the understanding of what we are seeing clearer in our heads.
    Finally, while a great many people find rainbow colored clothing energizing, pleasing and fun, many others find it both confusing and dismaying.  Why?  Well, since color evokes real physiological and psychological responses in us, some find the presence of so many differing cues to be internally overwhelming, and so an avoidance response kicks in.
    Whatever your own feelings about rainbow clothes and accessories, the fact remains that the expressive responses to them are as vast and varied as the rainbow itself; and that seems a perfect end to this Pride Sunday post.

    Have a grand day, whatever you do.
    Fly your own personal flag of Pride every day.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Scatter # 9

    Hi all, its Saturday, and that means its time for the weekly scatter post, which I've discovered is one of your favorite things I do.

    I'm going to start us off with a visit from that silent screen sexpot and siren, Theda Bara.  Of course here name was a complete fabrication, in order to promote her image of exotic temptress.  This shot is from one of here many quasi-biblical epics.  The reason I post this is as a reminder of how radically our notions of feminine beauty and sex appeal have altered over time.  Then of course, there's her utterly hilarious "historical" costume, consisting of a somehow entirely unsupported pair of beaded bra cups, a snake bracelet on her calf, some random strands of pearls around her hip and something that looks like a kitchen curtain draped over her shoulder.  Perfect historical accuracy. right?
    This second image is a contemporary fashion editorial image.  Sometimes in an effort to promote clothing, the mood and design overtake the production, though as in this case, sometimes to positive effect.  In this case we're looking at a rather unremarkable pin striped suit, but the placement of the model, the dogs and other props get us to look at something that otherwise we might pass right by. Also, the accessories up the ante here.  So its a nice example of how Attire gets a boost, conversationally, by the things we do to support the main words in our sartorial conversation.
    In the 1960s the magazine Australian Women's Weekly did this kinda awesome photoshoot of actress Raquel Welch wearing a number of the biggest names in fashion of the time.  What makes this intriguing to me is that though Ms Welch is undeniably beautiful, she is A, no model, and B, is not really well served by the clothes they chose for her.  Most of the fashions they picked really worked best on the stick thin gamines that were the rage.
    When I came across this mask I gasped out loud.  This Dia De Los Muertos mask is made entirely of small beads affixed on their side so that their through holes are visible.  Its a remarkable work of art, and also a testimonial to the transformative power of the mask. We become someone, or something else entirely.
    This next oddity is called a Mercury Retrograde Body Mitten.  Its the ultimate in cocooning for the stressed out modern.  Is it a valid word in the Attire language? I would think not. Its presence is meant to be a joke, really, and its existence is far too ephemeral for it to become part of the lexicon.  Still, it has a certain validity for comment, since very often our clothing choices are driven by a need for emotional or psychological support.
    I include these two arresting images, because we have so rarely allowed men to adorn themselves with flowers, beyond the occasional buttonhole posey. This hirsute model  gains something wonderful with the full blown blooms on his head.  I wonder, could we make this a thing?  Personally, I'd love it.
    I know the headdress in this image is entirely digital, but I love it so that I wanted to share it anyway.  It was devised by digital artist Don Dos Santos and its called "Shiva's Crown.  Our connection to such things is an old and nearly visceral one.  Its one of the pieces of apparel that lifts us out of ourselves, and takes us, and those who view us, to another place, or another time.  It becomes the realm of magic.  I think we could use a good deal more of this sort of magic in our lives.
    And as a final part of this weeks offering; in 1906 the G. Guisiffi L.T. Company created this rather remarkable evening frock.  Remarkable how?  Well its all about the strange and profoundly Art Nouveau styling of the bodice in particular.  Contemporary art always influences clothing design, and vice versa.  This dress, with its dangling bits, asymmetry, and naturalistic looking embellishments is a wearable version of Art Noveau's ideals.  And just take a good long look at the level and variety of the dressmaking techniques in use.  There are pin tucks, ruching, smocking, applique, and bias edging, all worked without a flaw out of silk chiffon, which is one of the testiest, least forgiving textiles around.  This is a tour de force of the dressmakers artistry.

By for now, and have a wonderful weekend!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Couture In Celluloid

    Since the beginning of the film industry there have been occasions when couture designers have been called upon to lend their unique talents to a particular film.  What results is often interesting, because a couture designer's strengths are so different from those of a costumer. Where a costume designer is quite used to making one thing look as though its something else, both for reasons of budget and time, the couturier is used to working with only the finest materials and the best workers, and to be able to lavish whatever amount of time is needful to make something perfect.
    People like Gabrielle Chanel, Hubert de Givenchy, Pauline Trigere' and Hardie Amies all designed for film, but made clothes that were entirely couture in aspect.  To be fair, in each of those cases, the designers were selected for exactly that reason, either because the characters they were to dress were the sort who would wear couture, or because. as in the film Funny Face, it took place within the couture realm.
    In the case of all these designers, the sensibility of couture was fully realized, since the clothes were all assembled in their ateliers and with their eye for perfect detail.
    Only a few designers have been allowed the freedom to create true flights of fancy that stepped out of the couture and into another place.  I'm thinking primarily of Hardie Amies who designed the  costumes for 2001: A Space Odyssey, (and is the only one to have worked in both ways in film), Paco Rabanne, who got to design the wildly fun costumes for Barbarella, and Jean Paul Gaultier, who did the costumes for The Fifth Element.  In two of these cases we are dealing with Science Fiction fantasies, having more to do with imagination than hard speculative fiction.  And in both cases the results were delightful, sexy and fun. In the case of 2001, Amies was tasked with trying to realistically envision the world as it would be 40 years hence.
    2001: a Space Odyssey was a groundbreaking film for Sci Fi costume.  Never before had there been a serious attempt to create fully logical extensions of ongoing trends in fashion so that the result made real world sense.  Prior to this film, the reliance on metallics, plastics and exaggerations of shape and proportion, made the results obviously costume, not real clothing.  You could certainly argue that Hardie Amies typically conservative design style resulted in clothes for the film that stepped not very far away from the world of 1968, and you'd be right.  What makes them work is that they are devoid of all sorts of silly gimmicks.  They look like real clothes worn by real people for real tasks.  Even the space suits look entirely functional.
    Slipping from realism to utter fantasy, Barbarella, based on a French cartoon of the same name, allowed Paco Rabanne to use every trick in his design closet; all at once, and to witty, sometimes hilarious, and usually sexy effect.  Like Amies in 2001, Rabanne ends up referring more to 1968 than to any other time, but it is his sense of proportion, and his sometimes odd use of materials that give the work an insouciant liveliness.  The costume for Jane Fonda that is composed of fake fur animal tails, with its long trailing tail of tails that ends up getting caught in the door of her spacecraft, is wryly sexy, and silly at the same time.
  The myriad extra costumes within the palace scenes are all darkly perverse exaggerations of sexual fetish gear and biker clothing.  And the queen with her horned costume of fur and beadwork is some strange mixture of dominatirix, and forest creature.
  We get, at the end of it a commentary on human sexuality, and morals that still has resonance today.
    We wait almost 30 years before we get to see another melding of couture designer and major fantasy.  The Fifth element, from 1997 was designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, and gave him plenty of room to express his humor, his commitment to blurring gender lines and his resistance to anything remotely staid.  The work he did is frankly sexy, sometimes deliberately amusing, and always dramatic and cheeky.
    So, oddly enough, its not when designers are called upon to work within their usual sphere that they really shine forth, but when they are asked to step outside the lines and play in the world of fantasy.  What does this add to the Attire language you might ask?  Actually, such fantasy worlds give us freedom to explore new ways of presenting ourselves, and in a way that is safe, because its not the real world.  Many of the notions that get put forward in these kinds of films end up appearing, transformed, but nonetheless present in our daily Attire conversation.

Look around, you'll see what I mean.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

You Look Great!

    We hear that all the time, sometimes about ourselves, and we often say it to others.  What do we mean, and what do we see, when we say someone looks great?
     In terms of Attire's language what it means is that all the parts create a seamless whole, and that everything contributes, both to revealing some part of the true spirit of the observed person, and also to elevating their appearance by making the most of whatever they've got.
    We all stumble now and again, sartorially. We choose things that, though we like them, don't really suit us for one reason or another.  Perhaps they don't fit right, but we liked them so much we didn't care. Perhaps they aren't exactly the right color, or texture, but close enough that we said yes, when perhaps we should've said no.  Do I have things in my closet right now that are examples of this?  I sure do. We all do.
    Now, don't get me wrong here. I'm not advocating that everyone be blandly adherent to some arbitrary notion of conventional beauty, far from it, actually.  What I am championing here is that you find your own flag, and fly it without reservations. If school marm from Little House on the Prairie is who you really are, then GO there.
  If your are Mr Preppy, then by all means grab those Bass Weejums and get out in the world.
  If you love to live every aspect of your life on the edge, then don't let yourself down sartorially, in order to please others.  Because, when it comes to it, what pleases others most is when we see someone being utterly true to themselves.
    That, more than any other factor is what makes us, or anyone else, look great. So, when you choose clothing for yourself, be diligent about it.  Make sure it addresses these few points fully.
    1:Style.  Is it one you instantly feel good about the idea of?
    2:Fit. When you put it on, can you move with ease and without discomfort (unless its specific reason is restriction) ?
    3:Color. when your eye rests on it, do you smile inside?  When you hold it below your face, does your face light up a bit?
    4:Quality of construction.  Turn something inside out, check inside the pockets, and look at the way it hangs on a hanger.  If there are loose threads here and there, buttons that don't seem too secure, or places where there are wrinkles that have nothing to do with having been handled, then trust me when I say that you won't be happy in the long run.
     One final word is this; experiment.  When you're out looking for something, make a point to try on something you'd "never wear".  You just might be surprised what happens when you put it on. We only learn new words when we try them, and the same is true for Attire.  We only expand our vocabulary, when we feel free to try new things.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


    Its about time I made an effort here to put this understanding of Attire as a symbolic language to work.  With that in mind I found two random images of people from the street.  Lets look at the elements of what they're saying sartorially, and see what we can come up with.
    First up is this very stylish woman from Rome.  On the surface, it seems simple and direct, but there's more in play here than just a simple well put together outfit.  Starting with the footwear the extreme heels of her open toed boots give a hint of sexual aggression and possibly S/M.  When paired with the leggings, also in black, that sub-textual trend of deliberate and intent sexuality gets reinforced.  Then we get to the sweater, in light gray, which of itself is a rather conservative looking piece of clothing, so, suddenly the sexual tone gets ramped back down a few notches. The brilliantly patterned scarf does two things; one, in terms of placement it is hiding the chest from view, so the sexual tone drops again.  Second, the pattern and colors harmonize with her hair and face, so the eye is drawn up, as far from the more frank statements below the waistline as can be. Her simple, roomy bag speaks of practicality.
    The result is that we get a message that this lady is frank, likes directness, and simplicity, but she isn't above a level of coquetry now and again.  Should anyone take an assessment of this nature as a fact?  Not on your life should you.  What we perceive, though it can reveal truths about someone we see, is shaded by the level of intent within the wearer that we cannot ever know.  So, yes, this sort of observational skill is a tool with value, but it can only give hints to explore further, not facts.
    Our second subject is this ultra stylish fellow. I picked him because his clothing is so very similar in placement and type to our first example.
    Starting again at the feet we have black boots.  This time though the boots are nearly devoid of detail, flat soled and matte finished leather.  The result is more about comfort, than about in your face style statement.  Similarly, the skinny jeans in black function in this case not as some subtle sexual cue, but rather they are obliterating the lower half of the body. The focus goes to the above the waist zone instantly, since there is essentially a blank page below.  What is making the pieces on the top half of the body interesting is that they are all individually conservative things, both in color and cut.  Its only the layering and texture that creates interest.  The item that stands out of course is that huge bag. Unlike our first subject, this bag does not say anything about practicality, it is an out-loud statement of style.  First of all as a male, carrying such a bag, he defines himself in our view as utterly unconcerned with our opinions of him.  Second, he implies with such a bag, either the need for a great many things, or the desire for them.  
    The ending statement here is a bit dissonant.  The colors of his chosen clothing all say, please don't notice me much, as do the sunglasses. But the bag fairly shouts for attention, so we end up with a visual conflict.
   So, though each of these people is similarly attired to a significant degree, the resulting statements are wildly different. We can and do use our understanding of Attire in this way every single day, It gives us a jumping off point for understanding others.  Seeing more of the subtleties can help us understand more deeply.  And I will reinforce now, though, that making the mistake of assuming that our impressions are facts, not only fails to take the reality of the observed other into account, but it diminishes us.  Use this potent language wisely.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Striking Fear

    We tend to think that it is the exclusive purpose of attire to present us in the best possible way; that is of course only part of the reason behind this massive symbolic language.  Another potent reason is the desire, or need to create fear in another person, to make them pay attention and understand instantly that we are not to be trifled with.
    In our dim past we did this to maintain our territory, to protect our tribal companions, and children, and to secure whatever food sources we had to hand.  And so, we daubed ourselves with colored mud, wore the bones and hides of animals and learned about the power of visual exaggeration.  We made of our own faces into masks of terror; and eventually created real masks that enabled us to take that statement much farther.
    As we associated ourselves more formally into larger and larger groups, eventually becoming kingdoms and nations, that early tendency ritualized in the form of military gear. The sight of hundreds or thousands of identical men moving towards your land with weapons in hand disguised the individuals involved and morphed them into a vast creature of menace.So uniforms developed that were designed not only to protect the soldier from harm, but to make the opponents as uneasy and fearful as possible.
    As time has gone on such ritualization of war moved into the world of the common people as uprisings against oppression caused folk to gather together, not just under a common banner, but with a set of commonly worn, physical symbols, that, for all their relative crudity of making, still caused a note of fear, as the powers that were felt challenged.  The Phyrgian cap of the French revolution, and the shield patch of the marchers in the Catholic revolution during the time of Henry the 8th both speak loudly of this now commonplace fear inducing force.
    The modern age has its share of these things too.  The New York gangs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries distinguished themselves by their fierce dandyism, and so created for a time an instant sub-textual connection between such apparel, and danger.  As we get further to the mid-century mark and a growing social unrest is creating a backlash amongst the young, their attire begins to veer off in new directions, deliberately eschewing the more staid and buttoned up styles that predominated. The effect, while not overtly fear inducing, caused a sense of unease, and marked the wearers instantly as not to be trusted, regardless of what that persons real feelings might have been.
    By the time we reach the 80s and the Punk movement gains its real power for the first time, the wild expressions of discontent and ennui that manifested even in ritual scarification and tattooing were a blatant challenge and caused real fear in many, even though the implied violence and attack was not meant to be applied personally to the viewer.  The number and extremity of the visual cues made any other interpretation difficult.
    Every age and time has had its discontented, disenfranchised people, and those who are intent on creating fear in others: and throughout time those who people have often chosen to make those feelings manifest in their apparel, and adornments. 
 What will be the next fearful thing, do you think?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Scatter# 8

    M'kay, so this time the scatter for the week is all gonna be man things. Though probably not what you'd expect. (Then again, knowing me as you do, I may be wrong about that.)
    First up, this amazing parade helmet is made of straw. It was fashioned in 1521 and is inlaid with silk velvet in green red and blue and augmented with occasional metal sequins held down with beads.  That this gorgeous thing survives at all is astonishing, considering the fragility of the materials involved.
    Next is David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust persona.  Why?  Because this man really helped us to start breaking the walls of sexual rules and regs.  He was and is a true ground-breaker, who has made challenging our perceptions about gender and role a lot easier to take that before his arrival.  And sartorially he helped a generation of men feel freer to express their inner peacock.
    When I first saw this image I instantly remembered what polyester knitwear like that felt like.  It felt rather like wearing a pot scrubber.  But boy howdy did we love us some sweaters like this back in the day.  Don't judge us, older folk younglings, you'll look back with wistful regret yourself someday, count on it.  Plus the chicken. What the hell?
    This gorgeous jewelry beard of golden leaves is an extraordinary conceptual piece.  I love the way it both refers to and accentuates maleness while at the same time restricting action by covering the mouth.  Its an interesting juxtaposition.
    Next, an man's evening dress.  Yep, thass what I said.  You know me and the notion of breaking gender barriers. This appeals to me both for that reason, and for the sheer beauty of the image. the whole look is just great.
    I love this street look for two reasons. First is a trifle nostalgic, cause it makes me think of my own youthful experimentation, back in the day.  Second, I love the interplay of textures and tones here.  And the potential seriousness of the fake monkey fur vest, completely offset by the shorts, knee socks, kicks, and leopard hat.
    There is a new baroqueism that is rearing its head on the sartorial front.  Now, I didn't coin that term, and to be frank I'm not sure I agree with the appropriateness of its application. This image is a play to that growing trend.  I love the clashing, yet harmonious patterns, the necklace and it must be said, the model. (ahem)
    Yes, even I see that this is just plain silly.  The tweed jacket is kinda awesome, but the skort is oddly proportioned and the runway accessories make him look like an anime character, and not in a good way.  But sometimes, ya know, you just gotta giggle at what we crazy humans get up to.

That's all for now, folks!