Thursday, July 31, 2014

Attire Utopia

    I plan to wax utopian, so bear with me here, folks. We're not talking about reality, just a vision of the future I wish could come to pass.
    Recently, a poster on my facebook blog had something negative to say, and it really got me to thinking about the goal I have in my head and my heart for all this, "stuff".
    I really do believe that if we were to give each other the complete freedom to dress as we wish, without fear of societal reprisals, we would in part, at least, create a happier world for ourselves and those around us. Sure, I can't begin to think that this would be a cure to all social ills, especially when so many people in the world have little to wear, and no choices of importance in that regard. So I will confine myself, if I may, to ourselves, and the world we inhabit.
    I daily see, hear, and feel expressed such animus towards others, that is based solely on how they have chosen, or how their life situation has compelled them to, express themselves through their dress, that it makes me sad sometimes.  I wish so fervently that we could get ourselves past this superficial negative judgement and allow ourselves to see the core truth being transmitted to us by these others in our world.
    All of us desire to be seen, heard, acknowledged, and known, not just for our outer selves, but for our essential selves.  And of course we, all of us, want to be loved, and respected.  So, to that end we adorn ourselves in multifarious ways, sometimes to the distaste, consternation and confusion of others. But if we would only choose to take the time to look deeper, see further, and allow more, we could ease so much that pains us all.
    When we ourselves dress each day, its with an incomplete understanding of what it is we are about.  No one, me included, understands every nuance of how Attire works; so we make our way out into the world, often blundering a bit this way or that.  And there are endless sources of on line information telling us how to get it" right".   But, if we keep in that none of us fully grasps all this, and manage to apply that same thought to others, we can relax a bit, and allow some errors and misjudgements, on our way to a better understanding.
    You might be seeing this and asking if I'm not undoing everything I've said so far about Attire as a language and its validity.  I don't see that problem.  Attire is a useful way of communicating, one person to many.  What does not need to happen though is the negative judgements that we so often resort to.  Allowing ourselves to see fully, but withhold judgement, till we know who we are looking at in truth, helps everyone in the end.
    What I hope for is that we can learn to take this language and use it more fully, to express ourselves more effectively, and to understand others more completely.  I want us to get to a place where anyone can wear the things that truly express their nature and state of being, without reproach or apologies.
  Its a utopian dream, I know. So sue me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Who Makes These Words Up, Anyway?

    The question of how Attire words come into being is very nearly as varied as the language itself.  When we scroll all the way back to our proto-human selves, the wearing of an animal skin could have gained different meanings, depending on how it was worn.  Certainly in terms of modern psychology, to wear that skin over the head would imply the control of the spirit of the animal, over the loins it means something entirely different, more along the lines of subjugation through physical power. So even in the dim past, the words we had became more diverse, every time a new method of dealing with it came by us.
    With the development of the first textiles, we learned to wrap and drape them about us.  And any scholar of the classical world can tell you that certain types of toga drapery denoted very specific things; so a toga, which is essentially a length of cloth wound, draped and pinned, became more than one Attire word, by its usage.  Certain methods of draping were considered seemly for women, others were for men only. Some were appropriate for citizens, others, only for servants, or slaves.  So early on, we learned to codify, by apparel.
    But the point is that the words were defined and created by the people themselves, not by outside forces, or business concerns.
    This continued to be dominantly the case for quite a long time through human history.  Sure the upper classes had their fashions and trends and novelties, but they did not impact the common run of people in the way that they can now. 
    It wasn't really till the late Renaissance that the apparel of the upper classes began to affect the other classes, and vice versa.  By the middle of the 1500s, the common run of folk were wearing clothes that were radically simplified versions of the togs of the elite.  This continued, and frankly, still does.  The Humanist movement helped this process along, by endowing the common people with a dignity they had been denied, previously.
    What changed next was that the attire of the masses began to affect the upper class. During the late 18th century, with the rise of influence of writers like Voltaire and Rousseau, there was a concomitant rise in interest in the life, pursuits and manner of the majority of the populace by the ruling classes.  Sure, their clothes that aped the dress of the multitude were of the finest fabrics, and decorated in ways that the poorer folk could never dream of, but, nonetheless the Attire words they were using had been created, first by the commonality of the populace, then re-defined by modistes and milliners and tailors.
    It was also at this time that, with the consequent emergence of a middle class of power and wealth, fashions could be spread further and so, purveyors of clothing were obliged to be more and more creative in the expressions they produced.  What happened was an explosion of new words in the Attire lexicon.
    This quantum leap of new words has continued, unabated, through to today.  Now, every single day, hundreds, possibly thousands of new words are added to the Language of Attire.
    But, something has happened that makes it much, much different than before.  Now, instead of the majority of the new words coming from the average person, they come from people who are paid to do exactly that, come up with new words for us to wear.  One of the fundamental roles of a designer of clothes and accessories is to add to the dictionary of words we can use.  And yes, it is true that many designers draw their inspirations from the streets, but it does not invalidate the fact that they create new words in the process, just as their 18th century predecessors did.
     So, we now inhabit a sartorial world where the language is expanding at a rate so fast that no one, no matter how dedicated they are to fashion, or wealthy they might be, could possibly keep up with the number of innovations great and small. 
    It remains to be seen whether or not this is ultimately a good thing.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What's The Difference?

    Back in the day, and by that I mean in the times before the Second World War, the average person had a wardrobe of clothes by an order of magnitude smaller than your typical person does now, especially in the USA.  What changed was that after the war there were an unprecedented number of affluent people, combined with the manufacturing capabilities to create anything and everything people wanted. That set of factors drove the need to keep the bustling economy going at the same furious rate it had been, and so our consumer culture was born.
    But prior to that time, even when the ready to wear market had begun to thrive, the vast majority of people, even among the well to do, maintained wardrobes that would seem thin things in comparison to our current standards of personal apparel.   The major reason was of course, cost.  Clothes were comparatively much more expensive than now.  And as a consequent of that, shoppers were compelled to be much more careful about quality, and styling than we are now.  If you can only afford one coat for the next few years, it needs to be a really good one; that will serve you in all manner of situations.
    Here's a list of women and for men of what an average person's wardrobe would consist of broken down into essential items and likely extras.
      Women:                                                                      Men:                                                             

     1 or 2 nightgowns                                                        3 undershirts (tee or tank)
     1 bra                                                                             3 pairs of undershorts (brief or boxer)
     1 girdle (if worn)                                                          4-6 pairs of socks (black, brown)
     1 garter belt for stockings                                            2-3 suits (often with a second pair of pants)
     2-3 pairs of hose                                                          4-6  dress shirts
     1 good dress for Sunday                                              2 pairs of shoes (black, brown)
     2-3 dresses for work                                                    2 hats
     2 blouses                                                                      1 coat
     2 skirts                                                                          2 belts
     2 belts (black, brown)                                                  2-4 neckties
     1 suit                                                                            1 pair of gloves
     3 pairs of shoes (black, brown, tan)                             Extras:
     2 hats                                                                            1 formal suit or tux
     1 coat                                                                            1 pair of formal shoes
     2 purses (black, brown)                                                1 dress coat
     4-6 pairs of gloves, (black, white)                                2 scarves (winter, dress)
     Extras:                                                                           1 pair shorts
     1 sweater                                                                       1 swimsuit
     1 swimsuit                                                                     1 pair of sandals
     1 pair of sandals
     1 evening dress
     1 pair of evening shoes
     1 evening bag
     2 scarves (one for winter)
     Thinking on the wealthy, our perceptions of them are vastly skewed by film and television to imply their having much more clothing that they actually did.  Even very wealthy women had likely no more that a half dozen really formal dresses.  It was not considered wrong to be seen multiple times at formal events wearing the same thing.  As long as it was in style it was fine.  And older women especially were given a good deal of freedom to dress less fashionably.   So, simply multiply the wardrobes above by a factor of 5 and you get the notion of what a lady or gentleman of means would have to hand.  Its still not vast by current standards.  Most of us fellas have more of just blue jeans that a wealthy man would have had trousers of every sort.
     And as a closing note, this is a chifferobe, and it was commonly used by people in apartments where no closets existed.  It was meant to hold ALL of someone's apparel.  Could you get all your stuff in there?  I know I couldn't.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


    There are certain periods in time which act as bridges between one defining era, and another.  The period of about 1910 to 1918 is just such a period, as it forms the join between the end of the Victorian/Edwardian period, and the modern age as it expressed itself in the 1920s.  In regards to Attire's language it is the point where the formality and complexity of the previous era begins to give way to the open modernity of the Jazz Age.  As such its an interesting time to look at sartorially. 
    Men's clothing would not go through very much obvious change for decades to come yet, but women's clothing would, and did. 
    The first and most obvious change was a narrowing of the silhouette. This time though, it was not by restricting the body to the hips in a corset, but by removing the many layers underneath, and raising the hemline to the top of the foot.  Corseting was not as crushingly tight, and with the raising of hems to above the floor, women had a level of freedom of movement that they hadn't had since the beginning of the previous century.  Also, both sleeves and collars were being made up in less restricting styles, so more freedom was gained up above, as well as below.
    Though designer Paul Poiret, who was at his peak during this time credited himself with getting women out of their corsets, that is a spurious claim.  Most women still corseted to a degree, simply not as radically as they had before.  Plus, the newer corsets were not as rigid in structure, so even when laced, a lady could still sit, and move in comfort.  It is true, however that younger women began to abandon their corsets, since the prevailing mode allowed the right shape to be achieved if one was moderately trim.  Corsets also not only changed shape, but shifted position to a degree.  Where the shape had come to just under the point of the breast, the newer corset sat under the breast entirely so the corset rode lower, and the majority of the compression happened across the hipline, rather than at  the waist.
   In addition to the relaxation of shape, there was a lessening of reliance on acres of embellishments; in particular the previous lavish use of silk flowers, even on day wear.  The newer mode was trim, devoid of much fussiness and allowed a woman to walk with ease. 
    All of this happened very much in concordance with the rise of the women's suffrage movement, and the appearance of more and more women in the work force in an ever widening number of professions.  As women began to demand their place in the world outside the home, the Attire language responded with new words that suited what they had to say.  The leaner, more confident look of the day stated that a woman meant herself to be taken seriously. The First World War contributed to these changes too, as so many women stepped into jobs previously held by men. Of course, viewed with the lens of history, its clear those statements didn't yet have the power they would achieve in just a few more years, when women clipped their hair and raised their skirts to nearly the knee.   But these first efforts at expressing the new woman had power, nonetheless.
   In the evening, a gown, which previously would have been overburdened with ornament, now became a lighter, airier construction, that even in formal spaces permitted greater freedom of movement.  Though all sorts of ornaments were still in use on evening wear, their use was more refined, less abundant, and more dramatic.  Often a gown would rely on a single defining detail to give it strength, where in the prior decades it had been about too much of everything.
    The one place where women's apparel was lavish in the extreme was headgear.  Hats for women were still vast edifices that counterbalanced the slim line of the body, turning a female into a walking full blown flower, with her body, the stem.
    As the years proceeded closer to the 1920s, more and more breaks with the past occurred.   Bifurcated skirts made an appearance and hemlines continued to rise. Women began to openly wear make up, and smoking became an edgy if acceptable past time among the chic set.   But throughout this time, when looked at with a discerning eye, you can see that while we were dropping thoughts and styles behind us as outmoded with one hand, we were picking up new ones with the other.  And all of this allowed women in particular to walk more confidently in the roles they were taking on for themselves; so that when the new decade dawned, they were ready to vote in elections, dance the Charleston, and fill places in the world they had previously only dreamed of having.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Scatter #14

    Your weekly dose of scattered glories and ephemera is ready to  roll!
    First on the docket today this really unusual suit from, wait for it, 1906,  Yes that's right this gloriously colorful silk paisley double breasted suit was designed to be worn for smoking.  So a gent could lounge and smoke his pipe or cigar in ease, comfortable in the idea that he was still chic as hell.  I could absolutely see some daringly fashionable man of today rocking this to great effect.  LOVE the color combination.
    This is a polonaise style dress from 1775.  In glazed cotton chintz it was extremely fashionable spring and summer wear, and would've been relegated to more casual pursuits. The gathers on the back were controlled by tapes inside with rings attached so the lady could raise the skirt to whatever level she wished, or wear it down if it was her mood.  I love the restrained colors of this, and the perfect working of the stripes.
    These really caught my eye.  They are pants with coat tails on them.  As a surrealist reference I love them.  Practical they are not.  But they are deliciously witty.
    Miss Ann-Marget giving uber-stylish sixties glamor queen to us full force.  Its a fabulous glamazon look that over-scales everything to wonderful effect.  And I love the fierce expression on her face. I'm dying to know what she's thinking.  Because of her sex kitten image it was rare for her to get the high fashion treatment, so this is a special image.  I think she pulls it off admirably.
    This man's coat is a frock style coat from the 1830s.  Its made of beaver cloth, with a beaver collar. I love the shape of this coat, and the colors as well.  Sure, these days beaver would be off the materials menu, but its a fantastic look at a lavish piece of menswear from the early mid 1800s.  I want loden green pants, a very dark brown coat to wear under this, a beaver skin topper and a wonderful carved walking stick.  Thanks.
    The 1960s, with the rise of women's place professionally sparked a truly odd sort of backlash fashion.  Here we have a trio of ladies all dressed as little girls in their gingham and eyelet lace.  They are all wide eyed innocence.  Totally at odds with the ever louder voice of women demanding to be taken seriously at last.
    This arresting image caught my attention for that amazing painted  chest piece, primarily.  To be honest, though the model is a hottie, I would have preferred it to be shown on someone with far less ink.  I think in this case it distracts the eye.  But overall I really dig this quasi religious/tribal gear. It has a strong Indian vibe that seems inspired by the Hindu religion.  And I do love the fact that inspirations and items from all sorts of traditions are now fair game to be gleaned and put together with all kinds of other disparate elements.
    Final item today is not something from worth, but rather some knock your eye out bling.  This lavish parure of jewels is done in pink topaz and diamonds, and includes a full diadem, a necklace, a  brooch and earrings.  Feast your eyes in this stuff kids!  Them's some Joolz!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Changing Faces

     Not only does the image of beauty change from the neck down, but from the neck up as well.  Our perceptions of what we call a beautiful face shifts along with our cultural norms for art, architecture and all other things affected by our internal aesthetic gauge.
    And its not just the ladies who morph constantly, men too are subject to this seemingly random set of choices that results in a certain shape face or placement of feature being called beautiful.
    To my mind it all comes down to one thing.  All the people who are considered to be beautiful, somehow inhabit the time in which they live, fully.  They never look out of place or out of their depth.  In other words they always look resolutely of their time, whatever time that may be.
    And it is the special grace of some to transcend their time, and move gracefully through towards the end of their days, retaining not the perfections of youth, but the substance of their individual beauty, which always and ever has nothing to do with the physical, and everything to do with what exists within.
    So that is my point for today.  Beauty, anyone's, including yours, has little in the end to do with perfect proportions, or gleaming white teeth; it has to do with what we choose to face our lives with, and what we give to the world freely.
    Here's a collection of beautiful folk from across the last 120 years.  Some sailed smoothly thorough, others not. And some are with us now.  Take a good long look at these faces.  Every one of them has its own quirks.  None of these faces are really perfect, but they are all, just like us, beautiful.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Moving Onward

    Its an interesting, but not surprising thing, that as the restrictions that have confined men with regard to their ability to express their emotions freely without fear of social reprisal are falling away, and the feelings about sexual diversity are broadening, the place where the Attire language is developing the most new words the most rapidly, is menswear.
    Where the apparel options for men have been extremely limited for a long time, not only in cut and materials but with a narrow color palette, those boundaries are being chipped away daily.  Now, a man can walk down a city street in brilliant green pants, carrying an over-scaled clutch bag, and not instantly be tagged as anything other than stylish.
    And more things than color and accessories are being effected.  Tunics and robes, skirts, kilts and wraps, leggings and tights are all making their way into the fullness of the subset language that is men's attire.
    What is intriguing to me is how this is all playing out on runways so far.  The majority of designers who are playing with these notions have not yet found a clear voice with which to express these changes.  So, what ends up happening a good deal of the time, is that the message gets muddied, as new concepts get grafted onto existing ones without much real consideration of line and proportion.  The results are often a bit clumsy, which means that the potential to really affect change is diminished.  A potential customer is less likely to try a new idea out themselves if they cannot "read" the message clearly from the runway or in print.
    With all that in mind I am going to give you here a series of images of edgier men's fashions, without comment on my part.  Take a good look at them and assess yourself, whether you think they succeed or fail, and why.  Then let me hear from you.
  And don't be afraid to disapprove, dissent is important in any discussion.