Sunday, August 31, 2014

Thanks Giving

    Monday marks the American holiday Labor Day; a holiday designed to honor those who work on our behalf to provide the goods and services we need for our lives.  Its fitting then to take some time to honor in especial those millions of unknown workers out there, who through their constant toil provide us with the clothing we wear, and give me, and us, something to talk about here.
    Those people are the ones who literally create the Attire language in all its forms, bringing our thoughts out into the real world, and giving them physical reality.  It is to these people, working long hours, most often ill treated and badly compensated, that we owe every stitch we have on our backs, unless we have spun, woven and made up our own clothing ourselves.
    To the farmers, ranchers, mill workers, weavers, dyers, printers, pattern makers, cutters, piece workers, pickers, packers, shippers and warehousers, I say thank you, profoundly.
    To the designers, fitters, embroiderers, salespeople and display artists, Bravo.
    To the makers of thread, buttons, zippers, velcro, snaps, hooks and eyes and all other sorts of notions. Thanks for making garments possible.
    To the tanners of hides, makers of ribbons and trims and the programmers of computers, another bravo.
    And finally, to all those visionary folk out there, who in labs and work spaces are creating the technologies that will pull this whole huge language farther along, I give many thanks.
    Each and all of these disparate folk have a role in what we have in our closets. We never acknowledge them, the designer gets the spotlight.  But without them the designers would have nothing to show, and we would all be much closer to naked.

    Without them all, we are diminished, and the Attire language goes mute.
    My thanks and debt to them always, on Labor Day, and every day.

So naturally, there will be no post here tomorrow!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Scatter #19

  Saturday is always Scatterday.  I actually look forward to doing these posts, since I get to share so many different things all in one go.  My feverish brain gets all clogged up with these things, and once a week I need to let some of it out to play to make room for more wonders and surprises to come.

    One of the curious things about the style of the mid 17th century was that though there was a general loosening up of the imagery of Attire, and a freer feeling overall , the low, wildly retrograde placement of sleeves for women was a strangely constrictive thing.  Its as though the age was only giving lip service to increased freedom of dress for women.  This sleeve style would make reaching over one's head a near impossibility.  Still, in all, its a beautiful thing to look at as a composition of shape and line.
    Nairobi based designer Sara Karay made this awesome jacket.  I love the colors, placement of pattern, and the solid collar to balance it all out.  Plus, I think Mr Man here is pretty dreamy.  Sue me.
    The Roman trio of sisters, Zoe, Micol and Giovanna Fontana opened their fashion house in 1944 and quickly became one of the strongest voices in Italian fashion.  This effort from 1969 is called the Moon Landing dress.  Made entirely from quilted vinyl in black and white, as a practical garment it must've been rather uncomfortable to wear, and likely rather squeaky as well.  But if you're looking for a style to embody the space age looks of the 60s, this hits the mark dead on.  It owes virtually nothing to the past. Everything about this dress looks forward, not back.
    When we think of the beach, or going swimming we most assuredly do not think of woolen knee length shorts and a matching tunic.  But in the 1800s, if one was bathing in a public place, this was as bare as you dared to get.  The very sight of a man's calves, well turned as these are, would have been swoon inducing.  Just like a gent getting sight of a ladies lower leg would have given him all sorts of private thoughts.  We have become inured, through constant exposure, (ahem) to flesh in all is permutations.  So this seems downright silly. But during its time this was the furthest reach of appropriateness.
  King George the Second of England had three lovely daughters.  And in 1728 they were, all three, painted individually by Phillip Mercier.  Skirts had expanded over the prior 60 years from a narrow conical shape to the fully rounded one you see here. And in just a few more years that shape would begin to flatten, fore and aft, while the sides would begin to bulge out, eventually creating the easily recognizable silhouette of the later 1700s, with its panniers.  They are in order, Princess Royal, Anne, Princess Amelia Sophia, and Princess Caroline Elizabeth.  Their dresses also all show the fashion for rows of gathered lace on sleeves, and the sharply pointed completely flat fronted bodices in vogue at the time.  The fabrics of their gowns are beautifully rendered, letting you know just how luxe they must have been.
    Speaking of lace, this portrait by Carl Gustav Pilo is of Frederik the Fifth in his anointment robes. The fashions of the time decreed, for the wealthy of course, the lavish display of what was then the most costly textile in manufacture, lace.  Since it was incredibly labor intensive, and fragile to boot, it was the nee plus ultra of swank.  So, a fella who was going to be anointed King would make sure that there was lace everywhere. And boy did he ever.  He looks like a tissue box exploded.  But that was all the thing at one time.
    This marvelous beauty image from the 60s was shot by Norman Parkinson.  Placed in a lily pond the model emerges as though she were herself some exotic bloom.  Not much to say, really. I love this image of extreme beauty fashion form a time when such things were happening all the time.
    Closing out this edition of Scatter, this image.  I feel two ways about this coat.  The coat is self is perfectly constructed and in a wonderful color. The model chosen suits it well and it suits him.  My quibble is with the beadwork.  "What, you ask yourselves?  How can a man so in love with shiny things hate on this?"  I don't hate it exactly.  My issue is that with the extreme polish of the construction of the coat, I want the bead work to either look more intentionally controlled, to harmonize with it, or be more intentionally random to counterpoint it.  It seems to fall somewhere in the middle ground and so ends up looking weak and shoddy, when it should sing.

Have a grand Weekend, All!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Art, Applied

    Most of the clothing we see and wear each day is only minimally artful, being designed more for purpose than for visual arrest.  But there are times places and situations where such a level of art is given over to the creation of the articles that we place upon us that they become, of themselves art.
    All of us have seen and heard of the increasing number of museum exhibitions which display clothing, in particular, couture, as being art, and it very often is.  But there are so many other places and ways that we give ourselves over to art fully with the things we wear.
    This is not going to be a long, wordy post. these attached images speak what I want to say better than I ever could.  Take a moment from your day, and look at the wildly differing ways we manifest art to be worn on our bodies.
    I cannot fail to be astounded at the endless creativity and imagination of the Human species.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Inward Becomes Outward

    Based on a conversation I had with a dear friend on Monday, this post today.

    All of us go through numerous stages and periods in our lives.  We feel jubilant, defeated, lonely, loved, at sea and on track.  No matter what process we are working with, our inner self begs to express itself in the way we present ourselves to the world. 
    In the case of my friend, she is going through significant personal changes; changes of employment, and very likely even the nation in which she lives.  She told me that as she has been going along she finds that the clothing in her wardrobe, that used to be her go to stuff, the dresses and skirts she frequently wore, and the particular colors that were favorites, now seem not to suit her.  We talked about it a good deal between us, and determined that a desire to move into a creative path that is essentially a private pursuit, (writing), could manifest itself in a lessening of desire for a prominent public face.  So she finds herself choosing clothing that is quieter, less of a look at me statement.
   I know that for myself, since I've struggled life long with weight issues and attendant body dysmorphia stuff, my apparel choices have shifted radically over time, again and again.  When I was in my heavy weight phase I chose over large shirts in big patterns that disguised, ( so I thought) my bulk.  When I was in my gym going phase, my clothes were tight and body con.  It is only after decades of ups and downs, and much introspection, that now at 57, I have come to a full enough understanding of myself to live in my own light and be true to my inner nature, without regard to what others determine to be right or wrong.  So I am being more and more bold in my color choices, and allowing the peacock that has lurked within to spread his glorious feathers at last.  Does any of this have to do with this blog, and how much time I spend daily considering such matters?  Of COURSE it does.  And I am aware, as well, that if I am going to write about Attire as a language, I damned well better speak it with erudition myself.
    So the point I'm working towards here is this; whatever place you find yourself in internally, don't attempt to ride along in the same apparel you've always chosen. You have changed, and will continue to do so. Allow your choices of clothing and adornments to change with you.  When we resist this sort of change, we are first, personally, increasingly uncomfortable. Then those who see us perceive a discomfort and disjunction when they look at us. They can tell, subconsciously, that something isn't quite right: that we don't fit the skin we are in. 
    Whatever your inner place, live in it and be it.
  Whatever your aspirations, live in them if they are true to you, and all who see you will note it, and know them to be true.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

We Are Well Placed

    There is a wonderful, and curious thing that has been an intrinsic part of Attire as a symbolic language.  We are tied to our time and our place by our apparel.  Its not simply that people who live in rural places wear clothing suited to what they do and how they live, their choices also reflect their landscape, buildings and every other part of the environment in which they find themselves.  Its just as true for you and me, and it has been a societal constant all over the world.
    Within any culture there are accepted aesthetics that inform the fine art and applied art that gets created. These aesthetics derive partly from the natural world, the climate, animal and plant life and so on; and partly from the way the society has configured itself in terms of personal interactions.  All of these factors become a subtextual part of the design of clothing in that same place.
    Looking at particular historical periods its clear that this is nothing new.  The typical clothing of the Restoration Era belongs completely in the interiors and environs of their time, because in every respect they echo the same sense of color, proportion and line that exists in the rest of the world they inhabit.  The clothing of the Gothic resembles in shape and decoration the attenuated lines of the architecture.  The clean, formal simplicity of the early Directoire Period is supported by the simplicity and classic lines of the buildings, and the pastoral feel of the art.

As a person who lives in a place frequented by foreign visitors, I've become aware, as have most of the people I know are, that we can tell on sight whether someone is not from around here, by their dress. Its a subtle thing, and one that would challenge anyone to explain in detail, with accuracy, but there are, nonetheless, cues that we see and understand.  Perhaps its a type of shoes, or a style of jeans; we cannot know for sure, but our internal radar pings, and tells us we are seeing someone who doesn't call our place home.  This to my mind is a function of the idea that we bind ourselves to our home place, wherever that is, and when we go elsewhere, we take our home with us, on our backs.
    Now, what is changing in regard to this idea is the continual emergence of a true global culture.  As we grow more authentically cosmopolitan, willingly embracing differences of manner, dress and adornment, since we see them daily, this notion of being completely bound to one's own place is getting stretched.  A New York native thinks nothing whatever of seeing men in turbans, though that particular Attire word was not native to the New York culture of the past.  It has become attached to the local dialect of the New York Attire language, just as many apparel terms not common to this country are becoming usage words here as well.
    What is also morphing as our global culture continues to grow, is that the buildings we build, the art we view, and every other part of our visual world becomes polyglot as well.  There are myriad styles of buildings going up worldwide, endless sorts of artistic modes that are prevalent, and the way we voice our personal spaces continues to become more eclectic as we learn to draw inspiration and pleasure from other cultures.
    How that expresses itself in Attire language is a growing willingness on the part of regular folk to experiment with shapes, patterns and garments that they would not have considered in years past. So it becomes increasingly common to see people wearing clothing that refers to multiple cultures and times.
    For my own part, I see this as being entirely wonderful.  It will be by such subtle means as these that we finally break the outmoded notions of nationalism, and help ourselves to move forward more truly together as a single people.  The more we understand of each other, and embrace each others traditions as not being alien, the harder it becomes for certain types of hatreds to grow.  If we can help that process along by learning new Attire words and coming to use them, then that is, as they say, a Good Thing.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Holistically Speaking

    M'kay, so I've had this notion bouncing about in my feverish little noggin a while, so I thought I'd share it out and see what you all thought about it.
    For the vast majority of us, dressing ourselves is to a major degree a slapdash affair. We acquire random articles and find ways to put them together, and then have to get other random articles to make things we bought previously work in the way we wish them to, creating a never ending cycle of search and acquisition.  I mean, who of us doesn't have something in the closet that really doesn't quite go with anything, because we had to have it, and either didn't consider that it wouldn't fit with anything we had, or just plain didn't care?  What if there was a different way to approach this whole thing?   Its a variant of the idea of wardrobe planning, but it goes farther.
    Its an idea that requires more thought, and certainly more consideration; but it could be a way to get to a clearer, simpler method of using the language of Attire; and one that would allow us to use the words we have to greater effect.
   What I'm thinking is this.  You sit yourself down and do a review of how your life works, day to day. What tasks you need to do, and what recreations you enjoy, what colors, patterns and textures you find appealing, what your dreams and goals are for yourself; these things should all be part of this review.
    As you have things surfacing, write them down, and soon a coherent picture will begin to form of how you should frame your own Attire conversations.  Once you have your review completed, then create a list, category by category that fills those needs.  For example, when I made the move recently to re-introduce pants to my sartorial vocabulary, I had to get pants, since I only had one pair of emergency jeans. I had to think of where and how I was going to be wearing said pants, it created a structure from which I could make more reasoned choices.  And that allowed me to avoid over buying, or getting the wrong things.  So now I have a selection of 12 pairs of pants in a broad range of color, (cause I'm a color whore) that will take me everywhere I need to go.  And since I got all of them at a great second hand store, it didn't cost a fortune.
    The next part of the process is a toughie.  Its the editing part.  Go back through your wardrobe and be ruthless.  Anything that doesn't fit the review you created gets the boot.  All those things you got, hoping to find the right thing for later, should get gone.  Keep only the stuff that makes you smile, works for you often, and suits your spirit.  Take the rest of it to someplace where you can sell it or trade it, or just plain give it away to someone who can use it.
    Now for the fun part.  You get to go shopping.  But this time, you'll have a set of real goals in mind, beyond a vague "I need a new coat" concept.  You'll know what kind of coat, and even possibly the color and design elements it should have.  But more than that, it won't be just the fulfillment of a random desire, it becomes a secure goal that brings you to a fuller level of usefulness for the clothes that you have.
    The final bit is a fun one too. Pick an accessory that you love, shoes, bags, hats, whatever.  Let that be the one place where you let yourself go, so you don't feel constrained by your choices.
    The end result of all this palaver and search is that you have a wardrobe that you can be utterly confident of, that will serve you in every situation of your life, and present the image of yourself you want to get across, with clarity.  The secondary result is that you end up spending less over time, and your wardrobe doesn't require a separate building to house.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


    One place in the apparel conversation where women have had the up on guys for quite a while has been in the face framing arena.  For the past 200 years women have had all the luck in that regard, while men have had their necks strangled in tight collars and ties, with not much to bring the eye up to the face.
    It hasn't always been so, of course. Before the Great Freeze happened to men's apparel, the options were, if not quite as varied as they were for women, certainly broader than they currently are.
    So, what I wanted to look at here, is the power of face framing.  The ability of our apparel to get us to focus our attention on the face of the wearer is a vital part of the Attire language, and a notion we return to consistently.  Whatever other body parts may be the focus of the current mode, the face will always be considered for display.  Obvious, right?  No matter what else we might want to convey, we want people to see us; and us, means our faces.
     If we scroll back through time the varied methods of setting off the face and bringing the attention upwards have been handled in a wide range of ways.  We have taken the fabric away from the shoulders and neck, exposing the upper body to a degree. That works, because the potential for nakedness will always get our notice, especially when countered with complete coverage elsewhere.
We have presented the head as a nearly separate entity, placing it on an almost literal platter, with wide starched collars and neck ruffs.
  We have worn hoods and cowls to encase the head, creating a subtle mystery as the face gets somewhat obscured.
And of course we have used hair, jewelry, head gear and make up to create more reason for someone to gaze on us with approval.
    As we move the Attire dialog forward, its important always to introduce new terms, or re-define older ones.  This is one of the chief things designers, (good ones anyway), are about when they do their craft.  So, I am hopeful that this is one of the areas that will get more attention soon, particularly for the boys out there, whose options have been so woefully narrow. To be fair, the recent hirsute trend has given men a way to draw the look up by building an edifice of facial hair, and that can get quite creative when done well.  I 'm hoping though, that the clothing options will expand to permit some new notions.
  Why, for example should a man not be able to do an off the shoulder look?  Or a neckline that dips to the waist?  What about a backless cowl necked look?  Any of these could be on the table. It will simply take the right designer, working the idea in the right way, to make it sing, and get us to not only hear it, but want to speak those words ourselves.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Scatter #18

    You didn't actually think I would let you go without your weekly Scatter post, did you?  I'm not so cruel.  Well, not usually.

    First out of the gate today is a series of 7 looks from young designer Kim Choong-Wilkins.  His darkly Goth looks are very edgy, and most of them have a lot of potential in real world terms.  He has an excellent sense of proportion, and detailing. Everything is well edited and speaks the same dialect of the Attire language.  I would love to see what those cowled pieces look like with the cowls rolled or folded down.  I suspect they are just as successful that way.  Bravo, Kim.
    Next we have supreme silent screen siren Theda Bara costumed as Cleopatra.  I've posted before about the dissonance between the actuality of historical clothing and how its re-created, (or in this case not) by film and television.  There is not one single thing that has anything remotely to do with Egyptian art and culture, let alone the known styles of apparel.  From her headache band headdress to the pearl encrusted bra and hip girdle,  to her striped chiffon skirt she is completely of 1917, not 30 BC.  Still, the image created is arresting, and must have dazzled the film goers of the day.
    This is an African shamanic ritual mask.  If we cannot transform ourselves sufficiently with clothing and paint, we will conceal our true face within a mask in order to become, almost literally someone, or something else.  This mask takes its wearer and moves him to the background so that the image of power can take precedence.  Whatever the meaning of the various elements of the mask are, and I'm sure there is nothing here that isn't full of symbolic intent,  The surface effect is profound, we are int he presence of a being of power, and possibly terror. Our behavior must be guarded.

    Just because I can, I'm including this image of a piece by Chinese designer Guo Pei. Her work is symphonically lovely, operatic, really.  This is a work of perfect craftsmanship, and sublime fantasy.
    This golden silk damask waistcoat is from 1715.  There was a long period of time that a man's waistcoat was not only nearly as long as his coat, but it also had sleeves.  It was essentially a s second coat worn under the first.  The real differences were the total lack of a collar, and the absence of cuffs.  In addition the waistcoat would not get as much decorative attention as the outer coat.  But this example, in a beautiful damask would have made quite an impression, when viewed between the coat fronts.
    This is on helluva piece of bling, kiddies.  This was designed and made by jeweler Harry Winston for the marriage of Iranian Empress Farah to Mohammed Reza Palavi, the Shah of Iran.  The center emerald is a gasp worthy 65 karat stone, and the smallest emeralds are both over 20.  The tiara is platinum mounted and the remainder of the gems are diamonds of several differing colors.  It takes a lot of moxie to carry off such a thing, which fortunately she has.
    Next we have two images of Burmese men's attire from the 19th century.  I'm posting them because I find the shapes and proportions beautiful, and I imagine that they are easy to wear as well.  The first image is a skirt and coat ensemble. I love the textile of the skirt, and the way it drapes is wonderful. the texture of the coat is a great counterpoint to the complexity of the skirt fabric.  The second image is of a Burmese minister's court costume.  Even though this is of the utmost formality, there is still an easiness about it that is thoroughly admirable.  I would love to see a designer or two bring this kind of shape and style to western menswear.
    And last but absolutely not least, a visit from Princess Margaret, in her bath, no less.  Who says royals can't have a sense of humor?  When I saw this it made me smile a good deal.  Just the thought of even asking a British royal to get their picture taken in the tub is enough, but having a princess agree to posing with a huge tiara on, in said tub, is genius.  And kudos to Margaret for doing it.  Go ON girl.

That's all for this week.
And by the way, I will be returning to my regular posting here tomorrow.

Have fun!