Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Big, BIG Lie

    We like to say, in fact we've done so for centuries, that women's clothing is overly fussy, too complicated, and that men's clothing is easy to get into and out of, easy to wear, and comfortable.  Lies. All lies.
    For the vast portion of human recorded history, (and who knows what we were getting up to and into before that?) men's clothing has been at least as complex in structure, and number of pieces, as women's clothing.  Its really only in the past century that that reality shifted somewhat.  But where womens' clothing became generally simpler and simpler in structure and finish over time; men's clothing remained, and still does remain, levelly placed in a morass of traditions and physical details of construction.  Building a suit 3 piece suit for a man is a massively different, and more complicated process than doing the same thing for a woman.  The requirements of construction are more rigorous, and require a totally different set of technical skills to do effectively.  All you have to do is watch one episode of Project Runway where the designers are required to make menswear, and watch their consternation and fear surface, to know its true.
    Anyone who sews can tell you, sewing menswear is a much more difficult task than womenswear.
    But lets just take a quick look here at the back story, through some imagery, of how complicated and labor intensive it was to make men's clothes, and ultimately, to wear them.
    For a very long time, hundreds of years in fact, men wore stockings that went to the waist.  At first there was a center front piece that was separate and has to be tied on to the hose, which were, by the way, tied onto the waist of the doublet so they wouldn't fall down, or held up with tied garters.  That center piece eventually became the codpiece, jutting out so famously in many a 16th century portrait.  But it wasn't only the hose that tied in place.  The upper hose, or trunk hose as sometimes they were called were also tied to the doublet waist. Sleeves were separate items too, requiring ties to hold them on.  The shirt had ties at the wrist and neck.  The shoes had ties or buckles. The gentleman might wear a coif under his hat, which also had ties, and then of course gloves, belt, sword belt, hat, pomander, purse, and cloak, coat or cape.  All in all a great deal of stuff to face up to each morning.  So, did women have it rougher, sartorially?
  Only in two areas really. Sheer mass of material, and the inability to breathe correctly due to very likely improper corseting. 
    Sure, things changed, as inevitably they do.

Men's clothing seemed to become easier, though when you look at the cut of 18th century suits, how a man could move his arms is an astonishment.  It wasn't till the 1800s that menswear began to change in a substantive way, at least, superficially.
Menswear lost a great deal of the excess baggage, but the attention to detail turned inward.  By the end of the 1800s the level of skill required to produce a top level man's suit of clothes after the fashions of the day, required many years of apprenticeship.  In my library at home I have a text by Jason Maclochlainn called "The Victorian Tailor". Its currently in print, and chronicles in extensive detail the techniques and methods used in classic men's tailoring.  As someone who has been sewing for decades, I can tell you I'd approach this sort of thing with the greatest trepidation.
     But, my point, as it was at the beginning here, is, women are getting off easy in the structure and complexity end of things. And do I think that's a really good thing?  Well, its double edged.  Are women getting to move more freely and experience the world more fully because their clothes are less hampering?  Sure they are.  Are they having to suffer with shoddy, ill-made clothing that hasn't the requisite under-structure to last long. Sure they are.  Unless a woman is buying clothing at the pret-a-porter level or above, her clothes will wear out faster than a man's will.  Still the same old inequities, carried to an internal structural level.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

We All Contribute

    It was recently suggested to me by the man-o-my-dreams, that I talk about how those with little to live on take part in, and contribute to, the overall dialog that is the Attire language.  It inspired me right off as a bit of a challenge.  Its easier really, to talk about fine design, and abundant details, as being expressive in an apparel sense.  Harder, when what is there to discuss is not so fine, or as abundant.

    But the reality is this: we, all of us, take part in this global conversation.  Even if we are part of a culture where clothing is largely optional because of climate, we are still involved.  The only thing that differs really, is whether our physical extras, those things we put about ourselves, are part of a vast store of options, or a narrow one.  A sari of cotton, that has seen very much use, is every bit as expressive of life as a fine silk one woven with gold threads. In many ways its far more so. The old cotton sari speaks about labor, hardships faced, and life lived.  The silk one may be more of a mask of personal truth, than a telling of it.
    One of the great things about us humans, and one of our real, everlasting glories, is that we can make beauty and amazement out of nearly nothing at all.   A battered hat becomes a herald for us, telling some of our personal tale to all who see us.  A string of beads made from seeds not only adorns our body, but connects us to the land we live on, and the creatures that surround us.  A worn out sweater becomes something else entirely; an object of grace, really, when worn with a true understanding of its uses and values.
    We use brilliant color and complex patterns to give eloquence and verve to our simple clothing, because we have not much to vary it with.  And sometimes we use brilliant color to give us strength to continue, when life seems dark and our troubles many.  So we let it speak loudly, and it brightens not only our own day, but others as well.
    And since for those of us with little to live on, and harsher conditions, our store of clothing, however small, is even more an armor and protection for us.  It is the final bulwark we have against the rude realities of existence.  We wear it as a warrior wears their buckler and shield.  It gives us something to fight with, when it seems we are being beaten down.
    This is a subject that bears much more time, but this, for me at least, is a start. I hope you've found this worthwhile, and revelatory.  It has been so for me.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Much From Little

    In this period of the year where so many celebrate the notion of abundance, I am made mindful of how much we accomplish with quite little.  Of course when I say that, I'm speaking about the Attire language and how we all use it.  Its not always about having tweaked every accessory perfectly, having the most expensive of clothing, or even perfection of fit.
    Sometimes its about the one thing that creates a singular expression by its uniqueness.  A single characteristic, like drape, volume, color, or texture can take a simple declarative sentence like, "I am not at work", and turn it into a far more complex telling of your day's story.
    But the idea of making simplicity work in a manner that tells a multi-layered story can also involve finding that one seemingly uncluttered thing, but having its physical perfection of form, volume and texture do the majority of the storytelling.
    Or it can be form and pattern that tell the tale, even though the initial pieces involved are few, and of utter clearness.
    Below here I am presenting images, and my own take on what I think makes them sing out in a special way, through plain clarity.
    1: Without the tight shoulder wrap here, this would be an unremarkable pants and tunic. With it, it becomes an ensemble that has a somewhat dark undertone to it, a sense of being confined.
    2: This one is obvious.  The alteration of this basic denim shirt by coating it with fabric paints in brilliant colors makes this a shout of individualism.  The wearer is no shy, retiring person, and probably has a good deal to say.
    3: Texture, volume, and drape are the motivators here that take this plainly spoken set of words and makes the visual statement, quiet, but irresistible.
    4: Like the previous example, this is about volume and drape.  But here, proportion is playing a larger role in the perceived sartorial sentence. And here we can see to that, apart from each other, the individual words in use are unremarkable.  Together, they sing.
    5: Sheer physical, structural perfection.  The coat is without flaw; and operates nearly as an inescapably sculptural sentence all its own. The wearer of such a coat would not need much to complete whatever they had to say.
    6: One large scaled pattern in a thrown scarf, and what was nearly mute becomes far more expressive.
    7: An essentially un-shaped rectangle of fabric becomes something poetic and romantic because of pattern, color, and the use of the easily knotted sash.  Only two elements here, and yet, the result is deeply suggestive of personal story.
    8: Another example of a single detail making all the difference.  Without the lyrical cutting of this plain black tee, this would be a near cypher of an image, from an apparel standpoint.  Change that one thing and story emerges.
      9: I saved this for last because this image made me gasp when I first saw it. This is the essence of what I am talking about here.  A magnificently edited visual statement, that, though devoid of any fripperies and extraneous detail, is potently dramatic, and implies a dense, intriguing life novel in the wearer.
    Any of us can bring notions like these into our clothing conversation.  They needn't be expensive or perfect; only carefully considered, and used with thoughtfulness.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

What About Gender Free Design?

    When we get down to it, what does Post-Gender design refer to?  What does it mean in real terms? And how does it affect the Attire language?
    To be called Post-Gender, I suppose we must assume that clothing has been designed with the conscious thought that it refers to any person who puts it on, regardless of Bio-Gender.  However, I think that its a broader, therefore far more applicable concept than that. I don't feel it requires a conscious effort.  So much of what is produced for consumption by the buying public, could be, and frequently is, worn by any sex with equal aplomb and grace.
    So, we have to get to what defines Post-Gender, or in my mind, more appropriately, Gender-Free design.  I state that because we haven't somehow moved past genders. They exist, and will continue to do so.  Using words to try and make it seem like gender is no longer a part of the Attire dialog is fruitless and silly. But to define something as outside of gender specificity is more accurate.  So, from now on in this post I will talk about clothing and words in the Attire vocabulary that are Gender-Free.
    What defines things that are worn by both sexes as belonging to one sex or another?  It can be something as subtle as the direction which a garment closes and fastens.  Men's shirts close left side over right, as well as pants, jackets, and coats.  Women's, though they may be in every other respect identical to menswear, close right over left.  Its a subtle social distinction.  We see it, understand it, and file it away in our heads when we perceive it.  And its an example of how far reaching the patriarchy of our culture is; that a woman wearing a man's shirt is assumed to be wearing the clothing of her boyfriend, fiancee, or husband.  A man wearing a woman's shirt would gather no such connections.  In fact, the resulting assumptions would be deeply, and wrongly, negative.
    Certain textiles belong to the world of men, others to women.  Men as we perceive them, do not wear silk chiffon, and women as we think of them, don't wear rawhide.  Sure, there are exceptions, mostly for women, interestingly.  And the result is that we have a sexual/cultural divide, supported by the very things we wear on our backs, and how we choose to view them.
    Even in cultures where men where skirts routinely, there are skirts, and skirts.  A man in Malay would not wrap his lower half the same way his wife would.  It simple isn't done.  He would be thought effeminate.  And we do the same things here.  Women in jeans don't wear plain 501 Levi's.  Theirs are subtly different in cut and fit, and we can see it when we see them.
      So, I'm presenting as number of images here for you to peruse.  Look at them, and divorce yourself from the person inside the garments in the picture.  Superimpose the image of someone of another gender ID in that place.  I think you're going to be surprised at how easily these things work for all of us.  And the notion of a language we can ALL speak equally, has got to be a good thing.
    I suppose that my final point, and the most salient one, is that we define gender roles not only by behavior, but by the Attire words that are both denied, and accepted for use.  We are the sum of our assumptions, is a great degree.  And we live in a time when those assumptions are at last being seriously challenged.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Scatter #37

    So, its Christmas week, I have untold hordes arriving at my door Xmas day. I'm less than well prepared, consequently, I'm giving you another Scatter.  Its funny.  These posts aren't actually easier for me to do. Sometimes they are tougher in the end, but I don't have to do a long pull focus on a single topic, so in a sense I can bonce around and give you substance, but in little mouthfuls. So, somehow it feels easier to me, even if it isn't really.
     Post Gender Fashion.  I really love the idea of clothing that is not at base line defined by gender roles, or the desire to garner a potential mate.  We are all of us so much more than that simple process.  David Tennant did a series of photos that worked on this theme. This is one of them.  Sure, the hat is not a real world item; but the clothing, devoid of gender specificity, is wonderfully workable, especially in this quickly changing sexual ID landscape.  Everything on view here could, and may be worn by any gender person with equal aplomb and grace.  Its a notion that I suspect is going to continue to gain momentum, as the current, and newer generations, further their challenge to long held ideas of normative sexual roles, and imagery.  Applause.
    I suppose on one level this is not a part of the Attire language, and so isn't germane here because this isn't a real human person.  On another level though, it is.  This is how we ultimately express our veneration for, and objectification of women; and in particular, mothers.  Literally on a pedestal, garbed in fantastically opulent clothing, that oddly enough is a dead ringer for the garb of male priests in the Catholic clergy; this Virgin figure is at the apex of what we consider as female.  We may balk at the notion, and well we should.  This is woman as endless source of consolation, and repose; progenitrix of human life, and inexhaustibly patient care giver.  This is not all of woman, or even half of woman, but it is the image we have been treated with for centuries.  Its so powerful a notion that it invests our daily apparel from time to time with its shapes and imagery. So, I think its important for us to look at such things, and think about where, and how these images and tropes inform and affect our lives.
    One thing you can say about the bad boys, they challenge us.  Bad boy designer John Galliano, who till recently was head designer for Dior, continually challenged us, in particular with his menswear collections.  Outrageous, frankly sexual, and more than a little dissipated, his view of men is dangerously sexual, powerful, and completely unconcerned with convention.  These images from one of his final shows before his "fall from grace"  tells that tale of masculine irreverence, and disdain for commonality to a fine degree. The sartorial statements here are about lack of scruple, moral ambiguity, and a potent lust.  Whatever you may think of the work in terms of its usability in real world terms, it cannot be denied that this is powerful stuff, and supports the idea of Attire as a symbolic language beautifully.
    Monkey fur.  Okay, lets just get this out of the way. Yeah, that's monkey fur.  We can't take it back. We did this. Wealthy women desired it, wore it, and no one thought anything of it. (except that they envied them)  Today, with our greater knowledge, we understand how horrific it is.  We wouldn't, couldn't do this any longer; and with the rise of the technology available, fakes are so good there is really no need anyway.  But it must be said that we did, and in some places still do, hunt animals to extinction for their feathers, fur, and other valued attributes.  Now I know I'm going to piss some folks off here, but I'm going to be truthful.  Do I have an issue with animals farmed for use for their flesh, hide and other parts?  Nope. As a life long omnivore I would be the ultimate hypocrite if I did.  Do I have a problem with endangered animals being forced to extinction for Vanity's sake? Sure do.
Want to farm minks and make coats?  Fine, but use the rest of them, please.  Want to push rhinos to the edge of oblivion for their horns just cause you think it'll make your dick hard?  Think again laddie buck.  I have one word, Viagra.  No need to kill them.
    Speaking of fur.  What do you fellas and ladies think of this fake fur coat?  To be honest, I don't think he's the right model to really sell this look.  That said, its a great coat, and on the right person could look smashing.  No need for stripping the hide off animals for this, and its WARM too.
    Now for a piece of historic bling. this crown of alternating eagles and trifoliate forms was worn by Blance de Valois, queen consort to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in the 1330s.  At this time, as the European nations were finally beginning to emerge from the Dark Ages, workmanship was still at a lower level than it attained in only 100 more years.  The crown here is a rather rudely made structure in comparison to work from the 1400s and later.  Plus the influence of the byzantine is still in evidence with the pronounced barbarism of the design.  its an interesting piece of history in solid form. Its a way to see how a culture viewed itself, and what it thought itself capable of achieving.

    This ravishingly dandified gent is none other than Sir Robert Dudley, Ist Earl of Leicester, and one of the many close companions of Queen Elizabeth the Ist.  He was noted for his concern for his appearance, and this portrait tells that tale fully.  He is accoutred in a modish peascod bellied doublet, covered with pinking cuts (cuts through the fabric of a garment, using specialized scissors or metal punches to create textural patterns, and to allow the lining to be on view), double crenelated wings at his shoulders, acres of silver lace on his narrowly tabbed trunk hose, and an extreme angled collar with a double turned ruff.  This is the ne plus ultra of men's dressing at the time.  Oh, and you can just barely see his codpiece peeking out from between the canions (the part above the knee) of his trunk hose.  It was at that time out of fashion, but, well, Dudley liked people to know how much of a man he was.  And I suspect he wanted to remind Liz, too.
    This gold velvet and lace coat came to my attention from Augusta Auctions, a well regarded purveyor of antique garments and textiles.  Its from 1915.  Its made up in gold silk panne' velvet, with netting, blonde Battenburg lace, embroidered motifs and a pair of huge tassels of silk twist thread. Such a coat would have been worn at home, for tea with visitors, or possibly at an informal evening dinner at home.  It would have only been suitable for outdoor use at an afternoon gathering like a lawn party.  As a word in the Attire language, it is now essentially unspoken, a dead word.
    The limits of what we will do to adorn, alter, and otherwise distinguish ourselves from our fellow humans knows no limits.  At least, I haven't seen any as yet.  What we are willing to endure, the pain, suffering, and permanent change we are willing to encompass is beyond my comprehension.   This image speaks that idea out loud.  This young woman has for reasons of culture and personal individualism ritually scarred and patterned her face.  An extreme and impressive example of the Attire language in operation.  The image, the presentation is so important, so vital to self understanding and position in society, that no amount of personal discomfort is deemed too much.  But what of it?  We do similar things now, having the fat vacuumed from our thighs, and having synthol and collagen inserted under our skin.  We are not so far from this young woman as we might think.
    As a final note, something easier to handle, I suspect. This portrait is by Francois Leopold Flameng. Its a painting of Mrs Adeline M Noble, and it was painted in 1902.  Mrs Noble is painted wearing a remarkably stylish ensemble, considering her age and station.  She is also wearing her hair in a pronounced top knot, which was very fashionable at the time.  Apart from the stylishness and serenity of her image, I'm just so struck by this painting as a whole, that regardless of how much it is or isn't useful here, I had to include it.  So there.

 And Well,  th-th-that's all, folks!