Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Just City

    I just finished reading "The Just City" by Jo Walton, and I would very much recommend it.  Now why, might you ask, would a story about someone realizing Plato's ideal of a city state, relate to the Attire language?  Because we deal both justly, and unjustly, in how we attire ourselves.
    How we choose to present ourselves to the world is predicated largely on how our culture imagines we should be.  Regardless of how individual we claim ourselves, we are informed and affected by the culture of which we are a part.  So, we bring onto our bodies the imagery, shapes, colors and proportions that best express the dominant cultural aesthetic of the time we inhabit.  The hipster dudes of the San Francisco Mission District are expressing less of themselves, than they are of the dominant cultural paradigm, though if you challenged them on it they would deny you.
    And those who frequent the Walmarts of the country are also responding to a cultural paradigm, just a different one from that which is considered to be fashionable or hip.  And both are equally valid in their own sphere of influence, though we decry the Walmart people, without considering their lives, or world.  Unfair, that.
    So what I'm getting at here is the desire on my part, at least, to try for a just sartorial city.  I want a place where people can express what they wish to, without fear of dismissal, or fierce negativity. We spend so much of our time judging people harshly for their choices. Why?  Mostly we bolster our own sagging egos by that.  Strengthen your own ego, and you don't need to diss others choices.
    To that end I will say this. Own your style. Own it proudly, honestly, and with strength.  These are the visual words you give to the world, MEAN them.  They are your truth, so say it out loud, and without equivocation.  Say it, because its who you are. Say it, because its your heart, mind, and spirit out there on the line.  Say it, because your reality is all you have to give to the people who encounter you, and they deserve your truth.
    If at the end of any day, ever, the ideal is to communicate with each other some facet of who we are, then by all means tell your truth right at the start. You may never have another chance.  This language I call Attire has seemingly endless numbers of words to use. Learn the language, and use it.  The world wants to know who you are.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Long Past Time

    I suppose it is, after all, long past time that I come fully clean with you all.  You see, at heart, I am a Pollyanna.  I am.  I want, and hope, for the best and brightest for us all, whoever we are.
    I want, and hope, that we as a species can move forward in rational way, that manages, somehow, not to forget our hearts.  We are, after all, a species that loves to love.  We forget that, often.  We forget that lovingness is at the center point of everything we choose.  We forget that being human, being US, is the greatest gift we can give to each other.  We forget that our individuality is the single greatest thing we bring to the table we share.  Forget nations, forget ideologies.  We are the Human Race. We are Homo Sapiens Sapiens.  We are the people who decide if this is all going to collapse in a miasma of despair, or surge forward on a chariot of triumph. We are the beings, all of us, whoever we are, however we look, whatever we wear, however we believe, who decide, in the end of things, whether we have the right to exist.

    It is our choice; not those to whom we have given the reigns of power.  Its OUR choice. We are those who make the wealthy, wealthy. We are those who make those who have power, powerful. Without us, they are nothing. 

Remember that.
We, are everything.

This isn't about the Language of Attire.  This is about existence.


    We are never satisfied with reality.  It simply won't do.  The least and the last of us, if asked to answer honestly, have our dreams and desires.  And for the vast majority of us, they manifest in our thoughts, in apparel terms, to some extent. In those apparel terms we have created endless fantasies of other cultures and times, bastardizing, by morphing the truth of those things into something we call that truth, but is other than that in reality.  When costumes for Masques were created to celebrate the classical world, did they actually wear togas and chitons?  Nope. They threw a bit of drapery around what was essentially contemporary dress for them, and called it classical.  When Hollywood does historical costume, the results a re a mash up of current ideas of beauty and enough cues from the time in question to make it look real to us.  And when couture designers take inspiration from one culture or another they mix that into a stew of other ideas to come up with something that references, but does not ape that other culture.

    The result of all this messing about with reality is that we end up creating a new aesthetic, a new set of terms to be placed into the Attire language's huge database.  Since no new idea springs 100 percent out of someone's head without reference to something else that already exists, this is only natural.  You can call it cultural appropriation, if you wish, but its really a larger force in play, and one that none of us works outside of.  
    Our ability to create rests partly on a foundation of observation of the things around us in our world.  We see something, our curiosity starts working, wondering a series of what ifs about what we see, and then our creativity revs up, working out how to make it real.  But at the beginning point, we saw or experienced something that set off this chain of actions.
    So we work all the time in a world of fantasies, trying, sometimes with desperation to bring those dreams into 3 dimensions.  The Attire language could not exist as it does without that consistent journeying into visionary territories.  If we were clothed at all, it would be in an entirely different way.  It would be the difference between plunking out random notes on a piano, or using that instrument to play a concerto by Schubert. 
    When I look at the work of designers in the apparel world, and I see influences from other places, I don't see cultural appropriation, I see this larger mechanism at work, guiding us to take what we see around us, and imagine it again in a different form.  Besides, no group can claim sole rights to a style of dress or decoration, for they too found their inspirations all around them, and probably in part from other people.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Scatter #65

    Round and round we go and where we stop, well, you know perfectly well where we stop. The interior of my fevered little brain, for another dip in the Scatterland pool.
    This beautiful ruff collar with a hand worked retticella lace edge is first up. This collar comes from later in the period where ruff were worn, after Elizabeth Ist started wearing her ruff split in the center.  So this collar would've been first, heavily starched, placed over a wire frame called a supportasse, and very likely pinned to the bodice or jerkin at the two front points, to keep it from shifting around.  The main body is of fine cotton lawn, and properly ironed it would have stood out in perfectly even rolls.  It was far more common for a ruff to be of some plain stuff with an edging of lace that otherwise, lace being so very expensive.  Only the most wealthy people could afford an all lace ruff.  That said, considering the width of the retticella lace edge, this was still made for someone with quite a bit of disposable income, or massive unpaid debts.  As a visible symbol of wealth and rank the lace ruff collar is tough to beat. It was frightfully expensive, fragile, easily soiled, and cost a good deal to maintain.
    Next up is this detail image of a Haider Ackermann dress from 2013.  What I thought of instantly was, oddly enough, bridges, and the tension of cables supporting a road bed.  The same principles of load bearing and stress are in play here, even though the designer probably never gave it a thought consciously.  Its easy to imagine the chiffon structure of the dress front swaying gracefully with every movement as the narrow cord straps adjust to differences in body position.  Apart from the body con aspect of this, it must be damned sexy in motion.  I do love the interface of fashion, engineering, and architecture, which this most certainly is.
    This man's suit is from the point shortly before the doublet disappeared for good, the 1650s.  The peascod belly doublet, with its strange protuberance over the lower abdomen is gone, the waist has ascended to just under the ribcage, the codpiece has vanished, and the shape of the breeches is taking on the leg of lamb shape it will have for the next decade.  Within the next 30 years, the doublet is gone, to be replaced by the first iteration of the suit that we are still seeing now.  At first the doublet will retreat under a coat, becoming the sleeved waistcoat, then it loses its sleeves and is gone forever.
    Spats.  Now here's a word that has nearly vanished from the modern Attire language.  And I have to ask myself why.  They perform two functions, which is already a good thing.  They can offer protection to expensive shoes, and, as here, they can be an evocative accessory that adds to the whole visual composition in play.  I'd love to see spats make a return, and I think they could. It will only take the right combination of styling and presentation to get people to take note.  In fact, spats could become the DIY project of choice for many.  Its a small amount of materials, a bit of velcro, and your good to go.   Hmmmmmm, maybe I will have to give it a go my own self.
    When I caught sight of this Valentino detail image my head started to hurt, and I got a serious case of couture envy.  Both the headache and the envy stem from the truly astounding level of skill on display here.  Its tough enough to work with fragile fabrics like chiffon, that love to slip and slide everywhere, and literally move if you breathe too hard, but to manipulate a textile like that in this many ways is absolute tour de force skill.  The white silk chiffon here has been tucked, shirred, pleated, smocked, and ruffled.  Only after all that did it get silk flowers embroidered in it.  I am in awe.  I bow to the people responsible for this bit of amazement.
    In 1909, at Nancy, in France was the Exposition Internationale de l'Est de la France, which included among the exhibits a display of the different hair dress styles of history. Using wax portrait busts, the human hair wigs were carefully dressed to accurately as possible recreate what was the fashion at various times.  This image is of a coiffure that was fashionable at the very end of the 18th century, just before the French Revolution.  In reality such a style would have been composed of both the wearer's own hair and masses of false hair, which was quite often, horse hair.
    Charming is the word that leapt to mind instantly.  Its a child's bonnet from the 1800's.  The way the straw is plaited in those repeating arcs is amazing.  And a piece like this would have been sturdy enough to get used by successive children and probably get passed to a daughter for her kids.  The poke bonnet style was prevalent for many decades in children's clothing, so its impossible to date with any accuracy. Most likely, though, it was made between 1830 and 1870.
    In 1764 Virgilius Eriksen painted this charming portrait of the then Grand Duke Paul, son of Catherine the Great, who went on to become Emperor Paul I of Russia in 1796.  At the time this was painted he was 10 years old.  What has always intrigued me about paintings of this sort, is how they show that children were not treated in any way differently in their manner of dress.  Young Paul is here attired in everything that would accompany an adult male of high status.  The suit, shirt, cravat, and powdered hair are all entirely correct, as well as the sash, and the various order badges he is wearing. The large badge over his left breast is the Order of St Catherine.  I also love that the powdered hair makes his age oddly indeterminate. He could be anywhere from 10 to 40.  Emperor Paul I reigned only 5 years, from 1796 to 1801, when he was assassinated.
    Oh, but I do love surrealism, especially when, like this, it's a bit discomfiting.  This is a close up of a shoe used in the Alexander McQueen F/W 2009 collection, and though there were other versions of this shoe in the show, this one is the most disturbing looking, since its so close to a skin color.  That disturbance is helped along by the heavy outer stitching that calls to mind sutures, and Frankenstein monsters.
    Jewelry, just like any other aspect of the Attire language, changes and develops new expressions to adapt it to changes in our society, and our view of ourselves.  These three bangle bracelets were designed by Hemmerle and are entirely of this time.  The top one is copper and gold, with the currently popular brown diamonds.  The middle bangle is olive wood, with diamonds mounted in copper rings.  And the bottom bracelet is ebony wood, with cooper banding holding amber pieces.  The spare nature of these, coupled with the use of copper and wood place them squarely in our current day.  Years from now, someone will be able to look at these, without knowing anything of them, and place them in time.
    One of the things that will mark couture clothing from this time is the scale of the embellishment work. In particular the use of very large scale rhinestones will mark this time.  Its a visual example of the need we have of late to up the ante in all sorts of ways to get and hold attention in our overstimulated world.  Also, I think the jacket made entirely of cubed beads is kinda awesome.
    And finishing the Scatter for this week is this jaw dropping example of the thirst for power, and the desire to make sure that no one is in doubt of its presence in the room.  In 1713, jeweler/artisan Matteo Treglia designed and created this bishop's mitre for the bishop of the San Gennaro cathedral in Naples, Italy.  Its not made of material, its gold, heavily embossed with scrolling vines, and decorated with dozens of rubies and emeralds.  There is also a narrow padded velvet band to cushion the head that runs round the base.  There would be no chance of misunderstanding who held the reins of power when this accessory was in use.  And that is entirely the point.  The absolute power of the Catholic church, through the person of the bishop, made manifest in metal and gemstones.

That rounds it up for this week's Scatter, now get out there and have a great weekend!

Friday, July 24, 2015


    One of the curious things about us curious humans is that once we get a notion into our heads, we fiddle, diddle, and finagle it until it gets expressed to its ultimate levels of absurdity.  If its a wide skirt we are pondering, we instantly start wondering just how wide, wide can get.  If its a pocket, lets see how small we can make it, and how big.
    Its a visual object lesson, really, of our constant search for the thing over the next hill, the thing under the rock, or behind the next corner.  Curiosity.  Our blessing and bane.  It has been essential to the forward motion of the Attire language, as much as with any other endeavor of our species.
    Sometimes that curiosity reveals itself in the desire to be more of something than our neighbor.  Can we be more fashionable, more visibly wealthy, sexier, more evidently important, or powerful? The single connecting word here is, more. More of anything, and everything.  More decoration, more volume, more sleekness, more glitter; just more.  And we apply our considerable intellects, and skills with tools, to figuring out how to achieve it, and better yet, how to push it further.
    In fact, its an observable truth of our human behavior that we are unwilling to let go of an idea, until it has been expressed to its final, most ridiculous level, or, until technology fails us, and we simply cannot go further, yet.
    A part of what is interesting about this phenomenon is that in that ultimate expression, whatever notion we are playing with ceases to have the functionality it originally was meant to have.  One could, I suspect, create a graph that shows the arc of increase in frivolity, and the consequent decrease in usefulness.
    Take the chopine, for example.  In its original form it was meant for two things, one, to elevate the person above the slime and detritus of the streets, so they could walk without getting dirty; and two, to indicate wealth and status.  Naturally, the itch to create ever higher chopines was impossible to resist, till a person wearing them could neither get into them unaided, sit or stand unaided, and certainly couldn't dare walk without help.
    The panniered dresses of the 18th century reached such ludicrous proportions, sometimes in breadth exceeding the height of the wearer, that the doorways at Versailles had to be widened so that ladies could enter and exit without having to turn sideways.
    More than one woman suffered extreme pain, and a few expired from the tightness of their corseting.
    Both sexes who chose to wear the drum neck ruff in its most ridiculous iterations, were utterly incapable of eating or drinking anything, since they could no longer reach their mouths with their hands.
    The poulaine style shoes assayed by both women and men in the 1400s, got so long that the point of them had to be tied by a string to the knee, to keep them from folding under the foot and causing the wearer to fall.
    The hair dress styles of the later 1700s that became so huge that women could not sleep lying down, nor could they go room to room without ducking their heads.
    The mid 19th century skirts got so massive that, especially in crowded rooms, a lady had to be very careful when walking about, since her skirt might end in the fireplace, or get touched by a candle flame. Getting in and out of a carriage became an amusing sight to watch, and omnibuses were impossible. to navigate.
      And, I remember in the 80s the fashion for clothing with tons of extraneous zippers, most of which did not open at all, and the ones that did, often had no pocket within them.
    The list goes on and on.
    The point here is that we can, and will take an idea, and run with it, often straight into a brick wall.  And we will do that again, and again, and again.
    Its what we do.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Peacock Males

    It really is odd, that, while most species of animals express the male as the more colorful, and visually interesting, in our species the reverse is true, at least, it is now.  It certainly wasn't always so.  Actually for the greater part of human history both women and men sought to dazzle the eye, and create indrawn breaths of amazement with their apparel. I would happily attribute this to our curiosity, our intellect, and our innate desire for self transformation.
    Now its also always been true that not every man wanted, then as now, to be notable for their appearance.  Some simply didn't care, or thought it frivolous. Some hadn't the wherewithal for it, and some were occupied with activities that meant such extravagances were either an impediment, or down right dangerous to life and limb.
    But however many males decided against it, the prevailing tone was, more is better: more expensive textiles, decorated with more expensive trimmings, and time consuming technique. More color, more pattern, and wherever possible, more dazzle and flash.  And this attraction to looking spiffy was not considered effeminate, or odd.  It was considered a right and socially correct thing to pay a good deal of attention to how you presented yourself visually.  Having servants helped, naturally, when dressing could be costly of time and effort.
    I've dug up a load of great examples of dandified, and delicious male get ups to treat your eye, and show you what we've been up to over the past several centuries.   And I cannot tell you how it delights me that we seem at last to be awakening from the 200 year long slumber that turned all menswear gray.
    Have fun with these, perhaps you'll see a look you want for yourself, or for some man in your world.

Clearly, there ain't nothing wrong with being fabulous.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

One Shot- Worth Dress 1906

    The fin de siecle was an amazing time.  It was a time of the wildest extravagances, amidst enormous social, and political upheavals.  In just another decade of time, the social conventions that had ruled the lives of most people in the western world would being to collapse, to be replaced by simpler, more straightforward ideas of behavior and personal appearance.
    This Worth dress, when I first caught sight of it, called out to be shared with you all.  Its a wonderful example of precisely the attachment to convention, and to conspicuous consumption, that marked the whole Victorian period, and that was so resolutely swept away in the coming years.
    Looking at this dress, with its sequins, laces, and abundant decoration, we might think of this as an evening dress.  Its not.  This gown would have been worn by a woman of the very highest station in life, for receiving guests in the afternoon, or perhaps for visiting those same people at their homes. Both the high collar, and the long sleeves, mark it as a daytime garment, regardless of how sparkly and fragile it may be.
    Made up in silk and cotton, the dress conforms in every respect to the silhouette of the day. In fact, devoid of the over dress, the cream silk under dress would be utterly unremarkable.  Everything that makes this so special is happening on that outer layer of black cotton netting.
Starting at the neck, there is a high standing collar, and dickey of cream colored lace, mounted over the same cream silk as the under dress.  The bodice is designed to appear to have a bolero jacket, which is a layer of the cotton netting extensively embroidered in while silk floss, in a pattern of floral garlands. On one side of the bolero there are a cluster of velvet ribbons with rhinestone tips, on the other side, and decorating the sleeves, masses of white silk bows. There is also a gathering of the netting in the center front to give the fashionable pouter pigeon shape to the bodice, and the lower sleeves mirror the same lace treatment as the collar.
     The black cotton net is regularly embroidered with tiny silver sequins that are applied separately from each other.  The application process known as lunette, where a hook like a crochet hook is used to make the process go much faster, by sewing applications on with a continuous thread, was not used, which means that this dress took a whole lot of time to complete.  There are thousands of the 5 mm sequins, regularly spaced over the entire surface of the netting over dress.
    Below the pointed black velvet waistband the skirt has vertical bands of silk floss embroidery that match the pattern in the bodice.  These end shortly before the deep band of embroidery at the hem, which is of a different colored floss, and in a different pattern.
     All in all this was a dress for a client who was absolutely certain of her place in society, and of what was expected of her, at a time when correctness was much more important than content, and assertion of station was absolute.  That such a fragile creation has survived in such remarkable condition, means that it was gently worn, and carefully tended.  Surprising too that it wasn't demoted to dress up clothing for the children, at a later date.

    By 1916, just 10 years later, clothing like this will have almost vanished.  Though there would still be luxury, embellishment, and extravagant detail, it would express itself differently, and with considerably less command.