Monday, September 28, 2015

Dress Up!

    One of the things we have been doing since the very inception of the Attire language, is dressing to transform ourselves into something other than our normative reality.  We have used this subset of Attire to inform and effect our religions, our psychology, our sexuality, our politics, and our very world view.  Dressing up, costuming ourselves, making believe, is an integral part of what Attire does.  It's an essential, in fact, part of how this whole complex thing works.
    When we tog ourselves up to go out into the world, we don an armor of sorts that is partly who we are, and partly what we wish to present.  So too is it true for dress up clothes.  Clothes we put on for Halloween or some other costume focused event, are only a partial reflection of our surface selves.  What they are really, is a much more significant reflection of our personal inner landscape, and thought process.  Especially, those parts of ourselves we do not allow to surface often, if ever.
    With that in mind, its actually worthwhile to look at what we have chosen to wear, when we are deliberately wearing apparel that is not our daily clothing.
    First, and most importantly, when we choose to wear a costume of some sort, we leave aside temporarily, the restrictions, and social conventions that we live with on a daily basis.  This allows us far greater room for expression;  and things we normally hide from view are not only acceptable, but celebrated.  So, a fellow who in the real world wouldn't dream of showing up at work dressed in women's clothes, can feel entirely free to be as outrageously drag queeny as he wishes.  Or a woman  who couldn't think of getting her inner warrior on, can take up arms and be a sword wielding heroine for a while, with not only impunity, but praise.  Fancy dress gives us access to our darker selves, our sillier side, our more perverse aspects, and above all, to the creative part of us that is in everyone.
    The thing that, for me, becomes significant, is that we can, and do see the merits of these things on such occasions, but we otherwise shut them away.  We do understand on some visceral level that all these things have their laudability.  And yet, our societal constraints make us shy away from our understanding of them on an everyday level.  Why?  What is it about our attachment to fantasy that makes it an unacceptable thing in real world existence? Why is it that the things we yearn to sometimes become, are often not the things that fit into the confines of the society in which we live?
    The answer is in two parts, I believe.  The first relates to our innate desire to categorize for understanding, all the things, and people around us.  When we cannot understand, we respond with apprehension, or even anger.  So, apparel that is not within the range we can slot into readily available spots in our minds, makes us deeply uncomfortable.  I have experienced this reaction many times within the construct of this blog, whenever I post something that is visually challenging.

    The other part of the answer to that is this.  We cannot, as yet, encompass the notion of fantasy and reality coexisting outside of the most rarefied of situations. We have not yet come to understand, that the fantasy realm in which we all partly live, is also a part of the world we inhabit in real time. Once we come to comprehend that fantasy, and real life existence, have no firm boundaries between them, we will begin to understand that this desire we have to transform outside of normalcy, is in fact, utterly normal. 
    Once we feel at peace with that concept, our ability to access and use effectively the Attire language will get a huge boot up.  We might no longer feel that this, or that sort of thing is out of bounds for someone, or for ourselves.  Giving all of us greater freedom to be who we essentially are can only be a healthy thing.  Living our own truth is a place of personal strength.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

One Shot: Italian Court Ensemble 1857

    It has ever been true that, within the rarefied environs of royal courts, how much physical space is taken up by a person is directly in proportion to how important that one is.  There have of course been variations on that theme, where relative size varied greatly.  But at no time before, or since, has court dress taken up more space, and required more sheer bulk of materials and decoration, than the mid 19th century.  Clothing was more densely decorated in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Dresses extended out to the sides further in the 18th century.  But at no time have skirts gotten bigger around, or trains longer than during this era.
    What I have dug up here is a prime example of the extremity that was reached in dimensions.  With grateful thanks, of course, to the Metropolitan Museum of New York for this amazing set of garments.
    Crafted between 1857 and 1860, this Italian court ensemble includes a skirt that is nearly at the widest point that was reached, before technology finally failed and the volume got pushed backwards into a bustle form.  The dress is made up in a brilliant orange silk, and the waist mounted train is of the same type of silk, but in a vivid royal blue.
    The design of the dress is pretty straightforward, allowing the extensive gold work decoration to take front and center position.  In fact, the dress structure is so simplified it could stand as a model of the essential silhouette for the time.  Domed,  very full, round skirt, slightly short-waisted, pointed bodice, with low, broad neckline, and short sleeves.

    The skirt is four feet in diameter, meaning that the circumference is over 12 feet.  The train itself is ten and one half feet long from waist, to end point.  And since the dress measures 52 inches from neck to hem, the lady must have been about 5' 3" or 4".

    The only other element, apart from the metal embroidery, is a narrow frill of lace along the bodice top.  The gold work is nearly neoclassical in design, relying on foliate forms, rectilinear designs, and swags, with a scattering of fleur de lis, marking the still strong connection between Italy, and France. Since the embroidery is entirely of gold, which does not tarnish, it looks spanking new from top to bottom and gleams warmly as light plays over it.  Even the gold bullion fringe around the hem of the train is undamaged.  Similarly, the silk fabric shows no signs of serious deterioration, or structural stresses.  So when not in use, this dress must have been stored flat, otherwise the weight of all the metal decoration would have started to pull the dress to pieces.  Its unlikely, though, that this dress saw more than a few uses, so its survival in such condition is less surprising.

This is an emblem of an age. It is a marker of how we perceived of power, and how it should be shown.  As a comparison to today's costs, this ensemble would, if it could be made at all, would likely cost over a million dollars to recreate.  The gold embroidery alone would require dozens of skilled workers hundreds of hours to complete.
    What is sad is that we have no idea whatever who wore this gloriously bold dress and train.  The attribution listing on the Met's page states only its age, fabrication, dimensions, and that it was part of the Irene Lewisjhon Bequest in 1954.  One thing is certain, whoever she was, she was no wallflower. She was a woman confident of her position, and her strengths.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Scatter #72

Hoh-kay, so another week has zipped by and its time for our favorite treat!  Yup its time or me to dredge up some of the detritus of my crowded mental sub-basement.  Let's do this!
     First up this sedate and lovely dinner dress from the early 1870s. Apart from its obvious quality of assembly, and its restrained color palette, the thing that I zeroed in on right away was a trend that was quite popular for a while through the 70s and 80s, attaching an excessively decorated pocket to one side of the dress.  Yep, that large mass of decoration smack in the middle of the side of the dress is a capacious, functional pocket.  Doubtless most ladies of fashion probably carried nothing other than a hankie in there. So its a curious thing. Because this fashion was not something that translated to the lower classes, who actually did the real work.  This was an affectation taken up by trendy ladies who wanted to imply that they took an active, (read, physical) role in the running of the household, without doing so, really.  Typically these sorts of pockets were on one side only, and were overburdened with so much decoration that the use of them was entirely concealed, like the one on this garment.  It is especially ironic considering that this is a dinner dress, and as such would have been nowhere near any labor greater than surviving dull conversations.  Side note: this is a big file. click and drag this and expand it.  Lots of good detail here.
    This image will have to go into my book, whenever I get around to writing it, because its a perfect example of the variability of a single Attire word.  The word of course is, jacket. But each one of these, though essentially jackets has numerous modifiers attached to them that identify them further, and give them specificity. And it is this level of detail with regard to definition of a garment that makes the Attire language so enormous, and so complex.  Each one of these 6 jackets expresses something completely different, and they haven't even been put together with other clothes to make an entire ensemble.  So when we do that, add another item onto existing ones, it leyers, literally, more complexity onto the statement presented.
    This ring is from Odessa, form between 1908 and 1917.  What I love about it is its amazing modernity. Its a jeweled exclamation point, though I doubt that was intended by its Russian maker.  The utter simplicity of it is wonderful. no decoration on the narrow gold band. No intrusive fripperies around the two jewels.  Yes, please. I will take one just like it.  I wear a size 7 ring.
    Next up, a short visit from Princess Alice, daughter of Victoria and Albert, in a mourning costume for her father the Prince.  The picture was taken in 1861, shortly after his death in mid December.  Of course the portrait is mournfully serious, but what I focused on right off was the abundant decorative detail on her dress.  It was very common to decorate clothing with embellishments made of the same material as the dress body. In this case yards and yards of the fabric have been cut into strips of varying width, cartridge pleated, and then applied to the dress.  There are also cockades of the same material at the points of the swagged trim.  It must have required another 3 or 4 yards for goods to create the trimmings for this huge dress.  And since this was right at the beginning of official mourning it is unrelieved black.
    Designer Juun J. turned out this wildly over scaled jacket as part of his 2014 Fall collection.  Though it would require someone tall to carry off well, I love the play with proportion here.  Plus its immaculately constructed, which I appreciate.  I also love that it's cropped to the waist, which is quite unusual for men's jackets.  If only I were 6 feet plus I would be all over that. Sighs.

This beautiful thing is a part of the Met's enormous collection.  Its a purse, made in about 1575, and as such is one of the older items in the collection.  Its made of linen, and embroidered in silk with gold and silver. Such a purse would have been worn looped over the belt, and could have been equally used by a man or a woman.  Purses like these were important gifts, often presented to people of rank, and also often given as gifts to prospective marriage partners.  The embroidery work is beautifully, and finely done. Even the two wooden spool tassels are completely covered in stitch work.
     I will be honest and say I don't much care for this, visually. but as a commentary, its worthwhile.  Calling attention to human vitals, so that we are forced to consider what the reality is beneath the clothing. And then rendering that in complex beadwork is both a second layer of commentary, and a piece of urban irony, of which we have a good deal these days.  As a garment its essentially an over-sized and rather shapeless t shirt, and there is where I think the concept lags a bit.  I would like to have seen this same idea presented in a way that more strongly juxtaposed the beaded surface, with the message. I think something more body hugging would have punched up the message.
    This is a kind of layering I could easily get behind.  I like the simplicity of this, and the proportions.  Its a manner of dress that is both practical, and adaptable to many body shapes.  I particularly like the long sleeved shirt paired with the shorter sleeved tunic. I can imagine this same combination of pieces made up in many different color and texture variations.
    Runway styling.  Naturally there is no expectation on the part of designers that real folk will attempt to create their runway looks entirely. In fact, people who do attempt almost always fail.  They are meant to be theater, and as such don't translate well to the street.  Its a huge change from how runways shows used to be done. Of course the shows were done within the fashion houses themselves, so there was no room for theatrics, but the models were always presented in a way that would be able to walk out the front door and into the world.  But now, when a runway show could be presented in front of 2000 people the need to create greater visual impact is pronounced.  So we get bigger hair, crazier accessories, and more unusual combinations of garments.  Stella Jean, S/S 2016.
    Here's an interesting little item.  The watch fob used to be an essential part of a man's dress. It performed a real function. allowing the watch to swing free on its chain when needed, without fear of its falling to the ground.  This one of gold, with a central topaz stone that rotates freely in the mounting once belonged to a serious collector of watches, Aaron Burr, who shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804, ending his political career, even though he was never tried for the duel.  This fob dates from a few years before his death in 1836.  He must have been a gentleman who liked his bling.
    This is the Allan Ramsay coronation portrait of George III of England (1762).  The poor fellow must have been getting slowly cooked in all that panoply, even if all had had to do was stand there.  The entire cloak train is lined in ermine.  The coat is half lined in ermine, and the rest of his ensemble is trimmed in it.  Thousands of little rodents lost their lives for the grand statement of royal power.  Oh, but the luxe doesn't stop there.  Cloth of gold suit, check, broad bands of gold galloon trimmings, check, silk velvet in abundance, check.  Then there are the garter, ceremonial sword, order chain, bows and ribbons to deal with.  No wonder the poor fellow looks miserable.  But as a declarative about real world power, its would be hard to top.
   Made for the Canadian lady's wear market, this exquisite hood was beaded and sewn by women of the Cree tribe in James Bay, using their beadwork techniques but rendering popular more European styled imagery.  The lovely pattern of flowers and leaves is done in seed stitch work and the hood is finished on the bottom with a complexly worked bead fringe.  Such a hood as this performed two functions. It kept the head warm, and because of the length, it would fan out over the shoulders, keeping snow or rain away.  native populations producing items using their techniques but created to sell to people outside of their culture is nothing new by any means.  And this is a superb example.

Well, that wraps it up for this week's scatter.  Go enjoy the weekend!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Seen And Unseen

    I've weighed in a good deal about my dislike of the whole sheer trend, and the concomitant trend for cutouts, and oddly placed reveals of skin.  But I've been thinking it over recently, and there are other things in play here besides just getting all sexed up over some bared flesh.  To me they divide into two major points.
    The first is, and this is particularly the problem of the Western world, coming to terms fully with our existence as sexual beings.  So much of Attire history, and indeed so many of the words in the Attire language have been devoted to sublimation, and denial of sexuality.  We seem, at last, as a larger culture to be dealing with that.  Sure, we are dealing with it slowly, awkwardly, and in a rather oblique fashion, but we are dealing with it at last.  Discussions of sex, sexuality, gender identification and the like have become commonplace, and the result is that our clothing is reflecting that. It has become more frankly sexual for all concerned.  Sure, for those of us who grew up before this began in earnest, its tougher to see these things as other than vulgar.  But the people who have reached adulthood within this growing discussion don't see that, or at least, not in the same way.
So when designers march models down the runway in see through clothes, they are doing more than promoting the current ideal of desirability.  They are also, probably unknowingly, forwarding the conversation we have so long needed to have about our relationship to our own sexual natures.
    The second point is that the concept of public nudity is getting a lot more discussion, along with growing concern about inculturated body shame.
    Certainly, here in San Francisco a few years back there was a major flap about public nudity, because a group of people were trying to push the envelope to get the city to formally allow it.  They did not succeed, yet.  But they too moved the whole conversation forward.  And frankly, now when I see someone on the streets wearing nearly nothing at all, it doesn't surprise, or phase me one little bit.
    Western culture people grow up being told continually that we should be ashamed of our bodies, because they are somehow bad.  And all that bad feeling is generated from old guard religious concepts about sexual behavior, especially for women.
Finally we are beginning to deal with this very old, and wrongheaded notion.  Finally, models who do not conform to the dominant visual paradigm are walking runways. Sure they are still a novelty, but their presence is a signal that things are changing.  Again, the design community is moving this conversation along, and also moving the Attire language along, by creating new forms of expression.  And along with the design community, we are finally getting other images presented to us through the media that is broadening the scope of our understanding. Sure, they are not doing it to raise our consciousness, but the result is that they do.
    As this social change moves along, we will probably be seeing a good deal more skin everywhere. The long term result, if we don't go off track, is that we will come to a much greater comfort level with our own bodies, whatever their shape might be, and that can only be a good thing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

About That Beauty thing,...

    Over the nearly 3 years that I've been doing the Attire's Mind blog on Facebook, and Blogspot, I've come to understand something; something that all of you have taught me.  When I post things that are edgy, uber-modern, and avant garde, I can expect to experience a fusillade of negative comments.  And when I tell you that, I'm not trying to dismiss, or diminish your commentary.  Far from it.  Bear with me a bit, and all will come clear.
    Conversely, when I post an image of something that conforms in every respect to our hard wired concepts of beauty, based on inbred ideas of proportion, color balance, and textural harmony, I am flooded with simple praiseful remarks. 
    What this has taught me is, that what I had known to be true, that we are profoundly affected by the deep seated programming we bear regarding how we view the world, doesn't go far enough.  That programming is more powerful than I had heretofore thought.  It seems we find it nearly impossible to step outside of that set of ideas, and look at things differently.  I have to admit that, since it's a stated purpose of this blog, and of my work here as a whole, to help people see more broadly, to encompass more, it's sometimes frustrating when people refuse, it seems, to even try to stretch themselves.
    But, all that said, what it brings to me in the end, is that I'm right about all this stuff.  We are massively, and essentially affected by this Attire language, and things like these experiences only serve to confirm that.  We carry within us, not only the social rules and regs, but the inborn understanding of color, line, volume, and structure that forms the foundation upon which Attire is built.  And every time we are either seriously challenged by apparel that does not fit our preconceptions, or supported by those clothing items that do, we more deeply incise the message into our psyches, till it becomes to us, an incontrovertible truth, that cannot alter.
    Of course what makes me smile about that mechanism is that over the many millennia of Homo Sapiens history, we have altered, substantively, our beliefs, and approach to human beauty, again and again.  Surely there are certain constants that we are born with, but we set them aside, routinely, in the service of whatever thought of the moment seizes us.  So, we find ourselves saying yes to endless, variations of apparel that we later deem ridiculous.  I will refer to Oscar Wilde here.  "Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable we have to alter it every six months".
    The inner point though is this one.  We do indeed come with bundled software that tells us what we should like, and why we should like it.  And though we might be dazzled temporarily by super broad 1980s shoulder pads, or we might find drop crotch pants completely cool, we will just as soon dismiss them.  Because, end point?  They do not conform to what we know in our guts is right for us. We know intrinsically beautiful when we see it. It resonates. It actually makes us feel good inside. There are graphible changes in our brainwave patterns, that indicate that we are in a state of peace and pleasure when we are looking at things that work within the guidelines of attractiveness with which we are born.
    So when I recently posted to the facebook blog, a ball gown from the early 1900s, it's still getting positive remarks, and the two male models in pink, are continuing to get dissed.
    My final remark is this.  Don't sell yourself, or the world short. Take the time to really examine things that are beyond the easily understood,   Expend the mental and emotional energy to really start to see the greater breadth of human beauty.  It goes further afield than we think, and could bring us far greater joys, were we to let it in.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Beauty, Is

    I have often spoken about the endless variability and wonder that is human creativity.  Especially these days, when so much darkness seems to be gathering, when so much pain exists everywhere, I think its important for us to remember that we can, we do, create things of incredible beauty, often, all unknowingly.  These things we make are not all the products of wealth, or power, though sometimes they may be.   Very often the beauty that exists all around us every day, everywhere,  comes from the humblest of places. We need only open our eyes, and far more importantly, open our hearts, to see it.
     I will not weigh in on the psychology or sociology of all this. That, honestly, is for another post, at another time.  It is a simple, incontrovertible fact. We do create things of ineffable, inescapable loveliness. We do it constantly.  We do it regardless of where we are, or who we are. It has nothing to do with money, technology, race, sex, or age.  It has to do with something we bear inside ourselves.  Some might call it the soul, and I suppose that word serves, as well as any.
    The point is simply, we cannot help ourselves.  We are graceful, elegant creatures, who delight in manipulating the world around us.  We can, and seemingly must, take the raw nature of the planet we live in, and change it up, make it new, and see it differently.  In so doing, of course, we often create horrors. We cannot deny that.  But its essential to remember, that we also create glory.
    If you feel tired, bereft of feeling, or saddened beyond words at the insanities we throw upon each other for so little true reason, stop. Think. Look for just a moment at what we can, and still do create, every single day. Think about the wonders we are. Think about the wonders we may be, and move us forward to those days when we can acknowledge the wonder in each of us, freely.
     If we are going to face and conquer the challenges that loom in our near future, global warming, rising sea levels, the ever rising population, the coming clean water crisis; we must face it together.  And one of the ways we can do that, is to use this commonality we have to hand.  The way we clap things over us is a simple method of understanding each other, if we would only take the time to see it.  I'm not suggesting that Attire is the cure for cancer, or the Rosetta Stone.  It is, however, something we all use constantly, and as such is a readily available tool for greater understanding, because all of us use it, every single day.
                                                                   Serengeti Plain
           So, here, take a look, gasp, sigh, and see.  THIS is who we can be.
    This is who we are.
                                                          Red Wing Crow Nation Man
                                                                  Inca Women and children
                                                  Last Shogun of Japan, Keiki Tokugawa
                                                                 Hopi Nation woman
Runway design, Gareth Pugh
                                                          Pakistani Groom                                                              
                                                            Modern Chinese woman
                                                    Aiden Shaw, model and porn actor.
                                                      Aboriginal woman, India
                                                             Spain, Traje de Luces