Archive for the ‘Adding up’ Category

Nails are totes fashion, they’re the new Thing

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

I’ve been blogging for work, which is part of the ages since posting here, but I also treat most posts on ILS like essays and start to panic if I don’t have enough data backing up observations.  I hope to get over that, but until then, I figured some pretty-pretty nail nerding could be appropriate.

If you follow me elsewhere on the web, you’ll know I do my nails every week and am very into the art and craft of it.  My personal nail icon is Sophy Robson, and one of her nail icons is Sharon Stone’s Ginger in Casino.

Because I am an obsessive, I recently screencapped Ginger’s more notable nails.  And then analysed them like a nerd and replicated them best I could with what I had in my stash.


Now, I don’t know if the makeup department or costume department or who is responsible for the on-point period nails, but they did amazingly.

A hustler’s nails in a creme electric pink.  When Ginger is manoeuvring to get money, she wears a crème.

The classic French tip, interpreted all foxy with a “v”.  If you have trouble creating a French tip’s smooth arch, you’ll find the two swoops to make this tip way easier.

This one was difficult to get a good cap of, but it’s a frosty, pearlescent white. Compare the cold feeling of the nail she wears with her “old pimp boyfriend” with the next nail—

It’s also frosty and pearlescent, but in a warm gold when Ace proposes. Dare I say the frosted nail is her emotional finish?

Oh, it gets nerdier.  I’ve got twelve screencaps in all, so I’ll be a gem and put them under this cut here.


Power Dressing (part one, of hopefully two)

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Sorry for the break in posting, folks.  I am trying to organise the irons I have in the fire—but hey!  Here’s another 1,300+ word post on what I consider relevant fashion issues.  Don’t worry, some of the irons in the fire are ‘lighter’ reading options for ILS.

I briefly mentioned power dressing last week, in context of scarves as accessories.  Now, power dressing—a very formalised approach to business attire that reached a peak in the mid to late 1980s—had textbooks of sorts, one both men and one for women, written in 1975 and 1977, respectively—Dress For Success and The Woman’s Dress For Success Book, both written by John T. Molloy.  He also wrote updates for each, some 15-20 years later.  Molloy’s approach was stridently research-based, as a consultant for unnamed big name corporations he’d built up seventeen years’ worth of data on clothing (nine in women’s clothing) by the time he was writing The Woman’s Dress For Success Book.  What is amazing is that this one man and his research team were part of the small group whose work snowballed into creating the look of the yuppie and, in doing so, further embedding subconscious and conscious class divisions that affect us to this day.  Here’s the opening of Molloy’s book for ladies:

This is the most important book ever written about women’s clothes because it is based on scientific research, not on opinion.

The advice in this book will help women make substantial gains in business and in their social lives.  It should also revolutionize their clothes-buying habits.

Most American women dress for failure.  I have said that before about men, and research shows that it applies equally to women.  Women dress for failure because they make three mistakes.

  1. They let the fashion industry influence their choice of business clothes.
  2. They often still view themselves mainly as sex objects.
  3. They let their socioeconomic background influence their choice of clothing.

The only reasonable alternative is for women to let science help them choose their clothes.[i]

I’m not even going to get into the paternalistic aspects of this, because using his data and word as law is something that is present in his book for guys as well (and because they’re endless and depressing).  As Molloy says himself later on in the same chapter—

It is a stark reality that men dominate the power structure—in business, in government, in education.  I am not suggesting that women dress to impress men simply because they are men.  My advice to women is based on the same principle as my advice to men: Your clothes should move you up socially and in business, not hold you back.[ii]

So, we’re going to ignore gems like “In summer women have always worn light and brightly coloured dresses to the office.  Do this only if you wish to be or remain a secretary.”[iii] and focus instead on the sea change in professional fashion Molloy encouraged with these two sentences:

There is one firm and dramatic step women can take toward professional equality with men. They can adopt a business uniform.[iv]

Illustrations from Molloy’s The Woman’s Dress For Success Book’, 1977.

Expectations of “The Man”

Based on his own numbers, Molloy began gathering his data on influential business dress in 1960.  A generally turbulent cultural time, to say the least, there was a growing relaxed attitude among youth in regards to clothing.  “The values expressed by the business suit no longer matched those of the typical college student”[v].  Though those already firmly entrenched in the business world valued the suit and the status inherent in a good suit, the new blood was rocking bright jackets and fanciful ties in their leisure and formal wear[vi] and were most probably not making the best impressions with corporate.  In his research, showing pictures and photographs of folks in different ensembles to CEOs, Molloy was most probably finding that the older men, the decision makers, wanted suits and “authoritative” looks.

Running through guides like Molloy’s was the sharp awareness of clothing’s ability to portray the wearer as someone of and with power.  Here’s one more of his gems:

At one large corporation someone asked what I thought a woman should do if the boss sent her for coffee.  My response was, “If you have to tell your boss not to send you for coffee, you must have already told him nonverbally that you were ready to go.”

I went on to say that the problem was being approached from the wrong perspective.

Women who want to be taken seriously and who want to succeed must dress in a way that says, “I am important.  I am a business professional and don’t you dare send me for coffee!”

There were two extremely successful women in the room at the time.  Both agreed with me.  And they said the reason most young women wouldn’t succeed was because they didn’t look like they wanted to succeed.[vii]

Reinforcement through style guides

Molloy wasn’t the only one aware of this.  Armloads of guides on dressing were popping up in the mid to late 1970s as part of the reaction against the “anything goes” stylings of the 1960s and in response to the influx of professional women workers who were searching for some way to get a foot up the corporate ladder.  They ranged from articles in Newsweek and women’s mags[viii] to tomes like Elegance: A Guide to Quality Menswear by Bruce Boyer, referenced oh so nicely in the time capsule American Psycho.

You’re a clod.  It’s an excellent book.  His theory remains we shouldn’t feel restricted from wearing a sweater vest with a suit,” I say.  “Did you hear me call you a clod?”


“But doesn’t he point out that a vest shouldn’t overpower the suit?”  Van Patten offers tentatively.

“Yes . . .” I’m mildly irritated that Van Patten has done his homework but asks for advice nonetheless.  I calmly continue.  “With discrete pinstripes you should wear a subdued blue or charcoal gray vest.  A plaid suit would call for a bolder vest.”

“And remember,” McDermott adds, “with a regular vest the last button should be left undone.”

I glance sharply at McDermott.  He smiles, sips his drink and then smacks his lips, satisfied.[ix]

What began as aspirational dressing and a search for a uniform was honed through the guides into as complex a set of rules as had been followed at the turn of the century.  Limitations on colours, cut, pattern, material were the heavy skeleton a person’s business wardrobe was built on.  The rules were the rules, even if they didn’t apply to you.  Research and the guides said that glasses created a stronger sense of authority[x], so one wore “non-prescription Oliver Peoples redwood-framed glasses,”[xi] or some equivalent.

Overwhelming assimilation of style

Conveniently, changes in suit fabric manufacture were making the designer suit more accessible to the common man.  In the 1970s Italian textile industries began switching from high virgin wool content to using waste wool, creating a cheaper suit fabric that “accommodated the fashion industry whereby new collections, new ideas, new colours and new patterns are presented each season.”[xii] Between 1975 and 1985 the profits of men’s ready-to-wear increased 12%, and in the 1980’s all major designer’s houses were carrying a men’s line.[xiii]

The awareness of fashion labels that began in the 1970s (with denim, funnily enough[xiv]), the availability—or seeming availability— of the clothing, “a swing back to the political right”[xv] and a money boom that had combined with credit to make everything seem possible all mixed together in a power shake that coloured the 1980s in suits and immobile hair and brand names.  You either Were or you Weren’t.  The soft steps towards blurring the class lines were halted.  Sure, one could “cross-shop”, but the objective was still to buy clothes that “come across as upper middle class.”[xvi]

Of course, when a mass of society and fashion push one way, there will be a faction pushing against, and oh dang the things that were created to be anti-suit!  Creativity and risk-taking styles are better as retaliation, and if you look, the highs of fashion and the arts are commonly seen when one side is reacting against another.  Each group spurs the other into higher and higher caricature as they refine themselves to a pure thesis.

So, I acknowledge that other things besides power dressing were going on in the 1980’s.  And it was exactly that, combined with some more worldly affairs, that left the power suit stranded on the pedestal of caricature.

[i] The Woman’s Dress For Success Book, John T. Molloy, 1977. p. 15-16

[ii] Molloy p. 32

[iii] Molloy p. 66

[iv] Molloy p. 34

[v] Fashion and Its Social Agendas, Diana Crane, 2000. p.175


[vii] Molloy p. 26-27

[viii] “One magazine ran a piece on “power dressing.”  Another reported on how women were being advised to “dress the trip to the top.”  And a third discussed how “clothes mean business,” . . . Fashion Power, Jeanette C. Lauer, Robert H. Lauer, 1981. p. 163 & 170

[ix] American Psycho, Brett Easton Ellis, 1991. p. 154-155

[x] Molloy p. 88

[xi] Ellis p. 109

[xii] Men’s Fashion in the Twentieth Century, Maria Costantino, 1997. p. 127

[xiii] Costantino p. 121-123

[xiv] Costantino p. 111

[xv] Costantino p. 127

[xvi] Molloy p. 171

A few good pieces

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

“If I did go out and buy a $300 coat, it would have to go with all the $10 pants I own.”

In February, Jezebel shot out a quick little note about a post on the New York Public Libraries blog.  The focus of both was a 1941 survey of the college girl’s wardrobe and the problems of high and fast consumption in fashion.  The wonderful old days were wonderful, with your standard sweater sets and three basic styles of shoes—and how about the Uniform Project and the Great American Apparel Diet and all those personal internet challenges to reduce consumption and impulse purchases, to slim and simplify our wardrobes.

In our modern day of stores that can move from concept to finished item in six weeks, fashion ‘weeks’ that feel like they run seamlessly into one another as they hop across continental bounds and piping hot trends delivered to your local rag shop every week, we are as “spoiled [sic] for choice” as Stein says.  It can sure appear anecdotally that our closets are swelling like the inflamed fatty liver of a confirmed alcoholic—especially in comparison to the 11-3.5 blouses and 13-3 street length dresses of the surveyed 1941 co-eds.

One thing that really should be noted is the highly conservative nature of wardrobe building in the 1940’s.  In Grace Margaret Morton’s 1943 book The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance she writes, “Conservation is in keeping with the times.  Restricted consumer production has resulted in a silhouette which can be cut to advantage from limited yardage . . . As never before, this is a period which demands convertible, multiple-duty apparel, interchangeable three- and four- piece ensembles.”  Comparing today’s clothing habits to a time when patterns maximised yardage because of war rations can create a false dichotomy.

1943. Farm Security Administration –
Office of War Information Photograph Collection

Of course, having a wider range of clothing options available (or more accurately, acceptable), from pants and shorts to tank tops and sundresses, might have a part in explaining why the average young woman doesn’t spend “75% of her waking hours in the sweater skirt ensemble.”  Changes in how, where and what we can wear at work are a factor also.  Count the number of people you know who have a small, separate “work wardrobe” of suits and office wear supplemented by a double handful of casual pieces for home and a couple things for evening.  We are wearing more things for more reasons more often.

And the brands, stores and manufactures know that and love us for it.  Instead of a handful of cotton shirtwaist dresses and sweater and skirt sets for summer (as suggested by Morton), or the calculated business wardrobe of the 1980s and 90s, we wear more.  There certainly seem to be more eclectic and specific options now than there once were, but they float in a sea of mass market options.

A couple of weeks ago Jezebel again looked at our closets, this time focusing on the earth-wrecking waste of fast fashion, with its affordable options that essentially strangle the environment and starve workers.  Several options are presented, ranging from a $78 turtleneck to a $338 jacket, that attempt to answer the question “What are the choices for decently-made, competitively-priced, really cute stuff?”

But, don’t think that the inability of the average person to pay nearly eighty dollars for a turtleneck goes unnoticed.  “Fundamentally, it’s less and less the case that making ethical, sensible consumer choices is a freedom that hews to class lines. A $35 t-shirt that’s better quality than the $10 Wal-Mart version is still close enough in price that it’s attainable for most shoppers.”

And herein lies a problem.  I feel like a pretty high percentage of people will not, or cannot, pay ten dollars for a t-shirt, let alone $35.  It’s all well and good to save to buy an environmentally and morally responsible clothing choice whose quality may give it a longer life span.  But if someone is already in a position to consider a forty dollar skirt at Target a piece worth saving for, they’re not going to wait another $188 dollars for “a full black knitted skirt that has a sort of Alaïa feel, with its nipped ribbed waist.”

Since I have an aversion to purely anecdotal evidence, as it can easily slip into hyperbole and theory, I ran a very informal survey.  I ended up with just nine replies, folks in the mid-20s to mid-30s range, who are either unemployed, self-employed and/or solidly in the lower-middle to middle class income range; all but one currently live on the west coast.  A third are hand knitters and expressed awareness of the worth of both quality fiber content and of paying more for handmade. However, it’s a pitifully small sample, and I’d love to run this wider, because the results from just this group are telling.

Limiting the definition of “clothing” to everyday clothes and outerwear, I also allowed for clothes that were worn at least three to four times a year (which encompasses stage clothes and some formal wear). Nearly half of the group responded to the first question—“What is the most you’ve paid for a piece of everyday clothing?”—with two answers.  One number was for an uncommon purchase like a corset for stage wear (that was worn regularly off-stage as well), a perfect winter coat, or “allegedly ‘ass-tastic’” jeans; pieces that ranged from sixteen to two times the second price given.   Combining both sets of data gives a range of $30 to $150—not counting the $500 corset which, as a kind of shapewear, gets into the high and tricky ranges of support and undergarment cost more so than everyday clothing.

Asked if this price was more than they regularly pay for a piece of everyday clothing, the answer was, for seven of the nine, a resounding ‘hell yes’.  The other two did not consider their highs of $50 to be significantly more than an average purchase.  Even so, the mean price the sample group would pay was only $21, the most common amount being $10.  An exception of up to $45 when buying yarn to make something oneself was noted.

Already we can see that Sauers’ had one over on me in that folks will totally pay $10 for clothing.  My personal issues (and heavy thrift and sales rack shopping) have blurred my perspective.  Even so, a $35 t-shirt is comfortably above this sample’s average range for a piece of everyday clothing.  But what about their top limit?  Already by this point in the survey it was clear that for jeans and pieces that fit, a person’s ‘average price’ could be edged up closer to their top limit.  So, what was the most they would pay for a piece of everyday clothing?

“I swear on the life of my non-existent children, if I could find a pair of jeans that were flattering and as comfortable as all the skinny people claim jeans are, I would pay at least $100.”  And $100 is the highest price given, by two people who both cite jeans-fitting issues as the reason for so high a price.  With $54 as the average and $30 as the most common limit, we’re still well below the price of that $78 turtleneck.

Knowing that extraordinary circumstance, luck, and the desire to have at least a “few good pieces” in one’s wardrobe can expand the limits of what you’re willing to shell out, the last question I asked was what the theoretical top limit would be for a “SUPER AWESOME AMAZING PERFECT” piece of everyday clothing.  Ranging between $50 and $300 dollars, with an average of $142, every person who gave a limit over $100 stipulated they would pay that much only for something elaborate, custom or handmade.

I wish that I had thought to inquire about thrift store shopping habits directly in this survey, though I had a voluble enough sample that I was able to gather an idea that a good percentage buy used, when they can.  In her article, Sauers  mentions that “Thrift stores are green (and cheap), but hunting through their racks can be time-consuming and offer inconsistent results.”   It could be that people who prefer to pay only around $20 for a piece of clothing are willing to spend the time searching second hand.

Most people I surveyed are ‘crafty’, which can’t be a representative percentage of the population and may affect their purchasing habits.  One way that they seem to be like most of the population is that nearly all mentioned issues finding clothing that fits both their bodies and taste.  Says one,  “I could pay $6 [for] something nearly right, with decent fabric, which I can turn into something wearable… or I can pay $25 for a pair of cheaply made pants that don’t quite fit and say “BOOTY” across the ass in pink crystals and glitter paint.”  These people, with daydreams of $110 silk cardigans, don’t necessarily want the fast fashion offerings of Forever 21s.  And even when they do shop at mall and fast fashion stores, they do it out of necessity, more than convenience.  And they’re not abandoning the between-great-wars sense of wardrobe building either:

Lately I buy most of my clothing at Torrid because I am too easily annoyed digging through a department store for the one piece of plus size clothing that isn’t falling off my average-sized shoulders or down to my knees. I tend to wear my clothes until they are literally falling apart because of this and I do make repairs if I can.

Awareness of the clothing industry’s failings isn’t new.  Clinging to a false nostalgia of a simple wardrobe, filled with a few good pieces, isn’t going to help.  Disregarding the error of steering by nostalgia, the circumstances between then and now are too different, too foreign.  Choosing more ethical and quality options isn’t going to be a saving grace either, not when the divide between its cost and the average budget are still so far apart.


Friday, May 28th, 2010

Seems every time you turn around, the disciples of design are moving hemlines.  Well, now you can have your maxi and wear it too—but don’t put those minis in mothballs.  This season, anything goes.

New York Magazine. February 24, 1992.

Popular as they are with the nose-ring and chunky-boot set, maxi-skirts have only lately surfaced in the influential fashion glossies. . . . Will the street-length skirt endure? Even its most ardent proponents will tell you, that depends. “People are waiting to see trendsetters like Kate Moss wearing it,” Ms. Borissova of Curve suggested. “Then they’ll take a chance.”

She maintained, nonetheless, that by fall, a long, lean silhouette could be driving sales. “Five years from now,” she insisted in a whoosh of enthusiasm, “we’ll all be wearing maxis.”

Ruth La Ferla, New York Times. May 27, 2010.

Last summer’s revolution in skirt lengths—so mini they stopped just short of perdition—has provoked a counterrevolution.

Life. November 7, 1969.

More tellingly, perhaps, they represent a seductive — make that subversive — alternative to the jeans, leggings and showily girly micro-minis that pop up like ragweed with the first mild breeze. They are “fashion’s backlash to the short skirt,” Ms. Yakus suggested.

Ruth La Ferla, New York Times. May 27, 2010.

Gradually by degrees the skirt lengths on dresses gave the illusion of being first long and then shorter with dipping, scalloped and handkerchief hemlines in floating fabrics. It was only in 1925 that skirts rose 14 to 16 inches (45 to 50 cm) from the ground making the shorter hemline we associate with the era. . . .
By 1929 uneven hems and asymmetric skirt hemlines again helped the transition to longer skirts. Longer sheer overskirts and semi sheer top skirts were worn over shorter linings. By 1930 the hemline was several inches below the knee.”

Less common but perhaps appealing to women still on the fence about the full-on maxi are versions like one by Yohji Yamamoto for Y-3, hiked to the knee in front and pooling in a train at the rear. Mr. Yamamoto, it should be noted, is one of the Japanese provocateurs who introduced more voluminous versions of the look more than two decades ago.”

Ruth La Ferla, New York Times. May 27, 2010.

I keep referring to this retro-retro thing as a “feedback loop.”  I’d like to think it was less self-involved and transient and actually more of a reinforcement with some sort of learned end.

In general, the feeling is for peaceful coexistence for all lengths and for letting women wear whatever they please, all of which should sooth the frayed nerves of shoppers, merchants and husbands alike.

Life. February 16, 1968.

We are all of us spacemen

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

A month or so ago my co-workers and I travelled up to Seattle for an event.  The car we took was the newest vechicle I’ve ever been in and the inside looked like a spaceship.  Well, really, what the current present regards as a spaceship, which reality falls a touch short of.

I off-handedly noted that car design was tending towards a super-future look to give us the feeling of personal space vehicles that our past predicted and future denies us.  We can’t have the future so we’re creating a façade around our everyday objects in an attempt to placate our desires.

The past several seasons (and what has been popping up in between) is tending in the same direction.  Though some designers have always “looked ahead”, today’s idea of tomorrow is permeating through collections in ever more obvious ways.  And I’m not even looking at shoes and accessories, because I’m not trying to draft a thesis paper here, just pointing a couple things out.

I can’t pretend to know why, and I will ignore the obvious fall backs, like escapism to a time and space of ready cash to drop on the latest couple-thou frock.  Everybody says stuff like that and, on average, everybody is wrong.

Emma and Jane
I’m just sayin’ is all.

The retro-future aspects of some of the looks is like a one-two punch—pulling nostalgia from a past that wasn’t to a future that probably won’t.  But, I mean, the future is now, right?  We’re looking at Resort: 2010 (thankfully not designed by one, though pity not the other).  The cycle of retro-retro and futuretasma is congealing into a present of structure and shiny that just won’t be denied.

Grinding in probability

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Personally, I adore watching designers try to reinvent the mid-1980s—I am fond of the look for a multitude of reasons.  To be more precise, it’s more that era’s take on the future of design that I truly love.  Science & speculative fiction’s relationship with fashion is something that just about anybody is aware of by now.  The ability to not be bounded by tradition and/or possibility is (finally) really spilling over into the most commonplace venues.  This, in turn, widens the skies for the truly expansive ideas.

During this beautiful dreaming, comparatively simple jewellery and accessories seem to be popular.  Maybe it’s the portability and modular aspects, the general un-scariness of it.  It’s such a gateway though, I mean—there’s such a short jump from sweet lovey ideas to slightly invasive useful tools to implanting things and gently pushing the definition of humanity.  But let’s not prod that interesting beast with a stick right now.  What we’re looking at here are accessories, gadgets and usefulness.  Or non-usefulness.  It depends on your definition.


Social networking sites, for instance.  The internet and how we use it in general.   An MIT student group have made this thing, it projects information and “virtual gadgets” into what they charmingly call the “tactile world.” Bonus: you can interact with it.

In the tactile world, we use our five senses to take in information about our environment and respond to it, Maes explained. But a lot of the information that helps us understand and respond to the world doesn’t come from these senses. Instead, it comes from computers and the internet. Maes’ goal is to harness  computers to feed us information in an organic fashion, like our existing senses . . . When he encounters someone at a party, the system projects a cloud of words on the person’s body to provide more information about him — his blog URL, the name of his company, his likes and interests.

Talking about this with a friend, her first thought went to implants.  My first thought went to accessories. Because really, how boss would that be?

The future will not take away my gaudy accessories.

I mean, really.

I have a definite vision of the future and it involves holograms, dammit.

Design and tech are starting to go steady and I like it.  Secretly because I am a huge nerd.


We are what we’re made of

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

I was one of several folks totally panting for the menswear in Alexander McQueen’s F2009 show.  And while the clothes are made of yes and form an interesting contrast to other things we’re seeing, it was the make-up that got my brain clicking.

photo: Marcio Madeira

The red ringing beneath the eyes, set off by that winter pallor?  Absolutely villainous and surprisingly a long standing part of my eye make-up rotation.  Also totally something that most people cover up and don’t do on purpose.

In Feburary’s W, there’s a short piece on Ellis Faas, with a quote that brought it all together for me.

“Why not take the purple in a bruise and use it as an eye colour?  It’s a very natural thing to do.”

Faas, a former special effects artist with lots of bruises and cuts under her belt, calls it “Human Colours“.  I think it’s, like, a beautiful circle (though it’s probably more of a hearkening to something quite different) that on the front page there’s an image with the same under-eye red seen on McQueen’s runway.


Make-up traditionally covers up and/or distracts from that what you don’t want shown, emphasises that which you do.  In the expanding culture of coolness—where you can buy things that make it look like you spent time and pain under the tattooist’s needle or dedication in stretching your piercings—make-up like Shiner (one of the many soc-cultural gems in Spike’s Templar, Arizona) doesn’t seem too out of line.  We’re wanting to emphasise something different.

I know my paltry collection of colour, in bruised purples and blues, sallow yellows and lip tone nudes already align with the idea of “Human Colour”, despite my originally buying them for their brightness and darkness.  Now I just need to play with it more.  Nothing however, will tear me away from my red.

I really do love it