Archive for July, 2010

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

Links à la Mode

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

links a la mode

Questions, questions

Edited by: Jennine Jacob, IFB

They say the only dumb question is one you don’t ask, and these days the questions keep coming and the answers? Well, we try. In the fashion world… Lady Gaga, is she really doing it for the girls? What does working with Terry Richardson do for/against her cred? Should we question the ethnic headdress trend? Has fashion blogging become overloaded and narcissistic? What’s the real price of our clothing? And more importantly what should we wear to a movie date!?! Oh man, the questions they keep coming. Luckily this week’s roundup has some answers.

Links à la Mode: July 8

Test Pattern: We’ve been here before

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

It is clear that women throughout the centuries have molded their figures into many strange and different shapes. Each seemed beautiful in its day, but most of us are inclined to think none quite so lovely as today’s.

The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance, Grace Margaret Morton, 1943. (p 234)

Later on in the chapter (Contemporary Figure Ideals), Morton lets us know that the ideal weight for five feet is 110, and approximately five pounds for each additional inch taller, “depending on the scale of the figure.” The entire chapter is very much your standard hide-the-‘bad’-work-the-‘good’ stuff of fashion books—pushing vertical movement of line for the “stout” and emphasising an “uplifted bosom and upstanding posture, with abdomen and posterior flat.”  But Morton also quotes an article from the June 1927 Ladies Home Journal:

The popular conception of beauty is wrong, because its basis is that everybody shall look like everybody else . . . Life would gain enormously in interest if women emphasized their differences from each other.

Beauty and Plain Women, Elisie Ferguson

Seen about town: Dudes

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

There is not much to say about dudes except that they are.

Scarves, no seriously

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

One of the beautiful things that comes out of recessions is a greater use of accessories.  With less money or inclination to expand one’s wardrobe, the well-dressed whatever turns to nails and legwear, hair and jewellery.  The current accessory toeing into the spotlight is scarves and neck accessories.

Illustrations from ‘Sewing Made Easy’, 1952

Miu Miu had its coy collars that remind me of the chapters in mid-twentieth century sewing and fashion books, where a lady is encouraged to expand her wardrobe with cheap and changeable collars and cuffs.  We’re not seeing cuffs yet, which is a pity, but even the summer looks of Resort 2011 struck a claim in that most mutable of accessories, the scarf.

Resort and menswear have been approaching the scarf cautiously, not straying too far from simple wraps and loops—though folks like Gaultier are playing with shapes that invoke the Empire/Regency cravat.  But, like any accessory, there’s an endless possibility in a scarf.  In the era of power dressing they were integral to dressing up or altering a look and taking it from office to evening.  Though it can be difficult to get a hold of classics like Scarf Tying by Judy Reiman, the great web does hold pockets of how-to’s that offer more options than a couple basic loops and twists.  Unfortunately, none share quite the perfect balance of clear instructions and priceless photography of the scarves in action (modelled by various Miss Calgaries) as Scarf Tying.

To get you started, here is an awkward quickie video tutorial for a simple option to try before playing with search terms.  Start with a larger square:

And you’ll end up with something like this:

It really pumps up a power suit
A lot of the scarves available at your local super-department like Fred Meyer or Target are of the long and loosely woven or square and fringed variety.  Thrift stores’ scarf bins—or, if you can sew, the remnant and discount bolt bins at sewing stores—have a sea of options that fulfil the classic silk-scarf style of easy drape and tighter weave.

Like Reiman says in Scarf Tying:

You too can look and feel like Cinderella at the ball without the help of a fairy godmother.  With creative scarf tying, your hands are magic wands.  A flick of the fingertips and a length of silk becomes a rose, a square of fabric appears as an evening gown.

Double take dupes

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Speaking of fast fashion, I was at our local Fred Meyer the other day an noticed a valiant effort by drugstore polish Sinful Colors to imitate the higher end OPI’s (horribly named, as usual) Spring 2010 “Hong Kong” collection:

Fast fashion in nail colour

I haven’t seen anything about this “Shanghai Collection” online, but I know for a fact that some of the colours in the display, like Ruby Ruby, existed before they decided to ride any coattails.  Overall, it doesn’t feel like they’re trying to completely copy OPI and are just attempting to package the same “feel” or “inspiration”.  Which, yes, totes copying, good for them.  I don’t like OPI’s application or price point, but I do love me some Sinful Colors.

When the first previews of the Hong Kong collection came out, All Lacquered Up showed a couple dupe possibilities, but found that there weren’t any good non-OPI options that carried the same colour qualities as this collection.  Though most of Sinful Colors Shanghai Nights is made up of their standard colours, there are some definite dupes, or attempts at them.

OPI v. Sinful Colors, 1
Sinful Colors: Rise and Shine (more turquoise)
OPI: Jade Is The New Black (more green)

OPI v. Sinful Colors, 2
Sinful Colors: Thimbleberry (slightly more coral)
OPI: Red My Fortune Cookie (more orangey)

The best dupe I went ahead and bought.  And now I have two bottles of exactly the same colour.

OPI v. Sinful Colors, 3

Sinful Colors: Big Daddy
OPI: A Good Mandarin Is Hard To Find

Under some indoor light, OPI’s shade is the barest touch more blue-red.  And Sinful Colors’ shade looked much thinner and orangey at one coat.  But after two coats they are essentially identical.  Same opacity, same colour.

Which, I am super into my nails and had to think, “does this fit what I am going for with this dumb blog?” And, I think maybe?

The search for good dupes in the nail world is interesting, because it is totally accepted. Why pay upwards of nine dollars for a bottle of polish when you can get pretty much the same thing for a dollar-fifty?  But copying a shoe or piece of clothing is a clear not cool (or is acknowledged as uncool while you are also like “Thank fucking goodness, I am not paying multiple hundreds for that”).  There are clear intellectual property issues with fashion design that do not apply for colours.  Because they’re, y’know, colours—though what goes into creating a colour, and dye vats and formulas are a clear proprietary thing.  But the science is not what you see, just the colours.

Nail polish, like other accessories (and I class it as an accessory, not makeup, because there is more freedom in how it can be used) is something that becomes more popular when folks aren’t as willing to spend money on clothes.  And those cycles fascinate me.

Then/Now: The relaxed cravat

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Left:  Portrait of Daniel la Motte of Baltimore, Tomas Sully 1812-1813. Via Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Right: Menswear, 2011.  Jean Paul Gaultier.

Links à la Mode

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

links a la mode

Oh, Brave New World…

Edited by: Ashe Mischief of Dramatis Personae That has such bloggers in it! From a ballsy and confident “I Like Being Fat” at Return to Sender to Awakened Aesthetics post on greenwashing & buying American to Cake Not Coke’s expose on Venus Williams’ controversial courtside fashion, fashion bloggers are brave and bold. Just the way I like them.

Links à la Mode: July 1

  • Awakened Aesthetic: On Independence Day, we’re told to “buy American.” This eco girl is telling you to think twice.
  • Bonne Vie discusses online auction sites; Are they frauds or a fair gamble?
  • Cake Not Coke: Venus William’s Daring on the Court Fashions…
  • Dedicated Follower of Fashion: Interview with Actor/Activist: Adrian Grenier & TV Producer: Peter Glatzer creators of SHIFT, and eco fashion media platform.
  • Dramatis Personae: What’s so Dazzling about Shoe Dazzle?
  • fête á fête: Atelier Cologne – new French luxe fragrance house.
  • Grechen Blogs: do you read blogs about blogging? do you find the helpful? are the relevant to the fashion blogging community?
  • haute.halifax: A review of several collections inspired by women of the G8 by local Nova Scotian designers
  • (IT Hunter): ‘Alice Springs’ pseudonym used by June Newton, Helmut Newton’s wife, to sign her photos first international retrospective
  • Miss Jones & Me: Boyfriend Booty
  • Ode to Awe: After months of being unable to locate them online, Japan’s Transvestite brand is found
  • Oranges & Apples: Is it worth buying more expensive nail polish?
  • Pixie in Pumps: My take on jewelry storage, creative but not cluttered or tacky.
  • Profresh Style: Daily Makeup Routine!
  • Retro Chick: The meaning of Vintage
  • Return to Sender: I Like Being Fat
  • Speak Femme:While rummaging around in my grandmother’s sewing room, I found the most amazing guide to sewing and style, courtesy of Vogue.
  • Sugar & Spice: To Friendship
  • The Coveted: Pull up a chair, we’re flipping through Elle’s Music Issue
  • The Curvy Fashionista: What do you do when your shoes do not fit? Opt for a custom pair with Jen+Kim Shoes!