Category Archives: Style

We Dress Alike*


There’s a stark yet strangely beautiful photo essay by Nolan Conway. Identically styled people sit in various MacDonald’s restaurants. At first (second and third) glance it would appear that this is a collection of twin portraits. But the captions prove otherwise. Capturing clusters of indistinguishable people is no doubt the point of a MacDonald’s story. It makes that obvious and the also not so obvious point of; when did everyone start looking alike?

Recently a story about the ‘edgy’ art scene in the newest hippest neighborhood was accompanied by a photo. A cluster of identically clad and groomed under 40s was captioned. But you’d have to be the profiled artist’s mother to pick his knit capped head out of the half-dozen style clones. The men had moppish 80’s hair, the women had asymmetrical 80’s hair. The men were wearing what they considered ironic T-shirts (when did ubiquitous and mundane become synonymous with irony?) The women are in clothes made to appear as if they were accidentally washed on the incorrect cycle. They are faded just so and just a bit worn. And they all are wearing vaguely ethnic scarves and polyester knit hats perched on the top of their heads. Even the manner in which they wear these unattractive utilitarian hats (indoors!) is identical.

The Bobbsey Twin-ness is not reserved for the under 40 crowd of course. If you’ve attended a high school graduation in recent years, and perhaps sat in a back row, you would see a sea of identical heads. Over 40 female hair is almost always long, straight and highlighted (it’s the equivalent of our foremother’s blue rinse.) The clothing style depends on the B.M.I. but almost always includes denim w/ a minimum of 3% lycra. This Doubleminting has always been pervasive among teens of course. It is the holy grail of adolescence to look exactly like everyone else. But what about college? Have you been to college lately? Move-in day is a riot. All the dads are in cargo shorts, untucked shirts & baseball caps; and all the mothers are in capris and generous cleavage (you think it’s easy to see your daughter turn into a grown woman?!) and the freshman are in uniform. The young women are dressed in body-con pieces from head to shin. From shin to toe they are most likely either in an Ugg or wellie (making them look as if they’re standing in a bucket, which is flattering on exactly no one) or if the weather allows, a rubber ‘shoe’ suitable for the beach, pool or hospital. The young men are either in baggy cargo shorts (like father like…) or slim fitting madras shorts. T-shirt (with message/image suited to the corresponding college/university) and unlaced sneakers or shower shoes complete the look. Since when did college students want to look alike? When did they want to follow the lead of their parents in any pursuit, least of all an approach to style? Wait but what of the art students you ask? Well if completing the checklist of body modifying (piercing, tattoos, earlobe stretchers) is a sign of creativity, then we’re good. (Note to medical students on the fence about their specialty; restorative cosmetic surgery – ka-ching!)

So how did it happen? Is it all the result of very cheap clothing in chain stores? Is it that the same ‘look’ is available across the country in a mall or big-box store near you? Is it our celebrity culture that drives style? Could it be that people (consumers, media, merchandisers) turn to celebrities (who turn to a handful of stylists) to create their look? Or is the styling of one’s person just the tip of the iceberg? Is it more that a culture that celebrates sameness is ultimately going to look the same. A culture that applauds and supports genre over niche does not cultivate creativity. Television talent contests award very specific sounds and looks (there is no Gong Show diversity on display anywhere.) Since the Rocky and Godfather days, film sequels are king. Broadway’s percentage of revivals grows every year. Where are the new ideas? How much wonderful writing never sees the light of day? What happened to the novel? Memoirs (which is a lovely sounding word for ‘it happened to me so it must be interesting’) is the genre of choice. Sensation and sequels sell, but what about good writing and great stories? Is there an audience (aka money) for talented novelists, poets, screenwriters and playwrights? We could also shine the light on indistinguishable home design and decor, museums exhibits and performance arts centers. You’d have to have a GPS to know where you are sometimes.

There have always been style trends. People don’t much go for operetta the way they once did. Sonnets went the way of hoop skirts, and you don’t see a lot of domes and columns being erected. But not since perhaps the 1950s have people strived to look and sound so much alike. Perhaps it is merely cyclical and not a harbinger of the demise of creativity. My goal is to outlive the cycle, seek creativity and to do so while wearing what flatters/interests me.

*The Triplet Song (The Bandwagon 1953) by Arthur Schwartz & Howard Dietz

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Posted by on May 4, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Style


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Not Ready To Wear


Once the daytime temperature high dips below 25 (and stays there for days) all style bets are off. If your entire exposure to the out of doors consists of the 10-20 steps from your front door to your car to your office door, your appearance still suffers. Even if you don’t have hat hair (and for g-d’s sake you could die from being that vain!) your hair is dried & fried. Your nose is beet red and running and so are your eyes. No one looks good when it’s this cold. In fact it’s a minor miracle that the northern states repopulate. It’s no wonder that fashion magazines and websites are filled with spring apparel. Clothes stores turn up the thermostat to help with cognitive dissonance and faltering sales. As we start to sweat in our sweaters and coats purchasing a sleeveless shift (in January) seems almost reasonable. Perusing open-toed shoes is a delightful diversion and a beacon of hope for our unvarnished neglected ice-cold toes. Just the idea that our feet may someday see the light of day again can be enough to help us soldier on.

It can dampen the spirits just a wee bit when the fashion being pitched isn’t exactly the golden ticket one hoped for. While I’m sure there are women (over the age of 8) who can rock pastels, it’s probably a very small percentage. Easter eggs seemed to have shared a special hug and created multiple lines of shoes and accessories this season. Pastel green? Really? It’s hard to even find a reason for that color to exist let alone find its way onto leather goods. Okay, so maybe this won’t be the season to purchase a new pair of shoes (did you hear that? and angel just lost its wings.) That leaves a whole lot of fashion/merchandise to drool/swoon over, right? Not so fast. There seems to be a trend (trend: a nice word for all manufacturers take their cues from one or two designers) of unflattering shapes and cuts. Granted the cropped pant has been around for a few seasons, but it’s really in its glory this spring. It is simply everywhere. In fact, you’d probably be hard pressed to find many full-length pants for sale. Now with all due respect to Gilligan, cropped pants are simply unflattering if you are under 5’10”. Making the leg line shorter (or stumpier) is simply not a sensible silhouette goal. Adding to the stumpy effect is the addition of high waists (with pleats!) and drawstrings and/or peplum; adding volume, volume and more volume. A perfectly normal proportioned person now looks like a balloon animal. To top off this squatty look are voluminous/tiered/ruffled blouses and tops. The entire ensemble sending the distinct message; “I’m in here somewhere.”

Now not many of us enter early springtime at our fighting weight. So there is something to say for some strategic camouflaging. But strategic camouflage rarely involves adding volume and making things look bigger. A little extra middle is best hidden with a tailored top or jacket. A little extra hip or bottom is best served by a pant that fits perfectly on the hip and bottom (probably tailored at the waist) and has a full (not oversized) leg. But these are really four season rules. Whatever are we to do about finding our light at the end of our 25-degree tunnel? Flipping to the back of the magazine to the home and garden section can work. Images of lush blooming flowers and greenery fill the heart and head with hope. Gorgeous photo spreads of salads, mixed grills and sangria can save you from a full-blown sweats on, pizza ordered, “I’ve lost all hope” 48 hour bender. Before we know it the temperature will rise and we’ll be able to smell the earth once more. We will be inexplicably surprised when we see the first sign of emerging crocuses. In just a matter of (several) weeks the ground will be dotted with tiny brave flowers in the most stunning shades of purple and yellow, which incidentally would look fabulous in a shoe.


Posted by on January 25, 2013 in Style


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Keeping Our Gift Giving Heads


You’d have to be living under a rock (or someplace wonderful that I’d love to hear about) to not sense the holiday retail desperation/frenzy. The sales and offers are coming in multiple chaotic waves. Online prices are jumping up and down like an untrained puppy. This curated and cultivated frenzy is designed to be contagious. There is nothing as frightening to retail as a cool, calm and collected shopper. List makers with moderate blood pressure and blood sugar are kryptonite to retail. So bring on the confusing and conflicting offers and the wonky gift items. (Is there really anyone with candy cane scented body lotion on his or her wish list?) It’s the time to convince shoppers that strangers know best. “Gift” items are positioned strategically in and around key areas of shops. Reindeer corkscrew? Who wouldn’t just love to have that in their junk drawer? Sugar plum flavored lip gloss? Okay, but does anyone even know what a sugar plum is? Personally, I’d prefer partridge in a pear tree scent.

The items being pushed as ‘perfect’ for every and anyone on your list aren’t merely Christmas themed. The latest (excruciatingly distasteful) fashion trend seems to be apparel usually seen on people very down on their luck. A torn sweatshirt with a ragged and fringed hem is being sold for $185. This is a garment you would not allow your partner or child to be seen in. You would wrestle it from their hands and relegate it to the rag bin. The full page newspaper advert showed this pathetic piece of cloth draped over the sharp and glossy frame of a highly styled young woman otherwise dressed for a night out. Ordinarily this would just be stupid and ridiculous, but five weeks after a devastating natural disaster which has left many people choosing their clothes from mounds of discards, it is just distatesful. Distasteful, but not unique. Today’s full page newspaper advert shows a similarly glam model wearing a pair of shredded jeans. The jeans are not decorated with strategically placed signs of distressed. No, the holes are stringy and show pronounced areas of skin. These can make that special person on your gift list happy for just $205.

Not sure if $200 rags are the perfect gift? Fear not, you can now pay someone to tell you what your friends and family would like. These clairvoyant personal shoppers will advise you as to what will make someone who means enough to you to warrant a gift, happy. Nifty, no? Keep in mind, they don’t purchase the gift or even wrap the gift. No no. They ask you the recipient’s age and gender and tell you what to buy. It’s like paying Santa to sit on your lap.

No matter how good our intentions not every gift will be perfect or even happily given. It’s inevitable that we will be socially forced into a grab bag situation or find ourselves spending the holiday with someone’s new partner. The important thing is not to panic. Let us not focus on checking off the list, but of keeping our heads. As we get closer to the big day keep your resolve. Write a little message to yourself if you think it will help; “Would I want to receive a glitter embossed cardboard box shaped like a gingerbread man?” For grab baggers consider something edible. If the spending parameters allow, how about something edible and a modest gift to a food pantry? Now how about that niece, colleague, stranger who you don’t know well enough to select a nice gift but feel compelled to give them a gift nonetheless? Money works. Money always fits and can’t be returned. Gift cards are usually to benefit the store/business and are no less crass than money. They are no less crass and more offensive. “I’m giving you money and telling you where to spend it.” isn’t the most giving sentiment. Still feel that cash is cold? How about giving an equal amount (in the recipient’s name) to a local charity or not for profit organization? Who wouldn’t be touched by that thought?

Less landfill more goodwill.

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Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Holiday, Style


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Your Clothes Miss You

Wherever you go throughout your day or evening you’re likely to encounter someone who appears to be on the brink of downward facing dog. Doctor’s waiting rooms, grocery stores, department stores and classrooms will no doubt boast at least one person in yoga pants. You may think to yourself; “Oh they have just returned/are on their way to a yoga class.” If this is the case I pity the poor forsaken changing room; it’s cubbies and benches empty and lonely. Perhaps all these stretchy panted people are returning/on their way to storefront yoga studios whose only distinguishing feature is a wooden floor and bacteria sodden mats. The transition from clothes boutique to yoga studio consisted only of a few lotus decals and an oppressive air of serenity; bereft of a changing room.

That storefront-no dressing room scenario explains some percentage of the ‘no, no, they just look like sweats/pajamas” yoga pant wearing crowd. Of course people are allowed to wear whatever they wish. But a sea of black spandex is a bit dismal. We all have days in which we don’t want to get dressed (they’re usually called ‘sick’ days.) But these athletic clad people are out socializing in the world. They are at lunch and shopping for non-essentials (both activities one doesn’t immediately associate with clinical depression.)

Not everyone enjoys clothing and/or accessories. Some people consider dressing a bore and a chore. No amount of “You look like a sad mime!” messaging is going to make an impact. Perhaps the message that ‘wearing spandex leads to needing spandex’ might influence their decisions. As we embark on this season of shortening days and excessive gaiety, a zipper and button can be a guy/gal’s best friend. As you reach for the second glass of champagne or third mini-quiche, you might feel the pinch of a strained waistline of actual clothing. Nothing modifies behavior more quickly or efficiently than physical discomfort.

For people who do enjoy clothes and/or accessories it’s important to remember that clothes need air. They need to be worn and have a life. They are not meant to be purchased only to languish in closets/dressers. If you’re thinking; “I want to be comfortable” ask yourself why your real clothes are uncomfortable. If you’re thinking; “It’s too much trouble” perhaps you’re underestimating yourself. There’s something quite uplifting about making a bit of an effort (and it is such a little effort.) Walking out your door wearing actual clothing communicates; “Hey world I’m ready” both to you and to the world.


Posted by on November 29, 2012 in Style


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A Well Seasoned Style

When it comes to style and presentation what possibly could be left to say? We all know by now that fit and flatter are essential ingredients and attitude is an asset. But yet. But yet. If you live in a four season kinda town, you’ve no doubt witnessed the “Autumn? I am not familiar with your ways.” style that abounds. People who only weeks ago had managed to reasonably dress themselves now stumble squinting into the outdoors like a newborn colt. They’ve grabbed last year’s something, purchased this year’s new thing and found their way out the door. Sometime before Thanksgiving it will all come together, but why wait? If you’re doing any of the following; stop:

  • Weather – there are apps for this; use them
    • A down jacket on a day reaching 75 degrees paints a dwelling optional portrait
    • Rain happens, and no one looks good wet (with the exception of the Man from Atlantis and Esther Williams)
  • Hemisphere Dressing
    • If it’s cold enough to wrap that 4-foot piece of cloth around your neck (a look previously only seen in desert regions) it’s too cold to wear shorts
    • Wearing a jaunty felt fedora is fabulous; but not if it’s worn with a sundress
    • Have your top part and bottom part appear to be going to the same place
      • Farm boots or chef shoes paired with a dress looks cuckoo
      • Leather jacket and flip-flops? What’s that for; a biker beach?
  • Season as an after thought
    • Throwing a fur jacket over a micro mini skirt isn’t so much seasonally appropriate as it is ‘working girl’ appropriate
    • Linen pants and suede boots together are oil and water and there might even be a biblical prohibition
    • Layering is lovely; piling on every lightweight sweater you own gives the impression that you’re fleeing a house fire

Starting anything new takes a bit of thought. But you’d be surprised by the muscle memory lurking below your recently chilled skin. When you have a moment (oh, hush; you have a moment) dig out all of your cold weather apparel. It’s like shopping for free! Take a good look at what you’ve got (and do make sure it fits.) Then just think of these easy guidelines:

  • Tone is everything
    • Pieces shouldn’t match they should look happy together
    • Everything you have on should look as if it could be displayed in the same section of a store
  • Add a layer
    • How exciting is a jacket? No really. Blazers, cardigans, outerwear magically transform clothes into an Outfit!
  • Make friends with your mirror
    • Relearning how to dress takes a few days (or severe weather shifts) a mirror will help this process along
      • Before leaving the house (that’s right; After your jacket is on!) take a good look. Does your whole body look as if it’s off to the same destination? Are you wearing a down vest with a party dress and heels? It’s not a good look on a sorority pledge, and it’s not a good look for you.

It’s a gorgeous time of year filled with golden and vibrant color. Our foods and feasts become more simmered and lingering. We reclaim our root system and hunker down around the hearth. We are cozy and covered and profoundly grateful for the generosity of an oversized sweater and leggings. Happy Autumn!

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Posted by on October 3, 2012 in Style


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