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Category Archives: Style

Playing Dress-Up

 

Been shopping lately? Have you noticed how the children’s apparel market has grown? Sizes that included 2T and 6X were once relegated to an upper floor of a department store, suggesting that only after adults clothe themselves would they consider fashion for babies. We now have entire chains dedicated to children’s fashion as well as adult clothiers that have created children’s fashion lines. It’s not as if children of the 1970s and 1980s ran around barefoot and naked. So why the market glut of teeny tiny clothes?

Most children do not do their own shopping and most do not have their own income stream, so presumably big people are buying wee clothes. Now if you are to believe the media and your own bank statements, these are not exactly flush times. Of course these chain stores for the toddling set are not pricey, but the only way they are staying in business is if lots of inventory is being liquidated often. A child’s entire wardrobe does not need to be replaced every season (unless the child has a rapid growth syndrome.) A winter jacket can usually make it through two New Years. Even children without siblings could be wearing second hand clothes. And maybe they do. But if so, why all these shops? It’s hard to believe that stores filled with teeny fashion trends are actually going after the “necessity market.” Fake fur shrugs and sequined mini-skirts speak more to child styling versus child dressing.

In this great country of ours it is usually the female parent who is doing the shopping and dressing of the smalls. Could it be that for some of us, dress up is fun? Could it also be that dressing a little person is easier because of it being baggage free? Anything “mini” is by definition cute. No toddler ever thinks; “Wow those pull-up pants make my ass look huge.” Whether mommy’s behind is bigger than it once was or than desired, it takes a lot more effort to dress oneself than one’s child. There really are no Garanimals for adults, and sticking a color-coordinated bow in our hair doesn’t make an outfit as much as it begs the question; What DID ever happen to Baby Jane? Having an adult sense of style means knowing what suits you and that of course means having some self-awareness.

There is nothing wrong with dressing your little person in short pants and a jaunty derby. But if you are walking by his side in sweats or shapeless dreary apparel, there is a problem. Children are not Chihuahuas and shouldn’t be used as accessories or a way to deflect attention. They learn from example and one of the best lessons they can experience is that their parents are first and foremost people worthy of attention and care.

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Posted by on August 16, 2012 in Childhood, Style

 

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Setting A Tone

When is the last time you saw someone dressed? I mean really dressed? Most people (beyond the set of Downton Abby) don’t dress for dinner these days. Certainly, by the looks of things, no one dresses to go into town either. A hat and pair of seasonally appropriate gloves were once practically a requirement for trolling the department stores. Lunching outside the home involved outfitting oneself with care and precision. But time passes and with it goes formality. Dining outside one’s home is no longer an occasion, dining at home is. Traveling, sightseeing or shopping is done with enough frequency to no longer fuss over appearance. Is there something a wee bit unsettling about sitting in a crush velvet Broadway seat next to someone in flip-flops and a tank top? A tad, but it’s really the close proximity to their big gulp slurpie that rankles the nerves. (Will that infernal plastic straw squeak ever end? Are they really going to play with the ice throughout the entire show? Is that neon infused corn syrup abomination going to land in my lap?)

When others treat an occasion with all the frivolity of hanging out in their own background, it tends to dilute the experience a bit. But you will probably still enjoy the show or even dinner if you keep your eyes straight ahead. But what of an occasion at which one must mingle and therefore move one’s eyes? What if our (and practically every society’s) traditions encourage a certain style of dress? What if it is in fact guests that help make an event an occasion?

At any number of weddings this summer, guests have taken it upon themselves to draw focus from the marrying couple. They will do this by over or underdressing, or by wearing white. These are not guests who have dressed in compliance with invitation instructions (i.e., it’s a white wedding for all! beach attire requested! black tie only!) these are guests who a) are not adept at social cues b) have nothing else to wear or c) the airline lost their luggage. (A word about white: even if the bride is not wearing white, even if there is no bride but instead two grooms, it is not a good idea for guests to wear white. Rational or not, other guests will be focused on the woman in white versus the marrying couple.)

Of course these slip-ups are not just reserved for the start of married life, but apply to the end of life as well. While there really is no one from whom to steal focus at a funeral, it’s best to not wear white (unless your tradition suggests otherwise.) Wearing black is no longer required, but somber tones are best. Any flash (sequins, excessive jewelry, statement shoes) should really be avoided, in other words; tone it down. Like a wedding, all attendees are helping to set the tone. And unless the deceased played in the major leagues that tone should not include baseball caps.

Dressing is the only way we humans have of communicating in a blink of an eye and in a universal language. While there are those of us who may long for more formal everyday attire, in the end it’s simply a matter of taste. But attending a wedding or funeral is not about us; it’s how we support people who are important to us. Showing up to a funeral in a strapless white eyelet mini-dress is the equivalent of screaming; “I’m here!!!!” Whereas a navy knee-length shirtdress whispers to the bereaved; “I’m here.”

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2012 in Style

 

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Pretty Woman (Walking Down The Street)*

When I saw a woman walking on the street in just a bathing suit I did not say anything. I told myself there could be any number of reasons for such a thing. “Out patient” came to mind, as did “house fire” or “luggage lost.” My therapeutic self wondered if she’d yet to find closure for an unfortunate childhood experience. I decided that a woman walking down the street (of a major metropolis) in only a bathing suit was if not entirely a one-off well then certainly an anomaly. And then I saw another one. However this one was not alone. She was walking with a male companion and talking on the phone (indications of someone sane enough to be socializing.) She was walking right up the avenue, if you will, on the Upper East Side. (For those unfamiliar with this territory think: uber-conventional, traditional, a “society” kind of reputation. There was a time you would find actual blue haired ladies in the area. Today those ladies are tightly pulled, puffed & have their many hued long hair blown straight.) There she was, strolling along in her two scraps of fabric, dyed jet black & white hair, and ink intensive tattoo spanning shoulder to shoulder. No doubt coming from a fitting, choosing a hat or on her way to plan a brunch.

I’ll admit a heat wave is a natural enemy of style. When the temperature slips north of 90 nobody wants anything touching them. A waistband, a sleeve or even a proper shoe could send chills up the spine (which probably would feel refreshing!) A straw hat is practically a must, which causes a muss of the hair. Which is actually fine because who in the world is going to take a blow dryer to their head in this heat? It’s certainly tempting to forgo proper foundation garments because lifting and separating can also be sweaty and suffocating. So style slippage is understandable. Walking around town in a bathing suit is not.

If we were to ask the young lady what exactly she was thinking when she put together her little ensemble; no doubt she would cite “comfort” as her biggest inspiration. Comfort’s great. Ya know what’s comfortable? Bed, bed is very comfortable. But you see being in public is not the same as being in private. Making the choice to leave your house (when it’s not on fire) involves some cerebral cortex functions. Keys? Check. Phone? Check. Lights off, stove off? Check and check. Wearing clothes? Not really. If a bathing suit was clothing a) it wouldn’t have a special name b) it wouldn’t have a special section in the department store c) it wouldn’t only be sold in the summer. No doubt there are times when wearing only a bathing suit while walking is perfectly acceptable; at a marina perhaps or on the boardwalk. But context is king is it not?

We all live in the world. The world is not exactly the same as our living room. Clipping nails on the subway, playing with or styling one’s hair in public (over my lunch) are hostile acts. Choosing to ignore context is tantamount to giving the world the finger. You needn’t dye your hair blue or don a sweater set and pearls to walk the street, but you need to put on some clothes. Without them we will assume that walking the streets is what you “do”.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

*Pretty Woman (1964) Roy Orbison & Bill Dees

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2012 in Style

 

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Shattered Illusions*

About a year ago, a health care professional offered to glue artificial lashes to my lids.  Glue. Something. To. My. Eyelids.  This offer(?) wasn’t prompted by any medical need.  There’s been no adverse reaction to any treatment or genetic syndrome.  All of my eye hair is present and accounted for.  The woman in scrubs explained that ‘eyelash extension’ was the new big thing.  I replied that false eyelashes were in fact one of the oldest big things.  Ah, but false eyelashes are removed!  The glue she was offering was permanent or until the false hairs drop off (preferably not into something one is cooking.)

When the (head) hair extension phenomenon picked up steam, I found it amusing.  I’ve yet to spot an extension that looks even remotely organic.  I can still picture that mother and daughter having lunch.  They had identical yellow extensions all over their heads.  The shared the same length and shade and visible knots all over the back of their heads.  What kind of psychodrama was playing out that afternoon in which they wouldn’t tell each other that their slips were showing?

The zeal for spray tanning has not faded either.  If you’ve ever been overcome by a sudden mob of midwestern high school seniors on their school trip to Times Square, you might feel a bit like Willy Wonka.  These orange little people are everywhere.  Acrylic nails don’t seem to be going anywhere too soon either.  But if you’ve ever seen them on toes, you’d agree it’s time to ratchet it back a bit.  If people have the time, money and inclination to cover themselves in synthetics, so be it.  There are worse hobbies/vices.  But I would draw the line at gluing things to one’s eye!  What is so striking about all this artifice is how terribly retro it is.  It’s reminiscent of the 1950s; a time that was not all that great for a lot women.

Cone bras and girdles are now push-up bras (and surgery) and girdles with the naughty name; Spanx.  (It’s so much more empowering to have your innards squished when you can wink at the product.)  Hair was set in rollers every night and “done” at the beauty parlor once a week.  Today, hair may or may not be coming from your scalp.  Scalp hair is chemically straightened (because straight hair is fashionable right now) or professionally blown out several times a week (today’s women apparently lack the upper body strength of their ancestors.)  Fashion has a very retro feel as well, with strapless dresses being de rigueur for a decade or so now.  The 1950’s pointy toed pointy heeled shoe has eaten its Wheaties and grown big and tall.  (There’s nothing quite as sad as a woman who can not walk in her own shoes.)

I’m not ready to scream “conspiracy,” but there is something about keeping women in a 1950s mindset that is discomforting.  Do I think eyelash extensions are part of the war on women’s health care?  Not exactly.  Do I think selling young women on the idea of physicality above intellectuality is the backlash of the second wave of feminism?  Probably.  Let me be clear; fashion is fun.  But sometimes it can slide into raison d’etre.  It takes an enormous amount of time (and resources) to emulate Barbie.  When you’re not gluing on hair, you’re lasering it off.  There’s the plumping and the smoothing, the changing of eye-color according to the season.  All this while, finding the “It” bag of the millisecond.  There’s also the unrelenting pursuit of whatever brand is being sold by the celebrity of the moment.

Maybe there wouldn’t be even a whiff of political overtone if men were engaged in the same pursuits.  The majority of the (heterosexual) pairings I’ve witnessed indicate that men are caring less about their appearance as women are caring more.  Perhaps there is only a finite amount of superficiality which can exist on the planet?  Women seem to go to great lengths (no hair extension pun intended) to dress as men seem to look like a 12 year old who just got their wish from Zoltar to “be Big.”  There is certainly a budding relationship between these polarities.  Hopefully it won’t result in more distance between people.

*He thinks I’m lovely but entre nous,
My lashes and nails are stuck on with glue.
Oh, his shattered illusions

Fascinating Aida – Dillie Keane (1983)

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2012 in Style

 

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Titanic Shifts

A birthday party for a monumental disaster strikes me as a bit macabre, but a centennial is a centennial and does give one pause.  The disaster that now is known simply as; “The Titanic” has permeated our cultural consciousness for decades now.  Countless books; fictions and non, have been published. Theatrical pieces (including a musical!) have been produced.  Films have been made and remade.  It simply goes on and on.

For some the fascination is that of the magnitude of the loss of life, for others the boldface names on-board, capture the imagination.  Other “fans” are nautically curious, or scholars of the early 20th century class system.  Some are captivated by the less romantic aspects such as the arrogance of insufficient life boats or search and rescue endeavors.  If my imagination is captured by anything (aside from the buoyancy of one Molly Brown) it is that of the shifts in our culture since that fateful voyage.

By looking at the physical construct of the ship, compared to luxury liners of today we can chart the course of some of the ways in which we’ve changed.

Let us start with the super-sizing

  • ships are about 34% larger than the Titanic (let’s just let that figure roll around in our heads for a moment)
  • a typical state room was 120 square feet and is now 282 square foot (and chock-full of amenities unknown to Titanic passengers; such as a bathroom.)

The expectation of creature comforts at least equivalent to what one experiences at home does not seem a new phenomenon.  No doubt, smaller spaces and shared bathing facilities were not all that unknown to people in 1912.  The modern “bigger is better” phenomenon is American in its origin and the (international) tourism industry is now on board with that.

How people use their leisure time and how they interact with others is the most dramatic change one can glean from the facilities of the Titanic

  • A tiny “plunge bath” was the swimming pool of the day.  The tank of seawater was rather brisk and bracing the water was seen as an act of manly fortitude.
  • You can’t swing a water wing without hitting a heated playground of a pool on today’s ships.  They are enormous and fitted with slides and other gewgaws. Esther Williams would risk a head injury emerging from the depths of one of those pools.
  • There were live musicians on the Titanic (and the band did play on) but there were no “shows” or “entertainment”
  • Today’s ships have full-scale auditoriums/theatres.  Mini versions of musicals are often performed, as are all other forms of splashy entertainment.
  • Public spaces on the Titanic were predominately reading and writing rooms and comfortable places to socialize.
  • Bars, discos, casinos, shopping and shore excursions are how people “socialize” on today’s ships.

Of course the fundamental difference was that the Titanic was seen as a means to end.  It was a very nice way to travel.  A cruise on the other hand is seen as the destination itself.  But still, it is interesting to consider that there was a time we considered a morning of written correspondence, followed by a stroll on deck, a meal or two, a little reading and perhaps catching up and/or meeting new people to be a thoroughly entertaining day.  It is safe to say that there are many of us who now do all those things at once in the span of one hour.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2012 in Style, Travel

 

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