Archive for the ‘style’ Category

Tim Gunn’s Guide To Style

September 6, 2007

So I watched the first episode of the new Tim Gunn show, he of Project Runway fame.

Oh sweet baby jesus. Sweet, sweet baby jesus with balled up fists of fury.

How did the usually fabulous Tim Gunn become roped into such a cauldron of sickly sweet pseudo-empowering sentimentality? I know the man is smart (you can tell because apparently he uses big words). And there are one or two moments when he lets that shine through — especially when he talks about hemlines and seamlines and proportions.

But the rest of the show? I feel a little ill.

The premise is that a young woman (“Rebecca”) is judged by her friends to be “unstylish” and given a makeover. Now, I knew that was the premise going in — all these shows have the same premise, and yeah, it’s icky, but I can get over that. I could deal with Tim and his cohort Veronica taking the poor woman shopping for underwear. I could deal with the hair styling and the makeup and the “let’s go shopping” and “ooh, shoes”.

I could not deal with the “life stylist” who made Rebecca wear a garbage bag and repeat a mantra. “I cannot control how I am perceived. I can only control how I am presented.” He was very earnest, too. And yanno, I kinda thought Rebecca looked alright in the “before” pictures anyway.

But really it was the last ten minutes that took the cake. This was the point when I thought to myself, “Tim Gunn, you have lost it. You really have crossed the Rubicon of bad taste. I didn’t expect it from you, but you did it.”

The show ends with Rebecca performing a “fashion show” of the new outfits she’s bought in front of her family and her adoring husband. Before the “fashion show” begins, Tim Gunn takes the adoring husband aside and tells him he has a gift to give him. There’s a blurb about how they got married young and didn’t have much money and blah blah blah, and then Tim Gunn busts out this diamond ring and is all like “so, I know you couldn’t get Rebecca the diamond she deserves when you got engaged, so here, have one now”.

Because, doesn’t everyone need a tv celebrity to tell them how the wedding jewelry that they bought for their spouse is crappy? And they could do better and by the way, hey, I’m your fairy godmother? I would have decked you, Tim Gunn.

So then, they have the fashion show, and just before the reveal of the big finale number, adoring husband gets up and makes a speech about how his wife is a beautiful woman and he always wants to provide for her and he couldn’t prove that when they were all young but this is for her and everybody cries because she is all feminine now and he’s all masculine and providing for her (except for the fact that really I guess she is now married to Bravo since they paid for it. I wonder what three months’ of their salary is?)

And then she puts on the fabulous dress. And then they bring in her mother-just-recovering-from-surgery. (Seriously. I am not making this up.) Who didn’t get to see the whole “fashion show” bit? I don’t get that.

Then they go to Mexico and she swans around in her new clothes and Tim and Veronica talk about how she was an “A student” and she totally “mastered it”. And Rebecca does a little wrap-up spiel about how her friends now call her “Newbecca”. And everyone drinks champagne and feels a little bit sick.


Givhan gets it wrong

July 24, 2007

Those who know me know that I am typically a fan of Washington Post fashion correspondent Robin Givhan. I think she writes sensibly about both haute couture and about the clothing choices and their signification of ordinary and not-so-ordinary women and men. Sure, her beat covers the frivolities and excesses of the Milan and New York catwalks, but she always keeps in mind that real women aren’t going to wear a feathered jumpsuit to work, no matter how “challenging” it might be.

Givhan also writes about the sartorial choices of the inside-the-beltway aristocracy; she’s criticized Cheney, poked fun at Bush, praised Sharpton, and cataloged Abramoff’s meltdown. She took some flack from feminists for her coverage of Condaleezza’s boots and Pelosi’s jacket — and at the time, I stood up for her.

The major feminist critique of Givhan is that “you shouldn’t focus on the clothes of women in politics — it suggests they are frivolous, and you wouldn’t do that with men”. There’s a very clear historical precedent for that critique, and it’s usually true — unless you are familiar with Givhan’s work. Then you start to notice that she does in fact cover the clothing of political men just as much as that of women. A casual reader of a single article isn’t going to notice that, but I think Givhan is very aware of what she’s doing.

Alas. Our idols have feet of clay.

Her latest piece is on Hillary Clinton’s cleavage. This one is different.

Assume for the moment that giving equal opportunity to analyzing the clothing choices of powerful women and men mitigates the problem that it has historically been women’s clothing that’s been overanalyzed. (I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but allow that reasonable people can disagree on the point.) But if you do accept that premise, you can’t write about cleavage. When you write about a woman’s cleavage, you get misogynist responses like these (from the comments page of the Post article):

  • What makes this newsworthy to me is not Hillary’s cleavage, which rivals Paul Reubens’, but the fact it may be the first public photo of any skin below her chin in 15 years…
  • a 60 year old womans boobs is not a pretty sight.
  • Hillary Clinton used to discuss her cliter (sic) and its needs during her famous battles with numerous Bills’ girlfriends.
  • Falsies. She used a whole box of tissues to beef up those jahoobies, such as they are.
  • Thanks for not showing a picture, cause it was bad enough reading about Hillary’s cleavage. A barf alert would have been nice though.
  • Just what we all needed, a shot of a post menopausal old bag’s boobies.

Happily, these are a tiny, tiny minority of comments — but the point remains. Despite your intentions, you have declared that her breasts are fair game for public discussion. And this never, never happens to men.

Although perhaps we can expect articles on the significance of whether the other presidential candidates dress to the left or to the right … ?


July 24, 2007

One of the problems that I have with both ready to wear clothing and patterns is that the arm openings are often too tight for me. This makes sense — clothing is typically cut for people who are smaller and shorter than me. I had read about a technique of inserting a gusset — a diamond shaped piece of fabric — into the armpit to allow for more room in this part of the garment, but the technique never made any sense to me.

As I was visualizing the problem, the diamond shape gusset simply wouldn’t fit into the space made when the seams at the armpit are opened up. If you open all the seams at the armpit, the shape you get resembles a cross, not a diamond — shown in red below.


If you clip the cross to make it into a diamond, you get the right shape, but the amount of fabric that you would add would be the same as you had clipped out. So the overall size of the garment would stay exactly the same.

The solution to this problem came to me this morning in the shower. Archimedes would have been proud. I had been thinking about opening all of the seams at the underarm. Then I started thinking about how you insert more space at, say, the hipline on a shirt. You open the seam, and you insert a triangle shape with the apex at the waist. A diamond, is of course, two triangles abutting each other. And the solution to this problem is to insert two abutting triangles into a seam — but only into one seam.

To properly insert a diamond gusset at the armpit, you only need to open the side seam. The piece then fits, thusly:


Unlike Archie, who was probably playing with his bathwater when he discovered the volume displacement principle, I don’t have a set of pattern-shaped pieces in my bathtub. Maybe there’s a market failure there? Floating visualization tools for patternmakers?

Liz Claiborne

June 28, 2007

has died. She was 78.

Her company was the first founded by a woman to be included on the Fortune 500 list, and in many ways, her design aesthetic was all about women breaking into a man’s world.

At a time when conventional wisdom — and John T. Molloy of “Dress for Success” — had businesswomen dressing like slightly curvier men in gray flannel suits and floppy ties, Claiborne created clothes that were appropriate, stylish, but also feminine. They were fashionable but not trendy. And most importantly, they were priced so that both the executive and her secretary could afford them.

It’s thanks to her that we don’t all have to wear blouses with foufy bows at the collar (the early “feminine” take on reinterpreting business clothing — specifically neckties — for women).

You can read her obituary here.

Sewing on TV

June 25, 2007

TLC just debuted their latest offering “I’ve Got Nothing To Wear”. The show is pitched much the same way as “What Not To Wear” and “I Was An Ugly Duckling Until A Fabulous Gay Man Taught Me How To Dress”. The premise of the show is this: a woman is offered a wardrobe makeover with a twist. The show’s stylist combs through her closet and picks out items to keep, and items to go to the “chop shop”. The chop shop is staffed by a crew of design students, who are required to cut up the reject garments and recycle them into something new.

The debut showing featured two shows back to back, with two separate women, and two distinct sets of designers. The designers are under the charge of George Simonton, a professor of fashion design at FIT, who unfortunately but perhaps unavoidably is bound to be compared to Tim Gunn — and nobody can ever be another Tim Gunn. The designers are given somewhat short shrift here — we only get to know them by first names, and because the designers switch in every show, there’s no real chance to associate any personality with them.

In the first two episodes, we see a variety of transformations: a pair of pinstriped pants is revamped into a bustier; a loose-fitting knit tunic becomes an off-the-shoulder asymmetrical dress.

An oversized sweater is turned around, and refashioned with waist darts and a plunging back neckline — I thought this one was a neat trick, and easy to do at home.

I would of course love to see more of the design process, especially for projects that would be easy for beginners, but that’s difficult to market (and encouraging people not to buy stuff is not exactly a show that makes it easy to sell ad space).

I’m also hoping to see a more diverse range of women on the show. Both of the women in the episodes I saw were young and slim, and I suspect recycling is a bigger challenge for women who are less inclined to wear micro-minis and/or who look for high quality and cut in the garments they buy.

The show did, however, have me running to my closet looking to see if there was anything interesting I could do with various things that persist in hanging around despite my never wearing them. I didn’t find anything that called out to be retooled. What I did find, however, was a pair of lollipops that had turned into some sort of liquid goo in the pocket of a leather jacket. Clearly snuck in there by vicious imps, since why the hell would I go around stashing lollipops in my pockets?

DC Shopping Guide: Intern Version

June 21, 2007

So it’s intern season again in DC, where a horde of well-scrubbed and earnest young people descend on the city for a summer of working for peanuts. It can be hard to pack for a professional wardrobe, and harder still to shop for one when you get here — especially if your are a veteran thrift-shopper — so in the spirit of welcoming you to our fair city, I give you the DC Shopping Guide: Intern Version.

First, some ground rules:

1. Stand to the left.

2. Do not wear flip flops to the office.

3. Do NOT, on pain of DEATH, come into my local and play Journey on the jukebox. I stopped believing years ago, quite possibly the year in which your boss was a fresh-faced intern and played that song one too many times. Also? I have it on good authority that there’s no such place as “South Detroit”.

The rules of the Shopping Guide are easy. Everywhere is accessible by metro; everywhere that I mention is a place where I’ve acquired a piece of professional clothing for less than $30. DC is not a town where it is easy to find thrift stores. I’ve included a few consignment stores on the list; you shouldn’t expect thrift store prices from these. You’ll also need DCists excellent Google map/metro mashup.

How globalization causes camel toe

June 6, 2007

From Fashion Incubator, who runs a fantastic blog about commercial clothing manufacture. Her stuff is often a little too advanced for a home sewist like me, but it’s a great read for insights into the industry.

Part 1

Part 2

The short version, for those of you who might not be quite as fascinated by the industrial standards for pattern making: This fashion misfortune is entirely due to bad cut — you can get more pants out of a bolt of fabric if you make the crotch curve shallower. And if you are testing your factory prototypes on models of a different size and shape to the people in the market that you are selling to, you will never notice the, erm, misfortune.

Costume Review: Love’s Labor’s Lost

June 1, 2007

Last night I had the chance to catch the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s free Shakespeare in the park, which runs every summer here in DC. The production this year was Love’s Labor’s Lost.

The plot is your typical Shakespearean farce. Three young men hie to Spain where they intend to spend three years in ascetic study under the tutelage of King Ferdinand, refraining from wine, women, and song. (Tally — four men.) Just as they have all sworn to abstinence, along comes the pretty pretty Princess of France with her three attendant ladies. (Tally — four women.) The men swoon. The ladies watch, bemused, as the men first each secretly profess their love, then engage in various clumsy attempts at wooing.

Love’s Labor’s Lost is not Will’s best play. The plot is frankly, a little thin, and suffers from a very jerky transition two thirds of the way through the second act. He done good with the dialogue, though, and there’s lots of barbed wordplay and witty banter between the men and the women — mostly favoring the women, as the men are left tongue-tied and befuddled.

Director Michael Kahn picks up on the theme of witty women newly vying in the public sphere with men (a theme surely identifiable to Shakespeare’s Elizabethan audiences who find themselves with a woman in charge, which was even less common then than now) and sets the play at some nebulous time in the late sixties or early seventies, with the court of the King of Spain standing in for some eastern ashram where the boys can go drop out for a couple of years while they find themselves.


Stitch ‘n’ Pitch

May 16, 2007

It’s baseball season!

I was never a sports fan until three years ago. I had been to maybe a handful of live sports events in my entire life. My parents took me to see the Harlem Globetrotters when I was a teenager. I’d been to a softball game with my seventh grade best friend who was into the game. A bunch of my friends who are big into football went on a road trip to see a college game in Ohio, and I tagged along. The road trip was fun. We drove six hours in a sweet 70s era Cadillac convertible with the top down. We stopped at Dennys and stuffed ourselves stupid.

The game, though, was a very, very disturbing experience. The folks there were tapped into some deep, deep tribal loyalties that were extremely foreign to me. Our party consisted of one Ohio State alum, and one guy who supported the Other team. He wore purple. As we were walking around the streets outside the stadium, other purple-clad tribespeople leaned out of cars and made howling dog noises at him.

The inside of the stadium was inhabited by the largest mass of conforming humanity I’ve ever seen. 100 000 people, all dressed in red. All freely expressing their distaste for the supporters of the Other team. And then springing to attention for the performance of various nationalist songs and anthems. They had a marching band in red berets. Mussolini’s Italy came to mind.

I realize, of course, that this is somewhat unfair to the good people of Columbus, OH. Although I think maybe not quite so unfair to the assholes who thought it was okay to make remarks at whatever woman they decided was fair game in the tailgating lot. Nonetheless. I find football is not my cup of tea.

Baseball, on the other hand, is a whole different, well, you know.

For starters, it’s a summer game. A slow, long draft of game played on a summer afternoon. The fans are waaay more mellow. It doesn’t have war chants. It has a song about peanuts.

But here’s why I’m really a baseball fan. In the summer of 2005, Washington DC got a new baseball team. They weren’t a great team. They came from Montreal, and they hadn’t been doing too great. Some of my friends, including Spouse Phor, had bought partial season tickets. I wasn’t particularly interested, but I said I might go see a game or two if there was a spare ticket around.

The first time I went, I was hooked. This was such a joyful game. It was sunny! People came by and brought you beer! There was a food called crackerjack! How could a food with such a name not be fun? There was all sorts of cool music, prominently featuring the very funky Godfather of Go-go, Mr Chuck Brown! And signs that told you when and how to cheer, so newbies like me didn’t feel like outsiders.

But really, what hooked me was that the Nationals won. That very first game I went to, and maybe the next four or five after that, they won. This was the beginning of their ’05 season, when for a glorious month or too, they were up toward the top of the rankings, and people were talking about Going All The Way with just a little bit of hope that maybe, maybe. Of course, come July, after the All-Star Game, the team tanked. And they aren’t doing so grand right now.

But right then, when I was falling in love, they were winning. And I had never supported anyone before who won. Ever. Most of the time, what I’ve been supporting has been a left-of-center political party in an election. And they lose. When I’m around, they always lose. I grew up under the cold iron fist of Thatcherism. My family moved to Australia in the 80s, and in quick succession the ALP lost first the state Premiership, and then the Parliamentary majority to Howard’s coalition. I came to the US in 1998; two years later, George Bush was President. So my approach to being a supporter has not been exactly joyful.

Damn you, beautiful winning ball team! You captured my heart, and now you suck. But I’m still going out to the ball park on sunny summer evenings to sing songs and cheer you along.

This lengthy digression brings me to the point of this post, which is to let you know about Stitch N’ Pitch, where you can combine your love of baseball with that of needle arts. As their website says, It’s The Perfect Double Play!! It’s primarily centered on various embroidery arts, but they also have a Baseball Team Theme category. So I give you my DC no-taxation-without-representation, perfect-for-a-summer-night shoes!

DC Flag Shoes


May 8, 2007

It’s prom season, and that means it’s time for … duct tape prom outfits! Every year, Duck Brand Duct Tape runs a contest for the best prom outfit made entirely of duct tape. The winning couple each receives a $3, 000 scholarship.

I looooove this contest. It has just the right combination of DIY style and kookiness. And let’s face it — for some young women, the high school prom can be a source of some anxiety. Can you find a dress that fits? Will you have a date? (My source of anxiety was my hair. I went to the hairdresser beforehand and asked for some curls. She took my waist length hair and curled it in such a tight spiral that it only fell to my shoulders. The curls were so stiff I could have taken someone’s eye out on the dance floor.) This makes prom fun again.

Here are last year’s winners:

Stuck At Prom Winners 2006

I rather like this butterfly themed entry:

Stuck at prom butterfly entry

And these boys are stylin! (but are their ties made from duct tape? I can’t tell.):

Stuck at prom stripes

The contest is still open, so if you are over 14 years old and attending a high school prom this year, you have until June 8 to send in an entry. Full rules & entry guidelines are here. More pics of previous entrants are here.