Archives for category: fashion

There were several pieces posted on my FB flist on the fatuousness of the celebs at the Vogue mag sponsored Met gala celebrating the opening of the punk clothing show at the Costume Institute.

Just for the record, no one missed the death sentence for aging Plaid Forevers that the Metropolitan’s museumization of their youth represents.

Jaded Punk misses the point entirely, however, in lambasting Anna Wintour’s guests  for being sellouts. Srsly, Wintour asked uber punk Kanye West to entertain. He brought his baby mama Kim Kardashian, who was dressed in Givenchy maternity wear as the Duchess of Devonshire’s sofa. We were not amused in 1981 by punks’ puerile performance of purity and lack of selling out. And nor are we now.

Here is baby mama Kardashian at the Met Gala. Actually the Duchess’ sofa Kim wore is more punk than the plaid flannel shirt Leonard DeCaprio wore to the black tie event.

Kim Kardashian at the Met Gala opening for the Costume Institute show on punk fashion.

The thing is, punk was always performance wear, and couture designers of the aging Plaid Forevers generation have always alluded to it. That’s what the museumization — the show at the Met — is about. I’m not sure if it actually makes the point that performance wear kind of museumizes (in the full Foucaultian sense of the word) itself the minute a Ramone shreds his jeans, and it is little different from the most exquisitely confected couture evening dress, or, punkest of all, Andre Leon Talley’s vast evening coat which looks like a vast suzani-appliqued kimono. Talley, who represents everything that is punk and actual wear, and Kardashian, who represents everything that is performance wear/fashion troll,  looked more alike than either of them knew.

Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley in a Tom Ford evening coat at the Costume Institute punk show gala.

I want to salute the girls at Go Fug Yourself for carrying on a long existential dialogue on performance wear versus actual wear. These are two parallel discourses in fashion little explored elsewhere. You can get publicity in this paparazzi world by trolling fashion — wearing performance wear rather than actual clothes.

There was no real coverage of this event except deep in the Times Style section last Thursday. There was a long story inside about the East Village (aka center of the universe) shop, Trash and Vaudeville, where the Ramones actually got their black jeans,  from which punk fashion took over the U.S. universe. Its longtime proprieter, Ray Goodman, points out there were two kinds of punk. The Ramones kind of street fashion he helped establish, and the “more theatrical” British invasion kind established later on. Actual wear vs. performance wear.

The manager of Trash and Vaudeville is an old school heroin addict — an upstate boy who came to the East Village in the ’70s lured by a Lou Reed song. He bottomed out, went back upstate, then returned to the East Village of his youth. Spiked and wrinkled, now, both, manager Jimmy Webb makes explicit what not selling out is.

He says, “We are true mom-and-pop, the bodega of rock ’n’ roll clothing. It’s here because of truth and spirit, just like Iggy Pop giving it his best every night and going all the way until everything in your body is broken except your soul and rock ’n’ roll. We can move it to Mars and still live.”

Jimmy Webb, manager, Trash and Vaudeville, the venerable Saint Mark’s place punk fashion store which dressed the Ramones.

As a knitter, the Intelligent Craftafarian, as I call Kate Davies, is at the forefront of the British fashion sustainability movement (I say it’s punk, and it is spectacular). She has been asked by the awesome women who grow and shear their own sheep at Juniper Moon Farm in Charlottesville, VA to design a sweater made from heirloom hardy wool suitable for outerwear. (Dr. Davies gently sneers at the little girlie merinos, silk blends yet, that I’m crocheting useless little girlie garments with, which, she assures me, will pill and look ratty before they’re off the needle. So femme, my bad.)

The straight skinny on sustainable choices for fashion design. My theory is that the British art and fashion schools developed these curricula from straight edge punk culture. Alexander McQueen was the apotheosis of this.

There’s nothing I love more than a process story, about how things go from the sheep’s back to my back. The women will shear, card and spin the hardy wool, commission sweater designs from masters like Dr. D and then commission master knitters to make them. All by hand, for a sweater of hardy wool, barely twigless, that will outlast hard wear on your herring dinghy in the North Seas, perhaps, or digging peat on top of Ben Bleak, for perhaps three generations. Dr. D’s post touches too on the celebration of 21st century sheep farming as women’s work in the logo the ladies have designed, featuring ladies as both shepherd and shearer. (And sheep, too, I think. No nasty horns there.)

Juniper Moon Farm logo for their sheep-to-sweater project.
http://www.fiberfarm.com/2012/11/the-big-announcement

I can’t wait to see the heirloom/21st century Ninja shepherdess sweaters Kate and her colleagues design. This has set me to thinking about my local heirloom Navajo churro sheep, their hardy wool, and getting somebody to design an undyed fisherman’s type sweater based on Navajo designs.

From To Walk in Beauty: A Navajo Family’s Journey Home, by Stacia Spragg-Braude.

My Old Hell Freezes Over Friend (OHFOF), who despite everything I still love, and I once walked into a gallery in the National Women’s Museum filled with headless, bowed, and seated human figures sculpted by Magdalena Abakanowicz out of glue, burlap, and three thousand years of Polish mysticism.

Backs, by Magdalena Abakanowicz

Tears shot out of my eyes.

An art historian, my friend explained that Abakanowicz had invented the medium of burlap stiffened with glue because there was nothing else to sculpt in Soviet Poland. No bronze foundries, no marble, no chalcedony. So she re-invented sculpture.

Just so, my friend explained, did the Poles invent and re-invent their clothing. Famously the Soviets made one size bra – enormous in the back and in the cups and light blue, as the New York Times reporter noted, the same reporter who noted that the Russians look like us but are not like us.

 

 The Poles are more like the Russians than they are like us. Unlike the Russians, however, they had all inherited a Savile Row tailored suit from their grandfathers, and a hand-crafted umbrella. Working with the venerable fabric like the genius Abakanowicz, they mended and refashioned and maintained their grandfather’s beautiful 1927 suit for the 50 years of the Soviet occupation. There were guys in tiny three-foot-wide stalls who made a living patiently repairing stretchers and ribs, tubes, tips and triangular waterproof silk panels of heirloom umbrellas. People stepped out in the meticulously mended and re-fashioned wool suits their grandfathers had been married in, carrying the umbrella he held up against Hitler.

http://spitalfieldslife.com/2011/01/20/at-james-ince-umbrella-makers/

http://spitalfieldslife.com/2011/11/07/terry-coleman-umbrella-maker/

They made eye contact, my friend said, on the sidewalk, as people in North America do not. There were no invisible men in Poland. Reinventing your inheritance, mending invisibly the cuff your grandfather’s 50 year working life had frayed, made the Poles the most elegant, the sexiest, and toughest captive people she had ever seen. It was she who also elaborated on the point, briefly noted once every 15 or so years in the West, that there can be no counterculture, no Abakanowicz, where there is no Stalinist socialist realism, no oppressive official culture, and the form-conferring clothes were just as much a part of the resistance as the form-seeking stiffened burlap.

http://purejuice.livejournal.com/725105.html

So I started looking online for refashioning blogs and communities. I wanted to see how people in a recession were altering thrift store clothes for their children. This quaint idea I got from a vintage British sewing book recommended by the Intelligent Craftafarian, Dr. Kate Davies. It’s The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft, the 1946 edition of which emphasizes thrifty, mend-and-make-do counterculture strategies to deal with World War Two fabric rationing. My favorite is the maternity dress cobbled together from two old dresses, and topped with a Rosalind Russell chapeau. There’s also a tailored jacket from a swing coat, a bolero from a jacket, a child’s dress from a skirt, a layette from old silk nightgowns, pinafores from slacks, a day dress from “a dance frock”, a pinafore frock from a worn dress, blouses, rompers and children’s clothes from men’s old shirts, a lady’s suit from a man’s suit, blouses from dresses, cutting down children’s garments, enlarging children’s knits. What most interested me was how to make a child’s coat from a man’s, and how to make your own teddy, bra and panties from silk nightgowns.

I Googled re-fashioning and upcycling and came up with hundreds of blogs about turning t shirts and pillowcases into little girl’s clothes. How can I put this nicely? I am a veteran of the laborious embellishment of sow’s ears, with hand-crocheted lace and loving embroidery, from new cheap shitty sheets into cheap shitty sheets with about 200 woman-hours of labor rendering them painful to behold, painful to launder, the only sheets I have which require ironing. These prodigies of labor did not render them passably comfortable to sleep on. I had fun, the sheets are almost useless, and,  but for the handmade lace and embroidered shamanic phrases, look terrible.

Imagine expending far less labor on turning your old Metallica wife beater into a dress for a little girl with a gelled Mohawk. Or, 10 thrifted t shirts, lovingly cut up and re-assembled into a piecework masterpiece Joseph coat, with a gigantic Hobbit hood, of many colors no child would be caught dead in, because her homeys in the old Metallica wife beaters and Rihanna booty shorts would beat the living piss out of her.

A popular internet upcycled t shirt project.

You couldn’t even get away with it for Halloween because you basically freeze to death in an ankle-length Donny Osmond coat made out of t shirts.

Osmond on Broadway in the Bible musical.

And, little girls in midi-length sundresses made out of dingy, pilled-up, flowered polyester pillow cases have a nasty affect redolent of ‘70s sex. And not the pastoral, innocent shepherdess fantasy kind, either. I was similarly skeezed by numerous blogs in which gorgeous thrifted men’s jackets were “upcycled” into tote bags. How many hairy hobo bags, chafing the tender underflesh of your upper arm, does a girl need? There’s a reason they call tweed jackets outerwear. As someone else has said of cooking, “It’s not easy, and it’s not creative.”

I think the homeys in the Metallica t shirts would also beat little girls wearing tweed coats cut out of old men’s coats, which  have their own unsavory affect. But if artistic and useful recycling of vintage tweeds, silk, and wool knits is the goal here, small garments of larger worn ones is going to be the end product, and our idea of what cool children wear will have to change. So they’ll look like like John Roberts’ children at the announcement of his appointment to the Supreme Court. We can teach them how to fight.

John Roberts, his president, his wife, and family.

A truly useful, and sustainable, refashioning tutorial would teach parents how to make children’s coats out of thrifted adult  fleeces and down jackets, which are the clothes children can wear at the bus stop without attracting driveby shootings. I have Googled every which way to locate such a tutorial from an experienced blogger, and have found no one willing to tackle it. I suspect the principles, as outlined for cutting a cloth coat down by a Depression-era granny in a sewing forum, would be the same for down jackets. You carefully pick it apart, have it cleaned, pin your pattern pieces to the non-worn parts of the down jacket, with many pins to prevent the escape of the down insulation, and then sear the seams as per this expert’s instruction.

Children’s hats and gloves can be made from thrifted  fleece; the best fashion forward look I’ve ever seen involving a fleece vest was a street fashion shot of Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley striding down Fifth Avenue in a tailored suit with an orange funnel-necked fleece vest over the top and, I believe, a yucho.

Yucho patterns from Ravelry.

Hand-knit hats, as ALT demonstrates, are always preferable, and you can, according to the 1946 needlework book, cut knits down for children. I cut down a fake Fair Isle vest for a hot water bottle cover.

Six-dollar thrifted Fair Isle vest becomes hot water bottle cover.

The Big Book of Needlecraft,  Odham’s retro masterpiece, contains patterns for knitted undershirts and underpants for adults and children. For, you know, when the lights go out.

Another PhD Brit knitter, like Kate Davies, the original Intelligent Craftafarian, who explores the female proletariat (Ackworth Quaker School, peonage system for Shetland knitters) through material culture, and Felicity Ford, the sonic feminist and all-night walker, takes on “fashion”, and the political and aesthetic significance of rolling your own. I think of these British historiennes, all under 40, as the theoreticians of the straight edge punk philosophy of the new crafters, inspired by Marx, Armageddon or Fugazi, whatevs.
Amy Twigger Holroyd defines makers and deconstructers of factory-manufactured fashion as “fashion Diggers”, after the Haight-Ashbury socialists and their earlier incarnation as 17th century British communists. She writes,

Fashion well-being is an under-researched concept which could be placed within a broader debate around body image and definitions of beauty (Corner 2009); however, I define it more specifically as a positive sense of ownership regarding clothing choices, and a feeling of balance between the self and others in these decisions.

Amy Twigger Holroyd

In arguing for fashion as an ethical self-representation, Holroyd crystallizes decades of observation on my part about fashion as authenticity.  The American philosopher William James discusses as purity, a character trait of saintliness, the fashion revolution instigated by the Quakers, to whom the Diggers were connected, and how it enraged the oligarchy.*
Chumbawamba – The Diggers Song
These are the people Alexander McQueen came from, overcoming enclosure, as Holroyd defines it in her PhD abstract on Fashion Diggers: transgressive making for personal benefit.
McQueen is the most important fashion influence of the past 50 years, I think, aside from street fashion, which is always the engine of the designers. Watch McQueen deconstructing a man’s suit. If you are in doubt that fashion is of the essence, take a look at McQueen in this Bridegroom Stripped Bare video; Dada will not even make you tell what is the high art work and movement the title refers to.  Trust me, it is art. Scroll down for it.
http://blog.metmuseum.org/alexandermcqueen/video/
(Pause while contemplating the most influential people in the past 50 years of fashion, most all of it up from the streets: Yves Saint Laurent and the pantssuit, Stevie Nicks, the Pointer Sisters, Westwood, and Kissi and Gumbs, the black ivy guys over at Street Etiquette.
Yves Saint Laurent pantssuit, by Helmut Newton, 1975.
Helmut Newton’s shot of the Yves Saint Laurent pantssuit, 1975.
Travis Gumbs and Joshua Kissi perfect an aesthetic of dress that is as good for working women as it is for black men. TCB Sauce, you could call it, with Blade Runner/bicycle messenger elements.
http://streetetiquette.com/2010/09/23/the-black-ivy-2/
Personally I am thrilled that somebody writing about fashion cites John Clare and the whole idea of the commons. You can Google it. Power to the people.
The peoples' poet, John Clare.
The peoples’ poet, John Clare, 1793–1864, who lamented the privatized enclosure of Britain’s commons lands, where poor people grazed their livestock.
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173204
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*In the autobiography of Thomas Elwood, an early Quaker, who at one time was secretary to John Milton, we find an exquisitely quaint and candid account of the trials he underwent both at home and abroad, in following Fox’s canons of sincerity. The anecdotes are too lengthy for citation; but Elwood sets down his manner of feeling about these things in a shorter passage, which I will quote as a characteristic utterance of spiritual sensibility: — “By this divine light, then,” says Elwood, “I saw that though I had not the evil of the common uncleanliness, debauchery, profaneness, and pollutions of the world to put away, because I had, through the great goodness of God and a civil education, been preserved out of those grosser evils, yet I had many other


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evils to put away and to cease from; some of which were not by the world, which lies in wickedness (I John v. 19), accounted evils, but by the light of Christ were made manifest to me to be evils, and as such condemned in me.

“As particularly those fruits and effects of pride that discover themselves in the vanity and superfluity of apparel; which I took too much delight in. This evil of my doings I was required to put away and cease from; and judgment lay upon me till I did so.

“I took off from my apparel those unnecessary trimmings of lace, ribbons, and useless buttons, which had no real service, but were set on only for that which was by mistake called ornament; and I ceased to wear rings.

“Again, the giving of flattering titles to men between whom and me there was not any relation to which such titles could be pretended to belong. This was an evil I had been much addicted to, and was accounted a ready artist in; therefore this evil also was I required to put away and cease from. So that thenceforward I durst not say, Sir, Master, My Lord, Madam (or My Dame); or say Your Servant to any one to whom I did not stand in the real relation of a servant, which I had never done to any.

“Again, respect of persons, in uncovering the head and bowing the knee or body in salutation, was a practice I had been much in the use of; and this, being one of the vain customs of the world, introduced by the spirit of the world, instead of the true honor which this is a false representation of, and used in deceit as a token of respect by persons one to another, who bear no real respect one to another; and besides this, being a type and a proper emblem of that divine honor which all ought to pay to Almighty God, and which all of all sorts, who take upon them the Christian name, appear in when they offer their prayers to him, and therefore should not be given to men; — I found this to be one of those evils which I had been too long doing; therefore I was now required to put it away and cease from it.

“Again, the corrupt and unsound form of speaking in the plural number to a single person, you to one, instead of thou, contrary to the pure, plain, and single language of truth, thou


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to one, and you to more than one, which had always been used by God to men, and men to God, as well as one to another, from the oldest record of time till corrupt men, for corrupt ends, in later and corrupt times, to flatter, fawn, and work upon the corrupt nature in men, brought in that false and senseless way of speaking you to one, which has since corrupted the modern languages, and hath greatly debased the spirits and depraved the manners of men; — this evil custom I had been as forward in as others, and this I was now called out of and required to cease from.

“These and many more evil customs which had sprung up in the night of darkness and general apostasy from the truth and true religion were now, by the inshining of this pure ray of divine light in my conscience, gradually discovered to me to be what I ought to cease from, shun, and stand a witness against.”[175]

[175] The History of THOMAS ELWOOD, written by Himself, London, 1885, pp. 32-34

These early Quakers were Puritans indeed. The slightest inconsistency between profession and deed jarred some of them to active protest. John Woolman writes in his diary: —

“In these journeys I have been where much cloth hath been dyed; and have at sundry times walked over ground where much of their dyestuffs has drained away. This hath produced a longing in my mind that people might come into cleanness of spirit, cleanness of person, and cleanness about their houses and garments. Dyes being invented partly to please the eye, and partly to hide dirt, I have felt in this weak state, when traveling in dirtiness, and affected with unwholesome scents, a strong desire that the nature of dyeing cloth to hide dirt may be more fully considered.

“Washing our garments to keep them sweet is cleanly, but it is the opposite to real cleanliness to hide dirt in them. Through giving way to hiding dirt in our garments a spirit which would conceal that which is disagreeable is strengthened. Real cleanliness becometh a holy people; but hiding that which is not clean by coloring our garments seems contrary to the sweetness of


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sincerity. Through some sorts of dyes cloth is rendered less useful. And if the value of dyestuffs, and expense of dyeing, and the damage done to cloth, were all added together, and that cost applied to keeping all sweet and clean, how much more would real cleanliness, prevail.

“Thinking often on these things, the use of hats and garments dyed with a dye hurtful to them, and wearing more clothes in summer than are useful, grew more uneasy to me; believing them to be customs which have not their foundation in pure wisdom. The apprehension of being singular from my beloved friends was a strait upon me; and thus I continued in the use of some things, contrary to my judgment, about nine months. Then I thought of getting a hat the natural color of the fur, but the apprehension of being looked upon as one affecting singularity felt uneasy to me. On this account I was under close exercise of mind in the time of our general spring meeting in 1762, greatly desiring to be rightly directed; when, being deeply bowed in spirit before the Lord, I was made willing to submit to what I apprehended was required of me; and when I returned home, got a hat of the natural color of the fur.

“In attending meetings, this singularity was a trial to me, and more especially at this time, as white hats were used by some who were fond of following the changeable modes of dress, and as some friends, who knew not from what motives I wore it, grew shy of me, I felt my way for a time shut up in the exercise of the ministry. Some friends were apprehensive that my wearing such a hat savored of an affected singularity: those who spoke with me in a friendly way, I generally informed in a few words, that I believed my wearing it was not in my own will.”

When the craving for moral consistency and purity is developed to this degree, the subject may well find the outer world too full of shocks to dwell in, and can unify his life and keep his soul unspotted only by withdrawing from it. That law which impels the artist to achieve harmony in his composition by simply dropping out whatever jars, or suggests a discord, rules also in the spiritual life. To omit, says Stevenson, is the one art in literature: “If I knew how to


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omit, I should ask no other knowledge.” And life, when full of disorder and slackness and vague superfluity, can no more have what we call character than literature can have it under similar conditions. So monasteries and communities of sympathetic devotees open their doors, and in their changeless order, characterized by omissions quite as much as constituted of actions, the holy-minded person finds that inner smoothness and cleanness which it is torture to him to feel violated at every turn by the discordancy and brutality of secular existence.

That the scrupulosity of purity may be carried to a fantastic extreme must be admitted. In this it resembles Asceticism, to which further symptom of saintliness we had better turn next. The adjective “ascetic” is applied to conduct originating on diverse psychological levels, which I might as well begin by distinguishing from one another.

http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=JamVari.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=all

I have been married twice, once at 23 in church, to somebody my own age, and once at 30 in the courthouse, to someone 13 years older. Both outfits were carefully chosen. I was amused to see another bride of my vintage, the Parker Bowles, reiterate the unspoken rules I followed on both occasions when she married Prince Charles — once at the courthouse where they were actually hitched, and later, in a different outfit, for a blessing in the church which would not marry them.

 
What the mature bride — not a virgin, or married previously, wears is an essay best addressed by the late, wonderful Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Fortensky.* Except, and this is a huge caveat, that one is not a movie star, whether one is being married in church or at city hall because doing it in church would be over the top. One is a woman taking a serious vow in front of the community to which she is also pledging allegiance. Modesty — humility would be the appropriate response to reality, I think, but is perhaps also over the top — is the semiotic sartorial respect one pays to this vow. One is conferring honorable personhood upon one’s self by standing up for one’s life as a parent, a member of a social and economic unit, and captain of one’s own happiness. You take a stand.

 
The number one thing wrong with Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, and this is essays too, is that it referred to a movie star, Grace Kelly, and a Catholic one at that. The number two thing wrong with Kate Middleton’s wedding dress was that, as a mature bride, the veil over her face was as impudent as her sister’s butt in another inappropriate dress. What white lace means to a Catholic bride like Grace Kelly, who was more famous for her unvirginal behavior in Hollywood than she was as a Catholic, is essays too, many of them referring to the exquisite handworked lace on priestly vestments and altar cloths. It is a Catholic trope, a most unwise reference for an aspiring Hanoverian, as thoughtless as the veil.

 
Now me, I hadn’t been shacked up with my boyfriend for eight years before we were married in a church. I’d only been living with him for three years. I knew I couldn’t pull off either an Indian bedspread wedding — the 60s were over — and nor could I wear a veil over my face. Clothing has a meaning; I was taking a vow. To do so pretending to be a virgin, even one so well-known as Grace Kelly, would have been a dishonor to the vow, to the people I was doing it in front of, and to the honorable person I was declaring myself to be by volunteering to undertake such a vow. Repeat after me: I am not a movie star.

 
I choose Tricia Nixon’s two-tiered wedding veil, in the same spirit I had registered to vote as an independent two years earlier. For ethical reasons. She’d been married three months earlier one block away. The actual Priscilla of Boston hat part was more cloche-like than Tricia’s. It was retro, it was foxy, it was a hat in church, and there was no veil over the face. I read you, Tricia.

 

Tricia’s.
Mine. It was a power hat.
Unlike Tricia, I did not choose more lace to go with this very elaborate head dress. I wore a simple, long-sleeved, floor-length linen dress with a modest v-neck, belted just above the natural waist. My many bridesmaids used the same pattern to confect flowered cotton dresses. They wore big straw hats. My bouquet matched their dresses. Theirs matched mine.
I married for a second time seven years later, older if no wiser. This was in the courthouse. It was long-sleeved. It was short, just below the knee. It was white, because it was the groom’s first wedding, if not my own. It was Halston, heavy white silk, with a bias cut skirt which, quite frankly, hugged the boots, and a kimono-esque wrap top, loose,  tied with an obi-esque white silk belt, with a gaping V neck, carefully and invisibly pinned together, which required there be not only no veil, but no bra. Over each temple I wore a tiny bunch of orange blossoms. It was foxy, it was not retro but it did allude to another culture rather than another era, it was white, it was armored, it was formal. My shoulders and arms and knees, if not precisely the heart chakra, if that’s what you’d like to call it, were covered. I wasn’t a big cleavage person in those days; there wasn’t any. There was no hat because of the orange blossoms. It was not a cocktail dress, it was a power suit. He was already mine.
Twenty-eight years later, I was interested to see that the Parker Bowles followed the same formula. Short for civil. Long for church. White for the civil. Blue for the blessing. No veil, bien sur, could hide her diffidence, and the big question for the semioticians was, was the luxurious and remarkably discreet embellishment of the white ensemble impudent, festive, or appropriate to the station to which the Parker Bowles had so long aspired? The hat, as she has proved before and since, was to the Parker Bowles what the lapel pins were to the Queen. The billboard of her status. The Parker Bowles’ hats are always bigger and more assertively embellished than any one else’s in the country, except the Page Three girls vying for photo opps at Ascot in showgirl hats, and Kate Middleton’s. Middleton’s hats are smaller but more agressive, the Queen’s own hats are venturing into the Philip Treacy realm of assymetrical beefeaters with trimmed coq feathers and spirals.
Susannah and Trinny discuss the Parker Bowles short civil bride’s dress, 2005.
But the Parker Bowles stated her intention to spend the prince’s money and to take up his space with the I’m-here-get-over-it-Philip-Treacy-launch hat she wore to a 2004 garden party at Holyrood House on her first official appearance as the elderly live-in companion of the elderly Prince. Her civil marriage hat was almost as big, and her civil marriage outfit was almost as white as that first apparition. With this power hat did she stake her claim, to the man, to the plan, to the canal.
The Parker Bowles’ first engagement as the Prince’s live-in, June, 2004, Edinburgh, previous to their engagement.

Her hat will always be bigger than the Queen’s, and Duchess Kate’s.

 
Still, she observed the rule for all brides, old and young. No knees, no arms, and no shoulders. Short is civil. Long is religious.

 Short of it.

Long of it. Check Singer’s A Crown of Feathers for further semiotics if this picture doesn’t say it all.

Now, as we all know, Princess Lilian, duchess of Haland, is the captain of the Old Babes team.

In 1976, the king of Sweden finally gave the faithful Briton, who had been living with Bertil, the king’s uncle, since he was the naval attache in London in World War Two, permission to marry him. For her faithfulness and discretion, the king made her a princess of Sweden over and above the title she acceded to upon her marriage. As you would suspect, this mature bride has the very best wedding dress ever. Were I a betting man, I’d wager the Parker Bowles modeled her church dress on Lilian’s. Blue, armored, long, long-sleeved, with a big whacking diamond brooch and veiled pillbox hat. A power dress, not a sexy dress. She is asserting her personhood, her royalty, her standing to take a vow.

She is not asserting, having hung on to her prince well into her 60s, her seductiveness.

She is not asserting a right to be the cynosure of all eyes. Repeat after me, I am not a movie star.

She humbly covers her arms, chest, and head. The killer? Her sweet and humble bouquet of lilies of the valley.

Bonne chance, Lilian. You are the One.

King Carl Gustav, Princess Liliane, Prince Bertil, Queen Silvia, 1976.

________________________________

*Hilton, 1950, big poufy white dress and veil.
Wilding, 1952, organza-collared suit, flowered hat.
Todd, 1957, short-sleeved chiffon to the civil, hooded sleeved chiffon to the religious.

Fisher, 1959, long-sleeved, hooded brown chiffon for the religious.

Burton, 1964, 1975, long-sleeved short yellow chiffon with hyacinth hairpiece; caftan

Warner, 1976, matching suit, coat, and turban with fox trim, possibly Halston.

Fortensky, 1991 long-sleeved, floor length yellow lace
There is one constant here. Sleeves. Even at the eighth wedding, where Michael Jackson was the maid of honor, sleeves were worn.

Silence is my metier, and in it I am not always certain rock and roll is good for girls. In spelunking around the intarnets, I discovered the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, its conference, its publication, which is on the right track if not, in major ways, persuasive.

One graf from the IASPM call for papers for its March, 2012, conference:

–Ladies on the Town: Cities have always been sites of female empowerment and risk taking, where the village daughter becomes a Bollywood star or a budding feminist forms an all-girl band. If this has stimulated fears of “women adrift,” free of small-town norms, from Dreiser’sSister Carrie to the girls who “need blinders” in Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” it has also incited celebrations: Beyonce’s single ladies, “up in the club, doin’ my own little thing.” How, within music, has the city made women, and how have women made the city?
http://iaspm-us.net/conferences/

Hmmmm. Beyonce made it on her own? Budding feminists form all-girl bands? Do they now? Or is that the sell-out?

I’m inclined to think that’s part of the Art School Confidential scam. Indeed, the biggest art school confidential scamster I have encountered was [redacted], forming rock bands, posting pictures of her [redacted] boyfriend’s poop, writing artist’s statements enough to put you off art until the end of time, and getting a fine arts degree from Pratt, in the 21st century, with a senior project — her collection of plaster casts of penises. Been done, dude. Baby boomers beat you to that one too. What’s new, and awesome, is you call it art. And it empowered you. Rilly.

And then there’s Alice Bag. And the indies. A whole nother can of worms.

You know, that political agency in rock and roll only exists when subcultures make the music. And it better not just be Suzy Creamcheese whining.

Always mindful that David Bowie and Mick Jagger together watched Leni Riefenstahl’s masterpiece of fascist art together. Fifteen times. And declared Hitler the first rock star. Yay, political agency.  So transgressive! For a quick rundown of the elements of fascist art, including sexual*, you might want to check out this and also this:

The squirmin’ dog who’s just had her day  
Under my thumb  
A girl who has just changed her ways
 It’s down to me, yes it is  
The way she does just what she’s told  
Down to me, the change has come  
She’s under my thumb

That marimba? I can tell you from the way it took me in 1966 it is rock and roll for sure. But is it too fascist for girls? Probably. Am I sorry I danced? Probably not. It is essential to know how the predator moves.

I am thinking of the eyewitness account in the bio of Pauline Kael I’m reading, previously in my reading referred to apocryphally, of a Hollywood producer going through head shots of actresses for a part.

He sorts them into two stacks. Fuckable. And un-.

Grace Slick, who was and is beautiful, if unfuckable, has recently said in her day you didn’t have to be good-looking because there were no music videos.
http://blog.discoversd.com/san-diego-entertainment-blog/grace-slick-dishes-on-sex-drugs–rock-and-roll.html

Mmmm-hmmm. I’m not sure it’s possible to be anywhere near hip, much less empowered, anywhere near rock ‘n’ roll. Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids — along with the great biography of de Kooning, the manifestos of the East Village and hipster life, ca. 1945-80 — makes one thing very clear. It was all about being fuckable, about Allen Ginsberg’s — and Mapplethorpe’s — thinking she was a beautiful boy. That’s why they call it rock ‘n’ roll.

And making a living on your back, as Anne Boleyn, say, among the married ladies, or Fakhra Younus, among the dancing girls, or the Eagles will tell you, is the very hardest way to go.

We can beat around the bushes;
we can get down to the bone
We can leave it in the parkin’ lot,
but either way,
there’s gonna be a heartache tonight….

___________________

*Umberto Eco discerns 14 signs of a fascist, including:

12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters.

This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons — doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.
http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_blackshirt.html

I’m thinking about a certain kind of older woman and wondering, for reasons that aren’t very nice, if they can be an Old Babe.

The boiler room girls are the prototype I’m thinking about, old groupies, kind of, and Esther Newberg is the only one who could possibly be considered an old babe. Mimi Alford, the well-bred intern who slept with JFK and recently wrote a memoir, is not one. Old Babes do not dine out on who they slept with in 1961.

The meditation is inspired, as so much is, by the femme edition of The New York Times, with a piece called “Starting Over at 48″ about Kim France. She is the founding editor of Lucky magazine, a revolutionary — not least because it is making money — format for fashion mags, and one of the many revolutions caused by Jane and Sassy in the ladies’ mag market. I find it unreadable. One good reason for her candidacy as an Old Babe is that, like the graduates of Sassy, France claims she doesn’t mind being called a feminist.

The nail in the Old Babe coffin for Kim France is when she says, “I’m 48, but I’m an immature 48. There are people in this city who work in creative businesses whose interests are still very youth-ish. They like rock music, looking cool, but they are not kids anymore. They don’t, you know, respond to crotch high skirts on a style blog, no matter how cute they look.”

Kim France has left Lucky and started over, in her West Village apartment, as a blogger.  She calls her blog “Girls of a Certain Age.” I am thinking in this unnamed sub-species of Old Babe, inspired by Kim France, of Vivienne Westwood, who always appears to be a candidate for an old babe, but is not, and the Guardian’s Invisible Woman, who is not, but writes about it.

As you know, Princess Lilian of Sweden is the captain of the old babe team, along with Iris Apfel, and we must consider both what Lilian and Iris, the floral life leaders, would do about Kim France.

What binds Vivienne Westwood, the Invisible Woman, and Kim France together is being old rock chicks, still trying, it seems to me, to make it on those terms.* The terms are murky, one of them being one’s former career as a groupie, and dining out on who one slept with in 1961. I can’t say for a fact that any of these ladies but Westwood was an actual groupie. I have read the memoirs of Pamela des Barres, Patti Boyd and Bill Wyman, so there’s nothing I don’t know about groupies, including a close encounter when Stephen Tyler and I were young and I was interviewing him for the Great Metropolitan Daily. He thought I was a groupie because that’s the only kind of women he was meeting.

I don’t think Vivienne Westwood is an old babe. While she looks like a chewed rawhide bone with orange hair, and what she wears is old but not babe, she’s not emanating fashion, but rather parroting the 50-year-old rock epigrams which passed for revolution in the 60s. She is, in a young friend’s immortal term, a rock gorgon, mimicking half-a-century old hipster gestures.

Westwood looks 100 per cent better than usual here, in this Guardian video clip, because her Gorgonesque ’70s orange Three’s Company ponytail is covered up in a chic black do-rag, and she’s not wearing a slogan t shirt. She looks chic, but her garrulity, and the idiocy of what she says, which was cute when she first said it in 1964, has worn rather less well than her eyebrow pencil. She did not wear underpants when she went to collect her OBE from the Queen, which is just about the feeblest non-punk gesture I can think of. Any self-respecting punk or Old Babe would omit one or the other, preferably the OBE.

The Invisible Woman excited me with her Ralph Ellison reference, but basically writes,  timidly and 30 years behind the times, about the issues. The Land’s End tugless soft cup tank suit, for example, is known to every woman who put away the bikinis at age 21, because a black tanksuit on the beach where everybody else’s greasyass stuff is all dangling in the sand is 10,000 times hotttter. Trust me.  But not to the Invisible Woman. The Invisible Woman is broken by the tragedy of having to put the bikinis away at 50 — which there is no reason to do, whether or not your breasts and your belly hang down to your knees. Unless you want to be chic and not have the decolletage of a baseball mitt. The Invisible Woman is British; the British are sun whores; think an Ibiza tan is paradise; and must be forgiven. Or Jade Jagger NSFW, perhaps not. (Pippa Middleton, this is your future.)

She writes about bullshit fashion panels convened to discuss the pros and cons of Botox and diet — except there are no cons, and the prospect of old age anorexic and on the needle is clearly and uncompromisingly promoted. There’s a pressing-her-nose-on-the-glass-of-youth tone which is neither old nor babe-ish. Truthfully, I suppose I’m a bit put out because I feel a tiny bit excluded but if I can’t make a grand entrance perhaps I can sneak into the party by the side door? Oh Jeez. She really wrote that, and her circling about parties is at the core of my revulsion. An Old Babe doesn’t go to parties, unless they’re for the arts of seated conversation, business, or ceremonial purposes. She is the party.

Princess Lilian, our leader, emerges briefly, on the arm of her great-nephew, to celebrate the millenium.

Which brings us to the case of Kim France, who, having been at the helm of the hot fashion rag quit Planet Conde Nast recently to become a blogger. She had daily migraines and felt she had to quit. Her blog is for women who wanted, she says, to be Tatum O’Neal in Bad News Bears, whatever that might mean. I think it means ’90s feminism as per the Australian-founded magazine, Sassy, a mesmerizing feminist girl power magazine of the ’90s edited by Jane Pratt. It was famous for enterprising girl reporters, and much more than its one true take on the groupie disaster that is Courtney Love, and I miss it.

Sassy discovered Chloe Sevigny, which may have been a mistake. And now they’re all grown up, or grown old Kim France and the Sassy girls, reading the Janedough on line, secretly praying to Tien Hou their grateful thanks that their Rielle Hunter/Mr. Big instincts didn’t work out, and quitting a real magazine gig for the pale simulacrum of the Bohemian life in the West Village, where rich people live. Kim France jokes that she’s starting a Tumblr page called “I Preferred the 90s”, because, as France says, “it sort of was the last time before things started being super adult.”

I don’t know if the manic pixie dream girl is a version of Candace Bushnell’s famous Peter Pan boy — in her immortal piece on the Manhattan biciycle boy — or if the Kim France Peter Pan Girl of a Certain Age  is a new breed — the 21st century version of the Boiler Room Girls. Who stayed waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too long at the fair, kicking around Georgetown, doing married men a la Rielle, pretending to be connected. Getting drowned at Chappaquiddick. Esther Newberg got the hell out of Dodge, left for New York, reinvented herself as a ball buster, and started a whole nother non-Kennedy, more or less, life. That’s what an old babe does.

You can become a Bohemian at age 48. And I have hope for Kim France, based solely on her post about the immaculate white cloth flats worn in sooty early summer Manhattan by the girl who waxes her eyebrows.

They’re $6.79 from K-Mart. Princess Lilian and Iris Apfel would say, I think, there was a glimmer of hope here. ________________________________

*I’m still thinking about whether Gracie Slick is an old babe. She has famously retired from the stage, let her hair go white, gained weight, and paints pictures. She says, we didn’t have to be good-looking ’cause there were no music videos. She says, repeatedly, that performing is not for rock gorgons. “God bless The Rolling Stones, but I think old people doing rock and roll is kind of pathetic.”

 I think she’s getting there; much depends on the quality of her paintings and whether or not she’s hiding. I don’t think she is.

http://blog.discoversd.com/san-diego-entertainment-blog/grace-slick-dishes-on-sex-drugs–rock-and-roll.html

OK, as the only other real drag hag  I know is 10 years old, and her charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent are all used up going to grade school rather than alternative drag dives, I have to ask all you drinking age scenesters this.

RuPaul’s Drag Race is, as you all know, the gender performativity news frontier. Last season a mature drag queen (thirty-something Raja) who had grown up a club kid, and dressed, magnificently, I may add, in a globalized mashup of glam ’90s club wear, won. (Pace, all you idiots droning on about inappropriate cultural appropriation of Other Peoples’ Clothes. We’re born naked, as Ru says. After that it’s all drag.)

http://30.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m1q85e6xJm1qjc53jo1_400.gif

You understand that drag goes through permutations. In the 1990 drag documentary Paris Is Burning, now streaming on Netflix, Dorian Corey explains some of them. Las Vegas showgirls would be a persisting old school one (clinging on among the Latinos, it would seem*) — or as Sharon Needles puts it, the paycheck drag vs. the dignity drag — or realness, such that you can pass for a girl walking your little brother to school, or a boy applying for a job. Realness was another criterion that the drag balls of the ’80s tested for.

So now Sharon Needles who is 30 — and calls herself a sex clown rather more than a drag queen — is talking about drag for queens younger than she:

“I think that’s what this season embodied: It might not be TV drag, it might not be supermodel drag, it might not be young, couture, fishy drag, but this is what drag is in America.”
http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/04/30/rupauls-drag-race-season-4-winner-q-and-a/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ew%2Fpopwatch+%28Entertainment+Weekly%2FEW.com%27s%3A+PopWatch%29

So would this “young, couture fishy drag” be the couture kind Dorian Corey talks about in PIB, where you don’t sew your own feathered, sequinned, stoned creations but merely…acquire or boost designer girls’ clothes? Sort of Kanye-West-in-Paris drag?

I am very interested in Sharon Needles’ zombie/Star Wars/Olivia Butler/post-gender apocalypto drag. You should be too. I think it has something to do with the iteration of Granny Chic we’ve been looking at. I mean, the tentacles in Ep. 13 just about killed me. I need some.

sharon needles tentacles

_____________________________

*Huge props to RuPaul, who is a genius, for hiring for Season 4 finals, and naming as Professor of Drag the immortal Coochie One, in the honorable tradition that a respectable woman is bien pintadita, Charo. I fell out.

Charo translates for Kenya, Ep. 14, Season 4, RuPaul’s Drag Race

Cover of "Paris Is Burning"

Cover of Paris Is Burning

I would like to know, if, in the vast gasbag annals of queer theory, any body like Judith Butler (who can be lucid, especially on Israel) has deconstructed “reading”. Is it related to the dozens? I’m trying to track down RuPaul’s citation of reading in Paris Is Burning, which certainly would suggest that reading originated in the black vogueing families. (Off to read the Wizard of Butler on Paris Is Burning.)

Gettin’ closer:
“For ‘reading’ means taking someone down, exposing what fails to work at the level of appearance, insulting or deriding someone. For a performance to work, then, means that a reading is no longer possible…the impossibility of reading means that the artifice works, the approximation of realness appears to be achieved” (Judith Butler, “Gender is Burning”).
http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/courses/femstudies/f07/archive/15

Here we go, here we go, here we go, chapter four in Bodies That Matter (good one!): “Gender Is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion”. This apparently ancient riposte to bell hooks’ reading of Paris Is Burning centers on hooks’ assertion that the voguers are misogynist — always one of the interesting questions underneath the visual, witty, and heroic pleasures (It takes a real man to be a drag queen, honey) of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Here we go, with the Reading Is Fundamental clips from RuTube:

I think I’ll be getting my fellow drag scholar and RuPaul fan, a brilliant 10-year-old who is  not allowed to use the intarnets, a copy of Bodies That Matter for Christmas. She can read it and ‘splain it to me.

As your bonus reading, on the theory that the only important thing happening in academia is queer theory, here is the wonderful Michael Cunningham tracking down the story of Angel Xtravaganza, who died in 1993, a star of Paris Is Burning.
http://opencity.org/archive/issue-6/the-slap-of-love

Here we have Angel reading for real, like a motherless child, the survivor strategy of resilience :

As David Gonzalez, one of Angie’s adopted children, says, “She was so for real, she could pull a fake in a minute. Someone that’s false, she could pull him out in a minute. She would never embarrass anyone, but after they left, she’d be, like, ‘She’s not for real.’ She just knew. And you knew that she knew. And if she thought you were a fake she wouldn’t have nothing to do with you.”

Happy trails.

Angie, mother of the House of Xtravaganza in the seminal queer theory documentary, Paris Is Burning, with supermodel Lauren Hutton.

http://kwikwee.com/2012/02/15/paris-is-still-burning/

I’m very interested in y’all’s take on granny chic, or, as my sharp-eyed London friend stipulates, The New Frump.

To sum up your insights, a combination of crowdsourcing comment from my private blog and FB:

  • wearing skirts is a backlash against the boomer feminist Hillary pantssuit
  • no real granny would wear droopy cuffs, as they interfere with her “generational duties” — this, I think, emphasizes the fashiony and slacker/pixie aspects of The New Frump
  • it’s a scenester look pegged, at least in London, to drinking too much, not eating enough, and having a cool dead-end job
  • its untidy hair and orthopedic shoes connote disability, perhaps of slacker origin
  • the twee is manipulative rather than sexy
  • the sexy aspect of hand-crafted clothes is partly based in feminist, peasant, artisanal, upcycling, frugal/poverty-stricken origins of the proletarian women’s work the punk knitters are honoring, and
  • its heroic, art-therapeutic properties for its makers to
  • enliven, dignify, classify and nationalize prole surroundings and their bodies with signs of their artistry
  • the sexy/manipulative range of motion much depends on whether the look is defiant (clothes as armor) or insouciant (clothes as vulnerable/flirtatious).

I think the twee is armor, manipulative, and not sexy. Think about Warren Jeffs’ 50 Mormon wives in identical, baby girl/Jordan almond colored, dresses, with sexy, shiny, pinned-up hair in big Elvis quiffs. I think they’re definitely clothed for Eros and scrubbing floors. They have anti-feminist agency. And are probably sexier than The New Frump girls, who seem armored and yet insisting on disability, as if they were playing dumb blondes and their fingernails are too long, and too crusty, to type. The twee thread of Granny Chic — the manic pixie dream girl aspect – also subverts feminist agency — no second-wave feminist pantssuits for me — without substituting corn-fed prelapsarian Mormon randiness.


http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2024150/Warren-Jeffs-trial-Paedophile-gets-life-sentence-50-brides-photo-emerges.html

Whussup? Y’all are being very smart about these readings. I think there are a couple of threads: the difference between

  • the New Frump and the 50 year trend of vintage wear;*
  • the New Frump and artisanal punk hand-crafted/upcycled/retailored “granny” wear
  • the twee pastiche vs. the polychrome Old Babe Iris Apfel pastiche
  • the defiant, Mormon granny/prairie sexy look vs. the twee/disabled/slacker/manic pixie dream girl manipulative look.

I have to add the heroin chic aspect that mitts, sleeves (tatts or textile), cuffs, shrugs, all hide needle tracks and the tecatas, at least in New York City, all have an entire wardrobe of shrugs. This was one of the fashion messages of Rent.

Heroin chic: Daphne Rubin-Vega and her latex sleeves in Rent: Rock that navel but never ever reveal your brachial arteries.

Am I getting it right? Tell me more. I’m also getting the strong sense that the twee is partly anorexia armor, its droop calculated to replace secondary sexual characteristics in the way polychrome Old Babe wear asserts a third gender, if not a third age.

What is the New Frump’s art school claim? It is carefully curated, people.

Old Babe Iris Apfel

Polychrome Old Babe Iris Apfel. By Chester Higgins Jr., The New York Times

___________________________
* For example, early ’60s body con modernist vintage, tailored, well-groomed, knee-length, now all the rage on account of Mad Men, is also called Granny Chic:


http://glamcanyon.blogspot.com/2008/11/i-heart-granny-chic.html

There’s a permutation known as Grampa Chic, which has to be thought through on its own terms. Depending of course on whether it’s a girl or a boy who’s wearing it.
http://www.etsy.com/search?includes%5B0%5D=tags&q=grandpa+chic&page=1

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