Fashion Friday: On Looking Like a Middle-Aged Lady

There’s a pattern I’ve been noticing when I shop for clothes or get dressed in the morning. If I try something on and think, “This makes me look like a middle-aged lady,” I immediately reject it and put on something else. If I look at an article of clothing on a store rack or in a catalog and think, “Nah, that might look good on someone else, but on me it’d make me look like a middle-aged lady,” I won’t even try it on.

And I’ve been wondering: What’s that about?

Greta in sweater dressAfter all, I am a middle-aged lady. I’m 52 years old. And I’m generally comfortable and happy with my age. There are downsides to aging, of course, mostly in the area of physical health and ability — but there are serious upsides as well, mostly in the area of confidence and experience and perspective. And I’m happy to have my clothing reflect my age. In fact, I’ve written on the topic of age-appropriate style more than once, and although I have some issues with some of the details of how that concept plays out in our culture, the core of the concept is one I embrace. I am a different person now than I was when I was 20, and I want my style to reflect that. So what does it mean that I’m comfortable with my age, and am comfortable looking my age — but that I don’t want to look like a middle-aged lady?

I’ve been thinking about this. And I think I know what it is.

When I think, “I don’t want to look like a middle-aged lady,” what I mean is, “I don’t want to look like society’s perception of a middle-aged lady.”

When I think of the cultural tropes and stereotypes of middle-aged ladies, especially when it comes to fashion and style, the words that come to mind are: Conservative. Conventional. Modest. Sexless. Inobtrusive. Invisible. Stodgy. Frumpy. And none of that describes me.

Greta in batwing minidress and octopus necklaceI don’t want to look flashy, the way I did in my twenties (well, not usually) — but I do want to command attention. I don’t want to flash my flesh, the way I did in my twenties (well, not usually) — but I do want to express my sexuality, and in some situations I even want to flaunt it. I don’t want to flagrantly ignore cultural standards, the way I did in my twenties (well, not usually) — but I do want to express independence and even defiance, albeit in a more thoughtful and selective way than I did in my youth. I don’t want to look like a kaleidoscope took mescaline and threw up, the way I did in my twenties (well, not usually) — but I do want to express exuberance and joy.

It’s a tricky thing. As I’ve written before, it’s hard to use the metaphorical language of fashion and style to express “sexy middle-aged woman,” when the very concept of a sexy middle-aged woman is one that’s seen as incoherent. And it’s hard to accept and respect the basic idea of using fashion and style as a form of expression and communication, while rejecting many of the assumptions that the language is based on. The assumption that youth, by definition, equals beauty and desirability; the assumption that after a certain age, expressing your belief in your sexual desirability is just embarrassing; the assumption that unless you’re Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep, once you’ve reached a certain age you might as well just give up — these assumptions are deeply woven into the language of fashion.

And of course, any number of impossible contradictions are woven into that language as well. There’s an assumption that looking younger means looking better — coupled with a perception that people should age gracefully. There’s an assumption that of course everyone over 30, indeed everyone over 25, wants to look younger and should try to look younger — coupled with the perception that women who try too hard to look younger are making fools of themselves. There’s an assumption that it’s embarrassing to try too hard — coupled with the perception that it’s also embarrassing to not try hard enough, to “let yourself go.” We’re supposed to try the exact right amount, I guess. (More accurately, I think, we’re supposed to look younger — but it’s supposed to look effortless. A theme that crops up a lot in cultural beauty messages. But that’s a post for another time.) We’re supposed to find that perfect sliver where we accept our age, but also accept that of course it would be better to look and be younger. And that perfect sliver gets narrower and narrower the older we get — until the walls pressing in on us collide, and cross, and we enter the zone where the expectations of us move from being narrow to being literally impossible.

So how do I find my own voice in this? How do I find a way to express middle age, while resisting the cultural assumption that being middle-aged — or at least, being middle-aged and female — means not commanding attention, not expressing sexuality, not showing exuberance and joy?

Maybe the issue is with the word “lady.” I don’t want to look like a middle-aged lady: I am not a lady, and I do not give a flying fuck about being a lady. (Obviously — if I did, I wouldn’t toss around the F-word so freely.) I am not conservative, conventional, modest, sexless, stodgy, frumpy, inobtrusive, or invisible — and I do not give a flying fuck about being any of these things. To the contrary. I am radical, shameless, sexual, defiant, obtrusive, and as visible as I possibly can make myself be. And I embrace all of these things.

Greta in striped jacket and bootsI don’t want to look like a middle-aged lady.

I want to look like a middle-aged woman.

My Light the Night Walk Dare — The Bubblegum Pink Manicure

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Light the Night Walk logoSo Freethought Blogs has gotten into the Foundation Beyond Belief/ Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation Light the Night game, and has started a virtual team! Even small donations help — it really does add up. As of this writing, we’ve already raised almost $6000!

For each $1000 we raise, I’ve promised to do a different forfeit or dare. I’m having to do them somewhat out of order — largely because I have to get the first draft of my new book written by October 31, and some of these dares will take time — but I’m posting the ones that I can do as soon as I can do them.

So here, as promised, because we raised $4000, is my bubblegum pink manicure.

Bubblegum pink manicure 1

Bubblegum pink manicure 2

And in case you don’t trust that this is really me — if you think I just pulled a pic of a bubblegum pink manicure off the Internet —

Bubblegum pink manicure 3

For those who don’t know me and my fashion aesthetic: This is a manicure I would not have gotten in a million billion trillion years. And to show just how committed I am to this cause, I would like to point out: This is a shellac manicure. Those are the super-special manicures that last 2-3 weeks.

Update on my other dares: Because we raised $1000, I will dye all my hair purple and green, for Skepticon. I’m going to do that right before Skepticon, so the color will be super-fresh and bright. Because we raised $2000, I will go to church. I won’t pray — that would be dishonest — but I’ll attend, and I’ll even be polite. (It’ll have to wait until after the book is finished, though.) Because we raised $3000, I will wear a Tea Party hat and make a ridiculous speech about health care. That’s coming up next. And because we raised $5000, I will dress as a nun and sing the Leslie Gore song, “You Don’t Own Me” to a crucifix. This should be coming up soon: fortunately Halloween is close, so the nun costume should be relatively easy to come by.

And as of this writing, we’re just $113 away from our next benchmark! Right now, we’re at $5,887. If our team raises $6000, I will eat entirely vegetarian for a month. (I’m largely vegetarian-ish now, but I make exceptions. For a month, I won’t.) This should be an easy one, folks!

Other lofty goals to aim for: If our team raises $7000, I will eat entirely vegan for a week. If our team raises $8000, I will read, and review, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” (Again, though – this will have to wait until my book is finished.) If we raise $9000, I will eat bugs. And if we reach our team’s fundraising goal of $10,000… I will eat broccoli. Seriously.

What’s more: If you participate in the Light the Night Walk by just donating some money to our team and then walking up and down in your living room as part of a “do it yourself” walkathon — and you videotape it and put it on the Internet — I will personally donate $50 to the FTB Light the Night team. $50 per video, capping out at $500. (I’ll also post links to the videos on my blog.)

foundation beyond belief logoAnd if the entire Foundation Beyond Belief team reaches its goal of raising $500,000 in 2013, I will walk across the entire city of San Francisco, in the wildest outfit I can come up with. (With sensible shoes, though — I’m not stupid.) Yes, I’ll be doing my very own personal Bay to Breakers, with whatever friends and family I can sucker into joining me.

I won’t be the only Freethought Blogger doing assorted forfeits and dares if we reach various fundraising milestones, btw. PZ Myers, Ed Brayton, and Avicenna are all offering themselves up as sacrificial lambs as well. (PZ has already blogged about tumor suppressor genes while naked and wearing a pirate hat.)

What’s more, fellow blogging network Skepchick is offering a bunch of seriously cool dares and offers for their own Light the Night Walk virtual team, including custom superhero drawings, custom cocktails, shaven heads, juggling videos, comic reviews, and more. Rivalry! Rivalry! We can beat those Skepchicks! Rah! Rah! Go team!

todd stiefelAnd Todd Stiefel — the Foundation Beyond Belief Light the Night International Team Captain, the guy who came up with the whole “Foundation Beyond Belief and the atheist community supporting the Light the Night Walk in a big way” idea in the first place, and whose Stiefel Freethought Foundation is doing matching funds for a big-ass chunk of it — has promised that if either the Freethought Blogs team or the Skepchick team raises $20,000, he’ll get a buzz-mohawk. (His hair isn’t long enough for a big one). And whichever team gets to the goal first will get to pick the color of his mohawk!

In addition to (or instead of) being part of our virtual team, you can actually take part in the Light the Night walk in your own city: as part of a Foundation Beyond Belief team, or as part of some other team, or just on your own. You don’t have to be part of an official team to be part of the walk — you can just register as an individual, either online or at the event.

So sign up! Be an official part of the Freethought Blogs Light the Night team! Get me, PZ, Ed, and Avicenna to do awesome, embarrassing, painful, or hilarious things against cancer! Let’s make use of human beings’ evolutionary tendency towards tribalism and group loyalty and pointless competition — and our tendency to treat irrelevant sacrifices as both a social bonding mechanism and proof of serious commitment — and turn it towards good! Go, team, go!

Fashion Friday on Saturday: Atheist Shoes

There was some fabulous fashion at the Director’s Reception (tonight? last night? what do you call it when it’s after midnight but you haven’t gone to sleep yet?) for the 5th Atheist Film Festival. (Happening today, Saturday, September 14 — you can still get tickets at the door.) In particular, there were loads and loads of truly awesome shoes. So I spent much of the party asking people if I could photograph their shoes (which makes for an interesting ice-breaker), and documenting the shoe parade. And I thought I’d share with the rest of the class.

Shoes

Shoes

More after the jump. [Read more...]

Ilk Necklaces by Surly Amy!

Are you one of Greta and Jen’s ilk? Then say it to the world with a Surly Amy necklace!

The commentariat here seems to have named themselves! PZ at Pharyngula has his Horde, and now I apparently have… the Ilk. (As in, “Jen, Greta, and their ilk.” And yes, I’m more than happy to share a commentariat with Jen.)

And Amy Davis Roth — a.k.a. Surly Amy of Surly-Ramics, jeweler to the atheist and skeptical communities for many a moon — has made “ilk” necklaces! There’s an “ilk” necklace in blue and purple:

ilk necklace surly amy blue and purple

And there’s an “ilk” necklace in red and brown:

ilk necklace surly amy red and brown

BTW, she also has a “feminist” necklace, in blue and green with the word “feminist” in a lovely, delicate feminine script:

feminist necklace surly amy bllue and green

And don’t forget — there are still Ilk T-shirts for sale! [Read more...]

Where I Got the Science Nerd Chic Accessories

When I put up my recent post about my Science Nerd Chic outfit for the Academy of Sciences’ “Nightlife at the Museum” Fashion Night, several people expressed admiration for the accessories — especially the shoes. So I thought I’d let you know where you can get them.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 3

The shoes are the Icon, made by Hades. Mine are black, but they also come in brown or mustard. I got mine at Steamtropolis.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 4

The tights are the Universe style from Foot Traffic. They have them in several styles and sizes, in both gray and blue.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 5

The octopus necklace is actually pretty ubiquitous: I’ve seen pretty much the exact same thing in lots of places. I bought it at a second-hand/ vintage store, but a quick Google search for “octopus necklace” turned it up at Modcloth, in both silver and gold colors. Also, if you do a search for “octopus necklace” on Etsy, you’ll find the exact same piece with slight modifications — with an owl face, with a diving helmet, adorned with pearl beads, painted pink, and more — as well as straight-up.

Happy shopping!

(Oh, and the the computer-innard bracelet was made custom for me by my friend Josie, as a gift.)

Fashion Friday: Science Nerd Chic

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Fashion Friday post, and I need something happy and frivolous to write about right now. So I want to show you the outfit I wore to an awesome event: the California Academy of Sciences’ “Nightlife at the Museum” Fashion Night.

Like many museums, the California Academy of Sciences has been doing a series of after-hours evening events for adults only: “Nightlife at the Museum.” It’s pretty damn fun: cocktails, DJs and dancing, special adult-oriented presentations (one time they had a docent displaying and explaining penis bones), that sort of thing. The evenings often have themes — and last night’s theme was fashion.

Fashion night at the science museum’s after-hours party. There was no possible way that Ingrid and I were going to miss this one. It took some doing — we found out about it at the last minute, and had to do some skillful shuffling of our schedules to make it happen — but it was like a magnetic force drawing us in. The event’s connection between science and fashion was a little thin… but I made up for it, with my mega-awesome Science Nerd Chic.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 1

The full ensemble.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 2

The bracelet my friend Josie made for me out of (if memory serves) computer innards.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 5

Representing for the cephalopods! I freaking love this necklace. When I got it I thought I’d hardly ever wear it, it’s so huge and almost garish… but it was eight bucks, so why not. I now wear it all the time, and it always draws lavish compliments.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 4

The planet tights. Around which I built the whole rest of the outfit.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 3

And, of course, the shoes. My steampunk Oxfords, adorned with (among other things) butterflies made of gears. Thus representing both engineering and entomology.

There were some astonishingly well-turned-out people at this event — Ingrid and I were in hog heaven, ooing and aahing over the awesome outfits. But I didn’t see anyone else turned out head to foot in science nerd fashion. Which was slightly disappointing. Science chic rules!

Fashion Friday on Saturday: Deena and Gunner’s Wedding

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Fashion Friday post, and this one seemed especially pertinent right now, what with it being LGBT Pride Weekend and the same-sex marriage and all.

Ingrid and I went to a wedding a few weeks ago that was a fashion extravaganza. Our friend and hairdresser Deena married her sweetie Gunner at Lake Merritt in Oakland… and the guests turned out in splendid form. The fashion struck this note that resonates strongly with me: a blend/ balance of dressiness and formality with joyous, giddy, non-conformist exuberance. It’s a hard balance to strike — dressiness and formality pretty much by definition mean “conformity to certain social norms.” But they managed it… and then some. These are theater people, and hairdressing people, and long-time participants in the queer community, and they totally get it about using fashion and style to celebrate, to communicate, and to express both yourself and your awareness of the occasion. I think the guests wanted to recognize the specialness of the occasion with the dressiness… and also wanted to recognize the specialness and uniqueness of this couple and their vivid, vibrant, outrageous styles and lives.

So without further ado — Deena and Gunner’s wedding!

Deena and Gunnar wedding 18

Jordan and his husband. Lots of amazing menswear at this wedding. As I’ve written before, menswear is really hard to be exuberant and joyful in. It’s especially hard to be be exuberant and joyful and at the same time dressy and formal in. But lots of guys at this wedding hit it out of the park. I think the whole “being openly queer, and therefore not being worried about people thinking you’re queer” thing helps.

Deena and Gunnar wedding 30

Color-coordinated butch-femme realness!

Deena and Gunnar wedding 29

Pink hair and leopard print jacket. Always appropriate. [Read more...]

Runway Recap: “I’m Not Here to Make Friends”

“I’m not here to make friends.”

If you’ve ever watched any competition reality show, you’ve almost certainly heard this line. There’s even a YouTube video montage of dozens of reality show contestants saying the damn thing. More than one. This week, on Project Runway, it was Richard’s turn to utter these timeless words.

And it is one of the dumbest things anyone on these shows can say.

You know what?

You are here to make friends.

If you are on a reality show centering on competition in your professional field — Project Runway, Top Chef, etc. — you are here to make friends.

The chances that you are actually going to win the big prize — the big cash, the equipment, the profile in the major magazine, etc.? They’re very, very slim. There were, to give just one example, 16 contestants at the start of this season of PR: the chances that any one of them would end up as the winner were 6.25%. Not very high. (And that’s assuming the outcome isn’t rigged.)

But the chances that, if you stay on the show for at least a few rounds, you’re going to have an opportunity to make huge advances in your career? The chances that you’ll meet major opinon makers in your field, from editors to celebrities to established names in the industry, and will be able to make an impression on them? The chances that you’ll meet potential employers in your field, and will be able to make an impression on them? The chances that one of your fellow competitors will do well for themselves in the future, and will be able to give you a leg up? And maybe most importantly: The chances that you’ll be making an impression on hundreds of thousands of potential customers who are watching the show, people who might buy your clothes or buy your records or go to your restaurant or whatever?

Those chances are huge. If you make it onto the show, and you don’t get kicked off in the first couple of weeks, the chances that you’ll be able to do any or all of these things are excellent.

But here’s the thing. The opinion makers and potential employers and future customers aren’t just interested in whether you won the contest. In fact, they’re probably not interested at all in whether you won the contest. They’re interested in whether you have talent. They’re interested in how well you handle pressure. And, very importantly, they’re interested in your interpersonal skills. Fashion is a collaborative art form, and even the most high-strung divas have to have some basic ability to function with other people. They have to be able to work with colleagues, with staffers, with bosses, with suppliers, with service providers, with media, with clients, with clients, with clients.

And if you come across on the show as a self-involved, high-strung diva who schemes and throws fits and talks trash about their clients and makes excuses for their shoddy work and stabs their colleagues in the back? If you make everyone who watches the show hate you and never want to have anything to do with you? You’ve wasted that chance. ([cough] Ven Budhu [cough])

You are, in fact, here to make friends.

Okay. Rant over. There was also some fashion on display in this week’s show, so let’s talk about that. This week was the Lord & Taylor challenge, which translates as “make a pretty dress that could sell in a department store.” Which is kind of ironic, since in pretty much every other challenge, “I could buy that in any department store in the country” is a kiss of death from the judges. And which also makes it kind of sad when the designers fall flat: if you can’t just crank out a pretty dress at this point in the competition, WTF are you doing here?

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Michelle 1

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Michelle 2

No argument with the win. Michelle was the clear winner. A very nice dress. The back means you probably can’t wear it with a bra, which seriously limits the number of women who can wear it, which is kind of dumb for a “department store” challenge. Still: very nice.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Daniel

Daniel is so fucking lucky he got teamed with Michelle this week. This looks like a waitress’s uniform from the 1980s. It somehow manages to be shapelessly boring and garishly hideous, all at the same time. It was embarassing to see the judges try to find something to praise about it: they clearly wanted to give Michelle the win, and had to give Daniel a pass so they could do that. Also, I don’t buy his Mr. Nice Guy act any more. The veneer snapped this week, and what’s underneath is not pretty. I’m done with him.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Patricia

I liked Patricia’s look more than I expected to. And kudos to her for not just making a dress like everyone else. But she also needs to quit the passive-aggressive number, stat. Stanley saved her bacon this week — he was something of an asshole about it, but his critiques of her work were absolutely on target — and she needed to quit whining about it. Also, if she didn’t agree, she needed to say, “I don’t agree,” instead of just nodding and saying “Yes” and then going ahead with what she was going to do anyway until it was almost too late. Every week she berates herself for screwing up her time management and screwing over her teammates… and every week, she does it again. Go away.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Stanley

A perfectly nice dress, and very well-made, although the length is a bit awkward. But come on, Stanley — a sheath dress? Without anything at all to liven it up? Boring, boring, boring. There is not a single element in this dress that would make it jump off the rack and scream, “You must have me! You cannot live without me!” This dress screams, “I need something tasteful and dressy and on the conservative side to wear to my sister’s wedding.” Snore.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Richard

Richard. Richard, Richard, Richard. If you’re going to throw an “I’m not here to make friends” hissy-fit, do it over something more interesting than a beach cover-up. The same damn beach cover-up you’ve now made three times. And a fugly beach cover-up at that. The swoosh doesn’t look elegant or graceful or exhuberant, it looks awkward, like it’s tugging at the hip and tugging at the boob, a half-assed compromise between curves and angles. Go away.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Samantha 1

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Samantha 2

Okay. This was hideous. This was vile. Ingrid and I have been arguing over it: I think it makes the model look like a waitress in a really cheap theme restaurant; Ingrid thinks it makes her look like a hot dog stand girl at the state fair. Bad ideas, poorly executed: those layers in the skirt are sloppy and flat and sad, and the heart cut-out in the back would have been tacky and laughable even if it hadn’t been poorly-placed and saggy.

But I also think Samantha got the shaft this week. As a rule, when the PR judges are choosing between “hot mess, but at least they were trying something interesting and had some ideas in there” and “sleeping pill in fabric form that isn’t even made well,” they usually get rid of the sleeping pill and give the hot mess another chance. Especially if the hot mess designer has done interesting and beautiful work in the past, and the sleeping pill designer has done jack. Hard to escape the conclusion that Richard was kept on because he creates drama.

And finally:

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Layana 1

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Layana 2

I liked Layana’s dress, and didn’t understand why the judges were hating on it. No — strike that. I loved Layana’s dress. I actually thought it gave Michelle’s dress a run for its money. And I don’t get them hating on the print: it didn’t make me swoon with delight and yearning, but I thought it was fine. Again, though: another dress you can’t wear a bra with, which means most of the women in the store are going to pick it off the rack, go “Oo! Pretty!”, realize you can’t wear a bra with it, and reluctantly put it back.

But I love the way the leather detailing frames the bosom. It’s a clever way to be sexy and body-conscious, without showing a lot of skin. And I really like how gracefully it combines both a flowy resort-wear look and a strong, edgy urban look: you could wear it in the city at a party in the summer when it’s way too freaking hot for anything other than something loose and flowy, or you could wear it on a cruise and look way more stylish and awesome than anyone else there. Thumbs-up from me on this one.

Runway Recap: Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love

How do you make men look sexy?

This week’s Project Runway challenge: Make performance wear for the Thunder From Down Under male stripper group. It was a difficult challenge for a lot of reasons: making men’s wear is always hard on designers who mostly make women’s wear, what with the different body shapes and all. Add to that the fact that they had to make, not just men’s wear, but men’s wear that was both stretchy enough and durable enough for vigorous stage performance… while still having enough structure to not look like pajamas. Add to that the fact that the outfits weren’t just dance wear, but stripper wear, and they had to tear away easily and completely at a moment’s notice. Add to that the fact that the men they were making clothes for had giant muscled beefcake bodies, with huge chests and arms: bodies that were far from ordinary, and that are unusually hard to fit.

But then, in addition to all that, add this challenge:

How do you make men look sexy?

Specifically, how do you make men look sexy in a heterosexual context? (As far as I’m aware, Thunder From Down Under aim their performances primarily at women.)

In a sexual culture where women are assumed to be the objects of desire and men are assumed to be the subjects, where women are expected to be looked at and men are expected to do the looking, it’s very difficult to make men look blatantly sexy. In a heterosexual context, anyway. It’s one of the main reasons that men’s wear is so often such a snoozefest. The very act of trying to look sexy, the very act of trying to make one’s body and one’s self look sexually desirable, is seen as a feminine act. (Or a gay act. More on that in a sec.) It’s a weird double bind/ balancing act: straight men are supposed to look good, or not look like slobs anyway, but they’re not supposed to look like they’re trying, or like they care.

There are, as I said in my original piece on men’s wear, some exceptions to this: the historical costuming community, the kink community, some others. And gay men have largely untied this knot and re-woven it into a sexual culture where everyone gets to be both gazer and gazee, mutual objects and subjects, in turn or simultaneously. (A somewhat problematic sexual culture, if my gay male friends are to be believed, in which a high premium is often placed on fitting into one of a handful of ideals of male sexuality and attractiveness, many of which are hyper-masculine in their own way — but still, one in which men can openly express their sexuality and their desire to be desirable, without it being seen as undercutting their masculinity.)

But the very fact that gay male culture has embraced the conscious display of male sexuality and created a space for it makes it harder for men to do in a heterosexual context. Given the homophobia of our culture, anyway. Looking sexy and trying to make your body look sexually desirable is seen as something that either women do or that gay men do — and since our culture is both so sexist and so homophobic, straight men are strongly discouraged from doing anything that would make them seem gay, or feminine, or both. I find it very telling that the usual route for male strippers in a heterosexual context is to go hyper-masculine: super beefcakey, huge muscled chests, huge muscled biceps, often in costumes that represent iconically male roles, from construction workers to cowboys to suits and ties. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this hyper-masculinity is done to offset the automatic feminization that comes in our culture with sexual display. (Not consciously, I don’t think, but still.)

So of all the challenges this season, this should absolutely not have been a one-day challenge. The designers had to make clothing for unfamiliar bodies — unfamiliar because of gender, and unfamiliar because of huge muscled beefcake-ness. They had to make said clothing work as stretchy and durable stagewear. They had to make said clothing with a design spec that they almost certainly had never dealt with before — namely, making the clothes tear away in a second. And apart from all these technical challenges, they had to face a serious conceptual challenge: making men look conventionally sexy in a conventionally heterosexual context, displaying their sexuality without undercutting their masculinity, maintaining their masculinity without being a bore.

In this, of all challenges, the designers should have had an extra day. Nobody — not the judges, not the producers, nobody — should have been surprised that this week was such a universally miserable and laughable fail-fest.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 8 Daniel and Patricia [Read more...]

Runway Recap: But What Do You Mean By “Prom Dress”?

There’s this basic problem with certain design challenges: on Project Runway, and in life.

The problem is when people don’t give you clear specifications for what they want — and then judge you for not having accomplished it.

This week’s PR challenge (okay, last week’s, I was on a speaking tour last week and only watched last week’s episode last night): Design a prom dress out of duct tape. This challenge wasn’t invented out of the fevered imaginations of the Project Runway producers: it’s riffing off of an existing phenomenon. Do a Google image search on “duct tape prom dress.” You’ll find zillions of them. This is a thing.

So okay. Make a prom dress out of duct tape. Straightforward enough. Except when you get to the question: What do you mean by “prom dress”?

If you do a Google Image search of “prom dress” — minus the “duct tape,” or indeed with it — you’ll find a ridiculous variety of styles. You’ll find dresses inspired (apparently) by storybook princesses, and movie stars on red carpets, and music video vixens, and beauty pageants, and saloon girls, and national costumes, and va-va-voom screen sirens, and science fiction/fantasy, and Elizabethan costume, and Victoria’s Secret. You’ll see huge billowing Cinderella ball gowns and slinky strappy things with leg slits up to here; fluffy little cocktail dresses and short tight shiny numbers that look like the Kardashians on a bad night. It varies by region, by class, by (I’m guessing) trends within a particular school, by the imagination or lack thereof of the girls wearing the dresses. Pretty much, the only common theme among them all is “fantasy life of teenage girls.”

So when you’re a designer, and the concept you’re given is “prom dress made out of duct tape,” you don’t actually have much to go on. All you really have is “festive, special-event dress for someone around age 18.”

So it’s kind of ridiculous for the PR judges to scold designers for creating a look that isn’t “prom.” Scold them for ugly; scold them for poorly-fitting; scold them for deranged; scold them for boring. But don’t scold them for not being prom. There is no template, no iconic ur-prom-dress. You have an idea in your head of what a prom dress should look like? Good for you. So do millions of teenage girls around the country. For once, you’re not the expert here. I don’t care if you’re a renowned high-fashion designer or fashion editor. You’re not the expert.

So. On to the designs.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 7 Amanda and Michelle 1 [Read more...]