Shoes for Social Justice! UPDATED

So if you were following the absurd manufactured shoe controversy, and you were feeling irritated or frustrated about it (or just baffled by how unbelievably dumb it was), and you felt inspired to do something about it — here’s something you can do.

In response to the stupid non-controversy, several readers made new donations to my blog, and specifically requested that I do something frivolous with the money. I’m deeply touched and grateful by the sentiment… and I’m on it. I already have the frivolous shoes picked out. :-) But some people on Atheism+ have been organizing an interesting response to the non-troversy that’s caught my imagination, and I wanted to spread the word.

There’s a charity I didn’t even know about until the last couple of days: a not-for-profit organization called Dress For Success. Their mission is to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, as well as a network of support and career development tools. So on Atheism+, some of my readers and supporters have begun a fundraising campaign to donate money to the organization in my honor.

I think this organization’s mission is an excellent one. As someone who cares passionately about both clothing and social justice, it’s definitely in my wheelhouse. And given that so much of this non-troversy is focusing on the question of “how could someone dare to seek help from supporters and then spend some money on dressy, comfortable shoes, suitable for a professional work environment and well-made enough to last for years”… it seems like a perfect fit. Here’s what one commenter on Atheism+ had to say about her experience with the organization:

I have personally benefitted from this charity.

They take clothing donations, but they are very label conscious when it comes to what they accept. They’re only looking for business and work appropriate attire, and they’re deathly picky about shoes in particular, amusingly enough. Fluevog was about the lowest quality they had. roll that around in your brain for a little while. I went home with three pairs of shoes and not a one of them retailed for less than $250.

That said, the main thing a personal shopper does is gently try to explain to you that it’s all right to take so much stuff, that’s what it’s there for, and you’re not cheating anyone else, and you deserve to have the clothes you’re getting. It wasn’t just me. There were four of us in with appointments at the same time, and every single one of us said the same thing: “You can’t give me all this stuff, I don’t deserve it.”

They didn’t let me out until I had a bit over a full week’s worth of work clothes, and I had a second appointment in six months to do it AGAIN for the other season. It kind of blew my mind.

So if your response to this non-troversy is irritation, frustration, or bafflement — or if you just think this is a good organization and you want to support them — please participate in this fundraising campaign, and donate to Dress For Success. Mention that it’s in my honor if you feel inspired to do so.

Oh, FYI: You know that offer I made in response to the non-troversy, to refund any donations made during my cancer fundraiser to anyone who wasn’t happy with how I’ve been spending my money? As of this writing, the number of people who have taken me up on that offer: Exactly zero. Just thought you’d like to know.

*****

UPDATE: Dress for Success has posted the following comment, clarifying some details about their program:

Hello, all!

I haven’t followed the “non-troversy” mentioned, but we always appreicate folks spreading word about our orgaization and, of course, clothing donations!

I just want to clarify something mentioned in the post about, we are NOT label conscious when it comes to the clothing that we accept. We are more than happy to accept any brand of clothing as long as it’s clean, has been taken care of (no holes or stains, etc.) and is, of course, appropriate for an office environment. Since our women are applying and being accepted into an array of career fields, we accept everything from suits to sweaters to scarves– as long as they are professional in nature!

I hope this clears things up! Please feel free to donate away! The women of Dress for Success can’t thank you enough!

The Absurd Manufactured Shoe Controversy: A Brief Response

So here’s the first thing I’ll say about this absurd manufactured mini-controversy:

If you donated money to me during my recent cancer fundraiser, and you’re not happy with the fact that I recently spent some money on a somewhat-more-expensive-than-usual pair of dressy comfortable shoes bought largely to be worn in professional settings, I will refund your donation. Email me at greta (at) gretachristina (dot) com, with the email address you used for PayPal and the amount you donated, or with the check number and the amount you donated. When I confirm that you did in fact make a donation, I will refund your money.

I don’t actually think that this controversy has any merit, and I don’t think I have any moral obligation whatsoever to do this. But I also don’t want anyone who donated money during my fundraiser to be unhappy about that donation. So if you made a donation and you now want it refunded, let me know, and I will refund it.

Now, a few brief words about this absurd manufactured mini-controversy.

To fill you in, in case you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about: A few months ago, when I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, I did a fundraiser on this blog to cover my expenses while I was recovering from the surgery. (Since I’m now a full-time freelancer, the months that I couldn’t work meant months with significantly reduced income, and since I don’t have a day job, I don’t have disability insurance.) The fundraiser exceeded my wildest expectations: after about a day, I had raised enough money to cover my expenses for several months and then some, and in fact I pulled the plug on the fundraiser the day after I began it, redirecting people instead to donate to Camp Quest or the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Light the Night Walk via the Foundation Beyond Belief.

Last Friday, I posted a Fashion Friday piece, in which I discussed a pair of shoes I had recently bought: a pair of dressy comfortable shoes that are somewhat more expensive than most people typically spend on shoes. Some people have taken exception to this (yes, it’s the usual gang of haters), and are expressing their objections on Twitter and elsewhere.

Stephanie Zvan and her commenters have already covered most of the reasons why this is ridiculous. The high points: 1: A pair of well-made comfortable shoes that will last for years, bought largely to be worn in professional settings, is not an extravagant expenditure. 2: Many people who donated said specifically that they wanted me to use some of the money in fun ways that would give me pleasure. 3: In any case, when you donate money to someone, you don’t get to dictate how they spend it. 4: When men spend money on clothing, it’s seen as a legitimate expense; when women spend money on clothing, it’s seen as frivolous fashion.

I just have one important point to add to what she said.

Given that I am now working again, and am earning my own income again… at what point is it okay for me to start spending my money the way I want to?

I am now working again, and making my own income again. I was bringing in a small amount of income even when I was sick, mostly from book royalties, and I am now working again and earning income again (although not as much as I was before the surgery).

At what point is it okay for me to spend that money as I choose?

Does the fact that, in October of 2012, I did a fundraiser to help cover lost income during recovery from cancer surgery mean that I should never, ever spend any money that I earn on anything that a handful of haters on the Internet deem frivolous? Should I post in advance about what restaurants I’m going to, what clothing I plan to buy, where I plan to travel, what holiday gifts I buy for my friends and family, and get approval before I make these expenditures? And for how long? Do I have to wait six months? A year? Five years? Or am I never allowed to do this ever again?

In case anyone was wondering: I spent the overwhelming majority of the donations from that fundraiser paying my mortgage several months in advance: something which relieved me of an enormous amount of stress and worry, and enabled me to focus my energy on my recovery. Most of the rest got set aside for taxes — I do, in fact, have to pay taxes on donations — and most of the leftover from that went to bills, groceries, paying off debt, etc. I do still plan to make a healthy donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation through the Foundation Beyond Belief: when I first proposed doing this, several commenters advised me to wait until my health had returned, but now that my health has largely returned and I feel confident about eventually recovering completely, I think it’s okay to do this, and it will make me happy. And yes, I spent some of the money on things that I didn’t absolutely need and would not die without. Which, as many commenters on Stephanie’s post pointed out, several of my donators specifically said I should do. And now that I’m earning income again, I am spending some of that income on things that I don’t absolutely need and will not die without.

At what point is it okay for me to do that?

This is a bullshit controversy, manufactured by the usual gang of people who hate Freethought Blogs and are always looking for a reason to snipe at us. But I will say once again: I don’t want anyone who donated money during this fundraiser to be unhappy about it. So I will say again: If you donated money to me during my recent fundraiser, and you’re not happy with the fact that I recently spent some money on shoes, I will refund your donation. Email me at greta (at) gretachristina (dot) com, with the email address you used for PayPal and the amount you donated, or with the check number and the amount you donated. (If you’re someone who I requested to never contact me again because your private correspondence to me was borderline threatening, I will rescind that request for this purpose only.) When I confirm that you did in fact make a donation, I will refund your money. Thank you.

Fashion Friday: Dressy Comfortable Shoes, and Thinking Outside the Box

So I recently solved a fashion conundrum that’s been seriously bugging me for some time. I solved it by having to radically re-think what I’d consider to be an acceptable solution. I had to let go of some preconceptions; I had to think outside the box. And I thought I’d share with the rest of the class.

For months — years, actually — I’ve been on a quest for shoes that are both dressy and comfortable. I had high standards in both departments: I needed the shoes to be dressy enough to look good with dresses and skirts in a professional setting… and I needed them to be comfortable enough to walk in for miles, comfortable enough that I could be on my feet all day in them. And this being me, I was picky about how they looked. I wanted them to be comfortable — but I didn’t want them to look frumpy or boring. I wanted them to be stylish and expressive and interesting.

Ballerina flatsBefore you chime in: Do not tell me about ballerina flats. Ballerina flats have been nothing but a bitter disappointment. I must have weird feet or something: I have bought more pairs of ballerina flats than I care to remember, and not one of them has given me more than three days of wear before I gave up in disgust. (And yes, I’ve gotten good-quality ballerina flats from good manufacturers.) They don’t give me enough support — I have mildly crappy feet, and need a certain amount of support — and after wearing them for more than an hour, my feet ache like crazy. And they chew up the backs of my ankles into the bargain. My four-inch stilettos are more comfortable.

I’ve spent more time than was probably necessary pondering this conundrum, and trying to figure out why it was so hard to solve. I think the basic problem is this: In the current language of women’s shoe fashion, “dressy” tends to mean “high-heeled.” And “dressy” combined with “stylish” strongly tends to mean “high-heeled.” You can find low-heeled or flat shoes that are stylish — but they tend to be fairly sporty or casual. You can find low-heeled or flat shoes that are dressy — but they tend to be fairly plain. In the same way that it’s hard to find clothing to express “sexy woman over fifty” because our culture considers the concept “sexy woman over fifty” to be nonsense, it’s hard to find dressy, stylish flat shoes for women… because in the language of fashion, the very concept is something of a contradiction.

On a day-to-day basis, my usual answer to this conundrum has been boots. About which I have already waxed poetic. But boots have a certain sporty, rakish vibe, and in many situations they’re just not right. They’re not dressy enough for many professional settings; they’re often not dressy enough for evening. And they’re definitely not okay when it’s stinking hot.

So I’ve been searching, and searching, and searching. Every time I went into a shoe store, I kept an eye out for dressy, comfortable shoes that didn’t make me feel like I’d taken a sleeping pill. Every time I looked, I was disappointed.

Pilgrims by John FluevogAnd then I came across these.

And I found myself having to think outside the box.

I freaking love these shoes. I fell in love with them pretty much at first sight. But before I could commit, I had to seriously re-think what I was willing to consider an acceptable solution to my little conundrum.

The shoes are enormously comfortable. John Fluevog knows what he’s doing: the heels I have from him are easily the most comfortable heels I own, and these new babies are almost like sneakers. And they’re definitely stylish. Again — John Fluevog knows what he’s doing.

But they’re also very quirky. They’re stylish and expressive, but they’re not conventionally pretty. They’re more than a little bit nerdy, and way more than a little old-fashioned. The very name of the shoe is “Pilgrim” — not exactly the apotheosis of feminine grace and sophistication. They carry strong overtones of “Wicked Witch of the West.”

And I realized: Maybe that’s exactly what I needed to break this conundrum.

Maybe, if I want dressy, stylish, comfortable women’s shoes, I need to re-define what I mean by “stylish.” Maybe I need to let go of “conventionally pretty.” Maybe I need to let go of conventional femininity. Maybe I need to let myself be a little old-fashioned. Maybe I need to let my stylishness be quirky, nerdy, witchy.

(I also maybe need to spend somewhat more than I normally do on shoes. That’s something Ingrid kept reminding me of when I was griping about my conundrum: more-expensive, higher-quality shoes tend to be more comfortable, and longer-lasting, as well as prettier. But when I think of how many pairs of useless ballerina flats I’ve bought in my life — and the amount of money I’ve wasted on them — the math on this totally adds up.)

Pilgrims by John FluevogIf I’m going to reject the notion that women have to wear heels if we’re going to be dressy and snazzy — and I do reject it, I love my heels but I hate the pressure to wear them — then that’s an unconventional stance. It’s a quirky stance. It’s a stance that rejects conventional notions of beauty and femininity. It’s a stance that embraces the fundamental concepts of beauty and femininity, and rejects the notion that women have to cripple ourselves to participate in them. It’s a stance that reclaims female nerdiness, and demands that it be seen as professional and urbane and creative. It’s a stance that thinks the Wicked Witch of the West got a bad rap.

And I’m okay with that.

Fashion Friday: Transformation

1: It’s a Friday evening, and there’s a party Ingrid and I said we’d go to. It’s a Friday evening, which all too often means Ingrid and I are exhausted by our work weeks, and we are not feeling it. But we promised we’d go to this party. And it’s sort of work-related for me, there’s some business I need to take care of there. And there are, in fact, people there we want to see. Or, more accurately, there are people there we want to want to see, people we would normally want to see if we weren’t so fried.

So we sigh, and we dutifully change clothes. We crawl out of our day clothes, and resist the urge to just crawl into bed, and get into our party frocks.

Greta in party outfitAnd like that! — we start to feel it. We start to get excited. We get a second wind, an infusion of energy. We think about the people who are going to be at this party, and suddenly we don’t just want to want to see them — we actually want to see them. We look at ourselves in our mirrors, at these gorgeous, elegant-yet-sexy, stylish-yet-friendly party people, and we think, “They look like fun! We want to hang out with them! If they’re going to be at the party, it’s sure to be awesome!”

2: It’s an overcast afternoon, in more ways than one. I’m struggling with depression, and it’s hard today. I’m in my bathrobe, rotting on the sofa. It’s hard to do anything, to want to do anything, to even imagine wanting to do anything ever again. But I know, intellectually, and even emotionally, that if I can just get myself out of the house, even for half an hour, I will feel better.

So I take a quick shower, or maybe just take a birdbath in the sink, and I force myself to put on some clothes. Not even interesting clothes, necessarily: just jeans, or a plain skirt and tights and boots. Something other than a reeking bathrobe.

And I feel better. I don’t feel great, but I feel better. I no longer feel like a lazy pathetic loser wasting her one short life sitting around on the sofa in her bathrobe feeling sorry for herself. I feel like a functional adult. Or at least, like a potentially functional adult. I feel like a person who is capable of leaving the house, capable of running a couple of errands and getting a little exercise, capable of getting out into the limited but not trivial sunlight that the day has to offer.

3: I’m at a conference. Or rather, I’m in a hotel room at some un-fucking-godly hour in the morning, getting ready for a conference. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a morning person, and I am fighting the urge to say “Fuck it,” to return to the big comfy hotel bed and sleep for six more hours, to stay in the big bed all day watching TV and masturbating and ordering room service. But I remember, vaguely and distantly through my groggy haze, that I actually do like this work, that I am wildly fortunate to be able to do this work, that once I’m at the conference I will want to be there doing this work. Also, I remember that the conference organizers are paying me to be there, and if I don’t show up they’ll want their money back.

So I put on whatever dressy suity thing I brought, whatever combination of jacket/ dress or skirt/ interesting stockings/ jewelry/ dressy-but-comfortable shoes I spent an hour picking out when I was packing for this trip. I look in the mirror.

Greta at panelAnd I feel like a grownup. I feel like a professional. I feel put-together, authoritative but friendly and approachable. I feel happy to be seeing my old friends and colleagues, excited to be meeting new people and getting exposed to new ideas. I feel like someone who gives a damn. I feel like someone worth listening to.

4: I’m sick. I don’t mean that I have a cold: I mean that I’m recovering from cancer surgery. For a couple of weeks now I’ve been in bathrobes and pajamas nonstop, loose comfy soft things that don’t make me hurt worse than I already do. But the doctors said that I need to start leaving the house and taking short walks outside. And besides, I’m sick of it. I need a change. Now.

So I put on some clothes. I don’t even remember what now: I was in a Vicodin haze at the time, I don’t remember much of anything from then in much detail. Probably a loose-ish dress, or a loose-ish skirt and top. Something not too binding around the waist, where it still hurts like hell. Something not too different from pajamas, really: but something that doesn’t read, in the current language of fashion and style, as pajamas. Something that reads — minimally, barely, adequately — as clothes.

And I feel like myself. Or more like myself, anyway. I don’t feel like an invalid. I feel like a sick person still, but I don’t feel like I am my sickness. I don’t feel like I’m drowning in my sickness. I feel like a person who has a sickness. I feel like a sick person, who is getting better.

*****

I’ve written a lot about seeing fashion and style as a metaphorical language, a form of expression: a way of telling the world who we are, and how we feel about ourselves, and how we see our place in the world, and what our attitude is towards whatever situation we’re in.

What I haven’t written about as much is how this language isn’t just expressive. It’s aspirational. Fashion and style can express how we feel… but it can also shape how we feel. It can help make us feel the way we want to feel. It can help us express who we are… but it can also help us feel like the people we want to be.

Some of this aspirational quality is largely pragmatic, more functional than personal or emotional. Work clothes are the most obvious example. People with ambitions in the workplace are consistently advised to dress for the job they want, not for the job they have. People going on job interviews are consistently advised to dress as if they already have the job. (Advice with some limits, obviously — if you’re interviewing for a job at a fast food restaurant you’re not going to wear a bright orange pantsuit and a paper hat — but generally good advice.) If there’s something you want in the work world, dressing as if you already have it sends a signal to the people who have the power to give it to you: it signals that you understand what it is you’re aspiring to, and that you respect and value it, and are willing and indeed eager to take it on.

But this “dress as who you want to be” thing isn’t just pragmatic. It’s not just about signalling to the world who you want to be. It’s also, sometimes, about signalling it to yourself.

what-not-to-wearAs regular readers of this blog may know, I’m a fan of the fashion makeover TV show, “What Not to Wear.” (I have mixed feelings about the show, but on the whole I like it.) And one of the things I find most fascinating about the show is the way that so many of the makovers turn into impromptu therapy sessions. Week after week, women on the show say that they can’t see themselves as anything other than a frumpy harried mom, or a sad sack, or a meek sheep who blends into the background. Week after week, women say that they can’t see themselves as ambitious working women, or as successful entrepeneurs, or as sexy and fun-loving. And week after week — through the process, not only of acquiring new clothing, but of talking intensely with Stacy and Clinton about how their clothing makes them feel and how they’d like to feel instead, about what they think their clothing says about them and what they’d like to be saying instead — they start to see themselves differently. Sometimes there’s a moment when you can see the switch flip; sometimes the process is more gradual. (And occasionally, the magic doesn’t happen at all.) But week after week, women on the show start seeing the possibilities of who they could be… because they’re seeing that new self in the mirror.

If fashion is like a language, sometimes we use it to talk to ourselves.

There’s a saying among some people who are recovering from addiction: “Fake it ’til you make it.” I think fashion and style can be like that. I think part of acting like who we want to be, until we become it or get closer to being it, can involve dressing the part. That can be short-term: if you want to feel a little less depressed, or a little more like going to the party, sometimes it helps to dress the part. And it can be long-term: if you want to be a sexual adventurer, or a serious adult in the professional world, sometimes it helps to dress the part.

It doesn’t just tell the world who you want to be. It tells yourself. It can help us feel like the people we want to be. And sometimes, it helps us become it.

Runway Recap: Boys Against the Girls

I wasn’t planning for this week’s Runway Recap to be about feminism. Really, I wasn’t. Usually my Runway Recaps are my “give it a rest” happy silly fun time. But the producers of the show sort of forced it on me this week, and I’m going with it.

So here’s what I was noticing this week. Lots of designers were hammering on about the “boys against the girls” thing. Lots of designers were pointing out that the men this week were calmly moving forward with their work, and the woman were falling apart. Some designers were speculating that the top was going to be all men, and the bottom was going to be all women. And lots of designers were gassing on about how very different male and female designers are, how men designers are from Mars and women designers are from Venus. In particular, Ven “I Have For Some Reason Decided To Promote My Design Career By Making American Women Hate Me” Budhu could not shut up about how male designers are “stronger,” more edgy and innovative, and female designers are more “practical.” But he wasn’t the only one: even Sonjia was going on about how men design for what they think women should be, and women design for who women actually are.

And yet it didn’t play out that way on the runway. Not even in the slightest.

Top four? Two women, two men. Bottom two? One woman, one man. Safe in the middle? Two men, one woman. As even a split as you could get with nine designers.

As for this “male designers are edgier and more innovative” thing? Bullpucky. Especially coming from Ven “Put a Rose On It” Budhu. In a field largely devoted to perfectly adequate snooze-fests, the two women in the top had by far the artiest, most imaginative, most high-concept, most risk-taking looks of the week. Neither look was entirely successful in its execution. But with a little more time to play, to experiment with different fabrics and cuts, to toss out bad versions of good ideas — you know, like you have in the real world of fashion design, where you generally have more than one day to take an idea from “whole new concept” to “walking the runway” — both of them could be turned into stunners. Both of them had edge to spare. And both of them had ideas that I’ve never seen before — not in a cocktail dress, for damn sure — and that I would absolutely love to see again.

So was there a difference between the women and the men this week? [Read more…]

Runway Recap: Quote Unquote “Real Women”

Sorry for the delay in getting this out! Yesterday was a bit, shall we say, challenging. Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers about last Thursday’s episode of Project Runway: Season 10, Episode 6, “Fix My Friend.” If you’re a fan of the show and you haven’t seen it yet — you stand warned.

So what’s this ridiculous business of designing clothes for women who aren’t fashion models, anyway? How could anyone expect a serious designer to stoop to such a level?

m-/

Project Runway Fabio and clientIt’s become a Project Runway tradition. In one challenge each season, designers have to do an outfit for, quote, “real women”: the very unfortunate term of art in the fashion industry for “women who don’t have the bodies of fashion models or A-list celebrities.” It’s a terrible term, with all sorts of ugly implications… including the implication that fashion models and A-list celebrities aren’t real people. I guess they’re androids or aliens or something, or maybe ethereal angels, far above the messy human business of digestion and respiration. (Ingrid and I have been trying to come up with a better term. “Regular women,” maybe? That’s not great, either. “Women who aren’t built like fashion models” is the concept we’re trying to convey, but it has way too many syllables.)

I actually have some compassion for designers trying to do this. Especially in the world of standard clothing design and manufacturing, where you’re not doing custom work for one person whose measurements you can take precisely.

When I was fat, I used to get very angry about clothes shopping: I’d go into a clothing store, and find that maybe two percent of the clothes fit me and looked good on me. (A totally legitimate anger: there isn’t nearly enough in the way of good clothes for fat women, and manufacturers tend to just take the stuff designed for smaller sizes and embiggen it, instead of making different designs that look good on larger bodies. When they’re not just making crappy boring swaths of fabric for fat women to hide in, that is.)

And it is easier now. Now that I’m about a size 8 or 10, when I go into a clothing store, I find that maybe five percent of the clothes fit me and look good on me.

That’s not a trivial difference. But the reality is that there is literally no way to make an article of clothing that looks good on every woman. Fatness or thinness isn’t the only issue. Height is an issue. Basic shape — busty? angular? pear-shaped? hourglass? — is an issue. Muscles are an issue. Age is an issue. The person’s individual style is obviously an issue. It’s something Ingrid and I have been both frustrated and entertained by: she and I have very similar bodies, with very similar heights and weights… but some pieces really do look great on her and crummy on me, or vice versa. My theory is that it’s because I’m long-waisted and short-legged, and she’s short-waisted and long-legged. Which gives you an idea of how impossible this is, if a distinction that fine can make the difference between a dress looking great and looking like ass.

So I do have sympathy for designers trying to do this. It can’t be done. All you can do is make clothing that will fit some women and look good on them, and do your best marketing to get those women into those clothes.

However. That being said. [Read more…]

Runway Recap: Working It

Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers about last Thursday’s episode of Project Runway: Season 10, Episode 5, “It’s My Way on the Runway.” If you’re a fan of the show and you haven’t seen it yet — you stand warned.

Awesome! I’ve been wanting to write about fashion and work/ professionalism for a while, and this week’s Runway gives me the perfect chance.

“Appropriate work wear” is obviously a pretty flexible concept: it depends on what kind of work you do, what part of the country/ world you live in, whether you’re ambitiously climbing the ladder or are happy to stay in the job you have. But in this challenge, “workplace” was being pretty universally defined as “urban office.” And in most urban offices, the qualities most people want their workwear to express are: Competent. Organized and put-together. Powerful, but also approachable. Conscious of the prevailing social standards. Professional (obviously).

And with the exception of a few very specialized workplaces, one of the main qualities of successful and effective workwear is “not too sexual.” In most workplaces, and certainly in most offices, overt sexuality is seen as a distraction. Women especially have to be careful of being seen as “sleeping their way to the top.” It’s a fine line (and one that’s pretty much impossible to walk): women who dress too sexy are seen as sluts and bimbos and aren’t taken seriously, and women who dress too primly are seen as unfeminine, ballbusting killjoys. So while some degree of feminity for women’s officewear is accepted and indeed encouraged, it has to dial way back on the va-va-voom.

And it was fascinating to see how this week’s contestants — and judges — interpreted these concepts…. or failed to.

First, let’s snark about the failures. That’s always more fun, right? If you’re putting together a professional yet fashion-forward work outfit, here’s what not to do. [Read more…]

Fashion Friday: “The soaring heights and the greedy, murderous depths”: ceepolk

I’m taking a semi-break from blogging this week: mostly doing reprints, event announcements, cat pictures, street art pictures, reposting interesting comments, and so on.

So for this week’s Fashion Friday, I’m re-posting this comment that ceepolk made on last week’s Fashion Friday piece on fashion and money. It was an exceptionally insightful, extraordinarily beautiful piece of writing, and I thought it deserved more attention, so I’m pulling it out in this post.

I get you about fashion. I love it. I’ve always loved it. for as long as I can remember I have engaged with clothing – as a child I would look at coffee table books of fashion, the history of fashion, and current magazines. I wanted to be a fashion designer when i grew up. And I was poor. Well, I still am.

i get you about how fashion is art and art costs money. I have tried to explain to people that the extensive wardrobes they worry about maintaining and changing every season taints their perception of what clothing is worth and why I always, always refuse to make anyone a single piece of apparel, period, because fashion is a complex skill and skills cost money. I’m happy they love the whateveritis that I’m wearing that they think is beautiful, and that some of them are gobsmacked when they discover that I made it, but they ruin the conversation quickly by expecting me to use hard won years of skill and practice to make them something and they offer to pay for the cost of materials (and often estimate a price that isn’t even half that.)

I’m happy to see a post on the deeply complex implications of fashion. I have never found a clear answer that ties up all of the influences, intersections, and interstices in grosgrain ribbon in the colour of your choice (mine shall always and forever be imperial purple no matter what Pantone declares is in this season.) Fashion, more than any other art, has taught me how to enjoy something that is inherently and permanently problematic. And the best I can do is this –

Alexander McQueen was an artist. He combined the beautiful and the political in ways that make my heart pound and my skin shiver. I can say the same thing about a lot of artists. I never stop being aware that fashion is and has always been steeped in classism and sexism and racism, that fashion has unbelievable influence on our individual self-image and regularly shapes the image of human beauty.

A color wheel and a sartorial task that requires it is is better than most drugs as far as i’m concerned. The woman who made my panties is exploited and at risk of violence and rape that she has to endure just to keep that job, and she has that job because white western capitalists have dismantled every worker protection fought and won here. I move through cosmetic, fabric and yarn stores in a meditation that I think a lot of artists can understand. I engage with it and everything starts to flow in a series of beautiful moments, because i love these things. Millions of people over centuries have suffered and died because a certain cloth, a certain shade of a certain hue, a certain shell or stone or animal bone was the object of desire. I love the finished work of fashion, and I love making clothing, I love being able to look at a finished garment and *see* the structure and components that make it.

Fashion is as true an expression of humanity as any art could be, because it expresses the soaring heights and the greedy, murderous depths in every thread, no matter what you wear or how it came to exist.

Runway Recap: On Giving Up

Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers about last Thursday’s episode of Project Runway: Season 10, Episode 4, “Women on the Go.” If you’re a fan of the show and you haven’t seen it yet — you stand warned.

So if you were on Project Runway, and you realized you were in over your head and couldn’t cope with the pressure… what do you think you’d do?

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this week’s winners and losers. Yes to Sonjia winning. Yes to Buffi going home. Yes to Fabio: at first I was puzzled about why this was on the bottom and not Melissa’s “friar of the Jawa monastery” look, but the judges made a good point that, at this level of the competition, you should be doing more than making a decent dress in a pretty print. And no, I don’t care how well-made it was: Christopher’s thing with the weird dangly asymmetrical handkerchief hem did not look like a “woman on the go.” It looked like Stevie Nicks dressed as a Goth pirate. Gunnar’s brown dress with the petals was way better, I thought: elegant but also sporty, and somehow magically both structured and soft. I’d wear it in a second. [Read more…]

Fashion Friday: Money

Marion-Cotillard-in-the-August-2012-Issue-of-Vogue-US-Alexander-McQueen-ankle-cuff-stilettosI was flipping through the new issue of Vogue the other day. (Yes, I read Vogue. In fact, I subscribe to Vogue.) I saw a pair of shoes that made me stop dead in my tracks, a pair of shoes that made my heart hurt and my clit throb: a pair of tall black stiletto pumps, with ankle straps that looked like bondage cuffs. Teetering on that knife’s edge between fashion and fetish. Exactly where I like my shoes.

I flipped to the “where to buy this stuff” index in the back, to see if there was even a remote chance that I could dream of affording them. (Now and then, something does pop up in Vogue that I can afford.)

Alexander McQueen. $885.

It’s not like I was surprised. I’ve seen shoes before in Vogue costing that much, and indeed much more. But it started me on a train of thought I’ve been riding for some time now, a tricky and delicate and complicated train of thought that I’m extremely unresolved about. I started thinking, not for the first time, about fashion and money.

On the one hand: To quote Lindy West in her review of “Sex and the City 2,” “SATC2 takes everything that I hold dear as a woman and as a human — working hard, contributing to society, not being an entitled cunt like it’s my job — and bludgeons it to death with a stiletto that costs more than my car.” * There is something repugnant in the fact that the kind of shoes Carrie Bradshaw wears in SATC, the kind of shoes I was eyeing in Vogue, cost as much as some people spend on their car, or a month’s rent, or a semester’s tuition for their kid.

On the other hand: If you look at fashion as an art form — which I do — then complaining about how expensive the high-end stuff is starts to be a little silly. No, I can’t afford Balenciaga or Alexander McQueen. I can’t afford a Kandinsky, either. And while I care intensely about social justice and economic inequality, my pinko conscience doesn’t keep me awake nights raging about the fact that the common worker can’t afford a Kandinsky.

Gauliter hooded capeAt the Gaultier exhibit we went to a few weeks ago, some of the gowns had placards in front of them, saying how many hours of work had gone into each one. Each one took over a hundred hours. Some took over three hundred hours. At an extremely conservative labor rate of $15 an hour, not even counting materials or overhead or years of training, that labor just by itself makes the dresses worth four figures. Again, you can argue whether it’s worth putting that much labor into a dress… but when I look at dresses like Gaultier’s, to me the answer seems obvious. Gaultier’s work is art. If you value art, and the time and effort that art takes, then it makes no sense to value that time and effort in paintings and sculpture, while reflexively despising it in dresses and shoes.

But on the first hand again: [Read more…]