Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Parliament Hill

Thinking today, with a heavy heart, of Ottawa, where I lived for six years, and of Parliament Hill, where we university students could eat lunch on the lawn, throw a softball, and feel carefree.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The "Lively" Preserve: Sundance for Millennials?

Do any gentle readers remember the 1990s, when receiving catalogues in the mail was like clockwork?

I was in graduate school during that decade, and one of my favourite catalogues was the Sundance Catalogue.  Bolstered by the rustic glam of founder Robert Redford, Sundance presented a dreamscape of models roaming the stunning Utah meadows, dressed in gorgeously tooled cowgirl boots, floaty linen dresses, and self-consciously "artisan" jewelry. 

I never ordered anything, as the shipping, even for a small pair of earrings, was in the double digits, but I soaked up as much precious metal/fragrant leather/crisp meadow as I could through the glossy pages.

A new website editor seems to be trying to produce a similar effect, though digital gloss this time.  Easily Robert Redford's outdoorsy wheat-blonde equal, Blake Lively, with her luxurious mane and propensity for marrying expensive, somewhat impossible layers with luxe landscapes, has created Sundance for Millennials with her website Preserve.

O, Pioneers; O Consumers? Blake contemplates a dip, not a Bob. (US Vogue)

If gentle readers haven't visited, the aesthetic recalls and updates Redford's, with a dash of Alabama Chanin.  The prose descriptions need a good copyeditor, but perhaps that will come in time.

I browsed the "shop" section and found that while the clothes did not appeal, Lively did introduce me to some jewelry designers that I quite like. One is Brooklyn's Jessica De Carlo, whose swirl hoop earrings I have ordered (see top image). 

But!  I didn't order them from Preserve.  Instead, I went to the designer's own website where I found the earrings in three sizes instead of the one size offered by Preserve and chose a smaller one.

I'm not a Millennial, so maybe I'll reserve judgment on Preserve. But it brings to mind a Lively dance in the sun.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Power Posing: It's a Man's Man's Man's World? Miss C Poses a Question to Amy Cuddy

Does the way we stand and sit affect the way we perceive ourselves?  Researcher and Harvard B-School professor Amy Cuddy thinks so, and her TED talk on the topic is the current "bright young thing" of the internet.

Cuddy distinguishes between powerful and weak poses--the first involves opening up the body: taking up space on a chair, feet planted firmly, arms in a variety of positions from what my son calls a "Brazilian goal" (named after his favorite soccer stars where they run the field with arms held high and out) to hands on hips (the Wonder Woman), to arms resting on chair arms.

The weaker poses involve crossed legs, crossed ankles, crossed arms, and, especially, chins in hands.

They are, as Cuddy notes, often gendered poses.  And indeed, they are.  That troubles me.

Because if I wear a pencil skirt to work, I pretty much *have* to cross my ankles or my knees when I sit down.

Cuddy also argues, via scientific experiment, that individuals' testosterone levels rise when they assume said power poses. And that, apparently, is a good thing for someone in a position of power (her actual experiment compared levels of testosterone with cortisol, the hormone emitted in stressful situations).

So then.  Are we women being instructed to find our inner testosterone by assuming power poses? But is there not a fundamental problem in the first place that power is being equated with testosterone, which is usually equated with men?

Maybe there's a different way to--ahem--pose the question.

Consider this: Cuddy recommends that people assume two minutes of power poses before going into a situation where power dynamics are involved--a job interview, for instance. She argues that such poses are part of the "fake it till you make it" philosophy: adopting the pose will make the person look more powerful, even if they don't yet feel it.
Here's my take:  I've done a good bit of community theatre; I sing and dance with our faculty rock band; and I certainly perform every day in the classroom. If I step on one of these stages right after, say, taking notes at my desk, or reading a music score, I'll bet that my initial performance will fall flat because I haven't got into character yet. (And yes: "the professor" is a character.)

In other words, all Cuddy is saying that that we have to warm up before an event, and we warm up not only our minds, but our bodies, even when the event appears to be a strictly intellectual one (like discussing de las Casas or Crevecoeur).

But what can we do about the gendered aspect of these power poses? Feminist scholars and theorists have long discussed how women are encouraged not to take up space, through posture, through diets, through staying in the house instead of entering the public sphere.

Personally, I see NO PROBLEM with crossing one's legs or ankles.  I think it looks attractive and smart. And yes, I find that arms folded or shoulders slumped do give off an unappealing, unengaged vibe. But I do take issue that we're all looking to--or need to--increase our testosterone levels.

And what do we do with Lisa Taylor in the Helmut Newton photo above? She's definitely taking on a power pose--legs apart, hand on hip (coding masculine along with the "assessing" look in her eyes).  But she's also twiddling her hair, a decidedly female pose. Or juxtapose, if you will.

Have gentle readers thought about Amy Cuddy's thesis?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Farewell Deborah Freeman-Mitford Cavendish, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire

I learned, via BBC radio, that the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire died today. Born Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford, into a family of six sisters (who all went on to be rather infamous), she was known as "Debo." After she married Lord Andrew Cavendish, she eventually moved into the family seat, Chatsworth (that's a greatly abbreviated version of her history).

I love these pictures of the Duchess, especially the one where she's in full plume, as glorious as one of her beloved chickens.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Literary Connections Miss C Hath Mayde

As a recovering medievalist, I find that my love for the period rekindles when I find fashions that remind me of certain characters.

Take Chaucer's Prioresse from The Canterbury Tales, for instance:

Ful semely hir wimpel pinched was,
Hir nose tretys, hir eyen greye as glas,
Hir mouth ful small, and therto softe and reed.
But sikerly she hadde a fair forheed—
It was almost a spanne brood, I trowe—
For hardily she was nat undergrowe.

I think that a modern-day prioresse would be totally on the Bal if she wore these looks from  Bally and Balenciaga. 

The movement structured into the wimple and cape indicate her fashion-forwardness, not to mention the velocity of her garments--should her horse break into a canter.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Of Plastic Rain Bonnets and Prada Boots

Growing up in Canada, we dealt in boots and bonnets--the boot was the trunk of our car and the bonnet was the hood. (My grandmother, of Scottish descent, was a true Anglophile.)

That alliterative phrase came to mind again while paging through Vanity Fair (yes; I'm turning a good deal of magazine pages these days) and I saw these nostalgically hilarious boots by Prada.

Of course Prada is a venerable Italian company and not doubt looked toward some smart Italian historical reference, but all I could see with these boots were bonnets--the plastic rain bonnets worn on Coronation Street and beyond to keep a lady's hair dry in the wet. 

Indeed my grandmother wore them, and her carefully set coiffure never wilted in the rain. (Random French word alert.)

Even the patent leather recalls a sturdy rain slicker.  The loafers by themselves don't have quite the wit, but those boots! 

I think I'm getting a P* in my bonnet.

*P for Prada.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fall Blues (updated)

It's the most beautiful fall day today--crisp and clear--just what I;d been looking for the other week.  To celebrate (?) I tried yoga for the first time, and feel a pleasant full-body exhaustion on the horizon.

Upon leafing through the men's style magazine T, I was reminded of another fall day, waaaay back in the mid/late 80s when I was a second-year undergraduate (after having taken two full years off to work in the fashion world).

I was reading ELLE magazine (my 80s favourite) and saw either an editorial photo or an ad of a model wearing a navy silk shirt.  I can't recall the designer, but suffice to say that it was one carried by a boutique in the Market, the funky side of town.

This is neither the ad nor the shirt, but I did remember the designer: KIKIT.  Here's an ad from 1990, with a younger Antonio Banderas.

I high-tailed it to the boutique and learned that the shirt was actually men's wear, and that it was the most luxurious sueded silk. Of course, it was too large for me, but such was the alluring combination of ELLE, that particular shade of navy, and the sueded silk that I bought it.

I did that at times--bought men's things instead of women's.  When Ralph Lauren came out with fragrance, I bought the more medicinal Polo for myself instead of the unappealing Lauren for women. I wore a men's rugby shirt. (I still wear Mr. C's rainslickers.)

If I think about it, though, I wonder about my motivation.  Did I think men's wear; schmen's wear--I like it so I'm wearing it, or was I purposefully cultivating an eccentricity that filled my closet and vanity table with odd one-offs instead of things to mix and match. I may have been working toward Anna Piaggi when I really wanted to look like (a blonde) Yasmin LeBon.

I've written here before about my sartorial education in being "different"--how my grandmother would buy me a "cooler" equivalent of whatever was fashionable, even though I just wanted to look the same as my friends.  That shirt, brought back to mind via the photo above, has me thinking, somewhat uncomfortably, about past choices.

Do gentle readers ever travel back in time and reevaluate their style?