Thursday, April 30, 2009

Menswear for Me

Although I wear J Crew shorts almost exclusively during the summer, that’s the limit of my warm-weather-wear purchases from that company.

I find its t-shirts to be too flimsy, its jackets to be too bulky-boxy, and the bodice of its sundresses cut in too slight a fashion.

That doesn’t mean that I haven’t been enjoying J Crew’s Spring 2009 lookbook, though.

Menswear has always appealed to me; yes, I wore a vintage men’s blazer with the cuffs rolled up in the 80s, and I like how J Crew has updated the look via mildly baggy shorts (to wear with heels, bien sur), a belted or a be-necklaced cardigan, and a simple shirt.

I don’t think I’d like any of these pieces individually, but together, they inspire a confident strut down a city sidewalk to rival John Travolta’s in Saturday Night Fever.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sojourner Truth and a Call to Arms? Maureen Dowd and David Brooks on Michelle Obama's Sculpted Biceps

Originally posted March 8, 2009, but reprinted, as Michelle Obama has just honored Sojourner Truth today.

Courtesy of Maureen Dowd’s column, pundit David Brooks (author of the wickedly funny Bobos in Paradise, though I don’t share his politics) thinks that Michelle Obama’s bare arms are passive aggressive (my term, not his; he tells her to “put away Thunder and Lightning”).

His implication is that Mrs. O just isn’t feminine enough.

As Dowd writes, there’s a feeling in Washington that “Michelle should stop wearing sleeveless dresses, because her muscles, combined with her potent personality, made her daunting.” And daunting is not feminine.

Just like women athletes are expected to engage in an elaborate apologia for their muscles by dressing in hyperfeminine garb (think of tennis players here), so Brooks is asking Mrs. Obama to be more womanly, less of a physical presence.

All this talk about women, arms, and femininity reminds me of the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, when Sojourner Truth, freed slave and travelling preacher, stood up, and, with her very tall presence, addressed the crowd’s perception of “true womanhood”:

“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud puddles, or gives me any best place!

“And ain’t I a woman?

“Look at me! Look at my arm! [here she rolls up her sleeve and flexes her bicep; my italics]

“I have plowed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me!

“And ain’t I a woman?”


But while Sojourner Truth was speaking of an African American woman’s muscle formed from physical labor, Michelle Obama’s muscle is different: her physical muscle is the product of disciplined workouts, but it also speaks to considerable metaphorical muscle—Obama’s academic muscle honed at Princeton and Harvard; her corporate muscle developed through her lawyerly work.

And that kind of muscle was not displayed, say, through Jacqueline Kennedy’s soft, white arms, which are often called upon as Mrs. Obama’s cultural referent, but which were never, to my knowledge, considered intimidating or overly sensual.

The political confusion over Michelle Obama’s arms, then, touches on a number of unarticulated historical questions: Who can be considered a woman? What kind of physical muscle should a woman have? What kind of metaphorical muscle should she be able to wield?

Rather than fearing Mrs. Obama’s muscle, wouldn’t it be great if people took a page from Sojourner Truth, saying, “Ain’t she a first lady!” in collective agreement.

A Spot of Pink

Sometimes it’s a shape, but often it’s a line, a splash of color, that inspires me.

Take this image by Gerhard Richter, for instance, the promotional picture for the National Gallery’s exhibit in London. The pink and the hint of aqua draw me in, and I remain there, lost in the figure’s hair and expression.

This morning I saw a photo in the New York Times of the actress Carla Gugino in character (for Eugene O’Neill's Desire under the Elms). Her rosy dress, her tight, yet electric posture, and her shoes—what’s going on with her shoes???—captivated me. It’s certainly not a classically pretty, or fashion-y shot, but it intrigues and inspires with its energy and color.

So I was happy to find one more shot from the O’Neill play with another burst of color: this log cabin quilt that pops reds and pinks:

I know that the set and costumes are designed, but they come across as effortless and organic, something my eye thirstily returns to again and again.

**Thanks to Wee Birdy for posting the Richter on her sidebar, where I first saw it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Reiss Stuff

Walking down Newbury Street in Boston this weekend I did a double take. I was minding my own business when into my peripheral vision popped this dress (in salmon pink!).

It was on a (headless) mannequin at the Reiss boutique and exuded a winning mix of toughness (heavy hand, textured fabric) and femininity (almost-Christopher-Kane-esque undulating waves on the skirt).

I’m thinking about how I can pair it with a cardigan for day when I’m not attending an evening event.

Here’s the pink color, in a different (but also appealing) style:

I'd lengthen it just a tad, but would then be good to go!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In the Air

Off to Boston for the weekend. See you next week!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Topknot: Why Not?

I always smile when a new, edgy style is *discovered,* especially when I’ve been sporting that look for years.

To wit: the New York Times has championed topknots, a “cool girl’s take on the informal ponytail.”

I couldn’t agree more; I’ve been wearing topknots, on and off, for the last 20 years, depending on the length of my hair. (And no, I'm not stuck in a style rut!!)

I love the look when it’s messy (I like tight topknots only on ballerinas), but I do have one caveat: the casual topknot must be worn without tendrils above the ears, lest one resemble Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that—if you’re Miss Kitty.

Or Bridget Hanley on Here Come the Brides (shown here with Bobby Sherman to the left; be still my Grade-One-girl’s heart).

I love the height that a topknot brings (I’m 5’10” in heels; must be almost 6 feet in a topknot!) as well as its insouciant chic. For me, imperfection is perfection, and this look provides a desirable mix of mess and polish.

Kind of like chipped nails.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Beauty Is Talent; Talent, Beauty: Susan Boyle says, "You Have To Take Yourself Seriously"

UPDATED! below to address Rosie O'Donnell's dehumanizing comments.

Like so many people, I watched the YouTube clip of Susan Boyle’s singing performance (thanks, Imelda, for the link!). I thought she was fabulous: tremendously talented and very dignified as she refused to take any guff from the judges.

It’s the after-interviews that are troubling me. Miss Boyle has remained her dignified self through them, but I feel that some of the so-called compliments in these interviews are worse than the early insults.

Take the Early Show, for instance. The female interviewer remarked to Miss Boyle that before she sang, the crowd was “laughing at you, not taking you seriously.”

Did she expect Miss Boyle to agree, to say, “Yes, my physical presence renders me unworthy of respect”? Did she expect Miss Boyle to have no self-esteem, to gladly concur that her physicality deserved a mocking?

Miss Boyle silenced the interviewer by saying, “You have to take yourself seriously.”


What troubles me is that there’s a spoken assumption that Miss Boyle should have been short on confidence because of the way she looks. And the interviewers seem to want Miss Boyle to agree that she should have been initially deemed unworthy.

“You have to take yourself seriously,” she said. And I wish that the interviewers would stop trying to lower her self-esteem by planting ideas in her mind that she does not meet society’s (wildly unattainable) standards of beauty.

Susan Boyle takes herself seriously. Everyone else should too.

UPDATE: And now Rosie O'Donnell is using this event to applaud Simon Cowell. Boyle's performance, she says, "humanized" Cowell; he was able to demonstrate his humanity in appreciating both the performance and its singer.

The problem is that O'Donnell dehumanized Boyle to make her point, calling her a "freaky miss, a fat, ugly girl, like Shrek comes to life." Boyle is hardly monstrous, a Shrek-like ogre, but O'Donnell made her so to praise Cowell, as well as to "compliment" Boyle on her performance, in an utterly backhanded swipe.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Great Gardens

I hear there’s a new HBO film with a similar title.

Years ago I saw the documentary, found it thoroughly depressing (there’s something about women living their final years in decay and delusion that brings out the activist instead of the voyeur in me), so I’m not clamoring to see this version.

So instead I’m thinking of Great Garden headpieces, which inspire cheer. How could one be sad while wearing a meadow atop one’s head?

Summer 2009 Skirts from Watanabe

Once upon a time, an innocent wrote an email to the sage Manolo the Shoeblogger, asking what kind of footwear she might choose to accessorize her long denim skirt. The Manolo replied, “the house slippers,” as he would never advocate wearing a long denim skirt in public.

I smiled smugly when reading this response, because, except for a moment in Grade Six, when I wore a maxi wrap-denim skirt with strappy leather wedges and a stripped sailor tee, long and denim have not been acceptable adjectives in my vocabulary to modify skirt.

Until now, of course.

I am absolutely mad for Junya Watanabe’s long jean skirts, his long gingham picnic-y skirts, and his white ruffly skirts. I especially adore any one of these with a bustle, as bustles bridge an academic and fashion interest of mine.

(When I interviewed with Vogue—and yes, I’m bringing up that yet again—I produced an “Up Front” page, all about the bustle, and illustrated it with a picture of Naomi Campbell in Galliano. I think the original is in my office somewhere; I’ll try and locate it for scanning.)

Anyway, the Watanabe bustle and ruffles utterly obliterate any potential for dowdiness in these denim skirts and have created a mini obsession chez moi. And the gingham, mixed with those outrageous prints are zanily delightful. Not to mention the white worn with white—or trench-coat colors and shapes.

A more purchase-friendly version of the white skirts can be found over at J Peterman’s place, with this Frieda skirt. It’s very tempting for summer evenings.

Of L.A.M.B.s and Colts

Last night our family watched a 1953 French film called White Mane about a gipsy boy who forms a bond with a wild white horse.

It was made by the same director who went on to film The Red Balloon, and he cast his sons in each. (The adorable curly-locked 2-3 year old in Mane grows up to be the boy in Balloon.)

Perhaps I have horses on my mind more so than usual (there was my earlier post about some unusual mane couture, as well as my enduring love for that BG photo here and here), but I’ve been quietly and consistently struck by how Jak & Jil’s images of women, en route to fashion shows in Europe when wearing high, high heels, and in full stride, recall that particular attenuation of colts when cantering.

When I wear my super high heels, like these L.A.M.B.s,

I’m not able to take my usual wide, fast stride, and I accordingly feel less athletic than usual. But after thinking about the above photographs, I’m revising that feeling, imagining instead a coltish prance.

Hmmm: a colt in L.A.M.B.’s clothing?

All puns aside, how do you feel when you walk in high heels (3 inches or more)?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lone Star or Five Star? Givenchy's Summer Accessories

Givenchy’s summer accessories collection has shades of Johnny Guitar, as Italian chic meets western wear.

Although sometimes the visual play on cowhide is a little too “novelty” for me, I’m digging the shoes above, in that color.

Here are some bags:

Texas Star, anyone? (I've made a quilt out of this pattern!)

A perfect canteen shape:

I’d happily carry this one:

But maybe not in this color combination: (I have a patterned Etro pony hair bag and NEVER use it.)

And a couple more looks at shoes:

I d’orsay, this shoe has a distinctly western feel:

Maybe . . . but unsure about the prominent star:

Love these cast-iron stovepipes, though:

How many stars does this collection merit for you?

Brigitte on the Beach?

I was struck by these photographs from W—love the juxtaposition of the Brigitte Bardot hair with the almost monstrous makeup.

Indeed, in some of the images Lara reminds me of a postmodern Creature from the Black Lagoon.

I especially like the obvious lip liner paired with the extreme cat’s eye liner. I thought that cats didn’t like the beach . . . Maybe cool cats do.

And the girlish bow atop an obviously strong body is another pleasing dialogue.

So often long blonde hair is accessorized with softer clothing,

But it also works with an edgier vibe.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Horse Hair

I’m sure you remember the images from last year of hair being styled to look like animals (below):

Here’s the flip side:

horses with hair that wouldn’t be out of place in a new Disney show for tweens.

What do you think of all this horsing around?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring Confections

For my next recipe . . . no; just kidding.

I don’t think I’ll begin a food blog any time soon, though I have to say that Oreos dipped in the most delicious chocolate and topped with a tiny edible Easter motif (bunny, egg, chick) are otherworldly. If there’s sun in the next couple of days I’ll take a picture of one--if they aren't all gobbled up by then.

On to the next confection: I’ve been coveting these shoes ever since I saw them in a catalogue spread some months back. The catalogue has long been recycled, as the clothing left me uninspired, but the imprint of this shoe has seared itself into the deep structure of my brain.

Now wouldn’t it be lovely to make an imprint of this shoe on some pavement? I will, however, settle for this scan. (Image from Harper's Bazaar.)

For a view in another color, here’s the shoe in black, from

UPDATE: Quelle coincidence. I just clicked on Jak & Jil to find the above shoe on a chic wearer. And don't even get me started on the pun . . .