This Not That

Despite growing up in a home that was full of present- and future-tense estrogen, discussion around clothing generally focused on cost and hmmmmm, cost. I certainly didn’t know there were guidelines about how to chose a shape or proportion to highlight—or downplay—one’s specific attributes.

It wasn’t until my past contained peach hotpants, high-waisted pants, ankle straps galore, leggings, thigh-length jackets AND boxy sweaters that I tuned into the buzz surrounding the various What Not to Wear franchises. Only then did I cotton to the fact that dressing for one’s body type is a subset of the style industry.

LIKE HELL YOU SAY

Naturally I ignored said industry until my intervention. At which point I ignored it some more. But eventually, 4 or so years ago, I started accumulating sometimes-contradictory advice books that focused heavily on fit and proportion issues.

And I felt so liberated! I could leave the milk bottle on the table—er shake the dust off my Ed Grimley past—and never look back.

But THEN I started reading style-related forums and blogs. Granted it’d been awhile since I read Ms magazine cover to cover, but I was quite surprised to discover that the concept of dressing for one’s body type is highly politicized. Apparently on the repressiveness scale, body-centric style advice falls somewhere between polygamy and infant ear-piercing.

[Except when a far-right conservative derides the notion of flattering formulas; then style recommendations are as much an affront to personal freedom as reproductive rights and national health care.]

Now that I’ve been enlightened, I feel a bit alone in hewing to various rules. I’m talking all the other chicks are having a blast in the sack, and I’m refusing to take off my chastity belt alone.

Especially when it comes to resisting current shoe trends.

However (and sadly for those as shallow as I), skin-toned shoes only elongate one’s legs and streamline one’s ankles but so much. As I’m not expecting a post-40 growth spurt that results in Bambified gams, booties/shooties and the eternal T-strap offerings are a no-go. Instead, I’ll do a little harm reduction with a pair of more staid, blends-with-my-superpale-skin pearlized Clarks…even if their vamp is a smidge too high to be ideal.

Because compare plus contrast tells the whole tear-inducing tale.

[Though I’ll admit there’s something very sculptural about the metallic shooties, okay? Bonus points for looking less mean than the still-popular gladiators.]

Now there’s no denying that rules evolve in a cultural context, and rules can certainly—happily—be broken as a cultural “screw you.” The Gilded Lily’s world isn’t right unless she’s wearing something that screams 16, not pushing-70. [Current love: feather earrings from a body-piercing parlor. She hasn’t mentioned if the feathers were her only purchase, and I haven’t asked.]

But if you’d prefer your legs to look a little meatier, your hips to appear more balanced, or your vertically-challenged neck to evoke a swan, liberation won’t get you very far. Trying to create illusions requires a lot of pragmatism.

Or as Kenny likes to say:

You got to know when to hold ’em / Know when to fold ’em*

Know when to walk away / Know when to run”

Those who chafe at stylistic constraints can and should go their own way. When you’re looking to beat the house, though, it’s wise to keep your heart from making calls your body can’t cash.

* If you want to know HOW to “know when to hold ’em/know when to fold ’em” when shoes are the topic, check out Imogen’s  leg-lengthening tricks at Inside Out Style.

Featured shoes: Clarks Indigo Soybean Thong Sandal; Kelsi Dagger Karina Bootie; Hive and Honey Saira T-Strap

Ringside at Fizz’s Genie/Bottle bust-out [pt 3]

Earlier, I described how Ms Fizz and I purged her closet; I then shared the technical and logistical challenges she felt impaired her efforts to be more stylish. Now it was time to dig a little deeper.

Like many people or perhaps just me, my friend Ms Fizz looked at her clothing in aggregate one day and realized her method of event- or desperate-need-based shopping had given her a pretty useless closet. The majority of her so-called wardrobe either didn’t fit, didn’t flatter, or didn’t reflect who she was or how she lived.

So she decided to change. She wasn’t looking to be a head-turning fashion plate or an object of desire; she just wanted to look like she thought about style a bit. And color. Because it’s never a bad thing to go a little Pleasantville on one’s closet, as long as one avoids tossing in random shades of non-black willy and nilly.

Bring on the color!

As we immersed ourselves further into Operation Overhaul, I could tell that Fizz had thought through ALL the factors that contributed to her style stagnation. Despite being one of those tantalizingly private types, she selflessly agreed to go public with her shopping skeletons.

Q: Aside from fit and logistical issues, were there any other barriers that brought your closet to this really sad place that does not at all reflect your fabulously-extroverted, very generous, mega-sparkly personality?”

A: “Being driven by the cheapness factor didn’t help; despite being lucky enough to have some savings to spend on clothes, my default is “Why buy 1 expensive top when I can get 3 cheaper things?” I don’t necessarily buy 3 cheaper things, of course–or if I do I don’t buy the things that would really help update my closet.”

Interior demons discussed? Check. Now for the external influences. I knew Fizz had worked in some pantyhose-n-heels places in the past as well as a setting she describes as “no shirt, no shoes, no problem.” [No, not a strip club: a start-up.]

The latter was hardly a place of style inspiration, but what about her most recent job? Oh right: she was part of an organization with a dress code I’d have to label as “Aggressively Casual.” Less Hiking to the Latte Bar mellow, more I Could Kick Your Ass Without Messing Up My Look. With some Just Rolled Out of Bed, You Wanna Make Something Of It? subsets.

Q: If you were a tree in your workplace, what kind of tree would you be? Talk to me about cultural expectations.”

A: “There are places that don’t really care about the larger social signals clothing can send, and I know some people like that.

“But for me, the downside of working in those types of environments is that they don’t support or encourage doing more than basic self-care. People either don’t use clothing for personal expression or they dial their efforts way back so they fit into the overall culture.

“I’m realizing that I have a tendency to subconsciously absorb what others are doing, then incorporate it into my style or behavior. Between my co-workers and living in a very casual city, my wardrobe went into a death spiral without my really noticing it.

“I mean I didn’t give up entirely, I was trying…but I guess whatever I bought didn’t make enough of a difference.”

As I’d met Fizz for a Reunion Recap and seen her positively strutting down the street in her simple post-alteration cotton separates, I knew SHE knew how it felt to be a bit…intentional…about her visual presentation. And being both frugal and luckier than many these days, she had a nice little nest egg to spend on herself and on the economy.

In my completely unqualified eye she was ready, willing, and able to handle the massive amounts of shopping and relentless partial nudity that accompany a major wardrobe overhaul.

I, on the other hand, was in danger. Having spent most (okay, all) of my Fall/Winter update money, I’d have to violate my Mae Westian nature and actually RESIST temptation as I tromped around helping Ms Fizz find gorgeous things for her gorgeous self. Who knew that spending other people’s money could be so tough?

Next: Part 4 of Ringside at Fizz’s Genie/Bottle bust-out, aka Pictorial Payoff

Orange you lucky

For the last week, much of the PNW has seen fit to masquerade as hell. While I’m sure hell appreciates the homage and HVAC contractors welcome the dough re mi, 110 ain’t how my city should roll given its under- or non-airconditioned infrastructure.

Sure, 98% of the year it rains. But when thermostats spike, we end up with a geopolitical landscape that’s more Burning Man than Phoenix. And whatever the official numbers say, an extended-dance-play heat wave tends to leave our abodes, transportation devices, and organs feeling like we’ve reached:

I mean I’m scared to see if Julia Child has a recipe for cooked brains because I think I’m halfway through the prep.

Even my heat-loving friends are miserable. Including the one who traveled around the Sahara for FUN. Sure, the ones with central air still have a small hitch in their get-along. But The Gilded Lily tells me she’s sitting around with wet towels on her head, which shocks me. What’s next: tabloid shots of Mr Brains-and-Beauty Belafonte lounging in ratty underwear?

Speaking of hot: Activist-entertainer Belafonte

Speaking of hot: Activist-entertainer Belafonte

I hope not, because I’m too dehydrated to cry.

Anyway, instead of gadding about the city, showing off her new pierced ears and first-ever cell phone–part of her 69th birthday splashout–Lily is sweltering at home and has placed a ban on company. Which is why I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever see her new, pre-hot-flash outfit, an outfit that sounds rather extreme even for her:

Okay:  Neon orange knit jersey halter style dress with fringe….worn under a 60’s style flower organdy blouse…orange 3″ heel sandals….a huge ethnic scarf with deep wines, reds, greens, etc…..a wine colored ornate estate sale vintage necklace…..and now to top it all off the purse is red with silver sparkles!!!

Can you handle that???”

Can I handle that. Please. CAN I HANDLE THAT?

Well, maybe. The colors don’t scare me; after all, the combination looks gorgeous here:

From Flickrs great Pulp Fiction pool

But dang, to one who skews fairly minimalist that DOES sound like a lot of doodads and texture in one place at one time. I bet she’ll convert me when I see it come together with her personality, though. Lily’s a style brushfire, and she has a way of burning preconceptions to the ground.

Getting that sine qua non

I’ve nabbed a chunk of my title from this intriguingly exotic and regrettably not friendly-to-my-budget necklace, whose designer borrowed her title from some nice dead Latins. In the design world this is called “precedent” which amuses me no end because in the English class world it’s generally called “plagiarism.”

public service announcement…Latin terms are in the public domain…no intellectual property rights were harmed in the making of this post

Translated with great abrasiveness, sine qua non is what makes things happen and people shine. Without it one can’t have mojo. No lie, no joke. Seriously.

So: Style mojo. COMPLETELY SUBJECTIVE as to who has it and who doesn’t, yes. But as I mentioned in a prior post, I do enjoy women who break cultural rules around fashion. And as I also mentioned in that post, I have a pal—heretofore known as The Gilded Lily—who is incredibly future-oriented despite heading for 70.

Though she’s selective about the trends she wears, Lily dresses “young,” very young. As in frequently I would not be putting my toe in the fashion water she loves splashing around in. Were you to see her from afar, you might think, “Whoa.”

But once you get to know her even a bit, her very conscious decision to ignore many of the rules du jour makes absolute sense. Especially since she’s not delusional about the fact that she dresses quite outside the norm for her age:

I was reading an entry by Simon Doonan in the NY Observer where he says he never imagined as he aged he would become MORE UNRELENTINGLY TRENDY than ever! That describes me perfectly!! He says he probably resembles one of those unfortunate kids with progeria syndrome, that dreadful disease that causes one to wrinkle and age prematurely.

That is how I feel. That my dress of choice is so young that I look like a contrast of opposites…a grape and a prune.”

Ms Half-Grape/Half-Prune Lily fascinates me and invigorates me because she is out and ABOUT in the world. She’s endlessly captivated by the new, the evolving, the capability to take something (an attitude, an object, a neighborhood) from A to Z. If she had money she’d probably be a patroness of the arts, but she’s just an Ordinary Extraordinary.

Refreshingly, she has no desire to be a “wise elder” because she’s too busy learning from those around her. And she doesn’t discriminate: decades younger, her peers, the truly elderly…if it makes her cut it makes her cut.

Am I hinting that those dressing in a more mature or establishment way are stuck or tools of The Man? Nah, or rather not necessarily. For one thing I don’t feel like tarring myself with that particular brush today. For another every snowflake is different etc etc.

It’s just that Lily and I live in a region where the Hiking to the Latte Bar look has a stranglehold. Plus my own style often skews monochromatic and classic–especially in the winter, when I’m apt to look like a cross between a nun and a coal miner. So I take solace in knowing that when she throws on her leggings and lamé, it’s a chance for my horizons to expand right along with hers. I take solace in hanging out with someone who’s blasé about her past because she’s living in the present.