Archive for October, 2009

Masks and Monsters

holding hands

Even a beautiful monster is still a monster

It’s Halloween, it’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and teen exploitation and human trafficking are on the news.  So this is about Twilight, and horror. And clothes.

I knew I wouldn’t love Twilight.  I probably shouldn’t read Teen Vampire Romance if I find the danger / love  thing distasteful.  But I didn’t realize what a painful read it would be.  I’m late to the party as far as arguing whether Twilight is anti-feminist  (Answer: Yes; it unravels everything women have accomplished in the past 50 years  ).  But Twilight is worse than that.  It tells a true horror story about a girl who loses herself to abuse and doesn’t realize it.  The book doesn’t even realize it.  That’s terrifying, because that’s how abuse really works.

I love you because you taste so good

"Temptation." Fan Art by twilight~fan~art at deviant.art.com

The love story between Bella (highschool Junior/ girlfriend) and Edward Cullen (vampire/boyfriend) is a story of power plays, isolation, manipulation, insults, belittling, intimidation, and of course, violence. Edward is a boyfriend who sneaks the key to her house and spies on her while she’s asleep, ignores her when he’s talking to her Dad, and drives fast and laughs when it scares her.  Bella tends to respond with sarcasm, the closest she comes to having personality.  Which is sad, because sarcasm is the last resort of powerless, angry people everywhere.  I won’t list all the relationship red flags in the story, because the debate has been raging for awhile and there’s a lot to read out there already. I recommend Rachel Vampirely’s The Twilight Saga and Domestic Abuse   and Edward Cullen: Abusive Boyfriend (heartening, because it’s written by a young fantasy-genre fan ). For advanced parody, there’s a pretty hilarious piece (including Mormonism references) here: Sparkledammerung .  Of course, the criticisms are outnumbered about 50-to-1 by women and girls who wish they were Bella. For real.

But this is a fashion blog.  So what does Bella wear?  Bella’s clothes, like Bella, are boring.  I wish I could say that her clothes don’t matter because the story is about her genuine personality, not her appearance.  But Bella makes no decisions and has no character.  Edward falls for Bella because of the way her blood smells to him (which, fair enough, sexual chemistry) not because of anything she does or says.  Bella has few character traits beyond “clumsy” and “brave.” Brave in the face of how dangerous her boyfrirend is.  Ahem. 

A girl can annoy you by being obsessed with a boring guy, for year after year, and still do (and wear) fascinating things.

After 500 pages of longing-for-him, I kept waiting for some character development.  At some point, doesn’t she have to stop whining “Oh, Ashley,” get her butt back to Tara to save the devastated plantation, and go make a brilliant dress out of the curtains to sell herself to Rhett Butler?  Is that too much to ask?

Okay, yes, it is.  I’ll stop complaining that Bella is a badly-written protagonist.  I will complain that she is (inadvertently? insidiously?) a fundamentally awful character: The obsessed and submissive woman in love who stops caring who she is. Just look at what she wears. 

Crossing the line between modest and invisible

All 16-year-olds in Forks dress like this when asked to go hiking with a cute guy they like.



1. Tan sweater, jeans, and white shirt

Day-hike date wear.  Yawn. You might think, a nice-ish sweater and collared shirt for the woods?  Don’t worry, Bella is not much of a hiker, so she’s not going to get it dirty:  “he held the damp moss and ferns aside for me . . . when the path took us over fallen trees or boulders, he would help me, lifting me by the elbow.”  On the way back, he carries her.  Bella is clumsy, not weak, but either way she’s helpless to the point of dysfunction.  The real plot point of the tan sweater outfit is that Edward wears the same outfit (YAWN), but he looks like a “supermodel” in it.  Bella feels inferior, which is a theme of their relationship.  Why does she “deserve” such a God-like creature? They go into the forest where Edward vents his pent-up vampire thing and rampages around tearing up trees.  It’s okay, they’re just trees, even though he wants to hurt her he won’t because he loves her.  She trusts him, and feels impressed, which is not surprising for someone who feels so inferior and has no sense of their own self.  Violent rages are not romance. They are a big fat warning sign that says: “Girl. Get out, now.”

Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, teachers at Holy Name of Jesus School

If you are a Sister of the Sacred Heart of Mary, a long khaki skirt is a really appropriate fashion choice

Long, khaki-colored, casual skirt with dark blue blouse he likes.

Bella chooses this special outfit to meet Edward’s family.  I won’t pick on her for wearing the blouse just because he likes it, because we’ve all been there.  The skirt is supposed to be modest, because this is an abstinence-themed book. But it crosses the line to absolute invisibility.  This is what nuns wear.  I’m somehow more creeped out than if Bella had been over-sexed here.  At the Cullen house, they go into Edward’s bedroom, where he gets annoyed that Bella isn’t scared enough of the vampires.  He wants her to be scared (or at least, to know she should be scared.  Because he loves her, right?)  So he growls, attacks her, and pins her down in his Adonis-like arms of steel.  Just to prove he can.  Is this supposed to be cute?  It’s assault.  Threats are sick and wrong.  Pretending they’re a game is just sicker and wronger.

Beautiful blue!

Perfect stylish, warm, hooded, hip jacket worn by Bella in the Twilight movie, where professional stylists had the challenge of giving her some personality while still staying faithful to the book.

Hospital gown: 

When Bella gets mixed up in Edward’s dangerous vampire crowd, things go bad.  She is such a sweet-smelling object of desire that James the Vampire hunts her down (although it’s not about Bella — his main motive is to provoke Edward into a fight) .  She gets almost-killed and Edward saves her life.  She is unconscious and doesn’t get to watch the fight, much less participate.  She wakes up in the hospital with tubes and wires all over her. She’s survived, but there’s not much left of Bella as a person.  She’s totally stripped of her identity and, of course, her clothes are gone.  I love the commentary on hospital gowns from Birth as an American Rite of Passage   by Robbie Davis-Floyd:  

A woman’s clothes are her markers of individual identity; removing them effectively communicates the message that she is no longer autonomous, but dependent on the institution . . . she is a liminal  being, without status, property, insignia, secular clothing indicating rank or role…liminals behavior is normally passive or humble; they must obey their instructors implicitly, and accept arbitrary punishment without complaint.

Bella doesn’t want pain medication because she’s afraid to lose consciousness.  Edward calls the nurse and tells her to medicate her anyway.  Bella insists she won’t consent, and in the creepiest line in the book, Edward says, “I don’t think they’re going to ask you to swallow anything.” Yes, he’s threatening her with forced intravenous sedation.  This is such a profound threat to human rights it normally requires a court order.  Don’t worry Bella, he wants what’s best for you.

quoteProm Dress: I’m not a big prom fan, but I so, so wanted to like the prom ending.  But it’s hard to, because Bella doesn’t want to be there (she is too “clumsy” for dances. What?) No fun primping and being thrilled with how she looked in anticipation of her big night.  The primping was done to her (by Edward’s sister) and the prom was a secret (she was hoping for a secret Vampirization ceremony).  Yuck and yuck, seriously.  But Edward decides what’s best, and then (yuck-est of all) he’s right again, because he can pretty much control her all around the dance floor so her clumsy, insecure ass doesn’t fall.

So it goes with Bella’s outfits: from boring to liminal to a Prom dress she doesn’t even want.  And I’ve suffered through twenty-five chapters of a teen heroine who is so resigned, so inferior-feeling, and so de-selfed that she doesn’t care what she wears. 

Emotional control is abusive because it strips people of their ability — even desire — to make their own choices.  In Twilight , all the control games are okay because Edward isn’t really going to hurt her physically.  This is supposed to be romantic, because it shows he loves her enough to deny his violent nature.  When he warns Bella that it could “end badly” — with her death — she reflects that she loves him too much to care.  She doesn’t want anything but him.  She’d rather die at his hands than give him up.  This is dark, folks.  This is dangerous, dangerous stuff.

So I think I’ve decided that all the primping girls go through when we fall in love is not that bad.  Yes, we agonize over our shape. We debate how much skin to hide or reveal.  Yes, this is about artifice, if not outright illusion.  But it’s also about visualizing and creating our best selves.  Don’t wear a mask of makeup  (it’s fake and clogs your pores!) But don’t give up on liking what you see when you look in the mirror.  If only Bella had one outfit she really liked. She might have liked herself.  And I would’ve liked her so much more.

Go get dressed, Bella. 

Vampire, 1734, from Fr. vampire or Ger. Vampir (1732, in an account of Hungarian vampires), from Hung. vampir, from O.C.S. opiri (cf. Serb. vampir, Bulg. vapir, Ukrainian uper), said by Slavic linguist Franc Miklošič to be ult. from Kazan Tatar ubyr “witch.”

From the New York Times on teen protstitution:  “I’d also fallen for the guy. I felt trapped in a way I can’t really explain.”  



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That’ll Do, Pig

Is this really so bad?

Our recent posts on perfect coats and the search for bras and jeans and the perfect pho and burritos has gotten me thinking… Is there such a thing as a perfect piece of clothing out there? Each one of us is so unique and our specifications for “perfect” just as diverse that I can’t imagine there’s a perfect anything out there for all of us.

Personally? It’s true I DO love my designer jeans but am I in love with each and every one? Of course not. Each one has its own itty bitty distinct flaws but I love them all nonetheless. I prefer them over all the rest. Should we expect our clothes to live up to the standards that we aren’t willing to live up to ourselves?  Should I get rid of my Hagrid coat just because it isn’t Harry Potter? Of course I want to be pretty and cute and we should always strive to better ourselves and fit is always important but should we really struggle that hard for perfection (at least to our versions)?

If you have what you think is the perfect anything please share!

You're perfect just the way you are, Babe.

You're perfect just as you are, Bridget... I mean Babe.

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Watch out men! We are taking your pants

Logical fallacy: If women wear pants, men must either be in skirts or naked from the waist down

Jennie recently shared an interview with New York Times columnist Gail Collins, author of When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.   The interview is here:

The world has seriously changed since our mother’s generation.  Not surprisingly, a lot of these changes involve clothing.  There’s always been a tension between feminism and femininity (must we act masculine to have the opportunities men have?) Collins debunks (again) the urban legend of literal “bra-burning” (never happened).  And asked whether a “feminist” identity is distasteful to modern young women, Collins says, “even back in the ’20s women were writing that there was something about the word ‘feminism’ that suggested bad shoes.” 


Woman doing housework (see apron), 1959

My name is Robin, and I’m a feminist. Who won’t wear bad shoes.  Women my age (36 in 2009) know we can aim for pretty and powerful.  We’re not shocked when it’s a struggle to have both, but we know we deserve it.  If we want, we can run the world in skirts and heels . . . or at least we should be able to.  And we’d love to argue about why we’re not. 

Just don’t force us into skirts and heels.  Because seriously, it was not that long ago that women were supposed to wear dresses all the time. They might wear pants at home, but there aren’t even that many pictures of that before 1960.  Because if they were photographed (or depicted in art at home, see left) they would have put a dress on.  Does that seem absurd?  As Gail describes:

. . . when I went to college we weren’t allowed to wear slacks out of the dormitory, except if you were going bowling. And later on, the younger women had demonstrations and they all went out in slacks and a lot of them had picket signs, and they got rid of the law. But when I was there I just signed out to go bowling every night. I was absolutely not one of the great cultural heroines of my time, I guarantee you.

How. Dare. She.
BOWLING. Seriously. I guess pants were better because they ran and bent over? What was up with this? Mom?

Skirt vs. pants is still a big debate for many working women. Does it sex us up, or reduce us to an gender-specific expectation? And if we play along, is this necessarily a bad thing? At least we have a choice (or do we — when we hear that a Federal Judge might really prefer female attorneys to appear before him only in skirted suits).  If we dress  like men to be treated as well as them, do we concede that the Masculine is the default, the power ideal? (Because gender is something extra that women “have” and men are “normal?”) More importantly, will it make us look fat and dumpy if we tromp around in heavy, practical shoes? Heels are so slimming.

hard to be a man

Anti-suffrage cartoon circa 1910. The man and children are unhappy because the woman is leaving the house to go cast her vote. I don't think this was ironic.

Gail Collins is a little ambivalent about the clothes issue. Which is fine with me, because she’s awesome.  But around here, it’s important.  When I was pregnant with my daughter, I got some flack for wanting to buy her dresses right away — but it turns out, sturdy cotton knit dresses can be comfy and fun for girls.  She’s so cute! Then I’m conflicted when she argues too much about which PRETTY DRESS she’s going to wear in the morning. She is only 2, and there are more important things in life.  But it’s GOOD (and I’m getting to this, with Teens and Twilight) that she’s opinionated, self-possessed and determined — even when it comes to flowered pants. Should I worry that she wears too much pink? On the other hand, should I encourage my son to wear dresses (at least just for play?)

Gender-blindness may never happen, and we aren’t even totally “equal” yet.  And even for women who aren’t personally interested in equal career opportunity, the world needs it:  Opportunity builds confidence, confidence builds esteem. Girls’ self-esteem helps them stand up for themselves.  This keeps them safe and free from domestic violence and predation (TWILIGHT ARGH).  As adults they’ll be confident enough to demand equal healthcare and equal pay. 

We’ve still got a long way to go on this road.  Does it slow us down to wear a dress along the way? As Collins says, there are “walls you are never going to climb over, and separating women from really ridiculous but incredibly sexy shoes is one of those.”

. . . Unless you can climb over those walls in heels.  I’m not saying you have to try.  Just don’t tell yourself you can’t.

Slacks “loose trousers” first recorded 1824, originally military; O.E. slæc “loose, careless” (in ref. to personal conduct), from P.Gmc. *slakas (cf. O.S. slak, O.N. slakr, O.H.G. slah “slack,” M.Du. lac “fault, lack”), from PIE base *(s)leg- “to be slack” (see lax). Sense of “not tight” (in ref. to things) is first recorded c.1300. The verb is attested from 1520; slacken (v.) first recorded 1580.

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Coat de Roan

Red coats apparently look bigger in the face of flash photography. This was almost right but too bulky and tight.

Red coats apparently look bigger in the face of flash photography. This was almost right but too bulky and tight.

Did you ever give someone really great advice, thinking that if only they followed it they would no longer have any problems? AND they would totally love you because you helped them? I had high hopes with my recent Coat Advice for Jennie.  And while we did inspire her to go find a cute and rain-sittable Helly Hansen jacket, I can’t take direct credit. Waiting for pics of that coat, Jennie!

As often happens when I feel vindicated/ want to prove to myself that I’m right, I promptly toddled off to the mall to put my own self-satisfied wisdom into action.  So that Saturday at Macy’s Shop for a Cause,* I was ready to find my own perfect coat. 


My Coat Requirements: 

1. Hooded. This not negotiable.  I am dealing with 60 inches of rain a year and my office has no garage.  I have plenty of chic coats with no hood already.  And umbrellas . . .  don’t want to explain the umbrella thing to California people again. Just believe me, I’m looking for a hood. 

2. Supercute.  My coat needs to elevate my outfit, not bring it down.  I already have an wrinkled, old Gortex rainjacket that folds up and zips into its own pocket.  I already have a large, shapeless Hagrid Overcoat.  I want my new coat to make me feel so fabulous that I’m hoping to run into someone I know in the grocery store, just so they can see me.  I’m willing to pay one HUNDRED dollars for this coat.

Laundry by Shelli Segal.  Again with the red making me extra-puffy.  This is down, which is really more warmth than I need in fall and spring.  Great hood though.  Not really up to fussing with a belt every time I need to take my coat on or off.

Laundry by Shelli Segal. Red + shiny = too puffy. Belt too fussy.

My idea was that color or shape (or both) would be a great way to go. I found a couple problems with this: As evident here, red is apparently not slimming. Didn’t know this until I saw the photos! Thanks, digital camera.  The other problem is, most coats come in three colors: Black, The New Black circa 1998 (gray), and The New Black circa every other era (Black).  I don’t MIND a black coat, really. Just that, if I’m going absorb absolutely every particle of light that comes near me? I’m going to do it with the best seams possible.

Here’s what I found and why it didn’t work.  The red coats looked better on the hanger.  Down is too hot.  Belts are too fussy. Pockets need to work FOR your shape, not against it.  Double breasted . . . well, we’ve got to be careful with those large, symmetrical breast-level buttons, don’t we. 

I saw very similar styles at Target (especially the belt . . . does anyone around here want to BUCKLE a belt OVER their coat?!), but way cheaper and cheap-looking.  Aki saw similar styles at the Burberry Outlet, but way expensive and expensive-looking.  I’m hoping to find something in the $100 range that looks severely awesome. 

I haven’t given up.


October shopping 051

Double-breasted. Actually, the overall effect is quadruple-breasted.


More Laundry by Shelli Segal. Killer sale price, but why? Because it doesn't work. Too baggy, bad length, weird seams. Bummer because I REALLY like this color.

More Laundry by Shelli Segal. Killer sale price, but why? Because it doesn't work. Too baggy, bad length, weird seams. Bummer because I REALLY like this color.

*More pictures to come, I am taking the time to carefully preview and edit out of respect to our rather picky guest participant.

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The Fabulous Life

Are rich people having more fun than the rest of us? Yes, yes I think they are.

Burberry coat at the outlet mall, discounted to $850

Burberry coat at the outlet mall, discounted to $850

I tried this on as a joke but I have to tell you, it felt amazing and super luxurious. In general, I am against things costing an arm and a leg. Most of the time it’s complete BS.

This coat was discounted at $1019 and the fabulous boots were $439. Even though it was heeled it was very comfortable.

This coat was discounted at $1019 and the fabulous boots were $439.

These boots had a tiny heel (I mean it was a few inches high but the heels were pointy) but surprisingly comfortable and oh so fierce. The coat felt great too but I think the first one was more flattering.

I can't remember the price but I think it was around $699.

I can't remember the price but I think it was around $699.

White isn’t my color but I felt like a queen, especially with that funky collar.

So… if I felt so fabulous in them should I spend the $800+?

No. The answer is no. But maybe if I win the lottery.

Le sigh.

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Your author sporting an early 70s model of the baby haramaki. I know. Tres chic.

Today, I would like to salute my friend JQ, who I’ve always considered something of a fashion innovator.

But before that, a little bit of Japanese lesson for you: Haramaki. What do you think it means? If you pay any attention to anything even remotely Japanese, you may have been able to piece it together from words like “harakiri” (though the proper term is “seppuku”) or “futomaki” and deduced that it has something to do with stomach and something to do with wrapping. As I found out from wikipedia tonight, haramaki originated from a piece of samurai armor that protects the mid-section in battle. Through the years it has evolved into dowdy undergarments your grandpa wears to cute tubes to wrap your baby in, to something cool hip kids are wearing as a fashion statement today. If you’ve been pregnant you might also know about Bella Bands, which are merely American versions of the haramaki marketed towards the pregnant populace.

Where was this when *I* was growing up?

Where was this when *I* was growing up?

But what you may not know is that before Bella Bands, there was JQ. Yes, ever since I first told my friend JQ about haramakis she has been crafting and wearing her own. With the recent resurgence of the leg warmers and fingerless gloves I suddenly remembered about these. What about your tummy? Can we be sort of fashionable with tummy accessories? Can we? JQ is such a revolutionary that she has even moved on to “shirimaki” which are butt warmers. I think it’s an intriguing idea. Wear it under your top but over your leggings. If a patterned shirt is too much of a commitment, this is the thing for you. It has great possibilities and we will keep you updated.

Because I’m sure you can’t wait.

Bella Bands are not as new as you think. Btw, am I the only one bothered with the lady on the left revealing her tummy like that? Hello!

Bella Bands are not as new as you think. Btw, am I the only one bothered with the lady on the left revealing her tummy like that? Hello!

Check out these hip youth!

Check out these hip youth!

He's the founding forefather of tummy warmers.

He's the founding forefather of tummy warmers.

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From Boden UK: Classic velvet blazer (Damson blue), Cable and Bobble hat (rouge melange), jacquard skirt (violet and cranberry), lustrous patent boots (nightshade), essential crew neck (orange marl).

From Boden UK: Classic velvet blazer (Damson blue), Cable and Bobble hat (rouge melange), jacquard skirt (violet and cranberry), lustrous patent boots (nightshade), essential crew neck (orange marl).

Yes I’m lazy today (actually CRAZY BUSY. Really) But the BBC Lifestyle What Not to Wear shape calculator  is too awesome to keep to myself.  I wish it gave us “fruit” shapes, but it gives you bit-by-bit shopping advice (even better!) for each body part. As a bonus it uses cute Britishisms.

So to play along: 

1.  Use the Shape Calcuator and find your body type!

2. Tell us what interesting new tidbit you learned to flatter your shape . . .

3. . . .  and share your favorite of the cute British words it gives you.

“Velvet”: 1320, probably from O.Prov. veluet, from V.L. *villutittus, dim. of V.L. villutus “velvet,” lit. “shaggy cloth,” from L. villus “shaggy hair, nap of cloth, tuft of hair,” probably a dialectal variant of vellus “fleece.”

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