Re: Channeling Your Inner Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich Susan Calman

Marlene Dietrich and Susan Calman. Photograph: Phil Fisk/The Observer and Getty. Printed in the Guardian 4/24/16.

Recovering lawyer-turned-comedian Susan Calman penned this great article in the Guardian on how Marlene Dietrich inspired her to start dressing in menswear. It’s a story about how fashion reflects our inner selves and how we have to embrace who we are in order to find our style.



Re: Getting Phryne’s Style

Inspired by Miss Fisher’s Mysteries? Want to dress more like Phryne? Luckily, adding a 1920s flare to your modern wardrobe has never been easier.

Phryne's Black and White Coat

Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) and Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) in a black and white coat with an Oriental design.

Add a jacket or cardigan. One of the things that immediately strikes the viewer is Phryne’s wardrobe of eye-catching jackets. The jacket, duster, or cardigan frequently functions as the statement piece with the rest of the outfit solid-colored and simple. Jackets are very in fashion nowadays, but you’ll have to use a number of different search terms to find them. Use “kimono”, “jacket”, “shrug”, “cardigan”, and “duster” and see what you can pull up.

Another option is to create your own shrug or jacket from a long, rectangular scarf, shawl, or stole. Fold the stole in half length-ways and knot the short ends together to form sleeves. If the shrug is falling off your shoulders, tie another knot about 6-12 inches away from the first one, further down the arm of the jacket. Slip your arms through the sleeves and voila! instant shrug. When I was a young dancer, we would use small veils (about 72″ long and 36″ wide) to make shrugs for our bellydance costumes. You can also sew the sleeves partway closed in order to form a more permanent jacket.

Phryne's Cream Cardigan

Phryne (Essie Davis) sports a scarf made of assuit, a vintage Egyptian textile very popular in the 1920s, over her cardigan.

Add a scarf. Indoors or out, Phryne is often seen wearing scarves, usually long rectangular ones. If your local department store isn’t carrying anything you like, try the on-line shops of major museums (e.g. the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Museums often sell smart scarves as part of their revenue-generating efforts.

Use your costume jewelry in innovative ways.  One of Phryne’s brooches, for example, will appear variously as a hat decoration, scarf pin, and robe closure.

Phryne's Embroidered Black Coat

Phryne in another one of her fabulous coats, this time a long black duster with embroidered trim.

Experiment with ethnic designs and textiles. In the 1920s, there was a lot of fascination with the Far and Near East on the part of the general public and the fashions and accessories of the time reflect that. This was the era in which King Tut’s tomb was discovered among other things. Today, there is a similar vogue for ethnic designs so take the opportunity to add a print blouse (or scarf) to your wardrobe.

Go for a clean, streamlined look with strong, intense colors. Although Phryne can and does wear pastels, more often than not, she favors deep colors such as navy blue, black, and winter winter. Black and white together is a favorite color combination for her. When she wears prints, they tend to be simple geometric designs such as circles. And while we see her wearing fancy ballgowns from time to time, mostly she wears very non-fussy pieces–wide leg pants, sleeveless blouses, short jackets, tear drop earrings.


Re: What the Fitch

Ellen Degeneres has perhaps the best take on the Abercrombie & Fitch controversy making the rounds on the Internet right now.  You go, girl!

Re: All You Really Need to Know About Body Image ….

Sweet Bodies

….in one easy graphic.

Re: I’m Too Sexy for My Clothes

This past Halloween it seemed as if there were a plethora of opinion pieces out there regarding overly sexy Halloween costumes, especially overly sexy costumes meant for pre-teen and teen girls.  First, it’s important to realize that there are two issues here: 1) the hypersexualization of the under-18 crowd, especially girls and young women and 2) the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of Halloween costumes in general.

Let’s take hypersexualization first. At a very basic level, “hypersexualization” means encouraging kids to demonstrate an adult sexuality before they are even remotely ready for it. This isn’t a new problem. About ten years ago, PBS Frontline produced a program called “The Merchants of Cool” which documented how advertisers and manufacturers sought to pry teens and pre-teens loose from their spending money by selling them on two icons–the “midriff” and the “mook”. The “midriff” is marketed to girls and, as you might imagine, promotes acting and dressing in a highly sexualized manner. The “mook” is marketed to boys and promotes and acting and dressing in a highly aggressive and violent manner.

The most disturbing part of this program for me was how the push to promote products as “cool” created a vicious feedback loop. As the new “true cool” forms of fashion, music, and other popular culture items were co-opted by the establishment, kids reacted by going even farther becoming more violent, more extreme, more anti-social.  As the author points out in a separate interview, kids don’t need to have themselves reflected back to them. What they need and crave are positive adult role models. However, since the most persuasive adults in their lives are busy trying to get their money that doesn’t happen.

People often seem more concerned about the “midriffs” than the “mooks”. Whether this is because boys are expected to be aggressive and anti-social or whether it is because girls and women are supposed to be “controlled”, especially where their sexuality is concerned, it’s hard to tell. I find both images equally disturbing because I feel that these images keep girls and boys from growing into healthy adults.

So what can we do about hypersexuality/hyperviolence on a personal level? Honestly, one of the most important things we can do is teach young men and women how to sew and craft. When they are able to create their own fashions, what they produce becomes a reflection of who they truly are and not something that they have consumed because it’s marketed as “cool”. They become artists and therefore producers as opposed to consumers. I strongly encourage all potential teachers out there to make a particular effort to include boys and young men in these sewing/crafting endeavors and not to assume that they wouldn’t want to do it because they’re guys. If they can paint designs on a gaming figurine, they can paint designs on their blue jeans.

So what about inappropriate Halloween costumes? First, “inappropriate” is a difficult thing to define. When we are talking about kids younger than eighteen, “inappropriate” usually means whatever disturbs their parents and what that is exactly varies from parent to parent. I remember one girlfriend of mine who objected to her daughter going out for Halloween dressed as a dark angel–black wings and a black halo. Don’t ask me why, I didn’t get it either.  The girl’s sister who wore the more conventional white halo and white wings got the thumbs up.

When it comes to the over-eighteen crowd, “inappropriateness” takes different forms. For women, “inappropriate” usually means dressing in highly sexual, boudoir costumes that belong in the bedroom and not on the street.  The usual lame excuse is that Halloween is a time for women to explore their wild, sexual side without consequences. To which I say, “gimme a break.”

When a young woman is wearing a Little Bo-Peep costume cut up to her backside and down to her navel, she isn’t embodying any kind of female power whatsoever. All she is doing is catering to MALE fantasies about what women should be. In fact, it’s worse than that–she is buying into what MARKETERS say men can and should want in their sexual fantasies.

True sexiness comes from within and it is a powerful combination of self-confidence and personality. Without those qualities, a mannequin might as well wear the costume.

Men dominate the other category of inappropriateness–the offensive costume. The offensive costume is designed to appall, not through blood or gore, but through a total lack of good taste.  Quick field guide: guy dressed as zombie with realistic rotting flesh–cool.  Guy dressed as flasher with trenchcoat and oversized stuffed phallus–offensive.  If other people haven’t curled their lips or thrown up a hand to shield their eyes, the offensive costumer doesn’t consider that he has done his job. Incidentally, that flasher costume was old when I was in school. Get something new, guys.

Interestingly enough, both kinds of inappropriate costumes are designed to gain the attention of others.  As my public relations teacher once said, you can get publicity by burning a cross, but it’s not going to be the kind of publicity you’ll like. People who wear too sexy or offensive costumes seem to not understand or not care about the difference between negative and positive attention. And I think that’s sad because it speaks to their own lack of self-confidence.

Re: Rock Star Style

Ellen Degeneres dressed in Brooks Brothers as host of her daytime talk show, “Ellen”. Ellen looks both tailored and crisp and yet relaxed and hip.

Ellen again looking both relaxed and chic. Her coloring enables her to wear white and look good which most people can’t pull off.

When your work requires casual clothes, it can be difficult to look pulled together. You don’t want to dress too formally yet you want to look as if you planned your ensemble, not like you rolled out of bed and put on the first thing that you found on the floor. This contretemps is magnified when you have to appear on stage.  The folks I’ve cited here are ones whose style I admire. Their clothes look good on stage, but they are not theatrical in a costume-y or “I-set-fashion” kind of way.

Okay, is it wrong to admit that I consider a bunch of Canadian folk-rockers style icons? From left to right, Bob Hallett, Alan Doyle, and Sean McCann, the trio that’s the heart of Great Big Sea. The fellow behind them in the white T-shirt is Canadian actor, Allen Hawco.  The lads are looking pretty smart in their version of stagewear–dark shirts with blue jeans and a dark blazer, blinged up with some manly necklaces. Both Alan and Sean have Celtic pendants that they’ve worn for years.

Another look at Great Big Sea, a poster for their last tour. I’m digging Bob’s bowling shirt and Sean’s sneakers.  If you haven’t tried their music, by the way, I highly recommend it.

Sheryl Crow, looking both sharp and very natural, in a leather vest and torn blue jeans.

A look at Sheryl’s line of clothes which she describes as vintage, biker, and American heritage all combined together. She plans to eventually have a children and a menswear line as well.

Sheryl can (and has) worn dresses, but she usually prefers a top and pants kind of ensemble. Sheryl has said that she particularly looks for Americana-style pieces that reflect the Old West or the frontier.

Re: More Tim Gunn Goodness

In this sketch from the Craig Ferguson Show (4/30/10), Tim Gunn pretty much expresses my feelings about the fashions of the 1980s. Those of us who lived through the ’80s are scarred for life, ya know ….

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