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I was walking down the street the other day eating a banana.
I know that sounds like the beginning of some kind of bad and possibly pornographic joke, but it’s actually just what was happening. And I was uncomfortable with it. And that got me thinking about why I was uncomfortable with it.
And the answer? My Southern roots are showing again. Seems like they do that more often than not.
My sister-in-law (or more accurately, my two-year old niece) gave me a book last Christmas entitled, “Suck Your Stomach In and Put Some Color On!: What Southern Mamas Tell Their Daughters that the Rest of Y’all Should Know Too” by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson. The book is kind of a retrospective of what we Southern women heard and learned as we were growing up. While it didn’t resonate with me as much as my own memories, it was entertaining, and brought some other thoughts to mind, which I’ll jot down here.
If you’ve read much popular Southern chick-fic (otherwise known as fiction books written for women), you’ll see terms such as DGs (Daddy’s Girls), Sweet Potato Queens, Ya Yas, and GRITS (Girls Raised In The South). Those terms didn’t exist back in my day.
If I was anything, I was a Southern Belle, although that label carried a connotation of wealth that I never hoped to achieve. Those were the girls who lived in Hope Valley, who were invited to participate in Cotillion, and who then became debutantes, complete with virginal white dresses at the Debutante Ball. It still happens every year, and I’m sure those not invited are still slightly, if silently, devastated. I recall presenting a “who cares” attitude to the world when my classmates all went off to dancing lessons – I was volunteering at the hospital, and working in a restaurant – but I still had a touch of longing in my heart. I spent my life on the fringes of the wealthy society of Durham, because I went to a great private school; I always felt like I was on the outside looking in. In reality, I think I had a much better time being on the outside.
But I digress. I guess you’re used to that. I will make an excellent old lady storyteller someday.
Back to the street and the banana.
I remember that, as a very (and I mean very) small girl, certain rules of propriety were hammered into me in that gentle way that only southern matriarchs can hammer. I believe these rules came from my Father’s Mother (known to all as Coochie), though it’s possible that both my Mother’s Mother and my Mother herself had an iron hand/velvet glove touch in reinforcing them. My Mother’s Mother was much more of a rough-and-tumble farm/mountain woman, but she stil made sure I had a hat, gloves, and a purse when she took me to church when she came to visit.
And as an aside, all the women in my family have that rough-and-tumble mountain woman touch to them. Myself included.
I can’t remember all the rules all at once. I seem to remember them piecemeal; that is to say, when I am breaking them, something stirs within me and I hear a gentle drawl in my ear, reminding me that I am violating some code of ladylike behavior.
Eating on the street is one of those rules. I don’t think I have ever, in my entire life, purchased a piece of food from a street food cart. Because then I would have to eat it on the street. And that just isn’t done. Whenever I find myself having to eat anything on the street, I find myself uncomfortable. Because the bottom line?
Ladies don’t eat on the street.
What else don’t ladies do?
Ladies don’t brush their hair in public. I do this, once in a while, but just as with eating, I feel uncomfortable, like several generations of southern ancestral women are looking over my shoulder, pursing their lips (which is a thing they did so very well to express their displeasure with something, while not actually uttering anything critical).
Ladies certainly don’t apply make-up in public. And this is assuming that one can still be considered a lady (as opposed to a harlot) if one even wears make-up. Coochie wore powder (she had several lovely compacts), a touch of lipstick, and a dab of rouge from the rouge pot. But not too much. And that was it.
I still have a vague feeling that I should be wearing gloves when I am out. I actually love wearing gloves – not big, Sasquatch, winter gloves, but dainty cotton, voile, or nylon gloves that fit your hands like, well, a glove. They are cool, and soothing, and your hands feel like they are being charmed and charming at the same time. Like you’re hiding something lovely beneath the fabric. (I have pretty hands, so I can say that I am.)
As I said, all the notions of what ladies do and don’t do aren’t at the surface. There are a few that rest beneath the surface, such as “Never use a toothpick in public” (though I don’t like it when anyone, male or female, does that) and “Ladies don’t chew gum in public” (a habit which I still find off-putting, though my Mother used to chew it in the car, but I think the car wasn’t quite considered public.)
My Mother also was relatively cautious about the length of my clothes. The rule was that it had to cover my “zatch”. The definition of the “zatch” area was slightly fuzzy (no pun intended) because we didn’t discuss the beginnings and endings of such physical limits in great detail. I believe when I asked, her answer was, “If you have to ask, you know what the answer is.” Suffice it to say, I knew. And now, though I am as far from a prude as I am from living in Antarctica, I find myself looking at 20-somethings teetering down Larimer Street on a Friday night in 5-inch heels and skirts that perhaps come up just shy of the “zatch zone”, and pursing my lips.
Perhaps I’m a Southern matriarch in the making after all.
Because I’m such a fashion maven – nay, an icon in the fashion universe – I know you’ve been waiting with bated (or baited, if you’ve been waiting at a sushi bar) breath for my report on the fashion trends for Spring 2011. Well, it’s time. Fashion week in New York, London, Paris and Milan is over, and the hustle and rush has settled a bit.
I’ve already made good use of the insight I’ve gained into the looks for spring by advising a woman shopping next to me in a local resale store.
Here’s what you can expect for Spring 2011:
- Color? Fuggedaboutit. Whites, creams, the dreaded beige, a few soft sand colors, gentle peach, dusty pale blue. silver-grey, gold. That’s about it. Some black, as is to be expected. The only color that’s really showing is orange. I guess we can all wear orange on days when we have our periods. (Oops, TMI.) You’ll see the occasional lapis lazuli blue or mossy green thrown in just to wake up the eyes. (Versace and Pucci are showing a little turquoise.) However, the lack of a true single color for the Spring is balanced by an old trend unfortunately revived…
- Patchwork! The hippie look is back, and patchwork patterns are more common than a church quilt sale in rural Iowa. Makes me wish I’d kept my clothes from the late 1970s. However, while the patterns are familiar, the styles, for the most part, are unfamiliar – and I, for one, wish they had stayed that way. You’ll see some examples in the “Oh Dear God No” photo section of the slideshow below.
- Texture: I have to say, I love what I’m seeing for texture this Spring. It’s me. It’s floaty, silken, soft, feminine, comfortable. Beautiful.
- Shape: For the garments that aren’t relying on texture to create their shape, the shape is – in a word – square. If you don’t like the ethereal look, you will be relegated to a boxy shape that looks like a hospital gown with (I assume) a back – or else a doctor’s smock. Not exactly the pinnacle of chic.
Interesting how we’re looking at a bit of a throwback to the 1970s and the 1920s in the same season.
And so, here’s the slideshow of Spring 2011 fashions, broken into two sections: the “You Look Mahvelous, Dahling” collection and the “Oh Dear God, No” collection.
Today is the birthday of Amelia Bloomer, who significantly impacted the future of fashion for all women. Born in 1818 in upstate New York, Bloomer championed the idea of pants for women. While she did not create the style, which was derived from images of the garb of middle eastern women, she was such a virulent advocate that the fashion itself came to be known as “Bloomers”.
Unfortunately, Amelia was unable to stand the ridicule, and returned to wearing dresses once the crinoline was introduced. For those of you who are not historically fashion-savvy, the crinoline is a stiff petticoat that allows the skirt of a dress to stand out away from the body. It was the forerunner of the hoop-skirt, and just another tool to help women hide their true shape from men. Clearly, if men ever got a glimpse of a woman’s true shape in the 1800s, they’d have all turned into raging satyrs. Or possibly not. Everyone was obviously very nervous about sex in the 19th century.
While Mrs. Bloomer rejected the comfort of pants for a stiff skirt that challenged mobility , her original passion for pants spurred into existence the Rational Dress Society of 1881. This London-based organization argued for attire for women that did not deform the body, as whalebone corsets did, and that did not require women to wear up to 14 pounds of undergarments to ensure that their figures were decently disguised.
As a positive aside, the elimination of voluminous skirtage no doubt saved countless lives – each year, scores of women burned to death when their garments went up in flames from passing too near fireplaces and candles.
The Rational Dress Society encouraged women to wear no more than 7 pounds of petticoats – a step in the right direction. The concept of comfortable clothing for women took a long time to mature, but it eventually did, as we can see by some of our fashions today. Though I might argue that some of today’s fashions are a step backwards – skirts that are too short and tops that are too tight don’t make a woman comfortable, even though they may be fashionable. As I’ve discussed before, we seem to be slaves to fashion. (Men are as well – it’s just less obvious.) Fashion designer Corinne Grassini has branded her clothing line the Society for Rational Dress, and while her fashions look loose and unrestrictive, the hemlines are still impractical.
Vincent Price, horror movie icon from the 1940s through the 1970s, was born today in 1911. I was in college (for freshman year) with his grandson, who looked just like him. I loved Vincent Price’s movies – they were scary but so corny that they weren’t scary. My favorite was The Pit and the Pendulum. Price and Poe seemed to have an affinity for each other.
Today in 1895, Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for sodomy. Wilde was a fascinating and controversial character. His wit and his focus on beauty and pleasure above all things characterized a life that was full of struggle and selfishness. While married with two children, he had several socially prominent male lovers, one of whom was the son of the Marquess of Queensbury, who set the standard of rules of conduct for boxing matches for years to come. The Marquess, in a note left for Wilde in his club, implied that Wilde was gay. Wilde, given his blase nature, would probably have let this pass, but he was also one who could be easily influenced by his friends. In this case, his friends encouraged him to bring a suit for libel against the Marquess, which he did. The Marquess, with unlimited funds and resources at his disposal, proved, in his own defense, that his claim was not libelous, but was, in fact, true. And so Wilde’s suit was dismissed and he found himself charged with sodomy.
Two trials later, he was convicted and sentenced to two years hard labor. Wilde was an aesthete and totally unaccustomed to work, hardship or discomfort, and did not do well in prison. Upon his release, he retreated to Paris. His wife, who refused to speak to him or allow him to see his children, did provide him with a meager allowance, but he considered himself penniless. He wrote De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol in his three years in Paris, and died in L’Hotel d’Alsace on November 30, 1900 of cerebral meningitis. (Of L’Hotel, he remarked shortly before his death, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go.”) He is now buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, in a tomb marked by a modernist angel complete with silver genitalia, the original marble genitalia having been stolen by parties unknown.
On this day in 1937, 200,000 people crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on foot and roller-skate, as part of its inaugural day festivities. The suspension bridge, painted “international orange” for increased visibility in foggy San Francisco Bay, has 80,000 miles of wire in its cables, and connects San Francisco with Marin County. It’s the most popular place in the world to commit suicide; only 26 people are known to have survived the 245 foot drop into the Bay. Among the successful jumpers was the husband of a college acquaintance of mine. He was a nice guy who couldn’t stand the idea of their divorce. Very sad.
And finally, today is Cellophane Tape Day. So go ahead, try to find a roll of tape in your house. I’m sure you’re familiar with this mysterious phenomenon – you need tape, you go to look for it – everywhere – and can’t find it, so you go to the drugstore and buy three rolls of tape, come home, find the roll you couldn’t find before you went to the store, use it, and promptly lose the three new rolls you’ve just bought. It’s like some kind of spiritual planned obsolescence for tape.
Thus endeth the history lesson. Hope you feel slightly enlightened.
When we went to Wales three years ago, we spent one night in a wonderful place called Gwydir Castle. Pat talked the couple who had bought and were restoring the place into letting us stay, even though Kelsea was under the age limit for acceptable guests. It was so worth it.
Our room was on the second floor and overlooked an interior courtyard. In the morning, we were amazed to see peacocks on the window ledge. They flew up from the ground – I didn’t know they could fly – and perched on the stone railing and awoke us with their amazing gurgle-gobbling. We were all a little disoriented, and it took us a few minutes to figure out what we were hearing.
The peacocks roamed the grounds freely. Pat and I took a walk together through the spreading trees and up the garden paths.
It is a nice memory – and we encountered one fellow in particular who seemed to have developed a….fondness for me. He was definitely trying to impress, blocking our path, and spreading his tail to its fullest extent, then slowly revolving to show me how much more handsome he was than my current companion. He refused to let me go for some time, so I took advantage of his preening by taking pictures.
We found peacock feathers all over the grounds, and thought it was wonderful. Kelsea and I collected feather bouquets and played with them – she did a wonderful peacock impersonation.
There was no way we could take them with us, so we decided to take them outside and give them back to the grounds. As we were leaving our wing of the castle, we encountered the male half of the couple who owned the property. We wanted to make clear that we weren’t smuggling the feathers away, in case they used them for something. As soon as we showed them to him, he literally blanched (I’ve never seen anyone do this before), backed away, stammered something unintelligible and disappeared down the stairs.
Kelsea and I were disturbed – had we done something to offend him? Was he angry with us? We caught up with his wife and asked if we had made some grievous error. She explained that he loved having the peacocks on the grounds, but he’d been raised to believe that having the feathers in the house (detached from the bird) was terribly unlucky, and meant that death would come to the house.
I had never heard this superstition before, so I did a little research after we got home.
Apparently this legend works both ways. In certain counties in the United Kingdom, peacock feathers in the house do indeed portend ill luck. Documentation of this belief goes as far back as 1866. However, the more modern side of the psychic community believes that peacock feathers indoors signify protection of the energy of the home environment. This belief is particularly common in Asian cultures.
How did this superstition arise? The end of a peacock’s feathers resemble the “evil eye” of olde, otherwise known as the eye of the she-demon, Lilith,
or perhaps reflective of the evil Argus, with one hundred eyes all over his body, who was transformed into a peacock with an eye at the end of each tail feather.
Thus, villagers thought that the bird’s feathers would bring bad luck. Other theories are more focused on protecting the species. The “evil eye” feather indicated that the flesh of the peacock was poisonous, a totally false idea which was propagated to save the peacock from becoming the main dish at any and every elegant banquet in Renaissance Europe.
Of course, when you consider what peacock feathers have been used for (and how many have been used), they might have been justified in their concerns around the survival of this species of fowl. Consider:
- This Chinese wedding dress has 2009 peacock feathers as part of the train, at a cost of $1.5 million smackeroos.
- A handmade peacock feather cloak (this one took 1500 feathers) – image credit for this goes to Rob Jan: http://farm1.staticflickr.com/19/112389836_4704c3fc7f.jpg
- Peacock feather shoes by designer Pedro Garcia
- Peacock feather wedding bouquets (doesn’t the bad luck thing rear its head here?)
And finally, the ubiquitous peacock feather fan.
My mother always wanted one, and so I gave her one that I found in an antique store in Georgetown, Colorado for Christmas one year. She would never do anything with it other than fan herself (duh) but it was one of those lifelong dreams fulfilled (sort of like me wanting an Easy-Bake Oven and a Mystery Date game.)
Peacocks are not the brightest bird in the boat, but they are beautiful. We found them at several Welsh castles (including an albino peahen at Ruthin Castle)
and they terrorize small children with food at the Denver Zoo.
Kelsea and I laid out our peacock feathers artistically on a hedge at Gwydir Castle before our departure. We never saw our host again. Hopefully by now, he has recovered from the shock.
As we gear up for one of our most commercial “holidays” (aka, Valentine’s Day), I was thinking about the whole shopping/fashion thing. It helps the thought processes that this is the beginning of New York’s Fashion Week.
I was in New York City for Fashion Week about 14 years ago – it was only a coincidental business trip that took me there, not Fashion Week itself. In fact, I didn’t even know there was such a thing, until the woman with whom I was sharing a cab from LaGuardia asked me if I was “here for the show”. To cut a long story short, by the time I exited the cab, she was under the impression that I sold leather goods of questionable morality. I was very glad to get out of the cab, and I’m still not quite sure what got into me when I answered her.
That same trip, I got up early to go to a meeting, and headed towards Bryant Park, which I always loved to walk through. I discovered it filled with giant white tents, cameras, lights, and terribly skinny women, and realized I’d wandered onto the setting for one of Fashion Week’s many events designed for divas and ladies-who-lunch. I was bemused and interested, but had to keep moving. I wish I could have stayed; my curiosity would have kept me there all day.
While there is not a person alive who would call me stylish, I used to like to think I had my own sense of style. I had kind of an Isadora Duncan thing going in my first two years of college. The second two years of college saw me switch to vintage mode. I was small and slender and the clothes from the ’40s seemed to have been tailor-made for me. They were more affordable than new things, and they were unique. You’d never see another woman wearing the same thing I was.
Once I hit the serious workforce, it was suits all the way. It was the late ’80s, early ’90s, so we were in the “L.A. Law” style of suits and shoulder pads. But I left suits behind when I left my job when Kelsea was 2, and I’ve never gotten back to business style. As I found myself gaining weight in recent years, I’ve lost any sense of style I had. But as I find myself losing weight now, I have a sneaky hankering to find my new style. I just have no idea what it is. And there’s a problem.
I don’t like to shop.
Yes, I know it’s rare among women. But I don’t. It’s kind of boring. It’s overwhelming. It leaves me with an acute awareness of our the conspicuous consumptive nature of our society, our greed, our materialism, and our attachment to things that are meaningless.
I have what I’ve come to call a “shopping allergy” that sometimes kicks in when I try to shop. My stomach will suddenly start cramping and lurching and wanting strongly to expel things out of various orifices. And when that happens, I immediately get in the car and go home.
Even when I do shop now, I prefer the secondhand stores, for the same reasons I did before: I can always be assured of wearing something different, something that no one else will have – and it’s less expensive and less fadish than the stuff in retail stores today. Although I do run the risk of wearing something that someone I meet might recognize as being formerly theirs, that’s a chance I’m willing to take. If I can get back to the small and slender me of my twenties (hmmm), I might go back down the vintage route, but it’s nowhere near as cost-effective as it used to be, and I’ve really got to consider that these days.
If you take a look at the kinds of fashions that are being shown at Fashion Week, you wonder how women can be duped into wearing them. One of the latest uber-expensive trends is called glunge — a combination of glamour and grunge. And for this women pay megabucks.
Why are women so insecure as to have to “follow” fashion? Hemlines are up one season, down the next. One color is “in” only to be “out” the following year. Heels – clunky like special shoes one season, 4-inch platforms the next. And women spend on it. And spend. And spend. Why? I just don’t get it. (And I am definitely not the most secure woman on the planet.)
Researchers at Melbourne University have coined a term for a psychological disorder called oniomania. It’s a compulsive disorder — a shopping addiction. “Victims” of this condition experience the addicts’ high when spending, improving their self-esteem and making them forget their emotional troubles. Once they’re home with purchases in hand, the high wears off, and as with other addictions, the addict must spend more to get their high back.
People who compensated for lack of affection in their childhoods by substituting material things tend to continue this pattern into their adult lives and relationships. They identify themselves by the things they buy, and their self-esteem is centered around acquiring things. They can’t deal with daily problems or emotional issues and repress feelings of sorrow, loss and failure, by buying things. Shopping becomes a form of self-medication. The shopaholic cannot feel, rely on or acknowledge their own identity.
It’s actually kind of sad.
So-called “Retail Therapy” has been portrayed as a very positive thing – a communal activity, a form of creative expression, a way to assert one’s self-worth, a way to improve the environment, an expression of the gatherer (vs. hunter) core persona of women. I say, hogwash. Women (and men) with shopping addictions are just that – addicts. They ignore their finances and live to get that high.
I sound harsh, don’t I? I don’t really mean to judge. Maybe it’s the whole ’child of depression-era parents’ thing coming out again. My Mother always considered the price of something, and had a mental limit as to how much it was reasonable to spend on a pair of jeans. My Father saved until he could pay cash for any big purchase. Credit card debt and expensive clothes are just not in my frame of reference.
Style at any price? Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather spend my hard-won dollars on this: