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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sartorial notes

This blog occasionally runs non-political posts on the weekends.

Once upon a time, when I had money, I bought clothes at nice stores and was considered something of a dandy. Alas, the money dwindled, and the past couple of decades have left me unburdened by ties or dress shoes or those tweed jackets with shoulder patches that I used to favor. Having spent so much time wrapped in ancient, fraying shirts that would have allowed Sherlock Holmes to deduce my lunchtime menu throughout the preceding week, I'm hardly in a position to lecture anyone on fine clothing.

On the other hand, no other male in my Baltimore suburb wears shirts with buttons. That fact makes me the local style expert. (In my 'hood, the classier gents reserve their good wifebeaters for church on Sundays.)

With hesitation bordering on outright fear, I'd like to question the judgment of one Timothy Gunn, who seems to have become well-known via his appearances on some television show that my ladyfriend favors. Not long ago, she met Mr. Gunn at a book signing. In her words, the mere sight of him made her "squee" all over the place. I'm not sure I like the sound of that. At any rate, she bought his book, Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible, just to have him sign it.

Being poor, we don't buy very many new hardbound books, so I was quite leery of this investment -- even though the sight of Mr. Gunn's signature gave her one of the biggest, most satisfying squees of her life. I was even more leery of the photo on the cover:

Now, I don't know much about this guy. He's supposed to be some sort of expert on clothing, and this is the image he chose to represent himself. Ignorant buffoon I may be, but I gotta ask...

Is this legal nowadays? 

What we have here is a dark suit with broadly-spaced stripes matched up with a very questionable purple/brown checked shirt (which you couldn't get me to wear at gunpoint) and a purple and blue paisley tie which is, well, not quite as loud as those sirens they used to blare at the end of the month during the cold war.

Have things really changed so much since the time when I last paid attention to this stuff? Back in my day, by cracky, we young fellers were told that if we wore a striped coat, we had better not wear anything but a solid-color shirt.

Being in possession of a George Lucas-y neck somewhat thicker the average Saturn V rocket, I despise the feel of a tie closing in around my throat. In olden times, I'd sport neckwear only on those days when I didn't feel like breathing. Just two ties lurked in my closet: One was solid burgundy and the other wasn't, and only the burgundy saw action. You don't really need anything else. (The other one was a present from a former ladyfriend who happened to be deaf. When people saw this item, they said: "Poor girl. She's also blind?")

Nowadays, I see political pundits on TV wearing ultra-bright ties with pink-on-pink stripes. We're talking blinding pink, the kind of pink that made Larry Flynt a rich man. I wouldn't even hang myself with a tie like that, or with most of these other eye-gouging strangulation devices that have become so common.

I sure as hell wouldn't wear purple-and-blue paisley. With anything.

My current ladyfriend became incensed when I questioned the judgment of the Great Infallible Squee-Inducer. "He's gay!" she explained. Apparently, that means Gunn is right and I am wrong.

But am I? I still say his outfit is kind of ridiculous. Then again, I'm old school, having formulated my notions about sartorial matters during Reagan's first term.

(Come to think of it, Reagan's outfits were kind of ridiculous too. Remember his brown plaid-pattern suits? And that stupid carefully-folded white pocket square? He dressed the way a prole thinks a rich man dresses.) 

Question 2: During a recent visit to a Balmer thrift store, I snapped up a beige cashmere sweater for three bucks. My ladyfriend did not approve of this choice, since she's a goth girl at heart and favors saturnine colors. But the thing is warm and cheap and it doesn't itch. Those are the only qualities most men ask of their sweaters. And, to be frank, of their dates.

What struck me as odd was the label. "Embassy Row Menswear." Sounds rather hoity toity. I seem to recall seeing clothing bearing this label long, long ago, back when my wallet held actual credit cards. Was "Embassy Row" the house brand for a department store? Who made this stuff?

Intrigued, I did some checking. The only clothing called "Embassy Row" available online can be found on Ebay. Since those items are all used (or "vintage"), I must presume that the company is no longer in business.

Does anyone out there know who they were? Were they, like, considered good?

Well, it doesn't matter if the brand was upscale or downscale. As part of a cold-weather defense system, a three-buck cashmere sweater works fine. It's warm and cheap and it doesn't itch.
Mr. Cannon on Fire wrote..." But the thing is warm and cheap and it doesn't itch. Those are the only qualities most men ask of their sweaters. And, to be frank, of their dates" end quote.

And there it is, the retort to the male complaint that women many times simply consider their male partner a fashion accessory who simply extends their own fashion sense.
I agree but I may be about your age and of that era of more simple pattern matching dressing.

I'm shocked at the sartorial standards for network news anchors, and esp. the tattersall patterned shirts with non-solid ties and power Wall Street type pinstripes (your example here is common).

But apparently that is the style, by how often it appears. Just yet another sign of the deepening Kali Yuga age disintegration of all cultural norms (not that they were right even back in the day, but what we internalized as correct style).

O tempora! O mores!

-- Cicero

Glad I'm not the only one who notices these peculiar fashion traits.

Women's fashions have always been prey to the wild imaginings of gay fashion designers, and most women have fairly wild imaginings themselves, so usually go along - if they can afford it - most, like me, can't these days - even if I could - I wouldn't, 'cos I was born obtuse.

Anyway, do you ever look into a blog called The Sartorialist, Joseph?

Good photography, but some of the fashion, male and female, both street and other has me tickled pink!

For instance there seems to be, or has been this year up to now, a fashion for men to wear trouser legs that are just a tad too short, so that a wee bit of sock and wildly expensive shoes are in full view.
To my eye it looks comical but on the Rue de la Whatever or Via Veneto, or New York somewhere, it seems to be the accepted thing for "the beautiful (male) people of 2012" to be doing.

Do take a look at The Sartorialist regularly - you'll love it!

Twi, I'm glad you said it. The bit about gay fashion designers.

We often hear from women who complain that fashion favors the pencil thin. Feminists blame this situation on a mythical creature they call "The Patriarchy." I have pissed off feminists by pointing out that hetero guys like curves, and we usually welcome a little extra cushioning. Gay guys run the world of women's fashion.

If runway models barely qualify as three-dimensional, don't blame guys like me. Blame guys like Tim Gunn. If it were up to me, all models would look like Christina Hendricks.

I hope it is permissible, finally, to say that -- contrary to popular presumption -- most gay men have bad taste in clothing.

And even worse taste in ART.

The New York art scene is run, in large part, by gays. Let's be honest: They fill their galleries with pure shit. I know art history backwards and forwards. The stuff that fetches big bucks nowadays is unconscionable.

Look, I don't want to sound like a hater, and I don't want gays to go back in the closet or anything. I just happen to favor more sedate neckwear. And I also like paintings by people who know how to paint.
Pencil girls are easier to drape, thus their popularity as models. The designer doesn't have to work as hard. Sides that, thin girls look like boys if you squint so that's a plus for most fashion cranker outers.

I learned the same about mixing stripes and patterns but then my dress shirt choices are black, red, or burnt orange with a solid red or black tie. So don't put too much stock in what I type.

Anyhow that guy in the photo looks like he was hit by a Robert Hall truck loaded with remainders on it's way to Good Will.

You're accusation about contemporary art being decided by 'gays' is just not true. It is not determined by an oligarchy of homosexuals. It is determined by pretentious and self-conceited 'professionals' and university financiers who have poor taste and think that blank slates are avant garde and revolutionary. I have never contributed contemporary art galleries or the contemporary art sections of art museums to be the fault of homosexuals. Rather, it is the fault of people with poor taste who have more money than me, thus more choosing power and say in everything. The folks who run, finance and curate art museums and galleries these days, I never thing about their sexuality as it doesn't matter. I know this isn't because of the 'gays' because I myself am non-heterosexual and I do not share their tastes in art. Your statement lumps all gay folks together as if they are unified, they most definitely are not. That lack of unity or commonality is one of the reasons I don't call myself gay.
Well, maybe I was being unfair, Josh. But let's just say that there's a perception that the New York upscale gallery scene has a lot more gay men in management positions than is the case, say, in the world of comic books. Not all comic book artists are straight -- but these days, they ALL know how to draw. In fact, in terms of pure draftsmanship, I'd say they are the best artists in the world.

Aside from that, I do to call into question the common perception that sexual preference determines whether or not one has taste. I just don't think that's true. Hell, even Mitt Romney dresses better than do a lot of the guys you see in West Hollywood.
So many opinions, so little time. A. Cashmere. Always OK. Always more than OK. I have one now with the tags still on it because I can't justify the price...yet I just can't return it. B. Mixed patterns. It's hot now. So hot. Justifiably hot. It can't be explained, just take it on faith. C. Tim Gunn. Your savvy lady friend notwithstanding, he can suck my socks. He, a freaking gay man, suggested Hillary doesn't know what gender she is. Fuck him. Or, in case he'd like that, unfuck him to hell. D. You're dissing Baltimore again. This is a city where it took me several blocks to realize that it wasn't the usual B'more quirk, it was Comic-con in town. Who could hate on that?! E. More sartorial posts, lol!
reserve their good wifebeaters for church on Sundays.
Sorry - what does that mean?
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sorry for my Americanisms, b.

In the U.S., a sleeveless tank top t-shirt is called a "wifebeater." In popular culture, such a garment is associated with lower-class brutes like Stanley Kowalski ("Steetcar Named Desire"). In the Baltimore suburbs of Essex and Dundalk, most males wear such shirts not as undergarments but as, well, shirts. Many of them own no other type of shirt. They favor wifebeaters in to show off their ill-drawn prison tattoos.

And yes, you should not be surprised to see someone who lives in those neighborhoods wearing his fuckin' wifebeater to fuckin' church. (In many parts of Baltimore, the word "fuckin'" is considered a polite way of warning people that a noun is about to show up. You may use the word in that fashion when speaking to ladies, children and clerics.)

In your country, I believe, such a sleeveless garment is called either an A-shirt or a vest. In America, the term "vest" is reserved for the third item in a 3-piece suit; sleeveless sweaters are called sweater vests.

Also, if you ever come to this country, never speak of wearing "braces." Those are for teeth.
It was my understanding -- the only other time I've ever heard of this guy -- that he was asexual. Hasn't engaged in sexual activity in 20 years. Not that there's anything wrong with that. If I live long enough, I won't have, either.
First of all, I am sure you are now aware that Mr. Gun is more likely to have an interest in you than your main squeeze.

Secondly, I think he is dressed a little too young for his age. The look he is sporting is fashionable but not appropriate in a man of his advanced years.

And finally, fashion is not style.

Harry, as noted in my piece, my ladyfriend so informed me.

I'm not sure about the concept of "dressing young." When I was young, I dressed old: Tweed coats with patches (one brown, one dark grey), sedate solid-color shirts, a white silk sweater...

Okay, there WAS that horrifying period when I fell prey to the Miami Vice fad and bought a pastel green unstructured linen sport coat -- and then I put the weirdest damned shirts underneath it. Christ. Someone should have shot me.

The crap we waste money on! Then the money goes away...
sriously, youse guys??
Not everything is purely designer driven. Take the dart-less women's clothes of the 1980s. Most women have curves (of one sort or another, lol). They need darts or curved seaming in order to fit the body attractively. But in manufacturing, sewing a dart or sewing a princess seam (one long curved piece sewn to a shorter straight or curved piece)is a more advanced skill than sewing a straight seam. So to reduce the number of sewing actions on a garment (reduce the cost) and give less work to more skilled sewers (reduce the cost), darts were eliminated.

How do you eliminate darts? by moving fabric that was taken up in darts into the neckline, shoulder, and armhole. So, essentially, a financial decision created the worst fitting decade of fashion.

To be fair to the ready-to-wear industry, they were faced were the very subtle and expert changes that were taking place at the top of the fashion line. Designers like Armani were designing dart-less clothes but with exquisite but subtle fitting techniques that provided shape without darts or obvious princess seaming.

On the other hand, the dart-less fashions were probably the catalyst that sent the manufacture of clothes to Asia and cut lots of Americans out of skilled jobs.
Interesting, Barbara. Back when I was half my current size my dresses of choice were vintage A-lines or straight little shifts from the 60's. Remember paper dresses?? Anyway, maybe some of them had darts, but in general they were definitely not dresses that emphasized curves. Two straight seams down the sides.

It true that the fashions in the 60s were prominently shifts, but they still had bust darts which is the most basic element in fitting a woman's body. The neckline, shoulders, and armholes were all in proportion.

In the 50s when I was in my teens I made all my clothes, but by the 60s work, marriage, and children meant I had no time for sewing and so bought my clothes.

In the 80s, the fashion changes caused my necklines to gape, the armhole seam to hang down the middle of my arm, and the sleeves to form ugly vertical puckers at the turning of the armhole to the underarm.(This is because the sleeve had to be redesigned for movement, so they lowered the height of the sleeve cap and extended the length of the sleeve cap.) I decided to go back to sewing. Well, the pattern companies followed the lead of the ready to wear industry and changed the way patterns were designed but did not change their instructions for altering a pattern. So when I shortened the shoulder seam - so it would end naturally around the point of my shoulder/arm connection, and added a bust dart(which involves added extra space on the pattern), I was doing this to a pattern that had already had a bust dart diverted into neck, shoulder, and armhole. It was a disaster.

It was in regular reading of a fit column in Thread's Magazine where every issue had questions on how to make clothes fit like they used to that I finally figured out what they were doing.

That's when I took up pattern making and draping.
Barb, zee...I know nothing about women's clothing, except that I think the goth thing is hot.

Oh. And I also like empire dresses. There's a painting in the National Gallery ascribed to David, of a girl who may be Napoleon's niece -- and I could just look at her for hours and hours.

Can we arrange it so young women dress like THAT again?
Joseph...empire waistlines have been in for a long while now. My son hates them. I love them but have begun belting at the waist again because I'm tired of being mistaken for pregnant, even tho it's slightly amusing at my age.

Barbara, I do remember one polished cotton vintage dress I kept even after I'd worn it through. I loved the fit so much I'd wanted to take it to a pattern maker. It had some kind of vertical darts down thru the waist.

I'd love to see fitted dresses with drop-waists come back. I do have to say, current trends I really love include drape necks, cutting skirts on a bias again, and have you seen the long gathered skirts? Those have a medieval flair I'd bet Joseph would approve of!

Just looked at the picture. I understand. Kind of opposite of Goth, though, no?
I like empire lines also, although I'm a little old for the see-through bodice.

What I wish is that people would stop going for the latest fashion and develop a sense of style. I also wish we'd return to small businesses. When I was growing up every block on the shopping avenue had at least one clothing store, and the styles in each store were different so people had variety. This also meant that there were a lot of smaller ready to wear manufacturers providing all that diversity. More companies, more jobs. More stores, more jobs.

Now? Shopping, meh!

Prowlerzee, the dress you mention with the waist darts. If the dress had a sewn in waistline, the those darts were strictly bust darts rotated from the side seam to the waistline. If it was a sheath dress, then the darts mentioned above were combined with skirt darts into one long dart pointed at each end.

Patternmaking is, at its heart, geometry combined with art.
Thanks for explaining about the 'wifebeater', Joe. If only I had my OED I wouldn't have had to ask, but it's still in storage along with 99% of my library.

As for avoiding causing confusion by referring to trousers held up by braces if I ever visit the US, I've always assumed I wouldn't be allowed into the country!

Do people really go 'huh?' in the US if a visitor from Blighty says a lorry needs some gas?
b, in my part of Baltimore, people go "Huh?" whatever the question.
Tim's dad was a G-Man who likely had fairly drab wardrobe, especially in that era. I can't help but think that might have influenced his need for color, on many levels. And by the way,I love his show. He treats the contestants with a level of sophistication and civility that is rarely seen in 'reality' TV anymore.
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