Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Diversity Now 2014

A Trip to Toronto to Talk to Fashion Students
About Dressing the Non-Standard Body

Valerie says:
You can't tell, but that's me, second from the right in front of the screen, speaking at Ryerson University's Diversity Now 2014 panel discussion in Toronto for first year fashion students.

The brainchild of Dr. Ben Barry (far left in front of the screen), Diversity Now is Ryerson's subversive way of sneaking into the fashion industry young designers who are trained from the very beginning not to think strictly in terms of Kate Moss (sorry, Kate, no offense intended), but to think in terms of accommodating a variety of body types.   Dr. Barry, who founded his own modeling agency, did his doctoral thesis on the use of models in advertising and demonstrated how sharply models diverge in looks from the actual purchasers of clothes.  (See his very interesting article in Elle magazine here.)

In keeping with that theme, Dr. Barry invited a panel of people with appropriately diverse views on the fashion industry's response to manufacturing clothing for body types with different needs.  Besides me, representing older women, there was Bruce Sturgell, founder of of Chubstr ("life in your size"), who tells his readers where he has (or hasn't) found clothes he likes in his size; Marie Denee of Curvy Fashionista ("curvy, confident, chic"), who confronts fashion houses on ignoring (or paying lip service to) plus size women; and Sharon Haywood of Adios Barbie, an organization "whose mission is to broaden the concept of body image to include people of all ages, genders, cultures, abilities, sexual orientations, races and sizes."  Originally, the panel was to include Jean, but much to our dismay and disappointment, she had a previous commitment.

We had a really good crowd, and saw the face of diversity in the student body.

One issue (among several) we all had was lack of standardization in sizes.  Bruce pointed out that sometimes he wears a large, and other times he wears an XXL because different manufacturers label their products differently.  (Readers, who among you can't relate to that?!)  You can return products that don't fit, Bruce admitted, but if you're shopping by mail order, this is a major inconvenience.  And inconvenience, as we all know, often translates to no sale.  (Bad for business!)  Because he has been in the forefront of plus size men's issues, at least one manufacturer is discussing working with him on a line of men's underwear.

Manufacturers turn a blind eye to diversity at their own peril, and at their own loss, we agreed.  No one benefits if right-sized clothing is not available - not the customer, not the manufacturer, not the economy.  Bruce pointed out that "menswear is growing at double the rate of womenswear".  Marie told a story about a single style of thigh high boots made by a single manufacturer that sold out because they were among the only thigh-highs that fit plus size women.  Marie says these boots sell for more now on Ebay, second hand, than they did when they were brand new at the retailer.  These are niche markets that will make millionaires out of entrepreneurs willing to invest in them.
Marie, Bruce, Sharon, Ben Barry, Valerie, Robert Ott, School of Fashion Chair

Among many other incisive questions, Dr. Barry asked if we saw any progress in the fashion industry.  We agreed that we saw more people "like us" in print ads, but that it amounted to little more than tokenism so far.  "There is no follow-through", said Marie.  For women of a certain age, there is the occasional Carmen del Orifice, but wouldn't it make a nice change if we also saw the occasional Jane Goodall, or the occasional Alice Walker?

Sharon pointed out that the body image promoted by the fashion industry represents only 5% of the population, and when people struggle and fail to live up to that image, it can have a negative impact on self esteem.  Studies have shown, she said, that there is a link between body image and purchasing behavior.   She said there is a "moral reason to embrace diversity".  She's right, but every first-year MBA student will tell you the market doesn't respond as well to moral reasons as it does to the bottom line.

The bottom line is: we've got the money! Willing customers shouldn't have such a hard time finding places to spend it.  Ryerson University is challenging its students to design for all body types.  We can't wait to see what they come up with.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show

Every Year a Vintage Year

The Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show was in town this week, as was our friend Shelley, aka Canada's Forest City Fashionista, who made what seems to be shaping up as an annual pilgrimage.

Before taking her to that smorgasbord of vintage, we eased her into the spirit of things at one of our favorite shopping venues: Beacon's Closet (where the goods are anywhere from vintage March 2014 to vintage 1940).  She came away with an armful of great buys, including this Goth-flavored dress, complete with printed designs in Gothic font and a dramatic pentangle.

As always, there were more than enough tasty tidbits for every whim, every budget, every body and every style.  Here are just a few that caught our eye.

We'd barely gotten in when nostalgia overcame Valerie at Nomad Vintage.  This Bis skirt with the leather inset, lace-up closure and printed cartoon repeats of white, gray and olive llamas revived memories of the period.  This would have been Valerie's go-to item of the season - of several seasons - had she been able to afford it back when it was new.  And paired with boots to match the leather panel. Further reason to love it: it has pockets!

It's hard to miss Lyn, left, who has a very distinctive look, and must have one of the most enviable closets we've never seen.  We've run into her in all sorts of places, including Lincoln Center and the Issey Miyake sample sample sale, and now, not surprisingly, the vintage show.  Here she tries on a graphic black and white pony skin coat from our friend Lulu from Lulu's Vintage Lovelies.  Lyn has also recently joined the ranks of fashion bloggers of a certain age with her very own Accidental Icon.

Noble Savage Vintage had its usual assortment of fascinating things, including mother of pearl opera binoculars and a tiny Victorian red velvet hat decorated with black jet spikes in the crown (proving there really is nothing new under the sun), but at the entry to their booth was this marvelous knit blue dress decorated with knitted angels.  We've left the photo at high res so you can click on it to see the embroidered hair and facial features, the knit faces and wings, and the rhinestone halos.  We plead technical igorance.  If anyone knows how this was knitted, please write in.  (And please make it simple enough for us to understand.)

Lofty Vintage had just received a treasure trove of fabulous castoffs from a woman who was renewing her closet.  Below, a Lofty client tries on an Issey Miyake from that trove.  About one third of it is black pleated polyester; the other two thirds are coated with what might be a polyurethane finish, for a slightly rubbery feel and a fascinating mottled color.

Icon Style had this wonderful men's jacket with a vibrant print of vintage planes.  "Who wore this?", one might ask, until one sees the label - Flight Apparel Industries.

Meika of Another Man's Treasure is always her own best advertiser, and now she has Ally, an equally adept assistant (formerly her summer intern).  Both are wearing circle skirts, one in leather, one in powder blue wool with an applique cat (so, no, it's not a poodle skirt!).  Also check out Meika's amazing blouse with its intricate maze of a design.

Zoey from Revival Vintage Boutique in Hoboken, NJ, a new vendor to the show, had a treasure trove of vintage bow ties, hats, dresses and this amazing mask which incorporates an entire taxidermied bird of paradise.


Okay, this wasn't supposed to be all about shoes, but we saw so many we had to share some with you.  First, these cheeky shoes by Bennis Edwards at Patina.

Next, these jungle green feather boa shoes by Moschino - can't you picture Carrie Bradshaw lusting over them in Sex and the City?  And don't you want to know who came up with the idea, and how they were able get the feathers on while keeping them frothy and floaty?

Vintage Martini, which showed the feather shoes, also had these stunning gold leather shoes, in what seemed to be a size 4.  (Who wore them??!!)  The most stunning thing about them, as you can probably see, is that they lack a heel, and come from a period way before most of us imagine the heel-less shoes that technology made possible on a large commercial scale in the 21st century.  They look handmade.

Ken at Vintage Martini couldn't believe that we hadn't been to the huge Vivienne Westwood sale, and was still more incredulous that we didn't even know about it.  In from Dallas, he and his associates had gone out to play during their stay here, and had bags full of Westwood merch with them at their feet.  But Ken's greatest prize was a pair of red rubber-covered black leather Prada shoes in his size that he'd scoured New York for and wound up scoring at a New York resale shop.  Not for sale, and not vintage, but we loved Ken's show and tell, and had to pass along the story.  Everyone loves a great find.  (Check out the decorative fin-like angle on the sole of the shoe.)

Hollywood & Vine featured this pair of plexiglass sandals with cubes as heels and as toe anchors.

Nomad had these hilarious open toed canvas boots.


Maya stopped each of us to admire our hats, which was great because we also wanted to stop and admire hers.  Maya designs clothing and accessories (including this hat), which she sells on Etsy under the name Indiez.

The Blogosphere in the flesh!  We had the very special pleasure of meeting Patti, founder of the very well named Not Dead Yet Style blog!  She flew in that afternoon from Florida, so our meeting was brief, but we'll meet again later this week for a nice long chat and, perchance, for cocktails.  If only we could have gotten Carol Markel, whose blog is called Femme et Fleur, in the shot with us, we would have had a Lollapalooza.

Here is Carol, looking quite spiffy in red jacket and contrasting made-to-order hat by Lola.

Speaking of bloggers, Elisa Goodkind from StyleLikeU, stopped to say hi before running off to check out some fabulous Marni number.

It is always a treat to see designer Anna Sui up close and personal. She is as gracious as she is stylish. Since her collections often have references to vintage that resonate with both of us, we're dying to know what's in those shopping bags!

Vogue writer Lynn Yaeger doesn't just cover of-the-minute runway events. She is also an extremely knowledgeable vintage expert and frequently attends New York City vintage shows. She is a woman who knows exactly how she wants to look.

Actress and comedienne Marilyn Sokol and her friend were also shopping the show. Marilyn was wearing a pair of red resin earrings with long black tassels from Off Broadway Boutique designed by one of our favorites -- Angela Caputi.  The buzz went around that Bette Midler was in our midst, dressed down in jeans and avoiding eye contact.  We didn't get a photo of her, but Shelley did.  There's a story that goes with the photo.  Go to Forest City Fashionista in a day or two to see if Shelley tells it.  One dealer also spotted Jaden Smith (escorted by two body guards).

We can always count on Daniel to show up in beautifully curated vintage menswear, and he did not disappoint.  Daniel mentioned that the movie 42nd Street has a line in which one actor points out another's "light green hat", and noted that since all movies of the period were in black and white we have no way of truly knowing what great colors the actors and actresses might have been wearing.

His wife Carol wore some great vintage two-tone peep-toe shoes.

Jean ran into Varla Velour, The Voluptuous Vixen of Burlesque. Turns out they had rescued a cat together with a mutual friend and they live on the same block. Small world!

We were so happy to see the ladies from The Style Vault in Washington, DC.

Lori Lewin, a true vintage glamor puss, was wearing a pair of pince nez glasses on a retractable cord attached to a pin on her jacket. Amazing attention to detail.

Another newcomer, Spark Pretty, had an interesting booth staffed with wonderfully friendly and witty women.  An added bonus was the fact that the ladies color coordinated their outfits.

No one will be surprised to read that we closed down the joint.  We had promised Shelley cocktails at our new favorite cocktail destination, and when it became clear no taxis were going to come our way, we gave up and took the bus.

The woman sitting across from us pegged us immediately as having come from the Manhattan Vintage Show (as had she, just the day before), and kindly offered to photograph us, since we were so clearly enjoying one anothers' company.   Just before our stop, two young women got on, and gasped and giggled when they saw us.  They sat down a few seats in front of us, and turned around periodically to get another look, making us feel as if we were The Beatles starring in A Hard Day's Night, discovered hiding on the train in the luggage compartment by Pattie Boyd and her fellow school girls.  Even a cocktail can't beat that!

Pattie abashed.

Schoolgirls agog.

Didn't see the movie? Oh, dear. You are young, aren't you? Here's the scene we mean. You really should see the whole thing sometime. We weren't old enough to hold down jobs that year, so we didn't quite have the budget for Carnaby Street fashions, but some of our older friends did.  Sigh.

Beatles - I Should Have Know Better from A Hard... by Dunekoff

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

This Moment Is More Precious Than You Think

Jean is traveling tonight, and Valerie, just back from the Diversity Now 2014 panel discussion at Ryerson University (more on that soon), is regrouping.  So in this post ...

… we'd like to present you with a few thoughts courtesy of Paladino Construction, who could simply have put up a plywood partition with a stern POST NO BILLS warning, but instead chose to engage passersby in a bit of philosophy, challenging people to be in the moment rather than on the cell phone.  The two men in the yellow and blue rain gear behind the sign are Paladino employees.   By the end of the day, the construction work was completed and the message had disappeared.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

It Ain't All Glam

And If You're in Toronto on Tuesday, October 21… (scroll down)

We are always so tickled when we get notes from old friends, or new friends, or friends-to-be who describe our lives as glamorous or exciting.  It does look that way, doesn't it?

Sometime in the '60s, there was a photograph in TV Guide of Barbara Walters and three of her co-presenters taken from behind, and it was hilarious to see that Walters' dress was gathered in the back with what might have been a huge binder clip.  The three other co-presenters were shown in similar disarray, but all of that would have been unseen by the camera and the millions of viewers.

A little humility is good for everyone now and then, so we thought we would do a little exposé of our own.

We were called to a "go see" a few weeks ago, and were asked to wear ladies-who-lunch type clothes. Valerie was going to wear the pinstriped suit above, but when she took it out of the closet, the hem on one of the pant legs had come unsewn.  There was no time to fix it (actually, in an emergency, tiny safety pins will do nicely - if you happen to have half a dozen nearby), so she wound up having to make do with a different suit.  (The horror!  The horror!)

Just the other day, Valerie got out her sewing kit and sewed up the pants leg.  How glam is that, folks?  (How many times have we told you we need an intern?  And you thought we were kidding!)

And remember these polka dot earrings (inherited from Jean's mom)?

A few weeks ago, one of them dropped to the floor at just the right angle so the metal clip glued to the back separated from the plastic front.

Don't believe what these glue companies tell you.  It may be strong enough that you can attach your hard hat to a steel beam and suspend yourself from it; it may be strong enough that a gorilla couldn't pull the clip off, but if it hits the floor at the Murphy's Law angle, the best glue in the world isn't going to keep the two parts together.  And then you'll have to file the remaining dried glue flat (with your only nail file!), glue it again, and sit there stock still while counting to sixty, not daring to even breathe, hoping that you've maintained the proper pressure, and that you haven't gotten any of the glue on your fingertips.  Readers, is that glam?

Then there was this way cool faux Thierry Mugler canvas jacket with the portrait collar and nipped-in waist.  You know how buttons can leave puckering?  This jacket circumvents that with a zipper.  Well, Valerie did not align the left and right sides of the zipper, and when it got to be time to undress, the zipper went all the way to the bottom, but would not open.  No amount of fidgeting, or zipping up and down, or forcing or cajoling would make that zipper budge.    Ever the boy scout, Valerie googled stuck zipper, and was advised to try a graphite pencil, or WD 40 or bees' wax.

Really?  Readers, would you put WD40 on your jacket?  And would you put pencil graphite on your zipper if you were likely to wear the jacket with a white shirt the next time?  As weird luck would have it, Valerie has a bit of bees' wax in the house (from another amusing DIY venture),

and rubbed a generous amount on the zipper.  No luck.  In desperation, Valerie pulled down first one shoulder of the jacket, then the other, and then - fingers crossed - shimmied till the jacket came off over her head (too bad there's no video of that), and then tried fidgeting with the zipper again.  (The advantage was that it was not upside down this time, and there was more room to maneuver.)  Hallelujah, it worked!  Above, you can see just a few flakes of bees' wax on the teeth of the jacket, and nearby.  Is that glam?

And then there was the ring.

This faceted horn ring had a positively amazing lustrous polish when she bought it, and Valerie foolishly thought it would look that way forever.  Well, almost forever.  At least three weeks.  But she dinged it and dinged it, just by carelessly flailing her hand around, and soon it was looking - well - dinged.  She tried this, that and the other, and finally had to ask a jeweler, who told her to get Johnson's Paste Wax, and to buff it with a dremel attachment.  If you have a car, a $14 dollar can of Johnson's Paste Wax will probably polish your car once.  But if you have a ring, that same $14 can (since no smaller size was available) will probably polish one hundred rings for one hundred years, dremel or no.  Strangely, the local Home Depot did not carry JPW, nor did the local hardware store, so Valerie had to let her fingers do the walking.  (Bet no one under 30 remembers that advertising slogan.)  She called three places and finally hit pay dirt.  By the way, if you don't have a dremel, forget using paper towels, and your jeans won't work either.  (This is the voice of experience talking.)  Get one of those nice soft buffing cloths - the kind your father used to use on his shoes.

Jean's "Tales of Woe":  Although you can't see them in the opening photo of us on Saturday night having cocktails at Lever House, I was wearing these double skull earrings, to get in the mood for the rapidly approaching All Hallows Eve.

Here I am, in the midst of my incantations over my Frida Kahlo Margarita at Lever House, where you can glimpse the earrings.

As we are getting ready to go and are discussing what to include in this post, my left earring just falls to the table with a clunk, leaving only the hook in my ear (which I retrieved and memorialized digitally). Ha! Had the mishap occurred on the street or on the subway, it would have been lost forever.  Luckily, once I got home and had access to my needle-nosed pliers, I quickly fixed them.

Earlier this year, I had a wardrobe malfunction involving my beloved customized Dansko clogs.  The horror!

Valerie and I were in line outside the Metropolitan Museum waiting to get into the press preview for the Charles James exhibition at the Costume Institute. Just as the line finally starts to move, I feel like I'm stepping on a cork or a large fish.  To my horror, it is the heel of my right clog that had chosen just that moment to dislodge.  (To make things worse, it was right then that Bill Cunningham came by.  What to do?  But to tell the truth, we don't remember Bill publishing any photos of long lines, regardless of whether anyone on the line has lost a heel.  So snap away, we know we're safe from publication.)  Of course, the hoards of press are all moving forward to get in, so I just picked it up and walked with all my weight on the front of the clog, hoping that no one would notice.  Trying to keep with the flow of the crowd, neither of us thought to take a picture, so you'll just have to rely on my feeble attempts at illustration below to show you the "Before" and "After".  [When we're rich and famous, I can commission amazing superstar illustrators like Joana Avillez to get me out of fixes like this.  In the meantime, you're stuck with me, dear readers!]

Since the exhibition was dark and everyone was looking at the clothing, nobody bothered to look down and if they did and I was facing them, nothing looked amiss. Once I got home, I took the shoes to my fabulous shoe repair guy who replaced all of the platforms on both clogs.  As you can see below, the clogs are as good as new.

Earrings (especially polka dot earrings) appear to be vexing both of us! If I had the missing back to this white and black polka dot pair, I would Gorilla glue it into place.  Since I don't have it, the pair sits in the box in my drawer, crankily scolding me for not fixing the problem and taking them out on the town.

Here is the next project that keeps haunting me: this terrific pair of black Bakelite clip-on earrings that I recently got at the Big Flea at the Pier.  Since I always lose clip-ons, I refuse to wear them until I can get a jewelry repair expert to convert them to pierced earrings.  So, they sit in the box next to the polka dot earrings and gripe about how they never get to go out and how they used to live it up in their heyday in the 1930s.  Geez.  Even when the top is on the box and the drawer is shut, I can hear them mumbling. It's sort of my private version of Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" or "The Black Cat"!

So the next time you think somebody looks effortlessly glamorous, think again!

Idiosyncratic Fashionista Speaking at Ryerson University Tuesday, October 21.

If you're in Toronto on Tuesday, October 21, Valerie will be one of several guest speakers at Ryerson University's DIVERSITY NOW 2014 panel discussion. (Unfortunately, Jean had a prior commitment.)  Admission is open to the public.  We'll be at Ryerson's Cineplex Theatre #13, 10 Dundas Street East, on the fourth floor.  We'll be talking about the challenges of diversity in fashion.  Do come and share your ideas and questions!