Monday, September 30, 2013

thesis outtake: on getting dressed

I'm working up Chapter Five at the moment and am reviewing all of the bits and pieces I have written on patchy Word docs throughout these years, wondering if I'll find a few sentences that will prove useful to weave this new material together. I've found some great stuff I forgot I wrote, as well as lots and lots of paragraphs all sort of saying the same thing five times in five different places- delete! I also found the below, which I like but not for the thesis, so thought I'd share it here with you. It's a forgotten something, and an unintended foreword of sorts to a piece I wrote for Address, which will be coming out soon (but more on that later!)

I often pause in between deciding to get dressed and actually doing so. I consider the clothes that I own and are available for wear- clean, in good repair, and more importantly, clothes that are ‘speaking to me’. These may or may not be seasonally appropriate, but if not, I will try to find a way to render those that are too flimsy or too heavy suitable for wear. 

What drives me here is an impulse, an inchoate but sensible impulse that is unambiguous but inarticulable. I need to dress in a certain way, I feel myself drawn towards particular garments or a mood or a colour and it is often in the process of trying clothes on (and discarding them all over my bed) that I discover what it is that I want to wear. This impulse is a mystery to me, which in some sense justifies the mysterious language I have here employed to describe it. And yet it is propelled by my aesthetic sensibility- informed by images I have seen or people I have encountered whose look– or at least my sense of their look– I wish to literally embody through my clothing. 

Part of myself then- this impulse, this taste- is made material through the interplay of clothing over my embodied self, this intangible sense finding its fullest expression through my clothing. For someone who is drawn to clothing in this way- with a ‘feelingfulness for clothes’- clothing becomes enfolded in your everyday experience- my mood is directly affected, however momentarily, by the meetness of my clothing for that day. If I have misdressed, or if I cannot quite work my clothes together in a way that coheres with my feeling and expresses it, I feel dissatisfied, slightly at odds with myself. A kind of pale shame. Similarly, if I wake and feel flat or uninspired to get dressed, the process of dressing takes far longer, as I grasp towards some outfit that will engender feelings of comfort, confidence and attractiveness- I might dress in an outfit that has elicited such feelings before, or reach for black, comforting black that is simultaneously quiet and strong. Such days are not the days for trying outlandish new ensembles- those are the days I dress in chaotic brights, clashing prints, days where I feel triumphant and my irradiant mood will vibrate through my skin through my clothes and shimmer in the atmosphere around myself (or so it feels to me.)

This is an everyday practice illuminated, the synchronicity of dressing drawn on and the feelings drawn out by clothing- as wool's prickle draws an itch, so too can the right mix of garments draw certain feelings to my surface. I stop short from the word ‘emotion’ which is too emphatic; this is an impulsive affectivity, feelings that ripple at the surface of skin, touching both cloth and flesh. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Outfit Tastes Part One

Luckily for time-poor style bloggers like myself there is Instagram. Not only can you take a quick shot of your ensemb on the go (no tripod and self-timer required!), if you are already out and about you can score a cool background for your picture without necessarily having to plan an excursion ('I saw this blue wall near Woollahra the other week, it was kind of near the row of art galleries? But if we drive around for a while we'll probably find it again...?') and these are all GOOD THINGS.

And so lately I have been "micro-blogging" all over my Instagram and loving it, loving it readers! But the thing about Instagram is it prioritises* the image- no room for proper explanations of context or the ever-fascinating motivations behind dressing which is part of what I love about style blogging. So here is the rejoinder to my outfit Instagrams of late, if you will (and I am!)

So you'll remember these pants from here. Nick bought them for me in Michigan- in Holland, to be precise. They are actual football pants in the team colours of Hope College's football team, the Dutchman (fyi Holland was 'settled' by Dutch immigrants which explains the town name and also the patriotic orange and blue team colours). Luckily for me, these pants were left on the rail, the lonely unsold remnant left at the end of the season- I guess there wasn't a footy player weedy enough to fit into them?- and they cost the princely sum of $5. I still remember the incredulous look of the guy working in the Sports Goods store when I came out of the change-room flushed with success (sort of like 'why does she want those? Is she crazy?' Maybe a little bit, Sporting Goods guy. Maybe just a little bit.)

The thing is the pants are fitted. And I mean fitted. Which is fine and everything but were also a bit of a styling challenge- if I wore something too fitted on top, I felt too neat; but too loose on top and I was cut in half. If I layered an oversize shirt over, I lost the amazing laces detail in front. But you know what? Paired with this Dries Van Noten white shirt the texture of a fancy dinner napkin and all of a sudden I feel amazing. The kind of fresh orange and white combo I love colour-wise (burnt orange suits everyone! Black, white, rocking a tan (fake please) or computer-screen wan, it is universally foxy. Try it, you'll see) and enough fabric on top to balance the skin-tight party going on all over my thighs.

So there am I in perhaps the most beautifully lit photograph ever taken of me, standing on a street near work for a streetstyle photograph. Unfortunately I was not smiling in the photo so inevitably look sullen, so I cropped my head out of it- this way is much better, trust me. And also, it brings the pants up into the centre of the frame where they truly belong. 

And then last week I went to the Art Gallery of NSW's 'Art After Hours' thing. It's a regular thing, it happens every Wednesday night and there is live music and a wine bar and the gallery is open for wandering up until 9pm. And talks and movies. And lots of interesting arty types to discreetly admire the wardrobe choices of. So anyway I wanted to dress to do justice to the occasion (I always hanker to dress more carefully when I'm going to an art gallery- like an homage to the works, I guess. Is that weird?) and also I was meeting this goddess:

This is Bekah. I could write a whole blogpost about what an amazing, beautiful and talented woman she is but for now you need to know that she lives and breathes art (and was so gracious when I, puzzled by some of the contemporary pieces, asked her what classed them as art and not just a photo someone took. More than that, she gave thoughtful, intelligent and non-judgey answers which tells you so much about her) and also, as you see, she has incredible style. This is the kind of outfit Bekah wears every day- it's not what she wore that night which you can sort of see here:

She told em that earlier that day she was trying on the black top with the cut-away back you see here, and had just pulled the dress she was already wearing already down in the change-room. Catching sight of how it looked with the shirt, she just bought the top and walked out of the shop to wear her dress as a skirt for the rest of the day! Ah I love her. (Here she is looking at one of my favourite contemporary Indigenous Australian artworks on display at the moment, 'Minyi Putu' by Jakayu Biljabu.)

(proper colours here)

So there we were, wandering the cool passages of the gallery when. I. Saw. This:

Tracey Emin. In the flesh. 
I have loved her work ever since 2004 when I discovered her work through a collaboration she did with Longchamp (the 'International Woman' series? It's still not over. Although, this article talks a little on how Emin later felt exploited by the brand, that the collaboration was just part of a 'PR drive' rather than her original sentiment that it was making her work more readily accessible). She also did a series of neon writing pieces, one of which was hanging nearby this quilt so she is right up there in my favourite contemporary artists category. 

I just stood and looked and looked and stood. And then started to wonder about the construction, like any good fashion nerd worth her salt. I peered around the back to see how it had been sewn and then this happened:

Unintentional outfit/artwork matching. Just took my homage dressing to a whole 'nother level.

So here I am wearing my beloved second-hand Bernhard Willhelm check dress, plaid tights from Myer (their tights selection is fantastic, I highly recommend), the Jil Sander neon strip shoes** and this beautiful quilted coat my Granny sewed entirely out of Liberty florals in the 1980s. It is also fully lined with Liberty florals, sigh

It is another piece it took me a while to figure out how to wear, mostly because the quilting adds quite a lot of padding to my arms and torso- that's the whole point of the shape of the coat but for a self-conscious, body-conscious teen/early 20s-er the last thing I wanted was more bulk on my body. Luckily I hung onto it, recognising the beauty and craftsmanship and love stitched into it, and now I wear it whenever the weather cools enough to slip it on. Or whenever I have artworks to blend into.

images 2, 3 and 7 belong to Bekah

*I wanted to use a version of 'primacy'- primacises? That's not a word. But maybe it should be! Thoughts?

** Funny story about the Jil Sander neon strip shoes: maybe I've mentioned before how much attention these shoes garner from male passers-by? Not sexual attention, but entirely shoe-admiring attention. I see their eyes following my feet and often get a 'cool shoes!' as I walk past. My favourite instance of this was when I was recently flying back to Sydney from London. I was at Heathrow Security and I'd just hesitantly walked through the magnetic barrier thing. It didn't beep (always a relief even when I know I'm not wearing any metal, what is that?!) but the eyes of the male guard were fixed on my shoes. Uh-oh... do I need to take them off and walk through again? NAH! 'I like your shoes!' he says with a smile as I stand there uncertainly. Best!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

springtime checks/stripes/colour

It is Spring with a vengeance in Sydney right now and the riot of sunny days followed by torrential rain and confused, hazy flowers bursting into colour has me a little stir crazy. My hands are reaching for all the colours and prints my wardrobe can afford; and this in direct contrast with last week's UK navy-jumper-fest. Which was all I felt like slouching around Oxford in, truth be told, with a cuff of white popping at my wrist. But now- give me checks, glitter nails, earrings, clashing jumpers, more checks and some stripes please.
Which explains this combo:

And this hectic grin:

Also, am quite loving this skirt I bought in Zara last week. Possibly the best ever find I've found in Zara yet: stiff thick woven cotton in the most pleasing dark blue/black/earthy red check, high and waspy-waisted, fitted and super-flattering and in it, I feel quite the elegant woman-about-town. 

Outfit details: bassike shirt, Zara skirt, Kenzo jumper, Jil Sander slippers, Dinosaur Designs earrings, Coach handbag and Dries Van Noten sunglasses.

ps. thank you Kate for taking these photos- 
you're the best!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Recap on Fashion International 5, Oxford UK

'The woman of fashion has chosen to make herself a thing'- Simone de Beauvoir

I was recently fortunate enough to attend Fashion International 5, the fifth international conference on fashion research. It was held in Harris Manchester College, one of the newer of the 38 colleges in Oxford; of course, "newer" in Oxford-ese simply means less old than some of the others, the first of which were built in the 13th Century (!) To these Australian eyes, it was old with its stately stone walls, its flourishing English garden, and its beautiful chapel, the stained glass windows of which were designed by Edward Burne-Jones and made by none other than William Morris. They were absolutely magnificent.

In addition to, you know, living in Oxford for a week, and all the cobblestoney wanderings, building staring and knowing nodding at passers-by it entailed, I was there to talk and hear about my favourite of all topics (well, almost): fashion. And boy, did we- three and a half days full of glorious talks that ranged in specificity from a consideration of the significance of a shade of red (Phantom Red) developed in the 1920s as a cosmetic tie-in to the silent film Phantom of the Opera to a discussion of two black dressmaker-designers who made dresses for Mary Lincoln and Jackie Kennedy, respectively. There were talks on bikinis and fashion criticism, on dress in Impressionist painting and Italian feminist magazines from the Seventies, on the values and stigmas that circulate around handmade clothing and the future of luxury goods. It was, in a word, fascinating.

I took copious notes and decided to share some snippets with you, mixed in with some photographs I took during the week to give you a taste of what it was like. My own paper, for those who are interested, was drawn from my fifth chapter, the one on fashion imagery, dress and identity. The section I presented on explored the alternative ways style bloggers perform their identity through dress on their blogs. I argued that this is not necessarily a "self-expression", but rather an instance in which bloggers dress particular selves into view as a negotiation of how they feel about themselves and how they wish to be seen, shaped by their clothing. It was obviously v. brilliant and v. relevant and if I publish it at some point, I'll be sure to include the details here if you'd like to look it up.

Above the entrance to St. John's College.

In a talk on the Chanel, the interior space and the public self-image of the couturier, Jess Berry quoted Paul Poiret who apparently told the clients coming to him for couture that 'you will not feel that you are in a shop, but in a studio of an artist, who intends to make of your dresses a portrait and a likeness of yourself.'

'material goods have a relationship with us'- Alfred Gell, anthropologist.

I remembered last week how much I admire the photography of Martin Munkacsi, who was employed by Harper's Bazaar from the mid-1930s after honing his craft by taking documentary-style photographs of everyday life and sports in Germany. My favourite photograph of his, below, was shown during Virginia Postrel's talk on glamour- I love it as an image and also because the model (Lucile Brokaw) bears a strong resemblance to my paternal grandmother Claudia and her sister Elizabeth. 

I chaired a fascinating session on fashion and age, and the panelists and audience had an engaged discussion about it for about an hour after both papers. We were led to consider how women perceive a gap between their 'ideal self' and their 'ought self', seeing themselves ('actual self') in the gap between. As a result, we dress to disguise parts of ourselves we dislike or are ashamed of, or as we grow older we talk about 'not being able' to wear certain clothes anymore: a self-imposed control that is closely tied with our feelings about ourselves and how we feel we 'should' appear. One of the panelists, Anne, observed that often when we try garments on that don't fit us properly we think that it is we and our bodies that are 'wrong' rather than seeing a lack in the garment itself (it's not sized properly, or cut for our figure etc.)- why is that, do you think?

Rosamond Lehmann, 1933 (image)

Some members of the Bloomsbury Group (Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell) with friends (image)

Giulia Negrello traced Virginia Woolf's love of fashion through her writing and spoke a little about the Bloomsbury group. Am now longing to pin my hair in a low soft bun and to sit on a lawn with gentlemen friends with beards and waistcoats talking about our writing and philosophy and ideas and stuff. Imagine a Bloomsbury Group member wouldn't say 'stuff'... or have a style blog? but one can dream, can't one? (I do imagine that a Bloomsbury Group member would refer to themself in the third person so maybe I can make up for my contemporary lack that way?)

Did you know that actors in Greek tragedy used to pray to the god masks they were about to don for their plays, believing that to play a god on stage was an act of spiritual transformation? 

Guys, I had never heard of Sara Thorn and Bruce Slorach before- have you? Merryn Gates, a PhD student from ANU is doing a great research project on post-punk culture in Australia- she presented on the work of Thorn and Slorach, two Australian designers who were incredibly successful both here and overseas in the Eighties. They were even written up in i-D, and after running their label and a store here they went their separate ways to design for Christian Lacroix, Mambo and Stussy among others.
Just check this menswear outfit out:
Isn't it amazing?! It reminds me a lot of Bernhard Willhelm's mens. I love it.
  I love it. If a man ever walked past me whilst wearing it I would not be responsible for my reaction.

Part of what stood out as a theme of the conference for me was the capacity of fashion research to add to the collective memory, to preserve and mark significant cultural moments. Merryn's work is a great example of this: to trace and record the development of a distinct and influential movement in Australian subcultural history. So too was Elizabeth Way's work on Elizabeth Keckly and Ann Lowe, the two African-American designers mentioned above, and Steeve Buckridge's work on lace-bark, a natural fabric extracted by African slaves from trees native to the Caribbean. Look out for his book (to be released next year)- I think it's going to be amazing.

This is the kind of scene I would spy on my walk to Harris Manchester every day.

I really enjoyed Leonard R. Koos's talk on Algerian womens' dress as a form of resistance against French colonisation in the late Nineteenth century. Look at this gorgeous picture of a Mauresque woman:
 Mauresque women wore jewellery underneath their outer garments that could not be seen by passers-by but which tinkled as they walked: the sound but not the sight was apparent. We know this because then-contemporary authors described it. You can see the bangles on her forearm in the image on the right. I am very taken with the whole ensemble: the ballooning white trousers, the flat dark slippers, the cocoon shape her outer cloak makes as it curves over her, and her eyes, the brief focal point between the jewels on her forehead and her mouth covering. 

A row of fairy-floss houses I walked past each day.

We also learned about Barbara Hoff, a Polish fashion designer who educated Polish women about fashion by issuing fashion 'diktats' and giving DIY ideas about how to recreate European fashions within the severe limitations afforded to them, living as they did in the then-People's Republic of Poland, a communist country. I quote Dominika Lokoszek's abstract here, my favourite example of Hoff's work that she gave: 'one of her most famous inventions was how to make fashionable ballerina flats out of sports shoes available then in shops: one had to cut out the part with laces and dye the "new" shoes black at home." 

It's an aspect of DIY that today's culture doesn't even touch on, does it? Nowadays you usually have to buy something new and transform it into the likeness of another item you can't afford, don't you find? Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is radically different to not actually being able to buy different clothes in shops, but relying on swapping with friends, radically reworking what was available or literally cutting up what you had to resew it into a more fashionable look. 

 Some best-I-could-do photographs of the Burne-Jones and Morris stained glass windows in the chapel at Harris Manchester. They were seriously beautiful. 

I came away hungry to hear more about the work that we'd had twenty-minute tastes of all week, and also super-charged to get back into my PhD. I was so encouraged to hear about the diversity of fashion research being conducted around the world, and am excited by what I have to say about style blogging. I can see my work cohering together more and more, see it shaping up and falling together and I simply cannot wait to share it with you.