Favorite Fall Fashion Links Friday!

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Fall fashion will always look like Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal to me. More Love Story Fashions: http://www.ladolcevitablog.com/2014/10/30/fashion-in-film-love-story/

I know I’m not the only one who thinks this is the best and the fashion-iest time of year. In Portland, there’s enough of a chill in the air to break out sweaters and boots, but still enough sunshine that the world seems full of possibility. If you’re, say, an adjunct whose fall paychecks don’t kick in until a month after you start teaching, so you’re, just for example, trying to figure out if $40.00 is enough money to get you through until payday, while also feeling certain that there is not enough brown corduroy in your closet, this change in the weather has the extra benefit of making you feel like you’re getting a whole new wardrobe as you put away your sandals and flip-flops and rediscover…those tubes of fabric that cover your toes? What’s the word I’m looking for? Socks?

Since we Oregonauts know that in two months we’ll all be glued to our couches, mocking the perkiness and optimism of Sartre and Ingmar Bergman (no really, that’s what we do during the winter here), we’re all a little bit manic. But we still want to think about fashion because It. Is. Fall!

So here are some smart, short, fashion-y articles and blogs that I’ve been enjoying this week.

On New York Fashion Week:

As you might imagine, my favorite NYFW coverage was less about the shows and more about the idea of the shows; the events that made me think about the nature of fashion and beauty and commodity culture.

So I loved this body positive flash-mob, organized by Pinup Girl Clothing.

I’m still organizing my thoughts on Kerby Jean-Raymond’s Pyer Moss show. It combined images of police violence against Black Americans with designs inspired by Black Lives Matter protests, and images of Ota Benga and Saartie Baartman, both of whom are forceful reminders of the colonial legacy of exhibiting Black bodies. Expect more on this in a future FR post.

For a more lighthearted take (fashion is all about contradiction) I loved Man Repeller’s show recaps. (“You should also know that the brand [Mansur Gavriel] is now doing shoes: minimalistic suede slides and a 90s take on the 70s platform. Three decades blended into ice cream soup? Must be Spring 2016.”)

On Fashion History:

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Regan discusses this gorgeous rose velvet dress.

I don’t miss New York. I really don’t. I was born in Oregon, and even though Portland has become Brooklyn West, I love it here. But I also love John Singer Sargent. So, just right now, I miss working at the Costume Institute and being able to wander into special exhibitions on my lunch break or on a Monday. If you also love fashion history and John Singer Sargent, settle in with this great article by Assistant CI Curator, Jessica Regan.

On the Fashion Industry:

Fashion and cultural studies scholars have a kind of fan culture too. We don’t collect posters or glossy magazines or t-shirts (mostly). We collect books and journals and citations, but sometimes it feels the same. For example, I am a giddy, devoted fan of Angela McRobbie. And she just dropped an article on the need for rethinking the dominant top-down, bigger is better fashion business model. And when she said, “There is no reason why fashion cannot be regional, local, and distinctive to certain urban environments,” I was like, OMG Angela Gets me.

Blogs:

The name is just irresistible. Crying With Cool Clothes On. ❤

Wearabout is a thoughtful street style blog based in India. Good stuff.

Ali MacGraw + Love Story 12

And now, back to my schoolwork and dreams of wool skirts.

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Hobby Historians and the Clothes They Love

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Labor Day Edition! 10 Narrative Films About Garment Workers (and why there aren’t many more than that)

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This post can now be found on our new site, Dismantle Magazine: Fashion, Popular Culture, Social Change!

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Haunted by Prada: Meditation on an Ugly Pink Dress, Beauty, and a Missed Opportunity

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This isn’t the post I was going to write next. For one thing, it returns to themes I’ve covered a lot recently. For another, the fall semester starts next week and I have two brand new classes to prep for (not to mention two others that aren’t new). And most importantly, I’m not that interested in Fashion with a capital F. As is probably pretty clear from my previous posts, I’m much more interested in the politics of everyday engagements with clothing and appearance.

But then I saw The Dress. And I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The dress. The pink (and sometimes baby blue) Prada that’s haunting September issues across the globe. I can’t take my eyes off it. It confuses me and aggravates me and kind of excites me, and I have to keep looking.

In photo after photo, pale, whisper thin teens appear to stumble, dead-eyed down a runway as if they are the last survivors of an explosion at a Barbie factory.

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There were tiny plastic shoes everywhere!

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Why yes, we do have it in a pantsuit.

The dress is everywhere, and it’s a mess. What to make of it? The spaghetti straps and neckline almost recall Prada’s waif-in-a-slip-dress heritage from the 90s? But then there’s that kind of bell-shaped skirt that looks like if a four-year-old girl gave a balloon a makeover.

Vogue.com also noticed the collection’s many nods to Prada’s heyday. An article describing the designs observed, “There’s a generation of women who will smile at the nineties memories provoked by this show, and there’s a new generation who won’t read the nostalgic cues, and yet still jump at the wearability of the clothes.”

Yes! Sort of…Wait, did they say wearability? Wearable for who exactly?

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Who Wore It Best?

Elle Fanning at the Tig Premiere, Molly Ringwald in her Pretty in Pink vintage prom dress turned satin trash bag, or Bette Davis as Baby Jane?


It’s unflattering, cheap-looking, and appears both messy and stiffly uncomfortable.

Clearly this dress is meant to be funny and confusing. Vogue quoted Miuccia Prada describing her fall collection as “soft pop,” and “[v]ariations on beauty. A reflection on the flatness of presentation that we see today. What’s real, and what’s fake.” These words hang together as haphazardly as the embellishments on the dress itself. They sort of reference things I understand, but they don’t seem to be placed in any logical or aesthetic pattern. It’s a grab bag of vaguely meaningful language.

In other words, Miuccia Prada is “making fun of fashion” and creating deliberately ugly dresses too. The big fashion buzzword these days (because, ironically, capital F Fashion is always a little slow) is androgyny, yet this dress is so hyperbolically “Feminine” that it looks like the girl’s toy section at Target threw one last bacchanalian rager, and the runway is its Sunday morning walk of shame into history.

1399826062800424993The tiny, tiny models with their exaggerated “flatness of presentation” look like they can barely remain upright beneath the semiotic weight they’re carrying. The model in Teen Vogue actually had to sit down (on a pile of rose petals). I’m glad. I was worried about her. She looked like she needed a rest.

And this is where I think Prada missed an opportunity. And why I currently find “high fashion” kind of boring. Like Hollywood blockbuster movies, there’s too much money at stake to take real risks. The game is to appear to take risks that will make consumers gasp, but not enough to actually piss anyone off. And it’s hard to be really creative without risk. These dresses might make fun of normative fashion’s ideas of femininity, but they also don’t challenge them. There’s a reason we wore combat boots with our babydoll dresses in the 90s.

Every stylist on every catwalk and every magazine cover that featured this look made the bold choice of displaying it on extremely thin, predominantly pale, very young looking models. But if there is one aspect of 90s style that I’d rather not see Prada revive it’s the uniform celebration of the “waif” look. This is by no means a judgment of individual models, whose labor I absolutely respect. But, if Miuccia is really interested in “variations on beauty,” you know what would have actually been great? Seeing this dress – this disconcerting hyperbole – on a different kind of body. There is nothing inherently weak or infantilizing about pink bows and sparkles. We resignify these kinds of things all the time. In fact, until the 1920s or so pink was considered masculine because of its association with robustness and the flushed cheeks of exertion. So why not offer up a real challenge to what these signs mean? Why not put the dress on a truly athletic body or a transgender body? Or a fat body? Models like Tess Holliday or Nina Taylor for example certainly wouldn’t have looked like they were about to be crushed by a mountain of pink ribbons and rhinestones and gender expectations. If Prada could manage to design a woman’s dress that, you know, accommodated breasts, I think Holliday or Taylor or other non-normative models could have worn this super-femme pastiche in a way that embraced what was fun about it and challenged our assumptions about what it’s supposed to mean.

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Nina Taylor (image via Curvy Fashionista)

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Tess Holliday wearing her “Eff Your Beauty Standards” t-shirt. ❤

Addendum: The same day I published this post, this article came out in The Telegraph. It begins with Miuccia saying, “I hoped it looked ironic.” Our response is, “No, it didn’t.”

To be clear, I like the ugly pink dress. I enjoy it and appreciate it for what it is: a bit of a prank that’s also cleverly attention grabbing during a time when Prada really needs to boost declining revenue. But hyperbole isn’t the same as irony. To be ironic, there needs to be an implied contradiction. This line is just more – albeit a lot more – of the same.

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Japanese Fashion Part Two: “Recruit Suits” and Why Boring Fashion Matters

(Editor’s Note: We are very pleased to introduce today’s guest contributor. Annamarie Sasagawa is a PhD candidate in anthropology/global studies at the University of Tokyo.)

The inventive side of Japanese fashion is made much of in the West. Christina’s post on how wackier supposed ‘trends’ in Japanese fashion, like full-body spandex suits and skirts that transform into vending machine costumes, are written about in English does a great job showing how Western writing about Japanese fashion both reproduces ideas about ‘weird’ Japan and fosters (paternalistic) concern over the ‘social problems’ that these trends are purportedly both symptom of and cure for.

But what about the boring side of Japanese fashion? Why is no one proclaiming that a desire for community drives sales of basic Uniqlo polo shirts? Why are there no theories about the social pressure to conform pushing everyone to wear black leather shoes to work? And why, oh why, does no one seem to have thoughts on the most boring outfit in all of Japan, or possibly the entire planet? I mean, of course, the Recruit Suit.

The Recruit Suit, for those of us who have been lucky enough to avoid the grueling, year long process of graduate job hunting in Japan, is the basic black polyester suit worn by senior undergrads in Japan for job-hunting activities. It’s a black pant suit for guys, black skirt suit for girls, worn with a white shirt or blouse, black brogues or pumps, and a black attache case. Job-hunt hair and makeup are also pretty boring: neat black hair (no dye jobs), clean-shaven faces for guys, and basic makeup for girls.

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Image Source: Steven L Johnson, Flickr Creative Commons

The Recruit Suit and its prescribed accessories are so damn boring even I can’t look at someone wearing it for longer than a few minutes before my mind wanders to more exciting things like my tax return. And I’m a labour market anthropologist in Japan. Who did field research with undergrad job-hunters.

We choose our clothes because we hope for them to deliver a certain result. Sometime it’s practical, like protection from falling objects on a construction site. Sometimes it’s emotional, like feeling liberated through self-expression. The Recruit Suit is so damn boring that we can be reasonably certain young Japanese people aren’t sporting the look for any emotional thrills. So what result are Japanese undergrad job-hunters (shukatsu-sei 就活生) hoping for when they put on their Recruit Suits?

English-speaking writers may have little to say about the Recruit Suit, but Japanese writers have lots of advice. The Weekly Toyo Keizai magazine (an influential business publication; sort of a punchier version of Forbes) published an article in 2014 titled, roughly, “Effing choose a black Recruit Suit, OK?” The subtitle: “Don’t try to stand out with clothing.” (The article, and the resulting Twitter sh*tstorm that followed are nicely chronicled in this Tofugu post). The writer’s argument was, basically, that “If you go with a black suit, there’s zero risk.” Hmm.

And just a few days ago, the Keizai Premiere section of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper (one of Japan’s major newspapers, with national daily circulation of more than three million) published a similar article on Recruit Suits in the form of a Q&A with a ‘female head interviewer.’ One of the questions: “Do I have to wear a black suit to an interview?” The answer (from a writer clearly a bit more relaxed about these things than the Toyo Keizai columnist) was that any “dark suit” would be fine. Just don’t go with white, she warns, “because if you’re chubby a white suit makes you look even fatter.” When you head into the working world in Japan, she advises, “the standard is a dark suit.”

There are two concepts driving the fashion advice in these articles: risk and entering the working world. Understanding these in Japanese context makes the Recruit Suit make a lot more sense.

Unlike North America, where young people tend to travel, intern, and try a bunch of things before eventually settling into a career, the school-to-work transition in Japan is uniform, sharp, and final. You are a student (gakusei 学生) and nothing else until you graduate (always in March) and start working regular, career-track job (always in April). Then you’re a shakaijin (社会人), an adult who works full-time and contributes to society. Making a clean transition from school to work, gakusei to shakaijin, is so important in Japan that young people who don’t get job offers by their final year of university will often either extend graduation or enter a master’s program just to avoid the alternative: becoming someone without institutional affiliation (ronin浪人), or someone working a bunch of part-time jobs (freeter, フリーター). (Fun fact: if your goal is to land a full-time job, in Japan if you’re male you’re actually better off unemployed than working a contingent job)

And here is where risk comes in. There are two types of jobs in Japan, regular (seishain, 正社員) and irregular (hiseiki-shain, 非正規社員). Seishain are ‘core’ workers with serious job security (it is very hard to fire a seishain), but their job security is made possible by the growing pool of flexible, poorly-paid, easily-fired irregular workers.

Japan’s economy has struggled for the past 20 years. Companies have tried to cut costs by hiring fewer regular workers and more irregular ones. They can’t reduce the number of existing regular employees, so they’ve hired fewer new graduates. The percentage of young Japanese in irregular jobs has increased every year to about 40% now. It’s a massive shift of labour market risk to young people in a deindustrializing economy. This is not exactly unique to Japan; see all the commentary on ‘sharing economy’ businesses like Uber and how they shift risks to their contractors. But in Japan this is a risk shift that, given the one-chance nature of the school-to-work transition here, undergrads job-hunters are very aware of and are trying to mitigate as best they can. Through their boring black suits.

The Recruit Suit is a risk-mitigation device. Japanese employers hire for potential, not existing skill sets, at least for entry-level jobs. They look for “white cloth,” candidates who look socially aware and trainable. And that’s what young Japanese job-hunters want their Recruit Suits to do: in a competitive high-stakes situation, they’re hoping their black polyester proves they’re “white cloth.” And I wish them luck.

Labour market risk shifts in deindustrializing economies are boring. Black polyester suits are boring. It’s a lot more fun to talk about colorful full-body spandex unitard trends in Japan, and it certainly makes for better clickbait. I know nobody is going to embroider this on a pillow anytime soon, but boring fashion matters. It really does. Especially in Japan.

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Full Spandex Suits and Other Fashion Fantasies in “Weird Japan” Media Coverage

 

This post can now be found on our new site, Dismantle Magazine: Fashion, Popular Culture, Social Change!

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It’s Favorite Fashion Blog Friday!

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Why are humans so often inhumane? And what fashion blogs should I read this weekend?

We’re quickly finding out that one of the biggest perks of running this site is discovering the smart, funny, and insightful things other people are writing about fashion. And we’re using the word in its broadest sense here, because how we fashion ourselves encompasses more than just clothes.

So, we know you’re already reading The Beheld and Worn Through. What are your other favorites? Let’s make this a weekly feature!

This week, we Fashion Researchers are enjoying something old and something new.

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How is my 18th century hair so shiny all the time?

Always a good time is Frock Flicks’ take on the ways that history gets translated (mistranslated, retranslated) in film. I haven’t listened to the Poldark podcast yet. I’m waiting until I can find a rocky cliff to stand at the edge of while I stare broodingly at the horizon and ponder the accuracy of Demelza’s hairdo.

Conscious Collegiette is a newer pleasure. So far, it’s a witty, engaging, and critical exploration of how to cultivate a personal style while being a conscious consumer. And a recent post on online consignment shopping includes a serious discussion of the relative merits of glitter washed jeans. So obviously We Are In.

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Ross contemplates the beauty and cruelty of nature, and also what blogs we should feature next week.(These cliff-brooding pictures will never stop being funny)

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