Althouse | category: fashion



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"He was always at the centre of high fashion and yet existed outside of it. Keith Richards, John Lennon, Jim Morrison — they all copied Dylan."

"And when that happened, he moved on pretty sharpish... [to the look of a] respectable country gentleman with roots in Nashville, a little carnivalesque, a little Clark Gable."

Said Lucas Hare, the co-host of the "Is It Rolling, Bob?" podcast, quoted in "When it comes to style, Bob Dylan still gets it right/Even in his eighties, the enigmatic performer always looks elegant" (Financial Times).

Bob Dylan in Missoula

Photo credit: Me!

"[O]n the morning of John Kennedy’s death in 1963 I was buying, at Ransohoff’s in San Francisco, a short silk dress in which to be married."

"A few years later this dress of mine was ruined when, at a dinner party in Bel-Air, Roman Polanski accidentally spilled a glass of red wine on it. Sharon Tate was also a guest at this party, although she and Roman Polanski were not yet married. On July 27, 1970, I went to the Magnin-Hi Shop on the third floor of I. Magnin in Beverly Hills and picked out, at Linda Kasabian’s request, the dress in which she began her testimony about the murders at Sharon Tate Polanski’s house on Cielo Drive. 'Size 9 Petite,' her instructions read. 'Mini but not extremely mini. In velvet if possible. Emerald green or gold. Or: A Mexican peasant-style dress, smocked or embroidered.'"

Wrote Joan Didion, in "The White Album" (1979).

Didion continues:
[Linda Kasabian] needed a dress that morning because the district attorney, Vincent Bugliosi, had expressed doubts about the dress she had planned to wear, a long white homespun shift. "Long is for evening," he had advised Linda. Long was for evening and white was for brides. At her own wedding in 1965 Linda Kasabian had worn a white brocade suit. Time passed, times changed. Everything was to teach us something. At 11:20 on that July morning in 1970 I delivered the dress in which she would testify to Gary Fleischman, who was waiting in front of his office on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. He was wearing his porkpie hat and he was standing with Linda’s second husband, Bob Kasabian, and their friend Charlie Melton, both of whom were wearing long white robes. Long was for Bob and Charlie, the dress in the I. Magnin box was for Linda. The three of them took the I. Magnin box and got into Gary Fleischman’s Cadillac convertible with the top down and drove off in the sunlight toward the freeway downtown, waving back at me. I believe this to be an authentically senseless chain of correspondences, but in the jingle-jangle morning of that summer it made as much sense as anything else did....

Let me skip ahead to the last page of the book:

Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true. The tension broke that day. The paranoia was fulfilled. In another sense the Sixties did not truly end for me until January of 1971, when I left the house on Franklin Avenue and moved to a house on the sea.... 

I have known, since then, very little about the movements of the people who seemed to me emblematic of those years. I know of course that Eldridge Cleaver went to Algeria and came home an entrepreneur. I know that Jim Morrison died in Paris. I know that Linda Kasabian fled in search of the pastoral to New Hampshire, where I once visited her; she also visited me in New York, and we took our children on the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty....

"President Biden... traveling under a cloak of secrecy into a war zone..."

"... to demonstrate what he called America’s 'unwavering support' of the effort to beat back Russian forces nearly a year after they invaded the country. Mr. Biden arrived unannounced early Monday morning to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky, and the two stepped out into the streets of Kyiv even as an air-raid siren sounded...."

"Mr. Biden joined Mr. Zelensky for a visit to St. Michael’s monastery in downtown Kyiv, where the sun glittered off the golden domes as the air-raid alarm wailed...."

Biden wore sunglasses, not mentioned in the text of the article, which does say that Zelensky wore "his signature black sweatshirt with dark green pants and beige boots." Are not the sunglasses Biden's signature sunglasses? Or were they not particularly wanted but especially needed because the sun glittered off the golden domes.

Policing the "overcalculated playfulness" of actors wearing fashions that might not align with their sexual orientation.

I'm reading "Is Celebrity ‘Queer Baiting’ Really Such a Crime? Even as gender and masculinity are more fluid than ever, it can still rankle when male stars co-opt traditionally gay codes and styles" by Mark Harris (NYT Style Magazine).

[Q]ueer baiting... is a celebrity culture term referring to performers and artists who slyly imply, whether by action, remark or passing behavior, that they might not be a hundred percent heterosexual in order to court an L.G.B.T.Q. audience, but are actually either straight or, at the very least, determined not to get specific. 
For those who make the accusation of queer baiting, the argument against opportunism is simple: How dare you reach into our pockets and take our money when you’re only pretending to be one of us (or, in any case, when you’re not telling us who you are)?... 
Overcalculated playfulness about the subject can come off as a kind of self-marketing....

This sounds like vigilance about who gets to make money off of sexual orientation, but generally, in life, the money doesn't flow to the artists who are the most authentic exemplars of the experience that is the subject matter of their expression. Actors can be rather blank and empty individuals who go into the profession precisely because they need roles to fill them up. Don't be jealous of them when the role they play is something that you believe you really are. If you object to the money they make, playing the character who you really are, you don't understand performance. Or — admit it! — you want their money.

The article author, Mark Harris, goes on to examine the discrepancy between the criticism of "queer baiting" and the Gen Z view of sexuality that (supposedly!) asserts: “You can be anything you want to be.”

Today, younger people who use “L.G.B.T.” or its longer variants do so primarily as shorthand for a range of options, from asexual to pansexual to questioning to intersex to trans-masc to bi-curious, among theoretically limitless other possibilities, the embrace of any one of which does not have to be a permanent thing....

Notice how subtly Harris seems to acknowledge gender-reassignment surgery. The "embrace" of an "option" is permanent. But this is in the NYT fashion magazine. A great thing about fashion is that it's not permanent. You put things on and you take them off. You experiment. You laugh at mistakes and throw them away. You may not be an actor, but you get to play a role.

You can try on an identity, and maybe someone will say what you're wearing is "so you." Maybe you'll think of yourself in a new way because of that color, that style.

Maybe you'll feel braver. Or maybe you'll feel intimidated at the thought of some sour-faced creature who will sneer at you and mutter something along the lines of: "The clothing of my people is not a costume! We cannot put it on and take it off as a whimsical experiment! Your jacket is a microaggression!"

Harris writes that the Gen Z position is "Nothing matters more than authenticity. There is no qualification for an artist greater than lived experience."

Is that really their position? I don't know. But if it is, I'll stand back. These are kids, and they need to grow up. They need some time to question their own authenticity and the slipperiness of the demand for authenticity. They need to enrich their "lived experience" with the experience of the work of great artists and to see that the artists are not talking about life they have specifically lived — lived authentically. They are imagining far more life than they can personally live.

Back to Harris:

What we know about an artist’s personal identity can be interesting and even illuminating; what we are entitled to know is … nothing, basically.

I agree. And maybe we're better off knowing nothing, nothing other than the art.


By the way, before I undertook to read this article and based solely on the headline, I searched the page for "Rolling Stones" and "Mick Jagger." Nothing! (No Prince either.) Where's the historical perspective? These kids today! 

"But what makes her an unusual star for the high fashion industry... is the fact that Ms. Kortleve is a U.S. size 8 to 10 — or 'midsize'..."

"... as the middle ground between petite and plus size is increasingly known. 'Straight' size, or under a U.S. size 2, remains, overwhelmingly, the fashion industry norm. Plus-size models, typically those above a U.S. size 12, have become better represented in high fashion. 'Curve' models like Paloma Elsesser, Precious Lee and Ashley Graham have thriving careers. For years, however, Ms. Kortleve has been one of the only midsize models of note.... [T]he ordinary has long been rejected by high fashion, a world that loves to shock through visual extremes. Bony ribs (ideally) or ripples of undulating flesh (occasionally) on a runway or campaign shoot somehow seem preferable to highlighting a body that’s reflective of a more 'boring' middle ground...."

Midsize last size they want to show you, and it's the healthiest, most reasonable place to be. People want excitement, but whatever happened to feeling good?

Reminds me of politics: People don't want to hear from the boring middle or to feel balanced and at ease. They want extremes and extreme emotions — glee and anger. 

Or so it looks on line. Maybe in real life, people are serene and midsize or trying to get to serene/midsize.

"At first, the suggestions my lover made were just funny. Right away he told me that I should be wearing much tighter clothes, sporting necklines that showed off my boobs..."

"... and dressing in brighter colors—that I should be, essentially, more gender-conforming. I told this to a female friend, who sighed, 'I’ve run that experiment before with men: "Be my stylist! What do you like seeing me in?" And the result is always, always being sexualized.' I had hoped for high fashion (strange knits, elegant linens, statement…. vests, I don’t know!), not 'How To Be A Pretty Lady 101.'" 

 Writes Blythe Roberson, in "I Let My Boyfriend Dress Me For an Entire Year/When I asked my stylish sweetie to help me dress better, it sometimes felt like negotiating with the patriarchy in real time. But now, I have a new understanding of what it means to feel desired and understood—and a killer wardrobe, too" (Esquire).

[B]ut I felt like he didn’t understand that I didn’t want to be hot in a sexy lady kind of way—I wanted to be hot in a “Patti Smith living in the Chelsea Hotel secretly having incredible boobs” kind of way....

I highly recommend being a woman who talks to a male lover about female fashion. It gave him and I a project, a whole new sphere of things to discuss.... It felt so novel to walk through a women’s clothing store with a man, referencing a tweet about how women these days have two fashion options, milkmaid or ‘90s rave slut, and to look at dresses together whispering, “Milkmaid. Milkmaid. Milkmaid.”... 

After a year of being styled by my lover, I have thought and talked about fashion more than I ever had in my life.... I pushed outside my comfort zone and learned to like new things—a disorienting process for a straight woman who doesn’t want to lose herself to a man, but also, I think, an under-appreciated aspect of romantic and sexual relationships....

Much more at the link, including consideration of the movie "Vertigo." 

"I think people treat me with more dignity when I dress more masculinely, but people are way nicer to me when I dress more femininely."

"I just feel like there’s a manual or rule book that people receive and that my copy got lost in the mail."

Said El Layla Johnson, 33, "a former restaurant server who is now a therapist," quoted in "Defining Nonbinary Work Wear/How nonbinary professionals thread the needle of getting dressed for the office" (NYT).

"Feeling liberated in the way that you present is just so important because it will also reflect how your mood is, whether you’re dragging yourself to work or you’re showing up as 100 percent yourself and you love it.... I have denim jeans underneath the maxi skirt... I just pull down the maxi skirt, and boom: I’m masculine again," said Ginger Copes, 32, "a digital producer for CBS in Philadelphia."

"Government, including the Democratic Party, needs to embrace and welcome that it is normal that people wear whatever makes them feel powerful and confident and secure," said Samy Nemir Olivares, 31, who "ran for New York State Assembly last year knowing that if he were elected, he would face a Capitol dress code in Albany that didn’t account for his genderqueer identity." 

I remember "unisex" clothes from all the way back in the 1960s. The OED traces "unisex" back to 1966, quoting a Pennsylvania newspaper: "American social commentators have remarked a trend among British and American youth which they describe as the uni-sex look in fashions." And here's Life magazine in 1968 : "With-it young couples..are finding that looking alike is good fashion as well as good fun. The unisex trend was launched by..the teen-agers." 

Why the complexity? More than half a century later! It was once just "with-it" and "good fun." Now, it seems to involve agony and confusion and unpleasant interactions with other people. How did that happen? Because of the way everything became political? Because human beings hunger for a struggle of some kind? Because it's just too darn simple to wear pants? Pants and a shirt. And boom, you're nonbinary. 

ADDED: The NYT names the fashion retailer Nordstrom as a purveyor of "gender-fluid options." I looked up their page of options, and it's ludicrous — all oversized t-shirts and baggy shorts. It's the least challenging solution to masking the femininity/masculinity of your body! It's certainly useless to anyone wanting something to wear to "the office" — though I know there are offices these days where people dress in roomy loungewear, like that place where Sam Bankman-Fried worked.

"Her brother, Gordon, brought a 19-year-old, fellow art student round to her flat in Harrow. He had red hair and a face whitened with talcum powder."

"His name was Malcolm McLaren: self-declared genius and godfather of punk. So began one of Britain's great creative partnerships... His mother was a sex worker and he had been brought up by his eccentric grandmother, who lived by the motto 'to be bad is to be good and to be good is just boring.'... He took six days to visit her in hospital after the birth of their son, refused to be called 'Dad' and threatened to cart the child to Barnardo's when asked to pitch in. Westwood retreated to a caravan in Wales; hunting for wild vegetables while he ran riot in London and married another art student. But attraction overcame everything.... Westwood rekindled the partnership, blossomed artistically and simply ignored the abuse."

From the BBC obituary for Vivian Westwood.

"Then came the Sex Pistols, snarling at the 1970s. McLaren embraced them as an angry pot-shot at the hippy movement he hated. Westwood opened a shop on the King's Road, conjuring the look the Pistols made famous. A bewildered world gasped and named it Punk. She called the shop, 'Let It Rock', then changed the name to 'Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die.' Finally, it was re-branded simply as 'SEX' - the huge pink sign above the door meant only the brave went in...."

Lots more at the link, and the BBC has a nice photo collection here

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