A literary recommendation: this substantial essay by writer Ellis Avery, The Sapphire and the Tooth. It's a short, heart-opening read about difficult family, survival, and selling jewelry in the Diamond District of New York City. Many of you will also love her novel The Last Nude, set in the jaded milieu of 1920s Paris, packed with lush dressmaking, transgressive romance, and the paintings of Tamara de Lempicka. Two sites to sell your jewelry, or find a gemological bargain: Loupe Troop and Diamond Bistro. Both of these sites are linked to large jewelry discussion boards, so the quality and vendor reliability is far higher than eBay. What is the future of blogging? Especially for blogs in the feminine sphere? Short version: to make money, grab your camera and hit Instagram: to express yourself, relax and do what you like. Winter is burlesque season! Bundle up in your retro finest and come out to the cabaret. I've got a busy burlesque schedule as an emcee - do come out to Caburlesque: A Trip Through Time for a classic show and to DIY BurlesKiwi in June, a hilarious competition that focuses on burlesque creativity on a budget.
2014 was a stepping-back-from-trends year for me, but I can't say I wasn't warned. In a downtown cafe in Wellington, late last summer, a woman walked in, rolling her bicycle. Beneath her fine-boned face and giant Paris Hilton sunglasses, her T-shirt declared: TOMBOY. Only the way that TOMBOY felt the need to declare herself with large letters was a surprise. New Zealand has been one of the global incubators of both tomboy style and "sporty luxe", two trends that went worldwide in 2014. A sporty, one-of-the-blokes attitude has long been rewarded in NZ, extending to dress and grooming. Even when Lorde dons lipstick, or New Zealand high fashion, it's dark and defiant. Lorde's column-of-concealing-black is the latest link in the dark chain chronicled in Black: The History of Black in Fashion, Society, and Culture in New Zealand. About the time the TOMBOY appeared, the New York Times feverishly discussed the increasing casuality in clothing and women - women over 30, reading between the lines - backing away from fussy clothing. Cathy Horin sums it up: "Lately I’ve noticed many more women, all of them in the zone of careers and complicated family routines, all of them with an eye for fashion, gravitating toward an almost boyish uniform of slim-cut trousers, pullovers and flat shoes. Or a leather jacket with bland layers underneath. They’re hardly wearing makeup, so their complexions look fresh..." Robin Givhan expands her gaze: "But this is also the new norm. Fashion is technical, pragmatic, and cool, full of swagger and confidence. Everyone wants to look strong and capable. Everyone can be pretty if they like. The concepts of masculinity and femininity are in flux. Whom do you love?" One of my favorite fashion bloggers recently declared that she is turning towards androgynous/rocker chic, and her new standard for whether she wants to wear a garment is, "Is this something a badass would wear?" Others veer towards simplicity because, currently, it sounds smarter - you're saving your decision-making for more important things in your life than what you're wearing. If Steve Jobs' turtleneck isn't for you, there's always Project 333 to narrow yourself down to a small capsule wardrobe. The more exquisitely curated and artisanal, the better. 2014's minimalism with a side of androgyny isn't going anywhere in 2015. It has its benefits. Running a small wardrobe makes it easy to drop a style and recreate your look with a new aesthetic, or, for the anti-consumerist, to rewear favorites constantly. Tomboys and butches are getting the spotlight they deserve. It's easy to adopt this style on a budget. One of my favorite blogs recently discussed the expansion of tomboy style, which I support one thousand percent. But I worry that there will be an anti-femme backlash. If this new turn really was about nothing but comfort, we'd still all be in our jersey dresses from 2006. And men would be joining us. Something else is up. In mid-2013, the future got started. We were hearing about the new Soylent, Leaning In, and phones we wear on our wrists, and Piketty's polarizing Capital in the 21st Century made its quiet August 2013 debut. Compared to the last decade, this one is looking stripped down. I'm not surprised that many of us are recoiling from a culture of constant, ornamented regard. (All this black and white and colorblocking, is it our subconscious attempt to disrupt CCTV surveillance?) Dressing in comfortable androgyny has many practical advantages in 2015 - flatter, thicker-soled shoes, looser clothes, neutral colors, and less makeup are easier in dramatic climate-change weather, more affordable to maintain when times are tight. 2014 was also a year of women's and queer rights advances and setbacks, and acrimonious dialogues about feminism. High femme style for women drops off when feminist discourse and social changes accelerate. Will being busty, curly-haired, big-eyed, wearing orange and pink and lace, be denigrated as unintellectual and inappropriately uncontrolled? "To fuss and preen. That seems silly, somehow, weak." I've been in that space before: it was called The 1990s. The popular blogger Vixen Vintage recently wrote about both backing away from high-femme vintage wear because of sexualized reactions to it, and about her thoughts on using vintage culture as escapism. Nonetheless, in cultures of restraint, it takes courage to express excess. Us femmes have to deal with the dichotomy of what we should be - recycling clothes, repudiating brands, wearing intelligent neutrals that all go with each other, somehow "doing what we love" while also "disrupting" some paradigm or other, those damn kale smoothies - and what we want - the shimmer of the new, of self-expression, a long sunny spring day with children or with solitude and a cat, the kale served up in caldo verde soup. So, with culture having put high femme on the shelf for last year and probably this year as well, it's a good moment for our research laboratories here at Ever So Scrumptious to formulate the next femme. Femme version 3.0. First, it's useful to define Femme 1.0 and 2.0. I see Femme 1.0 as femme-ness expressed through modernity from 1918, the end of World War I, to 1965. There is no "femme" without an alternative or an opt-out - it is never femme if it's mandatory - and it was in the 20th century that high femme became a choice, mirrored by ever-expanding androgynous options for women. Even in the 50s there were pared-down Katherine Hepburn, bobby-soxer, and bohemian options. Femme 1.0 had queer and feminist bug fix releases throughout the later 60s and the 70s, and was then withdrawn from the market for Pangender Disco Glam. Femme 2.0, I place from September 11th, 2001 to mid-2013 - see my previous pieces Cupcakes Against The Abyss and Relaxed With A Chance of Apocalypse. We were sifting through the ample female-signifier artifacts of the last century and turning up the dial to create something hyper-feminine. 1950s dresses for everyone, eyelash extensions, hair extensions, a billion red lipsticks, cupcakes, and difficulty in buying a woman's T-shirt that wasn't blinged. This was the time of the burlesque scene and the pin-up photographer. Femme 2.0's riches included feminist body positivity, carving out a place for self-care and women's friendships in increasingly frantic times, and the sheer fun of swirling skirts. But after a dozen years of Femme 2.0, recursiveness has set in. The cupcakes are getting stale if Femme 2.0 can be parsed this tidily: If you're in the radiant red heart of pin-up, enjoy it - it's delightful for a while to experience the attention and joy. But I have observed that the pin-up flowering lasts for an average of five years for many femmes I know, and what happens next is interesting. Femme 3.0 is what I see happening next. Femme 3.0 is just as deliberate, but more knowing. Philosophically, it retains the steely feminist undercurrent of previous femme defiance. There's more talking and arguing than in Femme 2.0 - technology makes feminist issue discussion everyone's fight. No, I am not going to shut up, and I bet neither are you. For style, Femme 3.0 relaxes, a little. It gets more creative and edgy than out-to-please pin-up. I picture, in wistful Pinterest-browsing moments, remixing the best of Femme 2.0's advances and vintage loves into a subtle, aware, and maintainable approach that is still highly feminine. That's the idea. In actuality, I have never been this busy in my life when I wasn't at a university, and taking ten minutes to polish myself up in the morning, or once a week, gives me more backbone for my day. Enough that it's worth the decision-making ergs. Two lovely inspirations towards Femme 3.0 style.
- What if I don’t WANT to dress like a French girl? - An exuberant celebration of color, fun, and American rockabilly flavor in personal style.
- The Femme Guide To The Universe - "How to start a car, riot, or fire."
Ever So Scrumptious has been a little thin on entries this year partly because I've been busy being a Woman In Tech ™. With the many dialogues about Women In Tech lately, and because today is Ada Lovelace Day, when we honor and share stories about women in STEM, here's my experience. I consider myself a Woman in Tech who focuses on documentation, communication, design, and usability. Like many Women In Tech, it's a second career for me, and I made the transition with a master's degree in Scientific and Technical Communication at an engineering-focused school. (In New Zealand, I see people transitioning into tech comms with this diploma, and into programming with intensive Dev Academies like this one.) A high percentage of web administrators, STEM marketers, and technical writers are women. Is this an interstitial way to be a woman in tech? Yes. Am I "not as technical" as a programmer? Yes. Does it mean that I am one of 4 women out of 100 technical employees at my workplace? Yes. If you aspire to be a Woman in Tech, those of us in interstitial roles have been dealing with tech office politics and sexism for you, often years in advance, and smoothing your way. The personal qualities that have helped me in tech are: being resilient and persistent, being totally transparent with employers and clients, being personally on the geek continuum*, and making time for a second shift of self-education. People in Tech have a second shift of staying informed, via self-driven learning, going to talks and conferences, and participating in professional groups. My American accent has also helped in workplaces where the programmers come from around the world. I've been told, “You sound like the TV and we can understand your English!” For me, working in tech is fulfilling because I love intellectually engaging work that makes a difference. Often, I'm providing training, and trainers know that empowering reluctant tech users can be the hardest part. Male reluctant users are more stubborn than female ones. A freelance client who never really gets a grip on their web site/social media and comes back to me for changes is more profitable, but the clients I never hear from again because they GET it, and run with it – those ones give me a warm happy glow. (And referrals.) What about the negatives? Harassment, ageism, men not wanting to work with a woman? I have encountered all of these, but in the earlier part of my tech career - later I learned to seek out employers and workplace cultures that made gender less of an issue. They are out there! A good guideline: even though I don't have children myself, workplaces that support parents with their policies are often OK workplaces for women with their culture. This is vital: when women leave tech, it's usually because they are fed up with the culture. I have noticed a quiet dynamic of software development teams hiring 1 - 2 women, but no more, and replacing this woman with another woman if she leaves.... Another factor about working in tech is that, to anyone not in your immediate field, more than two sentences about what you actually do will zone them out of your conversation. (Someone once actually fell asleep while I told them.) I have a few glib, nimble sentences to describe what I do, and unless my fellow conversationalist is in the field, we usually leave it at that. Do you want to be a Woman in Tech? But not in marketing? May I suggest the following, based on your personal strengths:
- Good at math but hate programming – Search results optimization and web site/software use analysis.
- Great with people – Training and support.
- Multi-lingual – Localization/translation management. This is an enormous field.
- OK with both programming and interpersonal communication – Information architecture. Documentation. Wrangling WordPress or Drupal. 22% of websites around the world are now WordPress. And I was recently asked, “Do you know any Drupal programmers looking for work? Drupal experts? Please?”
- If you have an undergraduate/graduate science degree but aren’t working in the field –particularly with physics, mathematics, and geology – tech employers will pay attention.
- In New Zealand, about half of the interesting jobs with open-minded companies are in out-of-the-way industrial neighborhoods. The other half are in the cities where we'd all prefer to work.
- There's an increasing trend of women operating tech businesses with women as clients – for apps, e-commerce, and communications. I've just wrapped up a site for one independent business owning woman and I'm about to do another. Mind you, I do see some of these businesses peddling very girly blog designs that, perplexingly, cost 30% - 50% more than non-girly blog designs. Because, presumably, they are DESIGNED?
Putting on my tatty Bryn Mawr academic robe here to review a book: Seven Sisters Style, a recent volume about the clothing worn by and inspired by women university students at Seven Sisters universities in America. You may be familiar with a Japanese photo book, Take Ivy, compiled by four Japanese photographers charmed by the style of young male Ivy League students in the 50s. While their contemporaries were making monster movies, they were at the campuses that incubated the academics for The Manhattan Project. A different way, perhaps, of capturing their post-nuclear monsters - the college sweatshirts and J. Press button-downs are described in brief captions with anthropological reverence and puzzlement. Take Ivy's combination of crisp photographs and otherworldly captions made it a long-term classic amongst style historians. It's taken another outsider to bring us an intended companion volume. The glamorous author of Seven Sisters Style, Rebecca Tuite, is originally from the UK and spent some undergraduate time at Vassar, the Seven Sisters university in Poughkeepsie, New York. And Vassar has been the focus of much of her fashion history study. The Vassar connection is important. Through the history Tuite presents, Vassar also comes across as the most troubled locus of media fever-dreams about the American women's university student. While a Bryn Mawr College article in Life magazine cemented the school's reputation for "intensity", a Vassar-focused article in 1937 sparked a fashion craze. These Vassar depictions reached their film zenith with Marilyn Monroe impersonating a Vassar student in Some Like It Hot and their print apogee with the novel The Group in 1963. Back to the book: this slim volume is a history of clothing styles on Seven Sisters campuses from the 1920s through the late 1970s, far wordier than Take Ivy. These clothes have meaning: they were what women choose to wear at a time when women began to live independent, modern lives. At times Tuite's connections between wider fashion trends and the university students come across as convoluted, and at other times, a tantalizing sentence and a small photo left me frustrated. Also, photo choices are a problem. In the second half of the book, most of the images aren't from Seven Sisters schools or students at all, but from journalists visiting the schools or from modeled advertisements for clothes "in the style of." Perhaps these were chosen to show that The Styles Truly Were An Influence - or perhaps because they tended to feature conventionally pretty students or actual models. Is Tuite's book made, or undone, by her fondness for the proper, public, preppy side of Seven Sisters style? She's certainly hit a nerve with everyone who grew up far away from American preppy but dreamed fond dreams about letter sweaters and camel coats. Dames in ragged racoon coats and dungarees are mentioned - they have to be, they were so prevalent - but Tuite only selected photos of them if they were pert-nosed or (with a caption exhaling a sense of relief) particularly neatly groomed. Instead, she lingers most lovingly over the idea of a Vassarite being swept away to New York City on the weekends, dressed in a clever town suit, with a valise containing a demure yet alluring ballgown. Ahem. The Seven Sisters STILL ARE, Tuite, not WERE... Tuite's edited evocation of East Coast prep is so wildly successful that I - with my personal feelings about preppy after growing up in New Haven, CT - felt rebellious and prickly while reading it. After my first browse, I ran out to a local thrift store to feel like my present-day self again. No, wait, that's where I shopped when I was at Bryn Mawr. AUGH! An entire perplexing chapter is devoted to the designer Perry Ellis and ... I picked up this book to see real Seven Sisters style and history and we were, it seemed, all out of that after Love Story came out. The end result is a historical and social overview overwhelmed by the preppy dream: images of autumn leaves, sweaters, gowns, print books, and social status mingled with academic freedom. I truly wish I'd enjoyed this book more. Am I frustrated about the book itself, or about the perceptions of Seven Sisters universities that Tuite has revealed? Can one only enjoy this book if one hasn't also read The Bell Jar? Tuite is at her best on Vassar, so an entire book by her on Vassar style and women would be a fascinating read. But the allure of the preppy dream led her to decline fully exploring actual Seven Sisters style and how it reflected the fun, freedom, stress, and variety of the students themselves. Ourselves. I'd like to see a follow up by somebody less prep-invested that focuses on the style outliers and oddities and otherness consistently sheltered by these institutions. Barnard beatniks and Bryn Mawr medievalists, the millenial students going to class in their pjs (acknowledged yet dismissed by Tuit herself), the emerging trend for university-themed tattoos, and the students turning the style lens back on themselves in student-run style magazines. Also, there was a Bryn Mawr blazer? WHERE IS MY BRYN MAWR BLAZER?
The "Making It Happen" series is back online, conversing with Emily Davidow about moving to New Zealand and starting up a home design emporium. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve always been a “house” person, enjoying my (sometimes ill advised) attempts to decorate my abode. I’ve always enjoyed home stores, and they are dream businesses for many of us. “One with special things – the kind of things my friends really want,” we say, gazing off into the distant mists, visualizing a design boutique with all of our favorites, or an all-steampunk kitchen store. So it was a great pleasure to get behind the scenes of a delicious home design emporium with Emily Davidow. "Emporium" is the right word for the variety at her retail space in Miramar, Behome. Two floors overflow with rugs, textiles, unique furniture, and even some well-chosen garments. Growing up in the U.S.A., her family's business was home furnishings. After successfully expanding the family business online in the 1990s, and other creative ventures, Emily decided that it was time for a major life change – moving from the U.S.A. to New Zealand. And that led to her opening up Behome in Wellington. Read on to learn about her story, the vitality of beauty in the home, design Down Under, why things cost more in New Zealand, and good advice for your own business. [Read more]
Susie Bubble writes. This New York Times article tries to talk Americans into appreciating jolie-laide. It's disturbing how jolie-laide isn't even part of our cultural dialogue anymore - no more movies called "Funny Face," no more lyrics growling, "She ain't so good lookin', but she can lay that lovin' down." The second one happened two weeks ago. A male friend of mine who admires the female form in all its volumes asked, "Is there something I can say, or should say, besides "curvy"? "Curves?" Is there anything women like better?" A good point, since, apparently, every single woman in America is now curvy. I set out to examine the state of this area of linguistics, and found myself upbraided at every turn. In the US, there's thick. Google swears that one of the more popular related terms is "want thick body", courtesy of J. Lo, Coco, Buffie Carruth (who modeled as Buffie the Body and is now a fitness trainer), and the women of Love & Rockets. Thick, along with "curvy", has quickly come to connote a specific figure type, an hourglass with some sand in it - a body type that is, oddly, becoming rarer. In the US, the term thick is contentious enough. When I mentioned the term to my Kiwi friends, I got yelps of denial, because, "In New Zealand, thick means stupid, first and foremost. You can't call someone thick!!" What about the Yiddish term zaftig? "No, no, I wouldn't use that," says a Jewish friend, her mouth downturned. "It doesn't have good connotations." Romance languages to the rescue. The German term vollschlank, often translated as "chubby," literally means "full-slim" and once denoted sex appeal. Everybody I asked liked vollschlank - a pity, then, that the Germans themselves don't seem to, anymore. There's rondeur (French for "curvy") or being une ronde- see the Miss Ronde competition. Which sounds good, but France isn't a curve-positive country overall. There's the language that women use to refer to our own bodies, and the language that our admirers use to praise us - which is what my male friend was asking about. This week, Roger Ebert's death drew attention to his articulate, afffectionate, and admiring words about his wife and her "voluptuous figure," which enticed him at first sight. (The writer Yvonne Taylor has more thoughts on this here.) "Voluptuous" doesn't exactly trip off the tongue - at four syllables, it's not a convenient signifier. But, since we live in a world where curvy, thick, zaftig, vollschlank rondeur isn't treated simply, those extra syllables show that the body is considered; that it deserves more than a drive-by-shout of a compliment. Your own thoughts on this are welcome!Over the past several months, I've had a some thought-inspiring exchanges about the language of the body - specifically, the slightly deviant body, bodies that skew from the ideal-that-is-and-is-not-an-ideal. The first one happened at a workshop I was giving about burlesque personas. As part of this, I handed out an exercise sheet, full of adjectives and descriptors to help performers spotlight what made them special. A fast-reading attendee asked, "What's this one mean? Jolie-laide?" I said something like,"Jolie-laide is a French phrase that translates directly as pretty-ugly. Like a pug dog, or a sexy broken-nosed boxer. Imperfect but appealing. Like, I'd say that I'm jolie-laide rather than - " Instant denial from the person who'd asked! "Oh, no, no, no! You're pretty! You're beautiful!" I...what? I was touched, flattered and also baffled. There's realism in admitting I don't look like a model, and there's a freedom to jolie-laide, as
Some links! It's been a while, hasn't it? A thought-provoking essay on beauty, grooming, and how this translates to "emotional work" in a partnership.Thanks to Already Pretty for the link. Already Pretty also has a great piece on how sleeve length impacts your look. I'm so pleased that sleeves are returning to summer garments after our long fashion nightmare. Another trend that pleases me: silk garments. This fashion trend is cycling through to thrift stores super-fast, because people don't know how to take care of their silk garments without drycleaning. Here's instructions on how to handwash silk. The darker/more vivid a silk garment is, the less you should wash it. Attention online Antipodean shoppers: House of Fraser in the UK, a large department store, is having a 70% sale on their summer stock AND their shipping is 10 pounds flat. I like the bohemian-romantic East dresses and the geometric Mary Portas line. Current obsession: queer French perfumer Germaine Cellier. "Cellier infamously dedicated Fracas ~a voluptuous tuberose scent conceived for “femmes”~ to the beautiful Edwige Feuillère, while she promised the butcher Bandit to the “dykes”." There is no historical roman a clef about her...why? This means I have to write it. I owe this new obsession to two friends, one the dame who thrust the book Perfume: The Story of a Murderer into my hands and said, "You have to read this," and the other the damsel behind Unseen Censer, who sent me Cellier's leather-and-violets scent Jolie Madame.
Horrified: In the fashion spotlight: all the clothing we're not wearing. Ecouterre "U.K. Consumers Own £30 Billion Worth of Clothing They Never Wear" article here, and Vixen Vintage on the new book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. I had a clothing swap three weeks ago, and when we were done, we took the remaining clothes to the Lower Hutt Women's Centre, which continues the swap as women and girls take the clothes directly. Loving: I'm not the only one to notice the stylish women in tech - see this article. Related: fashionista uses chemical heat pack technology to stay warm in designer clothing. Loving: Thanks to my friend Phoenix Flame I have joined the legions of fans of Caitlin Moran. Phoenix thrust her book, How To Be A Woman, into my hands. She's a feminist voice for the Twitter age. A romp of an interview with her is here. Loving: This lady is my blog crush of the week: Grown and Curvy. I love her use of color and proportion, her beautiful grooming. Her enchanting smile captured me and then I read this post of hers and learned what's behind that smile, and I'm nearly in tears. Horrified And Loving At The Same Time: Illamasqua is petitioning to reduce inflated cosmetic prices in Australia. Hey, we have to deal with this here in NZ, too. And...why a petition? Why not just reduce the prices? They're the retailer, yes?
Yes, I'm emceeing another show coming up - Miss LaBelle's House of Burlesque is bringing back Frolic Lounge. This is...sold out. And Miss LaBelle's next round of classes is fully booked - I believe you can get on a wait list, and that the burlesque name "Zeitgeist Zelda" is still available. Now that I have your attention with that hot pink graphic, go and devour Karen Finley’s poem Black Sheep, then read it aloud to the misfits you love. Then, cheer yourselves up by giving each other makeovers! If ever a blog will change the way you put your outfits together, it is Inside Out Style Blog. Antipodeans, she’s based in Melbourne and doesn’t get too brand-name-y with her recommendations, making her more useful than many style blogs for those of us Down Under. Style at MakerFaire – Parts 1 and 2 – women and men of all ages get their geek on. Digital print fabrics have been impacting fashion over the past several years. Burda’s take on them is inspirational. And, yeah, yeah, mandatory Spoonflower link here. I think these will lead to a serious change in clothing over the next several years.
At the Whitcoulls bookstore on Friday, I saw stacks and stacks of a new novel, piled up as high as I am tall: Fifty Shades of Grey. This ostensibly erotic novel is making lots of women foam at the mouth. Some are foaming at the mouth with enthusiasm and think its fantastic. Many feminists don't like it because it's about a woman reveling in kinky sex and submission. BDSM people don't like it because it's got no relationship to actual BDSM dynamics, or reality. The main problem with it seems to be that it's just not well written. It's been thoroughly slated by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, a review site that understands that sometimes trashy books are a rest from the burdens of our high IQ's, bless them. (In a quick flick through one of the sequels, the male protagonist lost me at "cable ties.") Still, there it was, stacked as high as my head... In discussing this with some of my friends, we were all shouting within five minutes, and one of us made an intelligent point. "I'm interested in BDSM and fetish and the like, I'm curious, but I have no experience and, this book is at least accessible. Reading this book seems like a safe option." So I thought I would recommend some great alternative steamy reads. They may be harder to get a hold of - they're not stacked up in the front section of Whitcoull's - but you'll enjoy them. [Read more]