Some of my favorite fashion bloggists, notable for their stylish way with words:
Linda Grant, who blogs from London at The Thoughtful Dresser, has been blogging for less than a year and she already has a contract for The Thoughtful Dresser, the book. Of course, she was already a highly regarded author of fiction and nonfiction when she started blogging, which explains why TTD is consistently well written and enlightening. I love TTD's motto--"Because you can't have depths without surfaces"--and I melted when I read this post from April 8:
To go into a shop and say, what lovely shoes, can I try these, and they say yes, and yes we have them in your size, and yes, look they fit, and yes, they are comfortable, and yes, I can walk in them and as Molly Bloom would say, yes yes yes yes, and so it's over to the cash register and out with the Amex and yes.
Passage des Perles is a relatively new blog that offers daily insights into style "for the elegant age." I know little about "Duchesse," its author, except that she resides in Canada and wields a tart and sophisticated pen. This is from an April 3 post titled "Body Shapers: Do They Really?"
The body shaper, the modern girdle, is one thing we 50+ women are told we absolutely need. Must. Not. Bulge.I've bought Spanx, Donna Karan, Flexees and a bunch of other brands, with hope and the fervent desire to Get It Together Under There.
"Would I wear it in Paris?" It's clear, it's concise, and it shall become my wardrobe mantra. Managerial and motivational textbooks stress that success comes from goals that are clear and results that are measurable. And lo! the yardstick has appeared.
First off: who dreamed up the fake bolero? (Because, obviously, a real bolero is too much trouble, right? What with all the tedious being able to take it off and put it back on again.) Or is it an elaborate collar? I'm much more sympathetic to the elaborate collar, although I don't like buttonholes that will never feel the touch of a button. Buttons on their lonesome: okay. Buttons sewn over snaps ... eh, whatever floats your boat. Buttons condemned to look longingly at their buttonholes across a never-to-be-crossed divide? That's just cruel.
Reading Style Spy is like sitting at a sidewalk café with your funniest, fashion-savviest girlfriend, who offers a running commentary on what every passerby is wearing. White dresses without linings, the godawful creations of Beyoncé Knowles's mother--she covers the waterfront. She passes judgment on men's apparel, too, as in this April 10 post about "business casual":
The fine line that a well-dressed man has to walk is how to work the formula without lapsing into fashion turpitude. Throw into the mix that a guy probably has a job he goes to five days a week where he would like to not be mocked by his fellow employees, and I can see why it's so easy to slide down the slippery slope of sartorial laziness until he is trapped at the bottom of the deep, dark, Canyon of the Pleated Khakis and Polo Shirt.
Trust the Manolo, the mythical man of business who wishes to “up his game” by wearing the stacked heel shoes, will indeed not only look taller, but also ridiculous. Few things indicate male insecurity as forcefully and as humorously as tacky elevator shoes. One might as well resort to the Ron Popeil hair-in-the-can as the cure for baldness as stacked heels as the cure for shortness.
Want to know the difference between a raglan sleeve and a dolman sleeve? Between a balaclava, a balmacaan, and a balmoral? Here's the scoop on fashion A to Z:
You Look Fab has a brief, selective glossary of terms used in womenswear, including whiskers ("creases of fabric at the hip and upper thigh"; I'd add that in jeans, those creases are usually a lighter color than the rest of the fabric) and stance ("where the highest button on a jacket hits the chest").
Corporate Logo, "the independent voice of the promotional products world," offers an outerwear glossary that defines terms such as action back, storm flap, and warp.
Double-Tongued Dictionary's short 'n' snarky list of apparel and fashion terms includes 1661 ("a woman who is said to look 16 years old from the back but 61 years old from the front"), chicken cutlet ("a silicone breast enhancer for insertion under clothing"), and freeball ("to not wear underpants").
Search Phrontistery's list of fabric and cloth names for definitions of arrasene ("embroidery fabric of wool and silk"), charmeuse ("soft and satiny silk fabric"), and madapollam ("fine cotton cloth"), as well as more-common terms such as madras, melton, and piqué.
The fashion dictionary at WWD.com (Women's Wear Daily) is long on business terms such as just-in-time manufacturing and open-to-buy and surprisingly short on actual clothing lingo, although this is certainly the place to learn all about the Watteau back (whose name "derives from Jean Antoine Watteau, a French artist of the 18th century, in whose paintings women wore dresses with this design feature") and to discover the difference between current and historical uses of the technique known as ruching.
Apparel Search's fashion dictionary is user generated, which means caveat lector. Still, it's quite comprehensive and includes many historical and regional terms such as casque (a piece of armor for the head) and wyliecoat (chiefly Scottish: a warm undergarment).
Colorway: The color scheme in which a pattern or style is available. A shirt manufactured in Fuchsia Floral, Fuchsia Stripe, and Fuchsia Plaid is said to be available in three colorways. (Yes, it's spelled fuchsia. The reddish-purple color is named after the flower, which in term was named for the German botanist Leonhart Fuchs. We should be pronouncing it fyook-see-a, but instead we pronounce it fyoosh-a, which is why we get into spelling trouble. As if we needed a reason.)
Finestrella: In Renaissance Italy, the opening at the front of the elbow of a sleeve. Literally, "little window."
Short markup: A markup is the difference between the cost to make a garment and the amount for which it will be sold. If the sales price is less than twice the manufacturing cost, the markup is said to be "short."
I promised horn tooting, and here it is: a book I ghostwrote has just been privately published, and it's gorgeous and I'm thrilled. Babette: Designing a Vision celebrates the 40th anniversary of an extraordinary fashion brand; it will be sold in Babette retail stores in San Francisco, Scottsdale, Portland, Chicago, and New York beginning next month.
I was delighted when Steven Pinsky, designer Babette Pinsky's husband and business partner, contacted me last September about writing a book. Not only do I love ghostwriting books, but I've also been a huge fan--and customer--of the Babette brand since the day, more than a decade ago, when I chanced on the company's little outlet store-slash-factory on San Francisco's South Park Street. (The factory has since moved to Oakland, the retail store is now on Sutter Street, and the outlet store is no more.) The clothes were a revelation: clever raincoats--one, called the Taxi Coat, came with an orange whistle for summoning cabs--and pleated microfiber separates that flowed over the body like cool water. They were effortless yet utterly distinctive . They could be packed. They could be washed. They looked good on women of all sizes. And at outlet prices, they were a steal. I bought a couple of pieces that first visit and returned many times. In the process, I struck up an acquaintance with Babette and Steven that led to a small writing project--and now the book.
While researching the book I spent many hours in the Oakland design studio and factory, learning how fabric is sourced, how a collection is designed, and--especially--how those pleats are made. In hand pleating, two workers scrunch pieces of fabric and then tie them tightly. Pattern pleating involves huge paper patterns and wooden weights that haven't changed much since ancient Egypt; there are hieroglyphics depicting a process identical to the one I witnessed. (The only modern innovation is a huge autoclave that steam-sets the pleats.) Perhaps most remarkable in this outsourced era, all Babette clothing (with the exception of sweaters) is made in the company's own Oakland factory by workers earning a living wage and seeming to have a pretty good time at their jobs. That, and the sheer amount of labor involved in each garment--a single pleated garment may be touched by as many as twelve workers during its creation--makes the retail prices (about $200 to $500 per piece) seem, if anything, too low.
Surviving for 40 years as an independent fashion designer is a rare feat. It's even more challenging when you're ignored by local and national media, as Babette has been. (The designs don't follow trends, and Babette customers are a "forgotten" market: women in their 30s, 40s, and beyond.) Yet Babette Pinsky never considered merging or selling her business, and she never wavered in her creative vision. Here's how I quoted her in the book:
I always believed that function follows form: the guiding principle of the Bauhaus design movement. And I was always inspired by beautiful fabric. Then as now, I would begin each season's collection by looking at fabric and deciding what stories I wanted to tell with it. Color and texture allowed me to shape a narrative.
I'm happy to report that the media tide may be turning. On Sunday, the San Francisco Chroniclepublished a long article about Babette by fashion editor Sylvia Rubin. (Be sure to click through to the video, a fascinating document of the pleating process.) Oakland magazine is interested in a feature story for its August issue.
It was a pleasure to work with the Pinskys and to be inspired in my writing by four decades of extraordinary fashion photography by Larry Keenan, Michelle McCarron, Paul Cruz, David Perez, and others. Much credit goes to genius graphic designer Ryan X (he has a stealth website; contact me if you want to hire him) and to Carolyn Ricketts, our able proofreader.
And do check out the Babette website, where you can see photos of the clothing, Babette Pinsky's line drawings, and a store locator.
Top: Designer Babette Pinsky. Above: Model wearing Babette separates at a retrospective fashion show held earlier this month in Minneapolis. Both photos by Allen Brisson-Smith for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Stupa: I've written previously about mystifyingshoenames and descriptive copy. Now behold the Arche Stupa in ambre nubuck (photo on the left) and consider a name that is both mystifying and, well, stupid. A stupa (Sanskrit for "heap") is a mound containing the relics of a Buddha or a saint. In other words, it's a tomb. With sacred overtones. So we've got a death association and a sacrilegious connotation and--at least to speakers of English, Spanish, and Italian--a "stupid" soundalike. Three strikes. Arche shoes in general are beautifully crafted (in France) and very comfortable, and the Stupa is nice enough to look at, but, given the bad name, I can't say I'm surprised that it's currently on sale for almost half its original price. By the way, what is up with Arche calling the material of its soles "milk-fed Havea rubber"? First of all, the Latin name of the rubber tree is Hevea brasiliensis, not "Havea." And no matter how much milk you "feed" it, nothing magical will happen. It's the sap that's milky, not the fertilizer.
YOOX: They sell some top-drawer discounted designer duds at YOOX: Donna Karan, Martin Margiela, Dries Van Noten, Alexander McQueen, Prada. And they probably have a few yuks around the water cooler. But that doesn't save "YOOX" from being one of the silliest, ugliest names in fashion history. At least it wasn't randomly selected, according to the (Godhelp us) DNA page:
The name itself reveals the personality of YOOX.COM: Y and X, the male and female chromosomes, flank the ‘zero’ from the binary code, the fundamental language of the digital age.
So logical! And yet so dumb!
YOOX is headquartered in Bologna, and the names of its "team" members (no CEO or president in evidence) are largely Italian, so I'm wondering whether "YOOX" sounds hip or American or something to people named Paolo and Giancarlo and Valentina. A certain distance from English fluency, and indeed from reality itself, might account for prose like this:
Once inside YOOX.COM you experience the alchemy of a creative cyberspace, where technology meets women and men to explore a new concept of entertainment via shopping.
Theality: Speaking of alternate realities, take a look at this brand's landing page on Zappos (the manufacturer's About Us copy is slightly different):
Theality was conceived in 2005 to meet the needs of fashionable pregnant women and it is unlike any other maternity clothes on the market. With unique designs, high quality stretch fabrics, and detail-oriented embellishments, theality has leaped to the forefront of maternity fashion.
The word "theality" is the fusion of the words "theory" and "reality", which is the philosophy behind the line. Theality clothing is the fusion of what designers are showing on the runway and making it the reality for the pregnant woman.
Theality clothing is a must for any pregnant woman who is concerned with comfort as well as maintaining her sense of style. With the strong belief that moo-moos [sic!] and unflattering prints should be universally banned from maternity fashion, theality has designed a line of clothing that begs the question, "What's your theality?"
Where to begin with this? Let's just leap to the forefront. For starters, some words--like "theory" and "reality"--just shouldn't be blended. The sense of neither word is retained, and the resulting blend is confusing. I saw it as "The Ality" (what's an Ality?); others may try to pronounce it as "theel-tee." Second, there's already a successful Theory fashion brand. Third, the Theality logo (which I've been unable to reproduce here) for no apparent reason highlights the "e," the "a," and the "i." My brain's been on infinite loop trying to crack that code.
Then there's the copy, which is painful when it isn't laughable; I suspect it was written by a non-native English speaker and never copyedited or proofread. A few of the lowlights:
"It is unlike any maternity clothes on the market." Clumsy and ungrammatical. And the use of "and" to connect the two clauses in that sentence is a dead giveaway of an amateur writer.
"A fusion of the words'theory' and 'reality,' which is the philosophy behind the line." How can "a fusion of the words" be "a philosophy"?
"And making it the reality for the pregnant woman." Awkward.
FYI, the Hawaiian garment is a muu-muu, not a "moo-moo."
"...begs the question, 'What's your theality?'" Everyone gets "begs the question" wrong, but that's no excuse to use it here to mean "asks the question." And the question being asked is a pointless one.
Guipure: A type of openwork lace made with fine wires wrapped in threads of cotton or silk. The decorative motifs are connected with links called brides, a word that in this sense is related to bridle. (However, guipure lace is traditionally worn by brides of the other kind.)From French guiper, to cover with cotton or silk. Pronounced GHEE-pyoor.
Photograph of guipure lace from MacCulloch & Wallis, purveyors of "dress trimmings & materials, haberdashery, sewing notions, couture linings, interlinings & interfacings. Over a century of experience from the fashion heart of London."
Fierce! Hot! Directional! Yes, fashion is all that and a bag of zero-calorie TicTacs. And I get a huge kick out of it. So this week I'm introducing Fritinancy's first theme week. I'll be posting interesting items from the world of wearables and pausing ever so briefly to toot my own horn.
My interest in fashion (and this is not the horn-tooting part, believe it or not) goes way back. My first wage-earning job, as a high school senior, was on the sales floor of The Broadway Wilshire¹ in Los Angeles, which for a sixteen-year-old Seventeen-reading girl qualified as Died and Gone to Heaven. And I wasn't just some schlepper of a shopgirl--no, ma'am! I had been selected as L.A. High's representative on The Broadway's Hi-Deb Fashion Council--even then, the name was eye-rollingly corny--which meant I modeled in fashion shows, learned grooming and makeup tips from "the experts," toured clothing and shoe factories, and--pinch me!--received three free outfits to wear while I stood around waiting for customers. I even won a guest-modeling spot in Seventeen.
(There was a boys' counterpart to the Hi-Debs, which of course added to the appeal. I wish I could remember what the boys were called. It definitely didn't include the word deb. Or hi-.)
I'd been sewing my own clothes and gazing longingly into shop windows for quite a while, but those free Hi-Deb outfits accelerated my fashion savvy into warp speed, emphasis on the warp. The first outfit, as I recall, involved transparent plastic shoes and yellow fishnet stockings layered over shocking-pink opaque hose. This was definitely not accessorizing as I'd known it. Still, a deal was a deal: I had to wear the outfit (and did I mention it was free?) and so I did. I even came to love it, sort of.
Downhill from there? In a sense, yes. However, I did spend a couple of very happy years as copywriter and then editorial director at Banana Republic's San Francisco corporate offices, back when the chain was tiny and safari-themed. (We had eleven stores when I started working there, and about 111 when I left.) I invented names for items of clothing (the Amelia Earhart Jacket, the Poet's Sweater, the Port-au-Prince Pants), dreamed up stories about the places our clothes might find themselves, and asked simpático literary celebrities to write little reviews for the catalog. (I remember phoning James Fallows, who was then living in Kuala Lumpur, I think it was, and waking him up: I hadn't done the math, and it was 3 a.m. over there. He graciously wrote the review anyway.) Best of all, I got to work with a bunch of smart, funny, creative, irreverent people.
Later on, I was the long-term freelance catalog copywriter for Travelsmith: more product naming, more talespinning. In between and since, I've written about golf shorts and little girls' party dresses, Birkenstocks and Ferragamos, tummy-tuck jeans and hemp-silk wedding gowns.
On my own time, I've been known to pay full cover price for a copy of In Style or Vogue (it's research! honest!). And I've logged more hours with Stacy and Clinton of What Not to Wear than any nominally sane woman should admit to.
So welcome to this little corner of my world! Coming up this week: a theme-friendly Word of the Week, a special fashion linkfest, a post about fashionspeak, a post about fashion nomenclature, and the promised (fashion-related) horn tooting. And possibly more. To get started, here's a post from August 2006 on the derivations of many of our names for fabrics.
¹Eventually subsumed into The Federated's empire (Macy's, Bloomingdale's, etc.).
And Richard Sterling, emeritus executive director of the National Writing Project, is, like, totally kewl with that:
“I think in the future, capitalization will disappear,” said Professor Sterling, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. In fact, he said, when his teenage son asked what the presence of the capital letter added to what the period at the end of the sentence signified, he had no answer.
A member of the Avalanche is a Falling Rock. A member of the Wild is a Wild Thing. A member of the Lightning is a Bolt. A member of the Heat is a Degree. A member of the Magic is a Spell. A member of the Jazz is a Note. (A group of three to five of 'em is a Chord.)
I'm still wondering about the Stanford Cardinal.
P.S. Michael observes that the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning have won the Stanley Cup only once, and adds, "Scientists say the team will have to move to another city in order to win it a second time."
Something called The Ten Best has included this blog on a list of "wickedly cool blog names." It's in the number-two spot (which is actually #9 in the countdown), right after The Big Bad Blog of the Glorious Notorious Jackonious.