Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 28/10/10

>I have a problem with Hallowe’en dressing.  Actually no, I don’t have a problem with the dressing up itself.  Thinking up a character is fun.  Sewing, constructing and arranging a costume is also fun.  Even just wandering into a costume shop and having a pervy window shop is fun.  Getting out into the crisp, chilly Hallowe’en night to discover that you are the only female Einstein in a horde of Playboy bunnies – that is not fun.  That I have a problem with.

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If you’ve seen Tina Fey-scripted comedy Mean Girls (and if you’re under thirty-five and dress up every Hallowe’en than you almost definitely have) you’ll feel a twang of recognition when Lindsay Lohan says, blissfully oblivious to the fact that her life would turn into some sort of eternal Ghost Train, that “Hallowe’en is the one night a year when girls can dress like total sluts and no other girls can say anything about it”.
There’s no point in deriding girls who want to dress up in their underwear because that’s their prerogative.  It’s Hallowe’en, so it’s a-ok. Some sexy costumes (like 60’s era Catwoman, for example) look, well, they look hot.  Very hot.  And very cool – it’s near impossible to pull off hot and cool at the same time. Some women feel liberated by slipping on something alluring that they would never normally dream of wearing, even inside the bedroom.  Deliverance from the shackles of sexual oppression and added shock factor?  Why, that may just be the perfect costume, in my humble opinion.
The problem is the sheer lack of imagination that is displayed by wandering into a costume shop and buying a costume in a squeaky plastic bag.  Surely that sucks all the fun out of the one day a year where adults are fully justified in acting like children, albeit children who get to drink alcohol, stay out all night and then shriek loudly outside my apartment window on their way home (come to think of it, that’s probably an accurate description of the children who haunt my neighbourhood).  Why buy a mass-produced costume when Hallowe’en is such a personal event?  You could dress like anyone in the world, alive or dead, real or imaginary.  Why waste that on being one of fifty sexy policewoman, like a page in a Where’s Wally book gone dreadfully, dreadfully wrong?
The options for women who want to buy and not make costumes are thin on the ground for those who have the singular criteria of not baring their arse.  These costumes often bear the moniker ‘sexy’ but in truth it’s not – you’ll never see a sexy leprechaun in FHM or Playboy.  Polyester cut-out jumpsuits aren’t really that sexy for anyone but hormonal pubescents.  Costume distributors seem to think that anything can be sexy across the spectrum from animal to vegetable – literally. 
While online I found a sexy straightjacket (sans trousers), a sexy Smurfette (with a jaunty-looking silly hat), a sexy Martini (with olives as bra cups, but of course), a sexy coral fish (ok…), sexy Ms Potato Head (slightly disturbing) and a sexy Elmo, which, if anything looked like a tiny fur jacket made from a freshly-skinned Muppet.
Maybe we’re all missing the point here.  The spirit of Christmas isn’t in the presents, just as the spirit of Hallowe’en isn’t in the costumes.  The true essence of Hallowe’en is the food, the tremendous glops of candied popcorn, jellies, chocolate coins and hallmarks of general overindulgence – yet another good reason to forgo the sexiness and just be another version of yourself at Hallowe’en.

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Inspiration

A handful of perfect Halloween costumes*

>*that can be sexy, not slutty.
*that can be made with items right out of your own wardrobe
*that no-one else at the party will be wearing (though I make NO guarantees)
*that are of super-cool women
*that will make for better small talk than, “So you’re a sexy policeman/traffic cop/firewoman/Elmo, when’s my stripsearch?  Bwahahahaha!” and other terrible come-on lines.

That being said, there’s nothing bad about sexy Halloween costumes bought from the shop – they’re just so damn boring. Life is too short to be a member of the armed forces for Halloween when you could be almost anything else.

Here’s my list, in no particular order, of costumes that are easy, quick and won’t result in pictures of your bum being circulated on Facebook (hopefully). This post is damn long and took ages to put together (hence there only being two posts this week) so there’s much, much more after the jump.

1. Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist of Hungarian extraction who lived a very modern life when it was unacceptable to do so. She was married to muralist Diego Rivera, but had many affairs, including with Leon Trotsky, Josephine Baker and Nickolas Muray, who would spend years taking iconic photographs of her. She posed for American Vogue and other magazines in her uniform of traditional Mexican clothing; full skirts, embroidered blouses and ostentatious colours, almost always with fresh flowers in her hair.

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Both pictures by Nickolas Muray

Frida in your wardrobe - maxi skirts, florals, short sleeved blouses, shawls, hairbands DIYed with fake flowers.

Further reading - Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress: Frida’s Wardrobe.

Alternates - Tamara De Lempicka, Artemisia Gentileschi, Yoko Ono, Hannah Hoch.

More after the jump!

2. Cruella de Vil

No, not this Cruella.

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In the original novel Cruella de Vil is not a middle aged harridan with gigantic flat feet and a slightly deranged look in her eye.  Cruella de Vil is actually incredibly cold and detached, like an evil Grace Kelly.  She also gets expelled from school for drinking ink, which already makes her a hero in my eyes.  She may be a villain – but being bad has rarely looked this good.

Below are some preliminary character sketches for the original Disney film, drawn by Marc Davis, that show that, at first, Cruella was one hot wannabe furrier.

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Cruella in your wardrobe - Mink fur coat (faux or otherwise, I’m not judging), anything sweeping and bias cut, preferably in black and strings of contrasting jewels. Add a bucket of bleach to really top off the look.

Further readingThe Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

Alternates - Maleficent , Captain Hook, Harley Quinn , The Misfits

3. Aviatrix

I’m kinda cheating here, because I chose two female flight pioneers. The uniform is pretty much the same, but the women couldn’t be more different.

Aviatrix A – Amelia Earhart, who disappeared in 1937 while attempting to fly around the world.

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Aviatrix B – Pancho Barnes, who has to be the most interesting aviatrix EVER. This may have something to do with that fact that she didn’t die a premature death and so had more time to do interesting stuff…

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Pancho Barnes is on the far left, Amelia Earhart holds flowers

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Pancho Barnes and Amelia Earhart knew each other and flew together in races. When Earhart set the women’s world airspeed record, Pancho broke it. Pancho (real name Florence) was born into a wealthy family, got married young and left her husband in 1928 to dress up like a man and travel across Mexico. She was one of the first test pilots for weapons manufacturer Lockheed and established the union for film stuntpilots. When she retired, she set up a dude ranch in the Mojave desert, which she called ‘The Happy Bottom Riding Club’. Best name ever.  She also looks incredibly jolly in every photo of her that I can find, which is always nice to see.

Amelia and Pancho in your wardrobe - Masculine tailoring; chino, jodphurs, flat boots, brogues, white shirts, ties or scarves, aviator jackets, shearling

Further reading - The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes

Alternates - Sabiha Gökçen (the first female combat pilot), Amy Johnson (the first woman to fly from Britain to Australia) and Bessie Coleman (the first black person to hold an international flying license).

4.  Peggy Moffitt

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Photos (and slightly insane video below by William Claxton)

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It’s great to dress up as Twiggy or Edie Sedgwick, but the real 60’s icon has to be Peggy Moffitt.  With trademark five point Vidal Sassoon haircut and possibly the best Op-Art make-up around, Peggy was muse to designer Rudi Gernreich.  I’m very biased, as I’m picking her based on her eye make-up, which is far superior to the Twiggys and the Edies of this world.  I also love that she still has the Sassoon haircut and wears the Gernreich clothing, even though she’s now in her seventies.  Now, that’s what I call being consistent with a look.

Peggy Moffitt in your wardrobe - a truckload of eyeliner and jewel coloured eyeshadows, sharp minis in bright patterns, your best awkward poses.

Further reading - Pretty Pretty Peggy Moffit by William Pene Du Bois (now out of print but so worth it if you can get a copy)

Great 60’s eyes Alternates - Marisa Berenson, Veruschka, France Gall

So there you have it.  Who are your female idols?  Suggestions on Twitter so far include Jane Tennison, Jo from Little Women, Lara Croft and April O’Neil (who is totally kick-ass and was my inspiration to become a journalist – I kid you not).  Any additions or amendments to make? And who are you dressing up as for Hallowe’en?

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Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 21/10/10

>A woman’s experiences with camel in all it’s permutations are usually interesting. It’s close enough to beige to be neither exhilaratingly good or mood-shrivellingly bad, but it’s far enough away from that perennially tedious shade to be just the right side of interesting. Yes, ‘interesting’ is definitely the word.

Like many girls of my generation, the first time that I saw a camel coat was a particularly sharp Jil Sander number on my mother as a toddler (I was the toddler, not my mother. Camel may be interesting but it isn’t powerful enough to implicate time travel). I remember thinking even then just how impossibly grown-up the long, double-breasted overcoat was – how the shape precisely delineated just how much of an adult my mother was, and still is, in my eyes. It was a world away from the one that I inhabited. I wondered when I would be the grown-up lady with the grown-up coat. I’m still waiting.

The second experience with camels was riding one by the ancient pyramids in Giza last year. As the slurping behemoth bobbed and juddered around unfenced tombs of the pyramid’s foremen and architects, little more than holes in the ground, I got the same feeling that I did when looking upon my mother’s camel coat for the first time. I was just not ready for the experience.

Even though the style reports tell you otherwise, a camel coat is not just for this season; it’s for life. The moment you become an adult is not when you turn 18 and legally ged drunk on lager shandies, it’s when you buy on of these babies. Unlike an actual camel though, a camel coat will not cost you money in food and stable fees. A camel coat will not earn you extra pocket money charging passing tourists for joy rides and it will definitely not spit on you when the going gets tough (but I promise nothing).

In fact, most camel coats aren’t actually made of camel hair but synthetic fibres that are dyed a uniformly dromedary hue. “Oh good”, I hear you sigh, “No animal has been harmed in the making of my new car coat from Oasis”. Bless you, for you are incredibly misinformed (but fair dues for worrying about whether your clothes are ethically sourced or not). Besides wool, camel hair has to be the kindest of all animal fibres, collected from the two humped Bactrian camel and not my stinky Egyptian friend. The best to be had is casually collected of the animals neck and flanks as it falls off during moulting, thus making camel hair harvesting the easiest job since the Arctic got it’s first weatherman.

Many people accuse camel of being nothing but a another word for the dreaded beige. For future reference, real camel is actually a shade of brown. It’s darker than beige, with a golden, honeyed tone. Camel hair also has thermobaric properties that NASA would be proud to develop, enabling the wearer to stay warm in Peruvian mountain snow and cool in desert climes (or just on a windy December day waliking down Patrick Street, if that’s what you prefer). See what I mean about camel being interesting? You can accuse it of being scarily grown-up or a bastardised beige, but it’ll never be boring.

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Photography

My Family Portrait

>I’m totally contravening the laws of blog here but, inspired by this post from Diamond Canopy,  I’m reposting some photos that I already put up on the blog some months ago .  May I incur the wrath of Blog for my sins, but these pictures are way too nice to hide.

These are of my maternal grandmother’s family.  A few months after she died, I found a plastic bag stuffed with her falling-apart address book and a ton of photos that she always had by her side.  My nan was a formative influence on my life.  I miss her a lot (even if she wouldn’t let me close the door whenever I had boys in my bedroom).

I won’t tell you which women is my nan, because my mother already thinks that having a blog means handing out my cup size and bank account details to strangers, let alone revealing who my family members are.  But I will tell you this – pick the most stylish woman below and you’ll probably see her.

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Fashion, Photography

Russian Dolls and Harlequin Romance

>I love this editorial, shot by Tim Walker for Vogue, which carries all the typical Walker trademarks of being utterly bonkers and utterly fantastic at the same time.

This editorial is inspired by the Ballet Russes and especially the Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes  Exhibition at the V&A in London, which has garnered a lot of attention from the fashion pack since Erdem Moragliou has cited his work on the exhibition as an inspiration for his Spring/Summer ’11 line ( I talked about it here )

Here’s a few of my favourite shots.

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Pics from Fashion Gone Rogue – click for the full editorial

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Fashion

Jones Moans

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Despite the title, I don’t think you’d be hearing moans but rather yelps of delight if I got my hands on one on Dominic Jones’ super-spiky, super-shiny rings. Inspired by Art Deco shapes, yet still retaining the ‘incredibly rich punk’ image (Alice Dellal is his business partner, after all) the collection is so covetable it should be made illegal.

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I actually did have one moan – I tried on the ring above at the NEWGEN area at LFW and said, “Ooh, it’s very heavy” only to be told, “Well, that ring is mostly for editorial purposes”.  Does that mean that it’s not going into production?  Say it ain’t so Mr Jones.

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 14/10/10

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Getting my makeup done by the L’Oreal make up lady, who managed to apply liquid eyeliner ON A SWAYING BUS.  This is a life skill which I have yet to learn.

As the weather goes from summery drizzle to an intensely dirgelike autumn downpour, I, like many people, get the itch.  This is not the kind of itch than can be remedied by furtive trips to the GP and extortionately priced creams.  This is the kind of urge that compells you to make a drastic change.  Open your mind!  Save the world!  Become a better person!

The itch for change, for transfomation is so overwhelming that it’s all you can do not to spontaneously combust and emerge from a blackened chrysalis with the overall demeanour (and unnervingly smooth appearance) of Angelina Jolie.  You want to become a better person.  Not necessarily a better version of yourself, mind.  My dreams of improvement never actually involve improving on the admittedly shaky framework that is me.  It somehow involves Normal Sarah becoming a totally different, new and improved person, much like the endless parade of actors portraying Nick Tilsley on Coronation Street.

It’s at times of identity crises such as this that I do what any sane woman would do.  I don’t actually do any of the things that I plan on doing, like going to Pilates, reading Bertrand Russell, alphabetising my closet or putting the fine tuning on a skincare regime.  I reach for the hairdye.

Last week I went from a mousy brown to a pleasantly artifical looking carroty red that would make Peg Bundy nod with approval.  Do you ever feel (somewhat inexplicably) as if you would somehow become much thinner, taller and sassier once that towel wrapped around your ‘do is whipped off?  I was suitably shocked and perturbed to find out that, after slopping a squeezy bottle of gunk on my head, I was still me. With red hair.

As disappointment rang in my ears (that could have been a side-effect from the dye) I popped down to the Oasis Fashion Bus which had trundled in to town to celebrate, appropriately, the total makeover of the Patrick Street store.  Inside, I was greeted by Style Wars winner David Greene, who took me through all the fashion-forward choices for this season.

I asked him what would suit me, a very short, hourglass-ish, non-model.  David showed me a nice, lace panelled midi skirt and a flapper dress that should skim over the hips.  I’m not sure of the significance of the hip skimming, but he certainly seemed to know what he was talking about.  There was a pause and he said, ‘You know, you’re not that short.  You’re probably not as short as you think you are’, a fact that, now realised, still shocks me.  I always thought that I was a titch.  Apparently not.

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“Listen Sarah, I know you think you’re tiny, but it’s just the camera angle”

I get home and measure myself, and he’s right.  I’m just half an inch off the average height for women.  As it turns out I barely know what I actually look like, let alone have the capacity to accurately imagine myself after a makeover.  To others, my flaws are probably not as exaggerated as they are to me.  People don’t see me through a warped lens as I (and many women) do.  They just see me.  With red hair.

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