Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 31/03/11: Reactionary Dressing

If my Junior Cert science knowledge serves me well (and it probably doesn’t), one of Isaac Newton’s laws of physics is, ‘for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. While this applies in relation to centrifrugal forces, it’s also relevant to our everyday lives – and to think we were convinced that it would have no practical application once we left school.

Whatever your political preference, whether left, right or maddeningly, non-commitally dead-centre, we are all rebellious reactionaries. Reactionary dressers, that is.

Like most deep set neuroses, I believe that this starts in early childhood. A child is dressed by his or her parents. They are the dictator of the toddler closet, the holders of the keys to Gap Kids. You will wear those pink corduroy dungarees and you will have this pudding-bowl haircut. You have no choice in the matter.

From a very early age, a person gets a sense that there’s a way that you want to dress and a way that you have to dress, and ne’er the twain shall meet.

Both of these things play off each other. The more rigid the uniform, the more expressive and off-the-wall the remainder of your wardrobe will be. This is where Newton comes into the equation. Here’s the science bit.

Friend A works in a chain sportwear shop on the high street. He is required to wear Brand X for work, but his distaste for X means that he now buys Brand Y for his days off. In fact, he buys much more Y than he did before he started at work. It’s a reaction to the dreaded brand X. Q.E.D.

Friend B is a impossibly polished medical consultant in a large private hospital. When someone sneezes in her presence, she thinks they’re making a medical point about Jimmy Choos. She get manicures twice and blowdries thrice weekly because of the sheer wilful need to look professional in front of her influential, much older, mostly male peers. On her off days she goes to Tesco in her pajamas.

In a wider scope, almost all countercultural movements of the twentieth century are reactions to the establishment. The hippie ethos was born out of disgust with the American government and stifling social norms, but the clothing was a calculated counter-attack to these norms. It shocked Johnny Crewcut out of his complacent haze and into a more, er, lycergic one – one that involved bell bottoms and a helluva lot of suede fringing.

For some reason, this is a phenomenon that has only come to maturity within the past hundred years. The Surrealists shocked the world in the earlier part of the century, but part of their shock value was that they looked incredibly respectable, in three-piece suits and soft homburgs. Even then, their clothing was a reaction – a deliberate effort to buck against what was expected of them, which was to outwardly express what deviants they were.

From shoes, to outfits, to social groups, from traditional national dress to battle uniform even to schisms in society at large, all reactions are governed by the actions that precede them. Once you start to notice these reactions, you life may start to take on a Da Vinci Code-esque significance as you count all the coincidences that pop up almost out of nowhere. For me though, there’s a straightforward explanation – it’s simple fashematics.

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Fashion

Is that a bandwagon I spy…

…because I feel like jumping on it.

I’m mightily interested in those ‘what in your bag’ posts that are popping up all over the place.  Part of the allure of blogs is the insight you get into other people’s lives.  Now we get an insight into their accessories.

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This is my bag.  It’s a (genuine) vintage Dooney and Bourke bag in tan and black, accessoried with a leopard print Primark scarf.  I love it so.

I’m not a bag person.  I need to be strapped to my bag at all times, otherwise I’ll wander off like Ralph from The Simpsons, off to the toilet or dancefloor without it, and never see it again.  Clutches are not my friend.  Backpacks make me look like an ant huffing a gigantic pile of rocks up a hill.  The mid size bag is a, uhm, happy medium.

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For a medium bag, it holds a lot of stuff.  This week it’s playing house for:

  1. Travel itinaries and booking confirmations – going to Dublin for a few days to catch up with family, go to a few meetings, do a bit of work and hopefully buy a nice pair of pink trousers.
  2. Wallet - a present from my aunt – it basically has my life in it.  A life with no money (so be warned, potential muggers).
  3. Two of twelve billion Cork and Dublin bus tickets.
  4. An iPod that has taken for too many knocks.
  5. Coin purse – Marc by Marc Jacobs and was a Christmas present.  It holds coins.  And sometime lozenges (I’m such an old lady).
  6. Passport – In case Enzo whisks me off to Milan at the last minute.  It is also helpful for getting into pubs.
  7. Generic ibuprofen – because I’m too cheap to buy Nurofen.
  8. Reporters notebook
  9. Whatever book I’m reading at the moment – this one is a biography of Lee Miller.
  10. A pencil – because someone took my pen!  My precious Bic!  I’ll get you one day, pen thief…
  11. A Nokia phone which is similar to a Blackberry, but nowhere near as fiddly.
  12. Hand sanitiser – because you’d never know who has cooties.
  13. A lolly.  Just ‘cos.
  14. Two bobby pins to whip back an unruly fringe.
  15. Make up.  No. 7 Mascara, Bobbi Brown concealer, Mac eyeshadow in Bronze and Mac matte lipstick in Russian Red.
  16. A pair of Ray Ban Clubmasters.  If I lost these, I would go hardcore baloobas.  My sunglasses are basically my ticket into the outside world.  If you’ve seen photos of me taken during the day, I’ll have these on.  It’s not because I’m an indie wanker (that’s only about 75% of the reason).  I’m mildly photosensitive.  Direct sunlight hurts my eyes, makes them water and if I don’t put my sunglasses on, I’ll get a migraine after about twenty minutes or so.  Since Ireland is mostly overcast, this hasn’t been too much of a problem.  It’s just unfortunate that optimum weather conditions for taking photos are also those which make me want to run for the hills (or a darkened room).

What’s in your bag?

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Fashion, Inspiration, Subculture

If you wear a ringer, you’re Indie Rock. Period."

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Wise words, Daisy von Furth, wise words.

X-girl is the sister to Japanese label X-Large and, as I type, is only available in Japan. In 1994, when the label was launched, the brands directors were Daisy Von Furth and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth *cue fangirl squeee*

While is lasted in it’s RIOT GRRRL format, it was pretty darn cool. With all the clean lines and simple tailoring, it reminds me of a no boys-allowed Fred Perry.

X Girl editorial for Vice Magazine

Did you notice a very young Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola in the video? And Chloe Sevigny was their original fit model. ANDandand and and… *fades into silence*

EDIT – While we’re on the subject of music in fashion, you can watch a video of myself and Dawn of Skinni Peach talking about fashion in music with our playlist on the Teen RTE (think Irish BBC) website .  The video will be on the website for a week, so have a click and see what we like!  You’ll get to see me move and speak (a bit like an Irish Daria Morgendorffer) and display abysmal posture.  What an incentive.

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Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 24/03/11: Dress Codes

The unprecedented has happened. This month, I have not one, but two awards ceremonies to attend. This time last year, I was lucky to have not one, but two pub quizzes with which to grace my presence.

Awards ceremonies are tricky. Go long, or short? On-trend colour pops or classic monochrome? Stripes or spots? Hair – up or down? Bags – clutch or envelope? Consort – is he holding your bag or the drinks? It’s one of the (very) few occasions when I wish that I was a man instead of a woman, accessory holding notwithstanding.

Black and white tie is strictly regulated – for the guys. You must wear black dress socks, you must have a black satin cummerbund, you must have the right coloured bow circling a stiff, starched collar in a brilliant shade of white. For women, it’s slightly more difficult.

What then, if traditional dress codes go out the window? Black tie is now the stuffy formal mode of dressing – far too rigid for us hipsters and awards attendees. We have to have a different language; a new set of buzzwords for a new generation. We don’t need your bourgeois, stinking dress codes, man!

We think that we’ve thrown off the shackles of sartorial suppression, but we’ve only made things worse. By opening up the remit in which we get dressed, we leave ourselves open to a whole new level of disaster. If you’re going somewhere special and you want to look appropriate (an attribute that is severely underappreciated in modern existence), then dress codes are vital.

Imagine going to a wedding wearing jeans while your partner rocks up to the church in a bedazzled suit that the combined efforts of Versace and Liberace could not surpass in terms of extreme, overarching, gaudy glamour. Not a good image, now is it? Especially if your partner is a blocky, Beamish drinking, aggressively heterosexual nightclub bouncer named Craig.

Even if you don’t have a Craig-esque partner, or even have a partner at all, the new series of dress codes are so utterly stumping that you can just about manage to worry only about yourself. Gone are the days of transparent codes, here to stay is Blank Chic, the code where the word ‘chic’ is preceded with something utterly meaningless, something that magicks up only a vague image that could be interpreted in a million different ways.

Last week a friend of mine told me about a party she attended – the dress code was ‘safari chic’. What does that even mean? Did she need a pith helmets and and elephant gun to go with her Breakfast at Tiffany’s cocktail dresses? Perhaps a scad of malaria to give that perfect touch of je ne sais qois to an LBD?

People generally don’t like rules and regulations; it’s a sign of suppression and bureaucratic measures, it limits creativity and personal freedoms and lest we forget, people don’t really like doing things against their will.

But we’re not talking about totalitarian government, nor are we really talking about awards ceremonies. We’re talking about weddings and graduations, christenings and office parties – any formal occasion.
It’s nice to be free and loose, but sometimes it’s better to do what is right and proper – this includes a dress code.

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Film, Inspiration

Cartoon characters based on real people

Just a short post before I have to pack and get on the bus to Belfast… Normal posting will resume next week.

Here are two of my favourite excellent dressers – who were also the inspiration for two of my favourite animated characters

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Tallulah Bankhead and Cruella deVil

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Edith Head and Edna Mode from The Incredibles

‘NO CAPES!’  I love The Incredibles.

Who are your favourite fashion characters – and are they based on real people?

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Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 16/03/11: Couples with matching jackets

Normally, I quite like the stories that my parents tell me about their courtin’ days. Bike rides to the beach on the Kerry coast and trips to see Thin Lizzy and Eric Clapton are played in my mind through a fuzzy, hazy sunshine imbued filter not unlike that used in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

In reality, my parents are one part Sundance and Etta and another part Homer and Marge Simpson. For example, my father brought my mother a box of chocolates on the night of their debs ball. Par for the course, except that he ate all of the soft centres. For every instance of cutesy-poo, there’s another one that is mind-bendingly embarassing (but still very sweet).

Once, my parents decided that it would be a good idea to purchase and wear matching jackets. Not just matching jackets, but matching silver puffa jackets. With red and blue stripes. The mind boggles.

My mother now reassures me that it wasn’t a conscious decision. My father was living in Dublin, my mother in Tralee. She bought the jacket, knowing that my father liked it, but reasoning that they would never turn up in the same place, wearing the same jacket. She was very wrong. Apparently, this was one of the most testing periods in their relationship. If anything, it’s proof that my parents have very middle-class problems.

I told myself that this would never happen to me. That lasted about five minutes when I started going out with my first proper boyfriend. The silver puffa jacket was, mercifully, not an option, but we would manage to turn up separately for afternoon dates in battered converse, slim jeans (skinnies had yet to be invented) and leather bomber jackets. We looked like the world’s worst Ramones tribute band. Don’t get me started on the time we both wore sparkly LBDs to a family wedding… This may not have happened.

For better or worse, if you pick a partner with similar tastes to yours, it’s likely that this will extend to your clothing. It could be little things, like wearing the same colours, or it could be a full-on matching fest of the highest, most tasteless order.

On one end of the spectrum, there’s Ralph and Ricky Lauren. Ricky’s effortlessly preppy style was what inspired the designer husband to branch into womenswear and today, both are perfect examples of co-ordinated collegiate cool. On the opposite end, there’s Posh and Becks. Do we remember the leather jumpsuits? The double disaster of cream and purple suits at their wedding? I don’t think I need to go any further.

In other countries, wearing matching outfits is a source of pride. In eastern Asia, where PDAs are frowned upon, it’s normal for unmarried couples to wear identical outfits as a sign of their togetherness. It has become so popular that retailers now sell outfits in pairs. It sounds terrible but it is probably no more visually offensive than the average PDA.

Like it or not, if you’re a part of the world at large, this dilemma is one you will have to face many times. So, look on the bright side; it’ll make a good story to tell your children – just don’t mention puffa jackets.

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Fashion

Distilled: Paris Fashion Week A/W ’11

This is the last in the series.  Paris, following on from New York, London and Milan, is probably the most-hyped fashion week, with a record number of high-profile designers showing collections (and a lot of monotonous flicking through photographs on style.com for me).

Here are some Parisian picks, arranged by trend – I use the word ‘trend’ in the loosest possible terms, because I’ve just made most of them up.

all photos style.com

 

Row 1 – Anne Demeulemeester, Cacharel, Haider Ackerman
Row 2 – Chanel, Maison Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen
Row 3 – Jean Paul Gaultier, Miu Miu, Tsumori Chisato
Row 4 – Loewe, Louis Vuitton, Valentino
Row 5 – Carven, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Sonia Rykiel
Row 6 – Chloe, Christian Dior, Lanvin
YAY TRENDS
  • Row 1 – Absolutes – Make outfit statements in one colour (or two) – emphasis is on texture and silhouette.
  • Row 2 – Come together, fall apart – Deconstructed, zipped and ripped apart outfits.  I shouldn’t love this because these are oriented towards the willowy of body, but I do anyway.
  • Rpw 3 – Little old ladies – Pour talcum powder in your ‘do, amp up the boxy silhouette and invest in a furry shopping trolley, as seen at Gaultier.
  • Row 4 – Night porter – Leather trenches with very little little on underneath for the dominatrix vibe.  Christian Dior jokes optional.
  • Row 5 – Plaid – pensive plaid at Carven, Playful plaid at Castelbajac and Sonia Rykiel – it’s all good.
  • Row 6 – Textures with pattern – wooly snakeskin at Chloe and flower print gazar fabric at Lanvin.
NAY TRENDS
  • None – though when it comes to Paris, I have rose-tinted specs.  Perhaps there was an overabundance of fur, but that seems to have been an overarching trend covering all four weeks.
What are your PFW picks?
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Fashion, Inspiration, Subculture

An Introduction to The Licentiate…

… for those who are coming from the Irish Blog Awards website, who have never seen this blog before, and have no idea what it’s all about.

Hello, I’m Sarah and this is my blog, The Licentiate (pronounced ‘lie-sen-she-ate’ – but there won’t be an oral test, I promise).  EDIT: Here’s a dictionary definition for curious comers.  In retrospect, it wasn’t the best name to pick, but I’m not one to make things easier on myself. This is what I look like.

rykiel front
Did I mention that I hate having my picture taken and I’m very awkward and I don’t normally look this smug and ohgoddontjudgemefromthispicture?!?

I’ve been blogging for almost a year now on style, (hence being a finalist in the ‘Lifestyle’ category in this year’s Irish Blog Awards *happydance*) subculture and it’s various permutations in film, books and art.  Any posts before the sixteenth of March ’10 are imported from a previous blog.  I’m a freelance journalist and write a column, also called The Licentiate, for The Cork Independent.  You can read them here.

From the first Licentiate post:

This is the product of my obsessions including but not confined to; magazines, stealing my friend’s SLRs and fiddling around with the aperture settings, internet shopping, colour schemes, frames of reference and inspiration, history of fashion, the tenets of style, bad taste, out-of-print fashion books, bad DIY, local goings-on, vintage, stuff collected on my travels, patterns and anything slightly insidious, off-kilter or weird.
That was the mandate then, and I’ve stuck to it as closely as possible.  Here’s a few posts for the first-time visitor.  Consider it a cyber pocket guide.
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Self-indulgent tripe
1 – A licentiate’s backstory (involving me looking stupid in my graduation gear).
2 – Why I blog – You know the hows, now read the why.
3 – Ritualism – A blog post I wrote when my grandmother died and I nearly wore a tutu to her funeral.
4 – Nan’s Legacy Part I and II – as you can see, my family is a big deal to me.  I often write posts about both of my grandmothers, who were equally inspiring in wildly different ways.  Here is some of my paternal grandmother’s jewellery.
5 – My Family Portrait. Vintage inspiration from my mother’s side of the family.
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Favourites
2 – Is the blog the modern equivalent of the zine?  A post about modern publishing and a full reproduction of original 70’s zine ‘How to Look Punk’.  I can’t tell you how much I love this zine – every night I go to sleep and mentally thank the person who upload this on the internet (I may not actually do this).
3 – WWDVD (What would Diana Vreeland Do?) – Or ‘why I detest American Apparel’.
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Reader favourites
5 – Royal Wedding Bonanza!I’m terrible at signing off, so I’ll just say that you can say friend me on facebook, follow me on twitter or leave a comment to say hello.  I love meeting new people (just as long as they don’t follow me back to my apartment) and I hope that, if you like this, you’ll come back again.  Over and out *does awkward Vulcan salute*.

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Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 10/03/11: Too Poor to be Stylish

This season’s fashion weeks have drawn to a close. Catwalks have been dismantled in New York, London, Milan and Paris, models are now eating something other than cotton wool whorls dipped in orange juice and editors are now retreating to their desks to tell us what we’ll be wearing next winter (polka dots, plaids and an obscene amount of fur, apparently).

I shall be wearing none of those things. I might indulge in some dot action, but they’ll be Penney’s polkas, not Prada’s. Unless a Euromillions win is imminent, I’ll never own anything hot off the catwalk. This isn’t for lack of wanting. If wanting was a currency, I’d be richer than Warren Buffett.

But wanting isn’t a currency. I am poor – the kind of poor that makes passing church mice think, ‘there but for the grace of God’…

I am poor partly by circumstance and partly by choice. It’s a trade off; either I work a job that I really don’t want and have spending money or keep working towards something that will bear dividends only in the future. Looking at some of the people I know in the former situation, I feel as if the right choice has been made (especially when they buy me a slap-up dinner).

This kind of decision is not made lightly and it has an effect not unlike living on a faultline in a treehouse built of glass. The aftershocks are frequent; every small jolt affects your life.

As I grow less and less solvent, my means of spending become less and less. I’ve gone from frequent high-street buying, to infrequent, to charity shops, to a total clothing embargo. Now, due to a very large, very nasty bill, I am forced to sell the contents of my wardrobe.

You’d think that fashion would suddenly become less fun, wouldn’t you? But, in reality, the less I have to spend and the narrower the sartorial leeway, the more interesting getting dressed becomes. Being poor opens you up to new horizons, new ways of dressing, new modes of expression.

Women with a higher level of disposable income might find that they don’t know how to take up a hem or let out a jacket. They might not know how mix packets of machine dye to turn that shirt from white to the perfect, jewel-tone, deeply-hued magenta that can only be seen on the racks at Gucci. They might not know how to wear a maxi skirt as a mini-dress or even how to sew on a button. Necessity is the mother of invention and when there’s no necessity, you get lazy. Trust me, I’ve been there.

It’s not a new phenomenon either. Frugality has been an admirable trait since the austerity years of the Second World War, when ‘Make Do and Mend’, a pamphlet on stretching your clothing allowance, was first published. It is still in print today.

British Vogue recently resurrected their ‘More Dash Than Cash’ feature, which shows readers how to reimagine catwalk looks with a mixture of canny high-street buys, ingenuity and a steady hand with a pair of scissors. It maintains that a self-aware, resourceful person can always look stylish.

Some people will inevitably think that it’s shallow to contemplate personal style when living below the poverty line. I think that it’s essential for living. Being poor is debasing; it makes you feel inadequate, that you’re not a real part of society at large. Dressing well is an outward declaration of your dignity. It tells a world that thinks otherwise that you will not be cowed, that you have integrity, that you will not compromise.

Expressing yourself is a basic human right. It’s harder to do that without money – that’s why getting dressed is so important.

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Inspiration

Women of Style and Substance

International Women’s Day is drawing to a close, which is appropriate since I’ve spent the past few days in the company of Aisling of Think What You Like and Dawn of Skinni Peach. We’re in Dublin, busy with press days and a few top-secret projects (hence the lack of posts).

Here are a few inspirational women who may also get your style juices flowing – hope you had a suitably female-focused day.  Ours consisted of running about town in matching beige macs (which was a coincidence, but it didn’t stop us singing Return of the Mac on a loop) and eating pancakes upon pancakes in Fafies.  Yep, doing our bit for womenfolk everywhere…

Tamara De Lempicka
Coco Chanel (as suggested by Dawn)
Cleopatra (as suggested by Dawn)
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (as suggested by Aisling)

 

Beyonce (as suggested by Aisling)

 

Grace Jones
Hedy Lamarr (co-invented modern mobile phone technology!)
Kelis
Mary Wortley Montagu
Elizabeth I
Louise Brooks
Lydia Lunch
Natalie Portman (as suggested by Aisling)
Nellie Bly
Queen Medb (as suggested by Aisling)
Osa Johnson

What women inspire you, in terms of style and otherwise?

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