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April 11, 2006

Fashion fuglissimo
Posted by Teresa at 01:03 PM * 29 comments

The “dodgy fashion” entries from Give me spirit fingers dammit! are knowledgeable and surreal. For fans of such things: managing bird-flu risk exposure, Brazilian dress codes, designer/muppet collaborations, camouflaging pregnancy, cutting-edge Australian fashion, distressing shoes, hats from the 2005 Royal Ascot, spring styles from Beijing, fake nails, summer fashions from Paris, bad ideas for your face and head, and Italian for fugly. There are lots more where those came from.

Comments on Fashion fuglissimo:
#1 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2006, 01:32 PM:

People get paid to come up with these things?

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2006, 02:01 PM:

How the fashion industry works has always been a mystery to me. My impression is that it's less straightforward than the publishing industry, if that's possible.

#3 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2006, 02:09 PM:

Not only do people get paid to come up with things like these - it's impressively hard to become one of the people paid to come up with things like these on a reliable basis.

#4 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2006, 02:13 PM:

Teresa and xeger: Eek!

#5 ::: Mrs._TD ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2006, 02:32 PM:

Fashion was the industry i grew up in. My father had a chain of retail clothing stores, and i even went to the Paris shows as an impressionable teenager (way too thin, way too tall, those women--and it was the era of the 5 inch platform, too). Yes, it's worse than publishing. Think of it as theater, without scripts. Or, often, talent.

#6 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2006, 02:44 PM:

I'm beginning to wonder whether Zoolander might've been documentary rather than parody.

#7 ::: Adam Rice ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2006, 03:06 PM:

"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."
-- Oscar Wilde

#8 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2006, 04:05 PM:

For those who appreciate the snark of Spirit Fingers, there's always Go Fug Yourself.

Personally, I just love SF's Fashion roadkill posts, for which, alas, she has no category.

#9 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2006, 04:49 PM:

Very little of modern fashion show fashion seems to get into the shops, thank God. It seems to be an advertisement for the designers, so they can sell themselves to the shops.

Yet it used to be that people like Coco Chanel could show, and sell, wearable fashion.

Or is it just that we don't remember the craziness of their fashion, and only what see what succeeded?

#10 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2006, 05:02 PM:

A lot of what we see photographed from the fashion shows is meant to be photographed, in order to generate publicity, and not to be sold to humans who hope to appear in public looking fairly normal. Even the clothing that humans who wish to appear normal (which isn't photographed and published in the popular press, but is picked up on by manufacturers and store buyers) is made to appear exaggerated by means of extreme make-up and hairstyling, in order to catch the eye and play into the so-called theme of the collection.

As a result, clothing that appears to be the result of a collision between a roll of suiting, seven different silk scarves, and a few pheasants, one small peacock, or a flock of parrots is used to market a set of gray wool flannel separates, with a blouse in a silk print that is also used as a lining for the flannel pieces. The cut of the jacket or skirt may be slightly different, the fasteners Not Quite the Same Thing We Always See, but it's still gray flannel separates. In order to get people to replace their old gray flannel (or black wool gabardine, or whatever) separates with the new ones, they need to be somewhat stunned and dazzled first, so they aren't saying things like "But it's still in good shape--there's lots of wear left in that yet!"

#11 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2006, 09:31 PM:

Dave Bell mused:

Yet it used to be that people like Coco Chanel could show, and sell, wearable fashion.

Or is it just that we don't remember the craziness of their fashion, and only what see what succeeded?

    "Compared to Coco Chanel, Madeleine Vionnet is virtually
    an unknown today.  Perhaps this is because she produced the
    Rolls-Royces of couture, whereas Chanel's designs succeeded in
    becoming the popular Fords of fashion."

Charlotte Seeling on Madeleine Vionnet

In general, I'd say that it's more that we don't remember the fashions that were contemporary to her collections.

#12 ::: Things That Ain't So ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2006, 10:09 PM:

The fashions that we remember eras by are mostly "bad boy" and "bad girl" fashions anyway. Witness all the kids today who think that dressing "60's" means wearing bell bottoms and tie-dye, and who haven't a clue what the "mod" look was.

Or our "memories" of the 50's being a bunch of guys in black leather with DA hairstyles, even though most guys wore chinos and madras and kept their hair very short.

Or two days ago I was in a formal rental shop getting the offspring fitted for a tux for a prom fashion show (he was strongarmed into it), and saw that the zoot suit has returned as a retro fashion. No one remember that the zoot suit was gang attire in the 40's, not what the majority of men wore.

#13 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2006, 11:55 PM:

"How the fashion industry works has always been a mystery to me. My impression is that it's less straightforward than the publishing industry, if that's possible."

No argument here.

#14 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2006, 06:44 AM:

Things that Ain't So: My father did not belong to a gang, but he wore a zoot suit in the late 40s. It wasn't merely gang attire, but a means by which members of minority groups (African Americans and Hispanics) dressed in order to assert their distinctiveness.

#15 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2006, 11:07 AM:

We shouldn't forget the immortal "You Knit What?" blog, either.

Particularly today's photo of the handknit bikini...for a cat.

#16 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2006, 12:56 PM:

Once upon a time I was really, really into fashion (until I discovered the "Katherine Hepburn uniform" and became a comfortable, cool, happy human) and I can ditto Fidelio's comments. It's all for show. None of that crap makes it to real stores.
And the Ascot hats are a tradition of the "see how crazy Brits can get in a strange setting" kind.

#17 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2006, 02:21 PM:

Thank you for this distraction from real life. Fashion perhaps has a purpose beyond what its supporters envisaged.

#18 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2006, 09:35 PM:

"Witness all the kids today who think that dressing '60's' means wearing bell bottoms and tie-dye, and who haven't a clue what the 'mod' look was. [...] Or our 'memories' of the 50's being a bunch of guys in black leather with DA hairstyles, even though most guys wore chinos and madras and kept their hair very short."

This is absolutely correct. Indeed, as I remember it, tie-dye wasn't widespread at all in the actual 1960s, but was rather an early-to-mid-1970s phenomenon.

In every era, what most people are wearing is the fashions of the previous era. Look at actual photos of "hippies" in San Francisco in 1966-67. Most of the glasses are big blocky 1960s-vintage horn-rims, not the delicate wire-rim granny glasses we now attribute to the era. Those came later.

#19 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2006, 06:36 AM:

Some of those pictures made me remember the Sci-Fi Channel's Dune mini-series, which had some amazingly weird hats.

There are a couple of examples here -- see the Bene Gesserit pictures. Unfortunately, no pictures of the Spacing Guild, who had the wackiest hats.

Now I know what the costume designers from that show are up to these days....

#20 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2006, 10:17 AM:

Dave Bell:
"Yet it used to be that people like Coco Chanel could show, and sell, wearable fashion.

Or is it just that we don't remember the craziness of their fashion, and only what see what succeeded?"

I think it's more that you are looking backwards from a post-Chanel world. From here it is easy to say Chanel's creations are wearable. But consider: at the time when Poiret, Vionnet, and Chanel were getting started, fashionable women had worn corsets for hundreds of years. The unstructured pieces those guys were making looked more or less like being naked to a lot of women. Compared to that huge change, today's wackiest fashions are pretty tame.

Christian Dior's 1947 New Look was also decried as unwearable costume and misogynist besides. These days it's hard to see why, just like it's hard to imagine the Beatles were considered "noise" and the Impressionists were morally offensive to civilization and beauty. Of course we can have different ideas about what's desirable in fashion, but I don't know if this nostalgia, or whatever you'd like to call it, is based on reality.

It's always weird to come upon fashion commentary in a blog I read for other reasons. It's like finding a political essay at Craftster--not exactly unexpected, because it's something everyone has an opinion on, but a little depressing, because I hate to disagree strongly with someone about something I care a lot about, when I agree with them so strongly about other things.

#21 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2006, 12:10 PM:

A strong case can be made that San Francisco's hippie "fashion" of 1966-67 had its roots in most-Mod Carnaby Street and Chelsea, where cutting-edge shops attracted celebrities of the day with clothing that mixed antique, exotic, and modern elements. In California, these antique elements tended to be represented by frontier clothing (see the cover of Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America), which, IIRC, became increasingly popular as psychedelic bands started exploring their roots in folk, country, and blues.

Although tie-dye is also associated with psychedelia (and echo the light shows popular in the late '60s), I'd (snobbishly) be hard-pressed to call it fashion--rather, it's like a badge that notes identity with a particular group.

PNH: Granny glasses were available in '66, and were definitely hip. One of the trend-concious kids in my sixth-grade class back then had a pair, which caused some envy.

#22 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2006, 12:22 PM:

After encountering several well-padded futuristic Ming-the-Merciless-type ensembles by someone whose name unfortunately escapes me, displayed as sculpture in the Italian pavilion at the 1995 Venice Biennale, I began regarding high fashion as a subspecies of three-dimensional art rather than as something to wear. The fact that these creations have some vague degree of influence on what people actually are wearing a season or two later is, I've decided, totally beside the point. What I don't understand is why I've never run across serious criticism of these things as art objects, rather than the pallid little descriptive articles you get in the back business pages of the NYT.

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2006, 03:29 PM:

Individualfrog: We do indeed live in a post-Chanel universe, but that's because her influence is so pervasive. If you know from Poiret and Vionnet you already know a lot of what I'm about to say, so forgive me; not everyone does.

Coco Chanel alway insisted on wearability. She may not have been the first woman to crop her hair or wear straight skirts, but no one did more to interpret and popularize that look. Granted, she wasn't a genius like Madeleine Vionnet, and she had little or no use for clothing as camouflage or structural support; but she had a real eye for what works on the street.

Fashion owes her the little black dress, the day-to-evening dress, the cardigan suit, the canonical pleated skirt, the use of knitted wool jersey for sportswear and street wear, the strapless dress, and the chemise dress, jumper, blazer, turtleneck, sling pump, draped turban, and trenchcoat, not to mention concepts like costume jewelry, and perfumes that smell like themselves rather than specific flowers. Have a look, here and here and here.

It's not that much of an exaggeration to call Christian Dior's New Look unwearable. You can definitely call it uncomfortable. That man singlehandedly brought back the corset and crinoline, with tight-waisted full-skirted dresses designed to be worn with a girly hat, stiletto heels, and gloves up to your elbows. It was a big hit for a while with fashion-starved women who'd been scrimping and recycling all through WWII; but just about anything would have been a hit that was extravagant, romantic, a tad nostalgic, and obviously feminine.

The New Look's tough to wear. That tight tailoring from waist to armpit is merciless. It requires serious understructure if it's going to look right, and the skirts need major petticoat support. It's hampering, and dangerous, and tiring. Granted, it can be fun to wear; but it's only really fun if you don't have to wear it every day.

As I understand it, a lot of the craziness of modern runway fashion is publicity-driven. Fashionistas don't actually leave their houses in the mornings with bird wings wrapped around their heads. But for the average viewer, looking at these fashion photos, it's a stretch to figure out which bits are actually meant to be worn by real people.

#24 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2006, 02:16 AM:

But for the average viewer, looking at these fashion photos, it's a stretch to figure out which bits are actually meant to be worn by real people.

It's pretty much like that for anything you only see from a posed photo from one angle, though, if you're not already familiar with the style - there's always the moment of how-on-earth-did-she-get-into-that, how-many-pieces-does-that-come-in, where-are-the-fasteners, even with relatively normal-ish styles.

And that's not counting the ones taken from one particular angle to obscure the bulldog clips and safety pins holding things together at the back. Why, sometimes even the outfit needs that, not just the model.

#25 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2006, 03:23 AM:

Maybe it's just damage caused by reading Dancers at the End of Time at an impressionable age, but I think it would be wonderful if people dressed like this on the street.

Not that SF, where I live, is a million miles away from that--I once saw a woman at the symphony wearing a backless dress in the most literal sense, in that there was nothing but a few spaghetti straps between her skin and the world from head to toe, in a six-inch stripe centered on her spine.

#26 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2006, 06:14 AM:

There's a fascinating blog here by someone who seems a bit like the fashion-industry equivalent of Temple Grandin-- she's a high-functioning autistic who draws up manufacturers' pattern templates, and thus has a doubly unique perspective on how clothing fits, or should, or doesn't. (She has several archived rants about sizes.)

#27 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2006, 04:03 PM:

Another difference between Chanel and Vionnet is that Chanel's clothes require only astounding levels of expertise and care in construction and design; Vionnet's sometimes require all that care and a leap of insight. (For those who have not previously wondered: Vionnet was one of the designers who crossed from the Old Regime of clothes, constructed as we now construct expensive upholstery, to the Modern Regime that aspires to drapery. She did unbelievable things with bias, the anisotropy of cloth, and did them so well that her dresses hanging in museums are said to still have level hems.)

Things that can be manufactured will generally become more common than things that can't.

I can see the misogyny in the New Look; the clothes make you physically dependent. Vionnet, on the other hand, clothed "a modern femininity based on the strength, not the weakness, of the body."


Fashion-Incubator is really interesting, thanks.

#28 ::: Kathleen Fasanella ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2006, 05:24 PM:

Thanks for the mention Julie. My central focus is clothing manufacturing 101 but yes, I do rant about sizing and fit of apparel. Believe me, I could not agree more that clothing fits like crap. I'm blogging about bra fitting lately. Next week I'll be blogging about the anatomy of a camel toe (an engineering problem, it rarely has anything to do with chicks wearing their pants too tight). A little humor is good also.

And personally, I think Vionnet was autistic too. I say that because the only way you can get inside someone's head, is to reinvent their work. And I've done that.

#29 ::: IndividualFrog ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2006, 11:31 AM:

I've actually gotten a chance to check out some of the New Look pieces up close, and I'm certainly the last person who's going to say they are comfortable. I just meant that it's not always easy to see our contemporaries the same way we see our predecessors.

As for runway fashions, really, 80-90% is pretty easy to grasp--go to and you can see, the vast majority is, even if you don't like it, at least recognizably "wearable" in the "not made of bones and wood, no bags on heads, less than three arms" sense. In my opinion, to do the kind of commentary you see on that site, you need to make a conscious effort to find the weird and wacky stuff, and a conscious decision not to try to understand the designers' intentions.

Of course a runway show is all about publicity, it's like saying a TV commercial is all about publicity. For the kind of designers targeted here, it's more of a presentation of a world-view than a series of suggestions for what to wear. And to me at least it's usually pretty easy to understand, and to get ideas for what to wear myself (though I could never afford the designers I like, anyway.)

But it was generally stranger fashion than not that got me interested in clothes in the first place, so it might just be a matter of taste.

The last thing I'd like to say is, I live in Tokyo right now, and there is just no telling what people will wear.

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