Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Put It Up

Sometimes things burrow beneath my skin and I can't shake the ill feelings that they cause. Slights and grudges and misspoken words take up space I'd prefer not to give them. I wish it weren't the case, especially at those times when the discussion is, if I think about it for a moment, far removed from me and this life that I'm living. But some feelings can't be helped because I know that the words igniting them are tied to bigger, nastier ideas.

At 3:20 AM on Saturday, May 19th, I sat in a Lake Tahoe hotel suite with a small group of friends as we waited for things to begin. I had arrived only three hours earlier after a number of travel woes. Too exhausted to sleep, I snatched a 90-minute nap before the day's festivities. And so while running on fumes with a navy and white fascinator on my head, a lounging jumpsuit and fancy robe on my body, and my laptop set on the coffee table in front of me with Twitter open, I settled in to experience a wedding I'd been waiting months to watch.
For my own well-being, I have steered clear of most of the wildly racist commentary that has been, well, everywhere since the world became aware of the relationship between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. But there was always going to be talk that found its way around my carefully constructed walls. The smaller, insidious comments have a way of sneaking in, and I shouldn't have been surprised that these painful pricks arrived via an area of my life that I leave the least protected.
Fashion Twitter, of which I consider myself a marginal member, is full of nitpickers. Where else can one find people yelling excitedly about someone flouting the theme at the annual Met Gala? Generally I find this social media corner a comfort. Here are other people who care not only about clothes but also about what people are trying to say with their clothes. It was no surprise then that when Meghan and Harry was confirmed, and especially after her Vanity Fair cover and subsequent appearance by his side at the Invictus Games in Toronto, the fashion media sat up and took notice. Women in such positions have the ability to make or break brands. Sometimes the making can lead to the breaking. This wasn't only about pretty clothes. It was also about business and symbolism. To ignore her choices at that point would have been foolish.
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (née Markle) is biracial and not in the business of allowing anyone to forget that she is half-black. I have no official data on this front but it wouldn't be wild to assume that there have never been that many black people in St. George's Chapel at one time. Despite my body feeling broken on that still dark Saturday morning, my mind was delightfully awake and looking forward to the black gospel choir, the black bishop, and the black cellist who were to be part of the ceremony. As we watched the guests arrive, I was full of joy and thoughts of romance. And then, all of a sudden, I was full of red-hot rage.
It took quite awhile for my somewhat adolescent giddiness to subside after the engagement announcement, and so it wasn't until her third post-engagement official event in a rainy Cardiff, Wales that I begin to notice that one of Meghan's hairstyle had been termed a "messy bun."

I didn't see anything messy about it but then, outside of the sculptural coifs I remember seeing in pictures from the hair shows my older sister took part of in the 1990s, I have grown a personal distaste for hairdos that are stiff and shellacked. To my eyes, her hair looked relaxed and protective, a simple fix for anyone who has to worry about the havoc humidity will wreak on naturally curly hair that has been straightened.

A spot of emotional rot began to bloom within me, and as I realized that the conversation after her first official event with that hair had moved beyond basic descriptor to whether or not said "messy bun" was appropriate my uneasiness only grew. "Why not call it a loose chignon?" a friend asked recently. It was a good question coming from a rational place. But then she was not part of the demographic I was concerned with. Most, although not all, of the criticism was coming from the mouths of white women. A tweet saying that the updo wasn't "royal hair" floated across my timeline soon after that Cardiff event, and I was left wondering what exactly constituted "royal hair." I already knew the answer. My ears are attuned to dog whistles about black people, especially those concerning black women and girls.

I have lived 35 years with my hair. I have had strangers and acquaintances and "friends" make comments that no one asked for or feel free to touch it without permission. I have watched news segments and read stories about children sent home from school because their similar hair styled in any number of ways was seen as untamed. Unkempt. Inappropriate. I knew I wasn't upset at nothing.
There is something that happens to some white women, an ugliness that rises from their chests, when a black woman is successful. The success can be big or small. It can be in any arena. All that matters is the fact that she is existing and thriving. The darkness is only amplified when the success occurs in the public eye and when the position the black woman occupies is seen as enviable. There are too many examples to list here, enough examples to fill a dissertation, but all one has to do is look at any of the coverage of Michelle Obama during her time in the White House or, more specifically if you'd like, the many op-eds that were written about Beyoncé after her most recent pregnancy announcement. I wonder what it takes to put fingers to keyboard and write something dripping with that level of irrationality and hate. But then I know the answer to that question as well.
"Words mean things," I say to myself at times while making my way through essays or news stories or the quagmire of Twitter. I'm not only speaking of definitions, although there are some who choose to ignore even that basic foundation. I'm also speaking of the text within the text. Words don't only mean things. They mean things. They have been dragged through history's muck. They are stained by it, especially when used to describe certain groups. Especially when coming out of the mouth or the pen of the powerful few.
I am not innocent here. As I’ve gotten older and, one hopes, wiser, I try to think about why I feel the urge to use certain words to describe certain people and things. But I don’t catch everything. There are times when I put my foot firmly in my mouth. In those moments, I feel shame, disgust, and remorse. These are hard feelings to allow to sit inside you. They are hard feelings to allow to do their important work. It is easier to violently push them away or ignore them. It is easier to lash out at the person who has taken up the sometimes painful task of calling you on it. It is easier to apologize without ever actually saying that you are sorry.
What would a true admission of guilt mean? That you are fallible? That you are susceptible to intellectual frailty? That you occasionally let society and the legacy of our world’s tortured history infect your thoughts? If that is what it would mean, then I welcome you to being alive and awake in 2018.
I expected there to be both positive and negative critiques of the dress. I would expect nothing less of my fellow fashion watchers, and yet my stomach was in knots even before the "messy bun" statements sent me flying into a rage. A couple of days prior while looking at pictures of Meghan arriving in Windsor, a thought popped into my head unwanted and unbidden. “I hope she wears her hair down for the wedding so I don’t have to hear anyone’s nasty complaints about it.” I berated myself for retreating to the box I subjected my younger self to in an effort to dodge scrutiny and criticism when in predominately white spaces. It is a habit that I've mostly grown out of at this point but there are moments when I backslide.

I was tired. I am tired. Physically obviously but also mentally and emotionally. A year or two ago I would have been able to brush it off. Brushing it off has always been part of surviving. Why should I care about the statements of people who aren't even aware of the shit that they have internalized? Who has time for those who want to live an unexamined life for fear of the work that living the opposite would entail? And yet here I am more sensitive ever.

Sensitive and in the right.

Thankfully the sometimes cowardly ways of a woman watching from nearly 6,000 miles away had absolutely no effect on the styling decisions that were made for that perfectly sunny day. She wore her hair up all the better to complement the neckline of the dress that Clare Waight Keller had created for her. And when her future husband lifted her veil all I saw was a face beaming happiness.

In the hours following the wedding while still too tired to sleep, I read a couple of pieces about The Dress. Both reached the same conclusion about what was being said with her choice.

At The New York Times:

It was not a Cinderella choice, not one that spoke of fantasy or old-fashioned fairy tales, but one that placed the woman proudly front and center. It underscored Ms. Markle’s own independence by divesting her of frippery, while also respecting tradition and keeping her covered up. It celebrated female strength in the rigorous nature of its line — six exactingly placed seams — the substance of its fabric (double-bonded silk cady), and the choice of designer: a British woman who, as a statement from Kensington Palace read, had “served as the creative head of three globally influential fashion houses — Pringle of Scotland, Chloé, and now Givenchy.”

At The Washington Post:

The dress, designed by Clare Waight Keller, was free of extravagant embellishments. It was not covered in yards of delicate lace. It did not have a single ruffle — no pearls or crystals. Its beauty was in its architectural lines and its confident restraint. It was a romantic dress, but one that suggested a clear-eyed understanding that a real-life romance is not the stuff of fairy tales. The dress was a backdrop; it was in service to the woman. The woman. That’s what the dress emphasized. Not bridal whimsy. Not princess tropes. Not royal pomp. The former actress, the former blogger, the formerly single lady, now has the title Duchess of Sussex. But she is still Meghan.

It's a conclusion that I also came to and one that I believe extends to her hair and makeup.

I stayed away from pieces about those items. I still had walls to maintain after all even if they were doing their job poorly. And I still had things to enjoy in spite of it all.

Images via, via

Friday, March 23, 2018

A Mission, a Mark, a Brand, a Logo

I returned to my mother's house in the late spring of 2005 with a trunk filled with linens, books that I couldn't bear to resell, a stack of fashion magazines, a diploma, and a Coach bag. At least it had been sold to me as a Coach bag when I had foolishly overdrawn my account when buying it on eBay a few weeks prior to graduation. I had spent ages closely examining the shape of its iconic C's in the images posted by the seller. The colorful pieces of suede resembled waves and were assembled much as they had been when Summer Roberts carried the same bag in a different colorway on an episode of The O.C. The one that would soon be mine featured fabric strips full of those C's I craved in addition to the suede and leather. But when it arrived, it became obvious that it was not the real deal. It was the small things, like the uneven stitching along the edges of its straps, that revealed the truth to me. I knew others wouldn't nitpick it in the same way, would think its various shades of pink lovely, and would never question its authenticity. But I never carried it, could never bring myself to carry it. Instead I stuffed it with the bank statement outlining my folly and hid it in a closet.

I already owned a Coach bag, a simple, slouchy hobo in brown suede that had been a Christmas surprise after a first semester of pretty good grades during my freshman year of college. For reasons that could fill a novella, the pretty good grades were not long for this world. That hobo, however, went out with me last month as I drank wine while in the midst of a cliché fit of Valentine's Day melancholy. Those iconic C's live on the lining and nowhere else. On its surface with patches worn smooth with age and much use, the bag proclaims itself as coming from nowhere and belonging to no one. I've come to love that mystery, but at 22 and in the midst of reacquainting myself with my childhood love of fashion, I craved something that did the opposite.

I may not write about fashion collections in the way that I used to, Favorites of the Day and posts brimming with suits and coats, but I still make my way through every collection I can get my hands on. It was while in the middle of the Pre-Fall 2018 offerings that the logos popped out to me. There had been a sharp move away from them in ready-to-wear after the heady days of the first of the Murakami for Louis Vuitton collaborations, Juicy-stamped behinds, and Fendi baguettes carried by Carrie Bradshaw. To wear a logo is to strongly swear allegiance, to mark oneself. To act as ambassador and billboard. But as the economy shuddered near the end of 2000s, a fall into anonymity was to be expected, especially on the higher end. Things began to recover of course and other trends, colors and prints and blown out silhouettes came and went and came again, but the logos remained buried. Normcore became a buzzword then a joke then a way of life for those in certain circles. The influence of Everlane, Mansur Gavriel, and their cousins spread. Kinfolk with its minimal aesthetic was crowned The Last Lifestyle Magazine.

And so I forgot about the logos for a time. It was easy enough to do. I am in the midst a years-long journey of stripping my wardrobe bare of colors and prints and other things that might, at a cursory glance, stamp it as of a particular time. But I should have known better than to ignore them. This has been a decade of retreads to the point of worry, a circling of the same half-century for inspiration. In ten or twenty years will there be any way to know that an item of clothing is from the 2010s? There will be other context clues, hair and makeup and atmosphere, but the distance between a 2016 bodysuit and a 1993 bodysuit is small.

Why we returned to the 1970s or 1980s or 1990s at any particular point in the past eight years is a mystery that I generally don't try to solve. Mostly I sigh and think here come the strong shoulders again and again and again. Even as the extreme low rises and track suits of my college years reemerged, I thought little of the why and mostly of how fast time gets away from you. But I can't get this new wave of logomania out of my head. The Fall/Winter 2018 collections did nothing to help matters. The distaste among those sitting at the top of the fashion hierarchy seemed so strong for so long that I honestly thought the logos would never return, at least not to the ready-to-wear stage.

We've lived through a decade of dire retail news. "Apocalypse" has been thrown around a lot recently. Various strategies flung at walls to see what sticks. An increased focus on one's menswear arm. Transformation into a lifestyle brand. See Now, Buy Now. Chicken sans head is the perpetual mood. As the turmoil and angst continued even after the economy as a whole began to recover, logos were an easy target. They played the sad opposition in writing about the rise of the minimal squad. Easier to blame logos than some unwieldy shift in when we shop and where we shop and how much we shop. Yet the deeper I got into the Pre-Fall 2018 collections, the brighter the light shining off of the logos became. As that season wrapped up and everyone began preparing for the runways of New York, I received an email from Gap announcing their logo remix collection promoted by a group of bright young things.

The Gap of 2018 is not the Gap of my teens. If they were on this bandwagon then I had missed the signs of its coming. Or I had chosen to ignore them.

My indifferent feelings about a handful of brands and their creative directors are obvious to anyone adept at deciphering passive aggressive tweets. One friend is amused by all of this, my eye rolls and sighs and jokes about fashion nemeses. But it was there in their work, and in the land of athleisure, where the logos began reemerging. Jeremy Scott landed at Moschino. Demna Gvasalia and Vetements blew up seemingly overnight before he went on to replace Alexander Wang at a Balenciaga that didn't know what it wanted to be after Ghesquière's sudden departure. Alessandro Michele got promoted at Gucci.

One could put all of this on athleisure's rise. Yes, Valentino took a whirl through le sportif. And yes, Karl sent sneakers down Chanel's couture runways but that influence has always been more about style and silhouette than loud naming. The iconic Nike swoosh never went anywhere, the taint that covered ready-to-wear logos never really touching it, but neither did the staying power of it and its cousins have much to do with this particular return. And where does Supreme fit in this equation? There have been many many words written about the brand by people better equipped at understanding it than I. Best to leave it to them.

So let's start at the beginning as it seems only right that I go back and examine in order the points at which I closed my eyes. Scott was named the creative director of Moschino in the fall of 2013. (Somehow I'd forgotten that it happened that long ago. Anyone staying put for more than three years feels like a rarity nowadays, an achievement to be lauded.) The Moschino name is everywhere in Scott's work. Here it was that first season irreverently twisted and folded into a form reminiscent of McDonald's golden arches. And then there it was stamped on prescription pills and their accompanying bottles. His work immediately became the stuff of a fashion influencer's dreams as well as catnip for street style photographers. It was an aggressive wink at our consumer culture, and, therefore, you could almost convince yourself that these weren't the same as the logos of yore. They were fun! They were joking! Just don't look at them too hard or too long.

Gvalasia wasn't known for his brand's eponymous work, at least not at first. People weren't walking the streets in sweaters and tees stamped with Vetements. Instead DHL and its easily recognizable shades of yellow and red lived on tees costing hundreds of dollars. One might put this work in the same class as Scott and his golden Moschino arches but there was something more sly happening here, something that made my skin crawl. Could I put my finger on it? Not really. It would be odd to express a discomfort with late stage capitalism on a blog where I so often write of luxury but I think that might have been what it was. And so when Gvalasia landed at Balenciaga, my hackles went up. He wasn't really to blame for my apathy laced with distaste. I could deal with Vetements as an entity that had sway over the way that the fashion world was moving, but his appointment at Balenciaga, a brand that had been pivotal in my mid-late 2000s fashion reeducation, left me with a sinking, queasy feeling. Once there, he went the route Scott had taken at Moschino, albeit with a more serious tone, and I recoiled. I turned away from 2016 election throwbacks. I broke my pact with myself to merely subtweet those designers and brands that I did not care for. And at times, I stopped paying attention altogether.

And that brings us to Michele. Everything leads back to Michele nowadays, doesn't it? I'm still waiting for the inevitable bursting of that bubble, and in that in-between space, I forgot that everyone would need to fall in line in every possible way before the cracks would truly begin to appear. I forgot that I still needed to pay very close attention.

He has been doing the most traditional logo work of the trio. This was the interlocking G's as central talking point. This was the classic red, blue, and green stripes in fur coat form. This was Gucci front and center again and again. It was the old way. Yes, it was infused with his eccentric, sometimes chaotic, style profile (Guccify Yourself!), but it was still the old way. It was what I thought we were to leave buried in the past. This new yet old direction wasn't without controversy. Michele liked playing with the idea of fakes, sending pieces marked with Guccy down his runway, and ran into a wave of criticism when he took "inspiration" from the work of Dapper Dan, a king in that space. He mostly fended off that controversy by having Gucci team up with the man himself. This particular bit of the tale all makes sense if one thinks about it for a moment for in Michele's work there is an air of unconcern about the very thing that helped bring down the logo in the first place.

Fakes and knockoffs never stopped existing. In fact, I'd say that they've flourished in this decade. I spent months taking note of copies of a Rag & Bone sweater at stores ranging in price point from Charlotte Russe to H&M to Banana Republic. Before Nasty Gal's sale to Boohoo, their original offerings were often anything but. I walk through Zara picking out Dolce & Gabbana floral prints and Céline heel shapes. Is this new? Of course not. But the fast fashion juggernaut, another of the factors often cited when discussions of retail's demise occur, can't follow this new yet old trend. No one wants to risk the legal wrath of Fendi if you cover a sweater in their logos. Zara may be able to fend off the indie artists that it often steals from but they are not going to take on a well-established, heritage brand. (Forever 21 is an outlier in this regard. They are currently locked in legal battles with Adidas and Gucci although I think even they wouldn't go so far as to stamp another brand's name on, for example, a hoodie.) And so what have the logos and the like become now? They swear allegiance and mark their wearers. They let loyalists act as ambassador and billboard. They staunch the bleeding.

No wonder Gap was so drawn to the idea of them.

Early last month, I decided that it was time for the Everlane tote I used as my work bag to be retired. It had endured many bus rides, a vinaigrette incident, and an encounter with a shitting pigeon near the corner of 5th and Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles. But when I accidentally knocked iced coffee off of my desk and onto it, I knew it was the end. That day I took to Twitter asking which of three similarly anonymous options I should replace it with. I knew the answer already. I often do when asking such questions but I'm always curious to see if someone will change my mind. If they will expose me to some fact that I am missing. In the end, I went with the same bag with a coated base in black to better protect it from commute grime and my penchant for spilling. But that first gray Everlane hadn't always been my work go-to.

When I moved across the country four springs ago, I brought a red, quilted Coach tote with me. Much like the brown suede hobo, it had been a Christmas present from my mother. Not that I had done anything in the preceding six years of my life to earn it or deserve it. I think for my mother those college years represent the best version of Samantha, which is why she still sometimes defaults to Coach bag as gift. I never carried it in Boston. I couldn't imagine stuffing it into the small locker that I shared at my part-time retail job or bringing it along with me to the $6 movie matinees that I frequented. But in Los Angeles, in a new life, I thought it might have a place. I was drawn to its candy apple color and finish, but that finish would be its downfall. Five days a week on my shoulder or in my hand was too much for its straps, and they began to crack. It went back to my mother and then back to Coach but there was nothing to be done. I put it, still in the box in which it was mailed back to me, on the shelf in my closet next to an old comforter.

My new gray tote with its black base arrived soon after my informal Twitter poll, but there was something different about it. Pinned to one corner was an enamel pin, white with a black trim and inside its rectangular shape in black and raised was one word, EVERLANE. I unpinned it from the bag and looked it over before leaving it on the wooden ledge of a large mirror in my bedroom next to earrings and nail polishes and lipsticks.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Time Machine

It's a pretty standard awards show photograph. The stars of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Blake Lively, Amber Tamblyn, America Ferrera, and Alexis Bledel, stand arm in arm at the Nicklelodeon Kids' Choice Awards in the spring of 2005 and smile into the camera. They’re all dressed in some version of one of the dominant fashion items of the time: lowcut, flared jeans. Blake has a pink belt around her hips that ignores the loops at the waist of her cuffed, distressed denim. It's paired with a tank layered under a cropped, sheer, and sequined t-shirt. Amber is the most ornate of the bunch with her gold buttoned, sailor-style jeans, many long necklaces, bejeweled top, bejeweled earrings, and bejeweled belt, which sits high above her waist. America wears a lacy top and a metallic brocade blazer that tries and fails to challenge Amber's look for ornate dominance. Alexis, the most casual of the four, is wearing a floral print halter in a hue that fits in with the pink theme they all seem to have settled on. 

None of these looks would have struck me as anything but normal at the time. Every piece was certainly more expensive than anything living in my closet at that moment but otherwise they were similar in almost every way. In fact, somewhere in my dorm room that same spring was a floral print halter in black, white, and yellow that had returned to campus with me after my semester abroad.

I was on the cusp of 22 that spring and while I vividly remember other awards shows from that era, I was long past the age of caring about or paying attention to this one. The event came and went and rated barely a mention as I prepared for my final handful of weeks as an undergraduate. I would go and see the movie when it premiered in theaters a little over two months later, but this awards show appearance had nothing to do with that decision. I’ve always liked movies about female friendships that endure in the face of life’s trials and tribulations. I figured this latest installment would be worth my time. It didn’t disappoint, leaving me feeling happy and light and a bit teary. So when the sequel arrived three years later, I didn’t hesitate to once again make my way to the theater. While my movie watching habits had changed little in the interim, by 2008 my personal style had moved on in ways both big and small. The floral print halter top that I had only seen fit to wear once was buried and forgotten. In the middle of 2006, I bought my first pair of skinny jeans and was forever lost to anything with a wide leg. I stopped wearing heels. Those were the big, tectonic style shifts. But more important were the changes that were simply an effect of the passage of time. You wear through things. Colors fade. Your wardrobe turns over slowly until one day you look up and almost all of the old is gone.

That awards show picture didn’t reenter my life until the spring of 2015 when I came across it in a retrospective of early and mid-2000s red carpet looks. This time it stuck. Murmurs about the return of trends from that era, like bucket hats and the Juicy Couture track suit, had begun to enter my daily fashion reading and for that reason my brain couldn't shake the picture loose. Because the fashion industry can't help but examine its past and mine it for treasure, in the past decade, we've had the 1980s, 1990s, 1970s, and 1990s (again) all make their way back, in that order, to relevance and sales floors. And so for the past two years I have been unable to stop thinking about when, not if, the clothing and shoes that defined my collegiate life, platform flips flips and handkerchief hems that fell to some no man's land near my mid-calf, would have a true renaissance. When would this photo begin appearing on Tumblr or Pinterest as inspiration for someone’s spring aesthetic? Would I be prepared for that return?

When I entered college in the fall of 2001, I was free for the first time from the types of picture taking moments that define a childhood, first days of school and dances and portraits featuring loose ribbons and laser backgrounds. My response to that freedom was to rarely let others take pictures of me. I've always been mildly awkward in photographs, unsure how to stand or where to put my arms or how much to smile. But suddenly I had the chance to duck out of them, and I savored it. In that in between space before the arrival of the many, mostly unavoidable, ways in which we now capture and share images, there is a something resembling a Samantha-sized blank spot. The pictures that do exist are mostly of the physical sort, stuffed in their original envelopes from CVS and Walgreens instead of tucked safely into albums like those from my childhood. They live somewhere in my mother’s house where I left them when I moved across the country to Los Angeles in the spring of 2014. I assumed that those items, the items full of sentiment and memory instead of utility, would follow once I had settled in. But after nearly three years, I find myself surrounded by the new memories I have made here and few of the old.

When the 1980s and 1990s made their fashion returns, I was either living in my hometown of Boston or not far off in Brooklyn. Photographic evidence of what I wore the first time round either surrounded me, in albums or on walls in my childhood home, or could be easily seen with the purchase of a $15 bus ticket carrying me north. I could look at pictures of denim vests worn over long floral dresses or an old pair of neon platforms from The Wild Pair that inexplicably still took up space in my old bedroom and chuckle. Why was I doing that? would eventually lead to Do you remember when you were 13 and sneakily wore a crop top to camp only to have your ruse discovered by your mother who promptly grounded you for what would be the first and last time? And that was it. Suddenly I would be lost to reverie.

My memory has always been good. It holds on to things that I want it to as well as those I would rather not remember. But as I’ve gotten older, prompts have become more necessary for those trips into the past. Without the photographs, the few I allowed to be taken and the many that I wormed my way out of, I look at this awards show picture with its lack of belts worn either at all or as belts are generally meant to be worn, and remember that I never wore belts with my (almost definitely) bootcut jeans in the early 2000s. I can't do that anymore. Leaving without a belt situated firmly in the loops of my (almost definitely) skinny jeans leaves me unsettled now. But among the abandoned pictures is one of me taken soon after midnight on my 21st birthday on the dance floor of a London club. I am wearing a crisp cotton tube top from Topshop. It was white with diagonal pinstripes in a rainbow array and a side tie detail at the waist. I hadn’t learned how to effectively wear boxy items and was years away from realizing that strapless tops were not my friend and so I looked a little out of proportion. I am smiling and there is tinsel in my hair from a cracker that my roommates had snuck into the place. And my bootcut jeans are worn without a belt and the wide smile and the hand jauntily placed on one hip would make it appear that I could not care less. My only thoughts are about which colorful drink I would have next and where the chocolate confection my roommates had stuck a candle in had gone off to. There was no fear that I might look back one day and find myself ridiculous. There was no knowledge that looking at this past self would lead me down some rabbit hole about time and life and things old and new.

Because accessories and denim and birthdays aren't the only reasons I keep coming back to that image of four young women with questions rushing through my head. It’s the short amount of time that has elapsed between now and then. Trends seem to be returning at a faster rate, the fashion cycle shortening, and that quickening merry-go-round makes time appear to race forward in a flash. But then maybe it's not the clothes' fault, this odd nausea that comes and makes me want to scream "it's too soon!" Maybe I am simply getting older and time is becoming a far more slippery thing. Maybe things are moving at the same rate they always have and I am moving slower.

Image via

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Planner and The Scammer

I saw the picture almost immediately after it happened. I'd spent the previous decade getting my hands on pictures from every runway show and look book that I could. I clicked through images of accessory close-ups, atmosphere, and attendees until my wrist ached. But by 2014, I'd started to take less note of who was sitting front row. Fashion week was changing and the importance of that publicity venue was waning.

But there were still some shows where an invite mattered, where a front row seat meant something. Chanel and Dior and Louis Vuitton's elaborate runway productions are always chockablock full of their ambassadors, the women who help sell their shoes and leather goods and perfumes to the masses. Because these contracts last for years and are generally renewed repeatedly, the same faces are seen again and again. Creative directors step down or burn out, years pass, but still Charlize Theron is in Dior and Jennifer Connolly wears Louis Vuitton.

Miu Miu is one of the last shows to walk during Paris Fashion Week and always has a front row full of buzz. While many of the women given access to those seats end up in a Miu Miu campaign, the brand prefers to cycle through young actresses and models from season to season instead of committing to a few for long stretches. More importantly, the Miu Miu front row crowns those who are newly it, the term that entered our cultural lexicon with the Clara Bow silent movie of the same name and whose slippery concept rising stars, especially female ones, continue to chase to this day.

I think it's safe to assume that Rihanna was there simply because she liked the idea of it. The fashion side of the celebrity game has never seemed like a chore for her. In fact, she has always seemed to find real joy it it, and she was at a point in her career where she could do as she liked.

On the other hand, Lupita, fresh off her Oscar win for 12 Years a Slave, was a new name and a new face. She bookended her many red carpet appearances of the preceding fall and winter with Prada, the sister brand of Miu Miu, first at the movie's Toronto Film Festival premiere and finally on her triumphant night only days before the show.

I wasn't surprised to see her seated there taking a picture with the stars of 2013's Palme d'Or winner.

And I wasn’t surprised when she was selected as one of the faces of the Spring/Summer 2014 Miu Miu campaign.

But I was surprised to see the picture of these two seatmates return to my life a couple of months ago. The image had originally taken over Tumblr, but I am just old enough to not understand how Tumblr works or what happens there. It wasn't until it resurfaced on Twitter that I became aware of its second life as a meme. Hadn't this picture been around for years? I reminded myself that not everyone spends hours following the goings on of various fashion weeks. The excitement spread to the two women at the center of it all, and I let myself get a little giddy about it as other creatives jumped in to say they found it intriguing as well.

What is a scamming movie if not a cousin to a heist movie? And didn't I love heist movies?

I knew there were probably going to be issues around attribution and Hollywood is still itself, so when the fervor died down, I let the image drift to the back of my mind again. Then the news broke. It was happening. Something that would make many of us happy had been willed into existence. This year has been kind to very few of us, but here was something to celebrate. Instantly my mind ran off in search of an answer to a pressing question. What would these characters wear? It would be so easy to put them in seasons and seasons of Prada and Miu Miu's quirky chic. But a scammer must wear many masks and many masks calls for many brands.

I'm sitting on five seasons worth of bookmarks going all of the way back to Resort 2017. If I get out of my own way, I could still write something about many of those seasons. But Resort 2017 is over now, and this is my chance to finally give it the due it deserved.

I started with what they would wear when alone and hanging out together, possibly while constructing a new plan in the modern kitchen of a beautiful loft that some gullible man pays the rent for. Or maybe when they're tucked into a quiet corner of the neighborhood coffee shop where they've become close to a barista who supplies them with complimentary espresso. The clothes that you truly live in. Those worn when all of those performative parts of your personality are turned off. The ones that you wear with someone you trust.

For Both

At Sonia by Sonia Rykiel

At A.L.C.

For The Planner

At Sonia by Sonia Rykiel

At Sportmax

At Timo Weiland

At Alice + Olivia

At Mara Hoffman

For The Scammer

At Rachel Zoe

At Tomas Maier

At Haney

At Rodebjer

At Victor Alfaro

Then I chose one Resort 2017 collection as the core inspiration for each of their on wardrobes.

For The Planner, it was Holly Fulton's playful patterns.

For The Scammer, it was the luxe architectural feel of Maticevski.

From those points of reference, I went about the fun but somewhat overwhelming task of further flushing out their on closets.

The Planner with her offbeat prints and full skirts and Peter Pan collars.

At Sonia by Sonia Rykiel

At Tracy Reese

At Versace

At Delpozo

At Fausto Puglisi

At Alexander McQueen

At Victoria Victoria Beckham

At Nina Ricci

At Delpozo

At Fendi

The Scammer with her glamorous outerwear, architectural notes, and structured sex appeal.

At Boss

At Sally LaPointe

At Akris

At Emilio Pucci

At Bottega Veneta

At Courrèges

At Missoni

At Rochas

At Osman

At Monse

At Mugler

At Dion Lee

But this is only scratching the surface.

Images via, via

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jumping In

Most of the years that I spent living at home in Boston bleed together. Did a certain event take place in 2010? Or 2012? Or 2013? Was I in a skinny phase brought on by distress or a larger one brought on by the depths of boredom? But inside that muddled timeline, there are those moments that stand out. In the spring of 2013, my mother came home with a clothing purchase. This in and of itself would not have been worth noting normally. At times she feigns ignorance about where my love of fashion comes from but I've never forgotten. It has always been her, the root and the source. What was noteworthy this time was the item purchased.

"Is that a jumpsuit?" Disgust laced my voice.
She hung it in a hall closet before turning to me.
"Yes," she replied.
"Are you actually going to wear it?"
"Of course. I used to wear them in the 70s."

I didn't question the latter but I had my doubts about the former. Although my love of clothes and shopping originates with her, the ways in which we pursue our conquests diverged long ago. My mother doesn’t try things on in stores. Instead she brings them home for the necessary testing before returning them if they aren’t quite right. There was a chance that in a few days the jumpsuit would return from whence it came. Or, less likely but still possible, that it would be consumed into the back of the closet, never to be heard from again. 

Sometimes I take to a class of clothing immediately. The moment skinny jeans became The Thing, I knew that I had to have a pair. With others, it takes time for me to come around. For years suits on women made me recoil. The options were limited. The manners in which I saw them worn were either uninteresting or unflattering. Now I cheer for them, the sharp and woolen as well as the luxe and velvet. I write long posts full of my favorites. I do celebratory dances in my bedroom when a woman walks the red carpet in one.

And yet, I haven’t bitten the suiting bullet myself. The last suit I bought was a gray, pinstriped Michael by Michael Kors number from the old Filene’s Basement that served me well during that first blush of post-collegiate life. It was an interview workhorse. A well-fitting workhorse, not like the shapeless rectangles that made me turn my nose up at suits for so long, but a workhorse all the same. On its last outing, I stood looking out at Boston Harbor from the well-appointed waiting room of an upscale insurance company that a staffing agency had sent me off to see and considered the possibility of a suit-wearing life. That was three moves and more than a decade ago.

My initial disgust at the jumpsuit’s rise was mostly logistical. I had worn many impractical clothes in my nearly 30 years but I hadn't had to strip to use the bathroom since the bodysuits and overalls of my 90s childhood. And my body had changed a lot since the age of 10. Puberty had left me busty but still somewhat slight of hip. Finding a single, pants-dominant piece that would fit both halves of me seemed impossible.

My mother kept the jumpsuit and even wore it a few times before I moved across the country the following spring. With the move, I suddenly had time that was my own and some disposable income. It was then that I began my quest for a jumpsuit.

Well I didn't know it was a quest when I started but I think that's usually the way of such things.

While my mother tries on nothing when in a store, I try on everything. It's not only about fit. It's a form of playing dress up. I don't linger too long, always take care not to damage the clothing in any way, and, because I cannot be helped, often leave with something even if that wasn't my intention. I like to know if I'm being too quick to judge a new trend, and the only way to do that is to put it on my body. To slowly turn in front of a mirror and examine it from all angles. To be able to categorize it as simply not for me, maybe only for me, or definitely not for anyone.

My time working in apparel retail only reinforced this habit. At the beginning of each new season, everyone would have to do a fit session to better acquaint themselves with the product and provide feedback to corporate. And so while on the clock I would take all of the major pieces of the new collection into a fitting room and test them out. Even now that the retail chapter of my life has ended, I continue to wander into stores for fit sessions. I live tweet my mall journeys and post pictures, always tilted slightly one way or the other, of suits and skirts and dresses and jeans.

I spent most of 2014 being "kind of blown away by" or "maybe [sold] on" the occasional jumpsuit seen on a celebrity at a red carpet event. I was warming to them outwardly but inwardly I struggled. I rarely took pictures of myself during jumpsuit try-ons. Something always felt off. The leg was too wide. It was too tight across the thighs. The crotch did unpleasant things. The top made my chest look as if it were bound. And yet I kept trying them on. It only took one pass at an off-the-shoulder top last summer to know that that trend was not for me. But in 2014 and early 2015, I couldn't shake myself free of the jumpsuit.

It took many frustrating months for me to find that first pair of skinny jeans, but I kept at it because I wanted them. I needed them. And what did I need nearly a decade later? A jumpsuit. I didn't know why. If I'm being honest, I rarely do when it comes to clothing with this strong a draw. There's no logic. Only longing. 

Almost exactly two years ago, I stepped into an H&M fitting room with a black, white, and gray jumpsuit covered in a big cat print. The color scheme was all me but on the hanger everything else about it was wrong. I rarely wear graphic prints. And it was, of course, a jumpsuit. I was years into my denial about them and happy to stay there. But then I put it on.
It was over. In an instant. Like magic. I couldn't find a single fault. More importantly, I was no longer interested in searching for one.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Second Skin

“I can’t believe I spent so much money on so little fabric.”

The dress didn’t look much shorter than my skirts and other dresses but once I tried it on I could see that it was cut closer to the body than I was used to. I gave my mother a smile and a thank you. It was easy to see why she had been drawn to it when looking for a present for me. It was a blue and white striped dress with thin lines of a bright yellow edging the blue stripes. In that way it was very me. The amount of blue and white striped clothing that I own borders on the obscene. Tees. Sweaters. Dresses. Blazers. Skirts. Too many items for my mother to not have taken notice of my addiction.

But that close cut kept me from wearing it until over a year later when I packed my bags and moved west.

After I bought my first pair of skinny jeans in my early 20s, I never looked back. I've dabbled here and there with a flare or a straight leg but for the most part my pants live close to my skin. I own more than one pair that requires me to hop around my room when pulling them on. But my skirts and dresses didn’t follow suit. The hemlines got shorter, much shorter, but they rarely sat close. If they did, they stayed buried deep in my closet. Even my pencil skirts, made of cotton and silk crepe, sit away from the surface of my skin. What rests beneath is only hinted at through the occasional, well-placed slit.

I wore that striped dress constantly during my first Los Angeles summer but that fact did not mean that I'd taken to it in the same way that I had to that first pair of skinny jeans years earlier. I loved it but was never exactly comfortable in it. My wardrobe was still in transition that first year, California Samantha still gestating, as my media-influenced ideas about Los Angeles style began to be replaced by the reality on the ground. I was surprised by the general looseness of everyone's clothes, especially the clothes of the people sharing my small corner of this sprawling city. The new pieces that entered my closet often took their lead from my neighbors' example. There were boxy shirt dresses and two jumpsuits with blouson tops. Seven soft and silky Everlane tees now live in my dresser. During my second summer, that striped dress made it out of my closet only twice.

It is possible to do something because you love it while also indulging in it because you fear its opposite.

A little over a month ago, I walked into the Urban Outfitters in Downtown Los Angeles in search of a pair of black ballet flats that I had seen on their website. They were nowhere to be found. I wandered to the sale section in search of nothing in particular and picked up a striped, knit skirt. When I stepped into the dressing room, I noted two things. Firstly, the skirt was longer than any I'd bought in the past couple of years. Secondly, it clung to every bit of me. To my hips and my thighs and my ass. If I were to throw a collarless tunic or a swing sweater on with it, as I often did with my skinny pants, it would look all wrong. There was no hiding in it.

I wasn't sure what I was thinking but I bought it. It was only $10 after all.

It didn't take long for me to wear it but then it never takes long for me to wear anything anymore. When I finally found a pair of denim overalls last Friday, I went home and immediately changed into them. I've learned that anything that I don't want to put on the moment I enter my door with it is something that I should return.

But just because I knew that I wanted to wear it didn't mean that I wasn't wary of it. That striped dress still sat in my closet waiting for the real heat of my third Los Angeles summer to descend or for me to get over myself, whichever came first. I thought of the skirt as a one-off. I was happy living my loose, swingy, and sometimes boxy life without much examination. But less than two weeks later, in a different store in search of a different item that was nowhere to be seen, I again wandered into the sale section where I came across a second skirt.

Firstly, it was longer than the last one. Secondly, it clung to every bit of me. To my hips and my thighs and my ass. There was no hiding in it. I wasn't sure what I was thinking but I bought it. It was only $10 after all.

I wore it almost immediately to a friend's reading on the west side that weekend. As I sat on the bus there trying not to fidget in it, I realized that maybe there was more to these impulse purchases. I sometimes forget that whimsy and happenstance should always be last on the list when I'm searching for a reason why I've done something. The skirts weren't evidence of a sea change per se but of a broadening of what I considered the right types of clothes for me.

Free from the worries and the turmoil of those years at home, an increased level of confidence has been creeping up on me. I shouldn't be surprised that it chose to manifest itself in my shopping habits.