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Posts Tagged ‘fashion’

Poets Want Their Privacy, and Other News

April 2, 2014 | by

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Smile, you're on CCTV.

 

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Small Wonder

March 13, 2014 | by

short chic

“Bond always mistrusted short men. They grew up from childhood with an inferiority complex. All their lives they would strive to be big—bigger than the others who had teased them as a child. Napoleon had been short, and Hitler. It was the short men that caused all the trouble in the world.” ―Ian Fleming

Every class has one, or maybe two: a child so improbably small that this becomes his or her identity. There he is, on the end of your class picture year after year, forced to play a pawn in the fifth grade human-chess game (wearing a teacher’s old velour shirt as a tunic), any child role in a play, and later the deadweight in a freshman year trust exercise. He humbly takes this as his due. He does not need James Bond proto-Godwin-ing to make him feel the sting of his lowly position.

I have come across many treasures on the giveaway table of my building’s lobby, but my most recent acquisition is perhaps the greatest. Short Chic: The everything-you-need-to-know fashion guide for every woman under 5'4" could have come from the apartments of literally half my neighbors, but now it is mine. The cover features a petite woman dressed in the height of 1981 style: slouchy heeled boots, what looks like a leather duffel coat, a large woolen scarf, and some kind of bulbous cap that (the helpful height chart next to her informs us) brings her to a towering 5'1". The two authors, according to their back-flap bios, are, respectively, 5'3" and 5'2". Read More »

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Customer Service

January 23, 2014 | by

Loehmanns Romley Flickr

Photo: Romley, via Flickr

I grew up in the suburbs of New York City, in one of the handful of commuter towns along the Hudson. One of these villages contained a bookstore—a good one, with a fine selection of titles and a section devoted to attractive wrapping paper and greeting cards. However, the owner was so unfailingly nasty and abusive to her customers that my mother and I came to regard it as a challenge to make it in and out of the shop without incurring her wrath.

We seldom succeeded. Anything might set her off: an innocuous question, a breach of obscure etiquette, a sneeze. Needless to say, she had a hard time keeping staff. Everyone was scared of her, and the atmosphere of the store was one of silent terror.

There was only one occasion on which we saw anyone break through the ice. My mom and I had been compelled to patronize the shop after failing to find Miss Rumphius anywhere else, and we had steeled ourselves for the arctic blast of the proprietor’s contempt. But when we walked in, we met with an amazing scene. A plump, jolly woman was leaning against the counter and thumbing through a novelty book—something about Jewish wit and wisdom, shaped like a large bagel.

“Oh, wait—listen to this one!” she was saying. “When the temple was destroyed … the Jews built Loehmann’s!” She went off into gales of laughter.

The shop owner remained stony-faced. Then:

“It’s true,” she said, matter-of-factly. Read More »

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Twiggy and the Gang

November 20, 2013 | by

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My mother was not a regular reader of Vogue when I was girl in the 1960s, but my friend Diane’s mother—a cool, soignée blonde with an alluring French twist and a lily of the valley–infused cloud of Diorissimo hovering perpetually about her—was, and whenever I visited, Diane and I would pore over the magazine’s slick, bright pages together in a companionable reverie that needed no words. Veruschka’s Slavic exoticism held us deeply in thrall; the preternatural perfection of Jean Shrimpton’s full, exquisitely lipsticked mouth was like a valentine. We longed to look like them, but we knew these girls—and they were, after all, girls—would always remain at some poignant and unattainable remove from us, or anything we could ever aspire to be. With their sinuously lined eyelids, thick manes of hair, and aloof, worldly posturing, Shrimpton, Veruschka, and their ilk had already assumed the lacquered and impermeable gloss of fully grown women, and had left us far, far behind.

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So you can imagine our mutual astonishment on the day in 1967 when we turned the page and found ourselves locking eyes with the vulnerable, unvarnished, and most astonishing of all: the impossibly young face of Twiggy. From the moment I saw her boyishly cropped hair, faint spray of freckles, tremulous mouth and huge, wide-open eyes, I felt a visceral shock of recognition. Although she was not one of us—neither Diane nor I were so deluded as to imagine that—we could discern that she was nonetheless only a few baby steps ahead, and onto her fey, coltish image, we could project that of an adored babysitter or someone’s cool older sister. The vestigial childishness of her narrow hips and her pipe-stem legs only confirmed our immediate sense identification. Twiggy was the first model appearing in a women’s magazine who was not precisely a woman; instead, she embraced and exalted her at moments awkward—yet always adorable—girlishness. And since it was clear that Twiggy loved being a girl, not a woman, she gave us the heady permission to love what was still girlish in ourselves.

Quickly, Diane and I spread the word, and the fifth and sixth graders who comprised our little pack were eager to climb on board. We formed our own Twiggy fan club, and at the weekly meetings quizzed each other on tidbits gleaned from teen magazines. Real name? Leslie Hornby. Birthday: September 19, 1949. Soon we could recite the complete catechism: she attended Kilburn High School for Girls and began modeling at fifteen. Her nickname—first Sticks, then Twigs—soon morphed into Twiggy; that was the one that stuck.

Those magazines yielded pictures too, and we jostled each other for the chance to see images of her riding her bicycle, sipping hot chocolate with her boyfriend-turned-manager Justin de Villeneuve or romping with a litter of puppies; clearly those dogs were as besotted as we were. Pages were roughly torn out, taped to our walls, doors, and book covers; we wanted to be Twiggy, each of us vying furiously for the right to inhabit the Cockney cutie’s persona for the duration of our “let’s pretend” games. Read More »

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Beer Paradise

July 25, 2013 | by

Ștefan_Dimitrescu_-_La_berărie

My life might well be divided into two categories: Before Beer and After Beer.

Life AB started in the middle of a trailing, boring Carolina winter. Previously, bourbon had been my drink, and I thought the horizon of beer extended only to bottles with “light” surnames. If you had asked me to describe beer culture, I would have said, What culture? But then one evening, prior to the first round of trivia at a local bar, a friend bought a Rogue Dead Guy for me. 

Rather than commit impoliteness, the nastiest of southern sins, I sipped the beer with a smile. And then everything changed. This rich, decadent bread was nothing like the stale, crumbling crackers that filled the malted liquid basket of my past. Now, when referring to places I’ve been before the coming of hops into my life that day, I say, “I’ve been there, but I wasn’t a beer person yet.”

At five o’clock on a mid-September Friday afternoon, the woman I am dating and I have to sneak out of our offices early for our first trip to Asheville together and my first visit to the city “as a beer person.” She comes from the eleventh floor, on loan to the bank from her consulting company. It’s her first job after graduating from Chapel Hill, and it’s a placeholder while she figures out what she really wants to do. I descend from the thirty-ninth floor, permanently on loan to the partners at my law firm. It’s my first job after graduating from the law school down the road from her sorority house, and I took it, in part, so that someone might introduce me to a woman or to her sister or to her mother much in the same way that Alec describes Fitzgerald’s semi-autobiographical Amory in This Side of Paradise:

ALEC: Oh, he writes stuff.
CECELIA: Does he play the piano?
ALEC: Don't think so.
CECELIA: (Speculatively) Drink?
ALEC: Yes—nothing queer about him.
CECELIA: Money?
ALEC: Good Lord—ask him, he used to have a lot, and he’s got some income now.
(MRS. CONNAGE appears.) MRS. CONNAGE: Alec, of course we’re glad to have any friend of yours—
ALEC: You certainly ought to meet Amory.

I wish I could have met Fitzgerald. I think of him frequently, or rather, I think of his pseudo-autobiographical characters often enough. The draining struggle between writing and money, loves and incomes, and seeming “queer” and appearing “respectable” draws me to Fitzgerald’s characters—Amory in Paradise, Anthony Patch in The Beautiful and Damned. While it may seem strange, even perverse, given his own history with alcohol, Fitzgerald and his writing have always felt particularly tied up with my budding passion for beer. Maybe it’s merely a question of timing, maybe of geography—but for me the two are inexplicably and inextricably linked. Read More »

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The Fifth, the Swede, the Russian, and Me

May 15, 2013 | by

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“Would you wear this?” the Swede asked. His honey-colored hair flopped over one eye. He was in a much-loved ragged, red jacket that looked expensive on his lanky frame.

I wore my best-fitting jeans and my favorite shirt, a cowboy shirt with pearl-clasp buttons and that perfect stich in the chest pocket made for cigarettes or pens. My curly red hair was extra poofy, spiraling away from my head, thanks to some mousse applied by the Swede. The pièce de résistance of my outfit was this poncho-thing that could’ve been designed by Jennifer Beals in Flashdance for a Western-themed dance night, a beige sweatshirt stretched out into a boatneck collar, draping across my chest, festooned with fringe. I looked like a cowboy’s sidekick. I felt silly.

“I’ve never really worn fringe before,” I said. “I plead the fifth.”

It was my semester abroad. I was twenty years old and living in London. I had never been a particularly good liar, having been blessed with a round moon of a face that registered every thought. But as I assimilated among the English, a people with whom I assumed I’d get along very well, being of clearly similar native-of-Boston stock and having a love of nineties Britpop, it was becoming clear to me that I had a more pressing social problem: I did not know how to tell a white lie. I didn’t even have the grace to realize when you should tell a white lie. In my own well-meaning way, I was becoming a bit of an asshole. “I plead the fifth” was my catchphrase. In England. Read More »

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