The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘style’

Beauty

July 22, 2015 | by

From a 1960s Avon ad.

There are certain unpleasant life experiences that are not palliated by the fact that you know that they’re meaningless. I am speaking here of something specific: the particular horror of being pressured into spending money on things you know you do not want.

When I was seventeen and had to go to the prom with a senior in my homeroom, my mom and I went to Nordstrom so I could buy some simple makeup. Neither of us wore any. My mom entrusted me with a credit card, went to do something else, and came back an hour later to find me miserable, clown-like, clutching a tiny bag and having spent a hundred dollars, then an astronomical sum. And somehow it was very hard to explain to her that the saleswoman had had a wooden leg, and I’d felt unable to deny her anything. I used the lipstick for six years, to justify it, even though the color looked very strange, and it was quickly caked with sand and grit. Read More »

Wack Job

May 4, 2015 | by

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József Rippl-Rónai, Woman Dressed in Polka Dot Dress (detail), 1889.

Nothing can make you feel older than thrift shopping. As you walk the aisles, thumbing through the racks, young you keeps up a running monologue: That 1940s square-dancing outfit is cool! Look at those Polynesian-print slacks and the matching vest! You’d look like an awesome fifties-pulp lesbian cover model if you wore this shirt and tie! Sure, that leather dress is totally unflattering—but it’s neat! And five dollars! Have you ever worn your other five fake-fur chubbies? No, but maybe now’s the time! 

And time was, you’d have bought all these things. Each would have symbolized a you you might have been, or could have been for a day—an identity you could don or pretend you’d don. At the very least, the cheap thrill of the moment would have overridden any other concern. Who cared if your closet looked like it belonged to a hoarder pied piper? Anything was good enough for class, or for the existence of a creatively inclined, sensitive young person in the urban wild. Read More »

What About Bob

February 5, 2015 | by

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Shelley Duvall in the TV adaptation of “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” 1976.

Bernice stood on the curb and looked at the sign, Sevier Barber-Shop. It was a guillotine indeed, and the hangman was the first barber, who, attired in a white coat and smoking a cigarette, leaned non-chalantly against the first chair. He must have heard of her; he must have been waiting all week, smoking eternal cigarettes beside that portentous, too-often-mentioned first chair. Would they blind-fold her? No, but they would tie a white cloth round her neck lest any of her blood—nonsense—hair—should get on her clothes.

“All right, Bernice,” said Warren quickly.

With her chin in the air she crossed the sidewalk, pushed open the swinging screen-door, and giving not a glance to the uproarious, riotous row that occupied the waiting bench, went up to the fat barber.

“I want you to bob my hair.”

The first barber’s mouth slid somewhat open. His cigarette dropped to the floor.

“Huh?”

“My hair—bob it!”

Before I had nearly a foot of my hair shorn off, I reread F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” He based the story, which first ran in the May 1920 Saturday Evening Post, on a series of letters he exchanged with his younger sister. It was, appropriately, the kickoff to his iconic chronicling of the flapper era—when the story begins, the eponymous heroine is a dowdy wallflower, and everyone has long hair. Bernice becomes popular with an audacious “line”: she entices boys with the prospect of daringly bobbing her hair while they watch. But when a rival calls her bluff, Bernice is forced to submit to the shears. And then, the brutal fallout. Read More »

Fleur’s Flair

January 20, 2015 | by

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Flair‘s first issue.

Flair Magazine existed for only one year and twelve issues, from February 1950 to January 1951. In that time, it published the likes of Jean Cocteau, Tennessee Williams, Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Swanson, John O’Hara, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bernard Baruch, Gypsy Rose Lee, the Duchess of Windsor, Lucien Freud, Salvador Dalí, Colette, and Saul Steinberg, among others.

Fleur Cowles—who conceived of the magazine, edited it, and, perhaps most impressive, persuaded her husband to publish it, even when it meant losing his shirt, if not his whole wardrobe—would be 107 today. If that seems like a throwaway detail, bear in mind that she lived until she was 101. It’s maybe best to let her describe her own accomplishments:

Few women have lived more multiple lives than I have: as editor: as that anomaly, an American president’s personal representative, decorated by six governments; as a writer of thirteen books and contributor to six others; as a painter, with fifty-one one-man exhibitions throughout the world; patron of the arts and sciences, irrepressible traveller and, more importantly, friend-gatherer …

Fond as she was of bragging about her gifts as a friend, or even merely as a “friend-gatherer,” her most enduring creation is Flair, a beautiful, high-minded cataclysm of a magazine that incorporated “cutouts, fold-outs, pop-ups, removable reproductions of artworks and a variety of paper stocks of different sizes and textures”:

[Flair] was simply too expensive to produce … When Flair ceased publication, Mr. Cowles, who had financed it, estimated that it had lost $2.5 million … A spring issue featured the rose, a flower Ms. Cowles painted and extolled until her death. The issue was suffused with a rose fragrance, some four decades before scent strips became ubiquitous.

All this comes from Cowles’s New York Times obit, which is a work of art itself: “Fleur Cowles, 101, Is Dead; Friend of the Elite and the Editor of a Magazine for Them.” Take a step back and you can see the splotch of animus on that headline—“a Magazine for Them.” That’s what Flair was: their magazine. Never yours. It was designed to appear tantalizingly out of reach. That’s a commonplace these days, when every publication aspires to be “aspirational,” but Flair, with its peephole covers and almost farcically high production values, may have done more to further the concept than any other American magazine in history. Copies of The Best of Flair, a 1996 compilation, sold for $250 apiece. And is it any wonder? Just look at the covers: Read More »

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Anne Hollander, 1930–2014

July 9, 2014 | by

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Anne Hollander, whose acute writing on fashion, costume, and style infused those subjects with a new intellectual energy, died on Sunday at eighty-three. As the Times reports, “She argued that clothing revealed far more than it concealed—about art, about perceptions of the body and ourselves—and her interests spanned centuries and mediums.”

Hollander conducted—or co-conducted; she shares the credit with John Marquand—The Paris Review’s first Art of Theater interview, with Lillian Hellman, published in 1965. Back then, her contributor’s note read modestly, “Anne Hollander designs costumes, paints, and translates occasionally.”

A little more than a decade later, in 1978, she published her first book, the brilliant (and brilliantly named) Seeing Through Clothes, a history of clothing and a study of representations of the body in Western art. The book was full of offhand wisdom about what you could call our philosophy of dress: “People seem always actually to know,” Hollander wrote, “with a degree of pain that has required the comfort of fairy tales, that when you are dressed in any particular way at all, you are revealed rather than hidden.” The book took a while to find its audience, but, as one critic noted, it “pushes erudition to the point of originality. The thoroughness with which she examines Western art and clothes has precipitated a new subject: how painting, sculpture and photography mediate between bodily ideals and what we wear.”

Over the next decades, her reputation grew and she published a succession of well-received books, including Moving Pictures and Sex in Suits; she wrote essays for a number of magazines, including The London Review of Books. Not much of Hollander’s writing is available online, but she was, for a time in the late nineties, the fashion columnist for Slate, which has curiously yet to publish a remembrance. Her pieces there have aged well; a column from February 1997—“A Loss for Words: Why there’s no good writing in fashion”—is just as true nearly twenty years later:

Fashion journalists and sensational fictioneers like Danielle Steele have co-opted the field, and other writers are scared off. Fashion now seems like a club with a private jargon that leaves no room for the play of sensitive literary exposition. And good critical writing about clothing hardly exists at all. There is no tradition of clothes criticism that includes serious analysis, or even of costume criticism among theater, ballet, and opera critics, who do have an august writerly heritage. This fact may be what makes the fashion journalist hate her job—the painful sense that real work cannot be done in this genre, that it would be better, more honorable, to be writing about something else.

But Hollander didn’t write about something else, thankfully. She expanded the rhetoric and insight of criticism about style, engaging where most writers thought there was nothing to engage with.

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The Aulds Have It

April 24, 2014 | by

Jolie/Laide is a series that seeks the beautiful and the ugly in unexpected places.

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Angela Lansbury in Terry Richardson’s iconic cover shot for The Gentlewoman.

Continue to present yourself as a woman of loveliness and dignity, a woman who feels good and knows she’s looking her best. —Angela Lansbury, The Gentlewoman, Autumn/Winter 2012

When I was a little girl, I had no reason not to follow my parents’ edict to respect my elders, especially when it came to my female elders. My mother was stunning. I’d watch, mesmerized, while she applied her makeup, spritzed her Chloe perfume, and put on her latest Valentino or Ungaro ensemble before an evening out with my father. I thought her mother, my grandmother, was the epitome of elegance in her Upper East Side tweed uniform. Flipping through my mother’s latest issue of Vogue, I saw a photo of Sophia Loren in glasses. “This woman looks like mom when she wears her glasses,” I announced. “I do not look like Sophia Loren, but I thank you for the compliment,” my mom said.

At the time—the eighties—Sophia was in her early fifties. The mask of fright she now wears, courtesy of an aggressive plastic surgery regimen, had not yet been donned. During that period, I also saw pictures of Audrey Hepburn, who was ten years Loren’s senior, and I thought she, too, was beautiful. Of plastic surgery, she once said, “I think it’s a marvelous thing, done in small doses, very expertly, so that no one notices.” Read More »

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