Saturday, 26 June 2010

Going away for a while

Hi everyone, just letting you guys know that I'll be out of town and spending some quality time in Finland for the next week or two! I have no idea if I'll have any time for blogging. I'll be back though, as soon as I get a chance!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Worrying Kind

What a week we are having! As we are supposed to be getting ready to leave for Finland this coming Sunday, all sorts of troubles have been accumulating. Our kitty, Illusia, has been ill, and after throwing up for two days because of antibiotics, she is now spending the night at the vet's, the poor thing. Also, I was supposed to get fingerprinted by Homeland Security before leaving the US, but the paperwork is late, which will end up delaying my green card process. Oh, and Chris broke his right hand index finger the other day.

I am trying to get the house (and garden) ready for us to leave town, and even though we have the most reliable cat-sitters and garden-tenders on call, I still worry about everything coming together. Will they realise to pinch the suckers off the tomato plants? Are the kitties just going to be hiding in the basement while we are away? Is there enough beer in the slug traps? Should I harvest some of the herbs before we go? What should I pack? Of course, none of this is a major problem, and everything will be sorted out, but you know, sometimes one just worries, wears loose clothes and tries desperately to take it easy. I've just always been of the worrying kind, and shaking things off my shoulders is difficult for me. I have written 'to do' lists and 'what to pack' lists for as long as I can remember to help me control my frantic mind, but for whatever reason it is not really helping this time. I just feel unorganized and inefficient.

On a happier note, we just saw Toy Story 3, and it is a really cute, moving film. Go see it! Also, we have little baby robins on our backyard!

Silk tunic and top: Urban Outfitters
Linen trousers: Mango
Sandals: H&M
Scarf: flea market
Abalone necklace: JBL

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Fat of the Land

Saturday's NYT featured an article about the growth of the plus-sized clothing industry. As 28% of Americans are obese, and two-thirds of American women are either overweight or obese, the plus-sized market is quite literally expanding, even when women's overall apparel market is decreasing. More clothing retailers are bringing their plus-sized lines from online to the stores, and even some higher-end designers have started to look into making clothes available for bigger bodies. As worrying as the obesity stats might be, it's about time that plus-sized women were given the option to choose to wear nice clothes instead of having to opt for shapeless tents, horrid big prints and ill-fitting trousers armed with an elastic waistband, which most likely are only available in an online catalogue today. The plus-sized customers now have a unique moment in the history of clothing retail to demand things that all women want from their clothing: availability teamed with real quality and fit.

As the article explains, there are several reasons to why the retailers haven't supplied their customers with the clothes they want. Bigger sizes are more expensive to make as they require wider bolts of fabric, which increases production costs. They are more expensive to stock, and more difficult to design. It is hard to tell how a plus-sized person's weight is distributed, which makes the issue of fit difficult to calculate, or in other words, one size doesn't fit all. For these reasons, many pieces of clothing in the plus-sized market never find a home. All of these explanations sound reasonable enough, but the plus-sized customer is out there now, wanting to spend money on clothes. What worries me is that the clothing retailers might rely on the assumption that plus-sized women want to be tricked into the same mass-production trap as the rest of the women in the Western world: that more availability is automatically a good thing for the customer, and that mass-market production offers viable options to individuals in the first place. Unfortunately, as we have seen in the world of "normal"-sized clothing market, more is often less: less quality, less fit, less design. In the case of the plus-sized market though, there doesn't seem to be all that much fit or design to even start with, which indicates a special bargaining position for the plus-sized clientele. They ought to demand more than what is being offered to their "normal"-sized counterparts.

For a few years now, as mass-market clothing retailers have gained more and more of a foothold in women's minds and wallets, the trends that these retailers have offered have ranged anywhere from A-shaped tunics, boyfriend jeans, oversized blazers and shirts to harem pants and jersey sack dresses. What I am getting at here is the utter shapelessness of the world of clothing today, the lack of fit and the lack of proper tailoring. We are learning to associate fit with discomfort, and anything shapeless with functionality. I believe we are being fooled into thinking that women with or without shape will buy in terms of availability, not on the basis of need followed by demands of quality. The connotations of the NYT article suggest that the plus-sized market is still out there to be exploited in the same manner as the "normal"-sized market, even when women with extreme figures (be it over- or underweight, petite, tall or what have you) are in desperate need for properly fitting clothes.

At the end of the day, however, women everywhere, regarless of their size and shape, need to be able to purchase clothes - preferably, clothes that fit. I sincerely hope that the boost in the plus-sized market means that the so-called difficulties in designing plus-sized clothes means that more effort will be put into the design and production of the garments in question. This might eventually lead to levels of decent quality. But how many shapeless items are produced and wasted before the retailers might wake up? Looking at the "normal"-sized market, that wake-up call there is long overdue. The more customers settle for mediocre products, the less variety there really is for them to choose from. Here's to hoping that the plus-sized customer knows what she wants, and isn't afraid to demand it. If not, the clothing retailers will simply tap into a new bottomless well of shopping-mania, fostered by women whose size makes them the perfect target for the clothing industry today.

Shapeless sack dress: Selected Femme
Vintage necklace: America's Attic
Shoes: Trippen

Wednesday, 16 June 2010


I was going to wear a different skirt with the blouse, but carrying a panic-struck kitty who peed on me pretty much sealed the deal and I ended up with this one. I actually like it better than the one I originally wore. I always love it when a simple Salvation Army piece turns out to be a true gem that I keep wearing all the time. This star-print skirt is certainly one of those, as is my blue polka-dot skirt. I often wonder what makes a successful purchase, and more often that not, it is all about falling in love with a piece of clothing that has an easy-going comfort factor written all over it.

I used to be interested in buying standout pieces, but the older I get, the more I seem to appreciate functionality and comfort over looks only. Luckily comfortable clothes can stand out, too, and there is something to be said about ease and personality shining through when you wear something you feel comfy in. I tend to feel akward wearing something very dressy, something too short, a colour that is out of my comfort-zone, or shoes that don't quite fit. It just shows a mile away. Speaking of shoes, Sal posted recently about comfortable shoes that still look cool and sexy - check it out if you are in need of new walk-in-heels-without-killing-yourself tips.

My current comfort rules include a) room to move freely (circle-skirts are fantastic), b) tops that are long enough (I hate, hate, HATE having to pull down my top because I have a long torso), c) steering away from padded and underwired bras, and d) going for shoes that I can walk in without having to think about what I look like while walking in them. Do you guys have comfort rules you'd care to share?

Blouse, skirt and belt: second hand / Salvation Army
Shoes: Steve Madden
Socks: ?
Necklace and earrings: JBL
I *heart* cats badge: Tom's

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Slug Wars

I have been a little absent-minded recently. The World Cup (or any international football event) does this to me every time: I spend all my time watching football (I refuse to use to word 'soccer').

In addition there is the gardening project, which has taken an ugly turn. I have found myself in the midst of Snail Wars of the Worst Kind. Not only did my spinach and lettuce bolt in the heat a few weeks back, but whatever was left was devoured by the slimy suckers, regardless of the presence of multiple beer traps. As I ripped my bolted, ravaged greens off the ground today, I discovered anywhere from 30 to 40 slugs under the leaves that were still there, plus a dozen or so in the beer traps. It was not a pretty sight. Even beans and peas are under attack, which to me sounds odd. It seems that the only survivors are the tomatoes, the cucumbers, the onions and the zucchinis, for now anyway. I might also be able to salvage some of the broccolis and beans, but that remains to be seen. I was hoping to go all organic with whatever pest-fighting issues might arise, but the beer traps are simply not doing enough. I might get some copper wire tomorrow, to see if that might work. I really don't want to start using industrial pesticides just yet.

With all the going-ons, I have felt less than inspired to dress well. It turns out that a simple shirt with a pair of jeans works pretty well for days like these. Feels effortless enough, at least, and sometimes that is all I want.

Shirt: Izod
Jeans: Denimbirds

Thursday, 10 June 2010

On Clothes and Identity, again

As I was ready to check out from a second hand bookstore yesterday (after having acquired another old book on mental diseases, more on that another time), the minder of the store, a man in his 50s, came up to me and asked "so, do you travel extensively in Europe, or are you from there?". I told him I was from Finland, and he went on to say that my clothes gave me away the moment I walked in. "Girls here don't have style like yours." So much for my trying to discredit the link between clothing and identity!

That anecdote aside, my previous post on identity and clothes has attracted many insightful comments. It turns out that some of you are just as annoyed as I am about the assumed power of clothes in relation to our identities, and some reminded me that whether we like it or not, our appearances do matter in the way others see us. I guess it comes down to asking what we mean by identity - is it "I" as the subject, or "I" as the object, or are those two inseparable to begin with? Clearly we can't choose the way others see us, but can we choose the way we see ourselves? Or in other words, how much does the perception of others shape the way we portray (and see) ourselves? Do we have a say in the matter?

I don't think about defining my style all that much these days. I used to be interested in having a more compact style, and especially in terms of colour, I'd stick to my favourites: pale pastels, grays, and blues. Shape-wise, anything drape-y and flowy was attractive to me. Why, I don't quite know. I'd specifically look for certain types of items when I went shopping, because I assumed they were very "me" - and they were. I admired women who had practical, well-defined capsule wardrobes, and was interested in efficient clothing - but somehow I never got there. I was a little too fickle for that. I still admire women whose closets are less crowded and more in sync than mine, but these days I like to try out new colours, prints and shapes. It's fun. There is more room for adventure now. I don't think my style has changed all that much though. People who know me well, like my sister, are still able to pick out clothes for me, clothes that I love. No matter how many colours I'd wear now as opposed to two years ago, my guess is that my friends would still see me as the same quirky dresser. The clothes are different, but somehow the style identity remains the same.

What does this mean? I guess it could mean that our identities do shape the way we dress, and if our identities are strong, they shine through our clothes. The way others see our style can help us be more at ease with what we like and wear. In some cases, the clothes don't really matter all that much. Confident style icons like Kate Moss or Charlotte Gainsbourg could wear a garbage bag, and they'd still ooze effortless cool. But put shy and awkward Kristen Stewart in a Proenza Schouler look straight off the runway, and she looks completely out of place and costume-y. And then you have someone like Debrahlee Lorenzana, who wore well-tailored suits and turtlenecks to work and got fired for distracting her male co-workers. Her 32DD curves made it practically impossible for her to control the way others saw her, and she lost her job. So what matters in the end? Our personalities? Our choices? Our sense of self-esteem? Our figures? The eyes of others? Or my personal favourite, all of the above?

I still think it is essential to wear what one loves. The type of style identity that shines through is the one that revolves around what we like and cherish. Trying too hard shows. Being comfortable in our own bodies matters an awful lot, too. Even if my clothing gave my nationality away yesterday, I still hesitate to say that people can tell who I am on the basis of my clothes. Add my accent, the way I carry myself, and the strange book purchase, and perhaps then we might be getting somewhere.

Top: Max&Co.
Jacket: second hand / Fida
Skirt: second hand / Downtown Thrift
Tights: H&M
Shoes: Steve Madden
Bag: MaxMara Weekend
Scarf: giveaway from a cat of impossible colour

Monday, 7 June 2010

On Clothes and Identity

Aneri of Cat's Meow writes a lot about minimalism and the meaninglessness of "stuff", and her recent post on why we buy is as thought-provoking as anything I have read on the topic of shopping. She argues that "[w]e think we have to express our personality through our purchases. We buy bohemian, intellectual, smart, sexy, adventurous, sporty, and so on. If you think about how many aspects there are to each individual personality, it naturally follows that we will have closets bursting with clothes and book shelves ready to topple over under the weight."

Aneri's words echoed in my head as I read The NYT Book Review yesterday. It acquainted me with two new books about shopping. One, The Thoughtful Dresser: The Art of Adornment, The Pleasures of Shopping, and Why Clothes Matter by Linda Grant links shopping and clothes with identity, and the other, Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict by Avis Cardella looks at the ugly side of the same issue and how compulsive shopping can become a hindrance to one's identity and self.

One of the statements you hear any fashion-and-clothing-enthusiast say is that clothes are a way of expressing one's identity. When we wear clothes, we are showing the outside world (and ourselves, in case we have forgotten) who we are. Our identity shapes the way we shop and vice versa. We use clothes to play with our identities. Wearing a black biker leather jacket oozes effortless "cool". Pastel shades and sweet florals let us entertain the romantic, the whimsy in us. Pair a safari jacket with some animal prints in the summertime, and you can almost feel the heat of the savanna, far away from home. Wear a red beret while riding your bike, and your fascination with French cinema becomes common knowledge. There are no limits to who we can be with the help of clothing. After reading the review of these two books though, I couldn't help wondering if we tell these things to ourselves just to justify our spending, or to escape the boredom that is ourselves. I wonder whether we babble on about identity because we are ashamed to say that we just like clothes.

I haven't read Linda Grant's book, but the NYT review gives some interesting tasters: she says that "[w]hen you start to dress yourself, you are beginning a lifelong journey into your own future, the subtle, everyday construction of who you are through what you wear." I can see the logic, I have used it myself to make sense of my (previously notorious) shopping habits. It made sense to talk about identity and clothes because to some extent that is how I felt: I used to wear things to portray an image. I escaped my sometimes monotonous existence with the help of clothes, just like I still do with books and movies. It is not all bad, because reality can be overwhelming at times, and there is nothing wrong with entertaining oneself. But when we construct an ideology that makes it necessary for us to live in a world where clothes matter as much as (or even more than) our inner selves do, we might be running into trouble. If our identities are up for grabs on the basis of what we choose to wear, then who are we, really?

If our lives revolve around experimenting with our identities with the help of clothes, how do we keep track of what makes us "us"? Life, then, becomes a role play of sorts, as Avis Cardella's experiences suggest: "How can a woman with a closet so full feel so empty inside?" Our whole existence can turn into the-chicken-or-the-egg type of debate: which comes first, our identity, or our clothes that shape and conrol it? If we use clothes to discover new identities, our "various selves", what does that say about us and our inner worlds? To me, it says a whole lotta nothing. The more I think about the concept of linking identity with the clothes I wear, the more I dislike the connection. I am not interested in "developing my identity through my clothes", because to be honest, there is no reason why a couple of pieces of fabric would have the power to say anything about me to myself. The outside world can interpret what I wear in any way they like, but you know what, I just like clothes, and that's why I wear them. I think my clothes are pretty, and I don't need this nonsense about identity to justify what I like.

What do you guys think? Is it helpful or harmful to link our identities with the clothes we wear? Do our clothes tell the outside world anything about who we really are?

Blouse: second hand / Salvation Army
Skirt: Gina Tricot
Socks: GoldToe
Shoes: Steve Madden
Larimar-pendant: JBL

Friday, 4 June 2010

Shoeless Savage

In case I haven't mentioned (at least twice) how much I hate wearing shoes in the summertime, let me be clear: I hate wearing shoes in the summertime. I don't know what it is, but the shoes that fit perfectly and are usually comfortable, become a major nuisance in warm weather. My feet are prone to blisters from shoes that couldn't fit any better. If I could, I'd go barefoot all summer long. It turns out though that other people don't like people who don't wear shoes.

Just a week or so ago an older man threw me out of a countryside coffee shop which was located in a big old dusty barn in the middle of nowhere - you guessed it, because I wasn't wearing shoes. His reason: "hey you, you really should be wearing shoes. Don't blame us if you get splinters." I guess shoeless people are unwanted customers, because they obviously don't have money (if they did, surely they'd buy shoes). Maybe they are hippies. Maybe they spread diseases, even though the crap we carry in the soles of our shoes is probably worse than what is attached to my naked foot. Maybe wearing shoes gives the indication that we are proper citizens. Maybe shoes are a sign of civilization, and I am a savage.

After reading this article in the New York Times Magazine about FiveFingers, I am seriously considering getting a pair, despite the fact that they look horrendous. When people would stare at my ugly FiveFingered feet and cry out "why?", I'd tell them that this is what it has come down to. I'd say that my feet are actually a lot prettier than the FiveFingers, but that no one wants to see them. Naked feet are a no-no, it is as simple as that. Of course, the whole concept of FiveFingers is rather ridiculous. In order to get the feeling of walking without shoes, I'd actually have to wear shoes.

Tops: Urban Outfitters
Pirate trousers: Mango
Scarf: second hand / Fida
Bracelet and earrings: JBL

P.S. In case you are in Ithaca tomorrow, come say hello to Lynn and me! We are selling Lynn's handmade jewellery at the craft show. Look for JBL Designs, and there we'll be!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Greetings from the Looney Bin!

One of the small-but-oh-so-interesting details that has emerged from my research on mental asylums has been my discovery of asylum postcards and the people who collect them. Back in the golden age of asylums, the general public viewed mental asylums as manifestations of magnificient architecture. Institutionalization was common and visible. Towns took pride in the asylums their outskirts hosted, and postcards were printed by the hundreds.

The postcard pictures above are from Christopher Payne's wonderful book, Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals. The ones below are the start of my own collection of these unique postcards. Chris found these two at a local antique store. They were sent to Mrs K. D. Barnes from her daughter in 1917.

Vasiliisa asked me recently what I am doing with all of this research. I wish I knew! It almost seems like it is spiralling out of control. I started looking into asylums because I had an idea for a fiction piece that would take place in and around one. I found a voice for a character or two, but I felt I wasn't able to write much because I just didn't know what I was writing about. (Did asylums have electricity in 1880s? How many people were there on one ward? What type of food did they eat? Did patients socialise amongst themselves?) I have done a ton of research, and I have more or less fallen in love with one of the characters, who has just developed on her own, inside my head. Even so, I haven't written a single word in months. I feel like I am more and more drawn to the non-fiction side of things the further my research goes, although I don't know whether it is just because that is what I "do best". Let me explain.

I loved writing stories when I was little. When we had assignments at school, other kids asked the teacher how many pages they had to write. I would ask "how many notebooks". My teachers loved my stories, and as we eventually began to write essays and short-story analyses instead of stories, it turned out I was pretty good at those too. I kept writing stories at home though. I gathered my courage when I was 17, and wrote two short-stories and gave them to my teacher of Finnish language and literature. Eventually she came back to me, horrified, and told me that I absolutely must stick to what I did best, which was non-fiction. She told me to never attempt fiction writing, because "no one wants to read this kind of disturbing stuff. Why on earth would you want to write something like this?" (One of the short-stories was about a young man, sitting at the death bed of his mother, which I guess was too morbid of a topic for her, I don't know.) I stopped writing fiction after that. I was embarrased, and didn't tell anyone about the short-stories, or the critique my teacher gave me.

I haven't even attempted to write fiction since, apart from this current project, which I am probably just too scared of to continue. I have grown to appreciate and enjoy non-fiction writing, but the process of doing reserch is more appealing to me than the actual process of writing. I wonder if I can ever love writing again, the way I did when I was a child. Who knows. I guess it would be an awful shame to let one old teacher dictate what I can or cannot write today.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

What We Covet, Then and Now

After raving about women's ability to choose what they want to wear at a given time despite economic (or other) trends, I grabbed the latest Harper's Bazaar yesterday and couldn't help but wonder where trends come from. I have been looking at 1950s shapes for a while now, and bought a second hand leather circle skirt back in November last year. Little did I know then that 1950s was one of the trends for this coming fall, but there I was, months ago, grabbing stuff similar to what Louis Vuitton would be showing on the runways in February this year.

Trends are confusing. I have stopped following them aggressively ages ago, but I notice that they slowly but surely slip their way into my wardrobe anyway, sometimes even before they become trends, as the 1950s stuff would indicate. I have also been crazy about prints and colours for a while now. I'd like to think that my fascination with them has come from my fellow bloggers and Chris (who truly is the master of mixing stripes and plaid). Even though I haven't set my foot in a "proper" clothing store for a while, I have seen tons of prints in Salvation Army. I have seen them on other people, and in current fashion magazines. I have seen 1950s shapes in old books and magazines I have browsed.

In Silence of the Lambs Hannibal Lecter tells Agent Starling that we begin to covet the things we see every day. I think there is a lot of truth to this, but it doesn't mean that we don't have a choice in the matter. I see that kitten heels and pointy shoes are an up-and-coming trend alongside minimalism, but at least for now, I don't see myself getting into them even if I was exposed to them more - I am done squishing my toes into pointy shoes for the sake of my feet, and there are only so many things one's eyes can find pleasing at one time. I guess the key is to wear what one falls in love with, trendy or not.

This is what Life Magazine had us covet in 1952 (and after having seen this photo a few days ago, I desperately want a ponytail):

In 1953:

In 1958:

And this is Harper's Bazaar today:

As you can tell, I am not exactly looking fashionable today. I opted for comfort instead. I bought the blouse yesterday at Salvation Army since I was in desperate need of summer tops.

Blouse: second hand / Salvation Army
Shorts: Benetton sample sale
Necklace: JBL