Charles James (in Phoenix!)

The Phoenix Art Museum has a lovely Charles James, go figure! Click on the image to read more about this astounding dress (including its heavily-engineered underpinnings).

I had no plans to go to Phoenix, but I think now, if it ever comes up, the the Phoenix Art Museum is going to be the first stop … from their site: "The Collection emphasizes major American designers of the 20th century including Adrian, Norell, Galanos, and Claire McCardell; and European Designers such as Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior, and Yves Saint Laurent." Like, whoa. (Although, as a point of pure, unadulterated quibbling, I think I would have put a comma after 'century' and done something different with that semicolon.)

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In the "I could read this stuff all day" department


"Advertisers operated in a similar gray area between old and new models of consumption. Diamond Dyes published an ad in 1895 with the text: "To dye or not to dye, that is the question: whether it is better to wear that faded, shabby dress and endure the scornful looks of all your well-dressed neighbors, or to purchase a package of Diamond Dyes and restore its freshness in another color — making a new dress for ten cents." Once again we see the early use of certain advertising tactics — the emphasis on a brand name and a sales pitch based upon sociopsychological appeals rather than utilitarian claims — that historians generally associate with later phases of mass merchandising. However, this ad does not attempt to challenge the prevailing values of thrift, reuse, personal handiwork, or custom clothing. Purveyors of female garments created ads attempting to promote standardized goods in a customized context, using headlines such as "Your dressmaker told us" or text such as "Fashionable modistes the country over are studying how to make the new Princess dress skirts hang properly. We have have solved the problem."
In short, the women's clothing industry was not immune to the onset of a culture of mass production. Yet it did not respond as the men's industry did with a shift to ready-made garments, but rather by incorporating productive and distributive advances into a context that continued to emphasize custom work. This happened because for women, custom clothing and fashionable attire embodied a set of cultural values singularly appropriate to the gender politics at the time."

Click on the book cover to go to the U.Penn press page for this book by Rob Schorman.

And now for something much more cheerful

Well, more cheerful if you have $1500 to spend on a dress, which I do not (and probably could not even if I did). I do love this color, though, and it's got gorgeous lines. Click on the image to go to the Net-a-Porter catalog page and check out the back view, which is interesting, too. I'm not sure I agree with their thinking on the center-back zip, but I can agree to disagree, considering that I'll never be wearing it …

A good dress, spoiled

I ruined a dress yesterday.

The dress is (was) one of my favorites — a vintage pattern, made from a huge abstract print of blue and green, with x's and doughnuts (sorry about the poor description). I had just shortened the skirt to this summer's preferred length, and I had been looking forward to wearing it again.

I didn't spill ketchup down my front, or tear it climbing over a fence, or burn holes in it by running into someone holding a lit cigarette (which is actually a phobia of mine, come to think of it). No, I ruined the dress by wearing it on a day of such vast suckiticity that I think I won't be able to wear it again.

No, nobody died, and there was no blood and very little betrayal, but there was a lot of bleh concentrated into a small space.

I had another favorite dress that I ruined by wearing it on an unhappy birthday. I didn't realize that dress had been spoiled for a while — I would keep putting it on, and expecting to feel that favorite-dress happiness, and things would just sour, inexplicably. Until I realized what was going on, and gave the dress to Goodwill.

I should really give this dress to Goodwill right away, cut my losses, but I'll probably try to salvage it. Hope springs eternal. (I need to take in the bodice a bit, anyway, as I've lost a little weight since last summer. Maybe that will cure the bad dress karma.)

Today I am wearing an alphabet-print full skirt that is bad-day-proof. I hope. Wish me luck.

Buy This Book

This advice is right on target, so how good must the rest of the book be?

Here are a few things to do to a simple black frock to give it the spice of variety:

1) If it is a dress with a collar, have two or three collars in different colors and alternate them. Be sure at least one is white; for there is still nothing in the world more "appetizing" than a black dress with a fresh white collar.
2) If it is a collarless dress, vary it with colorful scarfs. This doesn't mean rushing to a shop and buying a handful. Be a critical collector of scarfs. When Aunt Mary asks you what you want for your birthday, ask for a scarf. If you see an extraordinary bargain, treat yourself to it. If you make your own clothes, or have them made, remember that the leftover fabric of that pretty sheer or that attractive print will make a good little triangle to knot softly at the neck of your black frock. And remember that many women who think they can't wear black would find it enormously becoming if they would just wear a dash of color with it.
3) If it is a frock with a very simple blouse, you can often wear a plastron or "topper" over it. These should be chosen with greatest care. If you are slender, white is always effective. But if you are inclined to be somewhat chesty, choose a soft, dull color. If you are really large around the bust, do not use this particular way to camouflage your black frock.
4) Jewelry is another means to variety. A necklace of several strands of pearls will make a black dress look more formal and dressy. A necklace of gold or silver (with or without colored stones) is less formal but equally attractive. Strings of colored beads (they can be very inexpensive; just be sure their color is becoming) will work wonders. Or use a pair of nice clips, instead of any of the necklaces.
5) One of the best tricks is to add a gay little jacket to a black frock. If your print ensemble has a black background with bright flowers or a colored background with plenty of black in the pattern, by all means try the jacket over your black dress. If you cannot decided whether you like it, try hanging them together on a coat hanger and placing them where you can step away and examine them. If you saw them together in a shop, would you buy them? If so, by all means wear them together. If not, scout around for another jacket. It may be the bolero of your evening frock, or an extra jacket which you can buy or make yourself.

OMG TEH CUTE !!11!!1!!

Cherries? Check.
Gingham? Check.
Bows? Check.
Buttons? Check.
Pockets? Check.
Inexplicable and incongruous "whah-huh?" picture of near-topless woman in Ebay listing? Check. Click on the image to check it out. It's a nice large size — the dress, that is — B44, W36.

Dresses in Literature, E. Nesbit Edition

The pinafores and jackets that had been bathed in goldfish-and-water were hung out to dry, and then it turned out that Jane must either mend the dress she had torn the day before or appear all day in her best petticoat. It was white and soft and frilly, and trimmed with lace, and very, very pretty, quite as pretty as a frock, if not more so. Only it was NOT a frock, and Martha's word was law. She wouldn't let Jane wear her best frock, and she refused to listen for a moment to Robert's suggestion that Jane should wear her best petticoat and call it a dress.
'It's not respectable,' she said. And when people say that, it's no use anyone's saying anything. You will find this out for yourselves some day.

from Five Children and It