Saturday, December 01, 2007

Men's fashion writing is quite simply excrutiatingly humiliating. While women's fashion writing isn't exactly the height of intelligence it doesn't quite manage to be as derogatory, doesn't force as many unoriginal novelty pieces into a space that can't hold them effectively. If I begin with examples than perhaps my position will be clarified easily. 8 Men's Fashion Mistakes to Avoid is the most obvious of these. Mistakes include socks and sandals, novelty ties and underwear and 'blaring' designer labels. The author Daniel Billett, who I would guess is a career writer rather than a person interested in clothing, then goes on to start insulting practical measures that a man might adopt. Apparently carrying a backpack to the office is a fashion mistake and wearing loose clothes is wrong. Now I would say that any man who actually thinks about the clothes that he wears avoids at least 6 of the "mistakes" that Daniel Billett took the time to think up, possibly while watching television, eating his dinner and typing with one hand. It seems fundamentally insulting that this could be published as advice anywhere. If "he understands what wearing clothes for real life situations is all about" than why is he focusing partly on the foolish and partly on perfectly acceptable but clearly personal dislikes? His work is embarassing because it's so simplistic, despite being a man he treats other men like incompetents by putting this kind of thing together and god alone knows who else thought this was an ingenious article.

Men's Flair is a little better. It treats men as if they are people who are interested in the clothes they put on rather than incompetents who need to be told not to wear Homer Simpson ties. I think it can be taken as read that if you're wearing a novelty tie you know it looks silly and feel good and confident about that. Men's Flair does occasionally churn out nonsense, here is a piece on male fashion icons. The chosen two are JFK and George Clooney, both are well dressed and will always be perceived in that way but the site fails to indicate why these men are style icons rather than two interesting celebrities. Men's Flair needs to go into more detail, the writers need to sit down and think about the exact reasons why they would choose brown boots over black boots, George Clooney over Denzel Washington and really highlight what it is about certain subjects that make them special. This is almost the opposite of Daniel Billett's problem, he treated his audience like they understood nothing, the writers at Men's Flair seem to think their audience understand their motivations without explaining them. The writing is certainly of better quality, this isn't a gimmick, the people who write here are motivated to write about clothes even if it's not fleshed out properly. I wouldn't pick this site out as a good example of online fashion writing but it's not appalling and doesn't assume that men know nothing about items they encounter everyday.

Of all the sites I've looked at in the last few days I would probably pick Stylezilla by Chris, which unfortunately is updated rarely. It's American, most menswear sites appear to be and it's purely about clothes. The run down and commentary is pretty good, it's clearly aimed at men who work in smartly dressed environments but what it does it does well. The entire site isn't an advert, it isn't trying for masculine irony, generally you could read it and feel like you were engaging with someone who has an honest enthusiasm for fashion.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

It's been 60 years since we experienced all-encompassing textile restriction and that lack of restriction allows our clothing to be significantly more adventurous and creative than it would otherwise be. In Britain in the 1940s one of the most prominent wartime slogans (there was a slogan for everything it seems) was Make Do and Mend. The industrialisation of clothing production, a method that the country had adapted to in an extremely short space of time was withdrawn because there was little available material. Clothing manufacturers were put to work constructing military uniforms and as a result many people unpicked clothes and household materials and converted them using different patterns. The rules were stringent; The government limited pleats and hems because they consumed material and men's trousers typically had turn ups. Coupons were issued that restricted the amount of new clothes an individual could purchase. It is difficult to envisage the difficulties involved in rationing. The romanticisation of wartime Britaitn is something I don't want to engage in, I feel that it is mistaken to idealise a time period with restrictions that you cannot envisage. It sounds like it was difficult, oppressive and frightening. The majority of us cannot conceive of living with absolutely no luxury but going to shops and purchasing clothes, stockings, cake is luxury in the context of that time.

In 1942 the L-85 restrictions were adopted in the USA. These restrictions weren't rationing in quite the same sense. Pantyhose, tights and stockings, were banned because the nylon could be used for military purpose but the L-85 restrictions were put in place to save 15 percent of domestic fabric production and 40 million to 50 million pounds of wool. The length of jackets and the width and length of skirts was limited leading to the enforced popularity of the pencil skirt. In addition buttons, pleats and trimmings were restricted. Cuffs, double yokes, patch pockets and attached coat hoods were all banned because they were perceived as features that used extra, unnecessary fabric. These rules worked to suspend fashion and preserve the same styles throughout the 1940s, the fashion industry in Europe had been suspended indefinitely and the US slowed down in accordance with that area of the world.

Ultimately the fashion industry snapped back quickly and immediately moved towards using extraneous material in clothing, a subject discussed in the British press over the last few months with the coverage of Dior's New Look. I don't think that the reemergence of the fashion industry is as interesting as the engagement of the public in retaining style with very few new clothes and very little material. I'm not talking about a fighting spirit but rather the development of a very specific skill set, a generation of women who could sew regardless of their social status because the majority would not have been able to retain any staff or employ dressmakers. If you would like to see some wartime clothing patterns you can take a look here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I am not obsessed with eyebrows but they are quite clearly extremely important if you are interested in fashion and appearance. The shape of the eyebrow restructures the face, this is never more clear than when you look at photos of Liz Hurley. Even if she's had work done (which is neither here nor there) her eyebrows make her face look different.

This is not about Liz Hurley though, this is again about political fashion and I specifically want to talk about the eyebrows of the Chancellor, Alastair Darling.

I wouldn't want Darling to dye his hair and eyebrows to match, they make him recognisable when so many polticians are forgettable, but in a world where women are constantly criticised for their appearance it seems rather unfair that he escapes with so little comment on his decision. Indeed many male politicians are given a get out of jail free card where their appearance is concerned while their female counterparts are roundly objected to. Jacqui Smith apparently shows too much cleavage, this is reported by The Times, The Sun and The Daily Mail. Alastair Darling's eyebrows don't match his hair but this only comes up (affectionately) on the Labour website and Yahoo Answers. Google gives me one national media reference and it is in a column that Darling wrote himself. I really think that if we're going to comment on the physical appearance and attributes of politicians, actually comment on their bodies and the choices they make about dressing and adapting them then it shouldn't be restricted to female politicians but broadened. In fact I would appreciate it if there was a little more commentary on just how boring and disenchanting the clothing of male politicians is, they may spend on suits but have you seen their casual wear?

Monday, November 26, 2007

If you want to listen to people utterly manhandle the idea of appearance and plastic surgery, ignore the entire human history of body modification and make a series of moral judgments made on the basis of spurious opinion that the individual members of the discussion group already held than I suggest the 21st November edition of BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze. They make an absolute pig's ear of discussing the issue, barely scratching the surface and utterly failing to recognise the modification of the body as a social norm, more importantly a social norm in the United Kingdom. Once again I'm referring to corsetry, which changed the shape of women's bodies to make them more beautiful for over a century. These people are paid to think and discuss on this programme and they really fail to do either.