Saturday, February 24, 2007

Saturday's Best of Blogs

The fantastic Afrobella has a wonderful post on the disturbing trend of plastic surgery among black and latina women and the importance of embracing your features.

Attention stationery addicts: Design*Sponge Guest Blog highlights the latest and greatest cards. The hand-cut cards are to die for.

Anyone who saw pictures from Prada's Fall 2007 show last week remembers the brightly colored knee socks. She's A Betty has found a matching pair that's only $23 and will definitely impress the most die-hard fashionista.

As a tall girl, I've had a love/hate relationship with high heels. The one and only Manolo responds to the question of "how high is too high when you're tall?" with a touching and hilarious column.

Finally, Capitol Hill Barbie talks headgear (and not the orthodontic variety, thank god).

Have a great weekend!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Leave The Crazy Celebs Off The Worst Dressed List

Last week I was talking with a friend about the Grammy fashions and the topic drifted to coked-out bag lady Imogen Heap.

"You were way too hard on Imogen Heap," he said, "she wasn't doing that to get attention, she dresses like that all the time. It's just how she IS."

I did a little research and realized that he was right- Imogen Heap looks like an escaped mental patient all the time. Imogen falls into that category of celebrities who make a concerted effort to never comply to regular standards of beauty, fashion and femininity. Celebs as varied as Bjork, Bai Ling, Cher and occasionally Gwen Stefani and Eva Green all follow this school of thought. They show up to red carpets wearing such wild and elaborate fashion concoctions that it's clear they weren't going for a traditionally beautiful look (pretty hair, makeup and dress) but were sidetracked by an overly creative stylist who thought that a dress constructed out of plastic trash bags would be "edgy" and "fashion-forward."

Naturally, this formula ensures consistent placement of worst dressed lists, and the question that arises is whether celebs with totally off the wall fashion tastes, who are making artistic statements as they walk the red carpet, deserve to be judged with the same standards that are used for those who do want to look normal and beautiful, but fail. After giving it some thought, I've decided that they shouldn't. Leave the crazy dressers in a category of their own, separate from best and worst dressed, and let the fashion commenters and comedians duke it out over who truly has the most outrageous outfit. Leave the worst dressed category to the ladies who didn't make a conscious effort to look bad.

One final thought- last week I brought up that I thought Imogen Heap was dressing the way she did for the sake of getting attention, which some readers disagreed with. Well, according to the Fug Girls, Imogen paraded up and down the red carpet for two whole hours, just to make sure that every photographer got a photo and every interviewer had a news-worthy interview clip. Her look might just be "who she is", but it sounds like she's milking it for all she can.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

New York Magazine Article "The Incredibly Shrinking Model"

I've been really frustrated about the coverage of the skinny models debate. Every article reads like this:

1) Models are too thin

2) This model is 5'11 and 115 lbs and was told she was too fat.

3) The CFDA disagrees and says that girls who are unhealthy are encouraged to get help.

4) No one actually thinks this policy will do anything.

5) The end.

It is really sad, because I think that this issue has major implications for our society, especially on the way women and girls perceive their own bodies and shape their ideas of what's beautiful, but almost every article or blog post on the topic just seems to say the same thing over and over.

Luckily, one of my favorite magazine writers, Emily Nussbaum, wrote a fantastic article in this week's issue of New York Magazine on this topic, and actually talked to models and designers and doctors who were willing to talk openly about the trend and what it means for regular women.

So, why do models seem to get thinner and thinner each year? What changes in the industry have led to this trend?

First, as one model said, "these girls come into the business young, and they are disposable." This leads to increased competition, and to get and keep jobs, models have to go to more and more extreme lengths to stay thin. And as designers prefer younger models, women in their late teens and early 20's simply don't have the bodies of pre-pubescent girls, and have to starve themselves to compete.

Another factor is the increasing presence of Eastern European women in the modeling industry. Many of these women and girls come from impoverished families, and are already undernourished and unhealthy. Far more than models from wealthier countries, these women also often support entire families back home, and are all the more dedicated to staying thin and following the orders of designers and magazine editors.

Finally, there's the fact that models shoot to stardom only once they've become extremely thin. They're told that they'll lose jobs if they gain any more weight, and they're again forced into eating disorders to maintain their careers. Obviously, it all comes down to competition, and Nussbaum reinforces this idea in one of my favorite quotations in the article:

"If Fashion Week is about reinforcing hierarchies, skinniness has always been a way to compete. Being thin means control and, symbolically, that you are rich, that you are young, that you are beautiful, that you are powerful. And yet the models themselves, who are skinnier and younger than anyone, seem like the weakest people here: manual laborers with short shelf lives."

But of course, the models aren't making the rules, they're only following orders. It's designers and fashion editors who determine which "look" is in, and they have made a conscious decision in recent years to push thinner bodies. Fashion historian Valerie Steele is quoted arguing that the near-fetishization of thinness is a response to the obesity trend. Other designers argue that it's necessary for girls to be thin so that they become invisible and cannot distract from the clothes. And still others in the fashion industry insist that models are this thin because fashion is at heart aspirational, and the women buying these clothes (celebrities, socialites, etc) desire to be this thin.

I've only scratched the surface of the multitude of theories Nussbaum lists and then tests in the article. She treats the models with dignity and respect, as girls with families and careers and not just circus freaks ("A BMI of 14! Look at that!") and approaches this complex issue with insight and humor. Anyone with an interest in fashion should know about and have an opinion on this trend, because it most definitely has an impact on women and girls everywhere.

For the full text article, click here. If you've read it, let me know what you think about the issue in the comments below.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Casual, Comfy and Cheap Summery Shoes

It might be awful outside, but spring is only a couple months away, and here's a sneak peek at some of the shoes I can't wait to wear on the beach, by the pool or just talking a walk outside on a beautiful day.
American Eagle Polka Dot Ballet Flats, $29.50
Payless Faye Woven Flat, $17.99

Go Jane Sunrise 07 Canvas Wedge, $19.99

Payless Krissy Peep-Toe Wedge, $14.99

Old Navy Peep-Toe Espradrille Flats, $16.50

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ask and You Shall Receive

I'm home in Michigan this week due to the death of a family member, and I just want to apologize if I fall a little behind on posting, the quality isn't as high as usual, or if my posts come up at weird times. Please bear with me and I promise I'll be back on track soon!

After writing my post on Urban Outfitters last week, I decided to stop in their store in Cambridge, MA to try on a few of the dresses I'd discussed. This is one of the downsides of blogging... if you're constantly following what's new at various stores and websites, and then talking about how great this or that piece is in a post, it's very hard to resist going out and buying your favorites (well, whether it's a bad thing is debatable, but my credit card isn't particularly happy about it). Lucky for my bank account, the process of trying on all these dresses that looked gorgeous on the models on the website quickly limited my choices, and others had lower quality materials and construction than I'd hoped, and I ended up buying a dress that I hadn't even mentioned in the post.

It looks better in real life, trust me. The fabric is incredibly soft and comfortable, the drapery on the sleeves and at the waist is very pretty, and it really isn't that low-cut on me (though I'm planning on wearing it to the funeral today and I'm definitely wearing a cami underneath). I'm normally not drawn to styles reminiscent of the 70's, but the dress has a sexy, modern Stevie Nicks vibe going that I really like.

Anyway, when I took it home that night and tried it on for the second time, I noticed a tiny hole in the armpit area. Luckily I wasn't leaving Boston until the following afternoon, so I went into the store and looked around for the dress in the same color and size to exchange. Of course, there wasn't one, and while the other colors were very pretty (especially the bright blue), I really needed another versatile little black dress and didn't want to exchange.

The store was busy and I had a hard time finding a salesperson to talk to, but I finally found two employees working the fitting rooms, explained the situation and asked whether they had any other dresses in this color and size anywhere else in the store. They said they didn't. I was pretty bummed, but I decided to try one more time, and eventually I found the saleswoman who rang me up the previous day. She recognized me and as I told her what happened and asked whether there were extras in the back room or anywhere else when she interrupted me and said "we don't have any more but I can at least give you a discount." Score!

She took off about $9 (the dress was $58) and told me the sale was final. I figured that I could easily sew up the hole with a couple stitches, or if I was really concerned, bring it into my tailor next time I stopped by (I'm guessing that with a hole that tiny, a tailor would fix it for free).

Though this wasn't a huge deal (and I'm still stuck with a dress with a hole), the experience made me realize just how much you can get when you really ask around. Whether it's a restaurant (going out for a special occasion only to get stuck at the tiny table next to the kitchen is always a bummer) or if you're trying to get on a waiting list for a highly coveted purse or lipstick, politely asking the person serving you whether there's anything they can do can go a long way.

Another thing I learned is that asking nicely is only half of the job, you need to find someone who appears to know what he/she is doing (often the manager or the person running the cash register) who will know what the store or restaurant can or can't do for you. If I'd only talked to the first two salespeople, I wouldn't have gotten the discount, but finding the manager (who also happened to be very friendly and happy to help) made the big difference.

These policies often vary from store to store and even person to person (I don't know if it's Urban Outfitters' official policy to give 15% when a piece of clothing is slightly damaged or if she just made that up) so it's good to ask around to see what you can get. And again, politeness is key, and if you're not getting the response you were looking for, keep your cool and just find each person's supervisor until you get a definite answer. And if there's a store, restaurant or makeup counter that you frequent often, try to make friends with one of the employees. Knowing someone on the "inside" can make a big difference when it comes to receiving the best service.

Monday, February 19, 2007

My Girl Crush: Helen Mirren

My family likes to joke that at 20, I'm already an old woman. I complain that the sound at movie theaters is too loud, I try to be in bed by 12 every night (never pulled an all-nighter in 3 years of college) and my favorite way to relax is to listen to NPR's This American Life and work on a 1000 piece puzzle on the living room table. Lame? Perhaps, but I'm very happy with my life.

These old person tendencies of mine might explain why I've been so enamored with actress Helen Mirren lately. As I said before, I thought that she was the best dressed woman at the Golden Globes. She looked stunning, fresh and sexy, for a woman of any age. I don't want to look as good as her in 40 years, I want to look as good as her now.

I love that she hasn't had any work done as has aged naturally and beautifully, while so many others her age let their insecurity shine through their expression-less faces, over-plumped lips and body parts that have miraculously defied the effects of age and gravity. But what's best about her is that while she may have wrinkles and a less than perfect body, she still thinks (or rather, knows) she's hot. She isn't afraid to wear plunging necklines or even appear nude on screen (if you haven't seen it, you have to rent Calendar Girls; it's a great female bonding movie, especially with your mom) but she also willing to look unbelievably dowdy in others, without fear that she'll be deemed a less attractive actress.

She's totally owned every interview I've ever seen with her, coming off as witty, thoughtful and intelligent. She says things like, "All you have to do is to look like crap on film and everyone thinks you're a brilliant actress. Actually, all you've done is look like crap." And of course, she's very talented.... you don't get tapped as the go-to actress for every Hollywood movie involving a queen unless you can act. In 2003 she was even given the title of Dame Commander of the British Empire, and I can't think of many things cooler than that.

Here's to you, Helen, and good luck at the Oscars (not that you'll need it this year).

One final note: I'll have extensive coverage of the 2007 Oscars best and worst dressed, which I'll post before midnight on Oscars night, February 25th. Be sure to check back for my picks and pans.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why I Hate Limited Edition Products

Luxury brands have been releasing limited edition products forever. The process is entirely predictable: if a popular designer like Marc Jacobs or Karl Lagerfeld decides to only release a small number of a certain product, that product will instantly become a cult item, no matter what it is or how it looks. It's really a brilliant marketing technique because it requires no advertising. By selectively releasing information to a small group of influential people (magazine editors, trendsetters, celebrities), word of the elusive product trickles down to regular consumers and leads us to believe that there must be something very special about a product that's only available to a select few "in the know", giving the product cult status.

If fashionistas want to fight tooth and nail for the "privilege" to pay $10,000 for a handbag, I could care less. But lately I've noticed a trend of mass market brands releasing limited edition products, and this really makes me angry.

First it was Lancome, who released the "Behnaz" lipstick in October, a limited edition lipstick designed by famed makeup artist Gucci Westman for Behnaz Sarafpour's Spring collection. Only 250 (!) were produced, but the beauty editors, bloggers and makeup artists who tried it instantly proclaimed that it was "the perfect red" (whether this declaration was influenced by the limited edition status is up for debate), but it's undoubtedly a gorgeous color. Within days, the lipstick was selling for over $100 on eBay.

Then in November the Gap (yes, of all places) announced that they were selling ten limited edition dresses designed by French designer Roland Mouret at select stores in the U.K. and the U.S. This led to a riot in London on the release day, and instantly boosted Gap's fashion credibility. I'd have more to say about the collection, but unfortunately it wasn't available at any Gap stores in my state (is Michigan not cool enough for you, Gap?) or online, so I haven't seen the dresses.

Finally, the biggest cosmetics story of 2006 was Chanel's Black Satin nailpolish, which was seen on the nails of trendsetters and their loyal followers everywhere, and sold for over $150 on eBay at the height of it's popularity. What's most amazing about the Black Satin phenomenon is that this is a nailpolish that is best described as "goth chic"... it's an almost totally unwearable (in my opinion) color that really just screams "I haven't let go of my teenage angst."

If I sound a little bitter, it's because I am. Brands like Lancome and the Gap are based on the idea that quality, stylish clothing and cosmetics should be available to everyone at a reasonable price. I shouldn't have to pay $200 on eBay for a product that should be available at my local department store cosmetics counter for $15. If most consumers are priced out of the trendiest, most fashionable clothes, it's not fair for a mass market company to turn around and use limited edition products to deny those of us who aren't high profile or have the right connections.
Not surprisingly, Lancome has released a new limited edition Gucci Westman lipstick, this one inspired by the Proenza Schouler collections, titled "Proenza". Undoubtedly, it will inspire as much hoopla as the "Behnaz", but I think it's a really ugly, unflattering color. I hope that this leads to a backlash and Lancome (and other companies) decides to start releasing a greater number of products. But I'm doubtful that consumer pressure will ever lead to that.