Don’t Fear the Beard

Long, long before beards were either returned to fashionability or considered the topic for memes and manias of any modern sort, there were many cycles of similarly obsessive and extensive motivations for—and against—facial hair. Formidable schoolmistresses, pretend feminine mates for closeted men, and prickly maiden aunts notwithstanding, the majority of these trends applied generally only the male of the human hominids. It’s amazing, no matter what era one would choose to examine in this regard (excepting, perhaps, the days before shaving was discovered), how much political, religious, tactical, emotional, social, and spiritual power facial hair—its shape and size and location—has, for good or ill.
Mixed media artwork: Bearded Brahms

I’m not necessarily fixed in one camp or another about beards, mustaches, or sideburns. Since they have no moral value in my life, my critique of facial hair has to do with strictly logistical matters, like how much of a day is devoted to grooming and admiring one’s own set of whiskers, or possibly to hygienic matters, like how much of a person’s lunch enters into and remains attached to the hair, regardless of where on the head it is located. And I’m definitely prejudiced with regard to matters of my personal taste, if pressed to choose. Unless I know of or can guess at some imperative guiding a man’s choice in the whether, why, and how, like his subscribing to a religious orthodoxy that dictates it, I am inclined to regard facial hair as a fashion statement, and therefore to be liked or disliked on the basis of whether it seems to me to suit the fellow’s appearance.

Johannes Brahms’s luxuriant beard would undoubtedly look odd, if not weirdly wrong, to me on some younger celebrities of the present time, just as Jamie Foxx’s sleekly tailored goatee would hardly have suited a big, wild-haired guy like Herr Brahms, even if it’d been fashionable in his day. I am attracted mostly to people who look thoughtfully and well put-together, from their hairstyles to their dress and deportment, but perhaps even more so to people who look like their ‘look’ really suits them. So while I was not, shall we say, a huge fan of my late great-aunt’s bristling brows or prominent mustache, which though they were not as impressive as, say, Mark Twain’s, did remind me of him at times, I knew that not only did I actually admire those accoutrements on said author, but accepted that, given her life and unselfconsciously plain attitudes, they pretty much suited Tante Anna as well.

Still, I am biased by physiological expectations enough to prefer heavier facial hair to be located on male specimens, and even then, generally to have a certain sense of purpose and care attached to them. My spouse sported a cleanly shaped mustache and goatee when we were first together and for some years thereafter, and since it didn’t in any way affect his handsomeness, let alone his kissing skills, I had no objection either to the days of his sporting that look or to the time when he shaved not only those off but his entire head of hair as well. It turned out, in his case, that his facial hair was already so light-colored that in fact very few people noticed when he shaved it all off, and if they saw any effect they were inclined to comment that he seemed to look younger to them lately, for some reason. Which says to me that if it took any greater effort to maintain the grooming of the facial hair than it did to shave it off daily, he was better served by saving the time and labor. It also happened that I found him just as attractive, if not even more so, when he went for the all-shaven look, so there’s that.

But I didn’t entirely share my little sisters’ horror of beards to the degree that when Dad showed up sporting one after a canoeing trip with colleagues in our youth, one ran crying from the room and wouldn’t come back to greet the returning pater, and the other gravely announced that if Dad died before he shaved the offending item off his face, she wouldn’t attend his funeral. He was amused, but in a very short time reappeared with the beard gone. I think he kept the mustache for some time without incurring such severe filial censure, but most of the rest of his life he’s remained a clean-shaven man. As for others, I can take or leave the beards. I’m not insistent on them being worn, or even necessarily tidily trimmed, as long as they seem right on their respective faces. And I’m not convinced that the wearing of them is necessary, either, for the winning of sporting events, luring of mates, intimidation of un-bearded persons, or any other purpose except perhaps keeping an otherwise not fur-bearing creature from freezing in lieu of borrowing another creature’s pelt in the Arctic. But that’s another day’s post entirely, I suspect.

Here’s News: Shoes Lose

It’s probably nigh unto heretical to say so, but despite my stereotypical feminine admiration for shoes and my not-so-secret desire to own a zillion pairs of pretty ones, I seldom bend so far as to wear any that aren’t mighty comfortable in real life. Why, I have been known to fall right off of them and skin my precious knees whenever there was a handy hole in the pavement to snag my heel in for such purposes. But I hate pain, even the relatively minor pain of standing upright in high heels, so I really don’t often put myself in such danger.

In a similar vein, at times I am willing to go so far as to put on a little eyeliner, or suck in my gut to get a too-tight waistband to zip, or even give myself a semi-polished pedicure when I’m wearing sandals, but if time is pressed or I’m not in the mood, I’ll certainly never be bothered with such efforts. I feel more than a little ridiculous when I’m dolled up very far, and mostly I’m much too cheap and lazy and, well, un-girly, I guess, to enjoy the process, the expense or the artificiality of being ultra-feminine. Plus, there’s the risk of the people who know me best having a heart attack if I go all ruffly and spangly on ’em. That would just be mean and selfish on my part.Drawing + text: Shoes Lose

It’s All in the Mustache…Beard…Eyebrows…Toupee…

I’m neutral about facial hair. Well, on males, at least (sorry, Tante Anna!). My spouse had a short goatee when we got together, and while I thought it handsome on him I not only didn’t mourn its demise when he shaved it but realized afterward that it was light-colored enough that some people were apparently not only unaware he’d removed his beard but that he’d had one in the first place. Guess he didn’t go around kissing and nuzzling just anybody.digital illustrationI’m now so used to his being clean-shaven that I imagine it’d seem outright weird to readjust if he opted to grow a beard again, or a mustache. On the other hand, it is intriguing to see the major resurgence of popularity that all sorts of hair-raising acts are undergoing these days. It’s a great time, in my opinion, that it’s not only quite common to see people in the same place dressed in pants or skirts of all different lengths and heels of widely varying heights but also hairstyles ranging right from shaved heads (men’s and women’s) to dreads or super-‘fros (black, white and brown people’s). Curly or straight, short or not, natural-colored or wildly dyed, it can be anything that suits the heart or the head of the wearer. I like that.

digital illustrationWhat’s probably the most entertaining aspect of all this to me is seeing so many guys of a twenty-ish vintage looking so distinctly like those photos that can be unearthed of my great-great grandfathers and their brethren. I suppose that shouldn’t be entirely shocking in an era where baby names have also trended back to that generation’s. Can the bustle (you’ll pardon the pun) be far behind? Not to worry…I probably won’t be able to see what anyone’s wearing through the thicket of beards by then, anyway.

 

A Little Bull Session

digital illustrationHow Beauty Contributes to Survival of the Species

A longhorn with a handsome set of horns as curly as they get

Was slightly cowed by what he saw when shown the Long Arm of the Law;

He’d had some hope he was exempt from need to keep his long horns kempt

And polished to a shiny sheen like pearl, his hooves polished to keen,

Dark, perfect handsomeness, the ring hooked in his nose, and everything

In fashion, grand in every way; turns out, he’d missed his class the day

The rules were set out in his youth, and so he lacked this simple truth.

So he was startled when the fuzz pulled him aside and said because

He’d failed to keep in such fine style, he’d have to go to jail awhile.

You, also, may not know these rules, if you too missed time in your school’s

Important seminars, so here I share them with you; do not fear

That cops will catch you; do not dread, but spiff your hooves and horns instead,

And you’ll be free to roam and graze in any pasture, all your days.

Why do I share this? Cattle, kine, or beeves all ought to look as fine

As stud bulls, just in case they meet random policemen on the street,

For at the least—or, maybe, most—they won’t then end up as a roast.digital illustration

Fashion Simplified? Forget the Frills, Get a Guy Guide

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What’s good for women to know about clothes is not really all that different from what men ought to know. First, of course, *wear* some! Unless you’re in a nudist colony. That’s a different topic for a different day, no?

Never has anyone suggested I was especially stylish, let alone a fashion maven. I wear dresses or skirts, and have even been known to kick up a pair of high heels from time to time voluntarily. In fact, I’ll admit to being so stereotypically girly as to like jewelry and shoes just a little more than it strictly healthy for my wallet.

Frilly, however, I am not. I feel ridiculous, conspicuous even trying on stuff with too much twinkle and ruffle, and am compelled to do a quick Coco Chanel obeisance and remove an item or two from my ensemble if I feel over-decorated. Sometimes, in truth, nothing beats slipping into the most user-friendly jeans, those worked almost to death and not pre-aged by some corporate design slave, until they are softer than bunnies’ ears and they conform precisely to my every nook and cranny, however unflattering that may be. By the time any clothes achieve this magical status, of course, they are generally worn so thin despite any and all repairs that even a ghost would put her knees and elbows right through them. Pity, that.

In any case, I suppose for the most part what would best serve me as style advice is what would do for most men. The males I know are more willing to admit, most of them, that the primary goal is comfort and all else had best conform to it. But even the least conformist among my male compatriots also recognize a need to appear appropriate for business and social occasions, if only to get along smoothly.

My solutions, for the guys and me both, are simple and few. Stay unfussy. Basic, classic shapes, relatively few or subtle patterns, and not too much extravagantly showy stuff. Strong, comfortable, easy care materials. For me, and for lots of people, it’s great to have clothes that are wonderfully packable, so it’s as easy to travel as to hang at home.

Though I love heels and feminine looking shoes, I’ve gotten older–and, I hope, smarter–enough to prioritize health and comfort very highly and now am willing to save up longer and invest more to get better quality low heels and, hurray, flats that will still please my taste preferences. This, it turns out, is becoming a larger theme in my wardrobe: comfort still reigns, and I’m still a determined bargain hunter who is never happier than in finding a good item of clothing for under ten US dollars, but certain things are absolutely worth the extra effort and expense of genuine investment.

That category, for me, includes staple or foundation clothes like shoes and other most often worn items. My grandfather, the most serious clotheshorse in my lineage, said that you could read a lot of a person’s character in his or her shoes and the care given them. I’m not entirely focused on shoes, despite my love of them, but I tend to agree with the sentiment that well-tended classic clothes of the sort best suited (no pun intended) to the occasion make a good impression. Good shoes. Just a couple of pairs of slacks and/or skirts (or a Utilikilt!) and/or a dress or two. Pieces that are sturdily made and perfectly fitted to form will flatter your best features and cover your sins, and they won’t need to be replaced often for either getting too worn out or dated. You’re good to go for work and generally common events without worry about making the correct choice and getting by with both comfort and class.

Accessories–socks, vests, scarves, hats and watches and all of that sort of thing–can certainly change the character of a strong basic outfit and personalize it as little or much as one likes. And sometimes, these are the easiest wardrobe items to find at spectacular bargain prices, so it’s easier to vary an outfit with them than to have multiple expensive, high maintenance ensembles cluttering choice and storage.

The foundational elements of design give plenty of clues how to make the most of what clothes you have, whatever they are and whatever your personal style. On a person, monochromatic sets of pants, socks and shoes give the appearance of longer legs than the broken-line look of wearing those three in different colors. Skin toned (whatever your skin tone) shoes on a woman in a skirt or shorts make the shoes look like an extension of her legs rather than an eye stopping different color, and again, they create ‘longer’ legs. A fitted torso (shirt, dress or jacket) is narrower in proportion to its top-to-hem length and so will tend to make the man or woman wearing it seem slimmer than a loose, baggy garment. And so it goes. All of the design basics in the world, however, will not guarantee you feel comfortable or that your clothes express your personality, so while I think it’s both practical and attractive to pay attention to smart details–and ask for help if you’re not so knowledgeable about them–clothes only indicate the man, they don’t make him.

Since I long ago conceded that my philosophy of housekeeping is to make everything as easy as possible for an inveterate lazy-pants, no-iron shirts are a gift from the gods, and packable knits the virtual equivalent of wearing jammies to work. So I’m likely to break rules, if there are any, in favor of what pleases me. But you know, sometimes it really is enjoyable, if not de rigueur, to wear something tailored and crisp and beautifully fitted.

This, my friends, is one of those places where I have actually learned a few useful items over time. Behold, in this my era of crepitation, I can still learn a thing or two. Thing One: professional tailoring can make the ordinary extraordinary for less than buying custom. Wearing extraordinary things doesn’t hurt your image, unless you’re cultivating a scuzzy vibe. I won’t judge you. Thing two (and also not recommended for those polishing their grunge-meister cred): dry cleaning. While it can be pricy and is pretty ecologically objectionable, is the only way to make some tailored clothes look, and stay, the way they should. Invest in these two and, more significant even than that you will love your clothes more, your clothes will love you more, and for a longer time. That is a good investment.

But enough of this. I’m going off to find my jeans and T-shirt. My work here is done.

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Multiplication tables.

Where are They Now?

In a couple of generations, so much change! It seems to me, at this point in my life and the tiny spot where that life sits in human history, that change grows ever speedier, as well, but I can only guess at that. I do know that within the memory of my own family and friends, what was common knowledge and something like a cultural vernacular at one time within those groups disappears with the rapidity of birdseed down a squirrel’s gullet.

When I was growing up, computers were still [refrigerated] room-sized and full of punch cards that represented their binary data in concrete form, and any private individual owning or knowing how to operate one was generally a subject for science fiction and fantasy. You might think the magnitude of the gap between then and today’s ubiquity of such techno-wonders as laptops and smartphones and their ilk would carbon date me, but no, I am still alive and kicking (though not nearly so high as, say, a Rockette), and I expect that today’s marvels will have become equally quotidian and us, equally blasé about them almost before I can blink my diode-wearied eyes.

One of the more obvious markers of the speed of our cultural shifts has been our costume, at least since we started wearing clothes. I can, to be fair, imagine that–once there were more than a couple of people around wearing leaves and animal skins–there was immediately somebody on hand checking out whether the prognathous brow next door was adorned with a groovier piece of saber-tooth fur than her own, and some other body busily rearranging his gunnera leaf cape because he’d noticed with some envy that the cave dweller across the way had added another leaf to his ensemble for a hat, giving him a little more screening from the notice of passing pteranodons.

So eventually, we arrive in the present day, when there are still a few ladies alive who can remember wearing middy blouses, and their granddaughters instead wore midi skirts. And in the course of my life, I remember a number of fashions and popular items of clothing that have ranged rather widely and sometimes even circled back to repeat a generation later, when the young and trendy are distant enough from their original appearances to be unaware of how ridiculously out of date the New Thing looks to the people who knew it as the New Thing thirty years earlier. This tautology of togs can be amusing, mystifying, a tad mortifying, or possibly just inspiring to those who kept the ‘offending’ garments in their attics for just such an occasion or at least out of laziness and apathy. In any case, we find ourselves seeing the past replayed despite our long-ago vows to never revisit such awful and embarrassing gaffes of taste, expense and/or comfort, and as much as we might revile them on their reappearance, it’s not entirely unknown for us to readopt them along with the crowd, when they’ve become familiar again.

Where are they now? Probably right where we left them, waiting to be picked up and worn once more. Much as it pains me to admit it, you will probably eventually find me wearing, again, such vintage garb as elephant pants, soap-and-water saddle shoes, paper dresses, bobby socks, a matching crocheted vest and tam, dickeys, or perhaps just a tasteful voile pinafore over my dress. Not sure if I’ll go as far as a bustle or a farthingale, but since everything old is eventually new again, I can’t say for certain that I won’t, either. Safe to say I think it highly unlikely you’ll ever see me wearing a girdle or V-boots or armor, even if those should become familiar personal accoutrements again anywhere during my life, but I rule nothing out–weirder things have happened. And I’d hate to get too out of sync with my fashionista neighbors, don’t you know.digital illustration

The Cloche Wins in the Clutch

There mightn’t be any reason to connect the hat known as the cloche with the bell for which it’s named, given the resemblance of their shapes. The similarity may end there.graphite drawing Unless you want to make a silly cheap pun and say that the hat kind of rings a bell for some reason.

More productive, probably, to just work on drawing curves by sketching a figure wearing a cloche and simply exaggerating the resemblance a little bit more by simplifying the shapes to an extreme. Whether it’s quite characteristic of my style of drawing or not, it might be that I tend to like drawing curvy forms just because the arm and hand action that creates them is comfortable and pleasing to me when I draw.

The long and the short of it is that practice may make me better at drawing, but it also makes me happy as an activity in itself and for its own sake, and drawing curved forms feels pleasant and encourages me to draw more. And that, if I’m in the mood to draw curved forms, why then, drawing a cloche hat is a handy way to get into the process.

Shallow, I know. What do you expect from a person who makes cheesy puns in public and draws in a particular style merely because it feels nice!

 

If Strunk and White were Couturiers

 

 

graphite fashion design drawings

Everything old is new again . . . again . . .

Fashion Week has just ended in New York. I tremble with the thrill of it right from the top of my Philip Treacy Toilet Seat Hat to the scarlet soles of my agonizingly tall Louboutins. Even the non-Twittering world is atwitter. Oh, okay–having confessed to you my dark past as a wearer of safety orange fake fur, I can assume you might recognize me as somewhat less than slavishly devoted to following the dictates of the clothing cognoscenti.

Despite being by nature shy and introverted (yeah, I can hear your gasps of astonishment over there, but it’s quite true), I’ve always gone my own way when it came to dressing myself. It may have begun as a bit of a defense mechanism against my self-consciousness on wearing plenty of hand-me-downs or an instinctive rebellion at recognizing my own mousiness. Whatever the cause, I started fairly early to accessorize with an eccentricity of sorts. Eccentricity is always easier to defend than failure to conform, even if the expression of each is wonderfully similar to the other. Uh-oh. Does that mean they’re a variant form of conformity?? What a disconcerting conundrum! Excuse me whilst I swoon on the divan for a moment, won’t you? There. <Fanning myself coquettishly.>

Now, I can look back on my youth and say that there was a time when I would have made an excellent Goth. Pillaging tendencies aside. Naturally as pale as an iceberg and mum as a mummy, I could’ve slipped into some painful-looking post-Victorian getup and been right at home, but the trend, had it existed, would’ve seemed far too participatory for such a wallflower. More logical that I wear my black veil inwardly and merely retreat into wearing rather sober but unostentatious girl-sized menswear; Dad taught me how to tie a proper Windsor knot and I got my grandfather’s beautiful classic fedora off the top shelf of the closet. I even snagged a great pair of period wingtips at my favorite thrift store and earned my one bit of style critique in them from a little child standing near me in a shop one day who tugged on her mother’s sleeve and said in a bemused stage whisper, “Mommy, that lady’s wearing men’s shoes!” If I felt more girly on any occasions, I might as likely have gone for something a bit librarian-ish as any frilly stuff. I was better suited to be prim and buttoned down, what with having a figure that always tended more toward Long Island Iced Tea than a Hurricane.

I might have enjoyed the Steampunk look, too, for its winking humor and skewed sense of history, but not only did it not exist as an entity yet, it would likely have competed too much with my general cloak of invisibility. I didn’t want to be noticed, but I also didn’t care to blend in with others so much as with the scenery–a much safer perspective to be a non-participatory observer and sometime critic, naturellement.

5 mixed media drawings

More clothing and costumes from thirty years ago . . .

The other day I read an entertaining article written by, an art critic assigned by his paper to cover the menswear shows of Fashion Week. Clearly, he felt himself in the role of anthropologist far more than that of design interpreter. That, of course, is precisely the issue with observing fashion nowadays. You’re likely to see either a parade of such haute-landishness as can be “worn” by (or somehow installed upon) the models nowhere but on a runway, or else garb so lacking in imagination and originality that you’re hard pressed to term it designed. The latter was evidently the case in the realm of menswear at this year’s shows as witnessed by the poor critic-reporter.

Everything new is old again. Perhaps it’s simply in response to the extremes of the couture fantasyland that we get such reactionary tameness and dependence upon stuff that’s most generously interpreted as retro when it simply lacks imagination. I am far from disliking the traditional or the historically referential (you did read the paragraphs just preceding this, no?) but it does seem just as slavishly conformist and uninventive to show mere color and cotton-content variations on the uniform of the day than to play with the range of possibility.

I always sort of felt that that old bible of American English usage, Strunk and White‘s venerable Elements of Style, ought more accurately to be named Elements of Structure, enumerating as it did the foundations and underpinnings of good form that make good writing a mode of communication no matter how artful the window-dressing of a writer’s style. In the same way, I’d love to see the mavens of fashion, if they really want to be both clothiers and designers, challenge themselves more often to do something truly original upon the foundations of those practical structures dividing the wearable from the merely showy. How far can they push those seemingly infinite possible variations when making new and different combinations, groupings and overlaps of color, texture, shape, drape, weight, trims et al.? The haute couture runway is grand entertainment and supremely good theatre at its best, but it’s so divorced from the world of wearable design it’s as though Messrs. Stunk and White had taken copies of the Canterbury Tales, Ulysses, Huckleberry Finn and Ginsberg’s Howl, and having imbibed a quantity of the aforementioned mixed drinks, looked at each other and said “By cracky, that’s some dandy use of the English language; we could all learn from it,” then jammed it all into the bookbinder’s equivalent of a Vitamix, bound it in gilt-edged leather, and pronounced it the perfect how-to for would-be wordsmiths.

mixed media costume parody

Mostly, if I get too involved in trying to be trendy and fashionable, I'm just the class clown. Not that there's anything wrong with that . . .

Now why is it that suddenly I’ve got this urge to write my blog in iambic pentameter while wearing Chanel and handmade cowboy boots?

Pass me that Iced Tea before I faint again.