i’ve recently come to feel that a lot of my life lately is about my feminism. i feel like it’s suddenly me in that long-ago episode of law & order where jack is mocking claire kincaid for her “latent feminism” and she reminds him that it isn’t latent.
so, for example, i recently came back from an insane weekend with my best friend and his partner (now fiancé), celebrating their engagement, and had several conversations where someone asked me, “how did they decide who was going to ask?” and my answer, simply, was that b just went for it and c was ecstatic. they had no expectations to grapple with based solely on a chromosome in their dna; it was all about what worked for them.
or, a co-worker of mine (male) recently celebrated the birth of his first child and took a week of paternity leave as a result (cue my quebecois co-worker excoriating america for that measly week; i had enough lectures about canadian socialism to be convinced long ago, if vicki and heather lou still want me). but the brass around here in my corporate office kept saying, “their wives had children.” as though these first-time fathers were ridiculous for taking time off to support their wives and snatch a few days home with their newly-born offspring.
even my beloved father fell prey to these assumptions. “did he have a baby or did his wife?” was a frequent point of conversation, at which point i reminded father that ejr’s wife had a c-section and couldn’t even get out of bed yet, so how exactly was she supposed to be home caring for her child all by herself? and furthermore, dad, this isn’t 1982 anymore.
“well,” he said, “in 1982 i would have been fired for taking an entire week” (a week! hah!) “when you were born.” yes, father, and in 2014 i am still making 77 cents for every dollar you are paying ejr.
thank goodness it isn’t 1982 anymore, is all i can say.
i say all of this as a long-winded introduction to a book review because these issues of gender and requirements and, dare i say it, feminism and what we ask of men versus women are very upfront in my world right now, and all of this was exacerbated by a recent piece i spotted in vogue patterns magazine. it was an innocent enough piece, a review of a new book by professor linda przbyszewski called the lost art of dress. its arguments are likely familiar to many of you, dear readers, because she espouses most of the reasons that we make our own clothing (as linda przbyszewski does, too):
- an expectation of beauty and detail
- an appreciation for the details inherent in each piece
- an ability to create garments that fit and flatter in the exact color/style/fabric of our choice
yes! hear hear.
here is where she lost me, as she bemoans the decline of home economics in our schools (a worthy thing to bemoan, by the by, because we would all, men and women alike, be better off if we knew how to cook, sew, use a drill, balance a checkbook and change our own oil but i digress):
“the absence of home economics in the classroom has left generations of women unschooled and unskilled in the ways of dress,” przbyszewski says. in the 40s and 50s, home economics “was taken just as seriously as english and science.”
there are so many assumptions wrapped in that statement that i had whiplash just trying to process it. ultimately, my reaction was something like this:
1 – i cannot deny that juicy couture sweatsuits have a lot to answer for. but.
2 – how can a book about the “lost art of dress”, a book basically about the horror that was the rise of the a-line shift dress, in the interview with vpm, so casually elide the fact that the changing mores of our dress code happen in a direct correlation to women being able to choose from a wider array of goals when setting their dress habits?
3 – and why are women responsible for rectifying this supposed lost art? i mean, have you ever seen a frat boy with a popped collar and nantucket red trousers and not understood it to be a travesty of fashion?
“when the 60s rolled around, all of the grown-ups wanted to look like teenage girls. there’s this extraordinarily sophisticated, wordly look in the 50s and just one decade later everyone is wearing what would have been known in another era as toddler clothing.”
the entire interview had an undercurrent here of ‘knowing one’s place’ (as a woman) that makes me hugely uncomfortable. this kind of presentation, the idealization of this image, is hugely disturbing to me because it discredits the real work that is being a homemaker, or a stay-at-home-mom, and suggests that it be above all things well-dressed – not because that woman chooses to be, but because it is expected. (and maybe, just maybe – at least if you read divergent and understood it the same way i did – maybe there is comfort in knowing one’s place?)
all of this has nothing to do with the new book hitting our shelves, gertie sews vintage casual, except that it completely does. in a section reminiscent of one of her more infamous blog posts, gretchen includes a small sidebar on the evolution of women’s casual dress. “the evolution of women’s clothing in the 20th century is closely linked to the rise of feminism,” she writes in the intro to her new book. “it generally wasn’t acceptable for women to wear trousers to work, school or church until the 1970s.”
and yet we continue to be fascinated with the details and the styles of vintage, classic casual dress, and i think it is because we want to be comfortable and fashionable whenever possible. the simple fact is that the state of rtw, especially to those of us who sew, is fairly heinous, and it’s easy these days to look at the beautiful casual clothes of the 40s and 50s and think only, ‘le sigh.’
her book is a rundown of every vintage vogue weekender pattern you ever wanted but didn’t want to spend the money on (because those bad boys can be expensive). they are every excellent capsule wardrobe for a “full-blown mini break holiday weekend” in one book. imho this book has a stronger, more developed point of view than the NBfBSand a more authentic aesthetic. the first book often felt like a re-hash of garments and patterns that hirsch had already tested and adapted from the vogue patterns that were the original highlight of her website. this book has a clear, specific point of inspiration and sets about expressing that point in every pattern and hack laid out in the book.
as in the original book, gretchen spends some real estate discussing basic patternmaking, and then uses that knowledge in a wide array of style variations suggested by her basic patterns (i.e., trouser to short to pedal pusher to jumpsuit to romper). i like that she included trousers, by the way, and will be interested to compare her trouser draft to my own moulage and potentially make it work.
gretchen also continued the art direction and style of the first book, two of the things i liked most about her initial offering. in this one, she includes a list of inspirational movies (for costume details), and an expanded section of fashion drawings that she calls a “gallery of styles”. the photography is better, the presentation of garments is stronger, although not what i would hope for or look for in a finished book. here in the SBC we often ask a lot of our fellow bloggers WRT their photographs and these are not the step up into style or fashion photography that i would love to see in a book with such a specific aesthetic. that said, they are a giant step up from my own (ahem) jumps in front of an isight camera, so your mileage will definitely vary.
on a closing note, i almost don’t want to say that gretchen’s new book is more authentic (even though it feels that way to me as a reader), and here is why. there’s a lot of navel-gazing going on in the sbc interwebs right now – some of it i agree with, some i think is overblown, all of it makes me a bit angsty, and let us not forget that some people are just mean. without editorializing, here’s an interesting reading list for you.
– Want nothing but the best for your friends, because when your friends are happy and successful, it’s probably going to be easier for you to be happy.
– If you’re having a rough go of it, and a friend is having the best year ever, and you need to think some dark thoughts about that, do it alone, with your therapist, or in your diary, so that when you actually see your friend, you can avoid the myth discussed in item 1.
– If you and your friend(s) are in the same field and can collaborate or help each other, do this without shame. It’s not your fault your friends are awesome. Men invented nepotism and practically live by it. It’s OK for women to do it, too.
– Don’t tear other women down, because even if they’re not your friends, they are women and this is just as important. This is not to say you cannot criticise other women, but understand the difference between criticising constructively and tearing down cruelly.
– Everybody gossips, so if you are going to gossip about your friends, at least make it fun and interesting. Never say, “I never lie” or, “I never gossip”, because you are lying.
and finally, a note that i jotted to myself at a recent presentation by author, essayist, and professor roxane gay. an audience member asked why, when we look at books by women, we are often looking for “likeability.” it is a question almost never asked of male authors of serious literature, so why do we demand it of women? and roxane’s answer was another question: ‘do we mistake likeability for perfection? do we look for likeability as an entree into certain milieus? when we demand likeability, aren’t we just policing our behavior because likeability is what we, as women, are supposed to present?