Tuesday, April 29, 2014


The Lost Art of Dress: A Conversation with Historian Linda Przybyszewski

In The Lost Art of Dress, historian and dressmaker Linda Przybyszewski explores how American women's fashion went from floor-length dresses to bloomers to shirtwaist dresses to, yes, flour sack dresses. Before ready-to-wear and before fast fashion, American women created affordable clothing for themselves and their families with help from the Dress Doctors—the thrift experts, home economics professors, and fashion guide authors who advised women how to craft the most appropriate looks for less. Style changed with every step forward for women: gaining the vote, entering the world of work, heading academic departments. Recently, Przybyszewski and I talked about the evolution of American style, the fraught subject of home economics, the lack of fashion and beauty advice for black women, and how to dress like a streetwalker in the 19th century.

You wrote that “the Dress Doctors were eager to prepare women for new roles in American life.” So can you describe the cultural and economic climate these Dress Doctors were in? Why did American women want to and need to change the way they dressed?

There were several things going on at different levels and different arenas of life. One was, by the late 19th century, more and more women were getting educated at college—middle-class women. They needed something to wear because dresses then could be very fancy and frilly. Essentially, women started wearing suits instead of dresses.

World War I, which didn't affect the United States as much as it affected, say, Britain, did require women to go into jobs that men had formerly held. And women who were volunteering for the ambulance corps, etcetera needed really practical clothing to do their jobs. They needed shorter skirts, things like that. Lots of working class women and some middle-class women were moving into wage work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They needed clothing that they could keep clean if they were working in factories, for example. So there was a big increase in the popularity of what they called the shirtwaist and what we call the blouse.



Professors Love Answering Cold Emails from White Dudes, "Meh" on Everyone Else

From NPR's transcript of a Morning Edition story:

Group of researchers ran this interesting field experiment. They emailed more than 6,500 professors at the top 250 schools pretending to be the students. And they wrote letters saying, I really admire your work. Would you have some time to meet? The letters to the faculty were all identical, but the names of the students were all different. [...] Brad Anderson. Meredith Roberts. Lamar Washington. LaToya Brown. Juanita Martinez. Deepak Patel, Sonali Desai, Chang Wong, Mei Chen. [...]

All they were measuring was how often professors wrote back agreeing to meet with the students. And what they found was there were very large disparities. Women and minorities [were] systematically less likely to get responses from the professors and also less likely to get positive responses from the professors. Now remember, these are top faculty at the top schools in the United States and the letters were all impeccably written.

Two more kickers: "There's absolutely no benefit seen when women reach out to female faculty, nor do we see benefits from black students reaching out to black faculty or Hispanic students reaching out to Hispanic faculty," and, "In business academia, we see a 25 percentage point gap in the response rate to Caucasian males vs. women and minorities." Word, this sounds great, we're doing great. [NPR]

How To Not Barf

The norovirus and various other lesser but still debilitating stomach-oriented bugs are making the spring rounds—"Rhode Island Wedding Results in 74 Norovirus Victims"!—including possibly around the edges of our office. I recently missed four days of work—really my first stretch of sick time in five years. I did, basically, think that I was going to die. There were some dark nights of solemn contemplation of life, and if it was worth living. I also got a great head start on my swimsuit season weight loss, so boo-yah! Also I can eat again now.

And I did it all without barfing. I have only barfed twice in the last 25 years. (Have I just jinxed myself? Oh well, so be it.) As a very happy emetophobe, here are my secrets.

Compulsive hand-washing is the greatest thing. Do you wash your hands upon entering the office, leaving the office, entering your home, leaving your home? And whenever other opportunities present themselves? Do you never touch doors and subway poles? Congratulations, you're way ahead of the game. READ MORE


Spring Fashion Hurdle: The Korean Cockatoo T-Shirt Dress

Every six months or so, I go to Hong Kong for work. I love these trips because I grew up in Shanghai and Singapore; ducking through narrow streets and crowded markets makes me feel at home. There’s one tiny clothes shop in Sai Ying Pun, surrounded by butchers and tire shops, that I visit religiously, even though I’ve never written down the address, so I always have to wander the neighborhood for a good half hour before I stumble upon it again.

This last time, the shopkeeper, a quiet, bespectacled Chinese woman in her late forties, wearing a sweatshirt and leggings, informed me that Korean fashion is now where it’s at. She pointed at several of the shirts I had in my hand. “Great quality,” she said. “Everyone wants to wear Korean designers now.”

From what I saw in that shop and in similar establishments, Korean fashion “now” involves a lot of what can best be summed up as the T-shirt dress.1 It’s a look I would have appreciated being “in” when I was 13 in Shanghai, where I went around in a large, shapeless green sweatshirt that came down past my thighs. Perhaps as a way to indulge that old yearning, I purchased a couple of these T-shirt dresses. One featured an enormous cockatoo surrounded by roses and peonies. The other was a nauseating ochre hue with the inarguable statement “Miniskirts have been in fashion for the past few years” in no-nonsense font across the front.

(I also purchased a pair of black floral jeggings with rhinestone-studded pockets, luckily available in my American-woman size, XXXL: that translates to an 8 in the States.) READ MORE


Monarchy, "Living Without You"

Via our dear pals at Neon Gold, here is a dance floor smash from the London-based duo Monarchy: keep with it as it builds around those corners and you'll be flooded with party heart by track's end.


"In the Dead Girl Show, the girl body is both a wellspring of and a target for sexual wickedness"

Alice Bolin has a terrific essay up at the LA Review of Books right now:

The Dead Girl Show’s most notable themes are its two odd, contradictory messages for women. The first is to cast girls as wild, vulnerable creatures who need to be protected from the power of their own sexualities. True Detective demonstrates a self-conscious, conflicted fixation on strippers and sex workers. [...] “How does she even know about that stuff?” Hart asks in 1995 when he and his wife discover sexual drawings his elementary-school-age daughter did. “Girls always know first,” his wife replies. This terrible feminine knowledge has been a trope at least since Eve in the Garden. Marcus compares Twin Peaks’s victim Laura Palmer to the teenage “witches” in Puritan New England who were burned to purge and purify their communities. In the Dead Girl Show, the girl body is both a wellspring of and a target for sexual wickedness.

The other message the Dead Girl Show has for women is more simple: trust no dad. Father figures and male authorities hold a sinister interest in controlling girl bodies and, therefore, in harming them. In True Detective, the conspiracy goes all the way to the top, involving a US senator and his cousin, a powerful minister. [...] Externalizing the impulse to prey on young woman cleverly depicts it as both inevitable and beyond the control of men.

"All Dead Girl Shows betray an Oedipal distrust in male authority figures, but in Twin Peaks and True Detective, the central characters are male authority figures," writes Bolin. Every other line in here has something fascinating to hang onto, so let me just recommend to all Dead Girl Show lovers/haters (Pretty Little Liars is the one that actually wins this, I gather?) that you go on and read the rest at LARB.


To ____ A Mockingbird



"There is room for bodies like mine to be gazed at for reasons other than difference"

Natalie E. Illum writes about her relationship to her body and her spastic cerebral palsy:

I didn’t really think in terms like beautiful/ugly or shame/confidence. I knew that my disability was permanent and that I was a financial and physical burden to my family. Those were the facts. I was sometimes told I looked nice, but I didn’t expect to hear words like beautiful or stunning associated with any part of my body. Ever. Those words were for able-bodied people.

She talks about being asked to participate in a beauty positivity project and thinking back to a poem she'd once written, with the lines: "Disability isn’t pretty./ It’s permanent captivity./ It’s your brain held hostage/ by your own nervous system."

In many ways, this poem still holds truth for me. But the body, the body can still be beautiful. There is room for bodies like mine to be gazed at for reasons other than difference. [...] I knew I was searching for a reason to stay in my body — a way not to give up on it.

[The Body Is Not An Apology]


Hi Comma; Bye, Comma

From the Chronicle:

Punctuational minimalism has emerged as one of the hallmarks of casual online style—social media, texting, commenting, message boards. One inescapable example, which I’ve previously discussed, is the sea change in email greeting from “Hi, Name” to “Hi Name.”

"This is by no means exclusively the province of kids and illiterates," writes Ben Yagoda, citing a philosophy blog with a run-on vibe. Well, okay. But The New Yorker, the "the veritable St. Peter’s Basilica of the comma," is holding up the other end and still going HAM on elite punctuation:

For The New Yorker, using this punctuation mark in all generally accepted and even optional spots, including after the penultimate item in a series, goes without saying. The magazine’s secret sauce in generating commas is its extreme strict constructionist view of nonessential (also known as nondefining) elements in a sentence. Consider: “By the time Blockbuster got around to offering its own online subscription service, in 2004, it was too late.”

My stance on commas is the same as my stance on sex: once you start thinking too much about what you're doing you ruin the whole game completely. [Chronicle]


That's My Baby, She Lives in the Bathroom

It felt like a lightbulb went off in Goddard's head when she realized her family's little-used second bathroom could be the baby's new bedroom. "Babies love cozy spaces. Kids always want to build forts and cuddle up in corners... I think he really likes his teeny space," she said. 

-As I always say: WHY NOT. [DNAInfo]


BANKS, "Goddess"

We are fans of BANKS over here, and this title track from her forthcoming full-length debut is as seductive and hazy as ever, with a lazy hard beat and an additional element of fuck-you to it: lyrical highlights are She gave it all/ You gave her shit and You should have crowned her/ Cause she’s a goddess/ You never got this.


Talking to Misty Copeland About Race, Class and Ballet

Misty Copeland took her first ballet class at age 13 and performed as Clara in the Nutcracker eight months later. Four years after that, she joined the American Ballet Theatre as a corps member, and in 2007 she became the company's only black female soloist. She was also the first in decades, only the third in the company's history, and has for years been the only black woman dancing in the company at large. 

You came to ballet late, at age 13; the first time you came to the barre, you were wearing gym clothes. What did those first experiences feel like?

I initially felt like a fish out of water. I grew up on soul and hip hop, so I didn't understand the classical music, how to count it, or how to find the rhythm. But the physical movement came quite easily to me, even though I couldn't grasp what I was doing.

And still you were on pointe within a few months and were recognized as a prodigy right away. What did that word mean to you?

That word meant nothing to me until I was a professional living in NYC dancing for ABT. It wasn't until then that I realized the weight that word held. That I might have this huge standard to live up to as a professional.

Around that same time, you were sort of accelerated into adulthood. In your book you wrote about ballerinas tending to be late bloomers in life, physically and otherwise: how you didn't get your period till the doctors induced it via birth control at 19, and then your body changed dramatically and fast. I can't imagine how strange that must have been in such a concentrated dance environment.

The physical shift was intense. I no longer had control over my instrument: my body. Day to day was a struggle never knowing how my body was going to look and respond to what I was doing and feeding it.

But, that was when I realized how much there was to offer outside of ballet. I was searching for a connection to people and I no longer felt that in the ballet studio. I started to embrace it more within the urban community of the city. I think it helped me to grow and become a whole person that most dancers don't experience if you’re locked in a studio your whole life. READ MORE


The Lost Britney Spears Album

Buzzfeed has a great story on Original Doll, the Britney Spears album that never was, with a single called "Mona Lisa" that surfaced 10 years ago just once on radio and then was buried along with the rest of the album material in a fascinating period when the pop star simultaneously avowed control while losing it. After getting injured on tour for In the Zone, which the pop star called “the filtered-down version of Original Doll, or the more pop version," Spears wrote on her blog:

“I’ve actually learned to say ‘NO!’... With this newly found freedom, its [sic] like people don’t know how to act around me. Should we talk to her like we did when she was 16 or like the Icon everyone says she is? My prerogative right now is to just chill & let all of the other overexposed blondes on the cover of Us Weekly be your entertainment… GOOD LUCK GIRLS!!” She also chalked up her knee injury to divine intervention. “I know now that my knee gave out on me this past summer so that I would have no choice but to stop,” she wrote. “My body was shutting down and needed rest. It’s funny how the Man upstairs works.”

Her words were interpreted as a temporary retirement, but she clarified what she meant in a later blog post. “What I meant was I am taking a break from being told what to do,” she wrote. “The things I’ve been doing for work lately have been so much fun, because it’s not like work to me anymore.”

"Mona Lisa," for what it's worth, is pretty good even in its rough mix: produced today it might be Lana Del Rey material. “I really know how the process works and I know I can do it on my own," Spears said in an interview leading up to the In the Zone release, but we know how the story ends. [BuzzFeed]

Vaunted College Newspaper Now More Like Real Newspapers


Nights at the Columbia Daily Spectator were spent in a breathless, tipsy, exhausted, self-important haze. The office, like that of many college newspapers, was a clubhouse run by flighty, inexperienced, earnest kids who were behind on their homework. There was an idea that we should be finished by three a.m. in order to send the paper to the printing press. That was the goal post, anyway. In the meantime, we ate pizza from V&T’s (which we got for free in exchange for a daily ad); drank Blue Moons (which we got for cash); argued, gossiped, and fell in love with one another while we waited for the stories to be filed. Office romances were known as Speccest. Parties were called Spectails. The executive office was sort of accurately referred to as the panopticon. The printer was named Boobear. As the hours passed, you could almost forget about one of the promised rewards for your labor: seeing your name in print.

Last week, the Spectator’s young wardens—the editor-in-chief, managing editor, and publisher—summoned the staff for a grave announcement: they intended to stop printing the paper five days a week. Instead, they said, they will run articles online daily, and publish a print edition weekly. The idea was the product of readership surveys, falling ad sales, and, more recently, conversations with the Spectator’s elders—past editors and members of the Board of Trustees. The board’s chair is Wendy Brandes, a former editor of the Arts & Entertainment section who has since become a jewelry designer and the wife of Paul Steiger, ex- Wall Street Journal managing editor and the founder of ProPublica. After the Journal and the New York Times quoted Brandes about the decision—“It doesn’t matter if you love or hate the Internet—it’s here,” she declared—she wrote on her blog that she always wanted to be mentioned in these papers, though not for this: “I AM in the New York Times, but I am talking about my college newspaper’s website strategy instead of my stunning jewelry inspired by powerful women.”

The Times wrote, “The announcement has pitted a group of the paper’s alumni who are angered by the decision, seeing it as a travesty against those who view the move as a necessary embrace of the digital age.” These two sides are divided roughly by generational lines. My friends, most of whom graduated within the past five years or so, largely tweeted their praise for the Spectator’s evident foresight and guts. On the other hand, John R. MacArthur, a trustee who graduated in 1978, and is now the publisher of Harper’s, had this reaction: “I am quite simply appalled by the arrogant, presumptuous tone of the board members, and the staff, who want so blithely to dispense with more than a hundred years of tradition.”



"Let Me Tell You What I Think of Bicycling": Nellie Bly Interviews Susan B. Anthony, 1896

Nellie Bly, born Elizabeth Jane Cochrane in 1864, arrived in New York City at age 23 in 1887 and talked her way into a job with Joseph Pulitzer's New York World by accepting one of the first stunt journalism assignments ever: she went undercover at New York's Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell Island. The ensuing story gave her a foothold in journalism's boys' club and established her career: "Bly made herself into the most famous newspaper reporter in the United States," writes Jean Marie Lutes in the introduction to the new book, Around the World in Seventy-Two Days And Other Writings, "by embracing the idea that a woman writer was, by definition, a bit of a spectacle."

A year after the Blackwell Island exposé, Bly traveled around the world in "seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds," inspired by Around the World in Eighty Days ("I need a vacation; why not take a trip around the world?" she would write). When she died in 1922 at the age of 57, her longtime friend and editor Arthur Brisbane called her "the best reporter in America." Around the World in Seventy-Two Days—the first edited volume of Bly's work—includes the following interview with the suffragette Susan B. Anthony.

“Champion Of Her Sex: Miss Susan B. Anthony,” originally printed in The New York World, Feb. 2, 1896.

Susan B. Anthony! She was waiting for me. I stood for an instant in the doorway and looked at her. She made a picture to remember and to cherish.


“Now you want to know when I first heard of woman suffrage,” she resumed. “I will tell you. In 1848 I came home at the end of my school term to visit my family. Mrs. [Elizabeth Cady] Stanton and Mrs. [Lucretia] Mott had just been in Rochester, and my family could talk of nothing else. I didn’t understand suffrage, but I knew I wanted equal wages with men teachers. However, I had no idea between voting and equality. I went back to my school and forgot all about it.

“In 1849 I heard Abby Kelley Foster, the Quaker Abolitionist, and I read the reports of a great convention that gave me the first clear statement of the underlying principles of woman suffrage. The next year I went to an abolition meeting at Seneca Falls where I met Mrs. Stanton, who was head of the Daughters of Temperance society… A little later the Sons of Temperance held a convention at Albany, and they invited the Daughters to send delegates. I was one of the delegates. They were assembled in the hall and something was under discussion when I arose to address the Grand Worthy Master. ‘The sister will allow me to say,’ he shouted me, ‘that we invited them here to look and learn, but not to speak.’

“I instantly left the hall, and Lydia Mott, cousin of Mrs. Mott’s husband, followed me. We hired a hall, and got Thurlow Weed to announce in his paper, the Evening Journal, that the Woman’s Temperance Society would hold a meeting that evening.

“Hon. David Wright and Rev. Samuel J. May…came to our meeting, and dear Rev. May taught us how to preside. I was made Chairwoman of the committee, and the first thing I did was to call a state convention...We held a two days’ convention and Mrs. Stanton was made President and I was Secretary. And it all came out of the men refusing to let me speak.”  READ MORE