Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What happened at What Katie Did

A while back, I was on a visit to London and paid a visit to the brick-and-mortar shop of What Katie Did. Nestled in a little corner of a shopping concourse off Portobello Road, I was surprised at the size of the shop in relation to the range of their items online. So many corsets and frills, and so little time...

But what really surprised was an exchange one of the sales clerk had with another woman who came in to the store enquiring about a cincher. The shop was about to close for the day, but this woman was adamant about getting her cincher right away, so the sales clerk hastily picked a black satin number off a rack and started fitting it her over clothes (no time to fit properly in a dressing room, apparently). The client asked some questions which led me to suspect that she had not done her research either in corset care or wearing, such as, "Can't I just unsnap it from the front?" and "But I want one tighter than this," despite the fact that she stated this would be her first foray into lacing at all.

The sales lady explained that no, you have to loosen the corset from the back first or you'll warp the boning, and that corsets shouldn't really go much tighter than 4 inches less than your natural waist. The customer was nonetheless quite pleased with her appearance, and asked the sales woman if she could wear it every day. "No, absolutely not," she replied. "You'll hurt yourself."

I typically am a fairly quiet person, and don't gravitate towards conflict of any kind. But this, I could not abide, and told both of them that I have been wearing a corset nearly every day for about three years.

"Well, you shouldn't; you'll get a hernia," said the sales lady, as the client's face lit up at my announcement.

"I don't know," I said. "I haven't had any problems. You just have to ease into it." And then, sensing some tension and still wishing to make a purchase of my own with minimal awkwardness, I added, "But my every day corset isn't nearly as nice as that one." Which is true. The satin cincher, though pretty, would not hold up to regular lacing. But my boring, beige, cotton twill corset has served me quite well, since it was built with durability in mind over elegance. Nothing more was said on the subject until my man and I left the shop, and he said, "What was that back there? That was awesome!"

What happened was that I felt personally insulted by the sales lady, and by her spreading of misinformation to someone who was enthusiastic about corsets and needed some level-headed guidance. Threatening a hernia doesn't much help. Like anything else, tightlacing is perfectly fine as long as it done properly. You don't go from never having worn a corset at all to suddenly wearing one every day at a 4-inch reduction. You work up to it, over a few or several weeks, and I bristled at the statement that, categorically, regular tightlacing will give you health problems. I visit my doctor regularly, who specializes in internal medicine, and he has never commented that I am unhealthy in any way at all related to tightlacing.

I feel that misinformation such as what was offered by the sales lady does a disservice to all corset enthusiasts, both spectators and lacers. We're not freaks. We're not putting our lives on the line, if we're being smart. All I know is that when I wake up in the morning, I want my body to be shaped in a way that no amount of exercise will achieve, and as far as I know, you only live once.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Back in the saddle

About 15 years ago, I had a bad accident while biking home from a friend's house. As I was riding along, my bike ran over what I swear was at least a pebble and hit it the wrong way so that the front tire stopped. I didn't, though, and flew over the handlebars, landed on my jaw, and skidded on it halfway into the street. Thankfully, there was no traffic, and although I was in bad shape my bike was fine. I was halfway between my friend's house and my house, so I decided to continue on home. Cars flew past me, and I saw people looking at me, then wincing when they saw the blood and scraping on the side of my face. No one stopped to help. My mom thought I had been in a fight until I explained otherwise. She took me to the emergency room, and somehow my jaw had not been broken, but lodged out of place. Because of the accident, my jaw still doesn't align quite right; the doctors said I have TMJ. However, it's not quite bad enough to warrant surgery, and they gave me a retainer to try to get my mouth fit back together properly. It helped and I do still wear the retainer, but sometimes the pain returns. Advil does the trick. (For those who are wondering, I was wearing a helmet.)

The real lasting damage is that I have never since ridden a bicycle, and have never been motivated to get back on, until now. New York is beautiful when seen from a bike, but it can also be a dangerous place for cyclists. Like any other city, there are plenty of idiot drivers, and a person on a bike is considered by most people to be not quite a pedestrian (and so does not have automatic right of way) but not quite traffic either (so they're expected to yield at all times to all things). Despite all of this, a bike is a great way to travel, providing freedom to travel without buying a subway card or a tank of gas, and it's good exercise besides. My sister just completed two triathlons, and since my man and I moved to a building closer to the park, he's been riding his bike more often. For these reasons and more, I decided it was time to get back in the saddle, and today was the day.

We went to Ride Brooklyn and rented a bike for me to ride for the day. It actually felt good to be back on a bike, and after practicing a little in a nearby schoolyard, we left to meet up with my sister and another friend to go to Red Hook and check out the food vendors. It was a great ride. I gradually got more comfortable, and I had never seen so much of the Red Hook waterfront as I did today. Since Ikea and Fairway landed in Red Hook, the area has gone through some major renovations, but remains largely inaccessible by subway. We rode past boutiques, cafes, art galleries and garden centers that I never knew existed and thought I might like to visit again. There was not much car traffic where we were, so I could relax and remember what it feels to tool around on a bike. I had a great quesadilla from one of the food vendors, and thought about how much easier it would be to come do this if I owned my own bike. All things considered, it was great, and I realized how much I'd been missing by not getting back on a bike.

The ride from there on out was different. We went down Clinton Street, where there are parked cars on one side of the bike lane and traffic whizzing by on the other. I started to feel claustrophobic and spooked about my abilities to maintain balance, then began imagining what would happen if someone opened a car door or tried to leave their parking spot, leaving me with no place to go but headlong into traffic. I got anxious and had to stop a few times. I biked on the sidewalk and that was easier, but obviously there are still plenty of obstacles like strollers, pedestrians, gates, etc. When we returned the bike, I was definitely done for the day.

For all of that, however, I do still want to keep riding. (There's a pink Electra cruiser which caught my heart and eye at the shop, plus it's on sale.) One of the central tenets for me of being a pinup is that you only live once. Just as there's no reason not to look and feel your best every day, there's no reason to let one experience, however tragic, hold you back from exploring. I figured that if I'm brave enough to look the way I want to look, and to be going after my dream of performing burlesque, then surely I'm brave enough to conquer my fear of a bicycle.

As I was practicing in the schoolyard, my man was working with me to get me in a comfortable place. A man and his son were there too, playing with a soccer ball. The son couldn't have been more than 4, and was in his own little world. I tried to stay out of his way, and the father tried to get him to do the same, saying, "She's practicing...bicycling." But, eventually, they left. The father went to say a few words to my man, who explained to him that I had been in a very bad accident and that this was my first time on a bike in many years. My man told me later that the father said he too had a bad biking accident and hadn't ridden since. He said that I was an inspiration to him.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hats on. Way on.

Ever heard the phrase, "You only have one head"? If you did, it was probably an admonishment for not wearing a helmet during a bike ride. And there's truth to that statement; yes, you do only have one head. But the good news is, there are plenty of hats.

Hats may be my favorite accessory. They can completely change the way your face looks, add instant allure, and dress up any outfit. Simple black dress? Put on a hat, and bam! You belong on a runway. I have a very large straw hat that I wear pretty much whenever the sun is out. Not only does it protect my fair complexion and hair color, but it turns heads whenever I wear it. It seems even to make other people happy, or maybe they just think it's silly. Either way, the big straw hat is a summer staple.

And in talking about hats, let's not forget fascinators. For the uninformed, a fascinator is essentially a very large barrette. Usually there's some height to fascinators, created with feathers or netting. Some are big enough that they really do resemble little hats, and one of the great things about fascinators is that they're great for gals on a budget. Millinery is a serious art, and as such, beautiful hats can cost some serious money. Which they should. And this is not to say that people who make fascinators are less artistic or talented than people who make hats, but as a general rule, fascinators are simpler to construct, and require less materials.

There are some truly wonderful hat stores, and indeed, an afternoon spent trying on hats is one I dream about often. One of my favorite shops is one which I rarely visit--only because my willpower is that weak when it comes to hats. I know that, should I cross the threshold of The Hat Shop at 120 Thompson Street in Manhattan, my credit card is as good as maxed. So it's the window for me.

Which is why Etsy is another one of my favorite places to shop for hats. Although I love Etsy and try to do as much of my shopping there as possible, I hate the search function. At this moment, 66,751 results are found when I search for "hat" in "handmade"; a search for "cocktail hat" in the same category yields 769 hits, and the first ones that show up are all headbands. But through many hours of searching and making wish lists, I have found a few stores that I love, among them Noxenlux Chapeaux, Rocking Retro, Bethany Lorelle and Topsy Turvy Design. (I know there must be many, many others...please share your favorites!)

So go. Get a hat. Be it functional or shocking, may it resemble a pancake or a Richard Serra sculpture, find yourself a hat!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

been a bad, bad girl

I know, I know...what good are apologies for my constant disappearances when they seem to keep happening? So, this time I won't offer one, but I did want to pop back up and let you know that everything is okay over here. This blog is still on. Thanks for your comments of concern.

The reasons for the absence may be of little consolation, but they include major home renovations and a move, and a one-month sentence to grand jury duty which has caused innumerable frustrations and many long days. All the while, I'm trying to keep up with the job that pays me, after spending 8-9 hours in a Brooklyn courtroom listening to the horrible things people do to each other. Then there's my volunteer work, and my laptop seems to work only when it feels like it. I am, however, pleased to report that in true pinup-lover form, my man presented a gift to me yesterday of a trip to Mario Badescu for a facial, to help calm me down and do something for myself after the stress of the last month (or two?).

I'm running late, so I have to move on...but I hope to be back in full force soon.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Sorry and (Part One Of) A Story

So, you may have noticed that it's been a while since I've written here...I have lots of reasons, like massive layoffs at work (I was spared, but now have more responsibility), illness, travel and writer's block that probably happened as a result of all of those things. It also happens that I've been a bit remiss in responding to a couple of questions, which sucks because I really like it when you ask me stuff. Please consider this my make-up post, an attempt at an apology for having stayed away too long, and I will now finally give you the attention you deserve.

Q: Do you have any idea where to find a pair of retro lacey gloves? I have this killer outfit, and I *need* gloves to finish the look. --from "Elizabeth"

A: One of the best sites I've found for gloves is GreatGlovesOnline.com. Yes, they have lacey gloves, but they also have dyeables, opera length, fishnet, leather, crochet, silk and pearl gloves, plus lots more. No matter what your budget is, you should be able to find at least one thing here that will work. They also have a million (or so) colors. I've ordered from them, and have been quite happy. And no, they're not paying me to recommend them! You can also take a trip back in time and read my post in June 2008 about gloves here.

Q: I was wondering if, one of these days, you might expound on your own entry into tight-lacing, perhaps including some of the mistakes you made along the way and how you got started? You mentioned false starts - were they a poor choice in the corset you began with? I'm not planning to make a go of it until the summer is over - it's already in the 90s here, so I'm sure it's going to be a hot one. I would really enjoy seeing someone else's journey as they entered this world. --from a private email

A: I remember very well when I announced to my man that I was going to start tight-lacing. I was wearing a backless dress, figuring that my time in them was limited if I'd soon be wearing a corset 24/7, and we were out to a very nice dinner. I swear he almost choked, but I'm pretty sure it was from excitement. Not long after that, we went down to our favorite fetish shop in Chelsea, and I tried on some styles. I had already been in a few, but never with the idea that I would actually wear one out of the dressing room, and it is a totally different mindset. This time, I paid more attention to what kind of shape I wanted--did I like a gentle curve, or a sharp wasp waist? If I was planning to wear it every day, did I really want one with the most exotic colors that would make it difficult to wear under light-colored clothing? Plus, overbusts were out of the picture, since underbusts are best suited to tightlacing, as I had read. I also had to make my tightlacing intentions clear to the salesperson, since not every corset is designed to withstand hours and hours of wear, day after day. (It should be mentioned that there is a great section on tightlacing in William and Gloria Brame's book, Different Loving. Even if you're not interested in corsets, it's a must-read if you want to learn more about the psychology of BDSM in its various forms.)

I decided on a blush-pink corset by a man named Shane Aaron, who used to work at the shop but had since relocated to Las Vegas and was filling custom orders from his studio there. I fell in love with a very light, silky fabric, had my measurements taken, and off went my order. A couple of months later, my corset arrived, and I was elated. I wore it out of the shop, my man's hand in mine, very proud. But then a few days later, the fabric appeared to be thinning. I brought it back to the shop, and it turned out I had confirmed Shane's fear that the corset material was too light for tightlacing. It couldn't stand 23 hours of wear, and couldn't hold up to the friction caused by rubbing against my clothes. The corset was sent back, and in a couple of months I had the exact same model in a more durable pink fabric.

For the first few weeks, I slept in my corset, as I understood this to be the true definition of tightlacing and if I was going to tightlace, then by God I was really going to do it. Eventually, though, I questioned whether sleeping in the corset was really making much of an impact on my shape, and I felt my skin needed some time to breathe. In addition, I thought it might also be good for the corset to rest. Even though the fabric was more durable than what the first corset was made of, it was still fairly light, and I reasoned that rolling around in bed probably wasn't good for the garment. Ultimately I think that sleeping in the corset helped me get used to wearing it, but then the need for that passed, and I felt quite comfortable while laced. (Rather, let's say reasonably comfortable. I don't care what anyone says. Corsets are not 'comfortable' in the strictest sense of the word, no matter how long you've been wearing them.)

More or less, that was Season One. The weather got too warm, and I sweated through the corset so I had to take a break. The perspiration was neither good for my skin or for the corset, as over time, sweat will basically eat the fabric, especially material that is on the delicate side. Which led to my decision for Season Two's corset, but that is another post.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Balle, balle!

Every week for a few months, I've gotten my ass kicked doing Masala Bhangra. You may have heard of it, but in case not, it's a cardio workout based on folk dance in Punjab, India. Recently, a woman named Sarina Jain developed a cardio workout, combining traditional bhangra with Bollywood dance moves, and the result is Masala (spicy) Bhangra. My gym has a class in Masala Bhangra taught by one of Sarina's students, and believe me when I say it is a tough workout. This class is known throughout the gym as "the one that makes you sweat"--my classmates report that the other aerobic dance classes are more like a brisk warmup compared to this.

One of the things that has been very interesting to me about bhangra is that, according to my teacher, the dance was developed for men and not women. As such, it's really not at all graceful like ballet, and it's not sexy like salsa; in fact, we are encouraged to keep our hips as straight as possible. There's lots of hopping and clapping, but there is also a great emphasis on shoulders. I've found this especially great because I carry all my stress in my shoulders, but rarely give them much attention, and it's been helpful to me in developing my burlesque routine (which will be another post entirely).

The most challenging thing for me, besides working up a vat of sweat, has been the importance of right and left. I know, I know…knowing your right from left is important for any dance, not to mention life, but for someone who still makes an 'L' with her hands to figure it out, it's hard. I've never been a dancer, and I guess I never really had to focus on it. But with Masala Bhangra, everything is moving so fast, and you can’t do most of the workout without a strong sense of direction which I have never had. Over the weeks, though, I think it might be coming to me. Every one of us, from the veterans to the newbies, makes mistakes in class, but finally, I'm not the one making the most anymore. Now my challenge is when first-timers try to join in the middle of the class, or even ten minutes after we've started. They're hopelessly lost, and it throws off the rest of the class. Masala Bhangra is a bit like line dancing, where you partly take your cues from the rest of the group--so when someone suddenly stops or turns the wrong way, it can really throw you off.

Because it is a man's dance, Masala Bhangra might seem a little odd to recommend to pin-up fans. But it works wonders for your calves, among other things, and if anything you become more aware of your sensuality in regular life once you've spent some time bottling it up. It's also worth noting that we've only ever had two men try and join the class. Only one has made it to the end of the class, but he hasn't returned since.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pinup Wakeup

Sometimes, people are surprised to learn that I haven't been super-feminine my whole life. Usually this comes up when someone sees me wearing jeans for the first time. Although I do own a couple of pairs of pants, they rarely come out of the dresser, emerging only for things like moving days or an extremely long flight (I hate flying, and tend to contort myself to try and get comfortable, which is difficult in a skirt and a tiny space). But the truth is that I used to wear pants almost exclusively. I've always loved getting dressed up, but pants were my first choice when it came to workaday clothes.

I think a lot of this has to do with my mother's influence. My mom has always been heavy, and her long, nondescript denim or twill skirts are her way of hiding her legs. She owns very little makeup, has kept her hair the same way for as long as I've been alive, and doesn't care for manicures, pedicures or facials. All of her clothing is functional, practical. Growing up, she was my example, and like most parents, tended to dress me and my sisters the same way she dressed herself, usually with very little in the way of frills or accessories. When I wanted to pick out my own clothes to wear and sought guidance about how to know what colors go with each other, she directed me to my older sister. She hedged when I wanted to learn how to shave my legs, and finally taught me only when I came home from camp one summer, having been mercilessly teased for being the only girl there who didn't shave. Not to be too cliché, but my parents never told me I was pretty or complimented anything about my appearance--a habit I may have picked up, with my man now pointing out to me that I never say anything about how he looks.

My resources became magazines like Seventeen, my older sister, my friends and people I saw on the street. To this day, I look at other women for the purpose of picking up style ideas and inspiration. However, let's be honest; I grew up in the Midwestern suburbs where Abercrombie & Fitch and Express were considered high fashion. By the time I graduated high school, I had learned enough about myself to know what looked good on me and what didn't. I was handy with makeup though I didn't wear much of it. My style then was kind of punky, which worked at eighteen. I went to college, studied theatre and joined a sorority, so I had my foot in the doors of both creativity and plastic preppiness, but I was still living in the middle of a prairie so clothes weren't too adventurous. In terms of style, neither were the people. My look grew up, but wasn't anything special.

Then, I moved to New York for graduate school, right after finishing college, and a floodgate was opened. In New York, it's somewhat easy to be anonymous, so if you try something and it doesn't work, no one will remember or notice it. Besides, there's probably someone walking ten steps behind you who is wearing something stranger. Nobody in New York had any ideas or preconceptions about who I was, so I could reinvent myself entirely if I wanted. Being a graduate student, I didn't have a lot of many to spend on clothes, but the freedom itself was exhilarating.

I met my man about six months after I moved to the city. He looked at me with fresh eyes, and could see someone who liked to play with clothes and makeup, but whose girliness remained closeted. He constantly made me feel like the most beautiful person in the room no matter what I was wearing, which gave me the confidence to branch out and adopt the nostalgic pin-up style I had always admired. I learned that being a woman is great, and it's okay to have fun with it. Looking my best suddenly equated with adding beauty to the world, a noble endeavor not only for the people around me but also for myself.

So here I am now, with no holds barred on dressing the way I want. When I was young, I was taught that Elvgren- and Vargas-type paintings were porn, but inside I always loved them and thought they were much more. Finally, I'm having as much fun as the woman with the wind up her skirt, proud to give us a glimpse at what's underneath.
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Pinup Tales by Kitty du Vert is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.