Sunday, December 16, 2007

Stockings by the Fire

It seems the perfect time of year to write about stockings. For most of my readers, it's starting to get chilly, plus there is the added allusion of stockings with Christmas. I'm sure that as in years past my mom will give me another few pairs of shitty socks which will make better cat toys than anything else, but if she were paying closer attention she'd know that what I really want are more stockings. Seamed or not, stockings are essential to completing the look of a classic pin-up, and they don't have to cost a fortune. Keep an eye out for 2-for-1 deals, and take care of them once you've worn them--I store mine in plastic bags so they don't get snagged or stretched by other items in my drawer, and I also wash them by hand. It's a bit of maintenance, but it's well worth it. A good pair of stockings can be almost as transformative as a great pair of shoes. For the uninitiated, here is a glossary of vintage stocking terms. (Note: Since stockings advertised as "stay-ups" rarely do in fact stay up, and because they are bad for circulation, I only wear and recommend stockings that require garters. Garters are another post entirely.)

There are about three different places I patronize when I require new pieces of hosiery, and each has their pros and cons. I can be found most frequently wearing thigh highs by What Katie Did. My favorite thing about stockings by What Katie Did is that they wear like iron. Occasionally they get a little run in the foot or the ankle, where there is the most friction, but I've never had that run extend so far past the foot as to render the stocking unwearable. I'm extremely clumsy, forever tripping over things and getting snagged on something or other, but these stockings are strong to withstand even my best inadvertent slapstick routine. In fact, the only reason I ever have to discard these stockings is because they're odorous and discolored by my shoes after many wearings. The downside of strong stockings is that the material seems to hold everything, and no amount of washing seems to really clean them.

I also buy stockings from time to time at Agent Provocateur. They have a fabulous range of colors and styles so you can find ones suitable for work, evenings and play time. They're also thinner than the stockings from What Katie Did, even when they're the same denier, so if you're not looking for warmth and iron wear, these are great. I tend to reserve these for special occasions when I can be more playful than at the office, in part because they are so fun, but also because they don't wear as well and I'd rather not wear them for 12 hours at a stretch, which I sometimes have to do during the week. They also make that wonderful raspy sound when you rub your legs together--a nice touch when you're crossing your legs in attentive company.

As far as feel is concerned, the best stockings I've worn come from Secrets in Lace. These are so incredibly soft, and when I wear them I feel as though my legs are being kissed in silk (even if the stockings are not actually made from silk). These are the height of luxury, if not durability. They're also made with a keyhole in back, just like in the good old days. While these are definitely not stockings I can wear every day, I love them for big nights.

Now, as much as I might wish that I'll have the time to post again before I'm on the road for Christmas, the reality is that I probably won't. I wish all of you a very happy holiday, and as my gift to you, I'll end with some of my favorite pinups featuring stockings.

Monday, December 10, 2007

At the Table

Yesterday, I took my first trip ever to the Brooklyn Museum of Art. I had heard a lot about this piece on view called The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, and as I headed to the fifth floor to check it out I discovered it was part of a larger exhibit being done by the Museum on feminist art. While some of it I particularly didn't care for, there was a film by Australian Tracey Moffatt that really took me in. In a haunting montage of (mostly) classic Hollywood movies including Breakfast at Tiffany's, Butterfield 8, The Lion in Winter, Sunset Boulevard and others, she shows how women are often portrayed in film: swooning when in love, penitent and fragile when abused both physically and verbally, then driven to the edge of madness and rage. I found her film to be as much a commentary on portrayal of women in media as it is a summation of perhaps too many romances, and I'm really not doing it justice here except to say that it left a mark on me (more on this later). The highlight of the exhibit was the aforementioned Dinner Party, which was in some ways an abstract of pivotal women from prehistory until the 1970s. I learned a lot, was reminded of a lot, and started to wonder about where I myself would fall in the exhibit--or if I'd even be included.

I don't often speak about it, but something that I struggle with on an almost daily basis is my identity as someone with a deep reverie for the past who at once embraces the stereotypes of women before the sexual revolution while also loving the opportunities afforded to me as a woman today that weren't available to my mother, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and beyond. I've been criticized by my mom for wearing a corset--as she points out, women took forever trying to get out of them, and in her view I've taken a step backwards by putting myself back into one.

My struggle is further compounded when I consider my sexual identity as a submissive to my fiance. We play at BDSM--I do enjoy a good spanking, some rope work and a number of other things. As I watched the film by Tracey Moffatt and saw women so easily tolerate being beaten up by their lovers, I wondered, and not for the first time, if maybe I'd taken it too far. My man has a hard time with this, as he fears that I don't really enjoy our play together. This is partly rooted in a bad experience he had a few years ago, but also in the fact that I have a very difficult time identifying myself as someone who enjoys and even needs to be put down and lose all sense of control. As such, I rarely talk about my proclivities, and he takes this sometimes as a sign that I'm faking an enjoyment of our activities even though my body responds in due fashion. I find it oddly freeing when I surrender myself to it, but I'm also quite sensitive with a healthy guilt complex, so it doesn't take too much for me to start hearing critical voices in my head demanding how dare I allow myself to be debased, where are my decisions, don't let any man boss you around, etc.

It's a difficult debate, and one that I know won't give up any time soon--nor do I think it should. I think it's my responsibility to continue to question who and what I am as a means of constant reassessment, but it's frustrating for my man. He worries that I won't be at peace with this part of myself, and I wish I had some kind of definitive answer for him besides that I don't know if that kind of peace is really my goal. My sexual identity is an ongoing dialogue with myself and with him, and I kind of like it that way. My desires and instincts aren't going anywhere, but I enjoy trying to figure them out even if it puts me in a difficult headspace now and then. In the meantime, I believe I'm honoring my heritage because the choices such as how I'll dress, how I'll earn a living or who I'll be with are choices that I make on my own instead of ones that have been made for me by broader societal strictures. I'm not sure if all the women Judy Chicago invited to dinner would agree, but I hope that in my way I still bring something worthwhile to the table.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Function and Form

Occasionally, I get really hung up on shopping for something. Sometimes all I need to do is find the thing, confirm that what I want actually exists, and then I can leave it alone as a fantasy instead of caving with a purchase (as with this bag I adore but haven't bought). Right now, I'm fixated on finding a bathrobe. Having come to the decision that I require more boudoir-wear, I'm looking for something that is both functional and beautiful. My current bathrobe, a pink terry cloth job, has been with me since college and has seen better days. It's got hair dye around the collar, makeup on the cuffs--I've treated it like a towel because that's exactly what it is. It's not an item of luxury deserving of tender care, but instead it's the sort of thing I threw on when I was hungover and the nice warm blanket on the couch was taken.

Even though I live with my man, and have lived with him for quite some time, I still want to impress him and look nice for him, so strolling through the apartment in a gorgeous plush robe is desirable. For myself, I enjoy feeling sexy and glamorous even when he's not there, so some beautiful lounge wear is always in order. However, I am stuck because everything I see is so full of purpose and lacking of beauty. The fleece and terry ones feel fairly comfy but are terribly plain and ugly. On the other end, I've seen a lot of pretty satin and silk ones but they just aren't very warm, and I'm generally prone to a chill no matter where I am.

The thing about the bathrobe hunt is that it's gotten me thinking about design that's merely functional. Why can't something be practical and beautiful at the same time? Take shoes, for example--why does it have to be so hard to find high-heeled shoes that are comfortable? One would think that with all of the feats of modern engineering and science, someone would have designed a six-inch stiletto that doesn't make my feet bleed after ten blocks. By no means is a painless pump as important as a cure for cancer, but since there's surely plenty of money to be made in designing such a heavenly shoe, it's a wonder we don't have it yet.

With that, I would like to open this up to all of you who may be reading this. If you have found something that is full of beauty, glamor and even an ounce of practicality, I want to hear about it. If we all put our heads together, surely we can come up with an incredible wish list, and just in time for the holidays.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Mother

Apologies to you, dear reader, for having gone so long without posting. I have been on the road making the annual holiday visit with my man's family, and while on the road came down with bronchitis. I write to you now from my cave of recovery--toast, hot tea, old movies, and knitting projects that should have been completed long ago.

During our visit last week with his mother, she asked if we could help her pick out a dress to wear to a wedding she'll be attending in the spring. The wedding takes place a few hours away from where we live, and she wasn't sure what to expect from weddings in our neck of the country (which is vastly different from hers). My man and I stationed ourselves in her living room, and she brought out a few candidates, nearly all of them intact with yellowing price tags. The first was a sleeveless white tunic with a pattern of pastel flowers in velour. "Maybe something warmer," I said. "It's still a little chilly in ----- during the spring. Plan for weather like what you'd have in March." I didn't even mention the first cardinal rule of dressing for a wedding, which is that NOBODY wears white (or any shade of white) except the bride.

The next was a long black taffeta dress with one shoulder and white ruffles at the top. "It's lovely," I grimaced, "but it sounds like a small country wedding. Perhaps if it was in the city." Her face dropped a little as she said, "Oh--so probably not this one either?" She flourished a hanger with a fire-engine red knee-length dress, also made of taffeta, also one shouldered. I looked at it and thought of little Havana, not an airy northern retreat at the edge of a forest. "No," I answered, "probably not." It would have been funny if she weren't so serious.

She finally pulled out a long black skirt tastefully adorned with tiny white flowers, and a simple long-sleeved white blouse that tied on the side.

"Perfect," said my man.

"Perfect," I said. "That will be great for the weather, and it's not too formal."

"Great," she smiled. "And for shoes, I have these teeny little black strappy sandals!"

The thing that struck me so much about this exchange was what I saw she was trying to prove. Here she was trying to show us she can be beautiful and glamorous, when really she was demonstrating how thoroughly clueless she is when it comes to dressing herself. As I saw from pictures of her in her younger years, she was once a great living pinup herself, but now she wears all the signs of a woman who has let herself go and is now trying desperately to paint over it. You don't have to look too closely to see that she's simply trying too hard, but so many years of personal neglect require more help than what can be purchased in the cosmetics aisle of a drugstore. There is nothing classic in her level of artificiality because it stinks with a lack of confidence and a refusal to look oneself squarely in the mirror. It's one thing to recapture the glamor of yesterday, but quite another to recapture the person you used to be. The first can be done, but the second shouldn't even be attempted.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tighten Up, Part II: Your First Corset

It's important for every pinup to feel confident and sexy, and achieving a perfectly hourglass-shaped silhouette just isn't possible for most of us without at least a little help. This is where your corset comes in, and while buying your first one can be a little intimidating, if you do your homework, you're in for a load of fun.

The first question you should ask yourself is, what do you want from this contraption? You have to know this, since the decisions surrounding your first corset should have mostly to do with the kind of tightlacing you plan on doing. When I made the decision to purchase a corset, it was made with the intention of wearing the corset for 23 hours a day and seven days a week--meaning the only time I took it off was when I showered, and so 23 hours a day is generous. I wore it all day every day and even slept in it (though I did loosen it a bit for bedtime). With this in mind, I purchased a light pink satin underbust corset from Shane Aaron, figuring I could wear the light-colored garment under my light-colored clothing. There were two issues with my first corset, with the first being that satin is not the most durable fabric. Since your corset rubs against your clothing with every move you make, you need a fabric that will withstand the friction which, over time, can cause considerable damage to the corset. Once I figured this out, I decided to wear my corset only under clothes that fit fairly loosely so as to minimize damage to the garment.

The second thing to keep in mind is the kind of look and
styling you want. Underbust designs are generally recommended for every day wear as they'll cinch your waist but they allow a little more movement in your upper body than an overbust design. There are also varying lengths of corsets, from what looks like a very wide belt (often referred to simply as a waist cincher) to full-length dresses that run from your shoulder to your knees. And there's everything in between--low hip, high hip, long busk, short busk...there are just about as many corset types as there are body types. The length and shape you choose all depends on what fits you and your needs. Just as there are many corset shapes, corsets also come in a plethora of materials, including satin, silk, cotton, wool, leather, latex and more. Whatever kind of fabric you choose, however, you should wear a corset liner between your corset and your skin. This will help protect your skin from chafing, and will help extend the life of the corset by shielding it from sweat and body oils.

When buying a corset, you also need to pay close attention to who made it. Make no mistake that corsetieres are artists. As such, every corset designer makes his or her corsets a little differently, so it's important to try on one of their corsets before you take the step of buying one. If you buy a custom job, try one on from the rack first. I've ordered corsets online with success (try Lace Embrace) but I wouldn't recommend an online purchase for your first corset. Most shops that sell corsets can also submit custom orders for you. Stop in, try on a bunch of different things, and have them take the necessary measurements. Some corsetieres may even make a muslin mock-up first for you to try on before they craft the real thing.

Another thing to note for when you first try on corsets is that the given size of the corset is the size the corset makes your waist when the corset is closed. You don't want your corset to close entirely--there should be a little gap. Measure your natural waist, then look for a corset that, when closed, is about four inches smaller than your natural waist. For example: My natural waist is about 26 inches. Most of my corsets are 22 inches when closed, and my corseted waist is 22.5 inches.

Eventually, you'll own a variety of corsets which you'll use in a variety of situations. My favorite daily corset is entirely lacking in glamour. It's a nude-colored twill underbust model made by Amy Crowder of Wasp Creations, but the beauty of it is that I can wear it under anything. With exception to the shape it provides, it's entirely unattractive only because it's so heavily worn and it wasn't constructed to be aesthetically pleasing in and of itself. It's useful, but it isn't what I wear if I want to make an impression on my man. In that case, I wear something in a more tantalizing brocade, maybe with some more elaborate detailing or in an offbeat design (I have one that looks like a tuxedo jacket). I tend to save the creative pieces when I know they will be appreciated, but I still certainly wear them as my own little secret whenever I can.

Ideally you can own at least one utility corset and another for "special occasions." It will take you some time to collect a respectable collection of corsets, since after all they are expensive (expect to pay between $250-350 for a basic corset). Not to get too mushy, but just remember that all things worth doing take some time. Whether you call it waist training, corset training, staylacing, tightlacing or anything else, taking the time and making the effort to cut the figure you want is absolutely worth it.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Tighten Up, Part I

Without a doubt, the part of my physical appearance that draws the most attention is my corset. Sometimes the attention is positive, sometimes it isn't--comments run the gamut of, "Why on earth would you do that to yourself?", to "That's incredible. Sign me up." (Or something roughly equivalent.)

I've been lacing now for about three years. There were a couple of false starts due to corset craftsmanship, but once I got going, I was hooked. From the first time I stood in the fetish shop dressing room with my man looking on as I saw my body swathed in brocade and boning, I knew this was for me. Finally, I could cut the figure I always wanted, but which no number of sit-ups could achieve. I did my research--as a bookworm, I can't do anything without first consulting the written word--but no amount of reading could have prepared me for what lay ahead in my future of living corseted.

The first thing I learned was that as long as I was laced, I could not continue to eat the way I had been eating for years. As a member of the Clean Plate Club since childhood, my worst habit carried into adulthood has been my propensity to eat everything put in front of me, but since wearing a corset I've learned the art of moderation. I can still eat whatever I want, I just can't finish the mammoth bowl of tortellini placed in front of me at an Italian restaurant. I can't have too much salt (even sushi is too much), and I can't have too much beer, nor can I down too many beloved champagne cocktails. It's all about portions, really, and tightlacing taught me how to do it.

(Perhaps this would be a good time to point out to anyone who may be considering tightlacing that a corset is NOT a weight loss tool. When you take off the corset, your waistline will go back to being whatever size it was before you tied your laces. I can't stress enough how important it is to understand that one should not start tightlacing for the sole purpose of losing weight.)

Tightlacing has also taught me proper posture. My mother spent years trying to get me to sit up straight, but the corset has proved a far better teacher. I walk tall, with confidence, and like any proper lady I don't bend at the waist but instead fold at the knees if I need to reach the ground.

Wearing a corset also completely changed my wardrobe. I don't wear pants, as 1) they don't work with corsets, 2) I don't know any woman who looks better in pants than she does in a skirt or dress. My clothes fit smoothly on my body, giving the appearance in some outfits that my clothes have been tailored to me when in fact they've been purchased off the rack.

The benefits and complexities of tightlacing can scarcely be summed up in one post--I haven't even touched on the satisfaction of discipline and restraint enjoyed by both myself and my man--nor is one writing sufficient to discuss the reactions to my waist from my family, my coworkers, my friends, or random people on the street, not to mention my responses to their reactions. The issues of tightlacing in a modern world are many, especially in a world where corsets are widely perceived as devices of torture created ultimately for the viewing pleasure of the male public.

Know, though, that I will return to this subject. I've only barely pierced the surface of an abyss of satins, silks and stays.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A Bid for Halloween Every Day (with taste)

It's an unfortunate thing that I work in a mall. More precisely, my office is located in a mall, and although there are many reasons why this is such a bad thing, one of them happens to be the state of the mall at this time of year. I imagine it's the same for most shopping malls now, where almost every teen clothing store sections off a part of their shop to outfit young ladies for Sluts on Parade--I mean, Halloween.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all about costumes. It's fun to get dressed up, and be someone else for a bit. By the end of it, you've usually learned something new about yourself, and so it can be a truly enriching experience. What fascinates me about Halloween is how so many girls choose to dress as something sexy. When given the chance to be anyone for one night, when given the chance to be held even a little unaccountable for your actions because you were playing a part, most women gravitate towards an overt expression of super-charged sexuality. Factor in that the typical male Halloween costume centers on juvenile humor or gore (or both), and it's an interesting way to guess at who we wish we could be in a world with no consequences.

What's wrong with being sexy on a regular basis? Most of the girls I see on Halloween don't even wear their sexiness well, as they seem to have little idea of how to maximize their assets and dress for their shape. (See ass-baring jeans, tummy rolls breaking out of midriff shirts, birth canals made visible by mini-skirts.) I wonder if this idea that sexy = maximum skin display has something to do with a lack of practice, and perhaps that is why so many women come off looking more like a foal learning to walk instead of a confident tigress who knows what she wants.

(Another great post on Halloween and sex can be found on Chelsea Girl's blog, linked from my naughty drawer. Check out Dispatches from Strip Nation, Part I, Halloween.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

On Cosmetics and Skincare Products

You've probably heard many times about how your face is like an artist's blank canvas, and really it's true. Despite their talent, Hedy Lamarr, Clara Bow and Lana Turner might not have gotten far if they hadn't put their best face forward. A well-done face is arguably the most important part of being a pinup, and so without further ado, these are a few of my favorite things.

(Disclaimer. I am not getting paid to recommend any products or any company. If that ever changes, you'll know about it, but for now, you're going to have to trust me that my check is NOT in the mail. Though by this point it should be.)


Healthy skin is the base for any well made-up face, and it's also key to a sense of confidence--which, as anyone will tell you, is a major factor in sex appeal (not to mention general happiness). I have not been blessed with naturally beautiful skin--mine is dry, extremely fair, burns easily, breaks out easily--but my best friend in getting it into shape has been Mario Badescu. At first the number of products they have may be intimidating, but the staff is very knowledgeable and helpful both in person and on the phone. The first time I looked I thought Mario Badescu was terribly expensive, but compare their cost to what you'll find in drugstores and at department store makeup counters, and you'll find that ounce for ounce, Mario Badescu is almost always the best deal. Not only do Mario Badescu products actually work, but they're also never tested on animals.

Even so, possibly the best thing you can do for your skin is to stay out of the sun. You should also quit smoking.


My favorite lipstick comes from Besame Cosmetics. The thing that sets their lipstick apart is the richness of the color and the smoothness. Their cherry red lipstick looks good on pretty much anyone looking for a knockout red, and the red velvet shade is subtle enough for the office but still alluring. Their eyeshadows are also a favorite. I particularly love Besame's vanity case, which is basically an entire makeup kit in one gold compact for only $75--you won't need anything else. However, for some unknown reason, the vanity cases have been discontinued and the last ones can only be bought online. Customer service tells me they're coming up with something similar in time for the holidays, though I've yet to see it.

In other odds and ends, I like the play sticks by Benefit Cosmetics as my foundation, which go from a lovely cream-to-powder finish. Translucent powder is essential to the matte look of a classic glamour girl, and I recommend Clinique in this case. A generous package of 1.2 ounces for $18.50 also gives you a fresh brush. I'm not a particular devotee of any mascara, but my black liquid eyeliner comes from Sephora. It stays put and it's only $10, rivalling most drugstore eyeliners which don't hold nearly as well. Finally, all good things must come to an end, and for that Sephora also makes a simple, inexpensive and remarkably quick eye makeup remover.

Techniques are an entirely different post, but in the meantime, take a look at some of my links. I also recommend Dita Von Teese's book, Burlesque and the Art of the Teese/Fetish and the Art of the Teese. She breaks everything down decade by decade, so whether you want Clara Bow or Betty Grable, you're set.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Getting into it

I had been wearing a corset regularly for quite some time when my mom said to me, "Do you know how long women fought to get out of those things?" After a moment I replied, "Do you know how long I've fought to get into one of these things?"

I've been interested in tightlacing at least since I saw Hattie McDaniel tighten up Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind. Beyond that, I've always admired the classic pinup styles of women like those painted by Gil Elvgren and used nowadays as humor by Anne Taintor . Their allure and coy, (sometimes) innocent faces have never failed to inspire me and inform my sense of style. Not only that, classic pinups timeless, defying fads and trends that are in one year and out the next. In the many conversations I've had with others about pinups, beauty and the definition of sexy, not one person of any age (or gender) has been able to claim that a Vargas girl does nothing for them.

As I became more and more immersed in emulating classic pinups, sexiness became more about hinting that I might have a secret, and if you happen to be around at the right time, I might give you a peek. Classic pinup style has nothing to do with your ass hanging out of your shorts, but has more to do with the sprinkler that just blew up your skirt. What's a girl to do? Gather everything she's learned about classic pinup style and put it in one spot.
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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.