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.
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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.