Thursday, June 26, 2008

Carrie, Closets and Curmudgeons

I was reading my New Yorker this morning, and had a bit of a revelation while reading, of all things, a letter to the editor. It was regarding Anthony Lane's recent review of the Sex and the City movie, and the part that got me was when the writer responded to Lane's disgust that women should react so strongly to the part when Big builds Carrie a closet from heaven. The letter's writer, Annabeth Bondor-Stone, says, "Am I an unrepentant materialist if I smiled when Carrie got a big closet? Can't I harmlessly indulge in fantasies of traditional femininity while the predominantly male audience next door drools over candy-colored cars?"
Exactly! The thing that wears me down during a lot of discussions about Sex and the City is that people seem to take it so seriously, when really it's like an action movie for women. Every woman I know will readily admit to an awareness that the movie is pure fantasy, and not possible for the vast majority of women in New York or elsewhere--those of us who live here and pay ridiculous rent for a shoebox knows firsthand that there's no way Carrie can live alone in that apartment on a freelance writer's salary, never mind maintain a closet full of Manolo Blahniks and Christian Dior. At the same time, however, I don't know of any men (smart ones, anyway) who walk out of a movie like The Fast and The Furious and fully believe that the lifestyle of drag-racing with scantily-clad lustful women could or should be theirs. I feel pretty comfortable when I say that most action movies are not scrutinized for their cinematic value nearly as closely as Sex and the City has been, even though in many ways they live on two sides of the same coin.
Over the last few weeks, my man and I have spoken often of Sex and the City. He didn't come with me to see the movie, and hasn't even seen one full episode of the show. He's pretty sure that he's seen all he needs to see to get it, a statement with which I disagree. In many ways, it's not his fault. He's not a woman, so he can never truly understand what happens in female friendships either in a group or on a one-on-one basis. It's also not his fault that the show is in lots of ways mistitled, as it isn't really about sex.
It's about friendship, support and growth shared between women--and yes, it makes you want to max out your credit cards so that you can have as much fun getting dressed in the morning as each one of the girls does. But can you blame us? Clothes and fashion are forms of self-expression, shaping how we are presented to and received by the people in our world. Most people don't want to be dull and boring, but it so happens that the pieces which are the most exciting also cost the most money. Patricia Field is an incredibly talented designer, but of all her successes perhaps her greatest is that she makes it all look so fun and playful. That sense of lightheartedness is refreshing in life and in any other escapist movie. The next time I hear someone coming down on Sex and the City as though it were trying to be the next Lawrence of Arabia, I intend to ask firmly but politely that they remove the stick up their ass.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Two great news items popped up today, both in the New York Times:
The first is that the July issue of Italian Vogue will use exclusively black models, all photographed by the venerable Stephen Meisel. This makes me very excited. If I haven't written much here about racial diversity in pinup art of the 1940s and 1950s, it's because there isn't much to write about. In all my browsing of Vargas, Frahm and Elvgren, I don't recall having ever seen a woman who was anything but white (the exception is that you can find some suggesting the women are from or visiting Mexico or South America). I can't blame the artists; their editors wanted them to make money and probably didn't think black pinups would sell very well. PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong on this, but meanwhile, here's to more diversity in contemporary mainstream pinup icons and inspirations.

The second is a short post by Elizabeth Spiridakis on her blog with the Times regarding this photo released of Amy Winehouse cleaning house, beehive and all. Winehouse is commended for maintaining her look even while performing mundane tasks, and this is probably something I should try to do myself. She's fortunate--or smart?--that her look isn't polished; it's bedraggled and messy, so it's not terribly difficult to conjure during a drug bust or a late-night romp through London. My problem is that my look is fairly polished, but I'm inherently lazy and can't muster the energy to put on makeup and dress nicely if I'm just hanging around the house. I'm sure my man would appreciate it if I did more. Perhaps that will be my resolution...starting next week.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Favorite Things Roundup for June

Starting now, I'm going to try devoting one post every month to things I like. A lot of times I find myself admiring something, and I want to write about it but it's just not enough for an entire post. And, I would hate to subject you to endless and sporadic endorsements for products that I enjoy (but, I repeat, am NOT getting paid to plug), and so this way you can easily avoid them if you like.

Now, let's get started:

1. The print ads for Weeds and Secret Diary of a Call Girl

There aren't many ads that I actually want to look at, but this duo does it. I've even positioned myself near them on the subway platform so I can look more closely at them, and wonder why they're not up in the subway stations I use most frequently. It should be noted that I have never seen one episode of either show. I don't have Showtime, and my Netflix queue is too long as it is. But, I can still admire the polka dot bathing suit on Mary-Louise Parker and her lovely (if out of place) sequined green heels. I'm not as familiar with the other actress and don't care for the dress she wears in the martini glass, but the overall effect is still good enough for me. This is also a good time for me to recommend this very fun blog for more adventures in pin-up advertising.
I got this because they discontinued the color liner that I usually wore, but didn't have especially high hopes because I was pissed about my favorite liner being newly extinct. It's a nude liner so it doesn't do much for adding depth to your lip color, but wow--my lipstick does last longer and stay in place better. Another plus is that since it's nude, you can wear it with any lip color you have. For a girl on a budget like me, versatility is key.
Beautiful shoes. Elegant styles. Go.

4. Parasols

I've mentioned before that one of the best things you can do for your skin is stay out of the sun.
A pretty parasol probably won't make the difference between skin that is sunburned and blistery versus skin that is soft and smooth, but it adds an element of style that suntan lotion cannot. Plus, suntan lotion doesn't protect your hair color, which fades faster with increased sun exposure. Perhaps equally eye-catching and just as effective for sun protection is a hat with an extra-wide brim. However, the laws of desire being what they are, I already have such a hat, and so it doesn't make the list this month.

Maybe next time.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Tribute to the Million Dollar Mermaid

The first time I heard of Esther Williams was in Pretty Woman, when Kit tells a rival, turf-crossing prostitute on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to go back "...down to Esther Williams, where you belong!" It was not the best introduction for me.
A far better introduction was in Ziegfeld Follies, when I saw Esther perform one of her water ballets for which she was so famous back in the 1940s and 1950s. Her hair was perfect, her makeup was perfect, even when wet! Whenever I go swimming, my mascara runs down my cheeks and my hair is a tangle of knots. I had to learn more about this lady.

As I said, she was most famous for her water ballets, and the 'aqua musical' subgenre created for her by MGM remains her legacy. She was not the most talented actress, but she was still fun to watch with her light heart, bright smile and statuesque poise. Were it not for her talents as a swimmer, her beauty and her charm, she would have been a one-hit wonder. Instead she had over ten years in the movie business, then finally retired in the 1960s after trying some dramatic roles which were largely unacclaimed. She is the original bathing
beauty pin-up, not only because she looked good in a bathing suit, but because she demonstrated the free spirit, athleticism and confidence that makes any beach bunny attractive. There is a large group of women (and men) in the history of show business whose careers have hinged upon their looks. To say that Esther Williams is not one of them is not to insult her appearance, but to praise her work and talents.

I'm still working on watching more of her movies. She made quite a few, so it will probably take me at least the better part of the summer. Meanwhile, in addition to seeing her water ballets and admiring her winning pin-up style which I hope to emulate in daily life, I'm looking forward to spending some more time in my Esther Williams bathing suit. That's right--she now designs bathing suits, all with the vintage flair I so adore. I've gotten more compliments and comments on my one-piece from her than I have on any bikini, and can't recommend her suits highly enough. The next time you're poolside or at the beach, do a favor for yourself and the folks around you by channelling the spirit of the Million Dollar Mermaid.

Monday, June 2, 2008

With Gloves On

One accessory that almost always gets pushed to the back of the closet in warmer weather is the glove. Sure, they hide your manicure and any rings you might be wearing, but they add a touch of classic elegance to any aspiring pin-up.

Once upon a mandate, gloves were a mandate of ladies etiquette. Take a look at the ladies in just about any Hitchcock movie (for example, Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief) and you'll probably find that each of them wear gloves at some point in the film--and not because it's cold. According to Barbara Leaming's biography of Marilyn Monroe, when announcing her divorce to Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn fretted over whether to hold her gloves in her hand or to wear them. Nowadays, many brides still wear gloves as part of their ensemble, and I need not mention that gloves are still a part of many burlesque acts.

I find gloves alluring because they cover a part of my body that almost anyone can touch. We come into contact with other people's hands so often that putting a barrier between them makes us sit up to take notice. Gloves communicate untouchability, modesty and innocence, which is part of what makes them so sexy. Even if the gloves in question are sheer or lacey, there's still a thin veil stretched over your hands, and that's enticing for exactly the same reason that sheer and lacey lingerie can be so hard to resist.

They aren't generally practical in the summer--although they can help dry up a sweaty palm and offer mild protection from germs--but that's not a good enough reason to take off the gloves. Like so many other elements of fashion, gloves aren't always about utility (though these are an exception). They're about adding style and beauty to the world.

And, another piece of good news is that gloves need not be a terribly expensive accessory. Those that are pricey are surely wonderful--such as these, which I received as a holiday gift from my sweetheart--but you can almost always find perfectly suitable gloves at your local thrift or vintage store, and I hope you don't require me to tell you about the bottomless well that is ebay. In short, you've got no excuse for going gloveless, so get out there and pretty your paws for your public.
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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.