Monday, March 28, 2016


Garbo Hat. Utah, 2016
If aliens landed at the base of this ski slope and saw the goggle-wearing crowd they'd have the impression humans are creatures with grey protruding eyes almost like houseflies. When the skiers take a break to refuel, removing their skis, they clomp in bulky ski boots to the nearby bar or restaurant.

I wish you could see what I saw. (I wasn't carrying a phone/camera. Drat.)

I was approaching the path to the restaurant when I saw emerge from the slope a figure that stood out to an extreme. Against the snowy white background dotted with skiers of all ages dressed in vibrant shades of magenta, pink, orange and blue and the occasional more subdued black or white ski pant, there appeared the silhouette of a man in somber grey and black, his body wide and round. He was pulling a large white plastic rectangular box twice the bulk of a full size cooler, hauling it behind him with a rope as though it were a child’s sled with heavy passengers. On the snowy terrain he was not wearing boots, but nondescript grey rubber soled work shoes. In contrast to the skiers and snowboarders gliding past, his steps were slow and deliberate. It looked as though he was wearing a black calf-length kurta over grey pants. Here was an anomaly.

He neared the bottom of the slope where I stood. The rope with which he was dragging the cooler was in fact made of clear packing tape. It had been wrapped multiple times around the belly of the container to seal it, then extended to form a long loop to use as a tow line. (How far he had been pulling it? He couldn't have walked from the top of the mountain; the evidently heavy plastic cooler would have pulled him down any steeper incline. I wondered where he had come from.)

I had rented a ski jacket in which I felt entirely conspicuous although I probably blended into the crowd better than earlier in the day when I wore a dove grey ten gallon hat, a long floral dress and overcoat. That attire, however, is more natural to me. While I love being outdoors in winter, I find Jello colored ski clothing even in muted tones, disorienting to wear--disorienting not from my surroundings but from myself. Because of this I watched him with curiosity as he descended the slope. He looked as alien on the slope as I felt in the electric raspberry ski jacket.

Up close I saw he was wearing a kitchen apron, not a kurta. It was faded from black to charcoal grey, splotched and grimy. It wasn’t a waiter’s crisply starched apron but that of a cook or dishwasher. An acrylic yarn knitted hat with a wide stripe of blue, orange and white (a sports fan’s team colors) was practically perched on the top of his head. It reached only to the top of his ears, stretched and pulled down slightly as though it were made for a child and straining to fit an adult size head.

As our paths crossed, I smiled and inquired about the load he was hauling. He explained the container held dishes he was transporting from a restaurant in which he worked, located higher up the ski slope. His name was Euro, “like the money.” He was from Venezuela where he had worked in oil fields as a supervisor. When he came to the US he worked as a laborer on oil fields and now had a position in a kitchen.

I am engaging in conversations about dress and style while working on a book. As we spoke, Euro quoted an expression I'd heard earlier that day. The first person who used it was a fellow in his twenties who, when I asked about the clothing he liked to wear, said in French, "L'habit ne fait pas le moine." Euro recited it English then repeated the phrase in Spanish: "The froth doesn’t make the monk,” he said. (I was momentarily baffled: froth? I realized he meant “frock” or “habit”.)

When he was growing up Euro’s family went to church every week. He had to dress formally for the occasion. One day, when he was about eleven years old, he determined to go to church in comfortable clothing. His father objected when he saw what Euro was wearing.

Defending his choice, Euro proudly proclaimed,  “El hábito non hace al monje!” (The frock doesn’t make the monk.)

His father’s rejoinder? “Pero lo indentifica.” (But it identifies him.)

Euro smiled telling me this story. I wanted to know more. “So what did you end up wearing to church?” I asked.

As though seeing it in his mind’s eye he said with humor and resignation, “A black tie. A white collared shirt. Black pants and dress shoes.”

I laughed. “Your father won!”

The habit doesn't make the monk. In English the expression is, "the clothing doesn’t make the man." Yet attire matters. It is a signal to the outer world and/or a reflection of one’s sense of self. It is the eighth year of making all that I wear--of not buying clothing. At this juncture many of the clothes I have [made] belong to a former expression of myself. Seven years is the point when a sabbatical is declared. What would a sabbatical from this project, Slow Style, look like?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

How to Promote Buying a Jacket...Using Fuzzy Logic

O, The Oprah Magazine (March, 2016) p64
This page from the March 2016 issue of Oprah Magazine features a leather jacket with a retail price of $995. The copy surrounding it touts the jacket as a stylish and economical purchase. The mathematics offered to support that assertion are as dubious as a budget presented as part of a presidential campaign.

First the soft sell:
"...a wardrobe staple."
"'s a go-to piece you can wear for years."  
"'re sure to make it your springtime standby."

 Here the effort to portray the jacket as economical gets fuzzy:

Cost per wear... $6.38 for one year, $2.13 for three years and a mere $1.28 for five years. At the bottom of the chart is the qualifier: "Assuming you wear the jacket three times per week." That's an important detail in those calculations!

Let's unravel this assertion:
  • Though described as a "springtime standby," to meet O Magazine's calculations the jacket must be worn a total of 156 days each year. Leather isn't easy to clean and that's a lot of wear for a light hued jacket. (It is also available in "iron and black" according to the description.) The March issue of the magazine is titled, "Make Room for a New You". Would you tire of the jacket before wearing it 780 times in five years? Would it continue to suit your style and look fashionable? Do you mind if there's a chance you'll be known as, "--------- who always wears that leather jacket"?
  • Unless you've a unique relationship with the vendor who has placed a cash box in your closet into which you can deposit $6.38 whenever you take the jacket off the hanger, purchasing it requires paying in full or buying it on credit. Choose the later option and wear the jacket three times per week for a year, putting aside $6.38 on each of those occasions you will pay $76.56 per month to the credit card company. Assuming the interest on the credit card is 15% (the average rate in 2015 according to US News & World Report) it will take thirteen and a half months to pay for the jacket. It will have cost $1092.
There's a slightly "subprime mortgage" echo here. The jacket never costs $1.28 per wear. It costs $995. Then if you wear it a lot, or if you attract the love of your life or get hired because you feel confident wearing it...that's fantastic. Those are actual benefits to dressing well. Whether it looks wonderful on you and fits your lifestyle and budget are the questions to consider.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Wear Pajamas Everywhere

Pajamas and nightcap (+ hand-me-down bathrobe) 
Photo: Robert Lucy, 2016
Early in the morning at the local café am wearing flannel pajama pants with a band of trim at the cuff, a linen nightgown cut in the style of an 18th century shift under a hand-me-down plaid bathrobe from my father. The fleece nightcap is indispensable on frozen winter nights (or in this case, mornings). Robert Lucy came along to photograph. The usually indifferent gal behind the counter was very attentive. Was it the presence of a photographer? The steam heat and the espresso machine's hissing output cause heavy condensation to form and glisten on the café's large paned windows. On a frigid morning we are like hothouse flowers. It could hardly be more inviting.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Digital and Analog: Making a Website and a Tee

Wool Fedora, Cotton Ribbed Tee,
Stretch Wool Leggings, Fleece Scarf
Photo: Robert Lucy, 2016
Have been building a website to encompass the entirety of this project. (View it here.) Working on the website took me away from sewing for awhile. Returning to the sewing machine recently to make a tee shirt brought such a harmonious, buoyant feeling.

The left brain/right brain dichotomy is a useful way to consider the pleasure of making. If the right hemisphere of the brain pertains to creativity and the left to logic, the process of making--sewing, carpentry, etc.--engages both hemispheres. No amount of writing, collecting and organizing photos to build a website activates the psyche as sewing does.

Making is nourishing.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Looking at Belts: A New Video!

What materials are used to make a belt? Consider how your hands can learn to distinguish between types of materials. Here's a new video in the Conscientious Consumer series:

Friday, November 13, 2015

We Evolve

Linen Nightgown,Handmade Bedding
 Photo: Robert Lucy, 2015
Throughout the summer I had the dreary sensation of being dressed at odds with who I am or am becoming. We evolve. It was demoralizing to wear clothing from the past. As a snake grows it sheds its skin. So do we sometimes shed the familiar as we evolve.

In late August I designed a pair of wide leg pants and a sleeveless top. Rather than draft a pattern or use a dress form, I draped the top directly upon my body. The way the back and front of the top meet at the shoulders and the pants wrap around the waist subtly break with convention. All summer long I'd thought "If you were to look at me in these clothes you'd not be seeing me." Now the reflection in the mirror was gratifying. This ensemble was authentically me and reinvigorating.

A few articles of clothing have retained their appeal. A green camouflage jacket purchased long, long ago has softened through years of wear. As beloved as a child's teddy bear it’s as right as ever. A nightgown, one of the first garments I sewed, made out of sumptuously smooth, crisp white cotton poplin, became something I loved to put on at the end of a day. Eventually it frayed at the seams perhaps more from laundering than wear. (Drat spindle washing machines.) It was ready to be retired. 

Would make another! Using a linen sheet too lovely to discard but worn thin in the center, cut the front, back, sleeves and yoke pieces. Echoing the original this one may be even better. Linen almost hovers over the skin like a cocoon. It is perfectly tranquil for bedtime. Always want to linger in this nightgown when morning comes. Wondered about throwing on a coat without changing into daytime clothing to walk to the newsstand… Let’s be honest. Have done it. Early one recent very chilly morning met a friend for tea before work. I confessed to having put a sweater on over my pajama top to meet her. She laughed. She had zipped a jacket over hers!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Made By the Light of the Sun

Multi-Tiered Dress for the 4th of July, 2015
Photo: Robert Lucy
When engaged in a project full of invention and discovery I continue to work as evening falls, until the studio darkens and neither lamplight nor overhead lighting are sufficient. (None rival daylight.) Then put the project respectfully aside eager for sunlight's return bringing with it the opportunity to recommence the process.

Have had to coax myself from the studio on many occasions like a parent reasoning with a child who is still romping about on the playground at dusk. The child wants to linger. "We can come back tomorrow," the parent reassures her. Frequently I've tidied up the studio at night with the same promise to myself: you can come back tomorrow!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Super Power

On a train traveling from the Hudson Valley to Grand Central station today Superman came on board in the form of an 8 year old boy. He was wearing a red Superman cape made of silk-like material, light enough to ripple behind him. It shimmered. Beneath the cape his blue tee with the Superman insignia left no doubt as to his identity. His eyeglass frames were vivid Superman-blue, his face deep brown. He looked terrific. Superman boarded the train with his mother.

Having found a seat on the train I kept thinking about Superman. I walked back to where he was seated. With upraised eyebrows I checked for his mother’s consent.  Receiving it I directed my attention to the boy, “I really like how you’re dressed. May I ask you something? Are you dressed like Superman for a special occasion? Or do you sometimes wear Superman clothes?”

His manner was gentle. Looking directly at me he explained, some days he dresses like Superman. Sometimes he dresses like Michael Jackson. He gave the impression there were other costumes. I wanted to know more. But since he was glancing at a game on the electronic tablet in his hands I left it at that. 

Turning to head back to my seat I noticed the pink tee shirt his mother was wearing. It was emblazoned with an “S” Superman insignia/shield on the front. “You’re wearing a Superman shirt too!” I observed.

She pointed to the baby carriage in the aisle by her side where her daughter lay sleeping. “She was too. Before she got spaghetti on it. The whole family.”

Today I met Superman and his family.

Have been thinking a lot about dressing as a form of empowerment. This was kismet.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Looking at Hats--A New Video!

What goes into making a hat? What do the details reveal about its quality? A lot!
Here's new video in the Conscientious Consumer series. (Such a delight to make these.)

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Slow Style Retrospective

From Hats to Underwear, An Artist Makes Everything She Wears

On June 27th I spoke before an audience about my slow style project. It was an opportunity to discuss the motivations behind the endeavor, the materials and methods, influences and aspirations and some of the discoveries made along the way.

Mid-summer, mid-rainstorm I was geared up to welcome an audience of five people. It was standing room only--a happy surprise!

(Note: Items on the shelves are works by other artists, part of the gallery's exhibit.)