Because I never claimed that all of my interests were practical.
- Here is an illustrated history of women’s fashion (for wealthy Western women). It’s a neat collection of fashion plates and sewing patterns from 1784 to 1970, and tells you a lot about the popularity of different silhouettes/colors over that time.
- There are a few interesting related threads on Reddit, where the above illustrated history originated. I particularly liked the ones about the colors of Victorian fashion and about historical working women’s fashion.
- One thing I was surprised no one brought up: those beautiful green dresses of the 18th century were deadly poisonous. The green dresses from the early 1860s were particularly startling, because in 1861 there was a widely publicized case of an artificial flower maker dying a horrible death from those poisonous green pigments. (This also solves a long-standing mystery for me about why many fashion people really resist making green clothing.)
- Speaking of dyes, but in a less terrible and morbid way, here is an interesting history of nail polish.
- High heels! Who thought they were a good idea? Answer: Persians, for riding horses. Before the riding heel, there were chopines, platform shoes women teetered on as a region-specific display of material wealth (leatherworking in Spain, textiles in Italy). Also, men complained about the frivolity and costs of these fashion elements that were meant to display men’s wealth and status.
I adore talking with the founders of small fashion businesses; no one knows more than they do about the construction and design of their clothing! So when Kristen Allen, founder of Exclusively Kristen, reached out to me last week, I asked her for an interview.
Exclusively Kristen is a small, made-in-America company that specializes in bust-friendly button-ups and tank tops, mostly made of natural fabrics. (They also offer some dresses.) Their sizes range from 6 to 20. I wasn’t able to try anything personally yet, but I’ve got some useful information for you about fit, sizing, and what changes are coming in the future.
You’ve probably seen the articles going around about the reporter turned away from the Speaker’s Lobby because of her sleeveless dress.
I’m pleasantly surprised that they’re working on modernizing the dress code in question, because it’s outrageous and unfair! Hearing about the dress code didn’t surprise me the way it seems to have surprised a lot of people, though. Workwear blogs have told me for years that sleeveless dresses are considered inappropriate in a really conservative workplace, and there’s no workplace in the United States more conservatively dressed than Capitol Hill.
Workplace dress rules are a mess. They all require you to know things you’re never formally taught. Conservative dress codes are classist and discriminatory by gender, body type, and frequently race. Casual offices are a little better, but if you went through the effort of learning the conservative office dress code rules and dressing accordingly, a lot of casual offices will treat you as if you are less competent.
If you’re like me, you just want to get all that stuff out of the way so you can be seen for your merits! Here is what I’ve learned about unwritten dress codes for various workplaces. Eventually, once I teach myself how to make interactive infographics, I hope to make this an interactive infographic instead.
“That outfit is not appropriate for work,” my supervisor said quietly.
“Why?” I demanded.
In retrospect, the question was hilarious. I was wearing a too-short orange tee shirt and black cargo pants with the sides torn and the hems worn out from where I kept stepping on them. But I was furious. I was humiliated. This was my first job out of college, working for a nonprofit I believed in, and I worked really hard, I followed all the rules (I even tore through the employee guidebook searching for rules that my outfit broke), and I expected to be judged for what I did, not how I looked.
That, and other experiences like it, prompted me to study the unspoken parts of what ‘appropriate-for-work’ meant. I wanted to keep my sense of personal style, but I didn’t want to get pulled aside by supervisors anymore. But more specifically, that experience got me near-obsessed with finding a pair of work-appropriate pants I didn’t hate.
So are there pants out there that are work-appropriate, flattering, flexible, soft, durable, lint-resistant, machine-washable, and somewhat affordable? No, not all at once, that’s too much to ask, but you can get a decent subset of those from Ministry of Supply, MM. LaFleur, and to a lesser extent Betabrand. (And since the Betabrand Mondo Anniversary Sale makes their Dress Pant Yoga Pant extra affordable, I wanted to get this up even though I still haven’t gotten some answers back from Ministry of Supply. I’ll update the post when I do.)
Please excuse the photos today, it’s pouring outside and my photo-color-adjusting PC is out of commission. Whee, getting back into the swing of posting!
I’m generally skeptical of MM. LaFleur’s ‘bust-friendly’ filter. Multiple shirts under that filter fit me anywhere from ‘terrible sack’ (yes, Didion, I’m talking about you) to it-would-be-perfect-if-they-added-just-a-tiny-bit-more-fabric-across-the-bust (Bourgeois Blouse). I impulse-bought the Rankin 2.0 top anyway because of MM.LaFleur’s recurrent combination of impeccable style and convincing branding (a shirt that makes it look like I tried really hard when I actually just threw a thing on? Yesplz.)
It arrived in the mail today, and I’m actually kind of surprised by how it turned out, so I thought I’d show you.
I feel sad saying that, because they’re an *absurdly* comfortable material, but I’ve had three significant issues with the Sarah knit pant that make me want to warn others about it. (Also, I feel silly calling it a ‘pant’ in the singular, even though that’s Beija Flor’s language, so ‘pants’ it will be from here on.)
- They shrank after the first wash. That wasn’t a problem for me, as I was going to have to get them hemmed, but when I brought them to the tailor they were already the right length. Still, this is a big deal if you’re tall, or if the Sarah pants fit you right when you tried them on. In fairness on this point, I don’t remember if I washed them in the proper water temperature.
- They slide down on me constantly. The fabric’s so smooth that they keep slipping enough that they’re uncomfortable and honestly, a little obscene. I have to pull them up every five minutes or so. They’re the same size as my other two Beija Flor pants, so it’s not just a sizing issue.
- They are wearing out fast. Rayons in general are not exactly durable, and I tug on these pants all the time, but they’ve already developed holes at the seams along the hips. I’ve only owned them for four months. That’s not what I expect for a pair of pants that cost over $100 apiece.
So basically: don’t waste your money, but please do tell me if you’ve found a pair of soft, flexible, work-appropriate pants that stay on.
(Unless You Want All The Catalogs)
Generally, medium-to-large-sized businesses will want to sell your information to someone. It’s lucrative enough to help struggling clothing businesses stay afloat: according to a 2011 Wall Street Journal article, catalog companies charge about $110 per thousand mailing list names per mailing.
Figuring out how to opt out of letting them sell your information saves you irritation and helps the environment. Opt-out information is usually located in companies’ privacy policies. CatalogChoice is a good option for if you forgot to do that and want to opt out of mail you’re already getting.
However, I’ve definitely experienced a couple of worst offenders, and I wanted to share those with you so you could extra avoid the trouble.
I hate pants shopping so much. Nothing makes me feel like I have a weirder body: everything’s too long, everything fits wrong in the waist or the hip or the rise, nothing’s comfortable. I avoid doing it. Then, last month, I finally took stock of what jeans I owned, and this was it:
- 1 pair jeggings covered with runs
- 1 pair jeggings covered with pills
- 1 pair jeans a size too small
- 1 pair jeans that give me plumber’s butt
I was still wearing each and every pair of those jeans, and feeling unhappy every time I did. Clearly, I needed new jeans. But I put it off for another month, because I wanted to find a pair of jeans that could replace the function of all of those pants. I wanted them to be more durable and breathable than the jeggings; I wanted them to be stretchier and more comfortable than the too-small jeans; I wanted them to fit better than Plumber’s Butt Jeans™; and I didn’t want to agonize about what pants would fit me. I also wanted to be comfortable with my jeans’ ethics, not just their fabrics.
The combination of those factors led me to Beija Flor, a company well known for their ethical, comfortable, and flattering jeans.
Teresa Crowninshield is a coat company that excels at luxurious, comfortable, well-fitting coats with a unique design. For this weekend’s upcoming Secret Style Saturday event, subscribers to their email list will get a discount on five new designs. I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell you a little bit of why I’m so personally excited (and somewhat conflicted) about their coats.
Let’s start with the positives:
- Their coats are entirely made out of high-quality natural fabrics. Teresa Crowninshield’s signature Azurean coat is lined with a silk thicker and heavier than that of most silk blouses.
- There’s a coat for every body type: some coats I couldn’t have tailored to fit me better, and others look awful on me but would look fabulous on people with straighter figures. While Teresa Crowninshield only sells up to a size 16 on their website, they’ve “gone well into the 20s” for clients who needed bigger coats.
- Every design is both classically tailored and unique, usually with fun colorblocking. Teresa Crowninshield coats are appropriate for any occasion where you really want to impress people. They’re the kind of coat you choose to wear on stage with the President of the United States.
And now, the negatives:
- None of her coats are entirely vegetarian, and many of her fabrics are sourced from China, including angora. China’s got a history of animal cruelty when it comes to angora farming, and Tess doesn’t do anything special to ensure her Chinese angora is cruelty-free. (If you’re interested in avoiding Chinese angora but still want one of her coats, she still has some incredibly beautiful silk coats, and a few newer designs in silk-lined bamboo).
- Teresa Crowninshield coats are priced like something you’d wear on stage with the President. Your first coat will generally cost between $375 and $695.
That’s a reasonable price, considering the materials (I ballparked the cost of the raw materials of her Azurean coat at $222.40)* and the labor (Teresa Crowninshield coats are USA-designed and USA-made on a small scale, and each Azurean takes the better part of a day to make). That price also comes with perks– she gives you a lifetime 20% discount after you’ve bought your first coat (so subsequent coats will cost $300-$556).
That still doesn’t mean most people can afford that investment. So if you’re interested in a sharp-looking coat that has a less inventive design and less luxurious materials but is cheaper and weatherproof, maybe check out Mia Melon’s Ultimate All-Weather Coat for $129-$139.
Tess (the owner) was kind enough to let me take a bunch of pictures of myself wearing her beautiful coats at a local craft fair to demonstrate how they fit. Those are below the fold.
I’ve been a little reluctant to post this, because I don’t like saying bad things about companies that serve an underserved market. But I can’t recommend that people buy from Pepperberry. I’ve personally experienced clothing quality and fit issues, though Hourglassy says specific items I review in this post have gotten better over the years. I might be willing to give them a try again if it weren’t for their policies towards plus-sized women.
Despite catering to a curvier market, they really don’t like plus-sized women. They adjusted their sizing in 2011 and larger women who previously fit into their clothes complained; their campaign for ‘real women’ to serve as models somehow only found skinny women; people complain that their less-skinny models have disappeared; and most tellingly, their affiliate program policies repeatedly state that they are not to be associated with sites for plus-sized women and literally treat sites for plus-sized women the same way they treat porn. Pepperberry did not return my May 18 request for comment on this policy.
Longer version of this story and pictures are below.