Category Archives: Thoughts on clothes


My Tatsuya Suou hoodie! The pockets look terrible in this picture!

Only once so far have I made anything in the cosplay category: my Persona 2 Tatsuya hoodie.  Appropriately enough, it’s from a rather obscure and geeky video game, although perhaps less so now than when I made it 6 years ago, because of its more successful sequels.  I thought this hoodie was, while eye-catching, pretty easy to wear in an everyday situation, unlike most cosplay creations, which is partly why I chose it.

The nice thing, from a dressmaker point of view, about cosplay, is that fans really pay attention to the details.  Often when I’m making something, I will spend a long time over a detail which I’m fairly sure nobody but me will ever notice.  But cosplay wearers and makers really do care about these things.

Tatsuya in his hoodie, designed by Kaneko Kazuma.

If you look at the original of this hoodie, shown here, you can possibly see where I took a liberty with the design. See it?  It’s the sleeve…on the original design there is a seam at the top of the sleeve.  It serves no purpose, just makes a style line there.  You can barely see it in the pictures, and it would be hardly visible even in the real hoodie.  Let me tell you, I agonized over it.  In the end I decided it wasn’t worth it to do; but I’m not sure I made the right choice even now.

I’m definitely interested in doing more cosplay work in the future.  It’s a real challenge to a dressmaker and I can really sink my teeth into it.  It would take a lot of time so it might get expensive, but if you’ve got the money and the desire, please let me know!



Filed under Thoughts on clothes, Works

Fedoras and Fashion Prescriptivism

As a sunburn-prone person who doesn’t drive, but walks everywhere, summer is a time when I think about hats.  I try to plan my day so that I don’t have to be out and about at midday, but sometimes these things are unavoidable, and as I roast in the sun I think, “if only I could wear a hat, something with a wide brim, to protect my neck and face.”  But I’m not quite ready to go full-on neo-Farmer Ben in order to wear a straw hat, and I don’t want to be a “hat guy” either.  Famously, hats ceased to be obligatory in the 60’s (they say it was JFK who killed the hat, but I say it was the automobile culture), and I sometimes believe that fashion obeys the dictum of the ants in The Once and Future King: ANYTHING NOT COMPULSORY IS FORBIDDEN.  Certainly, in the decades since the disappearance of the hat from the mainstream–perhaps especially since Raiders of the Lost Ark came out–hats that aren’t baseball caps or knit winter hats have accrued a range of meanings and associations.  For some people positive, but I think for more people negative.

This clash of tastes has recently resulted in some semi-notorious tumblrs: You Shouldn’t Wear That Fedora, Fedoras of OKC, and Fedoras: Forever Alone.  Their target is not really the Andre 3000s or even Justin Timberlakes of the world, but the more commonly-encountered fedora-wearing geek, who perhaps wears their hat with a Zelda T-shirt or long unkempt hair or a scruffy young-Tom-Waits goatee, with a smattering of frattish ‘dudebros’ mixed in there.  Naturally, I’m against this kind of Fashion Police nonsense, but after all, I literally suffer rather than associate myself with their targets, and I want to understand it.  (If the Internet had existed when I was in college, I might easily have been one of their targets: with a kind of sublime unconsciousness, I wore a Halloween-costume felt bowler hat thing throughout my freshman year, over long greasy hair dyed all kinds of colors, and wondered, of course, why the girls I liked never seemed interested in me.)  The “Forever Alone” tumblr features a kind of mission statement: “A fedora speaks volumes about one’s character. It implies that he is a basement dwelling, live action role playing, no social skills having, complete and utter geek in the worst sense of the word.”

Gaming journalist Leigh Alexander elaborates this thesis by introducing a new angle: “The problem is that the fedora has become a go-to accessory for a peculiar subculture of love-entitled male nerds whose social inexperience and awkwardness manifests in a world rocked by a gender revolution—a tectonic shift in the makeup of formerly cloistered, rule-bound clubs.”  She associates the fedora with the Nice Guy Syndrome, a feminist concept which is too valuable and therefore controversial/derailing for me to get into (click the link instead).  There was something about this that bugged me, though, and I got so into clicking around for more reactions that I ended up reading an unbelievably long comment thread on Metafilter, one of my least favorite sites of all time.  (My irrational pet hate.)  It was reading the increasingly strident recital of the Rules For Hats which put it together for me: this is fashion prescriptivism.

Since learning a little (in strictly amateur dilletante terms) about linguistics I’ve been convinced that fashion, in the macro “what people wear” sense, is very much like language, to the extent that I might even say that it is a subset of language.  Like human languages, it’s emergent and subjective–it bubbles up from the mass of humanity, rather than being handed down from above, and it’s completely meaningless without a human observer.  These facts about language do not prevent some people from getting incredibly angry at so-called “grammar mistakes” (rarely mistakes and rarely even grammar-related) and raging about them in an interesting, half classist, half quasi-moralist way.  People who use the singular they, or the passive voice, are not just ignorant but actively bad people.  There is an objectively right way to write and speak, determined by tradition and logic, and everything else is barbaric.  The rules they cling to, however, usually have no historical or logical validity, and the worth of neither an argument nor a person is determined by their use of “that” or “which”.  There are actual grammar “rules” for every language–in English, “Car the backed up did” is comprehensible but ungrammatical–but these rules are rarely ever broken and unconsciously followed by speakers of the language.

I think these Fashion Police things come from a similar anxiety about the Heraclitean river that is fashion.  I can think of a few “rules” of fashion comparable to (real) grammar “rules”–don’t wear shoes on your hands, don’t walk around with your dick hanging out–but everything else is, intolerably enough, just a matter of taste.  You can invent rules about stripes and patterns, brown socks and black socks, width of tie and width of lapel, but all these “rules” only come down to “this looks good/bad to me“, and, even more intolerably, what looks good to you today is not what will look good to you in the future.  Like slang (I say fashion is a kind of language, but really, being a clothes person, I believe language is a kind of fashion) it will come and go.  That’s what makes fashion exciting.  Still, quasi-moral character judgements are constantly heaped on people who dress in a way displeasing to the judge, whether the abject conformity of the “suit” or the decadent privilege of the hipster.  When not moral, the judgements are usually classist–“she looks cheap”, that kind of thing.  Just like prescriptivists snarling at the semi-literate rubes.  At its ugliest, it comes out in saying someone “dresses like a thug” or “speaks in ebonics”.

Of course there’s a lot of information encoded in our clothes.  As it is a kind of language, it communicates.  But I think the idea that someone who dresses in a way you don’t like is a bad person is a step too far, into a just-world fallacy kind of place.  It would be very convenient if villains were always ugly and good people always beautiful, but that of course is not the world we live in.

Alexander notes that at least some of the people hating on these hat-wearing geeks seem to be geeks themselves.  I think that possibly explains the vitriol; at any rate it explains why I don’t wear a hat.  At some point, I looked around me with a horrified recognition, like the hero of a tragedy by Sophocles: those guys who look so lame in their hats….I look like them!  I think, I hope, I’m getting old enough to give my little teenaged self a break about it, but for a long time the shame of that recognition kept me from almost any kind of sartorial adventures.  Now, at 33, looking at these tumblrs, reading these articles and comments, I find that the dorks in hats don’t look any better, but my fears of looking dorky have strangely evaporated.

Any change in personal style, if it comes from within, is always a good thing.  The winds of change are blowing through my life right now.  Perhaps, for all I know, they will bring hats with them.


Filed under Thoughts on clothes

“You should go on Project Runway!”

Along with “I have a great idea about how we can make money together,” my least-favorite thing that people say to me when they hear I make clothes is the title of this post.  Project Runway is about the last thing I would ever want to do.  I’m pretty private and introverted and I hate arguing with people, so I wouldn’t make good TV.  I need a lot of sleep and take a long time with my sewing, so I wouldn’t make good clothes.  And I pretty much hate the *F*A*S*H*I*O*N* kind of thing–the “glamour” and the “cutthroat world” and anytime someone says “the industry” and all that.  I have, at the same time, a higher and a lower opinion of fashion than “the industry” does–I think it’s an art, capable of expressing exactly the same things as music, dance, painting, poetry, which is something designers and editors always seem to resist; but on the other hand I don’t think it’s that big a deal.  I don’t eat, sleep, and breathe fashion, or any of that.  And all these things seem to be a big part of Project Runway, its mystique, its allure, its raison d’etre.

But the biggest reason is just that I think these judged reality shows are bullshit.  No, I don’t mean I think they’re fake or secretly manipulated or whatever.  They might be, what do I know, but even assuming everything is on the up-and-up, they’re bullshit.  My sister and I have talked about it a lot, and in her blog she lays out why:

If Buffi’s design had been perfectly realized and executed she still would have been cut and that makes me angry. Buffi wasn’t brought into the competition to win, she was brought into the competition so Michael Kors could make “clever” quips about her outrageous clothes. . .Kors and company want sophistication — as defined by them. Nina wants everything to look expensive because she can afford it. Heidi wants everything to be sexy because that’s what she wants to wear. Fashion has always been a game for the aristocracy and Project Runway tows the line but good.

Even more egregious than Project Runway is Top Chef.  There have been 9 seasons, and only one female winner.  That woman, in the final episode, was up against another woman and one man, Richard Blaise, who was asked back for Top Chef All-Stars, and we were constantly reminded that he “choked” on the final challenge, so we all would remember that he didn’t lose to a girl, he lost to himself!  Essentially, the judges (to be frank, especially Tom Colicchio) are egregiously sexist, and it comes out in their judging.  Then there was the even-sillier Work of Art, which is Top Chef/Project Runway for “fine art”, in which everyone seemed to be rewarded or punished in proportion to how much their works expressed whatever stereotypes and prejudices the judges immediately formed upon seeing them.  In the finale of the first season, the three finalists were described as conceptualist, feminist and “someone who is maybe taking on issues of race.”  Guess which one’s the white dude!

Now, all this is kind of a lot to talk about when someone gives me the compliment of thinking I sew/design well enough to do well in a competition.  I understand what they’re saying, and it’s a nice thing to say.  But it’s kind of like wishing my worst nightmare upon me.  So, thank you, but I really would rather not try out for Project Runway.  Also, while I’m on the subject, I also would rather not sew the T-shirts that you design the graphics for.  I’m sure it will be as big a moneymaker as you say, but I’ll let someone else get that payday.

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Filed under just writing, Manifestoes, Thoughts on clothes

Kurt’s Sweater, Blake’s Sweater

Kurt in his iconic sweater

This year being Nirvana Nostalgia Season, I’ve been thinking about one of the most iconic pieces of clothing of my youth: Kurt Cobain’s enormous, red-and-black Fred Krueger-style striped sweater, as pictured above.  Greasy blonde hair and this sweater say “Kurt” as much as a moptop and a collarless jacket say “Beatle”.  As a nerdy, fashion-fearing teen in the grunge 90s this sweater was everything I wished my clothes could be, a perfect example of Kurt’s effortless cool.  I was way too self-conscious and shy to actually emulate him (plus, like a dope, I took to heart that 90s alterna-bullshit about not being a poseur), but I studied pictures of Kurt, how he dressed, wondering how I could recreate that alchemy in myself.  I thought about this sweater.  It was one of those “aspirational pieces”, as I think they’re called in Vogue, which I thought about every time I went shopping.

So when I saw Gus Van Sant’s Last Days I was, despite myself, a bit disappointed.  Don’t get me wrong: I think Last Days is a really beautiful, amazing film, and to me one of the great costume movies.  Michelle Matland and her team did an amazing job recreating iconic Cobain looks for Michael Pitt in the character of Blake, a sort of poetic alternate-dimension version of Kurt.  Here’s Blake in his version of the Freddy Krueger sweater:

The version of the sweater in Last Days

The difference, and to me it’s a huge difference, is that Blake’s sweater is entirely intact.  Kurt’s, on the other hand, is absolutely disintegrating.  Unforunately I haven’t been able to find many good pictures of the sweater online, but rest assured, I spent enough time looking at it, thinking about it, to know.  Enormous holes had opened up at the elbows and the left shoulder; the end of the left sleeve was in unravelled tatters.  These were like heiroglyphics to me, each bit of damage recording some event–a dive into the drums, a trip through the mosh pit, drunken high jinks of one kind or another.  The damage was why I could never have Kurt’s sweater: even if I found the very same sweater, from the very same company, the very same assembly line, it wouldn’t have all this fascinating history encoded in it.  That sweater was unique, haute couture; the couturier was Kurt’s wild rock-and-roll life.

I’m in the position in life where I’m both obliged and able to usually repair my clothes if they get damaged.  But I always think long and hard before I do it.  How does this hole look?  Does it make this sweater more interesting?  Do I want to forget that this happened because someone grabbed me during my friend Danny’s concert and threw me into a puddle of beer?  I think the value of clothes does not necessarily decrease with cosmetic damage, the way it does with a car.  Sentimental value is, after all, true value.  Pants that wear out at the knees, or get stretched out by your belly, or get spattered with paint, what are they doing but becoming more yours?  Each imperfection is like an in-joke, ratifying the relationship between you and your clothes.  I think it’s beautiful.

Sci-fi fans love to tout the smoothness with which masters of the genre incorporate exposition into their plots.  What could be more subtle than these little signs of life as it was lived before the story begins?  The costumers of Last Days certainly knew the implicit-exposition value of such distressed clothes–I really love the fact that those plastic shades he’s wearing up there have been broken and taped back together–but for whatever reason, they decided to leave the sweater unscathed.  Maybe it just goes to show the irreproducible nature of such a specific, well-beloved piece of clothing.

The broken and repaired plastic sunglasses clearly visible in the poster.


Filed under Inspirations, Manifestoes, Thoughts on clothes

30 Days: Day 13

Well, a couple days ago I was in the worst mood, and very down on the whole 30 Days thing; it seemed like I was getting nothing out of it except embarassing myself on the Internet with a bunch of bad pictures.  But then I went fabric shopping, and started reading William Gibson‘s latest novel, and the two things combined to pour some enthusiasm back into me.  Five minutes in any fabric shop (even Joann’s, where natural fibers are apparently forbidden) gives me five thousand ideas of things to make.

Gibson’s always had a very interesting eye for clothes, but in his latest, non-science-fiction books, he’s really been focussing on them more, which I’m loving.  When I’m reading him I find myself lurking on superfuture‘s message boards, contemplating the mysterious differences in how details work in mens and womenswear, wishing I had a lot of money to spend and mysterious underground semi-black-market boutiques to spend it in.  I think my own detail-eye is more a womenswear eye, but that makes it all the more fascinating to hear how these dudes’ minds work.  I remember when I first stumbled on superfuture (I think I was looking for the address of Nowhere, before my first trip to Tokyo) and discovered the world of denim nerds and their selvedge jeans.  Fascinating.  And all this kind of thing, which is not quite fashion, but certainly not dressmaking either, helps to open my mind a little, I think, and get out of the ruts of thinking which I am very prone to.  (It also makes me miss Japan very much!)

What I worked on this weekend is not finished, and I’m not ready to talk about yet.  So here’s Monday’s creative work, another costume design for Persians.  This one, I like.  I’ll never quite get reconciled to the fact that (for me at least) design tends to come all at once, a complete piece, and out of nowhere, or else never really comes at all.  If I struggle along at it, garbage like that Atossa design comes out.  But with this one it all came, the colors and the shapes and everything, and all I really had to do consciously was fill in the little details.

The messenger, bearing very very bad news, in The Persians by Aeschylus.

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Filed under 30 days of creativity, Inspirations, Thoughts on clothes

Why I am a Dressmaker, or, Against Fashion Media

Kat Asharya, the great writer at NoGoodForMe, posted today on Kristen Stewart as Fashion Icon; and in doing so,  she notes, “NOGOODFORME.COM completely destroys any cred-slash-pretense to being a somewhat normal fashion blog!” And it’s true, because fashion blogs, as a group, are mostly devoted to posting pictures of people (famous or otherwise), with a more-or-less “snarky”/”bitchy” commentary about whether it’s in or out, fug or fab, whatever; and Kristen Stewart usually falls on the negative side of that line.  As Kat says, she pretty much wears a hoodie & jeans all the time, which drives Fashion Police types crazy.

This is why NoGoodForMe is the only fashion blog I can stand.  And it’s partly why I decided, after years of soul-searching, that I didn’t really want to be a fashion designer after all.  There were a lot of reasons; but ultimately, at some point I realized that I didn’t want to tell people what to wear, which is what a fashion designer does, and instead I wanted to make people’s dreams into reality, which is what a dressmaker does.

There’s a certain kind of rhetoric, or there used to be, about fashion, and how it can be used to express yourself, fill the world with beauty, and all that.  How the most stylish you can be is when you’re really being true to yourself.  I used to naïvely take them at their word–it’s one reason I got into this stuff in the first place–but the older I get, the more it seems that such platitudes are about as true as the one that says in America, anyone can become rich and powerful.  Supermarket tabloidy magazines, “what not to wear” and “fashion police” TV shows, are obviously not at all about enhancing each person’s separate, unique tastes, but rather hammering them into the bland styrofoam nothing of corporate marketing-approved “style”, with strict instructions to buy a new batch of featureless styrofoam nothing in six months.  Years ago, I saw a TV show where women were ambushed by their “friends”, told they looked like shit, and forced to endure some professional stylists dictating what they’re allowed to wear.  My stomach still churns when I think about the episode I saw: not only did they steal this woman’s favorite clothes (she liked a kind of punky, stripey style), but they cut them to pieces to stop her from ever wearing them again.  It was incredibly violent, and while I am a pacifist, I don’t think I could really have blamed her if she’d responded in kind, and smashed their fucking TV cameras.  I think I would have, in her situation.

Fashion exists, and is constantly changing, such that some things move “in” and “out” of vogue as time goes by; this is surely true.  It’s a much, much bigger topic than clothes–everything from music to philosophy is subject to it–and it’s certainly a fascinating thing to study.  But it’s nothing to enforce.

That’s the mission of most fashion media, these days, though–to enforce “the rules”, or rather, to get their audience to do it to each other.  That, I think, is the real goal: so even if someone like Cate Blanchett or Tilda Swinton manages to eke out a thumbs-up from the Fashion Police in something weird, they make sure to say Only Cate, Only Tilda can get away with this.  All the other women, who aren’t incredibly rich, beautiful, and talented, are not allowed.  Even if they’re confident enough to ignore their fashion-media-consuming friends calling them fugly, dated, matronly, or whatever, they’re still stuck with the corporate-dictated, featureless (but for whatever superficial ‘trend’ doodads have been stuck on them) clothes they can find in the mall.

But maybe they can learn to sew, or they can come to a dressmaker like me, and get the thing they’ve dreamed of.  The one that’s not in any magazine, the one that’s them and only them.  It might be weird, it might be completely at odds with anything on TV, it might get them called names.  But it’ll be theirs.  And that’s why I do what I do.


Filed under Manifestoes, Thoughts on clothes

Spacesuits & Fashion as Architecture

The iconic Apollo spacesuit

BLDGBLOG has today an interesting interview with Nicholas de Monchaux, author of Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, a book about the design history of the iconic spacesuit.  I certainly had never heard the story of how Playtex designed the suit, beating out competing designs from military contractors.  I’ve got to read this book!

When I was in college, and in love with clothes, I came up with some impressive-sounding bullshit to make a positive interest in fashion more acceptable to my hipster-feminist-Marxist classmates.  (Not really necessary except insofar as I was insecure.)  One of them was to say that “Fashion is like architecture: it’s about creating a space for a human to go into.”  Then I would explain how a dress like a building should ideally be both beautiful on the outside and comfortable/functional on the inside, etc.  As BLDGBLOG’s Geoff Manaugh points out, this is more true of a spacesuit: “Bridging the line between clothing and architecture, the spacesuit is a portable environment: a continuation of habitable space, safe for human beings, capable of radical detachment from the Earth.”

Even though I was mostly making up some nonsense to avoid being called a sexist capitalist stooge because I read Vogue, the interchangeability of clothes and buildings has always fascinated me.  I was kind of surprised as Manaugh’s question, “Is it no longer an avant-garde question to ask if clothing is the future of architecture?”  I mean, it’s 20 years since Tsumura Kosuke designed the FINAL HOME, a coat intended to be the last refuge of someone made homeless by disaster.  And three years since Grace DuVal posted her Tent Dress on Craftster!  I’d say the idea is thoroughly mainstream by now, even a bit passé.  But maybe moreso for fashion people than for architects.

The FINAL HOME, stuffed with paper for warmth.

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