Sunday, November 8, 2009

High Crimes and Misdemeanors

Fashion designers! Do you ever wonder why we don’t wear your product?

Here is our top ten list of fashion NO NO NOs.

Reasons we didn’t buy your otherwise really cool product. These are in order of most obvious and most often to less obvious and less often. So if your particular crime or misdemeanor is at the bottom, that doesn’t mean your offense is any less serious. It’s just not as problematic on a daily basis.

First, the list itself. For the whys behind the list, scroll down.

1. It had your logo on it.
2. It didn’t have pockets.
3. The pattern was only on the front.
4. The seams or hems puckered.
5. The material was inappropriate or poorly made.
6. It had poorly chosen buttons.
7. For shoes: inadvertent puckers and creases.
8. For sneakers:
a) multiple garish colors;
b) design lines implying speed.
9. For coats: no closure.
10. For patterned stockings: not designed to account for leg curves.

Bonus crime/misdemeanor:

11. For socks: too short.

We’re betting most designers already know about all of these problems. They’re thinking these problems are expensive to fix. From our perspective, if we don’t buy the product, doesn’t that make the problems more expensive NOT to fix?

[Technical difficulties: We're slowly adding photos. Please check back in the days to come while we see what we can come up with.]

Here are our reasons:

1. Logos:

If we were both named Carol Channing, we might buy clothing marked with Cs, interlocking or otherwise. But we’re not, so we’re out of luck. The way we were raised, if you advertise someone’s product, you get paid for it. Magazines get paid for it. TV programs get paid for it. And if you say that’s apples and oranges, it’s not. Guys who walk around all day wearing sandwich boards saying “Eat at Joe’s” get paid by Joe for what they wear. Tennis players and race car drivers get paid to wear logos. We pay for clothes we wear because they don’t have logos, and the opposite should also be true: we would be paid if we wore clothes that do have logos. Why should we pay designers to wear their logos? It’s illogical.

We think people who wear logos are making a statement. “I don’t know anything about dressing, but it doesn’t matter. I paid a lot of money for this, and a famous designer made it. As long as you know that, I feel great.”

Our statement is: “We look good in everything we wear. We wear our clothes – our clothes do not wear us. Our clothes advertise us, not our designers.”

2. Pockets: Everything should have pockets. Even a bridal gown, even a night gown. A jacket without pockets might be ok, but pants or a dress or skirt without pockets is for Queen Elizabeth, whose assistants carry everything for her. The rest of us need pockets. We do things and go places. Most of us are not Ann Margret, so we don’t need skin-tight pants without pockets to show off our figures while we do the twist. The police tell us never to carry our keys in our bags. That way we prevent thieves from taking our keys to the address they find in our wallets. The smart thing to do is carry your keys in your right hip pocket and your Metrocard in your left hip pocket (or vice versa). Then if your bag is stolen, you can get home even without your wallet, get into your apartment and console yourself with ice cream before canceling all your credit cards. If you’re a bride, you can carry lipstick or eye drops or a digital camera. If you’re in evening wear, you can carry your cell phone in your pocket so someone can ‘emergency call’ you away if you get bored. Your nightgown? Put a tissue in it, and you won’t have to fumble for the Kleenex box in the middle of the night. What if you fell out of bed? You'd never get back to sleep.

3. Front only patterns*:

We (the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas) buy clothes because they suit our personalities. Our personalities are 360° entities – they do not disappear when we turn around. So it’s disconcerting to try on an item with a great design in the front, and a vast expanse of blank in the back. Dresses, skirts and pants do not really suffer from this, but shirts and sweaters do, and so does lingerie. The design doesn’t have to be the same, but there has to be some continuity beyond the side seams. William van Alen didn’t say ‘Hey, I’ll just design the front of the Chrysler Building – no one’s ever gonna look at the back, anyway.’ He didn’t say ‘Well, gosh, it’ll save Mr. Chrysler a lot of money if I just do the front.’ He designed the whole darned building, and he had FOUR sides to do, not just TWO. So designers, your job is a lot easier. Do it.

In the photo above, a shirt from budget-minded GAP not only has front and back designs, the designer has chevroned the lines in the front - notice how they all match up - AND, as a bonus, made the lines horizontal in the back for more flavor. Notice too that there are no puckers on any of the seams. (See the next NO NO, #4)

In the photo below, William van Alen (center, dressed as the Chrysler Building) shows you how it's done.

4. Puckered seams: Seams and hems should lie smooth and flat. Puckered seams and hems detract and distract from the designer’s purpose.

5. Bad material: Every material, from polyester to silk, comes in a variety of qualities, and part of the designer’s job is to pick the right variety for the right job. Acrylic that stretches too much is not good for sweaters; very thick cotton is good for jackets, but not for shirts. Stiff or shiny material, unless it’s well made, will wear quickly at friction points. Garments that have formed pills before they’ve left the shop will look like little pharmacies by the time they’ve had their first cleaning. Materials have to be chosen carefully (and some materials should probably just get early retirement).

6. Buttons:

It’s difficult (i.e., basically, it ain’t happening) for an Idiosyncratic Fashionista to pay a lot of money for a garment that’s fundamentally wonderful but has awful buttons. Who’s in charge of choosing buttons, anyway? Sometimes it seems it was the pizza delivery guy. It’s possible to replace buttons, but a good button is expensive, and if a garment has, say, 12 buttons, that could easily add up to an extra $50 or more, depending on the button. That’s not counting going to the button store, schlepping the offending garment with you, finding the right button, and then checking to see whether it will go through the button hole. If a garment has bad buttons, a Fashionista REALLY has to love it to invest that much time and money (or she has to buy it second hand). Getting a new set of buttons is the clothing equivalent of taking your kid to the orthodontist.

(And speaking of second hand and buttons, button collectors who collect them at second hand stores, in secret, in dressing rooms, with the help of razors, while they are sewn to garments to which price tags are still attached, are not only violating the letter of the law, they’re violating the spirit of second hand shopping. It is a little known fact that the Salem witch trials of the seventeenth century were really about prosecuting button thieves.)

A Salem woman flaunts her headdress and necklace of ill-gotten vintage buttons as the children look on in opprobrium.

7. Shoe puckers and creases: The horror! The horror! You find what you think is a wonderful shoe, but on closer inspection you can see that the leather is bunched up, and where there should be a smooth surface there is an unsightly leather wart. In purple suede, no less. On a hundred dollar shoe. Or: you buy a perfect shoe, and two weeks later there is a crease on the left big toe, and another crease on the right middle toe. There shouldn’t be creases at all, but if there are, you want them to match. Creases are a sign that the manufacturer built the toe box badly, but it doesn’t matter what it’s a sign of. When you buy a professionally made product you expect a professionally made look. Shoes with creases across the toes look as though they have been stepped on or run over or worn every day in the rain for a month.

8. Sneakers:
a) What is it about sneakers that makes manufacturers think they need to be green and orange and white and pink, all on the same shoe? And that the green has to be leather, the orange has to be suede, the white has to be vinyl, and the pink has to be mesh? With a black rubber sole. Those sneakers go really well with my green leather, orange suede, white vinyl and pink mesh evening gown, particularly when I coordinate everything with my black rubber evening gloves (I wore the whole ensemble several weeks ago to an opening at Lincoln Center), but they’ve been very hard to match with anything else in my wardrobe. And I really do love them because I have foot issues and they’re so comfortable, but I haven’t gotten to the point yet where I feel confident wearing them with my blue business suit.
b) And why do all sneakers have to have speed lines on their sides? I have a size 8.5 foot that I put in a size 9, 9.5 or even 10 shoe. There is nothing fleet about either foot, and putting speed lines on the side isn’t going to fool me into thinking there is. I'm not buying them for speed. I'm buying them for comfort. What about a blue velvet sneaker (for David Lynch fans, or even for people who don’t get this sly reference), or a red suede polka dot sneaker? Now THAT would be rad right about now.

9. Coats with no closures: It’s WINTER, for heaven’s sake! Who wants a coat that doesn’t close? Women with 100 arms can spare two to hold their coats closed. If you only have two, as soon as you have something to carry, your coat leaves you exposed to all the elements. And anyway, don't you get cramps in your joints from gripping your coat so tightly? This is the perfect place for form to follow function.

10. Patterned stockings: We love patterned stockings, and have seen any number of clever designs. The problem is they are made for flat cardboard legs. As soon as a real leg comes anywhere near patterned stockings, the patterns stretch all out of proportion, like images in funhouse mirrors. A Kate Moss type will probably be fine in any patterned tights. For the rest of us, computer design being what it is today, is there no way to make a design that takes into account the contour of a leg? The ancient Greeks employed the concept of entasis in making columns which, though wider in the middle, gave the appearance of being straight. Stocking makers should be able to do the same thing.
In this photo, the striped pattern works, partly because it's strictly horizontal, partly because it's knitted. The polka dots, unfortunately, go from round to oval as they travel up the leg, partly because, well, legs will be legs, and partly because they've been printed on, and do not stretch evenly. You can see a bit of the cracking effect on the more oval dots.

Bonus crime/misdemeanor:

Mind the Gap!

11. Short socks: The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas have, between them, over 100 years of experience in dressing. We’re not crazy about stockings anymore, because they restrict the waistline. But socks are good. LONG socks are good. They look great under pants and (certain) skirts. Short socks, despite their fabulous designs, are prone to exposing that odd, indefinable expanse of skin between where the sock ends and the pants or skirts begin. It’s not erotic, elegant, natural or logical. It’s just an odd space. Long (knee length) socks eliminate that space, and the right sock builds an artful bridge between the shoe and the pants or skirt. We love so many sock patterns, and buy so few of them. All because the designer is only thinking of the pattern, and not the function.

So that’s our list of designer no nos. Anything we forgot? Please feel free to write and remind us!

* Yes, we know there are certain instances where a front only design is entirely OK. We’re not talking about those. One design on the center front of a shirt does not demand another on the center back. But a design all over the front demands a design all over the back.

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