Sunday, November 28, 2010

Play with Your Clothes - Put Us On Platforms, Not Pedestals

Jean says: From time to time, we post a column called "Play with Your Clothes" in which we feature stuff we've either made from scratch or have re-worked. My contribution involves footwear, with which I am officially obsessed. Here I am at the Cooper Square Hotel on East 5th Street last year, wearing my ubiquitous clogs! No matter what I'm wearing, summer or winter, avid followers of our blog know I wear Dankso clogs about 75% of the time. They go everywhere, never go out of style and fit my feet! Another positive is the fact that they have a slight platform, giving me almost an added inch in height. This photo was taken a year ago and I'm still wearing the same pair -- the basic black leather version. Recently, however, I decided I needed a change. When I couldn't find what I wanted, I also decided to take matters into my own hands. (Moschino motorcycle jacket [hand-me-up from Jodi Head], Issey Miyake skirt [consignment shop], Stetson bowler hat [Pier Antique Show], Tokyo Boy patent coin purse [from Enz] chained to a Maurizio Tatuti shoulder bag, Missoni eyeglass frames and my ever-loving clogs.)

They make another appearance at the Bakelite show at the Hudson River Museum last June. (Tale 3 dress [Milan], Ignatius hat with denuded peacock feather [Philadelphia Craft Show 2009], Moss Lipow eyeglass frames, tons of vintage bakelite bangles, rings and necklace, 1950s plastic earrings.)

There's nothing they don't go with -- even jodhpurs! (August Silk cardigan, vintage jodhpurs, Ignatius hat [Philadelphia Craft Show 2009], vintage bakelite necklace and large cuff, Angela Caputi resin alligator cuff, Moss Lipow frames and Calvin Klein eyeglass chain.)

I was tripping the light fantastic in my clogs in July when Valerie and I went to Cooper Hewitt. (Ignatius hat [Philadelphia Craft Show 2009], black and white metal disc earrings, Kedem Sasson skirt [Rosebud in Soho], Eyeshadow shawl top, Moss Lipow glasses.)

Here's a shot of Old Faithful that I literally pulled off my feet to shoot. Considering that I wear them for work and play, they've held up remarkably well (just like their owner, I hope!). But variety is the spice of life...

On Halloween weekend, I was suddenly inspired. I wanted a pair of black patent leather Danskos that I could customize. Of course, when I didn't need them, they were available everywhere in my size. When I finally wanted them, however, it became a schlep. But the fashion gods were smiling that day, and I was in luck! Mind Boggler on the other side of town had my size in the basic open heel Sonja style in black patent leather. Here they are, fresh out of the box. They had no idea what mama Jean had in store for them!

They were bright and shiny and new, but they just weren't HIGH enough! I'm the one who was studying Frankenstein's footwear while the rest of the audience was cringing at his scars and neck bolts. In the 1970s and early '80s when platforms were "in", I was in my heyday. The higher the better!

I took my virgin patent leather clogs and my super-secret blueprints (scribbled to scale on newspaper with magic-marker and scotch-taped to the clogs) to an East Village Shoe Repair shop that was famous back in the 1970s and 1980s for making impossibly high punk rockers' boot and shoes. The boss was initially skeptical, but gradually got into it. He did a fabulous job interpreting my sketch to customize my footwear. Two days later, he asked me back for a consult before finishing the job. Here's the prototype on the counter, still covered in dust from the saw that carved out the "teeth". Notice the resemblance to my Halloween Jack-o-Lantern's smile, anyone?

Et voila! Here's the finished product. They make me happy as a clam, although it is unclear whether they've elevated my social stature any. On their maiden voyage, I wore them to the Philadelphia Craft Show - an all-day event. When I was able to easily walk twelve blocks home from the Lower East Side bus stop that evening, it was a good omen. I've gotten lots of comments and questions each time I've worn them. Several women have asked me where they can buy a pair. I thought about going into production, but then I'd see myself coming and going in my neighborhood. Hopefully, I will have inspired fellow fashionistas to play with their clothes! (Valerie says: no sooner had I gotten over my Trippen envy [see our recent post in which Jean wears Trippen's black leather and black rubber version of Japanese geta] than she shows up with these, raising my envy levels all over again. They are so cool! It's true that people have been keenly eyeing her from a distance. I've seen 'em. It gives me some understanding of how John Kennedy might have felt when he said "I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris." [Young people will not get this, but our demographic will.] I want a pair of my own, but I can't wear clogs [my podiatrist recommends a more "stable" shoe for me] so I have to come up with something else. I think Jean should go into production. After all, if she doesn't, someone else will. And by the time she sees herself coming and going, Jean will have thought of something new to try.)

Jean continues: Readers should probably expect to see these clogs on steroids appear with great regularity in future postings. They add the finishing touch to simple leggings and a DKNY felted wool hooded coat. (Valerie says: Jean is too modest to say so, but in this picture she is doing her brilliant imitation of David Bowie doing Andy Warhol doing his rendition of Frankenstein standing in the doorway [see above photo].)

Jean reprises: DeeDee just had to get into the act.

Designing these shoes got me to thinking about the history of platform shoes. What women won't do to add a little height in a man's world! Here are a few fabulous facts I've gathered for curious readers and fellow lovers of platform shoes:

According to All About Shoes: Throughout history, people all over the world have sought to elevate themselves using footwear. In Europe, chopines from the 16th and 17th centuries stand out as the most extravagant examples of early elevating shoes. Thought to have been inspired by exotic footwear from distant lands, these impractical platforms were first embraced by the courtesans of Venice.

How's this for height? Get a load of these chopines! According to Harold Koda at the Metropolitan Museum, the chopine was developed in the early sixteenth century and was especially popular among Venetian women. The high-platformed shoe had both a practical and symbolic function. The thick-soled, raised shoe was designed to protect the foot from irregularly paved and wet or muddy streets. But the enhancement of the wearer's stature also played a role.

The Fashion Encyclopedia says: Chopines (show-PEENS), shoes with very tall wooden or cork platform soles, inspired what some consider the first clothing fad. During the High Renaissance of the sixteenth century, the fashionable, wealthy women of Venice eagerly climbed into these shoes, which ranged from six to twenty-four inches in height. Feet were secured to the pedestals with straps of leather or uppers (the part of a shoe above the sole) made of silk or other fabric. The tops of chopines were rarely seen; the shoes were more valued for their height and for the dainty stride they required of wearers. Towering on their shoes in glamorous long gowns, women who ore chopines needed the support of their husbands or maids to hobble the streets and royal courts of Venice. Chopines made Italian women "half flesh, half wood", remarked traveler John Evelyn in his diary of 1666, as quoted in The Book of Costume.

Before long, fashionable women of wealth throughout Europe were seen struggling to walk in chopines while supported by servants or chivalrous men. This picture and close-up show fashion victim and servant.

The craze for chopines in Italy coincided with the peak of attraction for extravagant dress during the 1500s, when almost every article of clothing was highly exaggerated. By the late 16th and early 17th century, Spanish, French, and Swiss women were also teetering fashionably on chopines. The fad (fads lasted a lot longer back then) never reached northern Europe.

Chopines were not an Italian invention. The shoes were a byproduct of the establishment of trade between Venice and the Near East, or southwest Asia. Although the true origin of chopines is not known, the tall clogs Turkish women wore in bathhouses or the pedestal shoes worn by actors on Greek stages in early history may have been the inspiration.

Chopines were used by the Manchus (people native to Manchuria who ruled China from 1644 to 1912) in China in the mid-1600s, who never adopted the footbinding practices of the Han Chinese, which can be dated back to the tenth century. The pedestals of Chinese chopines were much slimmer than those developed in Venice, offering women a footprint resembling that of bound feet and causing similar difficulty walking.

According to Wikipedia: Besides their practical uses, the height of the chopine became a symbolic reference to the cultural and social standing of the wearer; the higher the chopine, the higher the status of the wearer. High chopines allowed a woman to literally and figuratively tower over others.

During the Renaissance, chopines were widespread articles of women's fashion and were increasingly taller, with some examples over 20 inches high. Shakespeare joked about the extreme height of the chopines in style in his day by using the word altitude (In Hamlet, the prince of Denmark greets one of the visiting lady players by noting how much "nearer to heaven" she had grown since he last saw her — "by the altitude of a chopine.")

Surviving chopines are typically made of wood, or cork, and those in the Spanish style were sometimes banded about with metal. Extant pieces are covered with leather, brocades, or jewel-embroidered velvet. Often, the fabric of the chopine matched the dress or the shoe, but not always.

According to some scholars, chopines caused an unstable and inelegant gait. Women wearing them were generally accompanied by a servant or attendant on whom they could balance themselves. Other scholars have argued that with practice a woman could walk and even dance gracefully. In his dancing manual Nobilit√† di dame (1600), the Italian dancing master Fabritio Caroso writes that with care a woman practiced in wearing her chopines could move “with grace, seemliness, and beauty” and even "dance flourishes and galliard variations". Chopines were usually put on with the help of two servants.

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DRAT! I knew I forgot something -- that all-important ingredient, the human support system that Venetian ladies utilized. OK, OK, I don't have servants or maids or chivalrous men available at all times to help me navigate the streets and subway platforms of New York City, so I opted for slightly lower platforms on my clogs. (Valerie says: You can't walk three abreast on most New York City sidewalks anyway.)

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Another Holiday Gift-Giving Reminder:

This weekend, Social Tees Animal Rescue teamed up with the North Shore Animal League's adoption van to sponsor a mobile adoption event in Manhattan. Similar opportunities exist in your neighborhood. If you're not in the position to adopt a pet, then consider volunteering and/or donating food, bedding, towels, and cold hard cash! (Don't forget Valerie's advice that "cash is king"...and that your donation is tax deductible. At least, it is if you're donating in the U.S. We hope this is also true for our readers in other countries.) Please consider your local shelter when making your gift-giving list this holiday season. We can all help save a life.

Here's my favorite sweetie-pie, Armstrong, a pit bull mix born with a deformed right foreleg, so that the bottom of his paw faces upward. It doesn't stop him from being a loving pet. Even though he has to twist his entire upper torso just to walk, he compensates without complaint. His bad right paw is barely visible in the photo. (Click to enlarge.) If what Asian philosophers say is true (all truly beautiful things must have a flaw), then Armstrong is the most drop-dead gorgeous of all. The grace and fortitude of some rescue animals just blow me away.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Behind the Scenes of StyleLikeU; Holiday Gift-Giving Alert

Here we are on Friday night at MOMA's cafe, celebrating our Thursday, 11/18/10 video debut on StyleLikeU's website. You can view it for yourselves at We wanted to give you a glimpse of what went on behind the scenes. And, yes, in case you were wondering, we do look for any excuse to party. Life is too short. It's nice to have a partner in crime with whom to celebrate the little things! Valerie says: Jean came to our celebration straight from work and hatless, so I lent her my brand new Ignatius hat. How could we celebrate without?! Some hats won't flatter both of us; this one does. For the record, we both prefer this one backward. I wore another feathered favorite to MOMA. Jean says: greater love hath no (wo)man than to lay down her brand-new hat for her fellow (wo)man! (Valerie's recent purchase at the Philadelphia Craft Show was generously loaned for our spontaneous evening out). I paired it with black and white dotted metal earrings, matte black MOD OATH frames by Revue (from Fabulous Fanny's) and Kyodan jacket. Valerie's wearing an Issey Miyake coat and jacket, and an unlabeled gray velour hat.

Jean says: Last Spring, at the Vintage Show at the Metropolitan Pavilion, we were approached by Elisa Goodkind and invited to be interviewed and videotaped for StyleLikeU's website. Initially, I was VERY intimidated by the prospect of being videotaped in my own apartment and having to actually talk about my clothing choices. Luckily, since ours is a joint posting and Valerie went first, I had a little more lead time to select outfits and had the opportunity to do a joint interview with her. In addition to the video, they also took a number of still photos to put on the website. By the time it was my turn, I approached it with much less trepidation. Elisa's daughter, Lily, was our interviewer/videographer extraordinaire! She is an absolute sweetheart who put me immediately at ease. I'm wearing a vintage black felt 1940's "Hershey's Kiss" hat by Bellini Originals from Another Time Antiques, black and white striped Zara Basic Nautical Line jacket and Ralph Lauren tee shirt, vintage black and white bakelite and plastic bangles, black and white plastic earrings, black bakelite cube ring, black resin skull ring by "Made Her Think", black and white skeleton and red heart metal necklace by Enz on 2nd Ave. in the East Village and Moss Lipow glasses.

Here I am sitting in my living room on my Art Deco chrome sofa (which my cat DeeDee has recently taken to obsessively clawing!), basking in the shade of my vintage swordfish trophy, wearing a Norma Kamali faux leopard peplum jacket, Comme des Garcons wool jacket, Maria D. Del Greco hat with vintage bakelite pin, 1950's plastic red cherries necklace and earrings, Zara pants, Doc Martens black patent leather boots, Angela Caputi red resin bracelet, 1950s-60s lucite red starfish bangle bracelets, lucite cube ring, vintage black bakelite cube ring, and assorted resin and gold rings, Moss Lipow glasses.

Can you say Clown? Yes, they really are that wide! My vintage waffle cotton balloon pants labeled "Elon of California by Monica Tilley" with an additional Saks Fifth Avenue label were purchased years ago at a Metropolitan Pavilion Vintage Show. The vendors told me that they came from the estate of a woman who used to spend a month every winter in Puerto Rico and who had a different bathing suit for every day of the month. She left behind tons of resort wear. I paired these trousers with Born clogs and a black vintage felt hat by Jean Allen, acquired at my first and (so far) only clothing swap last year. It reportedly came from a thrift shop in Maine. My jacket is from Costume National on Howard St. I purchased my red resin Angela Caputi cuff from her shop in Milan about five or six years ago. For color and contrast, I'm wearing vintage red polka dot plastic earrings, assorted red bakelite and plastic bangle bracelets, black bakelite and resin and gold rings, and my ever-present Moss Lipow frames. The red with white skull felt bag is by Habla. (For a closeup of its sister bag in black, see our 1/17/10 entry "What's In the Bag, Lady?")

In this closeup, visible against the graphic backdrop of a black and white polka dot skirt by Kedem Sasson (from Rosebud in Soho), are multiple black vintage bakelite bangles, Angela Caputi Alligator cuff, one white and two black resin skull rings by "Made Her Think", vintage black bakelite cube ring, assorted gold rings (family crest, signet ring, Sept 11 ring by Kirsten Hawthorne, college ring, wedding band). Nail polish: Brucci Nail Hardener #212, Romantic Red (available at Duane Reade and RiteAid).

Here I am coming and going at Valerie's May video shoot in front of her Marilyn wall hanging wearing my leather motorcycle jacket (purchased in 1993, which I wore years ago while riding on the back of a Harley Davison Astro-Glider in a Muscular Dystrophy Bikeathon on Staten Island), an Ignatius hat, black vintage jodhpurs (Merkins Riding Apparel, Philadelphia), black vintage bakelite cuff, Angela Caputi alligator cuff, Calvin Klein eyeglass chain, Moss Lipow eyeglasses and Dansko clogs.)

Busted. Celebrating again! This time, the fete is for the end of my shoot -- over Indian food at Heart of India. (Valerie's on the other side of the camera.) I'm wearing an armful of black and white bakelite and plastic bangle bracelets on one and the black resin Angela Caputi alligator cuff on the other; black bakelite cube ring and assorted gold rings (family crest, signet ring and two stackable rings by East Village jewelry designer Kirsten Hawthorne), vintage bakelite black dice earrings, and red metal heart necklace (from Enz in the East Village).

Valerie says: Jenny Joseph has a wonderful poem entitled WARNING. The first line of the poem reads "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple..." Here I am demonstrating that old women can sit cross legged and wear purple at the same time.

This photo looks so simple (should have spread the coat out in a semicircle for better effect, though). What you can't see in the photo is that I obsessively cleaned my apartment for about two weeks prior to the shoot. Windows one day, bathroom another day, kitchen another day... Not that these were all day chores, but it seemed like it when I came home from work only to put the rubber gloves on. This is the coat that goes under the white tubular knitting coat (see below). White gloves to do the white glove test on the apartment with.

This photo is included because my beloved octopus hat didn't make the cut on StyleLikeU. When it came to selecting my outfits for the shoot, I couldn't see the forest for the trees. Happily for me, Jean must have a photographic memory. She made out a terrific list of suggestions for me, almost all of which I adopted. (Jean says: For the full scoop on Valerie's octopus hat, see our 10/25/09 posting "A Hat of One's Own".)

This is another hat that didn't make it to the final cut. Hard to see here, but worn the intended way, this vintage '40s piece looks like it's adorned with two leaves; worn backward, it calls to mind Mercury and his winged hat. This is another one that Jean and I can both wear. Oh, and the cotton ankle ties are by Nuno, from MOMA. (Jean says: There is a pain-in-the-a** vendor at the vintage shows in NYC who unforgiveably accused one of us of wearing our hats backward. What a silly, silly man - who won't see the color of our money any time soon!) (Valerie interjects: In this instance, when Jean says 'one of us' she means none other than moi. I WAS wearing the hat backward, and I was FAB. That vendor is now my 21st century poster boy for the Know Nothing Party. [You can look 'em up!])

I'm including this because the felt cuff and wooden bangle don't show up on StyleLikeU. Jean called this my Tom Wolfe suit. I'm ever so flattered by the comparison, but I'll bet dollars to doughnuts Tom doesn't have half as cool a hat to go with his white suits.

Valerie says: Of course, once we finally appeared on StyleLikeU (six months after the initial shoot!), Jean and I had to alert all our friends to our latest 15-minute allotment of fame. One of the people I wrote to was Lisa Nishi, who designs extraordinary confections more or less out of thin air. Lisa e mailed me back with a photo of her own latest accomplishment: rescuing a great horned owl with a broken wing, which she took to an animal rehabilitation center. (We hasten to add that Lisa's coat is faux fur.) With the Christmas season upon us, if you don't need another tie or sweater, think about giving a donation to your favorite charity, or to your friend's favorite charity. Jean and I (since we also don't need another tie or sweater), will be donating to one another's charities of preference. If you would like to make a contribution to the rehabilitation of Lisa's owl, contact Two Rivers Wildlife Park, Animal Rehabilitation, PO BOX 6270, Marion Bridge, NS, Canada B1K 3T8.

Jean says:
Having spent the better part of yesterday and today trapping kittens in an East Village backyard, in response to caring neighbors' concerns about getting them out before the cold weather really settles in, I just want to tell you how grateful I am for my neighborhood shelter ( Social Tees Animal Rescue at 124 East 4th St., NYC 10003 212-614-9653). Social Tees Animal Rescue (S.T.A.R.) is a non-profit, strictly no-kill 501c3 organization that takes abandoned animals from the kill shelters and provides them with a safe haven and veterinary care until they are placed in a proper home. As the economy worsens and city and state budget cuts deepen, public funding will decrease and animal shelters and rescue operations will depend even more on our donations. This year, skip the meaningless gift-giving and make a charitable donation in your friend's or family member's name. This holiday season, save a life. AND - remember that your donations are tax-deductible! (Photos courtesy of

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Or this?

Valerie says: While we are speaking about the holiday season, before the arrival of Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving, when some people schlep out to the mall at midnight to buy this year's equivalent of Tickle Me Elmo), we just want to say a word about buying gift cards, and that word is DON'T.

In this economy, if your friend is concerned about paying his (or her) electic bill, don't buy him (or her) a gift card at Christmas Trimmings, Inc. because you think it's important that your friend treat him/herself to a new tree ornament. In the photo above are the gift cards I received last year. Four of them still have money on them, so I have to keep carting them around till I can use them, and only at the places named on the cards (all of which are From Here to Eternity). The fifth, which I keep as a cautionary memento, has minus $14 on it because a clerk at a cash register scammed me. When I discovered this (while checking the balance of the card) the gift card company kindly said they wouldn't charge me for the scammed amount. I kindly refrained from laughing in their faces. (Above photo of avid H&M fans lining up on Fifth Avenue on a chilly November 19 evening 12 hours in advance for the H&M Lanvin line to go on sale.)

The stores where you buy the gift cards will LOVE you because they profit whether the cards are redeemed or not. Your friend, who continues to cart the cards around for a year looking for something to buy, will not love you nearly as much. Gift cards can't be returned - they can only be redeemed for products. Got an American Express gift card? Don't expect to pay your Amex bill with it. It's only good for products. So if you're not sure what to give your friend, there's a reason for the expression cash is king. It pays for groceries AND electricity AND gasoline AND your Amex bill AND this year's equivalent of Tickle Me Elmo (and it's so much more ecologically friendly than plastic).

Remember: friends don't let friends buy gift cards!

Jean says: Valerie's commentary bring out the little kid in me and reminds me of how much I loved getting a Christmas card from my Aunt Margie from Pennsylvania. Not just because it always contained currency, but because it was never a disapppointment. The amount didn't matter. It was what it was. There was no guesswork, no size or color or taste issues to deal with. REALLY. How many of you remember what a buzz-kill it was to get a fabulously wrapped present, only to rip off the ribbon and paper to find some thoughtful gift that was just so off the mark? Be honest, people, how many surprises turned out to be really fabulous? Cash gifts seldom disappoint. (Valerie says: YEAH!)

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Had our first visit from Tanzania this week! Way cool!