Archive for the ‘couture’ category

Premature Friday Stuff Post on The Latest Sign That The Apocalypse Is Upon Us

September 23, 2010

Journalism Barbie.

See Amanda Hess for commentary, Xeni Jardin for pile-on snark, and a tip 0′ da chapeau to twitter feeds frinMIT SciWrite alumna @EmilyAnthes, @JenLucPiquant and @alexwitze for the heads up.

Albert Einstein and the Political Implications of Sockless Activism

January 8, 2009

Over at Balloon Juice, new co-blogger DougJ has hit on the Washington Village People™ for their obsession with spurious class/”real people” markers.  His target, the notion that “doesn’t wear socks” is a useful shorthand for measuring the clueless/pseud function level fo someone.  See this post and the follow-up here.*

Of course, there is a history-of-science angle on this.  However else you might want to characterize Albert Einstein, he wasn’t clueless.  Sockless yes, by deep conviction and long practice.  There is a reason that this image is usually cropped as at the link.  Einstein may have dressed mostly unexceptionally for the ceremony of his taking the oath to become an American citizen, but what the missing feet would tell you is that it was naked feet stuffed into his shoes.

All of which is to say that DougJ has got it right.  Only stupid people think that fashion sense is a reliable marker of anything beyond fashion sense.  Or to put it another way.  I’ll bet Philipp Lenard wore socks every day of his proper Herr Doktor Professor life; that still leaves him a Nazi and an anti-Semitic idiot (however skilled an experimentalist he was in his youth), while my man Albert is … Einstein, bare feet and all.

Image:  Vincent van Gogh, “A Pair of Shoes,” 1886.

Perspective on Palin’s Shopping Spree

October 23, 2008

This is truly a sideshow in the election — and in fact tomorrow I’ll blog what I think is the basic issue for someone looking at the Presidential choice from the point of view of what’s best for the enterprise of  American science — but one of the problems of making sense of the stunningly tone-deaf decision to cloak Sarah Palin in $150,000 wardrobe is to get a handle on just how much money that really is in the world of fashion.

Fashion isn’t just show; I and my wife have both worked in various nooks and crannies of the film business – and my wife has designed a couple of multi-million dollar productions, so we have some family knowledge of what it takes to make people look good on camera.

It takes a lot.  For example, if you want an extra — an extra! — to look right in a historical drama, budget more than a thousand for, say, a nineteenth century uniform with all the accoutrements.  Leading players need more and better — their clothes have to fit and they have to have enough different costumes to carry them through the entire time sequence of a film.

All of which is to say is that if you want to get a sense of whether or not the McCain campaign’s shopping spree on Palin’s behalf was extravagant, a Hollywood feature is a good place to look.

In fact, a film shoot a pretty precise analogue to the experience of a campaign: major feature shoots run about as long or longer than the Sept-Nov span of Gov. Palin’s run; they both involve repeated changes of scene and clothes, and they are each as merciless as the other in the scrutiny to which the camera subjects its targets.

So — what’s the best comparison between Palin, the unlikely couture poster child and someone in the film business?

IMHO, the best place to start is with The Devil Wears Prada, a film all about aspirational fashion set in the very capital of Unreal America, in the city that happens to be the center of the rag trade.

The character played by Meryl Streep, the devil of the picture (the avatar for Vogue‘s Anna Wintour), was supremely well dressed.  The character character represents an upper bound for measuring just how outlandish the Palin clothing budget may be:  “Miranda Priestly” (Streep) was supposed to look better than the readers of her magazine; she represented more than an aspiration, as understood in a magazine industry that refers to Vogue and similar publications as “fantasy books.”  Governor Palin needs to us fashion to a different end to convey the message of hercharacter within the political drama:  she shouldn’t seem to live in a world completely out of reach, but rather to appear as a slightly larger-than-life embodiment of achievable aspirations.  She needs to look good, but not impossibly so.

So what did it cost to dress someone supposed to embody the pinnacle of fashion?

The budget for Ms. Streep’s costumes was reported to be $100,000.  There was a fair amount of stuff — especially accessories, like jewelry that was loaned to the production, but the core of Streep’s film wardrobe was expected to cost two thirds of what it took to keep the rain off of Sarah Palin.

So, just to belabor the obvious:  yup, Governor Palin’s 150K wardrobe is over the top.  A good film shopper could have dressed Palin for much less — and still left her looking great in all the various settings in which she found herself.  The McCain campaign and its handpicked robo-slime operator turned fashionista screwed up…which I suppose we already knew.

Image:  Day dresses for summer 1919 from Vogue magazine.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Program Notes/Book Notes: William Gibson/The Way We Live Now edition

July 30, 2008

Stimulated by Matthew Yglesias’s shoe fetish revelation, let me recommend (after you check the link) that you (a) listen to Karrie Jacobs elegant commentary on public radio’s Marketplace program, and then (b) go read the book she praises, William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition.

I’ve read, if not everything Gibson has written, then a pretty fair subset. (Long ago I wrote up some of my thoughts about his work in an essay for the long gone and much missed New York Academy of Science magazine, The Sciences. Ah well; all text is grass.) I think Pattern Recognition is his best, both intellectually rich and a fine exploration of character and emotion. His sense of technology as a solvent of human expression and feeling is so sharp.

I’m there with the comparison Matt makes in his post; I made the same point using different measures here. But Gibson is a better guide than either of us ever will be to the labyrinth of brands and signals in which we live now.

Image: Vincent van Gogh, “A Pair of Shoes,” 1886. The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Truer Words Were Ne’er Spake…Politics/non sequitur division

March 4, 2008

Warning: completely science free content below

“This [pause] is as ugly as it looks.”

Why yes … uh … yes, I do believe it is.

Kudos to Markos for putting money down on his beliefs.

The Well Dressed Professor…

February 13, 2008

…has an agenda.

Foolishness abounds here. Brad DeLong takes down one Professor Erik Jensen’s suggestion that as a matter of community mores and taboos,

“faculty members shall, when on college grounds or on college business, dress in a way that would not embarrass their mothers, unless their mothers are under age 50 and are therefore likely to be immune to embarrassment from scruffy dressing, in which case faculty members shall dress in a way that would not embarrass my mother.”

DeLong gives this claptrap the sustained ridicule it deserves, while citing Cosma Shalizi — one writer whose scorn I would not wish to brave — as his inspiration.

I got two reactions. Hearing such nonesense, my mother, born in 1927, would have had its feckless author’s innards rendered into inferior violin strings.

Mum knew from proper dress, being as she was the daughter of the Colonel and niece of the Bishop of Birmingham (strange, for a nice Jewish girl, but there it was). Growing up, her set was rich in those who knew when morning suits gave way to the appropriate dress for dinner, and the circumstances in which decorations should or should not be worn.

And she got out as early as she could, a journey that took her into the American professoriat by way of marriage. xShe developed enormous gratitude for an institutional culture that rewarded, however imperfectly, accomplishment over appearance and the inbred knowledge of the correct fork and the four-in-hand. She certainly would know a pseud when she heard one.

And now I, happily resident at MIT, feel satisfaction that mine is an ecumenical institution. The brass wear their glad rags, but the rest of us do as we choose.

And most of us choose functional approaches, as defined by our particular interests — you can see my approach here, if you care. A lot of folks around campus do stuff, you know, and ties neither improve blood flow to the brain during a calculation, nor have we forgotten the hazards of dangling clothing around heavy machinery.

And in any event, I don’t need no stinking badge to remind me or my students that I profess. Nor do I need any help from Mr. Jensen, either, whose attempted light touch does little to obscure the deeper pathology involved here.

It’s not just the usual conservative faux nostalgia for a better, more golden age. This is an attempt to defend a particular vision of academic privilege from hoi polloi — and not just any polloi at that. If you read the dreary passages of his essay one thing becomes clear pretty quickly. The professoriat that needs to dress well shares a certain property — their Y chromosome.

To be sure, Jensen has noticed the presence of the odd strangely Y-less person who has somehow gained access to the Faculty Club. But those few misgendered anomalies are not, in his peculiar vision, required to dress well.

Rather, they must dress to emphasize their desexed condition, the better to preserve the fantasy of the way things ought to be. Jensen commands the rare woman brave enough to enter his strange world to attire herself thusly:

1. Avoid poufy sleeves.
2. Dress frumpily.
3. Act like an old fart.

All good advice, and about all you need to know.

To be fair to Jensen — actually, to hell with fairness — to tar Jensen with a gross generalization and the infamy of association, this seems to me to be part of a broader pathology, one that may have something to do with the dawning realization that the next president of the United States may very likely be either a charismatic African American or formidably efficient woman, two collections of attributes that folks in certain quarters still think are better seen and not heard.

Consider the nonsense John Cole ridiculed yesterday, (gruesomely illustrated just below on this blog). And then there is the roiling, can’t-keep-it-in racialism (that’s the nice word, and it is truly a euphemism in this case) of the National Review that Roy Edoroso mocks over at Alicublog.

The connection between all this and the science-public-square beat of this blog is the same one I’ve hit before: one of the things thinking about science even a little does for you is to enforce some rigor on your arguments.

By contrast, these guys aren’t thinking. They’re feeling, and they’re feeling kind of bad right now. Such painful experiences must be someone’s fault (that’s my seven year old’s interpretation, at least) and so we get demands like Mr. Jensen’s. He’d be happy if only we all wore patched tween and narrow ties, and if we don’t, his misery is our fault.


Image: Fashion plate, caption: “1912. Costumes Parisiens. 2. Habit de soiree. Gilet de pique blanc. Chaussettes de soie blanche.” Source: Wikimedia Commons.