Garden Kitsch

Gnome Sophisticated gardeners typically view garden gnomes as kitsch. However, I do know one sophisticated gardener with a weakness for gnomes who has a few scattered in a large garden on a property of several acres. She jokes that she has heard that each gnome she displays lowers the value of her property by a thousand dollars. 

In this light, it is fascinating to read the pages of comments on a Colorado’s 9News story which relates that someone stole almost 150 gnomes from the front landscape of an Arvada, Colorado home. Some readers sympathize with the home owner’s comment that, “You can’t have anything nice anymore.” Others argue that her idea of “nice” must have been amazingly tacky, and that someone did the neighborhood a service by getting rid of what had to have been a kitschy eyesore. 

To raise money for breast cancer research, the Colorado Women’s Resource Center has advertised that they will place of flock of 20 plastic pink flamingos on a friend’s lawn for one day for a fee of $30. Knowing that displaying a flock of pink flamingos puts the homeowner’s taste in question, they also offer anti-flocking insurance for $10—just in case you fear that one of your “friends” might impose them on you.

Ready For Your Snapshot? Facebook Paranoia As A Sales Tool

Facebook silhouette If my DG email inbox is any indication, people are getting increasingly paranoid about how they look in their Facebook photos. Or at least the publicists for various skincare and beauty products hope they are.

One PR query asks, "Is Your Face Facebook Ready?"

Did you know the there are more than 500 million active users on Facebook? Most people block their walls and photo albums, but profile photos are broadcast to anyone who cares to look—from new classmates to prospective employers. Don’t let a bad complexion ruin your image on Facebook… and beyond. Prep your skin for your close up with Vichy Laboratoires skincare solutions. Whether you have acne scars, puffy eyes or oily skin, Vichy will help you put your best face forward.

Another has the subject line, "Look Picture Perfect!"

Unfortunately, every picture you are photographed in isn’t always Facebook “profile” worthy and we’ve all had photos taken that we are not proud of. Luckily, Romy Fazeli of Kymaro Health and Beauty offers quick inexpensive tips to give you a photo-ready look.

Her mixed-bag of recommendations includes a teeth whitener, body shapers, and jewelry. I wonder what they have in common?

Head Protection For Chic Bicyclists

A couple of weeks ago, I published a WSJ column citing research showing that while bicycle-helmet laws do save lives they also significantly discourage kids (especially teenagers) from riding bikes in the first place. The comments were lively and interesting—as I note in the article, this is a topic that excites all-or-nothing passions—with some people adamantly arguing that appearance is, or ought to be, completely irrelevant: "Riding a bike is not a fashion statement," declared one.

YAKKAY spring 2010 chic bike helmet YAKKAY girl pink bike helmet

Wearing Yakkay helmets

Except, of course, that for many people it is. As both the WSJ and NYT have reported, bikes are gaining popularity among fashionable urban women. “The idea now is to look like a pedestrian on wheels,” a bike retailer told the NYT's Ruth La Ferla. Preferably one liked to be featured on The Sartorialist. The "lovely bicycle" is in, and it doesn't go with the typical bike helmet.

Fortunately, in bike-loving Scandinavia enthusiasts for both bicycles and head-protection have turned not to laws but to design. In my article, I briefly mention Yakkay, a Danish startup that offers stylish helmets with changeable covers. "If you make a stylish bicycle helmet you don’t need legislation," says CEO Michael Eide, "and in YAKKAY we wanted to make a helmet people actually want to wear." Now sold in Europe and Canada, Yakkay helmets will be available in the U.S. beginning next spring.

Woman wearing Hövding bike airbag collar Woman with Hövding airbag deployed Woman wearing Hövding collar and scarf Man wearing Hövding collar and scarf
The Hövding: Protection without hat hair (click photo for larger image)

Taking a more radical approach is the Hövding (Chieftain), developed by Swedish designers Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin. An airbag disguised as a collar, it is, as Ariel Schwartz reports on Fast, "the complete antithesis of the hard-shelled helmets that cyclists have become used to." Six years in development, it will be available next year. Here's a video of how it works:

[Photos courtesy of Yakkay and Hövding.]

Failing To Notice

George Clooney sports a bushy beard while girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis shows off her many tattoos this evening as the hot couple arrives at the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures Awards gala at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City, New York on January 12, 2010. Fame Pictures, Inc

Husbands often disappoint their wives by failing to notice a new hairdo. But judging from my own experience and that of my neighbors, wives can be just as blind as husbands. I recently grew a full beard that I wore to a fund-raising event, then shaved off before attending a neighborhood potluck. My next-door neighbor noticed as soon as I shaved, but my wife didn’t notice until I pointed it out to her a day and a half later.

She felt guilty about not noticing, especially since this had happened before. I told her that our neighbor mentioned that he had worn a mustache his whole working career, then shaved it as soon as he retired, and his wife didn’t notice. Another neighbor woman also confessed that she had failed to notice when her husband shaved his mustache.

Should you find yourself caught in an embarrassing failure to notice, you might try the line my wife used on me the first time this happened, “I always focus on your eyes.”

Yeah, right. Still—I have to admit her excuse sounded pretty good accompanied as it was by a charming smile.

[PicApp photo of George Clooney sporting a bushy beard taken at the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures Awards gala at in New York City on January 12, 2010. Fame Pictures, Inc. Content © 2010 famepictures All rights reserved.]

Taking Fashion Risks

191-unlimited During recent trips to Santa Fe and Boulder I picked up some fun clothing items, including the 191 Unlimited shirt shown on the model at left. I had some interesting conversations with saleswomen, and more than one of them bemoaned her husband’s lack of interest in ever wearing stylish clothing. Their husbands always wore work clothes or very casual comfort clothes. One saleswoman and I agreed that some men and women seem uninterested in fashion, while others play it safe by wearing what most people around them are wearing. We both felt that developing a personal fashion sense is a slow, incremental process that involves some trial and error.

Any person hates to look foolish, but Carol Dweck’s mindset research at Stanford has shown that people who believe that abilities such as intelligence, musical talent, and athletic skills are unchangeable are the people who are most likely to avoid trying to master areas of endeavor that prove difficult for them. She has shown that children who have been praised because learning some subjects or skills seemed easy for them (“you’re so smart, gifted, or talented”) often absorb a darker side of that message which implies that if you have to work hard to master a particular subject or skill, it means that you have a permanent lack of aptitude in that area. So when some area proves difficult for these fixed mindset students to master quickly, they may feel that having to work hard at it makes them look inept, and they may then choose to avoid that subject as much as possible. In her research Dweck found, for example, that pre-med students with this fixed-ability mindset often changed majors when they encountered the first math or biology course that they had to work hard to pass.

On the other hand, children who have been praised for their hard work in learning various subjects and skills tend to believe that abilities can be developed incrementally, and they are usually far more willing to work hard to try to master subjects and skills that challenge them. They view making mistakes and learning from them as integral parts of the long-term process of growth. Dweck’s controlled studies have repeatedly shown that this incremental-growth mindset is far more likely to give students the grit needed to work hard and make it past various obstacles they encounter as they pursue their interests and goals.

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 16: A model walks the runway at the Davidelfin Spring 2011 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Studio at Lincoln Center on September 16, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for IMG)

I can understand that some people may have little interest in fashion, and others may not wish to differ in appearance from their peers. But I suspect that for some people, professing a lack of interest in fashion may  be a way to avoid giving others any opportunity to  judge them as trying and failing to be fashionable. One or two such failures may have already convinced them that they have little aptitude for fashion, and they assume that this will always be the case. And after dressing for years in an inconspicuous, blend-in way, trying something different might make the wearer too self-conscious to appear confident and comfortable.

For those whose mindset assumes that developing an ability is an incremental process, taking a fashion risk becomes a single step toward incrementally developing a personal fashion image. If some people suggest that your efforts on a particular occasion are partially flawed, you can deal with that. You realize that taking risks can lead to imperfect results, and if you decide that this effort didn’t work out as successfully as you had hoped, you assume that this one effort implies little or nothing about your long-term ability to develop an interesting personal sense of fashion. You move forward and try new possibilities.

For the first few years of elementary school one of my granddaughters, who loves animals, wore a tail to school and preferred mismatched socks. I thought this was fun, and I was proud that my daughter, a visual artist, was comfortable letting her daughter go to school dressed in an eccentric way. A gallery owner friend let her daughter choose to head off to the first day of kindergarten in full-length gloves. I don’t know what the fashion sense of either of these young girls will be as adults, but hopefully it will retain some measure of their childhood audacity.

[This PicApp Photo shows a model on the runway at the Davidelfin Spring 2011 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Studio at Lincoln Center on September 16, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for IMG). Content © 2010 Getty Images All rights reserved.]

Bridal Glamour: The Italian Difference

The beautiful bride at the window contemplating her new life is a standard trope in wedding gown ads. But this Italian ad includes an element you won't find in its American counterparts, at least not these days.

Smoking Italian bride

Looking Back At History Through Current-Colored Lenses

Editor's note: Ever since the launch of DG my friend David Bernstein (a Bay Area engineer, not the Volokh Conspiracy blogger) has been passing on interesting glamour-related links and observations. I've finally persuaded him to join us with the occasional post. Here's his debut. For more on this topic, check out this 1974 New York magazine article by Anne Hollander (and for a really creepy experience, keep scrolling to the one after it). [VP]

A couple of Sundays ago the other half was watching Little Women from 1949 on TV while I walked through the living room. Now, I'm an engineer, so fashion generally slides right past me, but the clothes of all the girls (little women?) activated the pattern recognition part of my brain. It seemed that they were all wearing dresses with inverted triangles over the upper torso. They struck me as looking more like photos I've seen of women from the post-World War II era rather than around the Civil War. It got me to thinking about how art that depicts history is affected by the time of the art itself, as opposed to that of the depicted history. It can be difficult to remove the current-colored lenses that we all peer through.

To illustrate the point, here is a montage of scenes from three different versions of Little Women.

Covert Affairs Costumes: What Does A Spy Chief Wear? No Sleeves, Apparently.

When tonight's episode of Covert Affairs airs, most fans of the USA Network spy drama will be looking at sexy leading lady Piper Perabo, who plays rookie CIA operative Annie Walker. I, however, will be wondering what sort of sleeveless outfit her boss Joan Campbell, played by Kari Matchett, will be sporting.

Covert Affairs credits Kari Matchett 


Unless she's on assignment, Annie dresses like a typical Washington professional--in suits (though not in the clip below). Joan, however, never covers her arms. Is this a new form of power dressing? Is it Michelle Obama's influence? Or is it yet another Hollywood fantasy? (They've been putting female detectives in tank tops for years. But at least they also have jackets.) You'd think that Langley's air conditioning alone would dictate more coverage.

Here are a couple more YouTube clips. Apparently I'm not the only one wondering about these outfits. There's a whole thread on IMDB.

Covert Affairs Joan Campbell Kari Matchett sleeveless dress   Covert Affairs still Joan Campbell Kari Matchett sleeveless dress

The Secret Lives Of Servers

Servers At a recent dinner in the harbor town of Newport, Oregon, the appearance of our youthful waitress sent confusing messages. She appeared to be about 20, had a slender figure, and wore no makeup on her innocent-looking face. She had heightened the aura of innocence by gathering her hair into pony tails on either side of her face, in a style popular with Japanese schoolgirls.

I then noticed that the edge of her left eyebrow was pierced by a delicate gold ring, and that each ear had multiple piercings. When she walked away, I could see that a dark-blue geometric tattoo covered most of her left calf. The piercings and tattoo suggested considerably less innocence than the rest of her appearance. Yet when I was paying the bill she mentioned that a customer had just spilled beer on her, which upset her because she didn’t drink.

Many people work part time as servers while going to school or pursuing careers where income is unpredictable. I would have loved to ask our waitress some questions about herself, but I was there with some of my wife’s relatives, and somehow it didn’t seem appropriate. On occasions when I have asked, I have discovered that I was being served by pre-med students, actors, artists, published novelists whose sales were modest, graduate students, and a variety of other aspiring individuals. For them, working in a restaurant was seldom the role that they most identified with, and from their appearance you would often have had a hard time guessing their larger aspirations.

I found this waitress intriguing. Was her innocent look a guise imposed upon her by this family-friendly restaurant? When she was not working as a waitress, did she wear makeup, and did it go with the tattoos and piercings? Was her abstinence from alcohol part of a healthy diet lifestyle that helped her stay slim? Did she have unsuspected aspirations? Was her “normal” appearance so different that I would scarcely recognize her? Did she turn into some glamorous creature of the night when she went on dates? Or was she simply an innocent young woman whose piercings and tattoo were nothing more than her idea of fashion?

["A Smile with Every Meal" is from Andrew Stawarz's Flickr photostream, and is used under the Flickr Creative Commons license.]

What Would They Have To Pay You To Wear This?

Aqua-Colour-Block-Swirl-Catsuit Fashion stylist Angie at the excellent blog recently challenged readers to tell her how much they'd have to be paid to wear this outfit in normal, everyday life. Among the first 70 replies prices ranged from $100 to a cure for cancer ("no amount of money would be enough"). Amazingly, a real online retailer charges £135 for the hot mess.

The outfit is hideous and inappropriate to pretty much every context. It also sends a strange signal about the wearer's identity (Hooker working Comic-Con? Unfortunately paired Project Runway model?).

But what about outfits that aren't downright ugly, just unconventional or signals of the wrong identity? How sensitive are you to social expectations? To making sure your wardrobe matches your self-image? How do you balance those two factors when identity and taste clash with convention? When I interviewed cosplayers at Anime Expo, several told me they wished they wear Edwardian-inspired fantasy outfits every day. On a more mundane note, I myself spend most days in jeans and T-shirts even though in theory I'd rather wear suits or dresses. It just seems strange to dress up to work at home.

Lilly Pulitzer Gracey Pant Silk Cotton Lawn

So, to add to Angie's question, here are some less outre outfits to consider.

These pink and orange Lily Pulitzer silk pants sell for $98. I'm sure they have many fans, but they're definitely for people with very specific tastes. And they say the wearer is either a super-preppy or a wannabe. Along similar lines, consider madras pants, available for both men and women. Siberian Summer Upcycled T-Shirt Dress with Medieval Liripipe Hood by SnugglePants teal purple jewel tones

What would someone have to pay you to wear them to work? Or would you happily pay for the privilege yourself?

Moving on to a different taste subculture, how about this Renaissance Faire-influenced upcycled T-shirt dress? I love the color palette, and the "medieval style liripipe hood" and giant bell sleeves have a certain romance. But for everyday office wear? How much?

Finally, no such discussion would be complete without the classic Juicy Couture velour tracksuit, complete with rhinestone-encrusted crown. Everyday glamour? Or the wrong sort of signal? What's your price?

Got an outrageous outfit to share? Please add your own challenges, with links, in the comments below. We'll award a DeepGlamour goody bag to the one we like the best.