Skinny Jeans and Bernie’s Mittens

The polar vortex. Climate change. Infrequent but not unknown weather extremes, otherwise known as “it’s February, what do you expect?”.

None of that fully explains the extreme cold spell we’ve been having. Here is the real story:

The pandemic’s upending of our schedules and routines have left a lot of us calendar-challenged. “It’s Wednesday, right? No, Thursday? And the month? Um, just give me a minute.”

Obviously, the same thing has happened to Mother Nature. A couple of weeks ago she woke up and realized, “Oh, damn—it’s February already! Fall was supposed to be over three months ago. Now if I can just remember where I left all my winter stuff . . .”

Then she unloaded three months’ worth of winter weather all at once.

This is why some of us, who have been running blithely around in light jackets while our snowboots and heavy coats have been gathering dust in the hall closet, are feeling aggrieved by the cold. The daily high temperatures went from mid-fifties to below zero faster than you could say, “Where in the heck is my other mitten?” We were caught with our long johns—er, our guard down.

But we’re tough. We’re coping. We’re trying to remember that “There is no bad weather; only unsuitable clothing choices.”

Case in point—Bernie Sanders and his famous Inauguration Day coat and mittens. His choice of outerwear was neither a fashion statement nor a political statement. It was simply a practical statement from a guy old enough and wise enough to choose comfort over style on a cold day.

Anyone who lives above a certain latitude understands that if you need to be fashionable when it’s freezing, you have to make certain compromises. That’s why long underwear was invented. Wear it under your regular clothes, and you can stay warm but still look somewhat stylish.

Unless what’s currently stylish is skinny jeans. Long underwear does not fit comfortably under skinny jeans. This is true whether said underwear is lightweight silk or spandex tights. Trust me; I have verified it. Just don’t ask me exactly how.

If the Kardashians lived in Minnesota, the fashion world would do something about this problem.

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Missed Congeniality

“It’s a relief to have a meal with a young woman who isn’t scared to death,” the Very Minor Celebrity who was visiting our very small college told me. “The girl I sat beside at lunch was so nervous her hands were shaking, and the peas kept falling off her fork.”

It’s not that the Very Minor Celebrity was such a scary guy. True, his self-assured presence and trained actor’s voice, not to mention his advanced age (he had to be almost 30) gave him a sophistication that was more than a little intimidating. But the real reason the poor girl couldn’t eat her peas wasn’t his presence but the reason for his visit. She was one of the contestants hoping to be chosen to represent our school in the Miss South Dakota pageant and potentially have a shot at becoming Miss America 1970. He was one of the judges.

Even though I was perfectly calm enough to eat my peas in peace, I was also participating in the pageant. Continue reading

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From Size 10 to Size 6—Overnight!

Yes, a dramatic overnight transformation from size 10 to size 6 really is possible. I’ve done it myself. Truly. When I was in high school, I wore a size 10. Suddenly, a few years later, I became a size 6. Even now, weighing around (mumble, mumble) pounds more than I did then, I wear a size 6.

The reason for this has little to do with my actual size, nor the size of any other adult female person. It’s because sizing standards changed.

For a long time—pretty much ever since people started making fabric and shaping it into clothes, probably—making clothes that actually fit meant measuring one person at a time and cutting the garment to match. The first attempts to standardize women’s clothing sizes in the United States came in the 1930’s and 1940’s, thanks in large part to catalog businesses like Sears Roebuck wanting to help customers order garments that that might actually fit them. In 1958, the National Bureau of Standards came up with an official standard. After a couple of decades of various revisions, adaptations, and increasing disregard by manufacturers and retailers, in 1983 the Department of Commerce tossed its measuring tapes into a corner and gave up trying to maintain standard sizes for women’s clothes.

Thousands of women have done the same. Continue reading

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DIY Distressed Denim

Of the many oddities of fashion that make no sense to me, one of the most bizarre—right up there with four-inch stiletto heels and neckties—is ripped jeans. Not the grubby old ones you wear for cleaning the garage or gardening, but the oh-so-fashionable ones you can buy already strategically shredded.

Even though they may look like they came from the “Free” bin at the thrift store, these pre-torn jeans actually cost more than ordinary jeans with all their parts intact. If you want fashionably ventilated bottoms, it’s going to cost you top dollar.

No worries, though. You can save a bundle by distressing your denim yourself. I know this, because the other day I noticed a video on “how to rip your jeans yourself.”

I saw no need to watch the video, not having any interest in deliberately causing harm to a perfectly good pair of pants. Besides, I have years of experience in ripping my own jeans and observing the ways other people rip theirs. Here are some of the proven methods you might try:

1. Climb through a barbed-wire fence that is just a little higher than your legs are long or just a little narrower than other parts of your anatomy are wide.

2. Catch the pocket or belt loop on a door handle or some other protruding object.

3. Have an unexpected encounter with a fish hook. (Note: it’s not strictly necessary for the hook to be attached to a line or in use for actual fishing at the time.)

4. Trip over a sharp-ended stick that was hidden in the grass.

5. Wreck your bicycle.

6. Stumble, fall, and slide down a steep rocky hiking trail. Depending on the sharpness of the rocks, ten to twenty feet ought to do it.

7. Annoy the cat once too often.

8. Play a little too energetically with the puppy.

9. Spend a summer afternoon sliding down the concrete spillway at Canyon Lake Dam. This is especially effective for cut-off jeans. Hint: it’s a good idea to wear underwear that is decent but not necessarily your favorite.

10. Have an “oops” moment with the hedge trimmer, or for real efficiency, the chainsaw.

Just like other instructions, these do come with some warnings about care, maintenance, and safety:

A. Don’t take the mangled jeans to your mother or wife and ask her plaintively if she can fix them so the tear won’t show. Especially if the jeans are ones she bought for you within, say, the past week.

B. Before wearing the self-shredded jeans, soak and then wash them in cold water to remove any blood.

C. It may be wise to delay wearing the newly fashionable jeans until any incidental distress to your skin has healed, depending on the location and extent of any bandages, scabs, or stitches.

If all this seems like too much trouble, you might try another time-tested method. It takes longer but is guaranteed to get results. It’s simple:

Wear jeans. Work in jeans. Play in jeans. Wash jeans. Repeat as needed.

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Swim Suit Suitability

Once every 20 years or so, there are a few things a woman just needs to do. Like make a drastic hairstyle change. Remodel the house. Toss the old couch. Change careers.

Or buy a new swimsuit.

Over the past two decades I have bought three cars and one house. I have sold three cars and two houses. I have moved twice, updated one kitchen, and replaced several significant pieces of furniture. How many swimsuits have I bought in all that time? None.

You may think this is because I am overwhelmed by the whole process of finding one. Well, yes, I am, but that isn’t the reason. Really, it takes me years to wear out a suit. I rarely go to a lake. I live a thousand miles from the nearest oceans. I haven’t dipped a toe into a public pool for years. I don’t do any tanning. Not only did I find it too boring when I was a teenager, but I’ve lost any taste I might have had for it since the dermatologist starting freezing spots off my skin. About the only time I need a swim suit these days is to take advantage of a hotel pool or hot tub when I’m traveling. And that’s on the rare occasions when I have remembered to pack the suit.

So once I find a suit, it will last a long time. A good thing, too, given the stress of the whole swim suit buying experience.

First there’s the sticker shock. Eighty-five bucks for a scant handful of Spandex and a couple of straps? Really? Per square inch, that’s as expensive as a registered Chihuahua puppy figured by the ounce.

Then there’s the challenge of finding something suitable. Avoiding the barely-there bikinis clearly meant for women several decades younger and a few (Okay, several. Well, maybe ten. Okay, okay, twenty.) pounds lighter than me. Avoiding the suits with flowing tops longer than today’s dresses that are clearly meant for women substantially larger and somewhat (well, maybe a little bit) older than me.

Then comes the actual trying on. Taking three or four possibilities into a dressing room and making sure the door is locked. Stripping down, noticing every odd mark your socks and jeans leave imprinted on your skin. Struggling into a suit (discovering halfway into the experience that it would have been easier to don the top of a two-piece by stepping into it than by pulling it on over one’s head). Then, sucking in everything that can be sucked in, taking that dreaded look in the mirror and checking out the rear view.

During swim suit season, dressing room mirrors really ought to have stickers with emergency hotline numbers for Weight Watchers and the nearest available fitness center.

The last time I tried on swim suits, twenty years and ten pounds ago, the “tankini” had just hit the market and was the only style available in that particular store. I put one on, tugged the bottom of the top down to meet the top of the bottom, and looked in the mirror. The suit didn’t look too bad. Then I took a breath. The top rolled itself up my tummy like a window shade. It wasn’t inspiring.

This time around, I managed to find a two-piece suit that covered the things that needed covered but that stayed put if I breathed. It didn’t bare things that didn’t bear baring, but neither did it come down to my knees. It was reasonably comfortable. It was even semi-stylish enough not to scream “woman of a certain age who can’t keep everything sucked in like she used to.” Close enough; I braced myself and bought it.

Thank goodness, that’s taken care of for the next twenty years.

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Things Not to Do in Your Skinny Jeans

There are obvious health and social risks associated with skinny jeans. The chance of injuring delicate body parts as you zip up, even though you hold your breath and suck in till you turn purple. The inconvenience and potential embarrassment of struggling to peel the jeans down, millimeter by millimeter, in the confines of a public restroom stall while nature is calling with increasing urgency. The risk of losing essential objects like your wallet, keys, or cell phone because you can’t put them into your skintight pockets. And, of course, the ever-present fear that if you bend over you might hear a ripping sound and feel a sudden breeze.

Not to mention the risk—especially significant for those who live alone—of getting stuck in your jeans while you’re getting dressed. If you don’t bend your foot precisely the right way while you’re trying to slide it through that teeny little opening at the bottom of the jeans, your heel gets caught and there you are, like Cinderella’s stepsister trying to squeeze into that little glass slipper. You can’t push your foot on through, and with the jeans halfway up your thighs you can’t exactly bend over to tug the jeans back down off your foot, and you’re torn between desperately hoping someone will come in and rescue you and desperately hoping no one sees you till you manage to extricate yourself.

But it turns out there is an even greater danger than any of these: nerve and muscle damage that can land you in the hospital. Seriously. A woman in Australia, helping someone move, spent a great deal of time squatting while she emptied cupboards. Her skinny jeans compressed nerves and blocked circulation in her lower legs. By the end of the day when she walked home, her feet were so numb she fell down and couldn’t get up until someone found her. Her jeans had to be cut off in the emergency room and she spent four days in the hospital.

The moral to the story, according to doctors who published a report in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, is not to squat in your skinny jeans.

There actually could be an upside to this, I suppose. For example:

Friend to friend: “You know how much I admire your collection of salt and pepper shakers, but I just can’t pack them for you. The doctor says it would be dangerous to spend that much time reaching into the bottom cupboards.”

Teenage girl to parent: “Weed the garden? But you can’t make me do that—I could be crippled for life!

Mom or grandma to toddler: “Sorry, sweetheart, I’d love to get down on the floor and play eleventeen games of Candyland with you, but it wouldn’t be safe.”

Of course, there is one simple and sensible way to avoid all of these potential problems: choose jeans that aren’t quite so skinny, or at least ones that stretch. But of course, we’re not talking about sense here; we’re talking about style.

I would, however, offer just one small piece of advice: if you must squat in your skinny jeans, at least don’t do it with your spurs on.


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Improbable Causes

A department store flyer this week included an ad for men’s “causal” pants. My first assumption, naturally, was that a proofreader, possibly on a Monday morning before his or her first cup of coffee, had been a little too “casual” about checking the copy.

But maybe not. What if the ad meant exactly what it said? This could explain so much. There is definitely a “causal” relationship between the wearing of certain styles of pants and the effects thereof. For instance:

The astonishingly long-lasting style of grossly oversized pants for young men, which causes:
a. An increase in underwear sales, at least among certain styles and brands, since the top two-thirds of it are visible to all who care to look and even more who don’t.
b. The inability to do anything, such as mowing the yard or carrying laundry downstairs, that requires both hands, because of the need to keep one hand free to continually hitch up one’s sagging britches.
c. The inability to carry anything heavier than a ten-dollar bill in the multiple pockets of those saggy pants, because even an extra half-ounce of weight will cause the jeans to end up around the wearer’s ankles.

The latest and opposite extreme style for young men of super-skinny jeans, which causes:
a. Still more of an increase in underwear sales, since the boxers that were required under (or rather, above) the baggy jeans won’t fit under the skinny jeans.
b. A decrease is impulse spending, because while it is possible to carry a limited amount of cash in the super-tight pockets of the super-skinny jeans if one puts it into the pocket before zipping up the jeans, it’s not possible to get the cash out of the pocket in public without losing one’s dignity.
c. A possible need to switch from the baritone to the tenor section of the high school chorus.

The style for women of super-skinny jeans, which causes:
a. The continued sale of large, heavy purses. (See “b” above.)

The style for young women, as well as for some women old enough to know better, of super-stretchy tights in brightly colored geometric patterns, unfortunately too often worn with too-short tops, which causes:
a. Even more sales of large, heavy purses, which if carried in appropriate positions may provide some much-needed cover.
b. The unavoidable noticing, by innocent bystanders, of dimples in places said bystanders have no business knowing about and would really prefer not to know about.
c. A presumed decrease in underwear sales, since if even the stretchiest underwear were worn under the stretchy tights it would be possible to read the size, brand name, and fiber content printed on it.

All these and similar extreme styles in pants certainly are causal of outbursts of sarcasm and hilarity from observers, particularly those who are old enough to have forgotten—or at least to hope others have forgotten—about some of their own earlier fashion excesses. The outbursts may be muted if these observers are encouraged to browse through old photo albums. Or, if they can’t remember where they’ve stored the photo albums, the hilarity can be brought to an abrupt end with one evocative phrase: plaid polyester bellbottoms.

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Smart Clothes

Smart watches that can check our email. Virtual-reality headsets. Smart eyeglasses with teeny computer screens—an exciting idea, maybe, unless you’ve ever had trouble getting used to bifocals. Clothes that can use energy from your movements to recharge electronic devices.

Wearable technology might be mostly at the experimental stage, but the melding of fashion and technology into smart clothes isn’t just for “Star Trek” anymore.

Let’s set aside for a moment the question of whether technology geeks are really the people we want designing our fashions. Here are a few smart-clothes options I wish they would work on:

• Clothes smart enough to pick themselves up off the floor, wash themselves, mend themselves, and put themselves away.
• Clothes smart enough to convert spaghetti-sauce stains into energy.
• Clothes for toddlers with sensors to alert parents if kids climb up on top of the refrigerator or find the hidden stash of gourmet chocolate.
• Clothes for women of a certain age, programmed to send a flow of cold air through their fibers at the first sign of a hot flash.

In the meantime, while the scientists and engineers are happily playing with wearable electronics, here’s a low-tech bit of design that would make life easier in today’s high-tech world. Pockets.

It makes no sense to me. Right now, cell phones are evolving from accessories to necessities. They’re getting bigger and smarter. They are becoming lifelines to the rest of the world, not just for communicating with other people, but for everyday activities like taking photos, reading, navigating, finding addresses, making grocery lists, and looking up answers to random questions like, “Is an avocado a fruit or a vegetable?” (It’s a fruit; I looked it up.)

Because phones are used for so many things, they are increasingly important in a “don’t put it down except in the shower” kind of way. They are always just a ringtone or a vibration away.

So why don’t today’s clothes have pockets big enough to carry them in?

Oh, many men’s clothes do. But just look at the current styles for women. Skinny jeans so tight that, if you have a quarter in your pocket, people can see whether the outer side is heads or tails. Tights. Tall, form-fitted boots. Short, form-fitted jackets. Clingy layered tops. Dresses so short that pockets would hang lower than the hemline.

It might be useful if some of those creative techie nerds would turn their attention to designing better ways to carry around our essential electronics. Phone sheaths in those tall boots, maybe. Shoulder holsters. Necklaces—known, no doubt, as “neck-tech.” Wrist straps. Fashionable phone belts. Phone-holding scarves. Small, obedient, tech-toting dogs.

Except, if we’re honest about it, we know why this is a place that fashion designers refuse to go. Even the most stylish woman outfitted with such accessories would look like a refugee from a bad spy movie or a geek wearing a tool belt. No wonder so many women still lug purses the size of carpet bags.

And come to think of it, those “Star Trek” uniforms didn’t have pockets, either.

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Intelligent Design–Or Not

I don’t know much about design, but I know what I like. Or more precisely, I know bad design when I try to use it.

Like the dangling coffee cup. During a recent trip, we had breakfast in a coffee shop—one that, from its prices and decor, clearly thought of itself as “upscale.” The food was okay, the coffee was okay, and the tea would have been okay had the water been hotter.

And the cups, because of their design, were practically unusable. The basic cup was a perfectly nice classic shape, wider at the top and curving down to a smaller base. It was the handle that was the problem. It was small and perfectly round, stuck onto the cup near the top. Think a donut clinging to the side of a pitcher. Or imagine Mickey Mouse with only one ear, and that a small one with a piercing that had gone horribly wrong.

If you care, you can see a photo of the cup at the website linked below, but here’s a rough sketch:

illy cup sketch

If you put your finger through the hole to pick up the cup, you couldn’t curl your other fingers beneath the handle for support without burning your knuckles against the side of the hot cup. If you tried to pick up the cup by the handle without that support, the weight of the cup would tip forward, spilling half the contents into your plate or your lap.

The only way to actually drink out of the cup was to treat it like a Chinese tea cup without a handle. This meant picking it up with both hands, carefully, at the top, so as not to burn your fingers.

The coffee shop advertised proudly that it served illy (not my typo; the “I” is not capitalized) brand coffee, and the cups obviously came from the coffee company, because “illy” marched proudly in red across the front of each one. When I took a look at the illy website, all became clear. The coffee cups aren’t merely vessels for drinking out of; they are art.

Here is the explanation, taken straight from the website: the illy company has “rethought” and “elevated” the coffee cup to “meld the sensory pleasures of coffee and art.” The company sells a variety of cups, with designs by a variety of artists, as an art collection. Buying one of these cups gives you an opportunity for “an experience that fully engages the senses and the mind.” The cup’s shape, created by an architect and designer, “was a full meeting of form and function: a vessel made to optimize diffusion of aromas and retention of heat, while establishing an entirely original tactile and aesthetic experience.”

Well, form and function may have met, but they obviously didn’t get along well. Apparently the designer was so focused on the aesthetic experience that he never got around to testing the cup to see whether an ordinary, non-artistic person in need of caffeine could actually drink out of one.

I have to admit, though, that there’s one way the cup design is a great success. Suppose you pick it up by the handle, and it tips forward and spills hot coffee into your lap, causing you to jump up, drop the cup, and utter several heartfelt expletives. Congratulations! You have just enjoyed “an experience that fully engages the senses and the mind.”

Categories: Fashion, Food and Drink, Living Consciously | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Style, Stubble, and Scruffy Chic

I thought that look went out with the last reruns of “Miami Vice.” Or maybe it did, and it’s just come back around again.

In either case, it was a bad idea then, and it’s a bad idea now. I’m talking about the fashion in ads for men’s clothing to show models all dressed up in their nice suits, with three days’ worth of stubble on their faces. They look as if they interrupted a back-country fishing trip for the photo shoot, hurrying back to town in such a rush that they didn’t take time to shave.

Does anyone in the real world actually think this “stubbly chic” is attractive? Are there women out there who daydream about snuggling up to guys with faces that feel like a cross between a juvenile porcupine and a piece of 60-grit sandpaper?

Most of these scruffy-faced models are chisel-jawed guys in their 20’s. A few, maybe in their 30’s, seem to be trying to look a little older, going for the “CEO’s are real men, too” look. And even some of the guys modeling clothes for teens show up proudly in their chin whiskers. Never mind that they don’t look old enough to shave.

Thankfully, there’s one demographic that doesn’t seem to have succumbed to this look: models over 50. (Yes, there are a few, and no, not all of them are advertising Viagra.) Maybe even fashion photographers have to admit that it doesn’t work to show a guy of a certain age with gray stubble sprouting across his not-so-chiseled jaw. No matter how expensively he may be dressed, he’s going to look like he just spent the night sleeping behind a dumpster.

Taking this look of fashionable scruffiness to its logical conclusion, what might be next? Just think of the possibilities. Slender young female swimsuit models with hairy legs and underarms like King Kong. Dimpled toddlers in cute little outfits, with pureed peas smeared on their rosy little cheeks. Grade-schoolers with Kool-Aid mustaches. Cosmetics models whose close-up shots reveal not only flawless skin, but also bits of broccoli stuck between their teeth.

I’m all for truth in advertising, but this might be taking “reality” a bit too far. Especially when most real guys seem to hold to the quaint custom of shaving every morning before they head off to work.

There is hope, I suppose, that the stubble-and-a-suit look will eventually run its course. I did see one photo in this week’s newspaper inserts of a manly young guy with a clean-shaven chin. It was an ad for jackets, in the Cabela’s flyer. He was fishing.

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