Banana Republic sponsored a photo competition for people dressed in the style of the TV show MadMen. The prize is a walk-on role for an episode of the show, and the semifinalists and now the winner have been announced. Among the semifinalist photos we see portraits of wives and airline stewardesses, but secretaries (now titled “administrative assistants”) and interns seem underrepresented.
In imagining a walk-on role, a temporary secretary or someone interviewing to be an intern would seem to have great potential. Such a walk-on role could be little or no dialogue, and a lovely young woman could provide eye candy for the show’s viewers. Surely a lot of contestants felt this would be the case and submitted photos of themselves as secretaries. One of these is shown at right.
An attractive, unattached female is inevitably the focus of considerable male attention in an office, even if it is limited to looking and fantasizing. The image at right captures such a moment marvelously. The woman who is the subject of her boss’s admiring appraisal no doubt realizes that he will study her figure as she walks away, and she accepts it, though from her expression we can’t tell whether she welcomes it or not.
Back before issues of sexual harassment made office relationships more hazardous, secretaries were often involved in affairs with their bosses or other men in the office. So I find it surprising that photos of secretaries didn’t turn up in the semi-finalists. However, the semi-finalists and winners were determined by public voting, which always make the outcome of a contest unpredictable. A long-standing issue for the TV show Dancing with the Stars has been how its predominately female viewers vote. After the first few seasons the producers feared that no woman contestant would ever win because so many women viewers seemed to simply vote for the man they would most like to have as their dance partner.
The winning MadMen photo is shown at left, and an interview with winner Porter Hovey can be found here. Hovey is a freelance photographer, and she and her sister staged the photo. She portrays a well-dressed suburban mom, sunglasses and all, who is sitting on the steps next to her vintage stroller. One of the questions her interviewer asks is whether she sees herself as a Marilyn or a Jackie, though there doesn’t seem much doubt which one she emulates in the photo.
Contests in which the winner is whoever crosses the line first are easy to understand. The same with sports like basketball where points are scored when the ball goes through the hoop, and the team with the most points wins.
Contests involving subjective judgments are often puzzling. Looking at the photos of the men who are semi-finalists, only the first had a suggestion of narrative. The rest seem like straightforward photos—no feeling of story. Some of the women’s photos are more interesting in a narrative sense, particularly the first, the last, and the winner. In these, the women are seen in staged action. Surely that made a difference in how voters were able to relate to photos.
Perhaps the majority of voters in this contest were women, and if so I can imagine them relating to a wife with responsibilities who is forced to wait for someone, perhaps her late-as-usual husband. A scene like this invites us to imagine what the story is. The photo looks like it could be a genuine street shot, and people were actually stopping and peeking in to see the baby (which turned out to be camera gear).
It would be interesting to know the demographics of the voters. Did women vote for images of women that they identified with? Returning to the lack of secretary photos among the semifinalists, were women voters less inclined to vote for images of women who look as if they might put a married man’s fidelity to the test? I didn’t vote, but as a male I confess that I understood why the man in the first photo was mesmerized.
[Photo of the woman in blue is from Suchacyn’s Flicker Photostream, and is used by permission.]
In a 1993 article in the American Economic Review, Wharton economist Joel Waldfogel estimated the “deadweight loss of Christmas,” arguing that “holiday gift-giving destroys between 10 percent and a third of the value of the gifts.” That loss is basically the difference between what givers pay to buy the gifts and what recipients would be willing to pay for the same items. Waldfogel has now developed his argument into an adorably packaged little book called Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays. Here’s an excerpt from chapter one, which you can read in full here):
O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi is a tale of another sort of deadweight loss. I’ve always hated it for the cruel joke the author plays on the characters, doubly so since he declares their gifts a model of wisdom rather than heartbreak. How can that outcome be good? Everyone is worse off! Even as a child, I thought a bit like an economist.
When the day arrives, families—and extended families—gather around a tree or a hearth or a menorah to exchange holiday gifts. Kids squeal in delight as they open their dolls and trucks. With young children especially, the gifts matter less than the ritual of ripping off wrapping paper and bows. Teenagers feign surprise—for grandma’s benefit—and register actual approval for the gifts they specifically requested. They roll their eyes at the music and movies you buy them. Because you’ve raised them well, they manage a smile for grandma’s gifts. What kid doesn’t need a candle? But the fabricated smiles aren’t limited to the teens. The adults all arrange their faces into expressions of pleasure as they unwrap items they would never buy for themselves. “A cribbage board? You shouldn’t have,” we tell our mothers-in-law. Indeed
But O. Henry did perceive one thing correctly: that the characters’ gifts were at least proportionate to each other, and each was—and was perceived as—an expression of great love. Imagine how much worse it would have been for Della to have sold her hair only to receive an ordinary tin of tea in exchange. (Diet Coke hadn’t yet been invented).
Cash, the favored alternative of Scroogy economists, lacks the glamorous promise of perceptively fulfilling an unarticulated longing. (Scrooge, of course, did not give cash. He was too stingy.) It also lacks the license to enjoy yourself that comes with a gift chosen by someone else. Cash is fungible. You may use it for something routine or responsible rather than something fun.
But suppose you’ve said you want the cash for a particular purpose, to get something you want but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) buy without the presents. Your friends and family could chip in to fulfill your wish, and you’d feel at least a moral responsibility to use their gifts the way you said you would. It would be just like cash, but it would feel different: a little more sentimental, a little less crass. Plus instead of, say, four OK presents for $25 each, you could get one great $100 present. It might not be glamorous, but it could be fun—and a lot less disappointing than letting people guess.
That’s the idea behind Lottay (pronounced like the drink), a gift-giving site started by some of my husband’s former UCLA MBA students. Their biggest problem, as Professor Postrel warned them, is getting people used to the idea of giving, and asking for, cash. It’s a tough challenge, one they’re trying to solve by encouraging givers to specify what the cash is for (with the understanding that recipients can spend the money as they choose) and by using “e-greeting cards, private messages, images and pictures to wrap money in the emotion of the occasion.” For those who don’t find that approach convincing, they have a blog with a glamour-puncturing message: Hints Don’t Work.
[Woman opening iron from iStockPhoto. Five-year-old by Flickr user edenpictures, used under Creative Commons license. Theft of the Magi cartoon from the wonderful XKCD. For sweet, funny, geeky gifts, visit the XKCD store here.]
From Monday, November 30 through December 6, create, add to, or share an Amazon Wish List, and you can enter for a chance to win a collection of 10 Glamorous Life prizes, ranging from 1.5 ct diamond earrings to the complete DVD set for Sex and the City. Full list of prizes, rules, and FAQ here. No purchase necessary (nor will making one help you).
Once again, we asked DG contributors and friends to suggest glamorous holiday gifts. This year’s challenge was to keep it cheap: Suggest one gift for an adult and one for a child, each costing $25 or less and all available online, so readers can avoid the Black Friday insanity. (For bonus points, we suggested throwing in fantasy luxe versions as well.)
For safe glamour, I’ll pass along a recommendation from my good friend Sergeant Heather, keychain pepper spray. If you’re wearing high heels and a slinky dress, you aren’t going to be able to outrun a mugger, and if blinding him with your beauty doesn’t cut it, a red pepper spritz in the eyes should do quite nicely.
For unwrinkled glamour, I recommend the best sunblock on the market, Anthelios #60 pour la visage. That’s “for the face,” in French, and if you don’t want yours to look like an Hermes lizard handbag by the time you’re 50, this is the stuff to slather on. (It also helps to live like a bat, and carry a big banana leaf umbrella whenever you leave the house during daylight hours.)
I didn’t quite follow directions on the one gift for a kid/one gift for an adult. (I find children loud, sticky, and expensive, and find the gift most appropriate for too many of them these days would either be a muzzle or parents who actually...you know...parent.)
Amy Alkon is a syndicated columnist, blogger, and author of the new book I See Rude People: One woman’s battle to beat some manners into impolite society. DG’s interview with her will appear in early December.
DMC, a.k.a. GROOMZILLA
After a year of marriage, I realize that the one thing I want from my husband more than anything else is an evening where we do not have to share ourselves with the outside world. No Blackberries or iPhones, Facebook or Twitter, but simply the kind of rich, quality time that feels luxe and decadent in our hectic lives: stolen hours for selfish pleasures. You’re never certain from whom exactly you “stole” the time, but you know that you should be doing something else, and it feels wonderful to not be doing it...whatever it is. I know from being in the trenches with working mothers that this same feeling applies to one’s child in equal measure. The fantasy of just not showing up for that 9:00 a.m. conference call so that you can watch Yo Gabba Gabba is not uncommon.
Since you can’t really put “quality time” in a box, I suggest assembling “Evening with Me” kits (for adults) or “Afternoon with Me” (for children) kits that contain $25 or less of items that, when combined with your time and love, make for cherished memories.
Perhaps, for that special someone, a bottle of cheap but wonderful wine recommended by Jasons Trader Joe’s wine blog, a lovely cheese from a local specialty store (such as Los Angeles’ Say Cheese!), and the truly intoxicating scent of Origins Organics Body Pampering Massage Oil. I leave it to you readers to figure out how these items go together.
Or for the kids, how about a little creative endeavour? Pick a beautiful place in your city to take digital photographs (such as Los Angeles’ Getty Center). Take the photographs to your local drug store for digital prints, and make some cool new artwork for the child’s room using cheap but classic picture frames from IKEA. Somewhere during the trip, stop for snacks and some one-on-one, leisurely conversation that just never seems to fit into the “download and to-do list” during those rushed evening suppers.
Semi-anonymous DG Contributor DMC is a Los Angeles lawyer who last wrote about the Top 10 Pop Divas.
[Mother and child at Getty Center by Flickr contributor La Citta Vita, used under Creative Commons license.]
On the MOMA Store site, the pop-art Shima scarf at $48 is a great version of a very useful scarf at a great price. Outnet.com has lots of pricier scarves and shawls; what they carry depends on their stock at the moment. A scarf or shawl is an easy way to brighten up an outfit (and one’s mood). It’s what you see next to the face, so when I’m really tired, that’s what I do: add a scarf or shawl with some warm tones to distract people.
Clearly the thing to get for a child is fake hamster.
Joan DeJean is a professor of French literature at the University of Pennsylvania and the author, most recently of The Age of Comfort: When Paris Discovered Casual--and the Modern Home Began. DG interviewed her about her previous book, The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour.
I like these pavé earrings from Anthropologie for a touch of sparkle on a very reasonable budget. For a budding fashionistas I like this amazing fashion coloring book, which quotes Coco Chanel on the very first page! (I kind of want this for me too!) Also, for a man (or a scotch-drinking lady), I like these whiskey stones, which don’t melt into your drink. And finally, I’m coveting the whole Jonathan Adler Barbie world, particularly the tiny hot pink sofa. Those are a little pricier, though, at $49 each.
DG Contributor Ingrid Fetell blogs at AestheticsOfJoy.
For kids, a bow and arrow set that evokes the glamour of Robin Hood and Diana the Huntress for only $16.89. I don’t know if there is a luxe version of this. Perhaps a visit to Sherwood Forest with a private archery instructor and a custom-tooled pair of leather gauntlets.
For an adult, a “Depression glass” luncheon plate (for those midday meals at home now that you’ve been laid off) or highball glasses (if you prefer your domestic dining in liquid form). Tableware from the era of a long-ago financial crisis adds a touch of glamour to today’s Great Recession. There are a few vintage and reproduction pieces on Amazon. Another site, Replacements Ltd., offers a wide selection.
Vintage Ruby Red Highball Glasses (reproduction) – set of four $19.99
Manhattan 8 Inch Luncheon Plate Depression Glass Crystal (original) - $12.49
The luxe version would be Waterford Lismore Highball - $74.95 each
Kate Hahn is the author of Forgotten Fashion: An Illustrated Faux History Of Outrageous Trends And Their Untimely Demise, excerpted on DGhere and here.
I have the perfect inexpensive present for your deeply glamorous followers. For $14.00 you can buy someone a bar of the best, most sensual, most fabulous soap on earth. It comes from Fragonard. I bought my first bars in Grasse, when I was attending perfume school. My favorite is the Olive Oil/Lavender. Whoever receives a bar of this soap will never be content with any other soap every again. It’s emollient and fragrant. The bubbles are silky. I order the bars by the half-dozen and since they are huge, I cut them in half.
Of course, everyone should also buy themselves or someone they love a copy of The Gospel According to Coco Chanel, which is not EVEN $25. It’s $19.95 at your local bookstore, and something like $13.95 on Amazon. Voila!
Karen Karbo is the author of The Gospel According to Coco Chanel, which DG excerpted here, here, and here. DG interviewed her here.
My two cents’ worth (for $45): Liz Claiborne rhinestone tassel earrings
DG Contributor Paige Phelps used up her bargain ideas in last year's glamorous gift recommendations. We hope she’s a leading economic indicator.
Adults: White Truffle Infused Olive Oil ($22.50) Diamonds may be forever, but the memory of a truly fabulous meal lasts just as long (and never needs a good cleaning). This bottle of olive oil infused with white Italian truffles may be tiny, but even a drop (or a sniff) is enough to make food lovers salivate, and to turn boring Tuesday night pasta into a recession-friendly version of Betty and Don’s Roman escapades.
Of course, an actual trip to Italy would be an even more glamorous gift, but if you give just the truffle oil, at least you won’t have to deal with those pesky lines at the airport.
Kids: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ninja Assault Gear (for Raphael) ($20.95) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles do not sound glamorous. However, as I’ve learned over the past few months, thanks to my three year old, the turtles actually represent much of what's glamorous and good to little boys. They’re strong and cool and defeat evil, which are the main characteristics of icons of masculine glamour from Batman to James Bond. But they’re also teenagers and they eat pizza, so they’re approachable for little guys. Plus, the Renaissance artist naming system adds a bit of art historical sheen to “gritty” kindergarten crime-fighting.
DG Contributor Kit Pollard also blogs at Mango and Ginger.
A set of cufflinks makes a nice gift for either men or women, and Amazon has a good selection for under $25. (On my personal wish list: the Retro Reflective Blue & Gray Enamel Round Silver Cufflinks).
Another good jewelry choice, though harder to pull off for less than $25, is a bib necklace. I found two promising versions for under $30: with jet beads here and hematite here.
I love giving kids cool boxes with goodies inside. This three-piece set of red mini-suitcases is particularly charming, combining the glamour of (pretend) travel with the immediate joy of a surprise inside. I bought a similar case in a store and packed it with a couple of Barbie dresses I bought in Santee Alley.
Finally, kids and adults can enjoy 70th-anniversary DVD edition of The Wizard of Oz together.
Virginia Postrel is DG’s editor-in-chief.
For more gift ideas, visit last year’s suggestions for Christmas/Chanukah and Valentine's Day. Or check out Amazon's Black Friday deals.
One of the peculiar side effects of blogging is looking for your blogging subject in absolutely everything around you. Fortunately, seeking out the glamorous side of everything, from preschool selection to business development, often makes the world look like a shiny, beautiful place.
Usually, it doesn’t take too long to find the glamour angle. This week, though, glamour has been a little harder to discover - and it's because of Thanksgiving. As it turns out, Thanksgiving is an occasion that is just not naturally glamorous. (Though, to reference Virginia's recent post, it is charismatic.)
There are articles out there, of course, about setting a fabulous Thanksgiving table, or about creating fancy, updated versions of classic Thanksgiving dishes. But these articles don’t get to the core of the holiday, its raison d’etre. Thanksgiving started as a celebration of the harvest and since the first Thanksgiving (in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, or in 1619 at Berkeley Plantation in Virginia, depending on who you ask). The first colonists observing Thanksgiving were also celebrating their safe arrival and survival in America.
Whether the focus was on the harvest or on arrival and survival, the celebration was a humble one. It was actually about giving thanks, not about the people doing the thanking. As a result, Thanksgiving appears to be the one day of the year that glamour willingly takes a backseat to more humble pursuits. It's a day about the people around the table, the traditions passed down from generation to generation, and about reflecting on how lucky we are - whether we're naturally glamorous or not.
And that's as it should be.
So, happy Thanksgiving, everyone! All of us at Deep Glamour hope your turkey is moist, your pumpkin pie crust flaky, and your football games fun.
Oh, and we hope you get lots of rest, too. Because starting at the crack of dawn on Black Friday, glamour is back, and ready for the holiday season.
[Thanksgiving Spread by Flickr user Carbon NYC, used under the Creative Commons license.]
Sergey Brin, one of the co-founders of Google and ranked by Forbes as the 26th richest man in the world, recently took part in the announcement of Google’s Chrome OS. A number of internet sites have shown more interest in Brin’s footwear and choice of smart phones than in the Chrome announcement.
John Biggs at CrunchGear labels Brin’s footwear as “crazy monkey shoes,” but he also describes how these shoes solved all kinds of problems he himself had been having as a runner. On the other hand, he writes “They definitely make you look like a freak. However, I suspect the sting of scorn and ridicule is dampened a bit by the fact that the man has billions and billions of dollars. In my case, people just laugh at me when I run, and I cry. The sweat hides the tears.”
Matt Buchanan at Gizmodo is likewise fascinated by Brin’s footwear, but he also notes that he “carries a Motorola Droid, not a super secret phone we’ve never seen before.” His post has a fascinating photo of participants taking notes on their various gizmos. Most are using smart phones, one person is holding two devices, and one is using a Moleskine notebook and a fountain pen. Judging from these photographs, geek glamour is more about owning and using the “right tools” then wearing high-fashion clothing, no matter how rich you are.
Brin does have unusual taste in footwear, having before been photographed in Crocs (his choice to wear at the US Tennis Open). And, speaking pragmatically, when you’re working obsessively on a project, there’s something to be said for clothes that look much the same whether you’ve slept in them or not.
Commenting on the chart post below, Charles Oliver asks, “Are glamour and charisma necessarily opposites? Can a person not possess both at the same time?” His suggestion is, of course, correct, as the guy in the photo demonstrates. Glamour and charisma are not mutually exclusive, though the combination is rare, requiring a hard-to-maintain balance between warmth and distance, connecting with audiences without becoming overly intimate.
As I suggested in my earlier post, some charismatic performers develop glamorous public personas. They draw audiences into their roles but maintain an alluring mystery in their off-stage lives. Think of classic divas like Maria Callas.
Glamour depends on the audience, so a charismatic person may also be glamorous to some audiences but not to others. A few years ago I was in London and happened to catch a television special on Billy Graham's landmark 1954 crusade there. Like most successful preachers, Graham possessed considerable charisma. But it had never occurred to me that he might be glamorous. In the Bible Belt, where I grew up, he was simply too familiar. But here were British interview subjects talking about him as this tall, handsome representative of exotic American culture—not just a persuasive Christian evangelist but an evocative, mysterious, exciting contrast to austerity Britain. He was, in midcentury London, not just charismatic but glamorous.
[John F. Kennedy in sunglasses from Library of Congress public domain collection.]
I am generally bored by the hysteria, pro and con, that surrounds Sarah Palin. As a bona fide coastal elitist intellectual snob, I can’t see voting for her. But neither do I share the visceral hatred for her or her fans. (Megan McArdle dubs it Palinoia.) I consider her intelligent but ignorant and unworldly. I even liked her convention speech.
That said, the flap over the Newsweek cover shot is as ridiculous as it is predictable. I’ve read enough comment threads over the years to know that conservatives regularly make a point of proudly declaring that their female icons are good looking compared to the old hags on the other side. When did they suddenly adopt politically correct second-wave feminist attitudes toward female beauty, even in the public sphere?
Like it or not, Sarah Palin’s good looks are a big part of her superwoman appeal: governor, earth mother, and sportswoman, with a pretty face and a great body despite all those pregnancies. Besides, I seem to recall some widely circulated topless beach shots of the current commander-in-chief. (Not to mention Condi Rice strutting in those great black boots.) There’s no double standard, except for the one that says if you have bad legs, we don't want to see you in shorts.
There are, of course, problems with the photo, which was taken for Runner's World and was supposed to be embargoed for a year. Nonetheless, it’s clear what Newsweek editors were thinking when they picked it: This is going to sell magazines. (The controversy is a bonus. Free publicity!) Journalism is in survival mode. This is not a time to get squeamish about using the most commercial photo available.
The cries that the cover is “sexist” assume two things: First, that women in public life should not be portrayed as consciously, proudly, sexily attractive. Male politicians can be obviously good looking, but conspicuously attractive women aren’t sufficiently serious. (Maybe we’ll make an exception if you look sufficiently high-end WASP.) And, second, that Newsweek doesn’t like Sarah Palin—an assumption borne out by its cover headline. With different editorial framing, the photo would be read differently. (Pardon my bad mockup. I only had PowerPoint and a very balky iPhoto retouch function to work with.)
I do have one question: Is she wearing panty hose?
As a followup to the post below, I thought it might be useful to create a chart of characteristics distinguishing charisma from glamour. (My thanks to Lou D'Elia of the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate for suggesting the aural/visual distinction.)
And since charisma is a personal characteristic, it's also helpful to compare people, real or fictional, who exemplify the two traits. (I also threw in a couple of non-humanoid examples.) The photo of Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II is also a nice reminder of the religious origins of the concept of charisma. In its original, and strongest, meaning it is not just stage presence but a spiritual gift that draws followers to share a leader's commitment and calling.
Add your own contrasts in the comments.
Notes the catalog:
Situated in the majestic Bavarian Alps, near the Austrian border, Berchtesgaden's reputation took a drastic turn for the worse in the 1920s, when the mountainous area became a popular Nazi high command retreat. Prior to that the region was an upscale holiday destination and resort, as evidenced by this Art Deco image of a couple at the “Königliche Villa” (Royal Villa,) an elegant and popular spa.
Finally, this 1957 poster captures a bit of Jet Age cosmopolitanism: the United Nations building as an exciting New York tourist attraction.
The building is now undergoing a $2 billion renovation to bring it up to building-code standards and improve energy efficiency. Those repairs may remove the building's asbestos and improve its fire safety, but they won’t bring back that midcentury glamour.