Somehow, Halloween has become controversial. We now have rending public debates about costumes that are too risqué, trashy, insinuating, or politically incorrect. Just last week, Walmart pulled off the shelf a (disappointingly tame) "Naughty Leopard" costume for little girls just because the word "naughty" (not the costume itself) was deemed too sexualized. And UK supermarket chains Asda and Tesco have just yanked a grotesquely deranged "mental patient" costume that supposedly disparaged the mentally ill.
But I think all the easily offended critics out there fail to appreciate Halloween as a sort of one-off, wildly fantastic carnival. It's perhaps the one day of the year when everyone—not just the cosplayers or the goths or the fetishists or pick-your-subculture—gets a free pass to dress up in an insane get-up, purely for fun. Even a costume-averse frat boy can be a campy prisoner for one night. Whatever it is, you get to re-imagine yourself as something or someone else, and it's actually acceptable to walk around in that ridiculous get-up just about anywhere—in broad daylight, at night, on a train, on a plane, in a house, with a mouse....
One of my all-favorites was a Robot Vampire Dracula costume from a 2011 Halloween event I attended. Made mostly from cardboard, reflectors, and hardware store supplies! (Won the costume contest, btw.)
I, myself, did a sort of robot costume for that event. Was it too trashy/politically incorrect/dare I say, naughty? Perhaps? I don't know. (The gal next to me in the costume contest wore a suggestively arranged latex bacon-and-eggs costume.) But it was definitely FUN. And, be forewarned, I might have something questionably appropriate and certainly cheesy planned for Halloween this year. (Hint: I'll venture to guess it will bring back chagrined memories for my fellow DeepGlamour blogger, Paige Phelps. See: The Rise and Fall of Sexy Halloween)
Am I offended by overly, ridicuously sexualized costumes like "sexy Bert and Ernie"? I guess so. Do I want to see that parade by me on the street Halloween night? Absolutely. But it seems to me that Halloween costumes have long had an element of the risqué or campy politically incorrect. A quick perusal of the Internet reveals skimpy pin-up costumes, "incredibly bizarre" ones, or the simply inspired of bygone years. Semi-nude, his-n-her ... popcorn & peanuts (?), anyone?
The glitter is everywhere. A stroll down the Halloween decoration aisle at Target turns up sparkly skull candy dishes, sparkly jack-o-lanterns, sparkly skeletons. Oh, there are a few more traditional foam gravestones and "the witch is in" signs, but they fade to the background. It's hard to see around the glare coming off the glittery pumpkins.
For this phenomenon, I blame Stephenie Meyer and her band of chaste, "vegetarian" vampires who, instead of burning up in the sun, sparkle like a fleet of immortals dressed for a night out at Studio 54.*
The sparkle is just one more way that vampires - who used to be a genuinely scary staple of the Halloween season - have been softened. Last year on Slate, Grady Hendrix wrote a great summary of the evolution of the vampire from bloodthirsty killer to emo virgin.
And as go the vampires, so goes all of Halloween. It's been mostly a kids' holiday for a long time and fairly sanitized in the U.S. for decades, but it used to have a tiny bit of edge. Covering everything in sparkly paint smoothes that right out.
The sparklefication of Halloween is not a surprise, though - it's mostly a matter of supply and demand. With Twilight moms holding a whole lot of purchasing power, it's only natural that the glitter goods would fly off the shelves. I can't blame product designers and stores for delivering what the people want.
But that doesn't mean I can't mourn the passing of the genuinely scary haunted house, or hope that one day we will see it's return, alongside vampires who do a little more than gaze longingly at their human prey.
*To head off the Twilight defenders: I read all of the books and I've seen the movies and I liked them. They entertained me. But I still think it sucks (pardon the pun) that Twilight vampires have overtaken all others in pop culture. There's a little variety out there, but not much, and pop fiction would be a better place if Edward Cullen had a little more diverse company. And Halloween decorating would be easier if everything didn't shed glitter on my kitchen floor.
Posted by Kit Pollard on October 28, 2010 in
For those of you who don’t know me personally, I must confess a shame: a couple of years ago I gave in to the status quo. I bought a sexy Halloween costume.
Sexy Marie Antoinette took the symbol of decadence and beauty… and added a really short skirt, ruffle panties and thigh high stockings. Brilliant! History rolled in its grave while still getting a boner! Bravo, Halloween industry, BRAVO!
And you know what happened the night I wore that sexy costume? Sexy Marie Antoinette had herself a ball and flirted up a storm! Sexy Marie Antoinette yielded RESULTS. Which is why I am now a true believer in the power of sexy Halloween.
Apparently I’m not alone.
In the last few years the formerly sexy black cat, sexy devil, and sexy French maid have been retired in favor of a bevy of sexy fairy tale characters, sexy sailors, and sexy gangsters (?).
In fact, in the last few years, the effort to sex-up every aspect of Halloween has created an entire niche industry trying its darndest to come up with year’s sexiest and most unusual costume.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, sexy golf (P.S. never sexy), sexy Elmo, even sexy Big Bird have pushed the limits on what is considered sexy, what is considered downright sad, and what is just plain disturbing.
I mean, I get the sexy Catholic school girl--she's the young high school virgin. Classic untouchable sexy. But sexy Brownie troop girl? Guys, that's just weird. Brownies are like 8 years old. WTF? What's next? A sexy baby?
In a world where sex sells and therefore is everywhere all the time, have we forgotten what sexy is? (You know who we should ask? Sexy Marie Antoinette.)
But as much as I lament the road female costumes are on, I feel worse for the men. Case in point, the To-Do List costume.
It is a sad, sad world we live in where men feel that a square, foam form over their body representing a super-sized desk item is considered hilarious enough to wear in public. Where is my giant stapler man costume? My giant tape dispenser or giant conference call triangle thing?
Look for them to be released in 2011, folks.
The day the music dies.
Posted by Paige Phelps on October 06, 2010 in
Reminded by one of Roger Ebert's tweets that yesterday was Philip Larkin's birthday, I thought the occasion would be a good excuse, even a day late, for resurrecting a post featuring one of his poems. "Come to Sunny Prestatyn" is so deceptively plain-spoken that you can easily miss the rhyme scheme: a beautiful example of carefully crafted effortlessness.
This poster, up for auction next week from which sold for $2,160 at Swann Galleries, calls to mind a different (and possibly fictional) British tourism poster from the same era, the one in Philip Larkin's poem “Sunny Prestatyn.” The poem perfectly captures both the commercial glamour of travel posters and the urge to puncture the illusion.
Come to Sunny Prestatyn Laughed the girl on the poster, Kneeling up on the sand In tautened white satin. Behind her, a hunk of coast, a Hotel with palms Seemed to expand from her thighs and Spread breast-lifting arms.
She was slapped up one day in March. A couple of weeks, and her face Was snaggle-toothed and boss-eyed; Huge tits and a fissured crotch Were scored well in, and the space Between her legs held scrawls That set her fairly astride A tuberous cock and balls
Autographed Titch Thomas, while Someone had used a knife Or something to stab right through The moustached lips of her smile. She was too good for this life. Very soon, a great transverse tear Left only a hand and some blue. Now Fight Cancer is there.
With its aggressive cynicism, the graffiti destroys not only the model’s beauty but the poster’s promise of escape to a sunny, joyful world where satin stays taut and white. By defacing the poster, making the portrait ugly and ridiculous, the vandals remind viewers that the picture is an illusion, an image “too good for this life.”
New year, new decade. Reflecting back on the holiday season I realized that The Nutcracker had come up several times in conversation. One family had taken their children, another person’s best friend had been once been cast as Clara, and so on.
The Nutcracker is glamorous on many levels. Ballet itself is one of the most glamorous forms of dance, as has been discussed here before. The orchestra, especially as used by a composer like Tchaikovsky, can be a glamorous sound machine (more on that in a moment). And the costumes and stagings of this ballet are often captivating.
The Nutcracker plot joyously celebrates aspects of the winter season that are often denigrated because they seem more pagan than religious. Some historians argue that Christmas is celebrated on December 25 because that was the Roman date for the winter solstice, a tradition time for celebrating the return of the sun and longer days. The Nutcracker acknowledges that festive parties, colorful decorations, and receiving gifts are memorable and exciting, especially to a child, whatever the reason for celebrating.
The ballet’s central character Clara is an adolescent poised between childhood and young adulthood, and she has desires and longings in both domains. Boys remain mischievous and clueless about her dreams of the future. But in this ballet’s dream a prince arrives and transports her into a magical world. No wonder that countless young ballet students dream of being cast as Clara, and that mothers take their daughters to see this timeless fantasy.
I do not mean to slight men here. The ballet was created by men. The ballet is based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffman, and the story adaptation, original choreography, and music were all done by men. In Hoffman’s original story the heroine is named Marie and the nutcracker is Drosselmeyer’s nephew. How he came to be a nutcracker is a complex story involving magic spells, and Marie’s love for him eventually lifts the curse and he becomes himself again.
In the ballet Drosselmeyer’s ability to create life-size mechanical dolls makes him seem a kind of magician, and sets the stage for dreams of giant mice and toys that come alive to battle them. Scenes like this are bound to delight children.
Yet Clara’s trip to the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy is a dream of transformation into adulthood, and in that land Clara becomes a woman and a prince becomes her escort. In her dream Clara becomes a princess-to-be whose life is filled with fancy costumes, elaborate entertainments, and dances that show her perfect poise as a adult.
Tchaikovsky’s music plays a major role in the success of the ballet. Tchaikovsky had a keen ability to create musical textures that can stimulate a listener’s imagination. At the same time his ballet music is easy enough to follow that we have mental room left to take in the dancing. This same openness also leaves room for his ballet music to interact with our imagination, allowing us to project auras such as “mystery” and “longing” onto what we are hearing. (Densely intellectual musical textures such as fugues seldom allow this.)
In creating ballet music that seems glamorous, Tchaikovsky became a kind of conjurer. By developing an awareness of how particulars sounds and musical textures could stimulate a listener's imagination, he used that awareness to create music that encourages listeners to generate imaginative illusions.
In the following Pas de Deux between Clara and her prince (Bolshoi Ballet production), no words need be spoken. Clara’s prince becomes her ideal consort. He is there for her whenever she needs support to display her poise. Tchaikovsky’s music supports them both. One of his friends bet Tchaikovsky that he couldn’t compose the theme for a pas de deux with a scale. Tchaikovsky asked if the scale could go downward. When that was allowed, Tchaikovsky took the bet, and won with the main theme of this music. Tchaikovsky’s ability to create something extraordinarily evocative out of simple material demonstrates his deep understanding of what works as ballet music. His music captivates our hearing, but leaves enough room in our minds to appreciate the staging and dancing, and even to imagine that we are feeling something similar to what these dancers are feeling. And that is a beautiful illusion to experience.
[Clara’s Gift photo by adjustafresh. Pas de Deux photo by violscraper. Both used under the Flickr Creative Commons license.]
"Few things are as glamorous as formal attire and cold weather."
Blogger Lindsey Davies Bahr wrote that last week, in a post about one of my favorite Christmastime movies, Whit Stillman's Metropolitan. It's a movie about a horrible, and horribly pretentious, group of "friends" in late '80s Manhattan - the people are terrible, but the city is so pretty at Christmas, and made even prettier by all the tuxedos and formal dresses.
It's a movie that leaves me with a strange and uniquely Christmassy feeling - a sort of nostalgia for a holiday season I never actually experienced, except vicariously while paging through the Neiman Marcus holiday catalog. Actual visits to New York at Christmas provide a glimpse of that glamour, but I wonder if it even exists in real life.
Watching Metropolitan has been part of my personal Christmas ritual since college, but my fascination with that fancy, elusive, bright lights type of holiday glamour began years before. When I was five, my parents gave me a copy of A Very Young Dancer by Jill Krementz. The book follows the path of a little girl named Stephanie, who wins the coveted role of Clara in the School of American Ballet's version of The Nutcracker.
It's no secret that the life of the ballerina, while glamorous on the surface, is full of hard work, sweat, and pain (we've written a lot about that). Krementz's book touches on the difficulties Stephanie faces, but the story is really a fairy tale about a young princess in the big city.
For little kids, glamour is everywhere at Christmas - in gingerbread houses and decorated trees and, especially, in Santa Claus. As we get older, and we become the source of that glamour (filling stockings is a lot like realizing that the Wizard of Oz is...you), it's harder to hang on to those feelings that make the holiday season so special.
Tonight, my son will go to bed with "visions of sugarplums" - literally. I'll stay up and finish wrapping gifts. But then I'll recapture some of that feeling by reading my book and watching my movie while I sit in the glow of a Christmas tree. It's an odd tradition, but it's what makes Christmas feel like Christmas to me.
Posted by Kit Pollard on December 24, 2009 in
Back in the olden days, before cable gave us entire networks for children's shows, we kiddos were pretty darn bored during primetime TV. Except, of course, during those extra special Christmas programming hours.
Now, I know what you're thinking: “But Paige! The Mandrell Sisters wasn't a show on just during the holidays, it actually had a two-year run! And Paige, besides the Mandrell sisters, IMDB says that the stars were also Truck Shackley & the Texas Critters, a group of Krofft puppets that included five musicians and a dog!” Yes, yes, sure. OK, but for some reason all I can remember are the holiday specials. The hair, the costumes, the terrible skits with long pauses in between canned laughter. *Sigh.* Those were the days. (BTW, apparently Louise Mandrell is playing the Gaylord Opryland with her "Joy to the World: Christmas Dinner & Show" through Dec. 25)
And then, after years without this country truly embracing a blonde country singer with mediocre comic timing and a penchant for sparkly gowns, what do my wondering eyes see?
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
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.
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.]
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.]
Posted by Kit Pollard on November 24, 2009 in