Glamour & Transformation: Who Do You Want To Be Today?

Lord&Taylor window beaded dress

“The right dress,” said MGM star Norma Shearer in 1934, “can triumph over any situation, build any mood, create any illusion, and make any woman into the sort of person which she most desires to be.” Every store display and shop window beckons with some version of the same promise: Buy this and become the person you want to be.

There’s a difference, however, between spotting the perfect office outfit in Banana Republic and imagining yourself bedecked in a beaded evening dress with chandelier earrings. One represents an attractive solution to a practical need, the other (for most of us, anyway) the allure of transformation: a new and better self in a new and better setting. One is appealing, the other glamorous. We want the dress for the very reason that it doesn’t suit our real life. It makes us imagine a different one.

“I fall for the awesome four-inch heels every time, hoping to strut around like an archetypal fashion girl,” said Joanna Jeffreys, fashion manager at Harvey Nichols, a couple of years ago in British Vogue. “But then morning comes, and the idea of running for the number 10 bus in my Alaïa stingray-skin platforms doesn’t seem so appealing.” She buys the shoes that reflect who she wants to be, only to find them inappropriate to who she really is. That’s glamour: a beautiful illusion promising escape and transformation.

Clothing and accessories aren't the only products that rely on such glamorous salesmanship. I’ve written elsewhere about the glamour of wireless technology, with its illusory pledge to set users free from desks, cubicles, electrical outlets, and, by implication, from bosses and deadlines. Nowadays, wireless technologies are quotidian essentials, but not so long ago they were glamorous.

Moleskine display

Here’s another store display that traffics in glamour. (“AAH! i’d go so broke if i lived by there,” says a Flickr commenter.) To take notes, you can pick up a cheap pad at Staples. To imagine yourself an artist, however, you may prefer to buy one of the “legendary notebooks” of Moleskine. It's not just a tool. It's a promise, an emblem of the creative life. (Check out this shot of a Moleskine with other icons of the glamorous writerly life.)

I’m personally susceptible to the glamour of any display of narrow-lined notepads, whether generic office supplies or leather-bound versions with ties to Picasso and Hemingway. But, then, I really am a writer. I’m not looking to transform myself into a Lost Generation heroine, only to transform my thoughts and words into something more organized and permanent. I don’t want an emblem. I want a magic tool. So I have an office full of notebooks, every one a promise of transformation.

[Lord & Taylor window by Flickr user mannequindisplay, used with permission. Moleskine display by Flickr user mylifestory / CC BY 2.0]

Plus Sizes: The Big Picture

Plus-size-shopping The malls are empty, and retailers are crying for customers. American women are getting heavier by the day. Yet stores like Ann Taylor and Bloomingdale’s, and lines including Liz Claiborne and Ellen Tracy, are slashing their plus-size offerings—turning away potential sales and generating angry denunciations of “sizeism.” What's going on?

As I explain in this article on Double X, the new women-oriented spinoff of Slate, there's a perfectly rational explanation that doesn't require an animus toward larger women. It does require graphs to explain, however, and The Washington Post, owner of Double X and Slate, has saddled the ladies with a design that can't handle more than one graphic per article, let alone multiple bar charts.

Here at DG, however, we have an ace technical and design staff. So here are the missing pictures, courtesy of David Bruner at TC[2]. (Click to see the full-size version.)

USA Female Weight Distribution

Height, by contrast, looks more like a bell curve.

Height distribution

Here are weights for the same two age groups:


Read the article here.

[Photo from iStockPhoto© Claudia Dewald]

Ecclesiastical Fashion: Where The Well-Dressed Pontiff Shops

2986011649_a1346b3b54 Recently, I went to a press screening of Angels & Demons, and spent most of the evening trying to identify various locations in Rome. Not the obvious ones, like St. Peter's and the Pantheon, but the rather more obscure places.  I was thrilled to catch a quick glimpse of one of my favorite shops, De Ritis, on the via de Cestari. If you want nice grey cardigan, as worn by nuns, this is the place.

Of course, the really posh ecclesiastics like to shop across the street at Gammarelli, the Papal tailors since 1798. If you're not expecting election soon, you can always buy the red knee length socks--the same as worn by the Cardinals. The other Cardinals, not the World Series ones.

There are other clerical outfitters in Rome, each with their own clientele. Sorgente is rather more modern than some others, with a minimalist look, and they donate to charity.

Barbiconi, despite a rather frustrating website, also supplies several orders of knighthood, including the

Orders of Knighthood like the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the Equestrian Order of St. Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the Order of St. George the Great, the Order of St. Sylvester the Pope and the Scared Military Costantinian Order.

I'm guessing that last one is a typo for the Sacred Military Constantinians, but who knows?

Cardinals and bishops who like to shop close to work frequent Euroclero, but's rather downmarket. Tridentium offers the most complete online shopping--where else can you get something as wonderful as a regulation red hat?

How Old Am I In Department Store Years?

Having just celebrated a birthday, I started thinking about how people measure the passage of time.  Some Great Plains tribes referred to certain periods by natural phenomena--the Year of the Falling Stars or the Year of the Spotted Sickness. When I lived in the District of Columbia, people thought in terms of the Carter administration or the first Reagan term. I mark the passage of time by the existence of department stores. Bullocks-Wilshire-5.preview

 When I first moved to Los Angeles, I. Magnin, Bullocks, the Broadway, Robinson's, the May Co., Neiman-Marcus, and Saks were bustling. There was even an Orbachs. Federated Department Stores owned Magnins and Bullocks, but ran them as separate enterprises, with Bullocks Wilshire as the flagship store.  I favored it for china, linens and baby clothes.  The Broadway and the May Co. stores featured mass market merchandise, but were good for staples, and Robinson's was somewhere slightly higher on the retail ladder. Most chains also had outlet stores, and Robinson's had an especially good furniture sale.

In Pasadena, the I. Magnin store was a tiny jewel box, and the halls by the ladies room were lined with portraits of the Rose Queens and their Courts. The Bullocks store on Lake boasted a tea room, a children's hair salon, and classic MCM style--when it opened in 1947, it was The Store of Tomorrow.


Seemingly overnight, these stores got bought and sold and closed and reopened as Robinson-May or  Macy's. Bullocks Wilshire was looted in the Rodney King riots, and never recovered--I went to the close-out sales and saw Hancock Park matrons in tears. Bloomingdales moved into Southern California, Nordstom and Barneys New York opened nationally, and the old familiar names and stores vanished. 

May In some cases, the actual buildings were adapted for other uses--the May Co. on Wilshire is part of LACMA, Bullocks Wilshire's art deco masterpiece now houses the Southwestern School of Law (and you can buy a model here), the Pasadena BW is Macy's, and Target inhabits Robinson's old digs on Colorado Blvd. Macy's just shut their downtown store at Citicorp Plaza.

These stores were part of my past--where I ordered my wedding invitations (Neimans, employee discount), bought my son's layette (Robinsons),  took my  children for haircuts (Pasadena Bullocks), scored sale rack coups (Armani suit marked down 75% at  Magnins), and returned fashion errors (all of the above). But even though I'd spent many hours wandering through their floors, I've ceased to mourn these former friends. Now, I just don't let myself get attached to any retailer--I shop online.

(Thanks to reader Kit Pollard, whose comment inspired this post.)

What Your Jeans Say About You

Image10[1] The Journal of Consumer Research wants you to know that, no, they haven't found the key to ending poverty, instead they have found out that, wait for it...wait for it... people choose their brand of jeans based on their personality!

Huzzah! Life is worth living! I CAN go on!

See, when you were but a wee babe in your mother's arms you honed one of two attachment styles, "anxiety and avoidance," the authors explain. Anxious people view themselves as positive or negative and avoidance people view others as positive or negative.  

Anxiously attached individuals are more influenced by "brand personalities," the idea that a brand possesses humanlike traits, such as sincerity or excitement. "Because of a low view of self, anxious individuals use brands to signal their ideal self-concept to future relationship partners and therefore focus more on the personality of the brand," the authors write.

Turns out that anxious people who want to be seen as exciting chose Abercrombie jeans. And anxious people that wanted to be seen as sincere and were looking for intimacy in their lives chose Gap jeans.

Here's my scientific question: Who the hell picked the brands for this study? Abercrombie and Gap, really??  My notes are as follows:

Subject chooses Abercrombie: wants to be seen as exciting; enjoys shopping in dark, rave-like atmospheres where the 15-year-old clerks are obviously better than you. See also: underage.

Gap: subject looking for intimacy and/or might be on a budget, live near an upscale strip mall or need a pair of jeans for camping.

 I'm thinking I should go into science. I, too, want to study subjects like the rise and fall of boy bands: New Kids On The Block: Latecomers Must Be Unique To Outperform Pioneer Brands


Target Misses

Targetmiss Note to Target*:  "Snowfall Splendor" invokes dazzling whites and silvers. This table runner is more the color of mud season, which doesn't just yodel "Fun and Frolic!"

Did they sell a dazzling white table cloth? Of course not.

Shopping in Pasadena yesterday, I noticed that Target's Christmas ornaments and decor were sitting on the shelves, at full price, while shoppers thronged the aisles. Lots of looking, not much buying. (The website claims to have clearance prices, but no serious shopper thinks 35% off is  a deep discount, and there sure weren't any sales tags at the Pasadena stores.)

Seems to me that marking this stuff way down now--before Christmas--would make more sense.  Buying something frivolous and inexpensive often makes a customer feel like splashing out a bit, and buying a little more.  Saving the discount until after Christmas is like making a kid finish her spinach before she gets ice cream. And shelves full of merch just assure me that I don't need to grab anything right now--it'll all still be there.

* As we all know, Target ignores bloggers.

Anthropologie's Sundance Series--The Beauty Of Stuff


Anthropologie, the retail chain, will be a series on Sundance. Or rather, Keith Johnson, the store's found goods buyer, is the subject of Man Shops Globe. Produced by World of Wonder, the series follows Johnson as he wanders the high ways and buy-ways of the globe. Jeremy Simmons is directing the series, and blogs about his adventures:

In Keith's world, everything is available for purchase.  Its not just the bracelets that the lady is selling, but maybe her sari, or perhaps the shelves on which they lay. Where most of us direct our attention to what is displayed in a store, Keith sees it all. He buys signage used to advertising a sale, lighting fixtures, carts used to haul the merchandise - anything is potentially a new product. It's the ability to see things that one would normally edit out - and envision it in a totally different way.  Keith thinks of his job as an editor - distilling down a mountain of merchandise to the very best of the best - but really, he is opening up my world. I had been subconsciously editing things so many things out. 

(photo by Jeremy Simmons)