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Archive for the ‘Fashion’ Category

Back in the late 1980′s, Madonna – the singer – wore crucifixes as fashion accessories. Within five minutes, teenage girls all over the world were aping her. Shane Lynch, of Boyzone, has been snapped wearing Rosary beads as have Christina Aguilera, Shakira, Rihanna and Kelly Osbourne.

Catholics have registered their discomfort with symbols of their faith being used as frivolous fashion accessories. Indeed, in the convent where I went to school, we were expressly forbidden from wearing rosary beads, because they were just for praying with. This direction appears to be based on Canon Law, which states “Sacred objects, set aside for divine worship by dedication or blessing, are to be treated with reverence. They are not to be made over to secular or inappropriate use, even though they may belong to private persons”.

In the past month, two designers have fallen foul of Hindus for depicting deities on their clothing. Australian swimwear manufacturer, Lisa Blue,  apologised to members of the Hindu community at the beginning of May: An  image of Goddess Lakshmi appeared on items of its apparel at Rosemount Australian Fashion Week (RAFW) in Sydney at the end of April.  In the past few days,  design house Manish Arora has removed images of leggings, miniskirts and harem pants from its website following complaints about the depiction of Lord Shiva on them.

Members of the Hindu community were outraged that images of revered gods were represented on clothing made to be worn on the lower parts of the body.

But do those who get their knickers in a twist over the wearing of traditionally religious symbols as fashionable accoutrements  need to lighten up? Does it matter? Should they be grateful that their religion is being celebrated – no matter what form that celebration takes? Should they rejoice at the fact that their religion is reaching a wider audience? Or is their outrage justified? What do you think?

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My daughter and her all-female class made their First Communions recently. The massed ranks in the church were quite a sight to see. Immaculately coiffed hairdos, amazingly stylish frocks, even a few fake tans.

Yes, the mothers looked stunning. Of course all the little Communicants were beautiful, and they could never be overshadowed by their Mums on their special day. But it has to be said, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Once I had my gúna purchased, I had thought my own preparations were more or less complete. But in the weeks leading up to the big day, sartorial and cosmetic arrangements were the talk of the playground. Who was wearing what, were the blowdry appointments booked, would the few pounds be shed and had the right shoes and jacket been located?

In spite of myself, I gradually found myself being swept along by all this.

A life-long hater of fake tan, I cautiously purchased a bottle of moisturiser which promised a hint of built-in tint. I slapped it on for a few days and fretted about smelling like a biscuit or ending up with orange palms and elbows. As it turned out, I’d been too cautious; the light shade I had chosen made no discernible difference to my skin colour. I did emit a slight biscuitty fragrance though.

I also bought slightly higher-than-normal-for-me shoes (with wedge heel to enable me to walk) even though I’m not that fussed about shoes. I had the eyebrows threaded. I booked a professional blowdry for my very easy to maintain hair.

I realised I was losing it when, seized by a last-minute anxiety about being out-glammed in the church, I began desperately experimenting with different make-up the day before the Communion. Confronted by the slightly scary results in the bathroom mirror, I told myself to get a grip. After all, it wasn’t about me.

Well, we all love dressing up, don't we?

The maternal glamour quotient was extremely high the next morning –  noticeably higher than at my son’s Communion four years ago – and I was glad I’d made the extra effort. Though I did wonder who we were all trying to impress. Each other? The viewers of the family photos in years to come? Was it significant that it was our daughters making their Communions – were we subconsciously trying to compete with them? Surely not.

Of course, on the day our daughters were the stars of the show. Every parent’s heart was full of pride as the girls sang their well rehearsed hymns, brought up gifts and did readings. Whatever your feelings about the First Communion ritual (and stepping back from it a little, the white dresses and the cash gifts are a bit odd really) it was difficult not to be moved by the innocent seriousness with which they took it all.

A wonderful day – and the photos turned out well. Phew.

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As a sport, and as an abstract concept, badminton has always seemed pretty inoffensive. Professional badminton players do not take out super-injunctions. Badminton fans are never accused of starting riots that tarnish their country’s image abroad. For many years, badminton was the non-sporty person’s sport of choice. It was the type of Tuesday evening activity to which a man brought his wife along for a spot of mixed doubles against an equally married couple, who would argue furiously about the best way to hold a shuttlecock, and then win.

So it’s kind of surprising that the root of almost all evil appears to be lurking within the Badminton World Federation.

On June 1st, its all-male executive board is scheduled to implement new clothing regulations that force women players to wear skirts or dresses as “part of an overall campaign to raise the profile of women in badminton and the profile of the sport”.

Acceptable attire for female competitors, according to guidelines issued by badminton's governing body. The lucky ladies will also be allowed wear "skorts" or skirts over tracksuits/leggings.

It is sexy time on the back alley. (That’s a badminton term.)

The new rules have already caused uproar among Muslim players, prompting the Islamic party in Malaysia, where the BWF is based, to call for a boycott of top tournaments. Perhaps sensing that Islam has the greater experience when it comes to dress code enforcement, the BWF delayed the introduction of “Rule 19.2” by a month and “clarified” its stance: “[The new regulations] will not in any way discriminate against any religious or other beliefs, and respects women. Players will continue to wear shorts if they wish but simply wear a skirt over the top of the shorts.”

But what reason could there possibly be for making female athletes – people whose success depends on the strength of their smashes and the delicacy of their drop shots – wear a superfluous piece of fabric? I’m stumped. Could it be that the unnamed “external international marketing agency” that advised the BWF on its policy are closet Kournikova-ites?

BWF deputy president Paisan Rangsikitpho believes the new skirt rules will “enhance the presentation of the game in general” and help the sport attract “a wider target group amongst both younger and older people, and amongst both women and men, where an aesthetic and stylish presentation of the players is certainly an important factor”. The guidelines do not “push any women to wear clothing they are not comfortable with” and the BWF is certainly not portraying women as “sexual objects”, he insists.

“However, they have to wear a skirt.”

There are no double faults in badminton. Doublethink, on the other hand…

Lady shuttlers! What are you thinking wearing these hideously unfeminine items?! You'll empty the arenas in no time.

If the BWF wants to talk about style rather than sexism, allow me to examine its statement on those grounds for a moment. Its stance is that having a piece of material flouncing against their thighs (but not joining up between them) makes women athletes aesthetically pleasing enough to pull in hordes of hypothetical spectators – even though if there’s one female fashion trend that reliably infuriates the men I know, it’s skirts-over-trousers.

One of the hallmarks of the “stylish” is that their clothes are some kind of twist, with varying degrees of rebelliousness, on the norms of the context in which they are worn – usually by borrowing from the style tradition of another context. It’s a subtle negotiation. I would no more wear my high-waisted black tulip skirt to a badminton session than I would sport one of Sue Sylvester’s Adidas tracksuits to a tango class.

Badminton bosses have their sensitive eyes on the sponsor-friendly style showcase that is the ladies’ tennis tour. That’s their context. But they’ve forgotten that style, by definition, is personal. Take away the element of choice and there is no style, only a uniform. And what players and spectators alike will recognise is that this uniform is crafted from unpleasant, exploitative motivations. Come see our cuties perform!

Objections from Australia, China, Indonesia, India and the Scandinavian countries mean the BWF’s plans for world domination via the swish of a few A-lines may yet be thwarted. Worryingly though, it seems badminton isn’t the only sport where the governing bodies are seeking to glamorize and feminise women athletes in accordance with male, corporate ideas of glamour and femininity.

Even more bizarrely, the International Boxing Association is reportedly quite keen that women boxers wear skirts at the London 2012 Olympics. This has spurred Peter Taylor, father and coach of Irish boxer Katie Taylor, to put in a pre-emptive strike by telling The Examiner that his daughter simply won’t box in a skirt: “We’ve got morals that go above marketing. It’s discrimination. It’s obviously men making these decisions and it’s wrong.”

There may be alternative ways to resist, other than refusing to compete. “I have an idea for how I am going to combat it, but I’ll keep it secret for now,” the Scottish badminton player Imogen Bankier has tantalisingly said of her sport’s “silly” and “unnecessary” clothing regulations.

Perhaps all the women players could show up to the next high-ranking tournament in fishtailed maxi dresses and make a mockery of the BWF with every hobble and lurch.

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Get your body beach ready! Get your bikini body now!
What? Why? My body IS beach ready thank-you, lumps, pale skin, wobbly bits and all. I just want to swim, not to enter Ms South Beach. I’m not going out there to titillate the surfers. I simply want to build an enormous moat with the kids, skim perfect pebbles, and maybe look for interesting critters in the rock pools.
What I do want though is a new swimsuit. No, actually I want genuine fullblown swimming costumery, preferably Victorian, something that ends at my knees, that blooms over my bumps, that shovels up the ole boobs into a grand shelf and hides at least some of my sins.
I want to be comfortable.
I want it in stripes.
I want.

What I really want (from a 1950s Vogue photo shoot) only in Lycra, with support panels please.

I suspect Nigella Lawson wanted the very same when she tossed her languid, luscious self into the ocean off Australia dressed from head-to-toe (quite literally) in a startlingly unflattering black burqini. You’ve seen the photos taken by the paparazzi she was doubtless trying to avoid: our lovely Nigella plopped about in the waves looking remarkably like a clumsy sea lion with her button nose and shiny black roundy body, and I sighed in deepest sympathy, along with thousands of women on the curvy-to-morbidly-obese spectrum the world over.
Nigella, I feel your pain. I don’t want to prance about on the beach in the equivalent of Lycra underwear either.

Hold on a sec though: did I say I want a new swimsuit? Actually, I want a swimsuit full stop, with no “new” about it, for I currently don’t own one. Several years of swimwear shopping trauma, changing-room rage and scuttling to the water in baggy T-shirts worn over whatever I can borrow have brought me to this sorry point.
See, swimwear is not made for women like me and Nigella, women with hips and thighs and, dare I say, real-life labia. Swimwear is all bikinis and tankinis, with tummy-tucking ruching and breast-hoiking cups for those jugs, but I have yet to find a cossie for the classic pear: smallish on top but abundant down below. Equally, there’s nothing out there for the Nigellaesque hourglass either, unless she’s a size eight.

Nigella's burqini

The hot-pant style often suggested to us pears simply cuts straight through the meaty hip-thigh circumference like a rubber band, causing the sections above and below the elastic to bulge much like a squeezed balloon. The legs (often dumpy on a pear) are foreshortened, the bum oozes out and the body is often too short (we pears are long-trunked). Trying on a longer body and bigger size means the straps are too long and sad little boobs are left stranded, a couple of floppy fish sagging in spandex.
You can get two-pieces that are meant to do the job, with high-waisted bottoms to marshall the gut and a cute, padded bikini top — handy because two-pieces can be ordered in separate sizes for each half — but again, the bottom cuts straight through the leg at its widest point. There are great 1940s and 50s styled swimsuits out there too, but I just look squat in them all.

So I want a modern take on a Victorian swimsuit, only body-fitted, and with Lycra and support. All my friends want one too. It must end at my knees, lift my boobs, support my tummy and not go transparent when it hits the water. A cute frill (sewn down so it doesn’t billow in the water) or a bit of ruffle is optional. It must fit a size ten on the top and a size twelve… okay… size fourteen at the bottom, with a long body.
I have scoured the internet. The closest I’ve come so far is a picture of a cartoon hippopotamus doing ballet. It’s either that or a wetsuit.

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Self-portrait with Monkeys (1943) - Frida Kahlo

Who needs or wants to know about the inner workings of other people’s relationships? About the minor detail of their lives? We may not need to know but we certainly want to know about some couples. Often the stormier the pairing, the more drawn we are to the drama. Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, for example; or Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Iconic Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are a good example of a couple that excite curiosity. And because of their meticulous recording of their lives through art, as well as some artful myth spinning, we know a lot about a lot of their life together. They married each other twice. He – and then she – was serially unfaithful. Between them they notched up as lovers famous communists and actors, painters and photographers, including Leon Trotsky and Paulette Goddard. Rivera even had an affair with Frida’s sister, Cristina.

A joint exhibition of Kahlo’s and Rivera’s work was launched on Tuesday night at IMMA in Dublin. It is comprised of masterpieces from the collection of Jacques and Natasha Gelman. At the opening we were treated to Mexican beer and margaritas and even a sparky mariachi band, who had their Irish-based compatriots singing along with gusto. The great hall was thronged with people, excited about this particular exhibition making its way to Ireland. It is a splash of carnival in a dull, grey country and we surely need that.

Our new Arts Minister, Jimmy Deenihan, gave his first major public speech since his appointment and he mentioned several projects with enthusiasm: a new Centre for Literary Excellence in Dublin; he also plans to set up an Arts TV Channel and he is going to prioritise arts education in primary schools. All good news.

Frida Kahlo lived her life in pain and her colour-rich paintings are an autobiography of her love-hate relationship with her physical self, her love for and nurturing of Diego, and her missed chances at motherhood. Rivera’s work is more monumental and political – they were both Communists – and his palette is often more muted than his wife’s.

Kahlo’s self-portraits – and there are many – are compelling: her gaze is head-on and she is often dressed in the vivid Tejuana style of dress she adopted, with elaborate neckpieces and braided hair. My favourite of these is Self-portrait with Necklace, a quiet, earlier piece, though the exhibition includes more well known works such as Self-portrait with Monkeys. Rivera’s stunning Calla Lily Vendors is also on show; he was a painter of the people and he delighted in ordinary scenes of workers going about their business.

The exhibition contains – as well as paintings – drawings, photographs of the artists, diary pages with sketches, collages and lithographs. It is a rich collection of artworks and there is no doubt that thousands of people will flock to it over the next few months, and so they should. It is well worth the trip to see such iconic work ‘in the flesh’.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Masterpieces of the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection runs until the 26th June at IMMA. Admission €5, concessions €3.

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The Perfect Dress *Sigh*

After months of neutrals and too much black, strong colour blocking is all over collections for the spring and summer.  Although some folks turn sniffy over the trend of pairing a combination of elementary hues, I’ll maintain the old standby that if it’s on my body, it matches.  Those standard LBDs paint you right into the background or else scream funereal, while by contrast, great splashes of colour signal a bold style which stems from self-confidence.

The Cacharel dress pictured to the right is my ideal for the season.  A yellow and blue combination always makes me smile from the cool glow it transfers to the skin.  For example, in Balzac’s 1846 novel Cousin Bette, when the bratty young Hortense hands over a worn yellow cashmere shawl to the titular figure, she tells the poorer relation that the shade is as good as makeup for one’s complexion.  Balzac knew his fashion (and no one ever charged him with producing chick-lit, either).  Also, the V-cut neck, nipped waist and flared skirt to the dress is universally flattering.  I bet there’s a jaunty flounce when you move in this number.  The problem is the frock retails for over $1500, so I figured it was worth a look around to see if there was a reproduction at an affordable price.

River Island's closest version seems too purple

Retailers such as J Crew, Collection of Style, Zara, A Wear and Monsoon offered nothing online close in cut or paired shades.  Top Shop had one floral dress in blue and yellow listed for £29, but it looks far too romper-twee with hues in the crayola range.  River Island’s version sports a belt and a more adult take on the summer dress at £24.99, but the heavy hand of purple makes it overwrought.

This Top Shop dress bears a poor resemblance to my precious

A smart woman once counseled to shoot for the middle when dress shopping, so I expanded my search beyond the High Street shops.
Nanette Lepore features a really cute floral mini, not quite the same colour blend and without the same emphasis on structure.  It retails for $300 which falls outside the whimsical purchase range.
These days, when boxed between the prohibitive designer garments and the spurious fabric and stitching that go for cheap, the smart approach would be to invest in sewing classes and a Singer.  Words I never would have guessed I’d say, yet a sentiment that would have made my seamstress granny proud.

Nanette Lepore's floral looks too casual

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Snidely goes Cabaret

Nevermind the fact that a gay man who claims a gypsy mother would find little favour with the Hitler he professes to love, that there was plenty of room on those cattle cars for folks who weren’t Jewish.  John Galliano’s rabid anti-Semitic outburst was a vehicle to attack women for being ‘ugly.’

Galliano’s point as a man who made millions in fashion was the women on the receiving end of nasty tantrums were ‘ugly,’ had no style and should therefore be exterminated.  If that’s the case, Galliano should have taken a look-see in the mirror.  His personal style is not only ugly, it’s uninspired, derivative,  a mere imitation of the original cheesed-out figure he decided to mimic.  Nearly half the results on a google image search feature Galliano as a lesser-than Mickey Rourke ( not from the PYT era of the actor’s former screen credits , such as Angel Heart, either).  The sure-fire way to tell them apart is by the absence of a little dog in tow (R.I.P Loki!).  There are scores of photographs where Galliano appears as hybrid copy of Axl Rose, Bret Michaels and Kid Rock.  Nary a fashion plate in the bunch, I might add.

Axl? Bret?

He attempts impersonations from the film Cabaret, Snidely Whiplash and Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.  Galliano even throws second-rate shades of Lafayette from True Blood in front of the camera.

We’ve all witnessed this type of creepy dude, one who shreds women for the least imperfection while they rate as an unmitigated aesthetic disaster.

Jack Sparrow with extra grease?

Dude, check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Lafayette would totally rock this in the garden

Oops.  Too late.

Galliano channels Mickey Rourke

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A recent Guardian feature asked a number of fashionistas if the comfortable high heel, ‘the holy grail of fashion’ really exists. Oddly, many of the respondents agreed that it does, though there was little consensus as to who actually makes this mythical item. The article featured a bewildering number of shoe designers nominated for the ‘most comfortable heel’ award. One woman was of the view that pain-free high heels cost big bucks, while another argued that you can’t beat good old M&S for comfort in a towering heel.

Oops! Has this woman fallen off her shoe?

I decided that many contributors had to be telling porkies to justify their shoe addiction. In the short term, high heels cause corns, calluses and blisters. They throw the posture out of kilter, stressing joints and forcing weight onto the front of the foot. Prolonged wear shortens calf muscles and Achilles tendons and contributes to bunions and hammer toes. Women are more likely than men to suffer from knee and foot problems in later life.

At this point I must confess that I’ve never really got the whole shoe thing – I think I lack the relevant gene. I live in flat boots and ballet pumps, kitten heels at a push. While I can see that some heels are things of beauty, I find many of the more extreme styles of high heel ugly, ridiculous or downright trashy looking. There is also the small matter of being unable to walk in them.

Victoria Beckham has reportedly already suffered bunions, a painful bone deformity, caused by her obsession with heels. And as for that other killer heel wearing fashion icon, Sarah Jessica Parker – I’ve rarely seen a bandier woman.

Yes yes, I know, heels  are sexy and glamorous. But let’s not kid ourselves that they’re actually comfortable, eh ladies?

(Photo by twicepix on Flickr)

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Last Wednesday evening, around tea time, my daughter grew about three inches.

Growth spurts are bad news in our house because they inevitably mean the sudden relegation of an entire wardrobe to the charity bag. Then, only when there is one outfit, peering sad and lonely from a rail of empty hangers, do we admit the terrible truth. She needs more clothes.

Any colour, as long as it's pink...

If I was made of money, I’d only ever shop at Boden, from the comfort of my own sofa, accompanied by music I love and a glass of good champagne, but I should probably pay the bills this month, so we are forced to supplement the Boden buying with that dreaded place – the High Street.

What I hadn’t accounted for was how much more of an ordeal shopping would become now my daughter is about to hit the grand old age of ten. The problem is, she has no idea what JLS stands for, prefers Oliver! to High School Musical and has the audacity to listen to Indigo Girls and Seth Lakeman rather than Hannah Montana or Justin Bieber.

Until we hit the shops, I had no idea how many shades of pink existed in the world. From angelic off-white pink (clearly for girls who never eat ketchup) to the garish colour borrowed from the latest chick-lit best seller.

‘It’s not that I hate pink,’ my daughter informs me in the very first shop we descend upon. ‘It’s just that pink is for pyjamas.’

What about a sensible pair of blue jeans, then? A safe bet, you would think. Yet why do manufacturers impose the proportions of a woman’s size eight on young girls? Hipsters. At this age they do not have the hips to hold them up; ‘Skinny’ jeans. Now, there’s a body shape to desire! Blood circulation to the ankles is just so overrated, darling.

Probably the best of this bilious bunch are certain high street stores who cannot help but to ensure their shop logo glares back at us from the front of every item of clothing (we all know the culprits) If my daughter must be employed as a walking billboard, then is it too much to ask that we are at least offered a free outfit and a contribution to the college fund?

In the final shop, a girl, probably about seven, clonks past trying on a pair of heels and I grow all misty eyed over an off the shoulder number, with the word BABE spelled out in diamanté studs. Oh, the top has a point. It was surely only last week my bundle of joy stared up from my arms, cushioned by the promise of a whole drawer’s worth of teddy bear rompers to chose from … Yet, something tells me this isn’t what the top means, not what it means at all.

A laugh from beside me. ‘Mum, I’ve found something!’

She yanks a top from the rail and holds it up; ‘I HEART SHOPPING!’ the top screams.

You see, if not following the crowd has taught her anything, it has certainly taught her irony.

Tonight, when she is asleep, I’ll sneak up to her room to steal her sole trusty outfit from the floor; a good old Amy Ray youth t-shirt and a pair of currently unavailable M&S magic jeans that grow with her. I’ll pop them in the washing machine and if I hang them on the radiator they will dry by the time she gets in from school tomorrow.

And by the way, I’ve decided I prefer laundry to shopping any day.

Amanda Dixie works in a library and is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing. She lives in Glastonbury and dreams of one day owning a pair of goats. She tweets at @MrsPelephant.

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I Want All Her Clothes

I can’t remember which red carpet she was walking down, but recently I saw a photo of Michelle Williams and thought (after the usual “man, I can’t believe the girl who played Jen Linley on Dawson’s Creek turned into such a good and credible actress), “Wow, she always seems to wear really great clothes”.

Oh Sofia, your films are vacant self-indulgent hipster bollocks, but your clothes are awfully pretty...

And I realised she had joined the select group of Famous Women Whose Wardrobes I Covet. Yes, there are many appallingly dressed celebs (thank goodness), but there are few who tend to step out in the sort of clothes I would instantly snap up myself if I were much, much richer (and a little bit taller).

This wardrobe-love has nothing to do with the women themselves – while the aforementioned Ms Williams seems like a talented, smart, likeable woman, and I love Charlotte Gainsbourg’s music as much as I adore her effortlessly cool style, I find almost all of Sofia Coppola’s films incredibly irritating, and she comes across like a boring whiny brat in interviews. Yet I think she’s beautiful and it is she whose wardobe I covet most of all. She always looks amazing. It’s not fair, really.

Sadly, in reality I am smaller, scruffier, and infinitely less stylish than all of these people. But I bet if someone gave me an unlimited supply of Marc Jacobs I could at least give it a try. So what famous wardrobes do you covet?

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