Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"Just" Style: An Art Deco Necklace, a Beautiful Day, and the Joys Therein

After all the emotionally heavy and difficult posts I've been writing lately, I offer you (and myself) some metaphorical and literal sunshine. This is just a pretty, sunshiney, style post, period. We all deserve such outfits, such reading, and such days, don't we? (I wrote a heavy post about this skirt back in December, if you're in the mood for that sort of a day and post instead.)

I based this outfit primarily around this necklace, which I love. It's an original, Art Deco, costume piece, from the 1920s or 30s that has survived, mostly intact (it's a bit bent and may once have had a few dangling pearls), all these years. I got it for $10!

I'm really very excited about it and chose everything I wore as a celebratory frame of pretty colours for my humble little necklace.

Shoes: Ecco: Skirt: Modcloth; Shirt: Reitman's; Glasses: dollar store;  Right hand ring: Effy: Sweater, cane, earrings, watch, pinkie rings, necklace, and hair clip: vintage
I could not keep my mind off it.

It's so very pretty and delicate. And it has so much history. I wonder who first bought it. Was it a present to a sweetheart or daughter? Did a woman buy it for herself because it was just that pretty? Did she have to save up for it or was she in a position to be able to easily afford costume jewelry? Was she a young girl still in school, a matronly woman in middle years, or an elderly lady who had earned her right to her fripperies if she wanted them? What did she wear it with? I have some idea of the answer to this last question because I know a bit about fashion history. I hope she wore it with one of the gauzy, fluttery dresses so popular in the 1930s. I hope she wore it with pride. 

I know I did. I'm proud not just of the necklace but of the fact that I recognized its historical value the minute I saw it. Such skill makes me feel like a detective, sleuthing out treasure hidden in thrift stores, attics, or, in this case, a box in someone's basement.

I paired it with these vintage earrings that my step-sons gave me. I think both the necklace and the earrings contain real, fresh-water pearls. Can I tell you a secret? I actually prefer fresh-water pearls to the vastly more expensive pearls you'll find in much more expensive jewelry. I love their delicate iridescence and colouring. They seem a little bit magical, and very feminine -- perhaps a little like me? Or not.  

Check out our blueberry blossoms. Much yummy succulence to come.
Continuing the theme of delicate, old-fashioned, femininity, I wore my wonderful, vintage, Bulova watch from the 1940s (only $30!) and my scroll-work, right-hand ring that I love more and more over time. When I pair the ring with my tiny, diamond pinkie ring, I feel like I'm wearing gold and diamond lace.

The little, vintage, coral pinkie ring was one of the first presents Beau bought for me. He wanted to buy me something very meaningful. Knowing that I have PTSD, he did some research and found that, traditionally, people believed that coral could soothe a worried heart and keep fear at bay. Isn't he a sweetie? Of course, now I have my engagement ring, which serves a similar purpose, reminding me, even in my darkest hours, that I am loved.

I don't think it's even legal to harvest coral for jewelry anymore and that makes this little piece all the more special to me.

I need that something to help me keep my worries at bay because I'm capable of worrying about absolutely anything. I'm told it's a Jewish trait: prepare for the worst so you'll be ready when it comes, and, if it doesn't come, well won't that be a pleasant surprise?

Here's an example: when I sat down to write this post, I had a raft of nice photos, but no topic or thesis to go with them. I found myself at a bit of a loss as to what to write. I worried about that for days. Not exclusively, of course; I worried about many other things as well. I'm a multi-tasker where worrying is concerned.

So I had no thesis, no lesson, no idea for this post. I just wanted to share the beauty of the day, in all its spring glory ...

... and the giddy joy I got from this outfit. That's about it.

What does one say about that, just that?

As much as Sublime Mercies is a style blog ...

... and it really is a style blog, at least in part, I don't think of it as a style blog.

I think of myself primarily as a writer, primarily writing about pretty heavy topics. I don't think of myself as a style blogger, not exactly anyway. Anyone who is a regular reader of my blog (as opposed to a mere viewer of it), will know what I mean. Sublime Mercies is something of a hybrid blog, often using style as a springboard for me to write about things like child abuse, literature, cultural history, and disability.

I wonder, though, if part of why I don't think of myself as a style blogger is because of the negative responses I get from intellectuals and lefties when I tell them I write a style blog. Their eyes glaze over and they stop listening to me, so sure are they that style is somehow beneath them, something only for the shallow, the vain, and the materialistic. Even my own father, who had exhorted me for years to write more publicly, dismissed it my blog as inconsequential, materialistic, and vain. It simply did not occur to him that style has anything in common with the art he so venerates, or that I could be using it to write about really very important cultural issues.

Perhaps I've internalized these prejudices when I tell people, "I write a style blog but it's not just a style blog." Well, sometimes it is "just" a style blog. So what?

Let's get back to the style, shall we?

Check out my new reading glasses. I've only just discovered the fun of those cheap reading glasses you can get at the drug store. At those prices, I can afford to make them a fashion statement, several fashion statements, in fact, depending on my mood that day.

I never thought glasses like these would suit me. I've always been convinced that yellow and my face were a bad combination, but I like the way these look on me. They have a fun, retro quality to them. As I write this post at my local cafĂ©, a male friend came up and said they give me that "sexy librarian" look. I get that a lot when I wear glasses. It's a kind of sexy I'm more than happy to call to people's minds.

But my reading glasses are not just fashion statements. I'm 44, and I need them, more and more as the years fly by. My theory is that, if you need some sort of ability aid, don't be ashamed of it; decorate it, flaunt it, add it to your style repertoire. Have fun with it! I've heard that Ari Seth Cohen and the lovely ladies over at Advanced Style are now taking that approach to hearing aids. You go, girls!

It's certainly the approach I've learned to take with my canes and "sensible shoes." I need the canes. I need the sensible shoes. So why not make them two more accessories which with to have fun? Do you like my pink cane? I do too.

Sometimes young people become jealous of my canes, and contemplate using them even when they don't need them, just because they think I make them look so cool. I'd call that a disability style victory, wouldn't you?

I also like to dress for the day. I wouldn't be so pompous as to say that the day becomes my own, personal accessory. Rather, I think maybe I become the day's accessory, as if nature and my city decided to wear a sparkly pendant and I get to be that pendant!

I love to harmonize with our spring (and summer and autumn) flowers.

Here I am, kicking up my heels on my scooter to show you that my skirt matches these flowers.

It was a very yellow sort of a day. Yellow is a new style choice for me and I'm having great fun with it.

Who wouldn't?


I even got some yellow pollen on my sleeve. It matched my sweater.

I chose to knot my yellow sweater, thinking it would emphasize my waist.

I'm not sure it was the best idea though as I think it made me look too wide from front to back. I've become insecure about that, about my middle-aged belly, once so flat and cut, and now, well, not.

But whatever. Mostly: yellow!

But not just yellow. Also purple!

Purple sunglasses.

Purple flowers.

And pink!

And more pink.

And guess what? More pink!

And also: pink  in our garden which is, this year, bearing the beautiful results of all the work we put into it last year.

So pink and purple and yellow, and an Art Deco necklace worth celebrating. That's it. That's my style-only post. How'd I do?

(I'm starting to post on a new link up, at Sydney Fashion HunterI'm also sharing this with Style Crone's Hat Attack, and Patti's Visible Mondays.)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Here and Now: Oliver Twist, the Newsboy Cap, and Child Exploitation

Rainy days are not conducive to dressing well, especially if I'm using my mobility scooter. But, if I can't pull off  a decent outfit in the rain, I'll seldom get to dress up at all from about October to June. So I do what I can.

Yet again, this outfit was, primarily, influenced by late 70s, early 80s fashion. But, as I looked at these photos, my mind wandered from Sherlock Holmes, to Oliver Twist, to Brooke Shields, to child labour. A simple outfit sent me on a twisting road to some upsetting truths about child exploitation, including the sexual exploitation -- the slavery -- that I endured as a child.

My mind has always made odd associations between ideas. When I was first put into a gifted program as a child, I was told that this is a classic sign of giftedness. I've had to learn to censor myself a bit, because people often don't see the connections that I see; they think that, instead, I'm just rambling from topic to unrelated topic. They find it annoying or confusing or both. Just ask my college students. I really have to reign it in for them!

But here, for your edification and depression, dear readers, I present an example of how the wandering of my wandery mind works, taking me from high-waisted jeans to child abuse, from literary mysteries to the Charles Dickens.

Jeans: Reitman's; Boots: Ecco; Cap: ?; Earrings: Jessica; Right hand ring: Burks; Cape, blouse, vest, and brooches: vintage
First, the outfit. If it's raining, this cape a necessity on my mobility scooter. It keeps my knees and arms covered and dry. It's pretty stylish too, if I do say so myself.

People often say it reminds them of Sherlock Holmes (here played by Basil Rathbone).

Who wouldn't want to be associated with such brains? Speaking of brains, that building towering above me is the downtown campus of one of the universities where I studied and, later, taught, many lifetimes ago. So: Sherlock and university, two reminders of brains.

The funny things is that, as far as I can tell, Holmes has never actually been depicted wearing a full cape, yet everyone remembers him as having worn one, from the original illustrations to today. This is the closest I found to a cape and it's just a robe.

(It's possible that's opium in his pipe. Yes, in the original stories, he is depicted as a hard drug user, though only a "recreational" one, as if that's possible. The American television show, Sherlock, picks up on this in a more realistic way, with Sherlock being a recovering heroin addict.)

It's easy to forget, over 100 years after the fact, but, when Doyle wrote the stories, he meant Sherlock to be the very most modern of modern men, in part because he always valued hard facts and science over things like intuition, religion, superstition, and commonly held beliefs. I'm all for truth over beliefs, but more on that later. Here, I'm trying to look like Holmes in spirit: imperious, logical, self-confident, and modern.

When this bizarre structure behind me was built in the early 80s, it too was the most modern of modern, though it seems entertainingly dated today. It seemed a fun "space age" back drop and setting for my own late 70s and early 80s inspired outfit. The shirt and vest are the most obvious markers of the period. I think both were actually made at the time.

I've always quite liked this type of blouse, with its gossamer fabric and puffed sleeves. It seems very sophisticated to me, probably because it's attractive without being showy or revealing. The woman who wears it is not interested in impressing people with her body or even her good looks. Her good taste is impressive enough. This is a woman with a bit of money, which she earned herself, in her professional career. As someone who was trafficked for years, my only value being that of the saleability of my body, I'm all for a woman's achievements being more important than her appearance.

Against a hell of a lot odds, I managed to get an education and build a career for myself and I enjoy dressing accordingly, so I like the blouse. As was common in the early 80s, I paired it with a man-tailored vest.

I think the vest is handmade, probably sewn from a pattern such as this one. I do so wish I could sew! I would have a huge wardrobe made from vintage sewing patterns. But I know that, with my back injury (actually, injuries, plural, I learned about a year ago), leaning over to sew would cause me a lot of pain. My plan is someday to be able to have "my seamstress" to sew amazing confections for me.

As with many inexpertly sewn clothes, the vest doesn't fit perfectly. The women in the second hand store where I bought it said that I was the first one whose chest was large enough for the vest but, still, it feels a bit "off" somehow, constantly riding up and buckling.

I have to tug it down a lot.

But that's kind of fun because it reminds me of Jean-Luc Picard, who had to pull down his top every time he stood up or shifted position -- for how many seasons? Many. But he did it with dignity, didn't he, so I'm in good company.

Plus, of course, there's this. Tell it, Mr. Stewart! I try to tell it, over and over, and so should you. But, let's face it, he's right: people will listen to him more than they'll listen to me. So he tells it over and over, loud and clear.

Gotta love the Patrick Stewart. I'm proud to wear an outfit that even vaguely reminds me of him.

Feminist men are so hot.

Back to the vest. It's also appealing because I'm a complete sucker for tweeds and woollens, as you may already know. They're not as easy to find as you might think, especially in women's clothes.

(Yes, these two brooches do go very well together. Thanks for noticing. They're both designed by Boucher, who's one of my favourites. The one on the left is probably from the 40s, while the one on the right is probably from the 60s. I wear the spiky one when I want to feel tough, which is often.)

Tweeds and woollens were popular for women in the period I'm emulating, which may be part of why I find myself repeatedly gravitating toward it these days.

Of course, for Sherlock and Watson, such clothes were pretty much all there was. Denims, jersey knits, tennis shoes... these things were of the future still.

Today, I think we see wool as for the wealthy and cultured but this was not always so. Rich or poor, wool was common, as evidenced by this heart breaking mug shot of a young boy arrested for stealing food.

We'll get back to the plight of impoverished and exploited children soon. Just hang on.

I wear hats in our rain, so I have a lot of them. They're much easier for me than umbrellas which hurt my back and, if I'm using my cane, leave me with no free hands at all. This hat is a tweedy one so, naturally, I like it.

It's perfectly okay to pile tweed upon tweed and wool upon wool, no matter what others say!

Don't listen to the doubters. What do they know?

Again, I'm in good company.

From Roman Polanski's adaptation of Oliver Twist
But this cap does not bring my mind first to Patrick Stewart. First and foremost, it makes me think of poor little Oliver Twist in Dickens's novel of the same name.

I really identify with Oliver Twist. Like me, he was used and abused for others' gain. Like me, like too many children, he was forced to do things that were not in his nature, and had to learn to become tough and spiky just to survive.

He became tough out of necessity. That happens when you've had a gun to your head. And yes, I've had a gun put to my head, more than once. It's not pleasant. Such things do happen in real life, to real children.

I so identified with Oliver Twist that I could not read it through the first time I picked it up. When I got to the part where he's shot and left in a ditch to die, I just could not go on.

Such things are not merely the stuff of fiction, as much as people try to deny it. They happen in real life, though both the perpetrators and the victims are kept in the shadows by our culture's efforts to deny it.

Want to know why we call caps like "newsboy caps"?

This is why!

And this.

And this.

And this.

See the little boy with only one leg, hobbling on his one crutch, carrying his heavy bundle of newspapers? I wonder what happened to him.

I know something about being crippled by child labour. In my case, the brutality of the rapes I endured permanently injured my back. I was about ten.

This age. Ten. Little. Like Oliver Twist. Like the little newsboy with the lost leg.

(Yes, I've always liked caps like these. I tucked my hair up under them to keep cool in the summer.)

Child labour is not a thing of fiction. Nor is it a thing of the past. It's not even "merely" a thing of impoverished countries. It happens right here, right now, wherever your here and now and happens to be.

It's odd, but it wasn't just my newsboy cap that reminded me of child labour. My jeans did too. Part of why my vest doesn't fit well is because it's meant to go with higher waisted jeans. As I searched for an image of high-waisted jeans to illustrate my point, dear reader, I came across perhaps the most iconic image thereof.

Remember this image? This is Brooke Shields modelling for Calvin Klein. She was 14. If that's not child labour, I don't know what is. It is made all the worse by how extremely sexualized she was in this campaign. In the popular television ads for the these jeans, Shields is posed in all kinds of "sexy" positions, with her butt high up in the air, saying things like, "If my Calvins could talk, I'd be ruined."

Ruined? Ruined?! What could a 14 year old girl possibly have done to ruin her reputation?

It's those who controlled her whose reputations should have been ruined! People like her mother, who'd been exploiting her and allowing photographers and cinematographers to sexualize her for years. Man, I know a thing or two about mothers like that!

When she was 12, Shields was in a movie called Pretty Baby. In it, she played a 12 year old girl raised in a brothel. Her virginity was auctioned off to a high bidder, and she was literally served to him on a platter, like a tasty meal, not a human being. I know that feeling!

I remember this magazine cover. It was the first time I'd seen the issue addressed publicly, drawn out of the shadows of secrecy and right onto the magazine rack at the supermarket. I remember looking at it and thinking, "That's what happens to me. So it is normal after all. I guess it must be okay then." It was not okay.

Note the language used. "Brooke Shields, 12, stirs up a furor over child porn in films." Brooke Shields did that?! No, she did not! Her mother did it. Those adults who made the film did it, not this innocent 12 year old girl!

Notice too that I haven't called her character a "child prostitute."  A girl auctioned off at 12 is not a prostitute. She is a slave. I was a slave.

Can any child consent to selling newspapers on corners in all kinds of weather, or posing for photographs such as these? (In looking at photographs of the very young Shields, I came across ones far worse than this one but I simply could not bring myself to disseminate them, even for illustrative purposes.)

Can any child consent to such things? I couldn't.

It always amazes me: people look at this photo of me and say, "Aw, you were so cute!" Is that really all they see? I don't see a cute kid. I see a miserably unhappy, bemused, exploited child, like Oliver Twist.

Sometimes, when I look at photos of myself today, I see exactly the same tired, stressed face.

Horrendous exploitation of children is not fiction, it's not past, and it's not "elsewhere." It's here and now, no matter how much it's obscured by secrets and disbelief. It's time to stop the secrets and to start believing.

So the next time you wear a newsboy cap in a jaunty way, or see someone with a cane, look at yet another extremely young model in a fashion magazine ...

... or meet someone who seems too spiky ...

...think. Make the connections. And, if it's called for, speak, and act. The onus is on every adult to end child exploitation, here and now. If not you, and you, and me, who?

(I'm sharing this with Style Crone's Hat Attack, and Patti's Visible Mondays.)