Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ugly clothes

In less than two months, Esteemed Husband and I will be winging our way to Belgium for a short conference in Leuven. This is a Big Deal, because we almost never travel. Fortunately, we have found someone nice and efficient to stay with the girls, and Eldest Daughter will be a great co-babysitter as well. So we're going.

I wanted another skirt for the conference, and after shopping fruitlessly on-line, I ordered one from Lilies Apparel, which I have mentioned before. The skirt should be pretty, though I've never ordered a skirt from them before, but I won't see it for a few weeks. Ordering a skirt from Lilies is a little like ordering a book from Lulu. They don't start making the physical item until you order it. This is nice, because I got mine customized for length and waist size. I think it will come in time, though.

It's a bit pricey, and after ordering it I was seized with a sudden qualm: What if unbeknownst to me my local Meijer superstore had in the meanwhile started selling nice women's clothes and had a skirt I could have bought for much less?

But I needn't have worried.

I had to go to Meijer for something else and took a gander at the women's clothing section. With the exception of a few shelves of T-shirts, all the clothes there had been made in strict accordance with standards provided by the Federal Bureau of Ugly Clothes. I'm sure there is such a bureau, and if you doubt it, go look at the women's clothes at a local superstore sometime.

They were absolutely hideous. I'll start with the skirts, because that was what I was shopping for. The only ones I really looked at were the super-long ones, because the only other kind were the super-short ones. Nothing in between, of course. The super-long ones were called "peasant skirts," but any self-respecting peasant woman would, I'm sure, rather wear a garment made out of a cornmeal sack. They were made of something that I believe is called "crinkle cloth," and it looks just like you would think something called "crinkle cloth" would look--like the tissue paper that comes out of a gift bag and has been wadded up and then partially smoothed out again. Somehow this "crinkle" appearance made even white look like a dirty color. The other colors were a flat, dusty black and various shades of industrial sludge. And on top of everything else, they were see-through. How nice: A pseudo-modest skirt so long that it places a woman in danger of falling flat on her face when she walks while at the same time making Superman's X-ray vision superfluous for purposes of seeing through her clothes.

(While I was looking at these skirts, a young woman was wailing over the radio overhead, "I get so emotional, baby!" Over and over. Should she maybe see somebody about her problem?)

On the way to the skirts, I caught sight of the tops. I see these on women all the time. Most of them are what I would call the maternity camisole look, only often they are brown, which isn't a usual camisole color: Exceedingly immodest, thin little straps or a halter top, deep cleavage, and an ugly sort of bunched-up bodice-formation, with a maternity-style loose skirt underneath the bodice to form the rest of the top. Or, for the squeamish among us, there is the "wear your underwear on top of your clothes" look: The foregoing maternity camisole with a still rather plungy T-shirt sewn underneath it.

Who thinks of these things? Who would actually want to wear them? I suppose some women wear them because they can't find the T-shirt shelves or perhaps even because they buy their clothes without thinking. But the clothes are so, so ugly. The ugliness is in some ways even more striking than the immodesty.

So, reluctantly, I tore myself away from the women's clothing section, muttered something under my breath about the emotional girl on the radio, and took myself off home.


william luse said...

I'm, uh, trying to think of something to say to this perfectly feminine post. Okay: if you wear one of those Lillie's Apparel dresses, you're going to show up in Belgium, the PC heart of the Europa project, looking like a lady instead of a professional philosopher. Do you really want that?

How long will you be gone?

Lydia McGrew said...

Actually, it's a Lilies' skirt. I'm wearing a nice T-shirt with it. :-)

Yep, I'd much rather show up looking like a lady than like whatever female professional philosophers do commonly look like at conferences nowadays. What that is I don't know. If it were winter, I might expect to find them in suits, but in the middle of June I somehow doubt it. The last conference I went to was three years ago in Berkeley, CA (!!). The other women were _very_ underdressed (literally), and it was rather chilly, too, so they were all shivering. Ha.

We'll be gone for about six days starting on June 8, I believe (if that's a Monday).

Madeleine said...

I hear you all the way from New Zealand - I'd offer to send you something but we have the same problem here.

I have been on a mission to find a dressy top to wear with jeans and heels for those evenings where you need to be smart casual.

In addition to having the instore music issue - mine was "I kissed a girl and I liked it" (which has a very catchy tune so really hard to keep it out of your head) everything looks like it fell off the back of a maternity apparel truck.

I mean, h e l l o , I have given birth to four children and shut up shop. Finally, 7 years after the last one, I have the "how far on are you comments?" down to once in a blue moon, so I really want something that doesn't make me look pregnant!

I like to dress fashionably but I am not a hooker and I am not a hippie and I AM NOT PREGNANT!

Finding corporate clothes is easy enough, suits, shirts, dressy tops but I don't work in an office any more so I don't want to dress like that. Even when I am speaking publicly or at some conference I want to go for smart and sophisticated but still feminine and elegant.

I frequently now go with a cami - we have an online store called ezibuy that can be guaranteed to always have a range of normal cami's in a variety of colours. I throw a funky cardi over the top and team it up with skirt (thankfully some of my ex- corporate world ones lend themselves to this task) and boots or strappy sandals and then accessorise with some nice jewelery. Or I wear my pinafore - thank goodness they were in fashion last year and I had the good sense to buy one - but since I was wearing it when I did Bill Craig's powerpoints at his Auckland debate it is now infamously seen around the world in the you tube video so if I turn up anywhere where there is a concentration of people in the room who were at the debate or who probably saw it online I feel I can't wear it (you know, same outfit twice and all that) silly because philosophers noticing clothes...LOL

However, trying to depart from these two looks at the moment is all but impossible due to the problem you described. I am going to have buy a sewing machine... but when would I sew?

Anyway I hope your skirt is lovely and you can always try Belgium's stores while you are away!

Lydia McGrew said...

What I never understand is why the clothing designers make up these things that people just hate and then shove them down the customers' throats. I've heard a number of people complain about the ugly maternity-style shirts, but they keep appearing in the store. I understand that by providing nothing else the clothing makers can make a lot of people feel forced to buy and wear whatever ugly stuff they sell, but I'm just always astonished at how top-down the clothing world is and how unresponsive to actual customer preferences. It's weird.

In your search for a dressy top, Madeleine, you might check out

I don't know if they ship to New Zealand, but it's worth checking, anyway. Under women's tops they have a whole section called "dressy pullovers," several of which look quite pretty. (And contrary to British usage, "pullover" means only that the top pulls over the head, so that section includes spring and summer tops, not only sweaters.) The only problem I've had with Blair is that they've occasionally been a little inefficient. Once they sent me the wrong size jeans, for example. But they make some nice stuff.

Madeleine said...

There are a few things on Blair's site that look interesting - I like some of the fabrics, a couple were very me, but I finally managed to find something here I am quite stoked with - yay! Thanks for the link though, I will keep them in mind if I get stuck again.

My almost 9 year old is in love with one of the dresses on Lilies - the pink and white one in the pic on the printed catalogue that the girl at the front left is wearing. While I wouldn't wear one of those dresses myself, I agree they are very girly girl and just lovely and I would love to get one for my daughter as it is so hard to find anything pretty for her that doesn't make her look like a mini-teenager (or worse!)

While are are sharing onling apparel links, that site I like over here does ship to the US and is priced very reasonably. If you click on "women" you then get the names of their ranges, if you click on those names you get an indication of that range's style - they are quite varied from casual through dressy through teen, through more mature/conservative, through plus sizes through resort wear through business looks and more. I can usually find something reasonable - the Eve range would be the closest to the Blair site and maybe bits of the capture range to.

Prices are in NZ dollars so you'd need to take just over 1/3 off the price to give you an idea of the US price e.g. $30NZD is about $18 USD.

Madeleine said... is the link I forgot to leave.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks for the link. I clicked through a bit but didn't see anything that grabbed me right away. This is a result of _two_ factors--first, my love of things that come up nice and high in front, and second, the fact that our seasons are opposite. I can't believe I just thought of this! :-)

William Luse said...

"Yep, I'd much rather show up looking like a lady"

I knew you were going to say that.

I guess I can tolerate six days' absence. I don't know if W4 can though.

janet said...

In the early 90's they started throwing extra bulky denim shifts at us. I never bought one. I thought after these ugly clothes went away we would be back to pretty clothes. I did find a nice dress to wear to a wedding in San Jose, CA at Dress Barn Outlet near Portland, Oregon in 2007. I couldn't show up looking like a hick. I shouldn't have worried that much as everyone was dressed in blah casual. I haven't heard that term before, but it describes women's fashion trends perfectly. I saw a beautiful 1950's remake dress at Macy's last summer, but didn't want to pay $400 for it. It's been said before that pretty fashions died with Princess Diana.