Tag Archives: fashion

Another Year Over

I’m a little superstitious when it comes to the New Year. I believe that the things you do on the first day of the year set a pattern for the rest. I try to spend my New Year’s day on the kinds of activities I’d like to continue or achieve during the coming year. This year I’m planning some writing time and some photography, as well as time with loved ones.

I make resolutions too and try to stick to them. This past year one of our joint resolutions was making crepes on Sunday morning, which we’ve done almost every Sunday this year. Another of my resolutions was to take a yoga class. I’m approaching a year of that as well—one of the healthiest resolutions I’ve managed to keep.

We’ve had a busy December with a graduation, family visit, retirement from teaching, our Solstice get-away, and the usual holiday events with family. Today was our first real day of unscheduled time all month. A couple days ago, I started thinking about a sewing project I’d begun in 2003, something that I’d come across this month in my fabric drawer.

Last night before I went to bed, I got excited thinking about the project again. I decided to devote today to finishing it. It’s just a blouse, peasant-style with gathered neck, back, and sleeves, but off and on throughout the last nearly nine years, I’ve often thought I’d like to wear it, if only it were finished. I’d even cut out the fabric years ago, so it didn’t seem like sewing it up would take much time.

But when I got it out of the drawer this morning and read through the instructions again, I remembered why I’d stuck it in the back of the drawer. It was fussy, with bias tape casings around nearly every edge and little draw-stringy things that require tweezers and a magnifying glass to edge. I was out of fusible interfacing for the one little piece where the drawstrings come through, so I had to run to the fabric store for that, which was okay because I needed thread to hem some jeans anyway.

As anyone who sews knows, half the time sewing is spent ironing, so I set up the board next to my machine and filled the iron with water for steam. I had to iron all the pieces first because they’d been wadded up for so long, but the wrinkles came out easily. I cut the elastic, made the bias tape casings, and started sewing.

I had to adjust the elastic quite a bit for fit but it all went well until the last step, when I looked at the diagram incorrectly. I sewed the bias tape to the wrong side of the fabric and had to rip it out and start again. I was getting tired but I got all the machine work done by sunset. When I went outside for the mail, I heard our pair of great-horned owls in the trees and found them both silhouetted against the day’s last light. I hope that means they’ll nest nearby this spring so that we can see the owlette when it fledges.

I’ll finish my blouse tonight when I hem the bottom edge and whipstitch the casing edges closed.  I love the turquoise paisley design of the fabric and the soft, cool feel of the cotton. I know I’ll wear it a lot on hot summer days.

Just last week I wrote about the value of homemade gifts and how objects made by hand offer a special kind of thoughtfulness. I contemplated that today as I was sewing my blouse. I spent about four hours on the project, not counting travel time, and another hour in 2003 cutting it out. Is five hours too much for making something that’s only a gift to myself? I haven’t sewed my own clothes for years (although I have knit some sweaters) beyond hemming pants or altering second-hand skirts. Today I enjoyed the work but I kept feeling like I should be doing something else, something more practical farm- or work-wise.

But I kept going because I didn’t want that project hanging over my head anymore—and I’m glad I did. Good to clear out the space in the drawer, good to have a new blouse to wear, good to quit thinking I need to finish it, good to end the year with a task completed, but most of all, good to remember that making clothes is real work that takes real skill. And that leads to gratitude to the women—since that’s who sews clothes for the US market—who make our clothes. My gratitude doesn’t improve the conditions under which they work but it does make me realize once again how enmeshed our lives are with people we never see.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. I’ll spend some of the day organizing for the year to come and another part preparing our New Year’s dinner. We’ll have a quiet celebration, just the two of us, New York time, and that will wind down a very busy year before the start of another. We are lucky to have each other, lucky to have the people who walk alongside us, and grateful for each and every one. Have a happy, healthy New Year!

A friend left a gratitude card on a table at a coffee shop and a couple days later, found it posted on the bulletin board!

 

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Black Friday Sounds Like a Plague

The media hype surrounding Black Friday this year astounded me in its hijacking of the Thanksgiving holiday into something commercial and crass. As many commentators pointed out, a day that used to mean spending time with your family has become a competitive spectator sport. Stores opened at obscenely early hours for “specials” that had shoppers stealing out of each others’ carts. This scarcity tactic led to people mobbing shops and even pepper-spraying other shoppers to get something they certainly didn’t need in the first place.

In the mid to late 90s, my women’s studies students and I organized an event called Why Shop? Week to raise awareness about the connection between women producers of products—generally low-paid workers in underdeveloped and developing countries—and women consumers—the audience for fashion and beauty advertisements founded on the message that women are never good enough so buy, buy, buy, including products that are unsafe and unhealthy. Both of these groups of women should be natural allies because they face a common struggle for women’s rights. That is, women’s lives should not be limited and trivialized by sexist stereotypes of women as merely producers or consumers of products. When women consumers realize that the products they’re told to buy to improve themselves are often produced by other women in unsafe and exploitative working conditions, shopping can be seen in another light. By learning the story behind the product and asking “Who Made It?” Who Needs It?” and “Who Profits from It?,” we can start to free ourselves from a misogynistic consumerism that profits from women’s economic and social vulnerability. Women are more than what they buy and they deserve fair wages and working conditions for any job they undertake.

Sure, it’s not simple. Women all over the world need jobs, but low wages and dangerous conditions for some women should not be the necessary conditions upon which other women’s self-esteem is based.

These connections are not easy to make but my students came up with innovative ways to—at the very least—start questioning the link between US consumption practices and women’s labor exploitation. One year they staged an alternative fashion show called “Crimes of Fashion: Are They Worth It?” exposing the real world of fashion, especially the labor exploitation of sweatshop workers in the U.S. and overseas.  Here the students modeled “recycled” clothing from a second-hand store to suggest creating one’s own fashion sense rather than following trends found in magazines.

Another year they created an alternative beauty pageant called “Ms. Assembly Line” whose talent segment featured contestants from garment, athletic shoe, appliance, and agricultural businesses demonstrating their production skills, while a red, white, and blue-sequined Ms. Super Shopper displayed her talent running up a hefty credit card tab. The students’ even revised the lyrics to the famous pageant song: “She is the poorest of the poor/ Except in the U. S. where she has more and more.”

Another year, the skit, “Shop ‘Til They Drop,” included talk show host Sally “Dressy” Raphael interviewing guests with shopping addictions, including Cher, a teen shopper from Beverly Hills; “Grandma Claus,” an overly generous holiday shopper; Mikey Swoosh, a Nike fanatic; and Annie Smith, a high school student addicted to beauty products.  Experts helped guests face their addictions by educating them about their consumption habits.

For each of these events, the students decorated shopping bags highlighting the disparity between wages and profits for common women’s products while questioning the message that enough is never enough.

With Why Shop? Week, we tried to raise awareness about the role consumerism plays in limiting women’s rights. I hope when my former students hear about Black Friday, they reflect on the ideas we discussed years ago. I’m discouraged that shopping has been raised to a national holiday and that people are even harmed by manufactured scarcity and media hype. Black Friday sounds like a plague—and like a disease, it seems to have spread a terrible contagion: greed. I hope next year we say “Enough is Enough” to the stores, advertisers, and manufacturers that trivialize our freedoms and cheapen our lives with a shopping mania in service of profits for a few rather than rights for all.

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Filed under memoir, women's writing

Note to Self: This Is What Beautiful Looks Like

I’ve been busy the last few weeks working with students in the women’s wellness service learning practicum of my women’s literature course on a digital story that challenges the degrading and even dangerous images of beauty found every day in the media. As young women coming of age in a world where competing ideas and values are difficult to evaluate, my students are particularly sensitive to consumerist messages that tell them they’re not good enough. While the students know what beauty really looks like, they have to work hard to shut out constant feelings of not measuring up to superficial portrayals of women.

In response to these negative messages, we decided to use media techniques and communication channels for our own purposes: to create and share a digital story that promotes feeling good about who we are as women for our accomplishments, goals, and relationships rather than just for our physical appearance. We answered the question “How can I feel good about myself when everyone else tells me to feel bad?” by describing experiences that challenge the “you’re not good enough” message with self-affirmations and peer and family support.

For each scene, the students created a “note to self” that illustrated their own positive messages. I then compiled images of these “notes” with personal photos from the students’ lives, joined by thematic photos shot at Rock Your Body Day, a fabulous event organized by our campus’s Community Health that celebrates real bodies accomplishing real goals. As part of RYBD, the students were photographed holding signs stating what they love about their bodies and these black and white images appear in the final sequence of our piece.

I loved working with my students on this project and I applaud the honesty with which they shared their stories. While the students still recognize fashion and body image as part of their young lives, they offer strategies for re-defining beauty on their own more constructive terms. We hope that Note to Self: This Is What Beautiful Looks Like will inspire all of us to create messages reminding each other that beauty is not what we don’t have, but rather what already exists in our own hearts and minds.

I invite my readers to share this video with women of all ages, but especially with younger women who feel their lives are reduced to the way they look, the products they buy, and the labels of the clothes they wear. I hope they’re inspired by my students to create new images and ideas of beauty and “put it out there for the world to see!”

And if you have any ideas for ways to share our story, please let me know! It’s also available at vimeo.com/kayannshort/notetoself



 

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Filed under women's writing