outfit description

Carolyn decided.

"Carolyn decided, again with her relentless logic, that if we won the football game against Stranahan, she'd do it with Larry. We creamed them. Carolyn's face walking off the field of honor was not the usual bright cherry red from screaming her lungs out but an ashen and drawn white. Connie and I went over to her to bolster her.

From  Take Ivy  by  Teruyoshi Hayashida et al.

From Take Ivy by Teruyoshi Hayashida et al.

Then the three of us went back to the locker room to wait for our dates--all Princeton haircuts, Weejun shoes, and Gold Cup socks." (99)

Brown, Rita Mae. Rubyfruit Jungle. New York: Bantam Books, 1973.

You know exactly who these boys are.

My Ability To Turn Off Whatever It Is That Causes Human Bodies To Reflect Visible Light

"I'm a quirky dresser. I'm absolutely fearless about what it is that I believe in. My shirts are incognizant and my socks: you must be completely unaware of my socks. That's, like, my approach to socks. 

Chris Farley in a film still from Tommy Boy, 1995. From IMDB.

Chris Farley in a film still from Tommy Boy, 1995. From IMDB.

My pants can be wily or even dishonest on some days* if I just get up and feel that, but I have to feel it. When I wear a tie--and believe me, sometimes I really wear a tie, it can be porcine, straight-laced, odious. I have a certain little boy quality. But there's also that big, fat, sweaty guy thing in there, too."


Gannon, Frank. "I Know What I'm Doing About All The Attention I'm Getting" read on Selected Shorts by David Sedaris, 2013. First published in Yo, Poe (New York: Viking, 1987) and was reprinted in Sedaris' collection of short stories, Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005).


The least cliched ways of talking about one's clothing choices, and a commentary on personality building through dress, the narcissism that ironically comes from being a bad dresser. I think something about the syntax of these sentences is perfect, semi-colloquial and just a bit off:

"It will be me putting on the pants, it will be me pulling up the socks. I know how to do this, I've been at it for quite a while. I dressed myself for a long time before anyone was paying attention, and I'll dress myself a long time after everyone's paying attention to the way someone else dresses themself. I know how these things go."

You must, must listen to the whole story, it's a "short short."


*or Sundays? I can't tell from Sedaris' reading. I like Sundays better.

Above All, Foreign.

"Meanwhile, he stands there. Slowly, deliberately, like a magician, he takes a single book out of his briefcase and places it on the reading-desk. As he does this, his eyes move over the faces of the class. His lips curve in a faint but bold smile. Some of them smile back at him. George finds this frank confrontation extraordinarily exhilarating. He draws strength from these smiles, these bright young eyes. For him, this is one of the peak moments of the day. he feels brilliant, vital, challenging, slightly mysterious and, above all, foreign. 

Professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), 1960s. From  Harvard Psych Dept. website .

Professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), 1960s. From Harvard Psych Dept. website.

His neat dark clothes, his white dress shirt and tie (the only tie in the room) are uncompromisingly alien from the aggressively virile informality of the young male students. Most of these wear sneakers and garterless white wool socks; jeans in cold weather and in warm weather shorts (the thigh-clinging Bermuda type; the more becoming short ones aren't considered quite decent). If it is really warm, they'll roll up their sleeves and sometimes leave their shirts provocatively unbuttoned to show curly chest-hair and a Christopher medal. They look as if they were ready at any minute to switch from studying to ditch-digging or gang-fighting. They seem like mere clumsy kids in contrast with the girls; for these have all outgrown their teenage phase of Capri pants, sloppy shirts and giant heads of teased-up hair. They are mature women, and they come to class as if dressed for a highly respectable party." (46)


Isherwood, Christopher. A Single Man. London: Meuthen & Co., Ltd, 1964.


Kids these days! A thoughtful and scornful observation of early '60s students. Made me think of Take Ivy, the highly idealized style book by Teruyoshi Hayashida. The distinction between professor and student is the pearl in the oyster here, reinforcing our nostalgic ideas about Berkeley, the American '60s, etc. Also: the word "garterless."

With the Stuffing Out

"She was a giant of a woman, her face was set not only to meet opposition, but to seek it out. The downward tilt of her large lower lip was like a warning sign: "don't tamper with me." Her bulging figure was encased in a green crape dress and her feet overflowed in red shoes. She had on a hideous hat. A purple velvet flap came down on one side of it, and stood up on the other. The rest of it was green and looked like a cushion with the stuffing out. She carried a mammoth red pocketbook that bulged throughout as if it were stuffed with rocks.

Vintage photo with attitude (and hats) from the wonderful  Wildfell Hall .

Vintage photo with attitude (and hats) from the wonderful Wildfell Hall.

To Julian's disappointment the little boy climbed up on the empty seat beside his mother. His mother lumped all children, black and white, into the common category "cute," and she thought little Negroes were on the whole cuter than little white children. She smiled at the little boy as he climbed on the seat. Meanwhile, the woman was bearing down on the empty seat beside Julian. To his annoyance, she squeezed herself into it. He saw his mother's face change as the woman settled herself next to him, and he realized with satisfaction that this was more objectionable to her than it was to him. Her face seemed almost grey, and there was a look of dull recognition in her eyes, as if she suddenly had sickened at some awful confrontation. Julian saw it was because she and the woman had, in a sense, swapped sons, though his mother would not recognize the symbolic significance of this. She would feel it. His amusement showed plainly on his face.

The woman next to him muttered something unintelligible to herself. He was conscious of a kind of bristling next to him, a muted growling, like that of an angry cat. He could not see anything but the red pocketbook upright on the bulging green thighs. He visualized the woman as she had stood waiting for her tokens, the ponderous figure rising from the red shoes upward over the solid hips, the mammoth bosom, the haughty face, to the green-and-purple hat. His eyes widened. The vision of the two hats, identical, broke upon him with the radiance of brilliant sunrise."


O'Connor, Flannery. "Everything That Rises Must Converge" from Everything that Rises Must Converge. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1965.


Read the story or listen to it on Selected Shorts to get in on the joke! Beautiful use of clothing in fiction, underlining the plot and punctuating the moral, that exclamation point of a hat.


"Bertrand came out on to the step, glancing from one of them to the other. He was wearing a blue beret, which had much the same effect on Dixon as Welch senior's fishing-hat. If such headgear was a protection, what was it a protection against? If it wasn't a protection, what was it? What was it for? What was it for?" (188)

Blue beret (and so much more) at  Agi & Sam  A/W2013

Blue beret (and so much more) at Agi & Sam A/W2013

Amis, KingsleyLucky Jim. London: Penguin, 1972 [1954].


What was it for? Why do we wear hats with character? At the time Amis was writing, hats on men were still common--even socially necessary. To not wear a hat would have been significant; what does wearing a funny hat mean?


"'Don't be alarmed, Tantripp,' said Dorothea, smiling. 'I have slept; I am not ill. I shall be glad of a cup of coffee as soon as possible. And I want you to bring me my new dress; and most likely I shall want my new bonnet to-day.'

Half-mourning dress, 1872-74. From the Brooklyn Collection at the  Metropolitan Museum of Art .

Half-mourning dress, 1872-74. From the Brooklyn Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

'They've lain there a month and more ready for you, madam, and most thankful I shall be to see you with a couple o' pounds' worth less of crape,' said Tantripp, stooping to light the fire. 'There's a reason in mourning, as I've always said; and three folds at the bottom of your skirt and a plain quilling in your bonnet—and if ever anybody looked like an angel, it's you in a net quilling—is what's consistent for a second year. At least, that's my thinking,' ended Tantripp, looking anxiously at the fire; 'and if anybody was to marry me flattering himself I should wear those hijeous weepers two years for him, he'd be deceived by his own vanity, that's all.'" (874)


Eliot, George. Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life. Ed. A.S. Byatt. New York and Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.

Undying love and devotion doesn't mean you have to be undesirable and unfashionable for two whole years. Plus when one looks so especially good in net quilling...

Thanks Katie for the tip!


"'Oh, I see all right, James. I see perfectly.' This time her voice was flat. She wore a sort of arty get-up of multi-coloured shirt, skirt with fringed hem and pocket, low-heeled shoes, and wooden beads. The smoke from her cigarette curled up, blue and ashy in a sunbeam, round her bare forearm.

Elaine de Kooning, 1950s. Detail from a portrait of the de Koonings by Rudy Burckhardt. In the  permanent collection  at the Guild Hall.

Elaine de Kooning, 1950s. Detail from a portrait of the de Koonings by Rudy Burckhardt. In the permanent collection at the Guild Hall.


'...What the hell do you take me for? It isn't as if you didn't know what I've had to put up with, all these last weeks. It's intolerable, absolutely intolerable. I won't stand for it. You must have known how I've been feeling.'

She went on like this while Dixon looked her in the eyes. His panic mounted in sincerity and volume. Her body moved jerkily about; her head bobbed from side to side on its rather long neck, shaking the wooden beads about on the multi-coloured shirt. He found himself thinking that the whole arty get-up seemed oddly at variance with the way she was acting. People who wore clothes of that sort oughtn't to mind things of this sort, certainly not as much as Margaret clearly minded this thing. It was surely wrong to dress, and to behave most of the time, in a way that was so un-prim when you were really so proper all of the time." (76-77)


Amis, Kingsley. Lucky Jim. London: Penguin, 1972 [1954].


You are how you dress! Or should be, anyway, right?

Hand-me-up Clothes

Peter Sagal: Brian, Republicans have had a hard time courting younger voters, so they're turning to a new spokesman, a gentleman named Scott Greenberg. He is the first known Republican what?

Brian Babylon: Gimme a hint.

PS: Well, with him, the party platform is, 'Skinny Jeans, but a Big Tent.'

BB: Oh, these are...a Republican hipster?

PS: A Republican hipster! The first one found.

Bobcat Goldthwait: I was gonna go with boyscout.

PS: Scott Greenberg, uh, has got the jeans, the horn-rimmed glasses, he's got the three-day growth of beard, he's the kind of guy who would intern on a public radio show if he didn't want to defund public radio.

[wild applause from crowd that not only listens to radio but goes to see it live]

Scott Greenberg in a 2014 GOP ad.

Scott Greenberg in a 2014 GOP ad.

BB: I don't even want to know what this kid looks like, because I know he had...you know hipsters wear hand-me-up clothes.

PS: What does that mean?

BB: Hand-me-up-clothes? That a little boy hands up to a grown man. They wear those little clothes, tight, and they have handlebar mustaches, and I'm scared of those...

PS: This is what I mean: he's doing a great job advocating Republican policy positions because just after one minute of listening to that guy, 100% of Democrats wished they owned a gun.

From the March 22 episode of Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me

WWDTM has a way of beating a dead horse, but at least Babylon has a new spin on the skinny-jeans-and-glasses description.

Kings Of Leon

"So last weekend that happened, and I walked up to the bus and I said to the bus driver, like, 'Hey, the subway is off, but it said that I could take the bus to the subway, do you know where I can get off?' And the bus driver said to me, and I quote, he goes, 'I don't know anything about the subway.' I was like, You don't know anything about the subway? You're wearing the same outfit as the man running the subway! 

Nathan Followill from Kings of Leon wearing a Burberry t-shirt, 2009. What could he say about other tattooed men in snoods? Photo from  My Many Bags , where you can see many celebrities and models in this shirt.

Nathan Followill from Kings of Leon wearing a Burberry t-shirt, 2009. What could he say about other tattooed men in snoods? Photo from My Many Bags, where you can see many celebrities and models in this shirt.

If someone said to me, 'You see that guy walking down the street with the khaki shorts and the Kings of Leon t-shirt? You know anything about that guy?' I'd be like, 'Yeah, I'll tell you a few things about that guy. I know that he could use somebody.'"


Birbiglia, Mike. Excerpted in Episode #515 of This American Life, "Good Guys." Listen to it here--it's obviously much better when he tells it.


Occupational Dress vs. Tribal Dress. All the people wearing the same things know the same things! I wonder what he was wearing on that tour, maybe some khaki shorts?


"The book-review editors were like kings (or queens), she always fancied, holding levees, surrounded by their courtiers, while petitioners waited eagerly in the anteroom and footmen (that is, office boys) trotted back and forth. And, like kings, they had the power of life and death in their hands.

1930s woman.jpeg

She had got to know the other reviewers or 'clients,' as the Romans would have called them, quite well by sight--middle-aged bohemian women with glasses or too much rouge and dangly earrings and worn briefcases or satchels; pimply young men in suits that looked as if they were made of paper. And their shoes! Half-soled and with broken laces tied in frayed knots; it broke Libby's heart to study their shoes and the red, raw ankles emerging from cheap imitation-lisle socks." (246-247)

McCarthy, Mary. The Company She Keeps. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002 [1942].

Can you imagine--imitation lisle! The nerve. Think of the products that were available in the 1930s and their social implications that may not mean anything today.

How would these down-at-the-heels reviewers be dressed today? Interesting in light of the previous post on ACM citing the New Yorker's conversation about officewear.

**PS: speaking of reviewing books, check out my newest review on Worn Through here!

Minnets mekanismer

Rapporter Ulla Strängberg: Jag är lite nervös inför mötet med Doris Lessing. Som många har sagt att hon är lite kärv och svår intervjuad. ...alltså är jag förberedd till tänderna när jag står där lite för tidigt utanför hennes hus i ett av raderna av likadana i West Hampstead inom västra London. Jag hade tänkt mig att det här programmet skulle handla om minnets mekanismer. En 84-åriga författare som skrivit i 70 år med ett 20-tal romaner bakom sig och minst lika mycket annat. Som skrivit så mycket om sitt liv och även i fiktiv form gestaltat minnena från uppväxten i Afrika. Var ska man börja, då?

Portrait of Doris Lessing by Ida Karr, late 1950s. In the  National Portrait Gallery , London. Does she have a run in her stocking? I would love that.

Portrait of Doris Lessing by Ida Karr, late 1950s. In the National Portrait Gallery, London. Does she have a run in her stocking? I would love that.

'En scen: jag har på mig en aftonklänning av svart sammet som jag hade sytt på eftermiddagen. Det var bomullssammet. Inom ett år skulle jag fingra på den och förkasta den. Den var skuren i den tidens klassiska modell: ryggen bar ner till midjan, med nackband och djup u-ringning framtill, sned runt höfterna och med mjuk vidd nertill. En man som är mycket äldre än pojkarna på sportklubben sitter på armstödet till den fåtölj och studera mig med ett leende som jag är för ung för att tolka som ett sorgsätt leende från en åldrande kvinnoälskare. Dansmusiken dunkar från balrummet och jag är rastlös och redan halvt börjat dansa, längtar efter att ge mig hänge. Han säger,

-Vem är din kavaljé ikväll? 

-Den och den, säger jag.

-Den där klänningen är bortslösad på en pojke som han, säger han med ett bittert leende. Han snurrar mig runt med manlig auktoritet, och förvandlas med ett andetag till en annan människa.

-Har du behå? 



-Ja, det är klart, säger jag indignerat. 

-Du har en perfekt figur, förkunnar han. Men det är synd att ditt högre bröst hänger en halvcentimeter längre ner än den andra.

-Det överlever jag nog. 


Det här lilla minnet skulle kunna jämföras med de fotografier av sitt unga jag, som kvinnor placerar där alla kan ser dom. Det de säger med det är "inbilla inte för en sekund att jag är den gamla haggan som du ser sitter här i den här fåtöljen, för det är jag inte alls. Det där är mitt verkliga jag.' [same Under My Skin excerpt in English here]

Doris Lessing in 2006. Photo: Martin Cleaver, AP. From  here .

Doris Lessing in 2006. Photo: Martin Cleaver, AP. From here.


US: Do you remember your black velvet dress?

DL: Yes. 

US: Must have been beautiful.

DL: It was, and I made it! I used to make my evening dresses. 

US: Your mother had a sewing machine.

DL: Yes, I used to...make sure I had a sewing machine. Um, I put this into my...I've just finished four short novels, which...and I put the making of evening dresses, much changed, into that. Because, you see, we used to make our clothes, because it isn't like now where there's so much...there's so many cheap clothes around. So it was, um, well it was enjoyable making clothes. Very! I don't do it now, of course.

Doris Lessing minns mycket väl sin svarta sammetsklänning som hon hade på balerna i Salisbury, i dåvarande Syd Rhodesia, där familjen hade slagit sig ner. Om det livet har hon berättat i sin självbiografi, Efter utbrottet från farmen, när hon bara var femton år. Familjen hade flyttat till Syd Rhodesia från Persian för att söka lyckan som majsfarmare. Men Doris bröt sig loss, och gick som alltid sin egen väg. Klänningen är ett slags symbol för frigörelsen, som är lustigt nog återvänt till igen i den kommande bok med fyra lång noveller. 


Doris Lessing, maker/consumer. From a great Swedish public radio piece on memory in remembrance of Lessing, who died November 17, 2013. Haven't read any of her work (!), but just happened to pick up the Penguin edition of "Five" (1960) in a thrift store in Uppsala a few weeks ago. Maybe the next English-language book on the pile?

This memorial to Lessing caught my ear when Strängberg asks herself, Lessing has written so much about memory, so "where do I begin?"...and promptly quotes a passage about a dress. Clothing and memory! Inextricable. Youth and age, memory, attraction...all in a piece of cotton velvet. I almost don't believe that Lessing made a velvet dress in one afternoon...but it fits the tone of the passage. Have a listen!

Gazing Everywhere

"Find a little yellow side street house. Put an older woman in it. Dress her in that tatty favorite robe, pull her slippers up before the sink, have her doing dishes, gazing nowhere--at her own backyard. Gazing everywhere.

From Life Magazine.

From Life Magazine.

Something falls outside, and loud. One damp thwunk into new grass. A meteor? She herself (retired from selling formal clothes at Wanamaker's, she herself a widow and the mother of three scattered sons, she herself alone at home a lot these days), goes onto tiptoe, leans across a sinkful of suds, sees out near her picnic table--something nude, white, overly long. It keeps shivering. Both wings seem damaged." (36)

Gurganus, Allan. "It Had Wings" Harper's Magazine, February 1986. Originally published in the Paris Review, Winter 1985. Also found here.


Her current self: a robe, former self: formal clothes. Contrast! Also, parentheses.

Handsome and Great

"In the pages to follow I shall not indulge in descriptions of persons--except when a facial expression, or a gesture, appears as a sign of a mute but eloquent language--because, as Boethius says, nothing is more fleeting than external form, which withers and alters like the flowers of the field at the appearance of autumn; and what would be the point of saying today that the abbot Abo had a stern eye and pale cheeks, when by now he and those around him are dust and their bodies have the mortal grayness of dust (only their souls, God grant, shining with a light that will never be extinguished)?

St. Andrew      , c. 1326. Simone Martini.  In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York .

St. Andrew   , c. 1326. Simone Martini. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

But I would like to describe WIlliam at least once, because his singular features struck me, and it is characteristic of the young to become bound to an older and wiser man not only by the spell of his words and the sharpness of his mind, but also by the superficial form of his body, which proves very dear, like the figure of a father, whose gestures we study and whose frowns, whose smile we observe--without a shadow of lust to pollute this form (perhaps the only that is truly pure) of corporal love.

In the past, men were handsome and great (now they are children and dwarfs), but this is merely one of the many facts that demonstrate the disaster of an aging world." (14-15) 


Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose. London: Picador, 1984 [Italy, 1980].


Why not describe people in words when it is so common to capture them in paintings, photographs, etc? Even if the nature is fleeting, the author/artist's subjective perspective will only be one of many understandings of the physical person. I like here how he spells it out for the reader...and then makes an immediate exception. 

The Early Days of Dude

"'For some reason,' Metcalf says, 'early in 1883, this inspired someone to call foppish young men of New York City "doods," with the alternate spelling "dudes" soon becoming the norm.'

 "What, is this my Son Tom" from 1774. Kids these days! From  here .

 "What, is this my Son Tom" from 1774. Kids these days! From here.

 Some of the early mocking descriptions of these dudes seem awfully familiar today: 'A weak mustache, a cigarette, a thirteen button vest/A curled rim hat — a minaret — two watch chains cross the breast.'"


Okrent, Arika. "Mystery Solved: The Etymology of Dude" on Slate .


Writers online can't seem to avoid the h-word, and Okrent won't let this just be interesting on its own. But I love that it would be thirteen  buttons. What did everyone else have, three? Ten? Where do we draw the line at excess, how weak was his mustache? These are the small distinctions that make fashion history so interesting!

Now you know, dude.