17th century sock lines

I love discovering images that make history feel more like real life. In this somewhat risqué painting of a lady taking her stockings off, you can clearly see the indentations left from the garters that had held her stockings up all day. How wonderful! Just like our version of a sock line.


“Woman at her Toilet” by Jan Havicksz Steen, 1655-60. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

This is why wandering through unfamiliar museums and finding unknown painters is so wonderful – you notice so much more when the painting is life size and right in front of your face, instead of just another image on a screen.

Posted in Amsterdam, Museums, Paintings, Travel | Leave a comment

Why table legs have boobs

Ever wonder why table legs have boobs?


Exquisite antique side table with marble top and figurative gilt legs. Museum Van Loon, Amsterdam.

I just found out they’re good practice for the uninitiated.


This boy and his friend had been sitting on the floor giggling and fondling this poor table leg for a while. When discovered by one of their dads, they got a strict talking to about the inappropriateness of feeling up the antiques. I snuck a shot of his defiant parting squeeze. He must have feared it would be his last chance for years and he should grab the chance while it was in reach and couldn’t fight off his advances.


Posted in Amsterdam, Museums, Travel | 1 Comment

The 2014 Met Gala Best-Dressed List

Okay, okay, okay. Everybody’s been asking what I thought about the Met Gala the other night, so for whatever it’s worth, here’s my take on things.

  • In my mind, the two most iconic elements to Charles James’ dresses are the sculptural quality and the emphasized natural waistline, and I found these elements to be mostly missing from the ladies choices the other night. I’m ready for an emphasized waist to come back into fashion! (In other words, curves. In order to have a waist, you’ve got to have a bust and hips. The still-ideal Kate-Moss-type body does not have a waist.)

Here are my take on the winners of the night:

First Place

NPH and DBurtka

Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka in Thom Browne

Obviously, this is crazy. But they took the rules (“tails”) and played around with it and made it their own, and its so weird, but its wonderful. NPH wins the night.

Second Place:

Tom Ford and Benedict Cumberbatch in RL

Tom Ford and Benedict Cumberbatch

Tom Ford’s ivory waistcoat and tie stand out against the regulation bright white (as you can see on the playing-nicely-by-the-rules Cumberbatch), which is exactly the interesting part of having regulation dress, that any minute discrepancy becomes interesting.

Honorable Mentions:


Johnny Depp in Ralph Lauren, Carmelo Anthony, Victor Cruz, and ASAP Rocky in Topman

Other notable menswear: Johnny Depp for being a weirdo as usual, Carmelo Anthony for the midnight blue coat AND the tophat (and heck, even for going with a red carnation instead of white), Victor Cruz for the shoes, and ASAP Rocky for trying out a frock coat.


These guys were all wearing tails, so I give them points for trying. But then they all get disqualified for having their waistcoats stick out so far underneath their coats. This comes from wearing low-rise trousers, which I recognize are fashionable, but if you’re going to wear formalwear, you might as well get it right.


Andy Cohen, Kanye West in Lanvin, John Legend and David Lauren in Ralph Lauren.

These are also pretty good examples of what you get in even an expensive off-the-peg jacket. Because tailcoats are worn unbuttoned, you run the risk of having the front pieces sticking out away from your body (as you can see), but a bespoke suit is tailored to hug the chest so that doesn’t happen. Here, Fred will demonstrate a perfectly fitting set of tails:

4 Fred Astaire Ginger Rogers Top Hat fred-astaire

Don’t even talk to me:

Here are my grand disappointments for the evening: the interpretation of “white tie” as “anything white” – which in a white dinner jacket means you’re actually going LESS formal than a standard tuxedo instead of MORE formal:

white djs

David Beckham in Ralph Lauren, Thakoon, Riccardo Tisci, Joshua Jackson, JayZ in Givenchy, Hugh Jackman, Future, Frank Ocean in Givenchy

And the “hey, I’m wearing a white tie, doesn’t that count?” crowd:

white ties

Seth Meyers, Darren Le Gallo, and Kenneth Cole


And, briefly, here are my Top 5 favorites from the women:

sarah silverman in ?

Sarah Silverman in Zac Posen

Krolína Kurková_Marchesa

Karolína Kurková in Marchesa

arizona-muse in Ralph & Russo

Arizona Muse in Ralph & Russo

Hayden Panettiere in Dennis Basso

Hayden Panettiere in Dennis Basso

Suki Waterhouse in Burberry Prorsum

Suki Waterhouse in Burberry Prorsum

I thought all of these were not only beautiful gowns, but also the best in keeping with the theme of Charles James. I’m really looking forward to seeing the actual show at the Met when I get back to New York!


Posted in Men in Uniform, Men's Contemporary Fashion, Museums | Leave a comment

What we make fashion out of

Well, not clothes, necessarily. But accessories are usually included in with whatever that unwieldy word “fashion” includes, and are often places to find unique and interesting materials. I saw some interesting examples at the Museum of Bags and Purses* in Amsterdam:


Armadillo purse

Crocodile purse

Crocodile purse

Leopard purse

Leopard purse


Lizard purse & shoes

Toad purse & shoes

Toad purse & shoes


Elephant purse


Ivory purses

Ivory purses

Tortoiseshell purses

Tortoiseshell purses


Straw purses (and a walnut!)

For the record, I’m pretty grossed out by a lot of these choices of materials, but I do think they are interesting from the perspective of fashion being a place to advertise your wealth, status, and technological innovation. And from a conservator**’s standpoint, having this wide variety of objects in a collection could pose some interesting challenges.

*If you know me at all, you know that a Purse Museum is not high on my list of destinations. I’m more of a “oh, I assumed you were the intern” backpack kind of girl. My favorite thing in the museum was this super cool men’s shirt collar travel box:


**Thanks to Denyse Montegut for her classes in conservation and non-fabric materials in textile collections at FIT’s Fashion & Textiles MA program. I never would notice them otherwise!


Posted in Amsterdam, Museums, Travel | 1 Comment

Happy Arbor Day

In honor of Arbor Day, here is the oldest known tree on earth:

Here in Sweden!


Posted in Swedish Life, Travel | Leave a comment

Men: the Neutral Background

This NYTimes article announces a ‘radical change’ in the dress code for men at this year’s Met Gala for the costume institute. This year, “full evening dress” is required, meaning tailcoats, white waistcoats and white bowties:

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 9.27.33 PM

These are not tuxedos. Anyone referring to this as a tuxedo will be shot.*


The problem being: not many men own one of these most-formal-of-formal suits, and the biggest retailer for tails are usually rental companies for weddings. The Met Gala is NOT a place to wear a rental suit. So – does that mean some of the fine bespoke tailors in NYC will be getting calls for new tails?

It will certainly be interesting to see how the “neutral background” deal with this new sartorial dictate. Will they be content to stay in the background? Or will some dudes dare to shake up the strict rules of formalwear by putting their own spin on things?

Formalwear is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting components of menswear to study, for – aside from military dress – it is the most codified of all the “uniforms” that men participate in. And what is it like, to be in a room full of people all in this formalwear, where all the men are wearing exactly the same thing, and no women look anything alike. See how interesting that is? For women, the goal is to stand out, to wear something no one else is wearing, to make a statement. For men, the ultimate goal is to look just like everybody else. And aren’t both genders interested in shaking up these rules? I’d much rather spend the evening in white tie, myself. Wouldn’t that be novel? To be comfortable, to blend in, to not worry about what people thought of your choice of attire. To be blissfully unconcerned with strapless bras, pinchy shoes, and stifling undergarments? And I know there are men who are sick of blending in, who would like to experiment with something as radically daring as (gasp!) color, who want to express something about their personalities, to have a little fun.

Cecil Beaton’s famous photo of Charles James ballgowns

So, I don’t know about you, but beyond the architectural marvels of those gorgeous Charles James dresses, I’ll be looking to see how carefully men follow the rules, and if there are any women who think that any rules that pertain to men might work for them too.

*If you don’t know the difference between formal and semi-formal men’s evening attire, I happen to offer a lecture in exactly that very issue, The History of Male Formalwear. You and your students will never mis-use the word “tuxedo” again.
Posted in Gender Identity, Men in Uniform, Men's Contemporary Fashion, Women in Menswear | 1 Comment

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

Nobody really knows what day Shakespeare was born, but they DO know it was in 1564, and it is traditionally celebrated on April 23rd, the day of his death in 1616. So, Happy 450th Birthday, Will!

In celebration, I visited Kronborg Slot, the setting for Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Located in Helsingør, Denmark, about an hour north of Copenhagen, it houses many fine tapestries (if you’re into that sort of thing,) a bunch of really big paintings, even bigger fireplaces, a grand cobblestone courtyard, and even a medieval toilet. You know, castley stuff. It was pretty. And even warm – spring has come to Scandinavia at last!


I know, I’m not great with the selfies. I keep forgetting to put myself in the picture. But hey, to thine own self be true, right? (that’s Hamlet, Act I, Sc. III)

Posted in Copenhagen, Museums, Travel | Leave a comment

It’s the Ugly Betty Dress!

Another one for the obscure “I-never-thought-I’d-really-see-this-in-person” category! So, I show this painting to my fashion students every semester:


Prinsesse Magdalene Sibylle, 1634, unknown painter

Part of it is talking about early 17th century women’s dress, but I use it as a metaphor for their own designs as well. A good example of what you’d call an “awkward transitional silhouette,” this girl has it ALL going on. Multiple waistlines, competing necklines, warring fabric choices – not to mention the dropped shoulder / dropped sleeve / layered sleeve / puffed sleeve / with slashing / and a rosette / AND tiered cuffs…its an agony of excess. When I relate it to their own designs, and how some of them have the design philosophy of “too much is never enough!” they all know exactly what I’m talking about. The “oops I was accidentally trying to tell my whole life’s story in this one dress” quandary. We refer to it in shorthand as the “Ugly Betty Dress” and it becomes code for “simpler is sometimes better.”

And LOOK! I came out of a typical castle-y room at the Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen and THERE IT WAS JUST HANGING ON THE WALL!


The thing about the lighting in castles is, you can never actually see a painting without a horrible glare and/or complete darkness.

It was an exciting moment. Maybe you had to be there.

Sorry, this wasn’t at ALL about menswear. We all need a break. Even me.

Posted in Copenhagen, Museums, Travel | 2 Comments

The Egtved Girl

I’m not sure exactly why I’m so obsessed with the Bronze-Age Egtved Girl. I think it might be her string skirt. Possibly something to do with my prehistoric-textile-expert-idol, Elizabeth Wayland Barber. In any case, I got to visit her at the National Museum in Copenhagen, and I jumped up and down and took a million photos like a tweenager at a Bieber concert.


The Original String Skirt!


A contemporary recreation of Egtved’s smashing outfit, minus a few important appendages.

I know this isn’t men’s clothing, but I swear I’m actually interested in more than suits in my real life. I wanted to mention it because my fascination with Egtved – which started when I began teaching at FIT and realized that I didn’t know anything about pre-historic textiles – was what first started me looking into Scandinavia as a place that I would like to visit. So much of fashion research is dominated by scholars in America and Britain, and so few of us ‘out west’ are aware of what this region has to offer the study of historical dress, from bog people to all the amazing petticoat breeches at Livruskammaren.

Plus, its pretty cool to look back on that vague interest, 5 or 6 years ago, and see how that informed other research that lead me to Sweden and the Fulbright, and all of the amazing travel that I’m able to do as a part of this project. It’s exciting to think what might be happening in another 5 years!

So, dream big, y’all! Don’t let the haters make fun of your nerdy obsessions. Plus, if you have any interest in fashion, textiles, or history at all, you gotta read that Barber book.

Posted in Copenhagen, Fulbright, Museums, Travel | Leave a comment


En route to Copenhagen to check out the museums there! Because I am a big nerd, I am mostly looking forward to seeing a Bronze Age girl at the National Museum. That and I hear its spring down south already. Can’t wait for the sunshine!


Posted in Copenhagen, Travel | 2 Comments