Sunday, December 26, 2010

Grade Pending

-"South Park" must - must! - take on "Bridalplasty."

-As Terry, the chef on "Fawlty Towers," would have it, "the better the kitchen, the filthier it is." True, true. All my favorite spots (including, alas, the only affordable sushi in Tribeca, the best almond croissants on the Upper West Side...) are worst-ofs according to the Health Department website. My preferred restaurant in Chinatown had been closed altogether. In theory. Christmas day, its business was booming. A Christmas miracle! Still opted to return to a different establishment.

-Spot the astrophysics joke. I made the mistake of reading this aloud to my boyfriend, who wasn't fully listening, and who thought I was saying some 24-year-old in his field had been described as "noted."

-What is "New American Style"? If we're going by what represents America abroad, I'd think something less... white than this description. (Theory: old rich white people style moves east to west across the Atlantic, young inner-city minority-group style moves the other direction.) But then again, preppy has long since been reappropriated by the least-preppy Americans. No doubt the same will be true of "heritage," if it isn't already, or if "heritage" isn't just preppy with natural fibers replacing whatever it is that goes into making fleece.

-Snow, finally! Of course, the cape I ordered ages ago arrived just in time. It probably could still be worn, but my commitment to making snow-angels prevents it.


kei said...

Maybe if "American style" is described by non-Americans, the description is less annoying and sometimes interesting. I frequently see "American style" spreads in Japanese fashion magazines (e.g.), featuring not dissimilar stuff: flannel, denim, thick winter sweaters, graphic print t-shirts, university/college sweatshirts, and maybe cowboy boots and other "Western" accessories. I find it funny and endearing that they look up to such things, and label it "American" or "American Casual" (what would American non-casual/formal look like to them?). But when a Midwestern fashion blogger says American style is the same old, plus "origin"-conscious, quality-oriented blahblah, there's something obnoxious about the Intro to American Style 101 lesson.

Also, when I see those LL Bean duckboots, I think, "middle aged lady style." And I say this not with scorn or anything, because I just got a pair, but by Lands End (love them!). (Speaking of origin-conscious though, I purposefully asked for the LE version to support the Midwest.) I also got three or four other items from Lands End and their seemingly youth-oriented Lands End Canvas, to go with my increasingly domesticated lifestyle! haha.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I think you're right that it matters who's declaring a particular look to be "American."

I'm wondering, though, if the Japanese spread you link to shows how American style has long been viewed in Japan, or if it's just evidence that 'heritage fashion' has made its mark abroad in the last few years. I'm also wondering if my own idea of Japanese fashion (which I periodically attempt to emulate) is horribly offensive in its own way. I'll just have to go to Japan some day and see the real thing!

My sense of the last decade or so is that American style has had a few different influences, at least in Western Europe. One is the denim-centric, English-language-on-t-shirts (like one I saw in Belgium: "Because Education Matters"), pretty much ethnically-neutral. Another is the haute Italian, Swiss, French lady, who dreams in Ralph Lauren. (I've met some Italians very fixated on that brand, and on ordering it from the States.) This is more 'white', but overall I'd say these women are more of a style influence on their American counterparts than vice versa. (Scarves, Hervé Chapelier, etc.) Then finally, there's the fact that 'urban' style (clothes, but also music), at least in Paris and I suppose parts of Belgium and probably many other places I haven't been, is so so influenced by the American equivalent. Whereas I don't know of the banlieues having much of an impact on East New York.

As for heritage fashion, I don't think it is in and of itself racist, and if I did I'd feel more than shoppers' guilt at having bought two sweaters and one pair of shoes from L.L. Bean this semester alone. (Loving the shoes, but boat shoes and snow drifts...) I think the iffy approach is to say that this is the fashion that represents America. If it's said by a blond-haired-blue-eyed American, it does read differently than if it's on a Japanese model, for a Japanese audience.

kei said...

WWPD in Japan posts would be delightful! I hope you do get to go someday. There might be interesting French-language-on-stuff observations to be had there, among all the other things to observe.

It's hard to tell how one's perspective of different culture's sense of fashion. I can think of a number of different ways of expressing what counts as "Japanese fashion:" futuristic-avant garde-y (e.g., the stuff Tavi loves); cutesy weird stuff (like CdG but girlier, less morbid); more mainstream Zara/H&M-esque stuff for super skinny girls; bizarre Harajuku craziness ("Lolita," "goth Lolita," etc.); standard Uniqlo (not NYC, +J cool Uniqlo, but Old Navy-style, lame, original Uniqlo). The range is enormous--as fashion probably is in any culture--so unless you are getting inspiration from...I don't know, "Memoirs of a Geisha"? I can't imagine offending anyone!

I don't know the history of Japanese perception of American fashion, or if there is such a thing, but I suppose I have my own observations. I think that the Japanese, particularly the younger generation, have always looked up to American anything. So when my mother was in her 20's, she wore flannel, jeans, Nikes, and I think this was inspired by American styles that was popular at the time. (There's a photo somewhere!) When I was younger, there was a period of time when "American Vintage" was incredibly popular, so things you find at thrift stores for under $2 would go for 10-20 times that price. Vintage, authentic jeans from way back when were also going for insane prices. That specific trend has since died down quite a bit, but it seems like the trend of flannel, denim, leather=American continues in that spirit.

I noticed something that makes things slightly more complicated: "American fashion" on Japanese models for a Japanese audience, but the models are all revered for their "half" qualities, i.e. their Western features (bigger eyes, higher nose, slimmer face, lighter hair and skin, etc.). But I think a puppy wants to use my lap to nap; plus, I can never think coherent thoughts about the Japanese obsession with "half" features.

I've been hearing about the snow in New York and the general area--I imagine those boat shoes end up more as slippers indoors, and that you'd need the duck boots! But hopefully you have the moonboots to better mobilize you?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


As soon as there's something astrophysicsy in Japan, I'm tagging along. Not much in the way of French Studies, at least not that anyone would pay for me to attend. But it is a lifelong dream - maybe I'll forget I know what ASOS is, or camembert, or The Poodle Fund, and save up so that one day...

My impression of Japanese fashion is probably something like an uninformed version of Tavi's, but more space-age. No Geishas.

"That specific trend has since died down quite a bit, but it seems like the trend of flannel, denim, leather=American continues in that spirit."

This is interesting - the line between Americana and prep is tough to draw. It must be more confusing still from abroad. So much is about which brands meant what when you were in elementary school, high school, or (I'd imagine, but not at UChicago) college. I feel like when Americans want to look French, what they mean is that they want to resemble upper-class Parisian women. But does anyone, anywhere, abroad really want to look like an upper-class American? I mean, I guess some people do, what with the Ralph Lauren-crazed Italians and the internationalization (?) of "heritage," but I feel like this is a relatively minor phenomenon. That the desire to look American is about looking like you're an undifferentiated part of a classless society.

"the models are all revered for their "half" qualities, i.e. their Western features"

Is this true of Japanese models generally, or just for Americana? Because certainly in America, the preppier the brand, the blonder the models, until there's some controversy and a verrrry light-skinned, straight-haired brunette we're told to assume is black gets hired to mix things up.

Finally, puppy-related thoughts. I saw some shibas playing in the snow and thought of your last post! They seem a heartier breed for that sort of thing than mini poodles.

kei said...

Late reply, but perhaps better than no reply? I have a few thoughts, which are, as usual, based on little evidence and lots of instincts and particular observations.

I think the Japanese and the French have always had an amicable relationship, at least in terms of culture (i.e., food and fashion). Unrelated to this, but related to your research, is the perception of Jews in Japan. I recently found out that it's hard for me to explain what being Jewish is to Japanese people. "Is it a version of Christianity?" some have asked. I though it would help that I know how to say Old and New Testament in Japanese, but for most people, that still doesn't ring many bells. Perhaps these two topics can be tied together somehow. Or, yes, there might be astrophysics conferences to purposefully seek out and attend :) I had a professor who encouraged participating in Caribbean philosophy conferences. Not a bad idea at this time of the year!

"That the desire to look American is about looking like you're an undifferentiated part of a classless society."

I get the feeling that the Japanese, amongst themselves, don't perceive class differences very well or very often (maybe recently, with recurring economic uncertainties), and so don't seem to do this for non-Japanese societies and people. So when they say "American fashion," it's just whether the origin is American (maybe as opposed to European?). So yes, they might be going for a supposed class-less look, but only because they don't know what class differences are here? This might stray some from how Europeans view Americans, since their populations aren't so homogeneous.

As for "half" models, it's a strong trend in the mainstream market for young women's fashion, but I'd say they're generally appreciated throughout the land, and maybe for both genders. I remember my mother telling me that when I was a kid, art directors in Chicago would not infrequently come up to her, asking if she had thought about me becoming a model (in the Midwest, this apparently means catalog fashion, like Lands End catalogs, so I'm not bragging here). She thought they liked my slim eyes, lack of a nose bridge, round face, black hair. Then she'd say, "But in Japan, these are the exact same features that would immediately disqualify you as a model." Some people find this disturbing (as well as the "whitening" trend, to make your skin whiter than yellower or browner or oliver); maybe other people just sort of complacently accept it. This is also probably a topic in South Korea, where basic cosmetic surgery like getting the eyelids to crease is considered so common it isn't thought of as plastic surgery. Again, this strays from the Americana business in your post, though.

Re: dogs--I'm not sure I've known too many poodles, but I think they only have one coat of fur? Shibas and Akitas have two coats of thick fur; I think they were bred to hunt in the winter. So yes, they tend to love snow. But that means longer, colder trips outside or walks, whereas with a mini-poodle, you'll be making quick trips outside in the winter!