God Save The Tights

5e4d92dbb4becb0aafd60aed8cceeddcI am, officially, an old.

There are no prunes on my plate or gray hairs sprouting, weed-like, from my chin, but the slow march toward Branson, Missouri doom has begun. Friends, I am a wizened, twenty-eight year-old crone. You see, I don’t understand kids these days

Why, for the love of Gloria Steinem, have girls stopped wearing tights? This year, the entirety of the US has been plunged into a dark, icy winter, as anyone with a working television set knows. It has snowed no less than six times on our house, despite living in the normally temperate South. My dog refuses to go outside by himself, for fear of the white flakes of death attacking from above.  It’s fucking cold. And yet, bare legs are roaming the streets and frolicking on college campuses.

This phenomenon became apparent last weekend, when Professor McGregor and I popped out for Italian food. The temperature was below freezing, the wind chill was positively Arctic, and I was bundled up in an appropriate manner: tights, wool skirt, boots, cashmere sweater, wool coat, scarf, and gloves. Like any good southerner, I’d piled on every warm thing I own at one time. We may not own puffer coats, but we do know how to layer! So, imagine my shock, when a gaggle of sorority girls breezed into the restaurant ahead of us, each more scantily clad than the last. They were, to a one, wearing baby doll dresses and heels. Sure, they had coats on, but miles and miles of unnaturally tanned, toned legs were exposed to the chill.

Lf6d2bfd0ffbb8e53625f0c738c3d4526ady friends, I am confused. You know that looking hot doesn’t literally translate to body temperature, right? Just because your feet feel like they’re on fire from those six-inch wedges, doesn’t mean they won’t get frostbitten. Yet, despite your sartorial oversight, you seem like intelligent, thoughtful people. Not a one of you is visibly smoking meth or wearing a Creed t-shirt. Surely, you know how weather works. So, I can only assume one thing: you’ve been blinded by sexy.

This happens a lot. As women, we’re taught from wee girlhood to be ever-conscious of our appearance. Out for brunch with the girls, you’re casually elegant. At the workplace, you’re buttoned-up, but still feminine. And out for a night on the town, you must always, always be sexy. However will anyone know that you’re having fun, if you’re not showing furlongs of skin? No matter that it’s fifteen degrees and sleeting. The male gaze must be appeased! We will freeze, before covering dat ass!

Or not. Dudettes, you can still be sexy in tights. There is literally nothing about donning tights that says “I am a schoolmarm,” unless they’re burgandy and made from your own hand-wound alpaca yarn. Stockings are, historically, hella sexy. Just ask the cast of Cabaret! Your cute date will still want to kiss you, if you’ve accessorized with a statement necklace and blue tights. Even better, you won’t be too numb from the cold to feel his lips on yours. Everybody (who wants to make out) wins! Why, think of all the fun he’ll have peeling those layers off of you.

When it’s springtime again, feel free to go barelegged, but you’re not fooling anybody in the Polar Vortex. We know you’re cold. We are also cold. In fact, I’m five times colder just looking at you and shaking my head in sympathy. Think of your toes, darling! Not only will you still look sexy in tights, but the danger of those piggies turning black and falling off is severely curtailed. Which is good. If you think tights aren’t sexy, try mid-date amputation.

-Grace

Nancy Drew and the Missing Abracadabra: A Halloween Rant

ea5e7f6c7b25c4e0a62f607ccea409e5There is a building down the street, white brick with cheap black window coverings, that plays host to terror. It’s not the zombies that bother me, mind you, as I believe the undead are unfairly besmirched by the living media. No, it’s something altogether more frightening. I am being haunted by the polyester impostors of Halloween present. There is evil in the Halloween Shoppe’s costume section and it must be destroyed.

Shockingly, I’m not talking about sexy costumes. While I think it’s a disgrace that Halloween has been reduced to a night when women are expected to expose our goodies to the cold, October chill, that’s well trod (hallowed) ground. We have a bigger problem. It’s not that we are overrun with sexy costumes, friends, it’s that we are deprived of interesting, well-made costumes at all. We don’t have any other options than sexy and, even those, are not truly sexy at all.

I want to stand next to a lightbulb, without fear of melting! I want to enter a costume store and have legitimate terrifying, gorgeous, or alluring costume choices! Why have we let Halloween descend into a night of cheap, ill-fitting suggestions of costume? This most wonderful of holidays, when a girl can dress up anything she delights in, has become one big avalanche of poorly made, poorly fitting, polyester swill that should never touch human flesh in the first place. We look cheap, darlings, whether or not we give into being Sexy Funshine Bear or not.

If I had any start-up capital whatsoever, I’d go into business selling one thing: well-made, fabulous costumes for women. When a woman wants to be scary for Halloween, she doesn’t want a plastic spider glued to a high school graduation robe, she wants realistic blood and an eerily deconstructed confection of gown. That Marie Laveau turban is so terrifyingly lovely, Hillary! Sure, we have our pick of supposedly “sexy” outfits from Harold’s Halloween Shoppe, but there’s nothing sexy about a polyester swimsuit covered in fake skunk fur. Just because I can see your bubbies, doesn’t mean you look hot, it means you might catch Sexy Woodland Creatures pneumonia. If you actually want to feel sexually empowered for the night, might I suggest that silk-lined burlesque costume a la Gypsy Rose Lee? Oh, wait. THAT DOESN’T EXIST.

d049df5b9fecbd8fb70a8c31f47ba1e1Halloween is meant to be a night of magic and mystery. Every October 31st, people step out of their houses clothed as something other than themselves. Why have we been driven away from that desire for whimsy and hoopla? It’s not that sexy costumes are bad, it’s that they’re barely costumes at all. No one actually thinks you look like “Sexy Rainbow Bright,” they think you look like you, wearing as little clothing as possible. That’s not sexual empowerment or fun, that’s being prey to an industry that wants to sell you cheap shit for lots of money. We can be sexy, but let’s also have some quality standards. More over, there should be options for women who want to leave our houses looking pretty, or horrifying, or breathtakingly repulsive. 

Not even the supposed “deluxe” costumes sold in Halloween shops are well-made or lovely. I refuse to believe you feel like a Clottette: Vampire Princess in that velvet faux-corset. There is no imagination in that outfit or any other sold next to it. Our magic—our fucking abracadabra— has been traded for cheap non-sex-appeal and flimsy construction. We’ve let our most spectacular holiday become just as shoddy as everything else we buy. Fast fashion has ruined Halloween and we should all be furious. We must demand quality, for Elsa’s sake!

Personally, I’m putting on a pinafore and penny loafers, tonight. Nancy Drew will be handing out candy to children, not fearing that a pumpkin might tumble over and set her aflame. Perhaps next Halloween, she will have solved the mystery of the missing abracadabra, or started her own damned costume company.

– Grace

If you’re trying to find a last minute costume, I’ve also suggested some easy, empowered costumes over at The Queen Latifah Show. Interesting uses for bananas, anyone?

The Sewist Bride Buys a Wedding Dress

Two months.

Two months! In precisely sixty days, Professor McGregor and I are going to trot down the aisle and tie the proverbial knot. Woohoo! As you know, I’ve been a rather casual bride. We’re having a simple wedding: Sunday brunch, lovely low key little venue, lots of balloons and flowers and bunting. Thanks to a close held hatred of rigmarole, I’ve officially cut out a lot of the typical American wedding shenanigans. There will be no DJ or releasing of the doves or—just kill me now—garter toss. We can all agree that the marriage is the important thing, not having a gigantic sparkly princess day of wonder. That’s never been my dream.

Except, of course, for The Dress. The very small list of important Grace concerns in planning this shindig were, in order: Professor McGregor, the dress, cake. Since the dear professor is consistently the most lovely man alive and the (three) cakes are being made—fondant free!—by my longtime favorite bakery, the dress absorbed my worries. So, so many worries.

As an advanced sewist, there was one question to be answered. Will I make the dress myself? 

It’s a completely legit consideration, especially in this day and age. Not only are modern dresses hilariously over priced but they are, as I’ve recounted here before, remarkably homogeneous. If you want a strapless A-line white dress, no problem! The shops have rows and rows of neatly hung poofy confections for strap-haters. However, when you start swaying away from the herd? Fat chance. The section with sleeves is minuscule, colors other than white are unheard of, and no one who’s anyone gets married in a short dress.

For sewists, this is enraging. One trip to the bridal shoppe—they can never just be a simple shop, kittens—is enough to start even the most sainted bride plotting the doom of Badgley, Vera, and that hawker of polyester swill, David himself. Sewists are used to taking matters in their own hands. If a pattern doesn’t have sleeves, add them. If you hate the feel of flammable, melt-prone fabrics against your skin, don’t use them. Sartorial beliefs, we have them in spades! All it took was a couple of post-engagement internet browsing sessions for me to know the usual bridal shop was not my destiny.

So, I compiled a list. What was my dream dress, exactly? If I couldn’t find it, sewing was a viable option, so I could afford to be mindbogglingly specific. Thanks to vintage fashion catalogs, a vision quickly coalesced.

Note: Professor McGregor, if you’re reading this, stop right now! Your superstitious side demands it. 

Grace’s Dream Dress: A Bulleted List

  • Bottom-of-knee length
  • Lace bodice
  • Sleeves, preferably 3/4
  • Button back. Not a zipper with buttons over it, either. Silk-covered buttons with working loops or death!
  • Color featured somehow
  • Layered circle skirt for a 1950s silhouette
  • Natural materials, preferably silks
  • Lower neckline

Surprise! This dress doesn’t exist at David’s Bridal. Initially, I considered going with one of the oft-pinned, retro dresses of Dolly Couture, but I had serious doubts about their quality. Reviews were spotty, their standard offerings are all polyester, and no design perfectly fit my vision. Sewing was looking like my best option. And yet…

Y’all, I’m going to be straight up here. I didn’t want to sew my own wedding dress. Down that path lived stress and obsessively washing my hands while sewing and time-consuming muslin fittings. People kept asking me if I had a “clean room” to store it in, while I sewed. Fuck that. I can barely keep myself clean, much less my sewing room. Someday, I would love to make a complete couture gown for myself, but that day will come when there are no dissertations to finish or moves to make. So, I started finding vintage patterns, but dreading what my autumn would be like.

Enter Pinterest. On one of my random wedding dress pictures binges, I typed in the words “short British wedding dress.” The lovely designers across the pond are much more open to retro designs and lengths other than floor. I’d stumbled across a handful of designers with gorgeous not-quite-right-but-almost gowns.

Then I found her. Joanne Fleming, an up-and-coming wedding dress designer out of Brighton. She is famous for her craftsmanship, use of luxury French fabrics, and gorgeous twists on classic designs. If I wanted a bias-cut column gown, she had twenty amazing options. If I wanted a colored lacy confections, there were samples aplenty. And if I wanted a button-back, lace and organza, knee-length fifties confection with sleeves and a low neckline? Oh, that’s called the Annie dress.

Mine, custom made to my measurements and specifications, is shipping out next week. Next week! Yes, I have been ridiculously squealing “Wedding Dress!” at odd times, since getting this news. Professor McGregor is temporarily deaf from all the high pitched squees.

The only alterations I made were to add a blush pink back-bow sash and coordinating pink silk petticoat binding. It is lovely, it is wonderful, and I’m not slaving away in my sewing room, cursing the day lace was invented. Joy! 

What do you think, friends? Would you sew your own wedding dress or go with an indie designer/seamstress? I’d love to hear about what you chose for your own. Sure, it’s just a dress, but it’s probably the only one we’ll be asked about for the rest of our lives. It’s also worth noting that one of my favorite bloggers, Mel from Poppykettle, is much braver than I and taking the plunge on making her own. It’s sure to be a gorgeous, fascinating process.

– Grace

Note: Here’s a link to my favorite real bride shoot, featuring an Annie dress. Lovely, no?

My Heart Is Dainty, My Hips Are Not

Audrey-Hepburn-audrey-hepburn-30174987-500-668I was born to wear a sheath dress. Ignore the abundant rear curve and my chest’s propensity for becoming—in strict geographical terms—mountainous. My soul longs to be twee.

It is, of course, never going to happen. The gods could curse me with an immortal tapeworm and my bones would still be Viking-esque, more suited to leading horn-wearing he-men into battle than ethereally floating into tea. Despite my love for all things delicate and feminine—lace, tiny cups, dogs named Claudette—pursuit of a different Grace is fruitless. In my mind, I may be Betty, but anyone with eyes can tell I’m a Joan. So, what do you do, when the outside is never going to match the inside?

Not give a damn.

This is a recent epiphany, kittens. For most of my life, I tried to pretend I wasn’t soultwee. The word “flattering” was my best wardrobe pal. People praised my sense of style, my knowledge of what worked with my generous hourglass shape. Which was all well and good, but have you ever noticed how subtly offensive “flattering” can sound? It intimates that you aren’t attractive, so much as benefited by the outfit you’ve donned. Flattering means that you’re wise to hide certain parts of you, lest someone suspect you don’t possess a perfectly flat stomach or appropriately pointy hip bones. Flattering is something we say all the time to women, as if the best thing she can do is camouflage her squishy parts—or flat parts or whatever it is that doesn’t measure up to our ideal—under yards of fabric or a strategically long cardigan.

Flattering has held me back. Y’all, I want to wear sheath dresses. Who gives a crap if Stacy and Clinton decree that they don’t work for my body type? Sure, I love a fit-and-flare dress like it’s clothing cake, but sometimes I want sartorial pie instead. In writing there is a delightful saying: “Learn the rules, so that you can break them.” That is how I have come to feel about wardrobe choices, as well. For a decade of my life, it’s been all waist-cinching, layering, bust-highlighting rules for hourglass Viking princesses. I know what looks good on me, so isn’t it time I got more comfortable with what supposedly doesn’t?

This summer, I pulled the trigger on my first sheath dress. One of my favorite independent pattern companies, Colette, came out with a lovely little column dress that I gleefully ordered. I tweaked the lines of the pattern a bit—scooping out a bit at the waist for a suggestion of curves—but at the end of the day, it’s a sheath dress. It is exactly the wrong thing for my body type and I adore it. The dress is absurdly comfortable, easy to throw on if I’m in a hurry, and dresses up beautifully. Initially, though, it made me uneasy. I’d pair it with a belt, cardigan, and heels, in an effort to remind the world that I understood my body type. Wear a sheath dress, Grace, but remember who you are! Slowly, however, the accessories disappeared.

Audrey-Hepburn-audrey-hepburn-30467816-500-664I don’t get as many compliments on this dress as my full-skirted, cinched pieces, but who cares? When I wear it, my inner 1960’s ingenue perks up, giving the camera her best Audrey Hepburn smirk. If no one else sees that, I don’t mind. Some days even the Swedish milkmaid wants to feel sweet and delicate. Why shouldn’t she? We are entirely too bound by all those supposed rules, when at the end of the day, our clothes should please only ourselves. I’m all for looking pulled together and stylish, but my style is my own, not one handed to me by society.

I propose we stop obsessing over the styles that work for us. Wear the skirt you love, but is made for the tiny-waisted. Buy that tiki dress you covet, despite the model’s larger chest bunnies. Don a swimsuit without a skirt, because cellulite should not hold you back.

Wear the things that scare you, darling. Society can go suck an egg, if it doesn’t think them flattering.

– Grace

I Don’t Get Coachella Fashion

There. I said it. I don’t get Coachella fashion. At all.

I get that it’s California and it’s filled to the port-o-potties with celebrities who need to be SEEN, but the fashion choices just seem impractical for a music festival. I can say that because I am so stranger to music festivals, I go to ACL every year and it’s the best music festival in the world and yes I absolutely am biased on that so don’t even try to call me out on it.  And of course, I want to look nice because people take pictures and there are cameras and one year Christian Bale was literally standing like 10 feet away from Grace and I so, yeah, I get wanting to look good. But, it’s still an outdoor music festival.

Wearing all white?

Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 11.50.36 AM

Uh- hello?? You sit on the grass. Or on a blanket on the grass. There is loads of grass. Am I the only one who lives in fear of the grass stain?

Wearing nothing but a bathing suit?

Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 11.50.41 AM

I checked. Yes, the weather was warm during the day, but at night? Weren’t you cold? It seems like you would be cold. Also, bathing suits don’t breathe real well in the heat. Knock knock – it’s a yeast infection, motherfuckers.

Wearing jeans you clearly ripped apart yourself?

Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 11.51.47 AM

Yeah. You’re not fooling anyone. Stop trying so hard to look like you’re not trying at all. You must be exhausted. Also, your boyfriend? Tell him to let the 60’s keep their things, he wasn’t at Woodstock, and everyone knows that.

Also, do you think all these people were wearing sunscreen and drinking enough water? I worry about that.

– Mae

Your Wedding Dress Makes Me Sleepy

1920s brideHoly rice birdseed sparklers flower petals bubbles! There were a lot of weddings this weekend, kittens. No less than four couples of my acquaintance tied the knot. Of course, since I’m an unholy virago, I wasn’t invited to any of them. I did stalk them all on Facebook, though. Fuzzy Instagram pictures of floral arrangements are the cat’s pajamas! Or, they are usually, anyway. Lately, all the weddings I look at just seem…boring.

Wait. That sounds pretty judgmental, which I’m fundamentally against when it comes to weddings, but for the love of Chanel, why do all bridal gowns look the same? Every bride I know—seriously, every single veil-bedecked one of them—has worn a long strapless dress.

Whyyyyyyyyy? My kingdom for a cap sleeve! My treasure for a high neckline! My autographed Anderson Cooper memoir for a short hem!

Kittens, there are other dress silhouettes in the world. I’ve seen them! There are short dresses with wide skirts and bias-cut column gowns with delicate straps. What looks ravishing on one woman, may be awful on another. For every bride, there is a dress, turn, turn, turn. So, why do we all pick the same thing? We aren’t the same bride, so—logically— we shouldn’t have the same dress.

c840149355b04cb259c0e7dd3e5c758bWhen I first got engaged, I was most excited about three things: having a beloved who grilled amazing Brussels sprouts, taste-testing wedding cake, and finding The Dress. Being a fashion nerd, I knew exactly the look I wanted: a circle skirt falling to just below the knee, a very defined waist, and sleeves! Something straight out of a 50s Dior show. My best friends brought over some bridal magazines and the hunt was on!

Only, it wasn’t. In the eight magazines on my bedside tables, all promising “Thousands of Amazing Dresses Made From Amazingness!”, I found nary a fluffy candidate. By the third magazine, I would have settled for anything with sleeves or a short hemline. I longed for a lace neckline; I pined for tea lengths. Instead, it was page after page of dresses that looked eerily identical. There were small differences, mermaid silhouettes versus A-lines, but  they were all long and strapless. For a culture that stresses this day as our one perfect princess day—which should be unique and personal and memorable ad nauseam—our dress selection is disturbingly homogenous.

Surely, I am not the first bride to want sleeves or easy bathroom access. I know I’m a special snowflake and all, but that’s just ludicrous. It’s easier to believe that we all pick the same dress, because there are no other viable options. When I went dress shopping with my BFF, Girl on the Contrary, last year, there were precisely two dresses we found with straps. (She ended up with the most wonderful of dresses—this sweetheart neckline confection, with an amazing bouncy overskirt—which both suited her perfectly and was legitimately unique, because seriously check out that overlay!) When one of the best bridal salons in America’s self-professed weirdest city doesn’t have variation, something has gone dreadfully awry.

I know we were all traumatized by the giant sleeves of the eighties, but perhaps it’s time to admit we’ve gone a bit overboard. Not all sleeves are bad. Why, nobody shunned Kate Middleton for wearing them! If you want sleeves or straps, you should have them. Vive la manche! Similarly, if you desire the option of urinating without aid on The Big Day, you should be able to do so. We don’t all want a big, poofy white dress. If you want a strapless ball gown, you should have it, but can’t I also have my vintage-inspired tea dress? A little design creativity would make us all happier brides.

1950s bride2Personally, I’m down to two options: have my dress made by a bespoke dress designer, or make the damned thing myself. In my search, I did find a few companies making great short dresses. If you’re similarly desperate for something different, check out Dolly Couture, Stephanie James, and Candy Anthony. If we keep taking our business to indie designers and seamstresses, maybe the great and terrible Wedding Industry will get the hint? Why, maybe someday we’ll even have wedding dresses that aren’t white. A girl can dream (of sleeves).

– Grace

Darling, Buy a Sewing Machine

0303000059-lYou should learn to sew.

I am not saying this as your mother or your overly nostalgic hipster friend who only wears hemp. I am saying this as that ridiculous girl whose blog you enjoy, because she is honest with her crazy and quick with a Buffy reference. If I were elected President of the Universe and asked to give one piece of advice to high school seniors, it would be this: Get thee a sewing machine! Other things are important, but people already learn those virtues from Mrs.Piggle-Wiggle. She does a much better job of telling you to bathe than I ever could. Instead, I suggest the needle.*

I can hear your doubts, kittens. Sewing is hard! Sewing is for old people! Why should I waste my time sewing, when Anthropologie exists? A couple of years ago, my thoughts were similar. For eons, my mother insisted that I learn how to sew. This advice usually came when she was mid-construction of a She-Ra: Princess of Power costume for Halloween, so I chalked it up to parental annoyance. Imagine my surprise when, in a fit of exasperation with current trends, I made my first dress and realized she was right. Sewing was the bee’s knees!

grace-kelly-rear-window-620a-102710My biggest reason for sewing is simple: I adore clothes. My closet, large and spacious to most eyes, is stuffed with dresses and skirts and charmingly bow-bedecked cardigans. I’ve always held with the theory that a perfect outfit gives confidence in any situation. However, this love can bring woe. There is no worse feeling than setting out in search of a party dress, only to return home empty-handed, cursing fluorescent lights and designers who think boob ruffles are so hot right now. Or, worse, finding the perfect dress…in every size but my own. Quelle horreur! That never happens with sewing. Not only can I recreate Grace Kelly’s organza confection from Rear Window, but it’s always in my size. There is a freedom in that. No longer am I bound by tacky fads! I don’t have to worry whether something is well made, because I know it is. I made it myself!

What’s more, it’s super easy. When people go all wide-eyed at the mention of my hobby, insisting that they could never, not ever make actual clothes, my eyes fight a heavy roll. Y’all, have you ever seen Project Runway? There have been contestants who couldn’t navigate elementary social situations, but still worked a sewing machine. This is not quantum mechanics. I learned the basics from one afternoon of sewing with my friend’s mother, with later questions mitigated by the magic of YouTube. Sewing from patterns, specifically, is nothing but rudimentary cutting skills, second-grade reading comprehension, and following straight lines. You can do it, I swear.

It doesn’t even take that much creativity. Admittedly, I’ve always been one to fantasize about dress designs, but such sartorial daydreams are not a prerequisite. In addition to the your mother’s pattern companies (Colloquially known as the “Big 4”: Simplicity, McCall’s, Butterick, and Vogue), there are an increasing number of super fashionable independent labels, like Colette Patterns or Deer and Doe. Take one great pattern and some fabric you like (online fabric retailers are the bomb) and – voila! – a cute new dress appears in a couple of hours.

For even more inspiration, we have the sewing blog-o-sphere, one of the most vibrant, positive internet subcultures I’ve participated in. Five minutes of internet-stalking is all it takes to disabuse one of the notion that sewing is a lost art. From New Zealand to Wisconsin, smart, savvy women are stitching up divine creations. There are those who specialize in vintage patterns and those who favor thrift store revamps. Down to a one, they’re welcoming and helpful and interesting. They also have the best Pinterest boards around.

sewing pin up girlLet’s be honest though, kittens. I want you to sew, because it will give me more people to gossip about fabric with. Plus, the eventual Wee Esmerelda O’Kelly-McGregor is going to need costumes for her school play and I don’t want to make them all myself. So, darling, please buy a sewing machine. Just don’t go down the path of quilting, because all those little pieces make me queasy.

– Grace

*For sewing, not heroin. Perhaps I should follow up with a secondary piece of advice: Don’t do heroin. Track marks so ruin the look of a sleeveless dress.