Not All Fashion is Political

I like to think I’m not a complete philistine, so went outside today in search of culture.  TimeOut New York, the bossiest guide around, informed me that today is the last day of the Fashion & Politics exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, so I hopped a southbound subway to midtown.

Listen, I had no idea fashion could be so political.  Here, you could find a 1995 Vivienne Tam polyester dress with Mao faces in a checkerboard design (the positive and negatives images, the designer commented, represented the positive and negative effects Mao had on the Chinese culture).

On the capitalist side,you could find a 1950s-style shirtwaist with IKE printed all over it and a Nixon sundress.  But the most alarming fashion statement, to my mind. was Hubert H. Humphrey’s egg-like face beaming out from a dummy’s cleavage, surrounded by the stars and stripes.  Looking at it kind of gave me a migraine and later, over coffee, I began to wonder whether the HHH dress had perhaps inspired the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago; you never knows how extremely bad taste is going to affect some people.

Having OD’d on political fashion, I wandered up Seventh Avenue and stumbled upon an Andrew Marc sample sale.  Andrew Marc!  I love Andrew Marc!  The scent of his leather coats makes me euphoric.  Besides, I’d never been to a sample show before and needed to investigate.  After handing over my coat and packages, I took an escalator upstairs to find sample heaven.  Andrew Marc as far as the eye could see — marked down severely.

“Does this look good on me?” a woman asked.  She was wearing a skintight leather jacket, looking at herself in the mirror.

Actually, it looked kind of shitty, but what’s the etiquette of a sample store?  I told her she might try a bigger size and she glared at me, then turned back to gaze approvingly at her mirror image.  Well, all right, honey.  Fine.  Make a fashion mistake, if you want.

I’d always heard about thundering, hellbent crowds at sample sales, but everybody here was pretty civilized.  I thrashed through coat after coat — leather, cloth, down, shearling, with fur, without fur.  Then I began the process integral to every fashion foray: justifiation.

Hadn’t people been warning my husband and me about the upcoming winter?

Hadn’t I heard, with my own ears, a woman from Siberia complaining about how harsh and miserable New York winters were?

Isn’t my birthday almost here?

Wasn’t this chocolate-colored down coat, with the fur collar, the hood, the zipper severely marked down?  Wasn’t it, in fact, practically free?

Sold!  I left the store with my purchase thinking that, for once in my life, I was going to be disappointed if it weren’t a cold winter.  It’s not political, it’s personal.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite posts about the shortcomings of genetic testing

15 comments… add one
  • I love the way you convinced yourself to buy the coat.  I could just see the expression on your face as you ticked off the points!

  • I wish I could see the coat.  May it save you from the savage elements of winter in New York.

  • As always, I love reading you Ruth. This is one of my favorite blogs :-).

  • Ellen Link

    I understand completely, having come to love my winter wear (just splurged, myself, on a cheery multicolored scarf and cap).  It’s all justified.  We’ve already had snow showers, and from what I’ve heard, New York winters are more severe than ours.  But since your new coat has fur – beware of PETA lunatics!

  • Steve Link

    I took my spouse to a sample sale in the summer of ’08 as she was shopping for the mother of the bride dress.  THE dress was not there and, after visiting what seemed to be every women’s clothier in NYC, she ultimately bought a St. John’s knit on sale at Saks.  What was interesting to us about the experience, beginning with the sample sale, was how our perception of “expensive” and a “good deal” changed when shopping in the city.  She tried on a designer suit at the sample sale that, although beautiful, was not flattering to her.  But it was tempting because it was ONLY $2 or $3k, down from the $6k list.  I’ve owned several cars I paid less for.  Back in Texas, neither of us would have ever considered spending $2k for a dress or suit, or even the $1k the St. John’s knit cost, but the perception of “expensive” and  “the deal” changed, and that changed everything.

    Bless her heart, she’s lost so much weight since then (proudly wearing a pair of 501s from COLLEGE last week), I’ll not likely see her wear again the beautiful, expensive knit that she bought with the justification that it would be fashionable and wearable for years to come.

  • Cindy A Link

    Sixteen years ago I bought a beautiful suit on Rodeo Drive in the famous 90210 zip code marked down to only $400 (which is still the most expensive suit I own). And I still wear it!  What a fashionista I am NOT!  Will plan to browse only when we visit NYC.

  • Winston Link

    Wow!  What a blog ride!  Start out nobly one morning on a mind-expanding quest  to visit a museum, and by afternoon you’ve stooped to forge a personal political agenda against the NYC Winter, financially aided and abetted by Andrew Marc!
    I’d say you’ve come a long way, baby, from your parched Texas roots!
    But, Ruth!  Fur?  In the streets of New York?  I dunno….
    I think you’d be a lot warmer– and safer– wearing a Sun Yellow snowsuit sporting block-prints of Grover Cleveland in drag.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Yes, Alexandra, I’m pretty good at ticking off the justifications.  Lots of practice.

    Thanks, Anne and Jennifer.

    Ellen,  so glad you have some new cold-weather clothes.

    Steve, I don’t usually like sales places for just the reasons you’re talking about.  Too many decisions made simply because of the “cheap” price.

    Cindy, when are you coming to NY?

    Winston, Winston, it’s only a little bit of fur.

  • Winston Link

    *** Steve ***
    Since that St. John’s knit will not likely see any future wear, I say rescue that garment from the closet, cut it, and whip up some trendy headrest slipcovers for your automobile.  Economic  times are tight, think Recycle– just go Green!

  • musingegret Link

    This phrase of yours (“Hubert H. Humphrey’s egg-like face”) struck my funny bone and reminded me of  a line from Laugh-In: “If Hubert Humphrey married Humpty Dumpty, he’d be Hubert Humphrey Dumpty!”  Good for you on finding such a bargain; wear in warmth and joy during your NYC winter.

  • Cindy A Link

    Ruth — I’m coming to NYC soon as I find an agent for my book.  Considering what a lousy salesperson I am, it will be a posthumous publication. I’ll visit the ideal NYC in the afterlife.

  • Chris Link

    Coincidentally I just ordered a gorgeous chocolate brown faux mink trimmed coat, justified by my upcoming birthday – and just saw that snow is expected here in our corner of the Pacific Northwest 5 miles from the Canadian border.
    A coat well-justified (but I would’ve bought it regardless).

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Thanks, all.  I already wore my coat last night when the temperature plunged down to the 40s.

  • Sounds like a great bargain! I’ve never been to a sample sale. I don’t think they even have them for us plus sized folks though.

  • Slightly off the subject perhaps, and a bit of a weird question, but I’m just looking for a bit extra information on the manufacture of UGG footwear. Do you know what type of sheep they are manufactured from? And are real UGGs constructed from the same type as the many imitations?

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