Posts Tagged With: Culture

Just in time shopping: The smart closet

City of Marietta, GA. Flickr. May 19, 2010.

City of Marietta, GA. Flickr. May 19, 2010.

Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley notwithstanding, shopping can seem magical today.  If it weren’t for the human delivery person and the wait for his or her arrival, the whole process might seem downright ethereal.  Isn’t loading that virtual shopping cart with clicks and beeps comparable to waving a magic wand?  There’s no need to soil your fingers by handling cash or the soles of your shoes strolling the mall.  Now, if only the purchased item would instantly materialize on the desk beside the computer.  For those of us who would sooner eat Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans than window shop, even perusing web photos for new shoes may be exhausting.  Mobile applications simply compound the demands on your time and attention.  After all, a store window is a store window even if it is the screen on your mobile phone.  Is there hope for even the virtual shopping adverse?

Personal shoppers may be one source of sustenance.  Their enthusiasm for style, browsing, and purchasing cannot be quenched or fulfilled by their own needs for clothing.  They have ample to spare for any number of the fashion unconscious and shopping phobic.  Their services, though, usually require meetings, telephone conversations, and loyalty to a major department or apparel store.  Virtual consumers may have to wait for the innovators of the near future.

What will they provide?  Automated and digital shopping services customized to fit your personal tastes and lifestyle.  Like the smart refrigerators that maintain a digital inventory of their contents, they will develop smart closets.  Digital tags will document the demise of clothing.  Even more, the closet will automatically shop and purchase items to replace items that are shabby or outmoded.  Your credit card or store account will be debited.  Each store’s staff will package and ship your purchases to you.

Human stylists and programmers will design interfaces that permit you to complete a profile of your tastes and your physique online.  You will be able to add a digital mannequin with more detail than currently offered by some online apparel retailers.  Those personal shoppers will have the store all to themselves as they shop for their absent clients.  Video conferences will still be available for customers who want to have final approval of their purchases.  Such conferences will be routinely available for special purchases such as evening and wedding gowns and interview suits. For those of us for whom shopping is recreational, museums and theme parks will be developed.  For the price of admission, visitors will be able to window shop on Main Street and purchase souvenirs that memorialize shopping malls and department stores.  Will you want a patent shopping bag adorned with the colors and vanished logos of Marshall Field’s or Circuit City?  For the truly nostalgic, only a replica of a paper cup with a food court restaurant logo will suit.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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T-shirts: Style meets substance

Methodshop.com. Flickr. June 22, 2012.

Methodshop.com. Flickr. June 22, 2012.

Even for those of us who grew up without the web, it may strain the imagination to remember life without it.  Prompts might include black vinyl bound photo albums full of shiny black and white photographs in a hall closet.  There may be a rotary telephone in the attic, although the landline cord has disappeared.  Stacks of vinyl records, though, are likely remembered, dusted, and cherished.  Popular music tends to accompany important events and fondly remembered relationships.  As its performers fade into an obscurity that eludes Beethoven and Mozart, reminiscing necessitates those LPs.

The t-shirt has retained a similar place in our affections.  Before Twitter, it was the only place that one could proclaim one’s identity, beliefs, values, politics, school loyalty, or favorite restaurant.  In much less than 140 characters, but with accompanying illustrations, you could become a walking billboard.  Of course, you had to supply your own animation.  That became relatively easy to accomplish as the wearing of underwear in public became socially acceptable.  In an earlier era, the formerly white and cotton men’s undergarment was only glimpsed at the necklines of men wearing their button-downs with the collar open.

Today, of course, men, women, and children wear t-shirts solo and in a great variety of hues.  Businesses that will assemble a t-shirt with your favored colors and slogans have been profitable for decades.  Such t-shirts are so ubiquitous and popular that people give them routinely and receive them gratefully.  For some, they constitute a treasured and unworn archive of achievement.  The road runner who has finished multiple marathons in several states memorializes his or her stamina, if not speed with a collection of race t-shirts.  The vacationer who has visited every American state brings home an illustrated, if not shiny t-shirt trophy from each one.

Will the popularity of Twitter and the burgeoning mobility and decreasing cost of web access bring about the demise of the t-shirt?  Twitter features that permit the attachment of photographs and video offer more sophisticated visual appeal.  There’s no need to squint at your neighbor’s disappearing back or cast sidelong glances at your co-worker’s torso, either.  Without world travel, your illustrated message can reach far beyond your own community, too.  Still, there’s no wrapping oneself in a soft, if colorful Twitter message.  Like blue jeans, t-shirts will become stylish, that is, created by fashion designers and illustrated by professional artists.  Their lines, fabrics, and colors will reflect where they are worn and the taste, not the politics of their wearers.  Which designer t-shirt will you wear to your next dinner party?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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All dressed down with everywhere to go

Meike Schonhutte. Flickr. May 13, 2008.

Meike Schonhutte. Flickr. May 13, 2008.

The advent of pantyhose rendered even formal dressing for women swift and painless.  In not too distant times memorable to living grandmothers, wearing hose necessitated sturdy undergarments and complex fasteners.  Tutorials and mentoring in their selection and wear were required to avoid unsightly bulges, afford necessary bathroom breaks, and ensure adequate oxygen intake.  Today, of course, even corporate dress codes permit no hose.  No woman need endure even the minor confinement of pantyhose.  Concern over visible tattoos, body piercings, and cleavage has long eclipsed worries over hose.

Tattooed and pierced mothers and fathers must also consider whether to teach junior the complexities of tying shoes.  Will he be wearing wingtips to the office?  Will she need steel toed boots on the construction site?  The advent of Velcro has simplified and speeded the shodding of youngsters.  There’s no more whining or kicking during the lacing of baby shoes or delays while kindergarteners puzzle the intricacies of shoe laces.  Even buckles are receding into history as they are replaced by elastic in shoe straps and waistbands.  Zippers, of course, are much more efficient than buttons.  Popping on that mundane gray hoodie rather than buttoning your cable knit cardigan guarantees a seat on the bus.  Still, climbing into baggy kneed sweatpants takes the zip out of fastening designer jeans.   Apparently, any interest in the decorative functions of laces, buttons, and zippers has disappeared in favor of the clean, if monotonous lines of now ubiquitous casual clothing.

Should these fasteners be preserved as a rite of passage?  Are keyboarding, texting, and playing video games the only socially correct ways to learn and demonstrate fine motor skills and dexterity?  Probably, the value of fastening skills as indications of cultured manners and a formal wardrobe will disappear with cursive writing, paper greeting cards, and telephone calls.  Any grieving will be reserved for owners of vintage clothing stores, button collectors, and zipper manufacturers.  Their memory will fade as their stories are relegated to the pages of esoteric fashion history journal articles.  Perhaps, instead, we will choose to embellish our conversations and more closely connect with friends and family.  Our newfangled fasteners for the enhancement of our social fabric are stylish smart phones with numerous colorful icons representing the proliferation of communication applications.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Ethnic authenticity: No hyphens allowed

Stu Spivack. Flickr. January 3, 2012.

Stu Spivack. Flickr. January 3, 2012.

Concern with authenticity isn’t necessary to serve or eat ethnic foods in America.  The savvy restaurateur caters to local tastes.  Without his or her innovations, there would be no Tex-Mex chili, chicken chow mein, vegetarian sushi, or Chicago style deep dish pizza.  Assimilation would demand American breakfasts of cold cereal, lunches of hot dogs and apple pie, and dinners of steaks and baked potatoes.  Accommodation welcomes new citizens with friendly interest in their cultures if not their languages.  Just as friendship necessitates finding commonalities and sharing experiences, Americans have adapted ethnic recipes to suit their own tastes, ingredients, and customs.

Our best intentions have brought us nachos comprised of tortilla chips, Velveeta cheese sauce, hamburger, and pickled peppers for lunch.  Pasta, of course, is readily assembled from packaged noodles, canned tomato sauce, and hamburger.  Chocolate chips and chocolate cream cheese transform bagels.  This disguise renders breakfast as richly sweet as dessert.  Plenty of salt and fat as well as sugar suits American tastes.  An abundance of meat and cheese is important to Americans, too.  Fresh herbs and spices and unprocessed oils aren’t missed; they would be overwhelmed by all the fatty meat and melted cheese.  Even more, rather than reserve all this rich abundance for holiday celebrations, Americans enjoy it daily.

We’re quick to give credit as well.  While Italians may wish compliments neither for Snooki nor for “Italian” beef sandwiches, they are legendary in the United States.  Swedish pancakes served at American family restaurants are probably about as well known to Swedes as Dolph Lundgren.  Chinese fried rice and Bruce Lee offer similar dubious compliments to the long history of Chinese civilization.  American pride in these adulterations of ethnic foods and culture does acknowledge their hyphenated or hybrid nature.  After all, credit is due to Americans for their development, if not their taste buds.

If only the same devotion afforded to recipes for apple pie and potato salad accompanied forays into tacos and Thai noodle dishes.  Treasured recipes for flaky crusts include prescriptions for specialty ingredients and their temperatures.  Selected varieties of apples are recommended for fillings of the best texture and flavor.  Traditional family recipes for potato salad call for particular types of mustard and varieties of potatoes and onions.  The ingredients of their dressings, accompanying vegetables, and temperature at serving are diverse and detailed.  Respect for other cultures would be improved by respect for their cuisines.  In our global society, there’s ready access to unfamiliar ingredients and authentic recipes via the web if not your local grocery store.  Unlike learning another language, eating authentic ethnic foods offers fun with much less exertion.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Chowing down: Fast as a way of life

Derek Steen. Flickr. January 17, 2011.

Derek Steen. Flickr. January 17, 2011.

Fortification for the demands of the day is economically, geographically, and nearly instantaneously available to Americans.  There are toastable frozen waffles, packaged breakfast bars, or yogurt cups from one’s own kitchen refrigerator.  Drive-through windows at local restaurants offer complete and handheld breakfasts.  Even if purchased, not cooked oneself, the substance of bacon, eggs, and toast used to require a fork, knife, and plate.  The preparation of even popular, comfort foods has become the province of people who are formally educated and paid.  The rhythms of a lovingly handmade, hot breakfast enjoyed in a warm kitchen in the convivial company of loved ones are gone.  Americans are so enamored with mass production that the value of amateur proficiency in the kitchen has declined precipitously.  Slowly preparing meals from fresh ingredients and family recipes has little meaning.

Still, how is it that fast preparation requires fast consumption of meals?  Eating while driving, working, and watching television is an expected part of multi-tasking for Americans.   Sandwiches, pizza, doughnuts, fried chicken, and burritos can be dispatched by the mouthful, too.  They constitute a handful; a double cheeseburger or a beef burrito dwarf finger sandwiches in size and weight.  Energetic chewing may be required, but table manners needn’t stand in its way.  Neither a dining table nor dining companions are found in a car, office, or den.  Large chunks of food are readily swallowed with the help of large volumes of beverages.  Straws encourage gulps rather than sips.  It isn’t enough for food to be fast, so must the diner.  The goal is to assuage hunger and finish a meal; minimizing the time spent eating is as important as minimizing the time spent cooking and cleaning up after the meal.

That doughnut or fried chicken leg need not be memorable as long as it is edible.  This minimal standard for taste enables the purchase of doughnuts or chicken legs at any restaurant.  For Americans, a valuable meal has become more food or drink per dollar.  Fast food restaurants compete by lowering prices or increasing portions rather than by improving taste or nutrition.  Their customers seek savings in time, effort, and money rather than enjoyment of their meals and the companionship of family and friends.  Changing these values would dramatically change not only the American diet and physique, but also the American identity and way of life.  Race you to the grocery store?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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At a museum near you: Vintage foods

Clare Chandler. Flickr. January 2, 2012.

Clare Chandler. Flickr. January 2, 2012.

The era of sauerkraut and sausages, rice and beans, pasta and tomato sauce, and turnips and potatoes is behind us.  For those of us on a budget, the dollar menu at McDonald’s is not only as economical, but also efficient and labor-saving.  The time from stomach growling to dinner time is approaching equivalence to the time required to say, “Millions served”.  When was the last time you ate pickled beets, cream of rice cereal, or beef tongue?  Molasses and prunes are now worthy of a museum exhibit.  They used to constitute important ingredients for cookies and cakes.  Ginger cookies, spice cake, and prune Danish pastries rendered the consumption of iron and fiber not only painless but also sweet.

Now that Hostess has stopped creating rich variations in the color and texture of sugary snacks, will people revert to canned fruit cocktail, toaster pastries, peaches in heavy syrup, and frozen cookie dough?  Their sweetness and convenience offered a surfeit of taste and expedient satiation.  Their popularity is now rivaled by hamburger, chicken parts, and cheddar cheese.  Given the great variety of foods available due to mass transportation and global trade, why are Americans satisfied with such a repetitive diet?  Fast food and family restaurants serving burgers, cheese burgers, macaroni and cheese, pizza, beef and cheese tacos, barbecued chicken, and chicken wings densely populate many communities.

What happened to pancake houses, delicatessens, and fish shacks?  Blueberry waffles, pastrami sandwiches, and fried clams offer the aromas and flavors of regional and ethnic America.  The preservation of tradition and variety requires experimentation.  Kippers for breakfast would wake up American taste buds.  Boredom would be banished by sushi or chorizo for lunch.  A supper of goulash, kimchi fried rice, or a prosciutto frittata would require dinner time conversation.  Heirloom status should be awarded to recipes, not just tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet potatoes.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Fashion forward: What will we wear?

Novita Estiti. Flickr. November 14, 2008

Novita Estiti. Flickr. November 14, 2008

Casual dress escaped the barn and garage to transform the backyard and the shopping mall.  Then, it jumped the fence to the office, the classroom, and religious services.  Ease of care, freedom of movement, and promotion of equality prompted this fashion trend.  Cotton blend clothing needs no ironing.  It can be cleaned in an automatic washer with soap and water.  It breathes to help regulate body temperature and dries quickly.  Chino, gabardine, and denim fabric can endure frequent washes without diminishing the longevity of the garment.  Cotton knits drape the body comfortably and attractively because they stretch with movement.  They represent visual equality in that they can be economically mass produced.  No matter one’s income or occupation, it is possible to be well-groomed.  No more stains even if work requires more exertion than sitting at a desk.  Wrinkles are nonexistent even when ironing isn’t in one’s repertoire.

In earlier times, clothing distinguished social status.  Hand tailored clothing created of delicate, natural materials demonstrated that the wearer was a person of substance.  The cut and fit of the outfit, the expense of the fabric, and the demands of its care were evidence of taste, intellectual pursuits, and wealth.  Well-educated and professionally employed people wore silks, wools, and fine cottons.  Housekeepers, laborers, and trades people wore durable, loose-fitting, and easy to clean clothing in fabrics such as denim and twill.  Today, the boss is likely wearing the same type of clothing as his or her staff.  Whether it is overalls, blazers and slacks, or polo shirts and chinos, the company dress code applies to all.  Position is demonstrated by performance, not appearance.

Concern about environmental pollution, conservation of water, and the institutionalization of two paycheck families, not social status will have major influences upon fashion in the near future. Working adults want to spend less time on laundry.  They want to live in communities with clean air and sufficient water supplies.  They’re concerned about the quality of the life that their grandchildren will live.  Clothing that is self-cleaning is already under development.  Imagine never having to wash clothes again.  Anti-bacterial clothing is now for sale, but needs improvement.  Knits are likely to prompt the demise of ironing.  Add the electricity savings to the savings from using unheated water to wash clothes.  Business casual workplace dress codes permit cardigan and v-neck sweaters, turtleneck tops, stretch slacks, and knit dresses.  Knits may ensure the disappearance of the fastener, too.  T-shirts, sweatpants, turtlenecks, pullover sweaters, and elastic waist skirts need no zippers or buttons.  Even dressing will consume less time and energy.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2012

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What’s for lunch in 2020?

Cindy Funk. Flickr. January 21, 2006.

Cindy Funk. Flickr. January 21, 2006.

Mass transportation and mass production dramatically changed American diets during the Industrial Age.  We are accustomed to canned tuna and ham, frozen turkey, packaged crackers, and year round fresh fruits and vegetables.  Mass immigration brought us a rainbow of ethnic foods.  Tacos, pizza, pierogi, chop suey, and bratwurst and sauerkraut compete with meat and potatoes for a place on American dinner tables.  Dining on vending machine foods by the glow of a computer screen has become an Information Age habit.  Who could have imagined 24-hour self-service of shortbread cookies, bars of chocolate and nuts, and bags of crispy sliced potatoes?

What will Americans be eating as the 21st century progresses?  Important influences are likely to be global warming, the obesity epidemic, and increasing numbers of single person households.  Burgers and fries, cold cereal, and even eggs are already being replaced by soup and salad, oatmeal, and yogurt cups.  Flavorful chili and artisan greens overwhelm yesterday’s chicken noodle soup and iceberg lettuce.  Oatmeal sweetened with dried fruits is available at fast food restaurants.  Single servings of creamy yogurt have an abundance of delicious additions.

Dessert will likely disappear.  Witness the shrinkage of the cake slice into cupcakes, the bankruptcy of Hostess, and the introduction of 100-calorie packages of cookies.  Public schools are considering bans of party snacks.  Employers are restocking vending machines with nuts, crackers, and bottled water.  Grocers offer more fruit sorbets than brands of chocolate and vanilla ice cream.  Singles have little or no time for baking homemade cookies, pies, and cakes.  Even devoted homemakers are challenged by the rising prices of chocolate and sugar.

Solo and insular living will continue the trend away from meals.  Snacking will become a healthier means to daytime rejuvenation than energy drinks.  Smaller portions will prompt more consumption of easily prepared and single serving foods.  Soup, salad, and sandwiches are already typical American meals. Warmer weather will end the seasonality and the expense of fresh fruit and vegetables.  The current obsession with types of coffee beans has already extended to varieties of apples and greens.  It will expand to other varieties of produce including herbs and spices.  Boutique produce departments that are now the province of major grocers will become independent brick and mortar stores.  Instead of online shopping for home delivery, they will establish regular truck routes.  Consumers will be able to purchase fresh produce on their doorsteps a couple of times per week.  Unlike the predictions of science fiction, future foods will be neither processed nor synthetic.  American ingenuity is again on the verge of meeting the challenges of its changing fortunes.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Bottled water: Pure convenience

sleepyneko. Flickr. August 27, 2007.

sleepyneko. Flickr. August 27, 2007.

The minerals in a favorite brand of bottled water may improve its taste, but not its nourishment.  Tap water offers the same hydration, but not the same convenience.  Americans love packaged foods.  No matter the lightness of the steel, the durability of the plastic, or the sleekness of the design, refillable water bottles can’t achieve the convenience of disposable, bottled servings of water.  There are no worries about losing a favorite or an expensive water bottle.  Spills or drips into a bag or onto clothes don’t happen.  Taking responsibility for an adequate intake of water is also less burdensome than taking responsibility for its container.

There’s also the prestige of buying water.  Even the most oblivious among us know that tap water is free.  Like designer clothes, bottled water is evidence of a high disposable income or conspicuous consumption.  If the brand is a well-known one, it suggests not only affluence, but sophistication.  In the interests of creating less plastic trash, how might consumers be encouraged to choose refillable over disposable water bottles?

1.  A solution might be found in clear refillable water bottles.  Flaunting one’s optimal hydration and healthy lifestyle would be facilitated by the view of the contents of the bottle.

2. Logos or personalization with one’s initials or photograph would enable individuals to identify with their refillable bottles.  The prestige of particular logos might improve sales of refillable water bottles.

3. An emphasis on decorum in the design of refillable water bottles such that they resemble cups instead of bottles is needed.  Imbibing water should have all the grace of sipping coffee.  Swigging water from a bottle implies sweaty exercise rather than a cordial meal or break.

What do you recommend?  How do you drink your water?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Wash and dry: Conversations with a dishwasher

Janine Swank. Flickr. Downtown Chandler Historic District, Chandler, Arizona.  August 1, 2011.

Janine Swank. Flickr. Downtown Chandler Historic District, Chandler, Arizona. August 1, 2011.

When mealtime required extensive preparation and clean-up, eating was much more than necessary nourishment.  It was a cherished and shared ritual.  Families not only ate together, but they cooked and cleaned up together.  Mealtime required silverware including forks and spoons, not plastic sporks.  Dishes were crockery or, perhaps, plastic melamine, but never disposable.  Someone had to set the table before dinner and clear the table after dinner.  If a diner didn’t cook, set, or clear, he or she likely washed or dried the dishes.  Dish washing by hand was a ritual all by itself.  A certain skill was required.  Two squirts of soap, not two tablespoons were needed in the sink.  Glasses were washed first; greasy pans were washed last.  Glasses and silverware had to be dried immediately to avoid spotting.  Plates and pots could air dry.  Parental tutorials and mentorship ensured proficiency and camaraderie.  Indeed, washing dishes guaranteed Mom’s undivided attention.

The mechanical dishwasher ended this homey celebration of family meals.  Dish washing is now an independent and solitary stacking of the maw of the dishwasher.  Each diner has only to scrape or rinse a plate or bowl, open the dishwasher’s door, and place it on a rack.  Children may see parents in passing through the kitchen, but no diner stays long.  There’s no pleasure in play in warm, soapy water for younger ones.  Playful negotiations over washing and drying among teens are no more.  The solitary swoosh and churn of the mechanical dishwasher has replaced the chatter and laughter of the human dish washers.

More hygienic and, certainly, more efficient than human washers, the sudsy hum of the shiny, square dishwasher has replaced kitchen conviviality.  Silent, if group meditations upon the television in the comfort of the den pass for human sociability.  Rested, well-fed, and spared dishpan hands, today’s American family reserves its commentary for the classroom and the office.  Conserving energy trumps the development of synergy.  What do you think?  Do laborsaving appliances take the “home” out of homemaking?  Perhaps, they provide more time for family fun?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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