Posts Tagged With: style

At a computer near you: Customized culture

Kinchan1. Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Flickr.
April 19, 2010.

Public entertainment is an Industrial Age phenomenon.  Beloved ball parks, shopping malls, cinemas, symphony centers, restaurants, and theaters are less traditions than innovations.  They helped to foster the cultural diversity and social equality that we cherish today.  Surprising though it may be, their continued presence in the Information Age is not guaranteed.  Youthful consumers are already making the transition to online shopping and entertainment.  The advantages of online commerce for both customers and businesses are already evident to many of us.  For Americans, our striving for convenience is amply rewarded by online shopping.  Our demands for freedom of speech are fulfilled by social media.

Despite concerns about Main Street, small businesses, publishing, and the postal service, American values are still supported by online commerce and communication.  It is the development and institutionalization of social norms to govern our participation with which we are struggling.  As we learn from sometimes sad experience, we are writing policies and passing laws to make the Information Age pleasanter and safer for all of us.  These formal rules enable institutions to protect us from unethical businesses and predatory criminals.  It is public events that lack the security we now need because our famed ingenuity has yet to find solutions.

Stories of shopping downtown, walking the mall, riding public transportation, and cheering at sports events are now fraught with tragedy.  The achievements of national and international athletes are overshadowed by the heroic recoveries of victims and first responders.  Memories of finding treasures on sale at the mall are lost in experiences of bullying or assault in the parking garage.  The feeling and experience of security that should be each individual’s birth right is escaping our grasp.  Its restoration may only be practically possible at home. High definition television, international radio broadcasts, downloadable music, films, and books, and home theaters enable us to choose our recreational companions.

We can also feel confident in the safety of that venue; wireless alarm systems, automatic exterior lighting, surveillance cameras, electronic locks, and gated communities are affordable to homeowners.  Routine overtime hours for police officers, federal background investigations, and securing public places through environmental design prior to sports and entertainment events would overwhelm the budgets of communities, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.  Paradoxically, then, our virtual relationships will burgeon due to international social media.  At the same time, the local, public, in person mass gatherings that foster so much community loyalty will gradually disappear.  Protests and nostalgia over the closing of department stores such as Marshall Fields, bakers such as Hostess, and local cinemas will be replaced.  Virtual friendships in online communities, individual online reviews of restaurants and retailers by customers, and online shopping malls will enable both the conviviality and security we need.  What’s your screen name?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Eternal spring: The “greening” of fashion

Novita Estiti. Flickr.
November 11, 2010.

Now that our clothing doesn’t have to be green to be “green”, it is possible for those of us who look terrible in green to be fashionable.  If “green” is the new black, it is even possible to be elegant on a budget.  Why?  Recycling clothing can be both economical and “green”.  A shopping spree at a vintage clothing store may be pricey.  Like vintners of fine wine, these entrepreneurs know the provenance of their stock.  They carefully selected it from reputable sources after perusing labels, stroking fabrics, and scrutinizing discolorations.  It has likely been refurbished, too.  That is, each item has been carefully repaired, cleaned, and pressed.

Instead, persistent visits to thrift stores can yield designer treasures.  Unlike t-shirts, sweatpants, and pre-washed jeans, suits, evening gowns, and overcoats are cleaned with delicacy and worn intermittently.  Their fabrics and construction are durable, so people donate them rather than trash them.  Upon small investments of money and time, even careless maintenance can be remedied.  Talented needle persons can tailor their discoveries to suit contemporary conventions in fit or style.  Those dolman sleeves can be tapered from shoulder to wrist.  That calf length skirt can be shortened to knee length.  Irreparably damaged clothing may have salvageable panels of silk, wool, lace, or handmade buttons.  Even the harvest of a zipper can repay the cost of the purchase of a thrift store garment.

Recycled fashions permit an expansive wardrobe with a minimal investment.  There’s always something to wear; you’re always suitably dressed.  Even more, it is possible to establish a personal style.  Seldom will you attend an event or even work with someone who is wearing the same outfit.  Thrift store finds, of course, are from last season or last decade.  You can demonstrate your taste with your choice of classic designs such as the sheath or the shirtwaist dress.  Your refashioning of a dress or suit, of course, renders it unique.  Emerging fashion designs will become “greener” if not greener.  Professional designers and their customers are more concerned about the provenance of their materials.  Now, if only their marketers would create a new, less confusing term to describe environmentally-friendly clothing.

© 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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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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Coffee: All buzz; no percolation

Jeremy Noble. Flickr. June 5, 2005.

Jeremy Noble. Flickr. June 5, 2005.

Starbucks and, of course, the web have brought us all buzz all the time.  Even McDonald’s – with billions of burgers served – must be anxiously contemplating the day that more Americans choose coffee and oatmeal for breakfast.  If Americans aren’t drinking coffee, they’re shopping for coffee, brewing coffee, talking about coffee, or watching coffee commercials.  We relish coffee cake, spoon up coffee ice cream, slurp mocha milk shakes, sip coffee liqueurs, and savor coffee candies.

Whatever happened to percolation?  This decorous and melodious form of animation provided us with an enthusiastic rather than an edgy start to each day.  Sure, it was likely bland, slightly stale, ground, canned coffee burbling, but its aroma was still fragrant and powerful.  Consumed at the table in a bone china tea cup or a pottery mug and accompanied by the rattle of newspaper, the chatter of children, or the quiet contentment of adult loved ones, it was a lovely and homely ritual.  Refreshment was due more to the warmth of family, kitchen, and beverage than to ample amounts of caffeine.

There were no stainless steel to-go mugs and automobile cup holders.  Repeated infusions of caffeine weren’t necessary to jumpstart each day.  Although its breakfast ritual can’t even spark a reminder of a Japanese tea ceremony, coffee cups have become so ubiquitous in autos, on buses and trains, in television dramas and newscasts, and at public events that they might be deemed accessories.  White, squeaky Styrofoam cups of generic, automatically brewed, ground coffee accompany polyester slacks and a spandex t-shirt.  Sturdy, creamy white paper cups with corrugated, brown paper sleeves are gripped by manicured nails attached to the wearer of designer jeans and a hand knit sweater.  Of course, the beverage is Columbian or French Roast.  Still, fashionable and technical sophistication due to programmable coffee makers, thermal brewers, or espresso machines can’t replace the homey charm of percolated coffee.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Artificial flavors: Taste confronts style

Valerie Zinger. Flickr. April 29, 2012.

Grape soda, orange ice pops, lemon drops, nondairy coffee creamer, and artificial sugar substitutes are well-established treats for many Americans.  Children who relish their morning orange juice may still clamor for artificially flavored grape soda and orange ice pops.  Grandparents who grow backyard vegetables may still dispense artificially flavored lemon drops to neighborhood little ones.  Parents who hand cut beef and vegetables for crock pot stew may still sprinkle their coffee with nondairy coffee creamer and sugar substitute at the office.  All of these items are available in the same place.  How is it that cherry-flavored Jell-O and chocolate-flavored cold cereal are available in the same grocery stores that sell whole coffee beans and freshly baked breads?

The pluralism of which Americans are so proud doesn’t just include ethnic foods.  It straddles generations and social class.  Gourmet cooks shop for olive oil and specialty cheeses as Lean Cuisine devotees head for the frozen dinners’ aisle.  Football fans pile their carts with chips and cases of soda pop.  Grandmothers scrutinize the fresh greens and meats as college students speed toward the checkout line with boxes of instant oatmeal, packages of Ramen noodles, and jars of peanut butter.  Young mothers with toddlers ensconced in their carts choose steaks, baking potatoes, soda crackers, and instant chocolate pudding.

American tastes call for hot dogs, hamburgers, and French fries at public sports events where plumbers, office managers, and bus drivers sit side by side with accountants, professors, and engineers.  It wouldn’t be fashionable to eat quiche or drink champagne at a baseball game.  Holiday office parties attended by the boss, managers, and staff can include wine, cheese, submarine sandwiches, and brownies.  Holiday dinners may include grandmother’s handmade ravioli and auntie’s Jell-O mold.  No one can claim to be the sole arbiter of American taste or style.  There is too much variety to permit it.  What is artificial about that?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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