Fashion Friday: Science Nerd Chic

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Fashion Friday post, and I need something happy and frivolous to write about right now. So I want to show you the outfit I wore to an awesome event: the California Academy of Sciences’ “Nightlife at the Museum” Fashion Night.

Like many museums, the California Academy of Sciences has been doing a series of after-hours evening events for adults only: “Nightlife at the Museum.” It’s pretty damn fun: cocktails, DJs and dancing, special adult-oriented presentations (one time they had a docent displaying and explaining penis bones), that sort of thing. The evenings often have themes — and last night’s theme was fashion.

Fashion night at the science museum’s after-hours party. There was no possible way that Ingrid and I were going to miss this one. It took some doing — we found out about it at the last minute, and had to do some skillful shuffling of our schedules to make it happen — but it was like a magnetic force drawing us in. The event’s connection between science and fashion was a little thin… but I made up for it, with my mega-awesome Science Nerd Chic.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 1

The full ensemble.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 2

The bracelet my friend Josie made for me out of (if memory serves) computer innards.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 5

Representing for the cephalopods! I freaking love this necklace. When I got it I thought I’d hardly ever wear it, it’s so huge and almost garish… but it was eight bucks, so why not. I now wear it all the time, and it always draws lavish compliments.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 4

The planet tights. Around which I built the whole rest of the outfit.

Greta at Nightlife at the Museum Fashion Night 3

And, of course, the shoes. My steampunk Oxfords, adorned with (among other things) butterflies made of gears. Thus representing both engineering and entomology.

There were some astonishingly well-turned-out people at this event — Ingrid and I were in hog heaven, ooing and aahing over the awesome outfits. But I didn’t see anyone else turned out head to foot in science nerd fashion. Which was slightly disappointing. Science chic rules!

Fashion Friday: Science Nerd Chic

Fashion Friday on Saturday: Deena and Gunner's Wedding

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Fashion Friday post, and this one seemed especially pertinent right now, what with it being LGBT Pride Weekend and the same-sex marriage and all.

Ingrid and I went to a wedding a few weeks ago that was a fashion extravaganza. Our friend and hairdresser Deena married her sweetie Gunner at Lake Merritt in Oakland… and the guests turned out in splendid form. The fashion struck this note that resonates strongly with me: a blend/ balance of dressiness and formality with joyous, giddy, non-conformist exuberance. It’s a hard balance to strike — dressiness and formality pretty much by definition mean “conformity to certain social norms.” But they managed it… and then some. These are theater people, and hairdressing people, and long-time participants in the queer community, and they totally get it about using fashion and style to celebrate, to communicate, and to express both yourself and your awareness of the occasion. I think the guests wanted to recognize the specialness of the occasion with the dressiness… and also wanted to recognize the specialness and uniqueness of this couple and their vivid, vibrant, outrageous styles and lives.

So without further ado — Deena and Gunner’s wedding!

Deena and Gunnar wedding 18

Jordan and his husband. Lots of amazing menswear at this wedding. As I’ve written before, menswear is really hard to be exuberant and joyful in. It’s especially hard to be be exuberant and joyful and at the same time dressy and formal in. But lots of guys at this wedding hit it out of the park. I think the whole “being openly queer, and therefore not being worried about people thinking you’re queer” thing helps.

Deena and Gunnar wedding 30

Color-coordinated butch-femme realness!

Deena and Gunnar wedding 29

Pink hair and leopard print jacket. Always appropriate. Continue reading “Fashion Friday on Saturday: Deena and Gunner's Wedding”

Fashion Friday on Saturday: Deena and Gunner's Wedding

Runway Recap: "I'm Not Here to Make Friends"

“I’m not here to make friends.”

If you’ve ever watched any competition reality show, you’ve almost certainly heard this line. There’s even a YouTube video montage of dozens of reality show contestants saying the damn thing. More than one. This week, on Project Runway, it was Richard’s turn to utter these timeless words.

And it is one of the dumbest things anyone on these shows can say.

You know what?

You are here to make friends.

If you are on a reality show centering on competition in your professional field — Project Runway, Top Chef, etc. — you are here to make friends.

The chances that you are actually going to win the big prize — the big cash, the equipment, the profile in the major magazine, etc.? They’re very, very slim. There were, to give just one example, 16 contestants at the start of this season of PR: the chances that any one of them would end up as the winner were 6.25%. Not very high. (And that’s assuming the outcome isn’t rigged.)

But the chances that, if you stay on the show for at least a few rounds, you’re going to have an opportunity to make huge advances in your career? The chances that you’ll meet major opinon makers in your field, from editors to celebrities to established names in the industry, and will be able to make an impression on them? The chances that you’ll meet potential employers in your field, and will be able to make an impression on them? The chances that one of your fellow competitors will do well for themselves in the future, and will be able to give you a leg up? And maybe most importantly: The chances that you’ll be making an impression on hundreds of thousands of potential customers who are watching the show, people who might buy your clothes or buy your records or go to your restaurant or whatever?

Those chances are huge. If you make it onto the show, and you don’t get kicked off in the first couple of weeks, the chances that you’ll be able to do any or all of these things are excellent.

But here’s the thing. The opinion makers and potential employers and future customers aren’t just interested in whether you won the contest. In fact, they’re probably not interested at all in whether you won the contest. They’re interested in whether you have talent. They’re interested in how well you handle pressure. And, very importantly, they’re interested in your interpersonal skills. Fashion is a collaborative art form, and even the most high-strung divas have to have some basic ability to function with other people. They have to be able to work with colleagues, with staffers, with bosses, with suppliers, with service providers, with media, with clients, with clients, with clients.

And if you come across on the show as a self-involved, high-strung diva who schemes and throws fits and talks trash about their clients and makes excuses for their shoddy work and stabs their colleagues in the back? If you make everyone who watches the show hate you and never want to have anything to do with you? You’ve wasted that chance. ([cough] Ven Budhu [cough])

You are, in fact, here to make friends.

Okay. Rant over. There was also some fashion on display in this week’s show, so let’s talk about that. This week was the Lord & Taylor challenge, which translates as “make a pretty dress that could sell in a department store.” Which is kind of ironic, since in pretty much every other challenge, “I could buy that in any department store in the country” is a kiss of death from the judges. And which also makes it kind of sad when the designers fall flat: if you can’t just crank out a pretty dress at this point in the competition, WTF are you doing here?

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Michelle 1

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Michelle 2

No argument with the win. Michelle was the clear winner. A very nice dress. The back means you probably can’t wear it with a bra, which seriously limits the number of women who can wear it, which is kind of dumb for a “department store” challenge. Still: very nice.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Daniel

Daniel is so fucking lucky he got teamed with Michelle this week. This looks like a waitress’s uniform from the 1980s. It somehow manages to be shapelessly boring and garishly hideous, all at the same time. It was embarassing to see the judges try to find something to praise about it: they clearly wanted to give Michelle the win, and had to give Daniel a pass so they could do that. Also, I don’t buy his Mr. Nice Guy act any more. The veneer snapped this week, and what’s underneath is not pretty. I’m done with him.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Patricia

I liked Patricia’s look more than I expected to. And kudos to her for not just making a dress like everyone else. But she also needs to quit the passive-aggressive number, stat. Stanley saved her bacon this week — he was something of an asshole about it, but his critiques of her work were absolutely on target — and she needed to quit whining about it. Also, if she didn’t agree, she needed to say, “I don’t agree,” instead of just nodding and saying “Yes” and then going ahead with what she was going to do anyway until it was almost too late. Every week she berates herself for screwing up her time management and screwing over her teammates… and every week, she does it again. Go away.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Stanley

A perfectly nice dress, and very well-made, although the length is a bit awkward. But come on, Stanley — a sheath dress? Without anything at all to liven it up? Boring, boring, boring. There is not a single element in this dress that would make it jump off the rack and scream, “You must have me! You cannot live without me!” This dress screams, “I need something tasteful and dressy and on the conservative side to wear to my sister’s wedding.” Snore.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Richard

Richard. Richard, Richard, Richard. If you’re going to throw an “I’m not here to make friends” hissy-fit, do it over something more interesting than a beach cover-up. The same damn beach cover-up you’ve now made three times. And a fugly beach cover-up at that. The swoosh doesn’t look elegant or graceful or exhuberant, it looks awkward, like it’s tugging at the hip and tugging at the boob, a half-assed compromise between curves and angles. Go away.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Samantha 1

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Samantha 2

Okay. This was hideous. This was vile. Ingrid and I have been arguing over it: I think it makes the model look like a waitress in a really cheap theme restaurant; Ingrid thinks it makes her look like a hot dog stand girl at the state fair. Bad ideas, poorly executed: those layers in the skirt are sloppy and flat and sad, and the heart cut-out in the back would have been tacky and laughable even if it hadn’t been poorly-placed and saggy.

But I also think Samantha got the shaft this week. As a rule, when the PR judges are choosing between “hot mess, but at least they were trying something interesting and had some ideas in there” and “sleeping pill in fabric form that isn’t even made well,” they usually get rid of the sleeping pill and give the hot mess another chance. Especially if the hot mess designer has done interesting and beautiful work in the past, and the sleeping pill designer has done jack. Hard to escape the conclusion that Richard was kept on because he creates drama.

And finally:

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Layana 1

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 9 Layana 2

I liked Layana’s dress, and didn’t understand why the judges were hating on it. No — strike that. I loved Layana’s dress. I actually thought it gave Michelle’s dress a run for its money. And I don’t get them hating on the print: it didn’t make me swoon with delight and yearning, but I thought it was fine. Again, though: another dress you can’t wear a bra with, which means most of the women in the store are going to pick it off the rack, go “Oo! Pretty!”, realize you can’t wear a bra with it, and reluctantly put it back.

But I love the way the leather detailing frames the bosom. It’s a clever way to be sexy and body-conscious, without showing a lot of skin. And I really like how gracefully it combines both a flowy resort-wear look and a strong, edgy urban look: you could wear it in the city at a party in the summer when it’s way too freaking hot for anything other than something loose and flowy, or you could wear it on a cruise and look way more stylish and awesome than anyone else there. Thumbs-up from me on this one.

Runway Recap: "I'm Not Here to Make Friends"

Runway Recap: Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love

How do you make men look sexy?

This week’s Project Runway challenge: Make performance wear for the Thunder From Down Under male stripper group. It was a difficult challenge for a lot of reasons: making men’s wear is always hard on designers who mostly make women’s wear, what with the different body shapes and all. Add to that the fact that they had to make, not just men’s wear, but men’s wear that was both stretchy enough and durable enough for vigorous stage performance… while still having enough structure to not look like pajamas. Add to that the fact that the outfits weren’t just dance wear, but stripper wear, and they had to tear away easily and completely at a moment’s notice. Add to that the fact that the men they were making clothes for had giant muscled beefcake bodies, with huge chests and arms: bodies that were far from ordinary, and that are unusually hard to fit.

But then, in addition to all that, add this challenge:

How do you make men look sexy?

Specifically, how do you make men look sexy in a heterosexual context? (As far as I’m aware, Thunder From Down Under aim their performances primarily at women.)

In a sexual culture where women are assumed to be the objects of desire and men are assumed to be the subjects, where women are expected to be looked at and men are expected to do the looking, it’s very difficult to make men look blatantly sexy. In a heterosexual context, anyway. It’s one of the main reasons that men’s wear is so often such a snoozefest. The very act of trying to look sexy, the very act of trying to make one’s body and one’s self look sexually desirable, is seen as a feminine act. (Or a gay act. More on that in a sec.) It’s a weird double bind/ balancing act: straight men are supposed to look good, or not look like slobs anyway, but they’re not supposed to look like they’re trying, or like they care.

There are, as I said in my original piece on men’s wear, some exceptions to this: the historical costuming community, the kink community, some others. And gay men have largely untied this knot and re-woven it into a sexual culture where everyone gets to be both gazer and gazee, mutual objects and subjects, in turn or simultaneously. (A somewhat problematic sexual culture, if my gay male friends are to be believed, in which a high premium is often placed on fitting into one of a handful of ideals of male sexuality and attractiveness, many of which are hyper-masculine in their own way — but still, one in which men can openly express their sexuality and their desire to be desirable, without it being seen as undercutting their masculinity.)

But the very fact that gay male culture has embraced the conscious display of male sexuality and created a space for it makes it harder for men to do in a heterosexual context. Given the homophobia of our culture, anyway. Looking sexy and trying to make your body look sexually desirable is seen as something that either women do or that gay men do — and since our culture is both so sexist and so homophobic, straight men are strongly discouraged from doing anything that would make them seem gay, or feminine, or both. I find it very telling that the usual route for male strippers in a heterosexual context is to go hyper-masculine: super beefcakey, huge muscled chests, huge muscled biceps, often in costumes that represent iconically male roles, from construction workers to cowboys to suits and ties. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this hyper-masculinity is done to offset the automatic feminization that comes in our culture with sexual display. (Not consciously, I don’t think, but still.)

So of all the challenges this season, this should absolutely not have been a one-day challenge. The designers had to make clothing for unfamiliar bodies — unfamiliar because of gender, and unfamiliar because of huge muscled beefcake-ness. They had to make said clothing work as stretchy and durable stagewear. They had to make said clothing with a design spec that they almost certainly had never dealt with before — namely, making the clothes tear away in a second. And apart from all these technical challenges, they had to face a serious conceptual challenge: making men look conventionally sexy in a conventionally heterosexual context, displaying their sexuality without undercutting their masculinity, maintaining their masculinity without being a bore.

In this, of all challenges, the designers should have had an extra day. Nobody — not the judges, not the producers, nobody — should have been surprised that this week was such a universally miserable and laughable fail-fest.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 8 Daniel and Patricia
Continue reading “Runway Recap: Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love”

Runway Recap: Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love

Runway Recap: But What Do You Mean By "Prom Dress"?

There’s this basic problem with certain design challenges: on Project Runway, and in life.

The problem is when people don’t give you clear specifications for what they want — and then judge you for not having accomplished it.

This week’s PR challenge (okay, last week’s, I was on a speaking tour last week and only watched last week’s episode last night): Design a prom dress out of duct tape. This challenge wasn’t invented out of the fevered imaginations of the Project Runway producers: it’s riffing off of an existing phenomenon. Do a Google image search on “duct tape prom dress.” You’ll find zillions of them. This is a thing.

So okay. Make a prom dress out of duct tape. Straightforward enough. Except when you get to the question: What do you mean by “prom dress”?

If you do a Google Image search of “prom dress” — minus the “duct tape,” or indeed with it — you’ll find a ridiculous variety of styles. You’ll find dresses inspired (apparently) by storybook princesses, and movie stars on red carpets, and music video vixens, and beauty pageants, and saloon girls, and national costumes, and va-va-voom screen sirens, and science fiction/fantasy, and Elizabethan costume, and Victoria’s Secret. You’ll see huge billowing Cinderella ball gowns and slinky strappy things with leg slits up to here; fluffy little cocktail dresses and short tight shiny numbers that look like the Kardashians on a bad night. It varies by region, by class, by (I’m guessing) trends within a particular school, by the imagination or lack thereof of the girls wearing the dresses. Pretty much, the only common theme among them all is “fantasy life of teenage girls.”

So when you’re a designer, and the concept you’re given is “prom dress made out of duct tape,” you don’t actually have much to go on. All you really have is “festive, special-event dress for someone around age 18.”

So it’s kind of ridiculous for the PR judges to scold designers for creating a look that isn’t “prom.” Scold them for ugly; scold them for poorly-fitting; scold them for deranged; scold them for boring. But don’t scold them for not being prom. There is no template, no iconic ur-prom-dress. You have an idea in your head of what a prom dress should look like? Good for you. So do millions of teenage girls around the country. For once, you’re not the expert here. I don’t care if you’re a renowned high-fashion designer or fashion editor. You’re not the expert.

So. On to the designs.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 7 Amanda and Michelle 1
Continue reading “Runway Recap: But What Do You Mean By "Prom Dress"?”

Runway Recap: But What Do You Mean By "Prom Dress"?

Runway Recap: Aging Out

So since last week’s Runway Recap was all about one of my most loaded, most complicated, most compelling fashion topics — namely, fashion and size — I suppose it’s only fair that this week’s should hit one of my other gigantic hot buttons:

Fashion and age.

For this season’s “real woman” challenge (serious air-quotes, I hate hate hate that phrase), Project Runway did something they’ve never done, and it’s about high fucking time they did: They asked the designers to design for old women. Each client had a different design request — one wanted something comfortable, one wanted something festive and celebratory, one wanted something dressy she could wear on cruises, etc. But for all of the designers, the basic challenge was the same: Make something for your client that’s beautiful and exciting and fashion-forward… and also age-appropriate.

Which is really fucking hard.

I’ve written before about how hard it is to say “sexy older woman” in the metaphorical language of fashion… not because the words and grammar aren’t there, but because our culture considers the very concept of “sexy woman over fifty” to be nonsense. I’ve written before about the whole question of what it even means to be “age appropriate” in the first place, and whether the very notion is ageist and oppressive, or whether it’s a way to express love and respect for your age, or whether it’s some of both. And as a fifty-one year old woman who cares deeply about fashion and sex and feminism and ageism… this is not an abstract point for me. This is a paradox I live every day of my life in. It sometimes drives me up a tree that I started getting seriously interested in fashion in my late forties, right when fashion was losing interest in me. (Of course, as someone who was fat for much of her adult life, fashion has never been all that interested in me… so there’s that.)

And since “age and fashion” is so loaded, not just because of how fashion is designed, but because of how fashion is criticized, I want to spend more time than usual this week talking, not just about the designs, but about the judging.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 6 Stanley
Continue reading “Runway Recap: Aging Out”

Runway Recap: Aging Out

Runway Recap: Sizing It Up

If you’re going to design clothes for a bigger woman, you need to use a bigger dress form. And you need to showcase them on bigger models. Period.

I mostly liked this episode. I think the “teams” concept is working out well, way the hell better than I’d expected. I was worried that when the designers got split into two-person teams, the co-operative love-fest would wither on the vine; but they mostly seem to be getting along and working well together, and it’s paying off — both in the quality of their designs, and in how much fun the show is to watch. The “performance outfit + red carpet look for Miranda Lambert” challenge was a bit limited in terms of creativity — any time you’re designing clothes for one particular person, you’re working in a pretty narrow window, especially when that one person’s aesthetic isn’t all that creative or interesting — but it is the kind of challenge that designers have to face in the real world, and it’s always interesting to see how the PR contestants work their personal visions into someone else’s style. (Or laughably fail to do so.)

So I was trying to put my finger on what it was that was bugging me about this episode… when I read this comment from Qitkat, one of Tom and Lorenzo’s Bitter Kittens commentariat, in a discussion of how the challenge would have worked better if Lambert had done an in-the-workroom consult during the design process:

A consult, absolutely. When a challenge has been *make a dress for Heidi or Nina*, they have always come into the workroom. SJP came to the workroom for a consult for her line; I’m positive there have been other consults. At the least, a video conference.

Along with models who more resembled Miranda’s size.

Emphasis mine.

Along with models who more resembled Miranda’s size.

miranda lambert project runway
Miranda Lambert is a pretty average-sized woman, from what I can tell. Probably smaller than average. But she’s not an average-sized celebrity woman. She’s bigger and curvier than most high-profile actresses/ singers/ models/ celebutantes. And when the designers were given this challenge, they were specifically told that Lambert loves her curves, and embraces them. (The look she had on the PR judging panel was doing her no favors, IMO: but in general, she’s a nice-looking woman who seems to love her body as it is, and seems to have fun with it.)

So why the hell were the designers designing for the same damn rail-thin model size they always do?

Speaking as someone who has been many different sizes over the course of her life — hell, someone who’s been many different sizes in the last few years: You cannot — repeat, CANNOT — just design an outfit for a Size 0, and expect it to work on a bigger woman simply by expanding it in all directions. Different cuts and styles look good on different-sized bodies. What looks good on a size 18 isn’t generally what looks good on a size 12; what looks good on a size 12 isn’t generally what looks good on a size 6; what looks good on a size 6 isn’t generally what looks good on a size 0. And you can’t always tell which is which just by picking up a dress and looking at it. At various sizes in my life, there’s been many a time when I’ve picked something off the rack that I thought would be a disaster but that caught my eye as being worth a shot; tried it on; and fell head over heels in love. And of course, the opposite is true: there’s been many a time when I’ve picked something off the rack that I was sure would be hot shit, tried it on, and couldn’t shudder out of it fast enough.

(This principle doesn’t just apply to weight, by the way. Different clothes look good on people of different heights, different body structures, different skin colors, different hair colors, different ages, etc.)

So if you’re designing an outfit for Miranda Lambert, you really need to think about questions like, “What would look good on Miranda Lambert?” Not just, “What is Miranda Lambert’s general sense of style?”: that should be your starting point, of course, but you also need to ask, “What will make Miranda Lambert’s curves look popping and voluptuous and hot, and what will make them look boxy, or cheap, or just out of proportion?” And you bloody well need to showcase it on a model who looks at least vaguely like Miranda Lambert.

So given that we had to look at outfits made for a curvy, voluptuous woman, showcased on standard rail-thin models… how did the designers do with this concept?

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Richard 1

Project Runway Episode 11 Season 5 Richard 2
Continue reading “Runway Recap: Sizing It Up”

Runway Recap: Sizing It Up

Runway Recap: What a Difference a Day Makes

Damn. Day-um. This season of Project Runway is like a rollercoaster. Last week’s episode had me kvetching about how it was a perfect example of everything that’s gone wrong with the show. This week’s episode was a perfect example of everything I love about the show: what makes it fun, what makes it compelling, what keeps me coming back week after week, hoping for its glory days to return. I’d thought that the “unconventional materials” challenges were a bit played out at this point… but the looks this week were fun, imaginative, well-crafted, exuberant, and in many cases surprisingly elegant considering they were made from flowers and hardware. There were a few mis-steps, but on the whole, I am totally with the judges on this one: This was the best overall runway show they’ve had in a long time. And that includes finales/ final collections.

What made the difference?

The extra day.

The designers had two days to complete their looks, not just one. They had time to fix problems; to re-think ideas; to start over if their first ideas didn’t pan out; to sleep on it and come back fresh; to lend each other a hand. Since this was a team challenge, they had time to consult on a coherent concept for their collections, which helped all the designs look stronger. (For the team that actually came up with a coherent concept, anyway, as opposed to the team that faked one after the fact.) And very importantly, they had time to execute more ambitious visions. With a one-day challenge, pretty much all you have time for is a pretty sheath dress or a pretty gown. With two days, you have time to go big — and to fix it, or start again, if your big idea doesn’t pan out.

So memo to PR producers: More two-day challenges, please! Your core audience is not that interested in hysterical drama. Your core audience is bored to pieces with slight variations on sheath dresses. Your core audience wants to see beautiful innovative fashion, and wants to watch the process that goes into creating it. More, please. kthxbye

Now, to the designs!

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 4 Samantha
Continue reading “Runway Recap: What a Difference a Day Makes”

Runway Recap: What a Difference a Day Makes

Runway Recap: Pretty Dresses for Heidi, and the Cash Machine

“Make a pretty dress for Heidi that she’ll use to plug her latest project.”

The main reason I didn’t do this Runway Recap until now is that I’ve been on a fairly intense and exhausting speaking tour, and just got back last night. But the other reason I didn’t do this Runway Recap until now is that this last episode (a) was so fucking boring I wanted to pull my hair out, one hair at a time, just to keep myself awake, and (b) was a perfect example of what’s gone wrong with the show.

It’s not like the first few seasons of Project Runway were a shining example of incorruptible artistic integrity. Of course it was a commercial enterprise. It was a reality competition program on cable TV: like, duh. Being disappointed and disillusioned that the producers were in it to make money would have been like being disappointed and disillusioned that Goldman Sachs were in it to make money.

But since the show jumped from Bravo to Lifetime, the balance between “commercial enterprise” and “smart and imaginative exploration of the world of fashion design, from people who genuinely care about it” has tilted way, way over. The rapid-fire rate at which the show gets cranked out, so designers never have time to fix problems or try new ideas or put genuine craft into their work. The heavy-handed product placement (there’s always been product placement on the show, but it’s gone from background noise to a relentless shriek in your ear). The transparent shilling for whatever money-making enterprise Heidi is involved with this month (in this case, a perfume line). This show has essentially become a cash machine for Heidi Klum, and for everyone else along for the ride.

I haz a sad.

Project Runway, to a great extent, was my gateway drug into fashion and style. I’ve always been interested in clothes; I’ve always paid attention to what I was wearing and how it made me feel; I’ve never been someone who just threw on jeans and a T-shirt and called it a day. But Project Runway, to a great extent, was what got me thinking about fashion and style more consciously. It got me thinking a lot more carefully about fashion and style as a metaphorical language; about the history of fashion and the context it provides for the current fashion world; about how I wanted to use clothing to express myself and my relationship to the world. It opened the door into a world that I’m having a blast with. And I haz a sad that, for people who are just now tuning into the show, that door is closing. Or rather, that door is opening into the side of the fashion world that’s a crass, fawning cash machine for self-appointed celebrity royalty.

“Make a pretty dress for Heidi that she’ll use to plug her latest project. Because we haven’t already done that challenge eleventy billion times, and Heidi Klum isn’t rich enough.”

Oh, well. There’s always What Not to Wear.

So here are this week’s winners and losers. (More pics of more looks at Tom and Lorenzo.)

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 3 Layana and Katelyn

A pretty gown for Heidi!

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 3 Daniel

Another pretty gown for Heidi!

It’s kind of entertaining how they shifted the goalposts on this one. The teams were supposed to come up with one fantasy gown-y thing for Heidi’s perfume ads, and one marginally more practical look for publicity appearances. But nobody on the winning team came up with a presentable “publicity appearance” look… so they said, “Sure, what the hell, this looks like every other pretty gown in every other perfume commercial ever made, let’s call this a ‘press tour’ dress and move the hell on.”

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 3 Patricia

Somewhat baffled at why the judges were pissing themselves all over this. Am I the only one who saw this outfit and thought, “Crafts project”? No, that’s not fair. Patricia has chops. There was a good idea in here somewhere. She just didn’t have time in YET ANOTHER FUCKING ONE-DAY CHALLENGE to execute it. As a result, it looks like a flimsy dress with bits of fabric cut out and sewn onto it. Because that’s what it is.

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 3 Benjamin

An ugly gown for Heidi. An ugly, shabby, half-assed gown that looks like he wrapped a shower curtain around his model and then bound it her into it with some sort of construction material.

A case could be made that Benjamin should have gone home on this one. But at least he had a glimmer of an idea here somewhere. If he’d been able to execute the “drapey flowy gown with gold ribbon trailing around it like it landed there in a breeze” look he was going for — which he might have been able to do if this hadn’t been YET ANOTHER FUCKING ONE-DAY CHALLENGE — it might have really worked. And I’ll never fault the judges for rewarding “interesting and risk-taking but poorly executed” over “competent but boring and safe.”

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 3 Cindy

Not that this was competent or safe. Bad idea, poorly executed. Trashy and tawdry, without even the charm of being sensual and shamelessly fun. Cindy was in way over her head. I can’t really argue with this Auf.

Runway Recap: Pretty Dresses for Heidi, and the Cash Machine

Runway Recap: The Great Kilt Freakout, Or, Gender Normativity is Boring and Stupid (UPDATED)

So… kilts? Really, Project Runway judges? You’re going to twist your knickers and wring your hands and fall about like fainting goats… over kilts?

Okay. First things first. Basic assessment of this episode: Not bad. This episode focused a lot more on the actual design process than the show has for many a season, and it was the better for it. And so far, the “team” concept seems to be working: there was a lot of collaboration in the workroom this week, and both the designs and the entertainment value were better for it. I basically agree with Tom and Lorenzo: the show this week was a little dull in spots, but that wasn’t because of the team structure. It was mostly because the challenge itself was a little dull. “Make waitstaff uniforms for a ping-pong nightclub, in a standard, sporty, casual-wear style.” Yawn. True, in the real world, this is what design is often like — you often have to execute for a particular client within fairly narrow restrictions, and sometimes those restrictions are very narrow indeed and you can’t get very creative. But I hope the designers get some more interesting challenges soon. There really wasn’t much they could do with this one. (Pics of all the looks at Tom and Lorenzo.)

So. Okay. Now to what I really want to get into today:

What the fuck was up with the judges getting nearly hysterical over the concept of men in kilts?

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 2 Kilt 1

First of all: This is not a new thing. Kilts for men date back many centuries. Modern Utilikilts for men date back over a decade. They are not, in fact, skirts, despite what the judges kept saying through their giggles and gasps. They are an old form of menswear, and in the modern international-city fashion landscape, they’re just not that freaky. Unusual, sure, but hardly unheard of.*

But second, and more to the point: So what? Yes, in our rigidly gendered culture, kilts will be read by some uninformed people as skirts, and will therefore be somewhat surprising when men wear them. So fucking what?

Fashion designers for women have been playing with androgyny for decades. Centuries, actually. In the world of high fashion, androgyny is a very common way for a woman to cut out a space for herself: whether it’s wearing suits on the red carpet, or cropping her hair short (remember the buzz it generated when Emma Watson cut her hair?). And in the non-high-fashion world of ordinary women’s wear, adapting masculine elements is pervasive: from the recent trendiness of the military look, to the ubiquity of blue jeans and the women’s suit. In the fashion world, androgyny for women is so commonplace, it’s not even particularly shocking any more.

So why is it that creating a more androgynous look for men — a look that’s basically male and masculine, but with feminine elements or elements that will be read by many as feminine — is enough to get seasoned fashion professionals fanning themselves like they’d just seen the 2 a.m. stage show at a Berlin sex club? (Including Susan “Rocky Horror Picture Show” Sarandon, who should know better?)

Yes, I know why. It’s because maleness is considered more valuable than femaleness. It’s considered natural — if somewhat outré and daring — for women to want to look more like men. Of course women would want to aspire to look more like men! Who wouldn’t want to be more masculine, more like a man? Men are awesome! Men are how people should be! [/sarcasm] But when men aspire to look more like women, it undercuts gender normativity far more than women looking more like men. Androgyny for men breaks out of standard gender roles, in basically the same way that androgyny for women does… but it also shatters the notion that maleness is always more desirable than femaleness.

Well, good. The notion that maleness is always more desirable than femaleness is fucked up for everybody. And gender normativity is boring and stupid. Dressing in a way that goes along with the standard expectations for your gender is entirely your business, just as dressing in a way that doesn’t go along with the standard expectations for your gender is entirely your business. But gender normativity, the idea that all men should look and act a certain way and all women should look and act a certain way, and the idea that it’s reasonable and even good to put pressure on people of all genders to conform to these roles… it’s boring, and it’s stupid.

If the judges thought the male waitstaff at the nightclub would rebel… fine. Give them the option of kilts or pants, like they might give the female waitstaff a choice between skirts or pants. But insisting that male waitstaff could never be asked to wear uniforms so “outrageous”? Hating on the kilt so hard, they put it in the bottom?

Project Runway Season 11 Episode 2 Kilt 2

I liked the kilt. It was well-constructed, and fit the model beautifully. Making it out of denim was clever: by referencing jeans, it made the kilt both more modern and more familiar. And the moderately androgynous aspect was hot. Since the rest of the look was pretty classically masculine, it actually read as, “I’m confident enough in my masculinity to not feel like it’s threatened by wearing something that some people will read as a skirt. Besides, my legs are muscular and awesome.” I did think putting the “Balls Are Our Business” logo right in the center of the waistband — i.e., right over the model’s anatomical balls — was a bit crass. But that’s an easy fix.

And more to the point: I thought the kilt was, by far, the most interesting, inventive look on the runway this week. Every single other designer took the challenge of “Make waitstaff uniforms for a ping-pong nightclub, in a standard, sporty, casual-wear style,” and made… well, standard sporty casual wear, either more successfully or less so, none of it particularly interesting. Matthew’s kilt was the one piece on the runway that took the concept of “standard sporty casual-wear,” and brought something unexpected to the table. I could see not giving it the win — if the client doesn’t think it’s right, then the client doesn’t think it’s right, and you haven’t won. But sticking it in the bottom — with an extensive session of adolescent giggles and gasps about how it was so “provocative” — was ridiculous. It showed a rigidity about gender that I find disappointing in anyone, and that seasoned fashion professionals should be way, way past.


*UPDATE: In a comment, Giliell, professional cynic says this:

OK, I love kilts.
Kilts are freaking awesome.
Kilts are sexy.
They are, in fact, skirts.
Please give me one argument why a kilt is fundamentally different from a skirt that does not go back to “but skirts are for women and men don’t wear skirts”.
I think the firm denial that a kilt or indeed any kind of male garment that is constructed much like a typical female garment is indeed like said female garment is a sign of gendernormatism where women may aspire to wear male stuff (like trousers, oh the abomination), but men are never ever lowered to wear femal stuff (like skirts. It’s a kilt!)

I think this is a really good point. Most of what I’ve read/ heard from kilt-wearers (who’ve said anything about it at all) is that kilts aren’t skirts, so I was passing that along. But now that Giliell mentions it, I can’t offhand think of a good answer. (A couple of people here have suggested that the difference between a kilt and a skirt is the sporran, but I don’t think so: Utilikilts don’t have sporrans [although they do have a stylized closure in front outlined in snaps to represent it], and they’re still clearly identified as kilts.) Thoughts, anyone?

Runway Recap: The Great Kilt Freakout, Or, Gender Normativity is Boring and Stupid (UPDATED)