Sunday, November 23, 2008

What Not To Watch

Louise Nevelson in many guises...

I typically take Sundays off from posting here, but this topic has nudged me to type this morning (plus, it's in the teens here in Maine and warm by the pellet stove...I'll let the sun get a bit higher in the sky before venturing outdoors...)

I think that I speak for many women in that I have a love/hate relationship with fashion magazines. I rarely look at them because ultimately they make me feel cranky and then crummy about myself. I don't enjoy clothes shopping. I really have to be in the mood, and even then, I want to get it over with as quickly as possible. Maybe this is because we didn't have alot of money when I was growing up. I learned to make my own clothes and I shared with my sisters. Even now, I wear the same few things for a long while and then get a few new things and wear those. I own three drawers plus a half closet full of clothes, and about 8 pairs of shoes and 2 pairs of boots. Don't get me wrong - I care about how I look - but I'm not a slave to fashion. Some might describe my style as eccentric at times.

Anyhow. Friday night I was vegging on the couch and watched part of What Not To Wear. I've seen parts of this show a few times - maybe watched it all the way through twice. It's sort of interesting but mostly annoying: a woman is chosen to get a complete makeover, but first she must endure being degraded and derided about her "disgusting" wardrobe and fashion choices by a snide but "appropriately stylish" couple. She is then forced to watch as all her clothes are thrown dramatically into the trash with a good riddance to THAT piece of shit flourish. I'm amazed that someone would be willing to go through this on TV for all the world to see. The result is always the same - the chosen one is altered to look like alot like the person at the end of last week's show. New make-up and hairdo, some sort of fitted jacket, slim dark jeans, those awful pointy toed boots. And now she is congratulated on her transformation - there's the mini therapy session, the fake hugs, the tears and thanks - the now I know how I'm supposed to look and promise to keep this up, etc.


But Friday's show was just plain obnoxious and wrong. The woman who was chosen (and yes, agreed to do this!!) had a wardrobe that was so very personal. Every article of clothing had a story to go with it - much of it was handmade, or she'd found it while travelling, or it was made with yarn spun by women in the Andes...everything was special and a part of her!

None of this mattered. The snide duo tossed it all in the trash and told the woman that people would shun her at parties if she wore such things. The woman of course knew that her clothes were going to hit the deep six, so she took pictures of every piece of clothing before they ditched it. (WHY was she willing to go through this?) I couldn't bear to watch it to the end and see her coming out of the machine wearing the inevitable jeans, fitted jacket, and pointy toed boots ensemble.

OK. I know that at times we could all use some feedback on how to look our best. I know that it's OK to buy ourselves new things and to feel special. And I know that if this show was done with sensitivity it probably wouldn't be something that people would want to watch.

But in this time of economic hardship, and environmental crisis, what are they doing throwing all those clothes away? Hopefully they send them to the Salvation Army or Goodwill (where ironically they will be snatched up as vintage items...)

All of this reminds me of something that I read years ago in an article in Yankee magazine by Maine writer Carolyn Chute . (Ha! Now that's a thought - from what I gather about Chute, you can bet that she would chase the What Not To Wear team out of her yard with a shot gun!)
In the Yankee article, Chute defended tacky Christmas lawn ornaments saying something like,
What a bore it would be if we all had tasteful white lights.
Amen to that!

So back to fashion.
Imagine if the What Not To Wear team got their paws on Louise Nevelson's wardrobe, for instance? Well, first off, they would never have gotten near her. She would've batted her 6 pairs of false eyelashes, puffed cigar smoke in their faces and told them to go take a high dive off a low board.
Happily there are people in the world who have their own strong sense of style and could give a damn about what anyone thinks!


Susan Beauchemin said...

I'm sitting here wearing a sweater I just shrunk--Maybe it'll stretch out, but right now, anyone would say, give it away to the nearest child! Oh that team would leave me with no clothes left!! And I can't stands pointy shoes!

martha said...


that's the word verification...

i'm sitting here wearing a rather tattered black sweater that i (no kidding) found on the sidewalk in portland, purple corduroy bell bottoms, dirty white sneakers, scarf wrapped around my head and a green apron covered with red chili peppers. i've been bringing in fire wood and now i'm making some corn chowder...
i KNOW they would leave me without a stitch of clothing, too. ditto on the pointy shoes - that is how you could torture me, making me wear those things!

Captain Nick Sparrow said...

I've only seen that show once because I thought it was so cruel! Tim Gunn's Guide to Style is the kinder version of that show, with the focus being on building people up rather than tearing them down.

Showing up for the Muse said...


thats the word verification.
Like vision.
I agree completely- never ever look at fashion magazines- they are made to make s feel ugly.
I have to say I LOVE your webpage with the flowing images of portraits- it is fascinating and each is uniquely beautiful. Bravo! Now those women have style!

Martha Miller said...

that sounds much better! hopefully he'd let you keep your pirate k(ARG!)chief

Martha Miller said...

Hi Tilly!

Actually, these images are all Louise Nevelson! She considered dressing like creating sculpture and wore many layers of textures. She loved to wear several pairs of false eyelashes - she said they were dramatic and why not??

ConverseMomma said...

I love that you sent this to me. Do you know that my mother was on that show. They said horrible things about her, to her face. She didn't really care. She just wanted the five thousand, but then again, she is the type of woman who really does believe that blush makes a woman look better. I think beauty is grass-stained knees, you can only imagine how we class. This was inspiring. Thanks for the link to it.