It Feels So Scary Getting Old
Last night I said to my son “In past generations, you had to use a lot of
words to win an argument. We tried to sound really smart. Now the thing to do is
sound really dumb, and you still win. Think about it.” He thought about it and agreed. I remember arguing to my dad about how I should be allowed to have blue hair in the early 80′s when I was experimenting with punk styles. I wrote a very complicated, erudite essay brining up every possible historical tragedy (you know – the usual ones, Jesus, the Nazis, etc) and compared it to my own persecution. I used as many big words as possible.
Now think of a kid from today, an angry kid. Who is the ultimate angry kid? Eminem. Think about him arguing with his parents. He’s been doing it all his life so that is easy. For example his new song “Headlights”:
‘Cause to this day we remain estranged and I hate it though
‘Cause you ain’t even get to witness your grand babies grow
But I’m sorry, Mama, for “Cleaning Out My Closet”, at the time I was angry
Rightfully maybe so, never meant that far to take it though,
’cause now I know it’s not your fault, and I’m not making jokes
That song I no longer play at shows and I cringe every time it’s on the radio
That probably wasn’t a good example. In this song he’s trying to make peace with his mom. And Eminem really knows how to use words. On the other hand, he doesn’t use the “20 thousand dollar words” which is why he appeals to kids. If you look at online comments from anyone under 20, you will see things like “bad” or “that’s gay” or just “FAIL”, without any further explanation. These bumper sticker-type comments will win against “the social significance” or “mutually exclusive” because no one has time for those expressions now! Words are old school, for prissy white people, or fussy teachers who have nothing better to do than sit around and read them, and anyone with a life has no time for that.
The other thing is that young people rebel by flaunting youth in the past generations face, for it’s own sake. It’s not that they think we are wrong, or have old-fashioned ideas. They really couldn’t care less about our ideas because they aren’t going to bother arguing against them anyway (see above). And we (the older generations) are really eager to side up with them. Look at how badly we want to be young! We spend all our money on plastic surgery and cosmetics to try to preserve our youth obsessively. Adolescence lasts until death today. Nobody gets “old” as in stodgy, old-fashioned beliefs. They just “age” and get more wrinkles but try to pretend nothing is happening, and all the bands that ever were just keep touring.
Still authentic youth is recognizable in photos and it is the holy grail in more ways than ever for both young and old. Anyone over 35 suffers from an automatic lack of swag, and young people know this. They don’t even need to “rebel” now, all they have to remind us is that they are young, and that is enough.
NOTE: All mis-spellings and grammatical errors in this article were intentional as they make the writer appear younger like she just don’t give a sh%$t.
I love the bathrobe that the mom wears on Christmas morning in “A Christmas Story”. It’s such a beautiful vintage robe with a shawl collar, tailoring, and a full skirt. I think it’s even got shoulder pads but that’s ok because it’s perfectly proportional. You could go around your house looking like great all day without even putting clothes on. It’s a robe of the 1940′s and it’s perfectly elegant.
In contrast, the robes of today are completely boring. Mostly they are just a straight kimono style without darts or fitting, like a sack:
If you do an Amazon search on “woman’s robe” this is all you will find, for upwards of $50. If you go to TJ Maxx, you will find the same thing. Sometimes they are made of nice materials like silk, but it’s always the same old boring style. Because they have a straight, narrow skirt, when you sit down the skirt splits open. Ugly! Impractical!
How did we get to this awful state of woman’s loungewear?
Perhaps we are still cringing from the abuses of loungewear that took place in the 1970′s when women like Mrs. Roper would go around in robes and mumus all day long.
Nobody wants to look like Mrs. Roper!
So we modern girls just throw on a hoodie track suit for hanging around. After all, we aren’t old ladies and we were just about to get ready for the day….OR ARE WE?…..more and more I see girls out and about in hoodie track suits. OK, a hoodie track suit is fine, but what’s worse, now people are walking through Target and the mall in ugly pajama pants! I think that pajama pants are the modern day equivalent of the 1970s mumu, a lounging garment that we kids ourselves into thinking is good enough for the street. I think we can do better. I think that robes need to be more elegant, like they were in the past, and they should be confined to the home.
In the 1940′s – 1970′s, they had beautiful women’s robes. They were edged with feathers or made of nice heavy padded satin. They had tailoring and button holes, like this beautiful quilted satin robe which is currently on sale at Etsy. Doesn’t look like much on the mannequin, but it would look great on!
Also there are plenty of vintage patterns for beautiful robes! I am so excited about vintage patterns. You can have old garments in new, strong fabrics!
Here is another fun vintage robe pattern, from the 1950s. The seller wants $20 which I think is a little high, but its stylish!
Butterick even did a re-issue of an old 40′s robe pattern. Elegant! I love the re-issue patterns.
ok, there are some ugly vintage patterns too, like this one :
So make one of these great vintage robes, (but not the ugly one). and sit around looking elegant all day long. As long as you have a waistline, you will never look like Mrs. Roper! And please don’t go outside in your pajama pants.
I recently took this picture on a drive from Milford, PA to Edison, NJ along Rte 206.
This is one of the things that fascinates me so much about American cities, those little towns that only have one or two small buildings, or even a little tiny downtown.
A one-building town provokes all sorts of questions -
When was it built? What made them create a high rise? What made them stop? Why did they not become NYC? Did the economy turn bad? Or was one high-rise all they ever wanted, just to add some apartments for the people who wanted to feel like they were making progress?
There is something lonely and beautiful about the “single high-rise”, or the “little downtown” of some American towns. We all know that. So did Edward Hopper
Hopper’s empty downtown was created by the Depression, in 1930. Today we have downtowns from that era which have just never been gentrified. They might contain an outdated pharmacy, a bail bonds, a 99 cent store. Here on the East Coast the forgotten downtowns turn into ghetto or they turn Hispanic. I don’t know what they become in other places, like the midwest or the south.
There are also downtowns which were abandoned a second time - gentrified in the 1990′s and made into “designer Main St.” with coffee shops and sports stores and trendy stores, only to be abandoned again because now people want to buy cheaper clothing at TJ Maxx and the pull to Target and Walmart is just too strong.
I won’t say I like downtowns best when they are in decay. I don’t really like them best when they are totally gentrified either. But it’s the empty old downtowns are the ones that I enjoy photographing and looking at the most, and decay just seems to be their destiny.
Remember email? I love email. I think that the email format is a great way to get to know someone in our busy world. You can express complete thoughts. If you email at work, it does not look conspicuous like facebook or texting. You can do it on your break! If you hate your keyboard, a better one is cheap and you don’t have replace the entire device! Texting is nice for working out plans or sending an occasional “hi”, but it’s not a good way to have conversations. Have you ever gotten a text from someone like this?
“Hey! How are you doing?”
That is just annoying.
Now you have to reply “Fine!” or else type in a bunch of stuff on that tiny keyboard. And texting gives people excuses to butcher the English language. Email does not. There is no excuse. You are basically using the same device that Sylvia Plath used when he wrote “The Bell Jar”, yes, right before she committed suicide. You are still here, aren’t you? Stop whining then and take a minute for punctuation and proofreading! And with all that time you have left over, go read The Bell Jar. It is an awesome book.
Oh, and what about the wonderful world of attachments? It’s all there for you in email. You can impress your correspondent with a link to an obscure and edgy music video, a photo of yourself, or just a long and badly formatted joke that has been annoying everyone on the Internet for months (well this defeats the whole incognito-at-work advantage).
I love voice. Don’t get me wrong. Talking on the phone can be great. But not at 10:00 p.m. when my kids are in bed and I am finally sitting down to unwind. Phone calls are nice on weekends when there is time to relax but for mid-week communication, I choose email. Do I sound like I’m trying to talk you into something? LOL ;-DDDDD.
I think I found another piece in my ongoing fashion puzzle – “How Do I Have More Fun Wearing 1950′s Vintage Clothing?”. The answer: Plastic jewelry! It’s what they actually wore in the 1950′s. It was there all the time, the natural choice for those great 1950′s dresses. It can be necklaces or earrings. It can be dark:
These types of plastic earrings are so bright and fun. How could one not wear them?.
I could see them with a 1940′s rayon dress, bright red lipstick and not too much eye makeup. (Of course they would also look great with jeans or low-top converse, or capris, flats and a bulky cardigan).
Of course, back in the 1980′s, vintage 50′s styles were just becoming popular. We wore lots of colorful earrings then.
Yes they were tacky, and much more Valley-Girl than the 1950′s styles they were trying to copy, but at least they were an early attempt to be “retro”, wild and bright. Think of Peg Bundy from “Married With Children”.
Although I have been collecting vintage clothing of the 1950′s, since the 1980′s, I never realized how much more fun plastic jewelry adds to the whole look. I had always just worn vintage with my typical silver, red, and black “hippie” jewelry.
I mean, these are really pretty, but they don’t complement a 1950′s dress like plastic does. They are better worn with a miniskirt and boots or a long 1970s-style hippie skirt and sandals. That’s great stuff, but it’s for another post, and frankly, I think it’s going to be a really long time before I stop wearing button earrings, now that I have reached this level of inspiration.
I will start with these leather pistol-and-stamen beauties that I won in eBay auction yesterday for $1. Don’t worry, leather may be a natural material, but I will work my way up to plastic.
And next time you try on a vintage dress but are wondering what it is lacking, go for the plastic beads.
Peg Bundy would be proud.
A lot of people have been asking “what is steampunk?” and that is a good question. Its this eye-catching offshoot of goth, involving young people who wear aviator goggles and saying things like “smashing, good sir!”. It seems to evoke the late 19th and early 20th century “mechanical revolution” – the train, clockwork, camera lenses, typewriters and early lab equipment (think the Nine Inch Nails video to “Closer”), and many other images related to early science.
Married to this mechanical world of early science is the fashion of the Victorian era – spats, top hats, coats with tails, long tight-fitting dresses, corsets, and bustles. The Renaissance Faires and cosplay ushered in a grand new era where we can wear costumes off-stage, so now steampunk is having events of their own, like the “Steampunk World’s Fair” where fans can show off their finery together and stroll about the hotel corridors with parasols and the trappings of the absinthe-drinking “flaneur”. OK, exhibits may not be the latest in radio or glass building technology, but it’s more fun to look at each other.
Although steampunk is mostly a visual arts-and-crafts movement, there seems to be music too and most of it is very enjoyable and swell. Dr. Steel is a vaudeville entertainer/rapper/mad scientist hellbent on taking over the world. Professor Gall has a brass band with banjos and foot-stomping carnival fun a la Tom Waites. Thomas Truax makes his own crazy instruments. And Vernian Process sounds like Dead Can Dance combined with carnival music. Many of the bands sound basically goth, (like Vernian Process) and Waites has had a good bit of influence.
Steampunk can also include literature, jewelry-making or even home decoration. It’s home-grown pop-culture, so it hasn’t reached the level or architecture. But if you own a 100-year-old-home, then get an old iron potbellied stove, you are in!
Now that we know what steampunk is, what is it not? It is not modernism. It is not “The Shock of the New” which has influenced American culture more and more throughout the 20th century, from the post WWI moment of “The Lost Generation” – Hemingway and Picasso and Miller, and Sartre when everything was stripped down to nothingness and minimalism. It is not the mysterious “olden days” before modernism, that long expanse of before machines when people meekly worked the farm with horses and plows. But it is the tail-end of that time. Steampunk is inspired by the exact pre-modern moment of transition, the rise out of agriculture to the steam machine but not quite the era of jazz and existentialism. With steampunk we are forced to re-examine the “olden days” as they really were in daily life, instead of dismissing them like so many dusty old photographs. Similarly, the era before our information age seems kind of fuzzy too in retrospect. What was life like in the 60′s and 70′s? Some people remember it and some do not. Everyone knows about Woodstock, but do we think about daily life when people only had phones on their desks and not computers? When people still wrote paper letters and used typewriters and local TV stations with their own Station IDs. We really don’t have the time to think about it anymore, and the collective amnesia of postmodern entertainment leaves us precious little time to speculate and dig up memories.
Steampunk is not hipster-ism, and yet it is, because really it just another flavor of goth, which is another flavor of punk, which appears at the end of that long line that began with that Lost Generation. But still the whole steampunk genre delivers this uncanny sense that the angry era of Post-WWI bohemianism just never happened, the whole jazz -> rock-and-roll -> hippie -> punk -> to hipster-ism path just disappears in a cloud of opium smoke. We have to learn a new pop cultural language and understand how they were thinking in 1890. People weren’t angry and rebellious. Nor is this the modernist “cool” lack of affect that has permeated since the 1940′s. In steampunk, people are affected! They are surprised and amazed, just as people were in the age of inventions. I say good sir! It’s marvelous and stupefying! The cinema and the circus is Dazzling!
Another question might be “why steampunk?” It’s because we are in an era much like that of 100 years ago. We are now emerging from another “turn of the century” with many new technological inventions – the “information revolution”. In fact, it’s uncanny how similar our era of computers, text messaging, digital photography and video is to the era of trains and film. Like the people of 1900, we are having constantly to react, to pay attention to the next new development so that we won’t be left behind, but we don’t have too much time to write modernist manifestos on it all. Other times, such as post-WWI modernism or the 1850′s with the French Revolutions, are characterized as being eras of political manifestos, when people were at the center and their thoughts and philosophies (and egos) were more important. Today we cannot even express a complete thought because it would be too much trouble to type it into a text message! Back in 1900 people were similarly distracted by the blindingly new light bulbs, or the cars and cinemas moving into the neighborhood. I think of that scene from “Hugo” where Melies films of trains are causing the audience to gasp in horror because they thought that a train was about to crash into them.
Ironically, the mechanical era of the turn-of-the-century was all about progress. Mass-production and assembly lines were supposed to make life better. Now, with steampunk we are disgusted with mass production, and the cheap faceless Chinese goods that it and global capitalism have led us to. With steampunk, we have adopted the the “maker” and “hacker” cultures, and are beginning to create items and machines of our own, which ironically look like they come from the Sears Robuck catalog of 1890.
In the mid-nineties I studied art history at the University of Chicago. The department there was experiencing many cultural changes. For one thing it was the era of “culture wars” or “political correctness”. This meant that I could no longer just look at a painting by Gainsborough and admire its prettiness or read a book by Bronte and admire its romanticism. Instead, I had to feel guilty because of all the oppression wielded by the people in the painting or the characters in the book. The other big movement in humanities at the university was an interest in the first “era of mechanical reproduction”. This was probably due in large part to the influence of the Art History Departments director and professor Joel Snyder, an enthusiast of early photography and all that was late 19th century.
Under Snyder, we took classes on art historical methodologies. We learned to rethink the way we had done art history and become more politically correct. We also learned a lot about art during the first “era of mechanical reproduction” and how it tied into our contemporary era – the mid-1990′s where the Internet was being established. We studied early photography and film, conceptualism with a heavy dose of Marcel Duchamp and the Dada movement, and “visual culture” – sort of a catch-all where we studied anything we could see and talked about post-structural ideas of language. We read the writers of the Frankfurt School – Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin. Benjamin in particular was a favorite of Joel’s. The most important text that year was Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Era of Mechanical Reproduction” which we discussed over and over again: the impact of the mechanical revolution and how it created mass culture and turned art on its head by casting aside the cult of the “original”. These ideas were further cultivated by others such as Miriam Hanson of the film department who was interested in early cinema and the heterogeneous nature of film programs in the 1890′s.
Studying at the university in the “grunge 1990s” and working as a cinema projectionist, I was memorized by all of the opportunities I had to get close to the first “gilded” 1890′s. It seemed so exotic and romantic not just to be “punk” or “modern”. OK, I gravitated towards the modernisms that I had always known and felt more comfortable with – Russian Constructivism such as Rodchenko or Vladimir Tatlin or Duchamp, and Le Corbusier, but in between the shock and starkness of so many glass-and-steel skyscrapers, I also saw glimpses of that earlier, sepia-toned more “steampunk” era which had preceded it, when things were still ornamental and heavy and people were not so dramatic. With Miriam Hansen I learned and read about the composite programs of early nickelodeons – combinations of vaudeville and magic and film. I read about Edouard Manet and the idea of the “flaneur” who strolled about Paris, drinking absinthe and observing the sordid sides of street life. These were my first introductions to steampunk. They, combined with being in Chicago, home of the World’s Faire, and the industrial landscape and early skyscrapers, led one to feel many parallels with the earlier “fin de siecle”.
All of this experience in Chicago was wonderful of course, but it was at the level of academia. No one else talked about the 19th century. Most people were still interested in modernist things – the 70s retro movements, grunge, or trip-hop, tails ends in a long line of pop cultural movements – punk, mod, goth, glam, industrial, grunge which had begun with modernism and had once been so shocking but were now kind of tired, (just as modernists had once thought the 1890′s to be), while we in the steampunk revival believe it to be the most exciting of new trends!
And now, almost 13 years later, the steampunk thing has really taken off in pop culture. And it has so much resonance. When I, urban citizen of our current information age, am sitting down reading the paper, then being pulled away by the need to check my smartphone or any number of bleeping things, I am reminded of the dizziness that it must have been to live in 1890 and walk down the street, amazed by photographic posters on the walls, turning quickly to avoid a streetcar, or the machinery of a steel building being put up by European immigrant workers, or blinking light bulbs, cursing the smoke and pollution and the factories just as we curse the emissions and global warming today, feeling agitated and thrilled by it all just as we are now, like there is something coming up over the horizon, anything but “cool”.
And now, since steampunk has hit on the level of mass culture, I am suddenly noticing it everywhere – from “The Velveteen Rabbit” which I read to my daughter at night, that innocent story which I heard as a kid, now noticing its references to clockwork animals. “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” is steampunk, with its images of early flight and motors and cars. Is “Mary Poppins” steampunk? Sure! “Little House on the Prairie”? Steampunk? (OK, well maybe I’m going too far. Ma didn’t use a sewing machine. Maybe “Little House” was just old-fashioned). And of course I am proud to say that my very own hometown of Edison, New Jersey, is steampunk! And I thought it was just a working class town with low taxes. But in fact it’s right near Menlo Park where Thomas Edison once sat up late at night just a few miles away, playing with electricity, completely unaware that he was not just an inventor, but would also one day he would be ancestor of an international fashion craze.
And what about the pre-modernist era before steampunk? That will be in the next essay…