Goodbye, Mr. Smiley, and thank you.

green satin dinner suit

Julia N. sent me a link to this, which is part of an auction being held in late October. An auction which includes, among other things, Jim Smiley's collection.

I guess I thought Mr. Smiley would always be there, and one day when I had some mad money, or achieved that twenty-six-inch waist, or otherwise reached some never-never moment of unattainable perfection, I would venture back to his shop and choose one perfect, lovely dress. Not that he only had one, mind you — he had plenty. But I suppose I delayed making my choice too long, and now it's too late, as he's retiring, closing his store, and auctioning his collection. (Yes, I know I could do phone or online bidding, but it's not the same as being in his shop.)

I never made it to his New York shop, although it seemed to me that I was always walking past his windows late at night, standing in the street making tissue-paper resolutions to visit on my next trip. I did manage to visit the store he had in New Orleans, back in 1999. I was just an (embargoed, need-to-know-only) eleven weeks pregnant at the time; it was hot and humid and August and I had run out of excuses (other than "generalized bitchiness") as to why I was sleeping so much and why I needed cold drinks every seven minutes, on average. Considering my crankiness was at Defcon Three, possibly Two, my traveling companions considered a quick trip to a vintage store a minor and easily-made appeasement.

Given that I could have spent several hours there, standing with my eyes closed just BREATHING DEEPLY in that atmosphere of dress heaven, the forty-five minutes or so I managed to grab was on the "quick" side. I didn't buy a Dior, or a Ceil Chapman, or a Claire McCardell, or anything like that — I bought two 1950s maternity smocks, from the decidedly un-couture house of Sears, in red bandanna and blue plaid. But I loved them and I wore them constantly, and they were some of the only maternity clothes I could look upon without revulsion after my forty-TWO weeks of pregancy were over.

Who knows — maybe someday the planets could have aligned and I would have gone in and bought something very like this, or maybe I would have the same paralysis I have had on every trip to (Smiley's polar opposite) Topshop, where I always end up wandering around aimlessly trying to find the One Perfect Thing and walk out empty-handed, or (worse) with a white plastic headband, or a yellow patent belt, or something similarly totemic and unwearable. Now we'll never know. But the next time I think "someday …" I'll stop and ask myself, "why not today?"

Some Commonly-Held Misconceptions about A Dress A Day

I thought it might be a good idea to answer some of the questions that have come up about me & this blog …

  • Q: Do you really make a dress every day?
  • A: Sadly, no. I try to (when moving house or traveling doesn't get in the way) post something about a dress or dresses every day. I wouldn't mind making a dress every day, I think. For a limited time, say, a month. In my other, purely theoretical, life as a conceptual artist, it would be wonderful to do a project that involved making a dress every day, and then exhibiting them all … interested gallery owners are encouraged to email me.

  • Q: I like to wear pants. I even wear jeans, sometimes. Do you hate me?

    A: No! I am not anti-pants. I do not hate pants. (Okay, I hate ugly pants, but doesn't everyone? And that hatred doesn't spill over onto ugly-pants WEARERS — that would be adding insult to injury). I personally prefer dresses, and I would like (Sam-I-Am stylee) to encourage people to TRY wearing dresses. "You do not like them. So you say. Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and you may, I say." If you try dresses and decide they are not for you, no big deal. Hey, it was worth a shot. I personally despise bananas, but I eat one about once a year just to make sure I still can't stand them. What if all of a sudden I started loving bananas, and missed out on years of banana-eating joy? It's worth a couple of bites of disgusting banana-flesh every once in a while, just to make sure.

    Seriously — if you're wearing something that makes you happy — because when you wear it you feel 100%, absolutely, totally YOU — that makes me happy, too. (If you need someone on the Internet to be happy about what you're wearing.)

  • Q: Are you trying to get people to wear dresses for JESUS? Bless you sister!

    A: I'm very sorry, but — no. I have received absolutely no directives from any higher power asking me to convince people to wear dresses, for "modesty's sake" or any other reason. I like dresses because they make me happy. I figure that I'll get to wear dresses in heaven (if there is any such place) but I don't believe wearing them is a requirement for getting there.

  • Q: You post all these retro styles! Do you really think that the 1950s were a golden age? The repression! The patriarchy! Do you think women should just be barefoot and pregnant?

    A: Whoa! I do believe it is possible to separate the aesthetic of a particular time from its philosophy or underlying cultural assumptions. People who enjoy Doric columns aren't necessarily advocating a return to the city-state, are they? In fact, I think that that more you wear a retro style in a modern way, the easier it becomes to unmoor it from its original setting. I'm also a big believer in rescuing traditional femininity from second-class status. If you wear clothes made for women and shaped for women, it can be a way to assert that you don't feel the need to conform to the male norm. If you do it proudly, unapologetically, in a put-up-or-shut-up manner, I think it's more of a poke in the eye to patriarchal assumptions than otherwise. But that's just my (convenient) opinion, and of course it's impossible to say where the influence of patriarchal culture begins and ends. But (short answer) no: I'm not an advocate for what passes for "traditional" family structure of male breadwinner/female housewife. If it works for you, fine, but I'm not holding it up as a norm, even though some people associate that with the kinds of dresses I like.

  • Q: You haven't answered my comment/email/telepathic communication!

    A: I'm so sorry! Try again. Sometimes I get overwhelmed and have to declare an email DMZ. If you think I've forgotten you, I haven't. Probably. I just haven't gotten back to you yet. Feel free to nag. I respond well to nagging. I respond well to nagging and guilt. I respond well to nagging, guilt, and offers of patterns and fabric.

  • Q: Weren't you in a touring company of Starlight Express?

    A: No — I don't know where these rumors get started. I certainly like to roller-skate, but not professionally.

  • Q: Will you make me a wedding dress/prom dress/ren-faire costume/a dress exactly like the one you posted today?

    A: I wish I could, but I can't. Sewing isn't my job; it's my hobby, and nothing kills a hobby faster than doing it for money. Not to mention that every time I've sewn for someone else it's ended in tears, if not just short of bitter recriminations. Trying to make a flat piece of fabric fit two people's imaginations is beyond me. I can barely do one!
    That said, lots of people do happily do custom sewing, and you can find a few of them here. (If you do custom sewing and want to be put on my referral list, please email me. Be sure to let me know WHERE you are, and if you also do work remotely/online/through the mail.)

  • Q: Isn't this list getting really long? Where's my lovely dress picture for today?

    A: Here you go:

    ebay item 180030147959

    Mmmm, autumn roses! Click on the image to go to the eBay auction. (Thanks, Lisa!)

… and we're back. With a Duro.

Beijing silk Duro
Isn't this just lovely? Ashley sent it to me. She bought the fabric in Beijing, and as you all know I heartily recommend buying fabric in China. I like the black banding, too, and I'm very glad to see it working so well as I've pretty much/nearly/more or less determined (subject to change) that the next Duro I make will have black banding, as well.

I was hoping to have a long meaty post today (or, rather, yesterday) but:

— I still have no internet access at the new place, although the lovely, lovely Garrett at has moved heaven and earth and the local telco to get it for me on Wednesday. We hope. Also, I have twenty-three unpacked boxes just marked "FILES" which makes me alternately want to dig right in for an exhilarating sorting session, or, conversely, just set them all on fire.

— I'm currently in a hotel in Ann Arbor, for reasons too banal to explain. (Thus the internetting.)

— I have the kind of head cold where you seriously consider DIY decapitation, because, really, higher brain function is overrated if it comes with a runny nose as well.

I think we might be up to full posting speed here at A Dress A Day by Thursday, maybe. Depends on how long it takes to get the turbines up again, the trajectory of the head cold and the availability of the sweet, sweet Internet, and whether the people in the next room over EVER TURN OFF THE TV, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

Duro Live Action Shots!

If you want to see a never-posted-before Duro dress of mine on video, go here. It's about a minute or so from the end — don't worry, the whole thing is safe for all eyeballs.

You should know me when you see the dress, but, if not, I'm the wildly gesturing (and possibly just a teeensy bit overly-didactic) woman in green at the podium, making Jimmy Wales smile. (Unless Nightline did some fancy editing.)

Thanks to Jimbo for the heads-up!

It's only superstition …

ebay item 110031965695

Lisa sent me this gorgeous, slightly obscene dress (click on the picture to go to the eBay listing). Notice, please, that the design is of tiny lit cigarettes! Why is it that the iconography of things that are bad for you, like smoking and alcohol, is so alluring? When I was in London I saw a woman in a lovely 40s peplum dress that also had a cigarette pattern; I asked her if it were vintage although of course it was obvious. Not that I don't think that a modern rockabilly dress with a pattern of little lit cigarettes wouldn't sell out in the time it took the web page to reload …

But I wasn't going to post about little lit cigarettes today, I was going to tell you about some funny dress superstitions I found while looking up something completely different … here's a few of my favorites, so far:

If you tear your dress under the arm there will soon be a wedding.

If your dress is torn by a bramble, someone envies you.

If a stick catches in your dress while you are walking, you will meet a new beau.

If mud splashes on your white dress, someone is speaking ill of you.

It is bad luck to let anyone wear your new dress before you do. (How convenient!)

Never mend your dress while you’re wearing it; you will become poor, or people will speak maliciously about you.

It is considered lucky to tear a new dress before it is washed. (By whom?)

If you wear a new dress for the first time and it rains, it will rain every time you put it on.

Anyone have other ones?

Also — I may not have internet access until Monday (I know! The withdrawal will kill me!) so posting frequency may be somewhat less than once per day. But I did add the link to Secret Lives #7 over there on the right …

Secret Lives of Dresses Vol. 8

ebay item 120028694936
There are lots of ways for a dress to die. The sudden, prime-of-life death: Somebody holding a cherry popsicle walks into you, and you're a goner. You get caught in the broken spoke of a bicycle wheel, feel that triangular tear; it's all over. Or you can die of old age: you get worn and worn and worn again and then one day you come out of the washer more fading and worn spots than good whole cloth, and you get torn up for rags.

Sometimes, though, you just go into a kind of limbo. A half-death. Somebody changed sizes, and it wasn't you, so you get pushed further and further back in the closet, so much so that you can't even really tell the difference between the door being open and the door being shut anymore, and you just … doze. Sometimes for a long time. Sometimes for years. Longer than you think you have, anyway.

And then (if your story is like mine), the door opens again, and not only does it open, you come out. Everything comes out! The dresses and the hats and the suits and the sweaters, and the moths in the sweaters, and the dust! Dust everywhere! You're glad you're not a dark dress, because the dark dresses' shoulders really show the dust.

It's hard, waking up again. Coming alive again. When you're being worn, being worn regularly, it's like the aliveness of the body you're on seeps into you, and keeps you going when you're on the hanger. But it can seep right out again, and after so long without being worn, the sparks of aliveness get further and further apart, like firefly flashes, there in the dark closet.

So there we all were, hauled out of the closet half-dead, and hanging on a rack in the middle of the room. Everything was laid out where it shoudn't have been — all her underthings, or at least the nicest slips, on the bed, with her gloves and her purses, and all her dressing table things on the bureau, laid out in rows, not like they would be on her dressing table at all (that was gone, I don't know where it went). All her shoes on the floor, lined up in rows like a class picture. The closet door was open and I could see it was empty; everything was out in the open. Everything looked so much duller than I remembered. Older.

There were women moving around, fussing and sorting and chatting. None of them were wearing dresses. They were wearing soft knit pants, and white tennis shoes, and long knit shirts that came down well past their hips. They all had short sleeves, and lots of them had things written on their shirts. I remember one said "COLORADO", but I didn't think that could be her name. Over the shirts some of them wore little half aprons, but they weren't real aprons. They were heavy canvas, and all one color — not pretty at all.

I'm not sure how long I was hanging there before I started noticing all this; it could have been a day, maybe longer, before things stopped being only light and color and sound and started being things I mostly recognized, however strange. I do know that when I finally started paying attention, it was early morning. Very early, with light coming in at that angle that means dawn wasn't so very long ago, but the women were energetic. They all had white paper cups, very large, with shiny white lids that they drank through. It smelled just like coffee, but the cups were huge.

Pretty soon, though, one of the women said "Oh, Lord, here they come!" and the other women gave that kind of groaning laugh when you're half-dreading, half-anticipating something. I remember I used to hear it when I was still being worn, and she had the girls over for bridge and there was just time to play one last hand before they had to meet the kids after school. That kind of laugh.

All of a sudden the house was full of people! Mostly women, but also men. The men were in white or black tennis shoes, but leather, not canvas, and shorts, and more T-shirts with things written on them. The women were mostly in pants or shorts, too. Dungaree shorts! And always, always sneakers, or those thong sandals that I'd only ever seen on the beach. And everybody was so big! Not just tall, but round, too. They were all picking up her things, and carrying them off. Armloads of them, sometimes. One man walked through the room with all her records, the Perry Como and the Rosemary Clooney and all the old 78s — just everything. He could barely carry them all. He just took a look around at all her underthings there on the bed, laid out like cold cuts, and asked one of the aprons, "Any tools?" What was he going to do to those records that he needed tools? I didn't hear the answer, though, because I got grabbed up.

She had me by the shoulders and was flipping me this way and that. I don't think there was an inch of me that didn't get touched, or pulled, or held up to the light. I barely got a glimpse of her, what with all the somersaults of being turned inside out and back right side out again, and then I was squished between a wool coat I didn't remember and that plaid day dress that always got put back in the closet because she pulled across the shoulders, and we were headed towards the front door.

Slam! One of the apron-ladies moved her big white paper cup aside just in time, and there we all were in a pile on a table, and the apron lady said, "Let me see … two dresses, a coat, five handkerchiefs, and four books — how about twenty-five?"

"Twenty-five if I can take that box of zippers and things over there, too …"

"Oh, sure, honey, I think we priced that whole kit and kaboodle at three dollars. I can give you that."

And then we were all bundled up together, the coat and the plaid dress and the zippers and the books and me, and went right out the door.

All this time, I hadn't seen her anywhere, I mean the other her, the one that used to wear me. I didn't really expect to, anyway, there was an emptiness around, despite her things being everywhere. In fact, all her things being there made her being gone more obvious, if you know what I mean.

Next thing I knew I was spread across a different bed.

"And look at this one! The pockets!" she was saying, to the man in the room. He looked a bit bored, and it took me a minute to realize that she was talking about me. No one had ever mentioned my pockets before, and certainly not to a man.

I think it got a bit too much for me then, and I don't remember much else until I felt the nice warm massage of the iron over me. I felt just-washed — I must have been just washed — and I was being ironed, which, truly, is just the best feeling. You can be all jangly and cross-grained and overwhelmed but the iron just makes it all go away, and there you are fresh and smooth again. It's better than anything.

Then she put me on. I was being worn again! It was different than I remembered; it's hard to explain because it ought to be the same, being worn, but of course even though anyone who can fit inside you ought to feel mostly the same, it's still different. The breathing is different and the moving is different, and the hands in the pockets are different hands, and so even though it is almost the same, it's just not quite.

Funnily enough, though, it was the wearing that was the most familiar, because everything else is so different! It's almost like a different planet. I've never seen her touch a vacuum cleaner, for instance, and there's a machine that washes the dishes, but
more than half the time the man feeds it, not her. She spends most of her days with this thing that looks like a teeny television attached to some kind of typewriter — hours and hours staring at it and typing, but the paper doesn't come out of it, but out of another box in a different place, and even then she does about ten times as much typing as ever shows up on paper, as far as I can tell. And she talks on two different phones, neither of which are connected to anything. Just floating out there in the air! She walks all over the place with them, and sometimes, she even answers one in the car, with a little earpiece, like a hearing aid, only smaller. And also in the car, she has a little shiny white box, and it connects to the radio, although I wish it wouldn't. I mean — it's just not music, that's all. And even though I think I understand the words "roller" and "boogie", they make no sense put together, and I certainly don't know why they have to be followed by a word I didn't think could be said on the radio! And weirdest of all, the television (which is color, by the way) has a bar-thing you can point at it, about the size of a hairbrush, and it changes the channels and even freezes it! And when you come back from getting ice cream you can make it start again. Of course, she's mostly watching firefighters use foul language and misbehave, which I don't understand at all. She doesn't use that language herself (or at least I haven't heard her) but the music and the television are full of words I barely knew existed, before.

It's odd being alive again, but I'm not upset about it. I like being worn, of course, and I'm sure I'll get used to that … language in time. The only sad thing is that it's getting harder and harder to remember how it felt to be worn by the other one, the one so long ago. I can't even remember her name. I think it was Elaine, but I can't be sure, and the coat and the plaid dress don't know. I think they weren't ever worn as much as me, so their memories are even fainter. We stopped talking about it.

Almost all the other dresses in her closet are like me, revived Rip Van Winkles. Some of them like to talk about her behind her back. They don't like that she doesn't wear gloves, or hats, and they hate being worn with sneakers. They talk about their old owners, but I think a lot of it is just lint — they can't all have been worn to balls and important luncheons of the Women's Club and so forth. I keep myself to myself, mostly. I'm quiet. I'm just happy to be awake again. I like seeing the closet door open. I don't even care about the sneakers.

Ahead of the (bust) curve

Spring 07 Sari Gueron

Is it just me, or is the neckline on this Sari Gueron dress for Spring 07 very much like the one I was obsessed with back in April?

Advance 9440

It's very close, no? Which is good, because I really am obsessed with bust shaping devices other than the dart, including gathers. I am looking for a lot of gathers for next Spring, so I'll probably make the Advance pattern above again, probably in gingham to really emphasize the curving effect.

I can't believe we've barely had a couple of days of sixty-degree weather here in Chicago, but I'm already thinking about next summer's dresses! Even though I love winter dresses, summer is when you can really go nuts with the light crisp airy cottons and featherweight silks … This winter I think I'm limiting myself to half-a-dozen Duroesque dresses to take me through to next March (one of the ones planned is a charcoal gray heavy silk with orange banding) and a couple of high-waisted skirts to wear with my ever-growing collection of cardigan sweaters. Add tights and boots (and maybe a couple of longer, waist-belted cardigans to wear over the Duros, since little 1950s cardigans don't do so well over the bell sleeves) and you're done!

Anyway, back to the Sari dress above … I love the top and the bottom, but she seems to have left out the middle … add a midriff band & belt and lengthen the skirt, and that would be one kickass dress, right?