TIlda Swinton, The Hotness

Tilda Swinton poses in a dark suit and sweater against a dark gray and black background. Her left hand is on her hip and the other is up by her right shoulder, against the wall.

This post’s title says it all.



Semester’s Start Takes Me By Surprise, Again

Mimi Thi Nguyen stands in front of a tomatillo plant and fence in her backyard. It is late afternoon, and she holds some tomatoes in one hand. She is wearing a green and black dress from the 1980s, a black leather belt, and black leather studded boots.

My semester began this last Monday, and although I’m on teaching leave, I’m still working — there are all-day faculty meetings, for instance, as well as the usual committee service (in my case, for two programs because of my split appointment) and student mentoring on top of research and writing, which are an academic’s bread and butter. This includes the final stretch on my revisions to my manuscript, a co-edited collection on Southeast Asian/American studies, and my forthcoming Signs essay called “The Biopower of Beauty: Humanitarian Imperialisms and Global Feminisms in an Age of Terror,” which is the foundation for my second book (and which I’ve given as a work-in-progress in many places kind enough to invite me to do so). Which is to say that I’m swamped once again, and may be posting irregularly, or much more briefly, here.

In the photograph above, I’m standing in my garden after the first of those all-day faculty meetings in a green and navy dress (from an ’80s time warp) and black leather belt, both given to me by my very best friend Iraya Robles for a belated birthday present. (The pockets are huge. I can totally put all the tomatillos and tomatoes I harvest semi-daily in them.) There’s lots more where this dress came from in Iraya’s vintage-packed apartment (she is an underground stylist as well as an above-ground vintage dealer, so her collection is amazing), and that came home with me in my suitcase — a mid-calf pink leather skirt, a sheer yellow ’70s ruffled blouse, a shrunken turquoise cardigan sweater, and dark blue jelly wedges, for instance. Spending time with Iraya, one of the most incredibly creative and intellectually curious persons I know, reminds me that our friendship over the last twenty years (she met me when I was a snarling, semi-feral punk rock anarchist in a tattered black uniform) has shaped who I am in innumerable, and invaluable, ways.

I also reconnected on my last trip to the Bay Area with filmmaker and writer Arwen Curry, one of my favorite people from that era in my life during which I spent half my time in “doing” graduate school, and the other half hanging out at the Maximumrocknroll house (green-taping the record collection, preparing for New Issue Day, reviewing zines, making dinner and hatching plans, whatever). Arwen was a coordinator at the magazine at the time, and we once spent long hours discussing the place of punk rock in our lives, especially how it informed, and at times constrained, our intellectual trajectories, creative impulses and political hopes. (And goofier enterprises, like the time we tried to start a punk rock Dungeons & Dragons game.) These questions are still with me, even now; so when Arwen and I met up in the Mission for a long lunch, we circled back to them as we took stock of what we’d done since we last saw each other. For an incredibly detailed account of this meeting of the minds, check out Arwen’s most recent online column at Maximumrocknroll. (Among other things, Arwen is an associate producer for Regarding Susan Sontag, as well as producing and directing a documentary about the amazing fantasy and science fiction author Ursula K. LeGuin, which frankly blows my mind. You can read an interview with Arwen about this second project at The Rejectionist.)

It was wonderful to spend time with both Iraya and Arwen, who together helped me to approach this coming semester’s work roster with these reminders: that this sort of work can be creative and sustain us in powerful ways, but also that work can just be a job, and not the whole world. I need to learn better how to live with, and in, this tension.



About Face (Burcu Buyukunal)

A headshot of a woman with a piece of jewelry --a single wrought wire-- worn around her head and face.

A headshot of a woman with a piece of jewelry --a single wrought wire-- worn around her head and face.

I’m a little fascinated by these subtle, face-altering jewelry pieces by Turkish designer Burcu Buyukunal. I do often like work that allows us to consider the effects of disrupting the certainty of the face — whether for communicating (“face-to-face”), for truth-telling (“tell me to my face”), for identifying (“I need to see your face to make a positive ID”), or for simply “making beautiful.”

(Found at I’M REVOLTING, photos by Arthur Hash)



Fashion Commerce and Community, We the People Fashion Collective

There’s certainly no shortage of women’s clothing boutiques in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, but Vera Ng’s We the People (156 Stanton, at Suffolk) is unique because its reason for being isn’t simply to sell clothes. “Ng created We the People as a safe haven for emerging designers. Much more than a boutique, the space acts as a consultancy, communal clubhouse, and showroom, all in one.” To that end, We the People has been an important launching pad for new and mostly local designers, as well as a point of knowledge transfer among designers about where to find the best zippers, which new sewing room has just opened, etc. Such information is exchanged over dinners hosted by Vera. How cool is that?

I was introduced to Vera and her lovely store yesterday afternoon while killing time waiting for a table at Clinton Street Bakery with my good friend Thuy Linh (whose forthcoming book is, in part, about the social and political economic histories that led to the opening of Asian-run boutiques like Vera’s). While I waited for Thuy Linh to try on an EKG  tank top by LauraLou (on sale for $26.60), Vera and I talked about how business has been since they opened in May and also about the Made in Midtown project which, it seems to me, the community-based mission of We the People is so closely aligned. While Vera admits business has been a little slow, We the People has already gotten wonderful press in a number of blogs including New York Magazine’s The Cut, Daily Candy, and Racked so she has reason to be optimistic. (Unlike these other sites, Threadbared is not in the habit of profiling stores but Vera’s mission is so wonderful that I had to do a small post about it.)

By the way, if you dash into We the People while waiting for your table at Clinton Street Bakery or any other nearby restaurant, watch your time. The 30 minute wait went by way too fast while we were chatting with Vera and pawing at the amazing clothes on stock and so we lost our table. Blast.



LINKAGE: “‘Not Our Demographic’: American Apparel Denies My Existence”

This Gawker-made collage features images of long-haired and half-clad models from American Apparel advertisements.

I am in my early 20’s. I will wear stupid pants. So will just about everyone else who is my age. Stupid pants are an important part of human development. By not catering to the enormous market of plus-sized/fat/whatever young people, American Apparel, the INDUSTRY LEADER in stupid pants (not to mention stupid shirts, stupid shorts and stupid nipple-baring leotard things) is missing out on a lot of money.

What irks me more than their hard-headed stupidity, however, is this insistence that fat people are not “part of their demographic.” What does that even mean? That fat people can’t be hipsters? Trust me, fat people are just as capable of being vapid, superficial and pretentious as any thin person. We can forgo bathing, smoke lots of cigarettes and dress like hobos. I’m verging on morbidly obese (according to the oh-so-legit BMI scale), and I had an ironic “hobos and Mormons”-themed 18th birthday party. Two percent of my ample MacBook Pro harddrive space is taken up by the entire discography and an extensive bootleg collection of Manchester indie gods the Fall. I complain on a regular basis about the negative turn country music took in the 1980’s. I dressed up as Jean-Luc Godard for French class when I was 15 years old. Pretentious and superficial? I’ve been there and back again.

This amazingly awe-inspiring excerpt is from “‘Not Our Demographic’: American Apparel Denies My Existence,” by Lillian Behrendt, who blogs at My Unacceptable Body: A Fat Acceptance Blog. (Hat tip to The Rejectionist.) For the recent Gawker investigations into American Apparel’s hiring practices and standards for employment (including lists of banned garments and shoes), see here for internal e-mails and contracts discussing these. We’d like to add, as Renata Espinosa points out, that many retailers have some version of a dress code (and even a corporeal one) for their employees, and that this is a broader problem of sartorial profiling.



Bad News Threadbared

I’m completely slammed for the next few weeks before I leave for a conference in London at the end of June. I do have some posts I want to write (or finish), but I’m taking a brief break for the next week (probably). In the meanwhile, here are some images of the badass Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley) from the 1976 Bad News Bears (currently viewable in ten-minute segments on YouTube) my fashion inspiration for this first part of summer. All I want to wear is muscle tees, high-waisted bell bottoms, motorcycle boots, and aviators, terrorizing local parents and recruiting their misfit children.



Head Case: Philip Treacy

I generally don’t wear hats. I rarely use hair pins or barrettes. I mostly wear my hair down and often without hair products. But I’d change my unadorned head policy for this Philip Treacy sculptural headpiece which makes me all kinds of happy.

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Work Wear: Five-Day Outfits and “Dykes and Their Hair”

Both Minh-Ha and I are neck-deep in manuscript writing, so while there are some things I’d love to write about (the new prison memoir with the sartorial title Orange Is The New Black, for instance), I’ve got to concentrate on Barthes’ Camera Lucida, Jennifer Gonzalez’s Subject to Display: Reframing Race in Contemporary Installation Art, and ao dai calendars. (I promise it will someday make sense.) So, for our momentous 200th post, I’m doing the rare outfit post!

Taken in the women's bathroom at the public library after a long day's work.

I’ve been wearing this outfit for the last five days, working in the garden and writing at the library. (I changed my clothes today, though I still look like an ’80s throwback. And even though she’s keeping the same hours as me, I’m betting Minh-Ha is not wearing the same thing day after day…) You can’t see my red cowboy boots with the bas relief of guachos roping a calf in this photograph, purchased in 2003 at the Ashby BART Flea Market with former Maximumrocknroll coordinator and filmmaker Arwen Curry, but rest assured these are awesome. My Lux black jeans are an Urban Outfitters buy from 2004; about a month after I bought these in Ann Arbor during my postdoctoral stint (the UO was across the street from my office!), I slipped on some ice walking to campus from my house and ripped a big hole from seam to seam. You can sort of see my carabiner, which carries my keys, stuffed into my right pocket.

I bought this black leather two-row studded belt in 1993, I think, after a year of trying to resist this punk rock staple of “the uniform.” This means that my belt is almost as old as my undergraduate students! There’s also a peek of a gray ribbed tank top I bought at a Gap outlet in Tuscola during an outing with friends to tiny Arcola’s El Taco Tako (also home to the recently closed Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum), that also included a visit to a giant barn dubbed Amishland and in which we found that all the other visitors –all three of them– were also Asian. And, that apparently you can buy a cozy for any appliance you can name (like a microwave)! The sweatshirt I bought last year from Urban Outfitters during one of those periods of depressive online shopping, which happens to me quite a lot here in the cornfields. It’s super-soft and the sleeves extra-long, which is nice for keeping my hands warm while typing or blotting my eyes when I’m so allergic that tears are streaming down my face. The scarf is one I’d had since high school, let’s say 1991, junior year.

I had my girlfriend cut my hair, which had been for several years long, long, and long, with a thick fringe of bangs. I’ve done hair this short before, and always I like to think that I look like a teen-aged skater from the 1980s classics Thrashin’ or Gleaming the Cube (which even has a post-Vietnam War storyline, with refugee intrigue!). I was gratified last week when I stepped into the office of a friend-colleague, the stylish and smart J.R., who greeted me with, “You have my hair from 1987! Where’s your skateboard?”

Hair is of course a hugely significant metaphor and medium for “reading” race, nation (the premise that you can tell someone is “fresh off the boat” by the cut of their hair), gender, and sexuality, and in the past I’ve written about my hair in particular quite a lot. I’m not going to do that now, except to note that yes, I do realize that I am now wearing one of a handful of the most recognizable contemporary forms of “dyke hair,” and yes, it is something of a relief to not have to wash my old head of hair or feel the echo of a ponytail on my scalp. Instead, I’ll just point to the zine Dykes and Their Hair, by Teresa Chun-Wen Cheng and available for download from The Queer Zine Archive Project, which offers some succinct but smart commentary on how so many forms of “dyke hair” are racialized (these depend on not having super-curly hair, for instance) and a good chuckle (or more).

As Cheng observes, “The following ‘exhibit’ showcases normalized dyke hair styles that sometimes act as very public hints into reading someone’s sexuality (do so at your own risk. heh.). […] Thing is, only certain hair styles have had the privilege of making it into the dyke category. Because these particular hair styles have been normalized and become signs, the dykes and the queers who cannot and/or choose not to wear the styles become invisible even within their own communities.”



I See Pyramids in Your Eyes

I’m slammed this week, and though I do have some real posts around here somewhere, I’m going with this amazing eBay auction for an original copy (smilingly well aware of all the tensions holding those two terms together) of Madonna’s amazing jacket from 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan, still her best performance on film to date. Liz from No Good For Me had been shaking her digital fist at the fates that robbed her of the opportunity to purchase this replica –the limited-time offer discovered while “flipping” through back issues of Spin, for just $54.95! — when a reader offered to sell it to her for five million, and then put it on eBay instead.

Tragically, it’s a size L, which is too big for me. But this does make think that perhaps if I want it enough, the Internetz will offer up to me another sartorial miracle. In the meanwhile, those of you who’ve been desperately searching for this jacket, the bidding war is on!

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Time Travel Through A Magic Box with the Fake Sartorialist

The Fake Sartorialist put Minh-Ha and I into his Magic Box and voila — we are Fake Sartorialized, complete with a small story about our time-traveling research forays! Minh-Ha of course wrote about the dust-up between the Sartorialist and the Fake Sartorialist some weeks ago (as she brilliantly points out, “the ‘fake’ in the Fake Sartorialist stands for ‘the little guy’ against the cultural and social giants that the Sartorialist aligns himself with and represents. Fakeness sets right and secures the democratic socioeconomic relations the Internet is supposed to foment”). Having enjoyed his work, I jumped at the chance to be rendered otherwise when I noticed that he’s inviting submissions. (You can send a photograph to get transformed too!)

I’m sure Minh-Ha will have smart things to say about the “democraticization of fashion” here (gushing on the phone about the story’s setting –hanging out with Alexander Graham Bell– Minh-Ha says, “It’s great that we’re hanging out with someone who invented a communication technology!”), but I’m still at the “Yippeee!” phase (in real life I would totally wear that outfit, with the brocade and the tweed and the mushroom-turned-inside-out hat all at once).  Thank you, Eduardo!