It seems unfair that as you get older, and more confident and secure about your own personal style, your options diminish with each passing empowering year. Now that I'm no longer clueless and ready to really feel my oats fashion-wise, I find I have to be more cautious than ever. There are several reasons for this, and only one of them has to do with my thighs.
I hate the word 'tacky.' All my life I've heard this put-down, and as far as I can make out, it basically just means "something I wouldn't do." Well, who asked you?
Nothing says “I live in a fantasy world of my own making” quite so well as a wardrobe full of sarong-like dresses, suitable mostly for leaning seductively against palm trees. The fact that I rarely sidle up to palm trees, even platonically, hasn’t prevented me from amassing a Polynesian panoply worthy of Dorothy Lamour. My closet looks like it belongs to a Jungle Princess or a hostess in a tiki bar rather than to a woman with a 9-5 office job. (However, if I ever get a job as either a Jungle Princess or a hostess in a tiki bar I’ll be all set.)
Why all the frond-fondling finery when the closest I ever get to a luau is briskly walking by the Hawaiian Tropic Zone restaurant near Times Sqaure? Simple, because rockin' tropic frocks walks that fine line between glamour and costume, allowing one to inject much—needed exoticism into everyday humdrummery. Dressing like a showgirl, trapeze artist, or coming to work in a peignoir is generally frowned upon, so we dames must look elsewhere for garb befitting our imagination and our curves. When done well, dresses with giant blossoms and hibiscuses (hibiscusi?) bring a uniquely festive glamour to clothes. But the prints must be done well, which is why I’m obsessed with vintage Hawaiian and Pan-Asian clothes.
Starting in the 1930’s, Hawaiian prints and tropical styling became a go-to get-up for vintage vixens. Dorothy Lamour made a big splash in the 1938 movie Jungle Princess, single-handedly adding the word “sarong” to Americans’ vocabulary. (Though it wasn’t exactly her hand that did it.) The Forties brought Pearl Harbor and our boys stationed in tropical locales far and wide. Eventually Hawaii became the 50th state and vacationers’ suitcases came back overstuffed with shirts and muumuus that seemed like such good ideas back on Waikiki.
Hawaiian prints, like Hawaii itself, are an accessible exotic. The hula (and hula hoops, for that matter) is a perfectly innocent and acceptable form of hip-rolling. Wiggling and grinding can be illicit, but slap on a grass skirt and all of a sudden it’s kinda cute, and even elegant. Wearing beautiful Polynesian and Hawaiian-ish prints is a non-threatening, festive kind of exoticism. Plus, they’re easy and fun to wear! Form-fitting sundresses and cheongsams are extremely figure-flattering no matter what figure you’re trying to flatter, and muumuus are extremely bloat-friendly.
I’ve gotten into collecting dresses made by Alfred Shaheen, especially his Surf ‘n Sand line. Yes, it's another huge money suck for me (see my post on ebaying). But they’re just so darn Dorothy Lamourthy, twirly, and drinks with umbrellas-tastic! Perfect for dames who want a down-to-earth exotic, fun, rockabilly look that isn’t retro-ying-too-hard.
Hi, I’m Dixie and I’m an ebayaholic. (Hi Dixie!) No, that’s not true. I’m not addicted so much as co-dependent. Ebay is more like having a dysfunctional relationship with a boyfriend. When it works it’s really great, and when it doesn’t, it sucks the life right out of me. But just like the Skinnerian rat that I am, the intermittent good times keep me pressing the lever even more, hooked as I am on trying to re-create those sporadic highs.
I’m not necessarily an every day bidder, but I am close to being an every day searcher. That’s the beauty of ebay; every whim, every personal, unique combination of search terms (“reindeer skirt 40’s”) can deliver results. How man things in life have the potential of giving you, at the push of a button, what you uniquely, bizarrely crave? I love the serendipity of flea markets and thrift store trawling, but the rewards of physical world vintage hunting and gathering can be few and far between. But with ebay, there’s not only a better chance of getting the arcane thing you think you want (“carnival chalkware cowgirl”) but it allows you to discover and excavate an endless parade of fresh whims. Whether you know the exist in the world, or just wonder if the do, ebay is there to help you manifest ever nutty materialist pang. Chanel bird belt? Gucci red patent 8? Squirrel dress L? Rhinestone bombshell spider fringe? I’ve done them all.
And of course, no transient search combo ever need die. There’s always the ever-helpful “save this search” device to ensure your whim 3 months ago is resurrected when, against all odds, a taxidermied two-headed duckling finally does come up for auction.
Yessir, ebay is a bitch goddess. She giveth, and she taketh (money) away. Maybe about 30% of my acquisitions aren’t total wastes of money. (For example, ew of the clothes I score ever really fit.) But those special items…they keep me coming back for more.
In Britain, preschool girls can learn to strip with their very own Peekaboo Pole-Dancing Kits – complete with kiddie garter belts and play money. I shit you NOT. On both sides of the pond, first-graders can buy shirts emblazoned with slogans like "So many boys, so little time."
One of the reasons I wanted to write the book THE LOST ART OF BEING A DAME is the paucity of bona fide dames around these days. This is particularly true when I look at a lot of young women. I hope I don’t sound priggish when I say a lot of ‘em look like prostitutes. Those who know me are now thinking to themselves, “But Dixie, aren’t you normally a fan of all that’s tramp-y?” Well yes, because I am a fan of style; women of ill repute, and those who don’t give a flying fig about their repute, often dress more creatively, whimsically, and goddess-y than those of with shiny reputes.
But today’s faux-litas and ho-litas haven’t any style. (And a lot of them haven’t any panties either.) These tabloid-androids and their fans aren’t being creative, whimsical, or reveling in their divine feminine awesomeness. They seem to mistake flaunting their bodies with celebrating their bodies. But I doubt they’re even enjoying their bodies much; with so much pressure to be unrealistically skinny and simultaneously voluptuous, girls are striving for Barbie bodies and not much else. Today too many girls are single-mindedly pursuing a one-dimensional appeal that has nothing to do with substance or style.
In her new book, THE LOLITA EFFECT, Professor Gigi Durham criticizes the damaging representations of female sexuality today. She shines a bright light on the plethora of products aimed at very young girls, prepping them for the cradle-to-grave inadequacy and consumerism.
Neither Dr. Durham or myself are anti-sex. But selling sexuality to very young girls is actually anti-sex. It’s inauthentic, unhealthy, and Durham and I believe we have a responsibility as adults and shouldn’t abandon our little girls to navigate this territory on their own.
This just in: Apparently the most competitive domain name up for auction this week is (sigh): breastenlargementhypnosis.com.
Seth Godin sees this as horrible because of the trickery involved bilking hopeful girls and women. But I am horrified -- well, sad really -- that there is such a demand for bigger breasts. Again, I don't see
Do any of y'all remember Mark Eden? I used to tear out his ads when I was 9 or 10 and I came so close to sending away for his bosom boosting kits back in the '70's. (WHY is a fourth-grader reading Cosmo and tearing out as for bust-enhancing devices you ask?
After all these years I was intrigued to finally see what the thing actually looks like. So, it turns out it's not a magic pump or a magic cream at all. Just a pink piece of shit. Still, it is rather vagina dentata-ish...
Hmmm, I'd like to some-orafice-dentata that Mark Eden if I ever meet him in a dark alley. Mark Eden, you've been warned!
Hey! You know what's really, really great about being a dame? You're not a bimbo, that's what.
For reasons I don't fully comprehend, and that make me want to smack somebody up 'side the head, there's this new popular online game for girls called Miss Bimbo.
“Stop at nothing to become the reigning bimbo!” So exhorts the game where girls try to make their avatars into the biggest bimbos "across the globe." Miss Bimbo is popular in the UK, with about 200,00 players, "mostly girls ages nine to 16” (mostly girls?) who are required to maintain their characters' weights with pills and crash diets. Plastic surgery isn’t mandatory, but it is encouraged.
This this right here, that's the confidence, self-reliance, sexiness and substance of a dame. And see that way, way, way over there. That's this horrible game. It might be funny as satire, except that these tweens are not playing with irony. I doubt its creators are all that ironic either. They are business people who saw a need and filled it.
What I want to do is wipe out that need.
I grew up watching and being inspired by the women I saw in those old black and white 30's and 40's movies. Women like Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy, Paulette Goddard, Rosalind Russell, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow -- all dames. Dames were self-reliant, they were funny, they were straight-forward (though they could bend the truth when necessary), they were smart, they were sexy, and they didn't take themselves too seriously.
Today, most of the women populating popular culture are vapid at best, and stark-raving nuts at worst. They're largely dumb, self-obsessed, substance abusing, promiscuous, lacking in self-respect and underwear. In fact, their stock in trade is actually BEING dumb, crazy, and promiscuous. (If you think I'm wrong, ask yourself: Right now, in 2008, what is Britney famous for? What is Lindsay famous for? What is Paris famous for?)
I miss dames. I want to see more dames. And I want to see more dame-ness in myself. When confronted with a situation or problem, I like to ask, "What would Myrna do?" When I find myself acting coy or self-abnegating or coquettish or simply "less-than," I confront myself with, "Is this how Barbara Stanwyck would do?" (And if the answer is no, I immediately "dame up.")
So I'm writing a book called, The Lost Art of Being a Dame. In an era when standards about what it is to be female are either cracked or creaky, I suggest we brush off the cobwebs and take another look at a model that embraces authenticity, independence, confidence, compassion, wit, wisdom, strength, sexuality and style. It’s time the “dame” was resurrected, and her unique blend of substance and style was newly celebrated and cultivated.
Part self-help, part memoir, part pop culture, part relationship and style, The Lost Art of Being a Dame encourages girls and women to really own the entire span of their feminine arsenals. Helping readers channel the “dame within,” The Lost Art of Being a Dame is a guide to the lost art of living life with poise, brains, gumption, and style.
I really want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on dame-ness? Is it a lost art? What makes a dame? How can one foster dameness in oneself? What are your favorite dame sayings, and who are your favorite dames?
In the meantime, let's all dame up.