Fashion faux Pas

This August, Jo Burke, the NIU Art Museum Director (who is also an enviable owner of a pair of fantastic black knee-high boots with kitten heels), and I were discussing some of her ideas about Fashion and her desire to introduce an online forum for participants and viewers to share their Fashion Faux Pas. We wanted to focus on the incidences that brought about questions of "What is the right thing to wear?" and "When to wear it?" What happens when things go awry? How does one feel and react? What stories of fashion foibles are ingrained in our memories?
And perhaps the biggest question of all--are fashion foibles significant enough to take up the mental and emotional space for a community dialogue?
Please include your comments and photographs about your very own Fashion Faux Pas.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dressing Up: Right vs. Wrong

As an artist, more often than not I have experienced situations in which I was under-dressed or eclectically dressed. I could tell lots of stories of ripped out seams and holey jeans, or paint encrusted clothing.
But I think it is the stories about wearing the wrong things that I remember most. Like the first time I met my mother's  beau's family. It was his youngest son's graduation party full of wholesome hard-working Americans in their nice, conservative summer dress. I was sporting a brightly colored African-textile print patchwork skirt that was ankle-length, a brown blouse with flowing sleeves, and my hair twisted and wrapped into a cute, but messy, brown and white head wrap. I had felt pretty proud of my outfit (my skirt had been tailored by a local female tailor in the town I lived in during a 3-month study abroad in Mali) until I realized that sadly, my outfit appeared comical and outlandish in that sunny suburban backyard.

Luckily for me this situation was like a train wreck where the things that horrify people in turn attract them. In the end I was, if not pardoned for my eclectic dress, at least accepted as a unique and creative individual. So perhaps the "wrong" way to dress wasn't so bad after all, however I suspect many stories could be told to the contrary!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


As a child I attended the NIU Lab School while my mom was working on her Masters degree. My older sister Mol was enrolled in university classes at the same time and would swing by Gabel Hall to pick me up. One day the instructor pulled her aside to say she was worried about me, wondering if I might be ill - noting that I had not answered at all in class that day. What the teacher had not noticed with my arm bent and hand only face-high instead of straight up and extended - was that the underarms had ripped in my dress and I was not able to extend an arm without exposing this mortiphying trauma. This, in my orange and yellow Flower Power zip front tent dress (1968).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

androgyny is destiny

This may say something more about my nephew or the stylings of the seventies than being a fashion faux pas but it certainly was some point in the mid 1970s my brother and I had basically the same hairstyle; shoulder-length or longer, parted in the middle, frizzy wiry auburn hair hanging over our glasses. We apparently also mostly wore the same uniform of the era: bell-bottom jeans and tee shirt. I don't remember how quickly I modified my look after this but the trigger was when my 3 year-old nephew Bill, still coming to terms with the meanings of words, upon seeing me in a dress, was thunderstruck enough to question: "Aunt Jo is a girl?"

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fashion Memories do stay with you!

Once I had acquired the beautiful Jacques Cohen navy blue and white heeled espadriles with satin straps purchased at Nordstrom's while on co-op in Portland, Oregon to go with the navy and white embroidered San Antonio wedding dress I knew I would wear these at my senior exhibition. I knew this for years. Yet when the time for the exhibition reception finally came and I was still editing video and framing drawings and had no time to drive back out to the farm to change clothes before the opening there I was at my art reception wearing the same clothes I had been working and sleeping in for days. More maddening, was that the guy who was exhibiting with me in our 2-person show was all relaxed and regal in white gauze shirt and slacks while I looked like a crazy woman. I never forgave him. mea culpa.

A "Fall" of Fashion

Autumn Leaves: A Century of Fall Fashion is a lovely exhibition of gowns and accompanying garments curated by Barbara Cole Peters this Fall 2010 at the NIU Art Museum.
On the date of our opening reception I found that because our lives constantly include garments that we may indeed take for granted the emotional and mental space that they take up. I have been on staff at the museum for two years and one of my jobs is to serve at our receptions each semester. On the night in question, I was feeling the anticipation of serving refreshments to the many enthusiastic individuals attending all four of our exhibitions ( that, to quote our literature, "...examine the melancholy baroque richness of the Autumn season through lushness of materials, color harmony and the aging process."

And indeed it was an energetic evening of curatorial talks by Peters and a constant influx of artists, students, faculty, staff, university administration and community members. Unfortunately, because of the rush to get all of the food prepared, I was unable to change right away from casual clothes into something a bit nicer for that night's marathon of running in and out with fresh and empty trays. So after all of the food was out I rushed to put on my autumn brown  side-tie wrap dress, leggings, vintage knee-high brown leather boots. Once I changed I was immediately swept up in feeding our patrons. As I swished through the crowds, smiling to various administrators and faculty along the way I was oblivious to the fact that the bottom part of my dress had parted, and was completely revealing my upper thighs (thank goodness I wore opaque leggings!!!) beneath!

I received many embarrassed and kind smiles as I breezed along, but not having time for embarrassment of my own, I used the excuse to go in back to prep food  to tug my dress back into place and let the experience take up its place in what I suspect is a long line of unfortunate fashion foibles!