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To the Garment Industry: Less Polyester, More Cotton, Please

7 Jun
An Arizona cotton plant. Photo from tucsonsentinel.com.

An Arizona cotton plant. Photo from tucsonsentinel.com.

It never fails. Thumbing through a catalogue, I’ll get all excited: “What a stellar outfit! Those colors would be so flattering, and I could get a lot of use out of it!” Then I read the description: “Oh snap! It’s 100% polyester.”

Once again, the garment industry has saved me money. Although the wildly popular synthetic works well in blends, such as poly-rayon-spandex in career pants and poly-cotton interlock in t-shirts, I can’t stand full-strength polyester against my skin. Of course, there’s a backstory here.

Body Odor

My mother used to buy me lovely-looking polyester dresses and skirt outfits. I wore them faithfully. Unfortunately, she tended to call me aside, as she felt a mother should, and tell me I should change deodorants and laundry detergents because she noticed I, and my clothes, didn’t smell nice. I was flummoxed. Having my mom insinuate I stank to high heaven was deflating enough, but I was a clean person who took joy in my daily showers and wore clothing only once before washing it.  Was it my weight or diet? Was I doomed to turn into a garbage can when I tried to look good? Visions of Mom pursuing me with a can of Lysol at family gatherings entered my head.  I sent for Kleinert’s dress shields, which helped a little. I also noticed Mom didn’t comment on my b.o.when I wore cotton or other natural fabrics, but it took awhile to figure out why.

Putting It Together: Stacy and Clinton to the Rescue

Years later, I was watching an episode of What Not To Wear (one of my favorites).  Style experts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly were conducting the customary sort-and-toss of their current client’s wardrobe. Holding up a pair of  dark polyester pants, one of them asked, “Where would you wear these?” “Out dancing,” the lady replied. “You must smell good by the end of the night,” Clinton laughed, explaining that polyester doesn’t breathe.

Bingo!

It wasn’t me; it was the fabric that had trapped my perspiration and not vented my skin, so to speak. I had been shying away from 100%v poly anyway by the time I saw this episode, but now I knew why. Although people perspire in different quantities, eliminating toxins through sweat is normal and bound to happen unless you have a medical condition. Working out? Sweat is desirable. Living in Phoenix, in 100+ degree heat, or New Orleans in 85 degree heat with 85% humidity? Sweat happens. Unless you are wearing one of the newer polyester or nylon garments that wick away moisture, poly keeps sweat next to your skin.  Being disabled and moving more slowly down the sidewalk simply gives one more opportunity to sweat in the summer.  What’s the solution? Mine is wearing cotton.

In Praise of Cotton

Crisp or soft, depending on the treatment, cotton is breathable and comfortable, lending itself to casual, in-between, and dressy outfits with ease. It comprises many fashion classics: jeans, tees, button-down shirts and blouses, shorts, cardigans, summer dresses. That isn’t even a comprehensive list.  Because I live in a warm climate, I focus on staying cool in the spring and summer and layering clothing in the winter, when days start out chilly but grow warmer. Sweat? Cotton both absorbs and vents it.  Admittedly, my love of cotton doesn’t stop with my outer wardrobe. I prefer cotton socks, underwear, pajamas, and sheets (no slinky satin for me). After working in a hospital and seeing their cotton blankets, I was thrilled to find  one in assorted colors in the Brylane Home print catalogue. I am a cotton fan all right. My body says “Don’t fence me in when you cover me,” and cotton fits the bill.

No Knocks To Other Naturals

Other natural fabrics have their benefits, of course. However, silk does not fit my budget.  Wool is fantastic, but  not often needed in Phoenix. Linen? Wrinkle city, although textile designers are blending it with other fabrics to lessen that tendency. Flax and hemp? Getting there, but still a bit expensive for me. More power to anyone designing breathable couture. Who says fabulous clothes have to make you sweat?

Some Clarification

My home state since 1972,  Arizona, grows cotton; however, I am not a spokesperson for the industry. It may sound that way, but  I don’t even know anyone in that business. In addition, I realize my mom spoke out of love. For her generation, cotton meant lots of ironing and effort; polyester and other no-iron synthetics were a godsend. I was a busy young teacher, and she simply wanted to share that godsend with me by helping me look good in pretty, low-maintenance outfits. My intent was not to criticize her, and I was often over-sensitive in those days anyway.

Polyester is popular, or the fashion world wouldn’t be using it. It has a silky hand and probably takes dyes easily to form any patterns designers wish on the fabric. Its no-iron smoothness and drape are appealing. A former colleague wore it often; she also carried a bottle of Febreze to ward off body odor. That worked for her. Me?  I find the stuff aversive. I’ll opt for cotton.

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On the Passing of a Friend and Fashion Inspiration

11 May
angels, art, images

Image courtesy of angelfire.com.

He may not have known it, but my late friend and former colleague Tom Cole lifted me out of the fashion doldrums when we started socializing (we taught English at a local community college). I was floating along, on post-divorce auto-pilot, happy to be working and paying my bills but not thinking much about my appearance. This was about to change.  A classically natty dresser, fond of Ralph Lauren shirts and assorted neckties accompanied by trousers and sports coats in neutral colors, Tom had a degage elegance that emanated from within and was merely emphasized by his smart clothing. He was equally classy in jeans and a polo shirt.  When we started going to Rattlers’ games and out for drinks afterward, I figured the usual team t-shirt and jeans outfit was woefully inadequate. To solve the problem, I wrote in my journal about what I needed,  then hit the stores.

Building a Better Wardrobe

As I  have indicated in other posts, I have peripheral neuropathy and other foot problems which restrict my choices in footwear. In 2004, when I was diagnosed and Tom and I began our semi-regular outings,  I developed my “uniform” of black pants with a variety of tops, or dark-wash jeans for casual occasions. For games, I chose tops in team colors that looked chic enough for a sojourn to a downtown bar after the game along with jeans or black casual pants.  For dinner and movies, I substituted somewhat dressier tops and pants. Phoenix is casual, so these outfits were appropriate.  If I hadn’t become friends with Tom, there’s no telling what I might be throwing on my body now!  His effortless style made me analyze my own and attempt to rise to his level, disability and figure type notwithstanding.

The History

Intriguingly, Tom had a fashion muse years ago. I asked him how he had learned to dress so well, and he credited a former girlfriend from the 1970s. “I was walking around in leisure suits, and she said, ‘Oh no you don’t!’ ” he recalled. Leisure suits on him? Incredible. I can’t even imagine. I applaud that woman, whoever she is, wherever she is; Tom’s taste never wavered, even when I suspected, near the end of his life, that he wasn’t feeling well.

The Legacy of a Friend

The most important legacy, of course, is not Tom’s clothing choices, but his friendship, masterful teaching of English, and love of family. An intensely private person whose kindness and high intelligence became evident after one got to know him, Tom was a natural gentleman who lifted up those around him. The overall tone of any setting improved just from his presence, and I don’t mean that in a snobbish way. He had an inherent courtesy and consideration that flowed, unpretentiously, from every pore. Hundreds of students benefited from his subject-matter knowledge and precise planning; I was fortunate enough to enjoy his friendship for the past nine years.  Thank you, Tom, for your gentleness, intellect, humility, and loyalty. In your case, the terrific style on the outside really did represent what was on the inside.

Project Runway All-Stars Challenge Gets It Right–Only One Sour Note

8 Apr
Project Runway All-Star Joshua Ryan winning the challenge on Episode 10, 11 Feb. 2013. Photo from lifetime.com/projectrunway.

Project Runway All-Star Joshua Ryan winning the challenge on Episode 10, 11 Feb. 2013. Photo from lifetime.com/projectrunway.

Wasn’t it refreshing to see a challenge on Project Runway All Stars featuring female veterans? The disabled were represented as well–something I’d been hoping for on the show for a long time– and designer Joshua Ryan’s elegantly understated, classic-but-modern V-necked dress created for a prosthetic-wearing colonel won this challenge. Joshua even designed an outfit for her service dog!

Hitting a Sour Note

The only sour note issued from one of the judges as the panel examined the designers’ garments on the runway. After praising the style of Joshua Ryan’s just-above knee-length, bordered black dress and noting how happy and confident the Colonel appeared while wearing it, this judge inquired:

“Did you mean to show the prosthetic leg?”

Oops.

Perhaps the judge was making sure Joshua Ryan hadn’t run out of fabric, as designers sometimes do on the show, and tacked on the border of the dress as an afterthought. That was my first, and most charitable, interpretation. The integrity of the garment, however, negated that theory. To his credit, Joshua Ryan admitted that he had, indeed, intended to reveal his model’s prosthetic. Was he going to lose points for doing so, I wondered?

Disabilities and Aesthetics

Perhaps I am too sensitive, but the judge’s simple question bothered me.  Within it I perceived an assumption that a prosthetic–hence, a disability–needs to be disguised by clothing if that clothing is to be regarded as high quality fashion. Expressed another way, disabled people don’t look good unless they hide their disabilities.

Balderdash.

Disabilities are not the same as figure flaws. We might cringe at a non-disabled, plus-size demoiselle sporting a halter top (and muffin top) over tight low-rise jeans or a skinny-mini encased in garb that makes her appear skeletal and moribund. We gasp and giggle at the sartorial choices of People from Wal-Mart (although I haven’t seen anything like them in my local store). But these ladies have choices in what they reveal or hide; disabled women often don’t. Dressing to “go with the flow” with our conditions takes creativity, and that is exactly what Joshua Ryan demonstrated.

Fashion: Taking Up the Slack?

It is challenging to find fashions that address our needs; this is why Elle, Stephanie Thomas, Spashionista, and I are in the blogosphere, and why Ann Oliver  is designing. Joshua Ryan has shown us that mainstream designers have the talent to create for us. I never doubted it. Watching Project Runway and seeing designers compose great-looking garments out of candy wrappers, food,  and other unconventional materials convinced me long ago that the US has many in the fashion world with the ability to dress the disabled stylishly and affordably. Whether they will choose to work with this specialized niche is another question. Despite the judge’s comment, Project Runway All-Stars is to be commended for including a challenge featuring female veterans, and  for selecting Joshua Ryan’s dress as the winning design. May this episode be a sign of future progress!

You Thought the Overt Skank Look Was Passe? Not Quite

20 Feb
thong, wefly2, undergarments, fashion statement, disabled shopping,disabled clothing

Photo from Peopleofwalmart.com.

“That’s not a pretty picture,” a nurse whispered to me as I waited for a patient outside a restroom in the ER. As a patient companion (“sitter,”) I see aspects of human nature I never expected to see. This night, it would include fashion as well. Turning my head, I saw a young woman leaving the hospital on crutches. Nothing out of the ordinary there. But wait! My eye caught something else: sweatpants, sagging in back, revealing a thong and most of her derriere.

Nothing Personal

You’ll notice I have included a photo of  a related fashion faux-pas, but not the specific offender. A photo of her would have violated patient confidentiality, as the thong-wearer was still inside the hospital; also, as I said in my first post, wefly2 does not go in for personal attacks. I saw nothing wrong with the woman’s figure, and I am happy her injury was treated and she was able to go home. It was her taste level that provoked me.
The Message: Warning: Graphic Comment

I don’t usually get down and dirty in this blog, but this time I will. Most of us are aware that our clothing, or lack of it, sends messages to those around us. A thong and a mostly-bare butt not only says “I’m super available,” but “I’ll do it in the convenience-store parking lot, and I don’t mind being sloppy seconds!”

Sorry about that. My understated, suggest-rather-than-flaunt aesthetic was offended.  By the way, the nurse and I were not the only ones who noticed, or rolled our eyes.

Everything in its Place

Am I becoming an undergarment censor? Of course not. A friend of mine wears thongs, but, as she says, “You’ll never see them; they are underwear.” It is entirely possible the patient didn’t have the presence of mind to think about her clothing choices in the throes of  her pain.  I will cut her some slack in that event. She may also not have realized that her sweatpants would sag as she adjusted her arms to use the crutches.

On the other hand, if one is not rushing to the ER, there are other, more tasteful ways to show off a nice rear, such as cupping it in well-fitting pants.  If you want the overstated skank look, I will not hold you back; I believe in freedom of speech, no matter how tasteless. But please, be aware of the message you are sending to your audience.

PS–My laptop caught a nasty virus, but I am finally back online (thanks, Jeremy!)

Post-Holiday Blahs? Clothes Can Lift Your Spirits

19 Jan
art, clothing and mood, wefly2, Calvin Charles, Ladies' Home Journal, disabled women, disabled shopping

From exhibit at the Calvin Charles Gallery, Scottsdale.

Maybe the excitement of the holidays has left you feeling a bit hollow, like the fellow in the photo (no disrespect to the artist). Perhaps the weather is draining you, leaving you with a winter virus or aggravating your disability. I hope not. But if you need a simple pick-me-up that won’t drain your wallet or require one more social engagement, you need look no further than your closet, according to writer Sarah Hepola in a recent issue of Ladies’ Home Journal. A self-confessed yoga-pant aficionado, Hepola discovered that slipping on a nice dress and pair of shoes, just because she felt like it, made her feel special and perked up her whole day in a way that schlepping around in yoga pants and an old tee shirt did not.

The Mood-Fashion Connection

No doubt, we live in an ever more casual culture. Hepola brings up Casual Fridays in the workplace to illustrate this point.  But just because we can dress casually, she says, doesn’t always mean we should. In fact, a friend of mine, Kevin, openly rebelled against Casual Fridays. He wore three-piece suits and various tasteful combinations of sport coats, ties, trousers, and pocket watches to work. He was among the few contractors to obtain a full-time position with his company, and his dapper appearance was not lost on the ladies, either!  In a social setting, the lobster effect can occur, with peers thinking their friends should dress the ultra-casual way they do: sometimes my retired friends put on shorts and tee shirts for happy hour, and ask me why I am “so dressed up” when I don trouser jeans with a nice top and makeup. My usual answer is “Why not?” but I like Hepola’s friend’s answer better: “I’m dressed up for me!”

While my outfit of trouser jeans and top hardly qualifies as “dressed up,” it appears that way to some. The point is that wearing snappy clothes that flatter you flips an internal switch somewhere. Your attitude, your confidence, climb. Whether it’s a dress at work or well-fitting jeans at home, the clothing makes you feel good about yourself. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Confined to the House? Cozy Up in Your Faves

Feeling under the weather? Unfortunately, it is common this time of year. No reason you shouldn’t be as warm and comfortable as possible. If you are strong enough to bathe or have a caregiver help you do so, washing up and slipping into your favorite nightgown, pajamas, or lounge wear before going to bed is a definite mood enhancer. Soft, clean-smelling fabric against your skin may not reduce your fever or eliminate your aches and pains, but it can help you relax and rest more easily. Comfy pajamas, your favorite hot beverage, a good book, TV show, or friend, and you’re set. Right now, how your pj’s make you feel definitely trumps how they make you look. You can think about that later.

Feeling Just Right

You don’t have to follow the crowd in your clothing choices to dress appropriately or feel great about what you wear, although the occasion often shapes our outfits, and most of us don’t want to be ridiculed. At the beginning of the year, when I attended a fundraiser for HALO, a local no-kill animal shelter, I intended to wear the purple cowl-necked dress the Spashionista chose for me (see earlier post) with black tights. Well, I had both a wardrobe and disability malfunction: the tights (my only pair) had a hole in them, and my calves were swollen, a side effect I can’t predict. At the last minute, I threw on trouser jeans, my CABI jacket (see Christmas post) and a brown cami. My ensemble fit right in with the rest of the attendees’, and my swollen calves were out of sight!

Whether the post-holiday portion of the new year finds you tired of shopping, nursing a cold, or raring to explore new lands and stores, keep the clothing-mood connection in mind. You may not have to spend a dime to lift your spirits!

2013: Will I Avoid My Worst Fashion Faux Pas?

1 Jan
pajamas, dogs, wefly2, sleepwear, casual wear, disabled clothing

A representative pair of cotton-blend pajamas, worn to bed, around the house, and on dog walks.

Well…probably not. Yet, of all the habits a blogger on fashion, albeit a partially disabled one, should eliminate in the New Year, this one tops the list. We all know about diet resolutions (chant it with me now: Baconnaise does not exist. I will not buy it or dip potato chips into it) and exercise vows (30 minutes a day, every day!) But my faux pas? Hang on; this is a bad one.

The Confession

I walk my dog in my pajamas. In broad daylight, in a large American city.

The Rationalizations

It might not matter if I were a Victoria’s Secret Angel, but I was far from that even in my youth. Why would I do this? I work at night, but Tucker has to go out during the day, when I sleep. I am too lazy to get dressed, although I do pause to put on a bra before leashing him up as well as a sweater or jacket in cold weather. I should also point out that my pajamas are opaque and provide full coverage. Sometimes, I don a tee-shirt and  pajama bottoms. My ensemble (if you can call it that) may not be flattering, but it exposes nothing beyond ankles and elbows.

Additionally, Tucker is a Basset Hound. Have you ever heard a Basset bark or howl when he wants something? The woofs and aroos may be endearing in a rural setting, but I don’t want to disturb my neighbors. If he needs out, I want to get him there with minimal noise and fuss. My appearance is simply not a priority at these times.

Basset Hounds, Arizona Basset Hound Rescue

Tucker. With a face like that, I scramble to get him what he wants–pajamas or not!

The Switch to Slovenly

Knowing Tucker had to go out, I used to stay in my work clothes from the night before and doze on the couch, but that wreaked havoc with my neck (Ah, the days when I had a house with a doggy door!) Besides, there is something comforting and cathartic about taking off clothes from the office and stepping into cozy jammies for sleep. Fortunately, my complex is enclosed, set back from the street and blessed with large courtyards, so strangers never see me in this disheveled state. My neighbors, a wonderfully tolerant bunch, are cordial whether I am dressed for an evening out or a pajama-clad dog outing. The late landlord (RIP) behaved the same way. I guess the only thing that would change this unstylish habit is a change in work schedule!

You Do What, and Write What?

If you look at all the sleek, beautifully photographed personal-style blogs out there, you may find it hard to believe anyone writing about any aspect of fashion–even a plus-sized 50-something with neuropathy–would stoop to the sartorial depths that I do, let alone confess to it. (You’ll notice I have not posted a photo of myself in pajamas. I respect my audience, and their stomachs, too much for that).  But I like to admit I am human, confess my foibles, and laugh at them, even if I don’t change or eliminate them. This will not change with the New Year!

Sis, My Fashion Friend: Christmas All Year Long

25 Dec
CABI, Christmas, wefly2, jackets

CABI jacket from Sis. Add a cami or sweater plus trouser jeans, and it tops a go-to outfit for many occasions.

Few of us are lucky enough to benefit from a friend’s shopping habit (I don’t mean addiction). But my beautiful sister, Carol F., brings me bags of clothes several times a year, with brands ranging from Merona to Fresh Produce to Michael Kors. Anything that doesn’t work is donated or taken to our favorite consignment store, Poor Little Rich Girl. Even though Sis is taller than I and trendy in her tastes while I tend to be classic, many of her garments are terrific for me, and I believe she reads my mind. For example, I was thinking I needed a nice jacket, and voila! she came up with the great CABI pictured above. Uncanny!

We like to think the donated and consigned clothes are one small way to keep on giving to our community, something our mom, our first fashion teacher, taught us. Although we are generally involved in different non-profits, clothing is the bond we share.  I love you, Sis; thanks for your generosity, to me and to others.

May all of you have a Merry Christmas!