Style, Very Little Substance

Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.–Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)

Next week, because of my freelance work, I am interviewing designer Isaac Mizrahi and What Not To Wear‘s fashion expert Clinton Kelly and makeup artist Carmindy.

Not that I’m terrified, or anything.

But it got me to thinking, of course, as most things do (that don’t revolve around Clive, Sean or Richard; they just get me to drooling). And, because my head is portioned between political debates, returning to an old writing project, waiting for the agent to let me know things, where are my cute sweaters and what will my son be for Halloween, I had a lot of different thoughts.

Play along with me:

–what would a What Not To Wear-type person advise one of our heroines?
–did shy debutantes feel as scared as I do to meet famous people, like dukes, and such?
–why weren’t there any designers, rather than modistes, in our era? Charles Frederick Worth is reputed to be the first designer with a house and all; why weren’t’ there any before then?
–what did poorer, but still fashionable, ladies do to stay a la mode (here I’m thinking of Isaac Mizrahi’s line for Target)?
–what makeup existed to enhance a lady’s looks without making her look like *that* kind of woman?
–were there lady reporters? I know there were in some of our fiction, but did they actually exist?
–and, what questions would you ask any of those three I’m talking to next week?



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Sharon Osenga
14 years ago

Lucky you to meet these people! I met Clinton Kelly at Book Expo this year and he was as nice in person as we appears on the show. I would ask him about fitting jeans. I think they are the hardest thing for a woman. I would ask Carmindy for the one essential make-up item that all women should have.

Cara King
14 years ago

–why weren’t there any designers, rather than modistes, in our era? Charles Frederick Worth is reputed to be the first designer with a house and all; why weren’t’ there any before then?

Someone had to come up with what went into the fashion plates…though I don’t know whether someone invented them on the page, or someone made a gown, and then someone else copied it. But either way, someone designed it…we just don’t know the names of those folks!

I suspect it had something to do with everyone having hand-made garments. They were so easy to copy that perhaps people didn’t talk so much about who thought of it first, but who did it best…rather like fiction ideas now…many have the same idea, but who wrote the best book?

Oh, and one of the big things that distinguished fancy gowns wasn’t a clever design, but more expensive materials… But once anyone could afford nice materials, then perhaps there was more demand for exclusive designers (conspicuous consumption must remain conspicuous to work!)

–what did poorer, but still fashionable, ladies do to stay a la mode (here I’m thinking of Isaac Mizrahi’s line for Target)?

From what I’ve read, they looked at fashion magazines, then either had their country dressmakers do what they could to approximate the gown, or in some cases, they even did their own sewing. (Jane Austen talks a lot about such things in her letters…)

Cara (who shops in the most reputable thrift stores)

Megan Frampton
14 years ago

Sharon, thanks for stopping by! I’ve heard Clinton is very nice also. And your questions are great.

Cara, thanks for such informative answers! They make perfect sense.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Oh, Megan, I am such a What Not To Wear fan!
I’d remind you that these are just people and they want you to like them, too.
My daughter used to be a receptionist for Nick Arrojo so I’ve met him before.
The real problem for you is what to wear to the interviews. Not that I want to make you more nervous or anything.

I just turned in my novella so I’ve had little sleep, but I seem to remember that there were fashionable modistes who designed clothes. One was related to one of the publishers of one of the ladies magazines. And I seem to remember from my scandal research that women did work as gossip reporters. Mary Robinson (Perdita) wrote for a newspaper; edited maybe, but I think she wrote poetry.
I would think that make up, used judiciously, would have been popular. face Powder, rouge (blush), but I’d have to do research to check all this.
And I’m tooooooo tired!

14 years ago

I know you’ll do great with your interviews.

I’d ask Isaac if there is anyone that he’d like to dress that he hasn’t had the opportunity to? Also what winter coat silhouette he thinks will be it this year. I need a new coat and will it be at Target?

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

I’m so jealous, Megan!! I love What Not to Wear, and Isaac Mizrahi seems like he would be a huge amount of fun to talk to. You have to let us know how it goes. I would ask Carmindy why her “five minute face” actually seems to take longer than that…

Louisa Cornell
14 years ago

Amanda, I can tell you why my five minute face takes half an hour. I am probably six times more wrinkled and spotty than these young models that only take five minutes to do their faces! For Nationals I had to call in the heavy artillery EVERY morning!

Megan, lucky you! This is going to be so much fun and we expect a full report! Please do ask Issak Kwana’s question as I need a new coat too!

I think Cara is right when it comes to why there were no designers of the well-known type. Not to mention the fact that people tended to be followers and not the type to strike out on their own when it came to fashion. Whatever trends were begun were probably started by hard-working modistes and if the right person wore their clothes then it was copied by EVERYONE!

And Cara, honey, I am right there with you at Chez Thrift when it comes to shopping. I have found some designer outfits with the tags still on them in thrift stores. Not to mention some GORGEOUS shoes with not a mark on them inside or out!

What eras had the makeup with lead and arsenic in it? Talk about dying to be beautiful!

14 years ago

I adore Clifton Kelly and I think he would have a blast advising our young debs, bluestockings and various assundry heroines ‘What Not To Wear’. I think he’d stick to those shy-not-quite-diamonds-of-the-first-water debs who are bullied into wearing what their mothers think they’d look good in. Let’s face it not everyone can pull off chartreuse flounces. But our Clifton would make sure the bosom was emphasized along with the long line of the torso. Don’t make it clingy (no need to dampen anything) but make sure your flounces be simple and of a clean cut. And no chartreuse please or it’ll end up in that garbage can.

Cara hit it with the country misses not missing a thing what with week old papers and fashion magazines borrowed from her ladyship. Most young misses were handy with a needle so empelishments were easy enough to do with the materials at hand. After all, look what those Bennett sisters did with those bonnets.

14 years ago

I must admit I’ve never heard of “What Not To Wear.” But I fear their answer for me would be “Anything You Own.” 🙂

I know they were using lead-based makeup during the Elizabethan period, presumably because they didn’t have any other really bright white pigments, and because they didn’t fully understand the dangers of lead poisoning. I don’t know when they stopped using it, though.

Didn’t they also put Belladonna (aka Deadly Nightshade) in their eyes to enlarge the pupils? I vaguely recall that that is the origin of the name.


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