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A Moment with the New York Times

A Moment in Time, the NYT Lens Blog’s interactive compilation of photos from around the globe, all taken at the same time, is genius and beautiful. It’s touching, funny and revealing to see the different objects, people and, well, moments, that readers contributed. They vary widely. A camel rests in QatarA dad takes his new son to church in Texas. I absolutely love this shot of an Ecuadorian woman in arresting orange.

When I finally left behind a Moment in Time, I found my way to this little interactive feature in the Style section: photos of readers’ favorite vintage finds that accompanied Sarah Maslin Nir’s piece, “Prospecting in Manhattan’s Richest Vintage Veins.” (For my own take on the topic, see here.)

A Screenshot of the NY Times’ “Vintage Finds from Around the World”

It’s less grandiose than a Moment in Time, of course, but no less revealing to scroll through readers’ vintage favorites. I’d be smiling too, if I were wearing this striped dress in the sun. But I especially loved the shot below, with the little glimpse of what I imagine to be the photographer’s dresser, captured among her photographs.

A little moment all its own.


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Fashionable Transport

My wheels, pictured below in the illustrious pavilion behind my building. This classic cruiser is sort of an iteration of the dress I wrote about yesterday: retro, red, reliable.  

I bought that dress in 2000 in Santa Barbara, the city that showed me the meaning of riding in style. This weekend, I cycled back, via an interview for Bike by the Sea.

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Operation Fairy Dust

Is it just me, or is Jim Dwyer going through a fashion phase? First, it was H&M, then The New York Clothing Bank and in Sunday’s Metro section, The New York Times columnist highlighted Operation Fairy Dust, a program for distributing pre-loved prom dresses to girls in need. Dwyer referred to “the fancy dress: usually worn once for a few hours, then retired from active duty.”

How does Dwyer know? Does he have a closet-full of said dresses? I love the idea of Operation Fairy Dust, (and wonder if they still need volunteer personal shoppers) but had the columnist looked further, he might have found not all girls ferret away their formalwear when the dance is done.

You bet your bustle that as soon as the snow began to melt in high school, I was wondering what to wear to the prom.

Image from Wgirls.org

Senior year, my original plan had been to wear a dress that belonged to my friend Laura (or was it Molly?), who was a year ahead of me in school. It was an Uma-inspired slippery number, if memory serves. I think I was getting dressed in my mom’s bedroom. My hair was done, my makeup on; I pulled the dress  over my head and turned around to show my mom. Her face fell, and she pointed to a large spot on the front, like a water stain over the right thigh. The dress was periwinkle sand-washed silk–oh my, it’s coming back to me now–there was nothing that could be done. My mom drew in a deep breath, likely flashing back to the violent fashion crises that nearly kept me home several mornings in the second grade. 

But all was not lost. We had inspiration. It was 1999, and Gwyneth Paltrow had worn a silvery ball gown skirt and strapless top to the Golden Globes. I had a skirt like that. I even had a tube top, albeit a cotton spandex one. I put it on. It looked like cotton spandex. I think that by that point my date, Jimmy Kerley, might have actually been downstairs. Mom went into the closet for reinforcements (sound familiar?) and emerged with a black negligee. I was confused. I was scandalized. I was…relieved. I pulled it on over the tube top and tucked it into my skirt. Done!

There I am on the right. My friends Kate and Katie, in the middle, chose dresses that were not too prom-specific to be worn again. Jessica, on the left, was likely inspired by the same muse I was, and I bet either she or her older sister has worn at least one piece of that outfit again too. But, I’m sure we all have at least one one-night wonder that might be better off relegated to a cycle of rebirth at various proms, and it’s great that NYC has organizations like Operation Fairy Dust for those glamorous gowns. 

However, that silvery skirt is still hanging in my closet (next to the hand-me-down prom dress I wore Day 2 of Fashion Week) as I type, and I’m contemplating what I might be able to wear it with for spring. It could be cute with a grey tee shirt  and a jean jacket. I’m sure photographer and stylist Kristen Joy Watts will have an idea or two when she helps purge my closet this weekend. Maybe there’s still some fairy dust left in there. 

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Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: Workers’ Rights 99 Years Later

Yesterday marked 99 years since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burned on New York’s Lower East Side, killing 146 of its 500 workers, who were locked inside the building.The fire, and the campaign and reform for garment workers’ rights to follow, is well chronicled in Cornell’s Triangle Factory Fire online exhibit, where you can find photos, letters and original articles from 1911. It’s well worth a look, especially since nearly 100 years later, garment workers around the world still have to fight for a living wage, the right to organize and even their basic safety.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Photographer Unknown

Earlier this year, 21 workers were trapped and killed in Bangladesh when a fire swept through the Garib & Garib Sweater Factory, which made clothing for companies like H&M. The factory had been audited just months before, but clearly key safety issues had been missed. (Ken Silverstein touched upon the issue of ineffective audits in his Harper’s piece “Shopping for Sweat,” which I linked to in January.)

This past Tuesday, in Stockholm, I met Malin Eriksson, who coordinates the Clean Clothes Campaign, a worldwide network committed to improving working conditions in clothing factories. She talked about how a well organized workforce could essentially serve as an in-house audit team on a daily basis. But that barely seems realistic when most of these workers have no job security and can’t afford to jeopardize their income by protesting unfair conditions. (Another CCC representative estimated that in countries where the organization is active, less than 5% of the garment workforce is unionized.)

When I asked Malin about Nicholas Kristof’s argument that abominable work conditions in a factory are better than no work at all, she explained that’s why the CCC’s urgent actions, which directly implement workers’ wishes usually involve letter-writing campaigns, rather than boycotts of the garments they produce.

In the case of the Garib & Garib fire, CCC has organized campaigns to demand medical care for injured workers, compensation for deceased workers’ families, a criminal investigation of the fire (CCC claims it wasn’t only preventable, it was predictable) and the direct support of these demands from brands doing business with the factory.

H&M Corporate Social Responsibility Manager Ingrid Schullström announced today that the company would donate 1 million Swedish Krona (about US $135,000) for preventative safety measures at factories in Bangladesh, and that they are waiting for reports commissioned from Save the Children and Incidin Bangladesh before deciding on further reparations for bereaved families.

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The USA, Today

Although I was raised a Midwestern girl, until my recent 5-day trip to Colorado, I had spent almost no time in our country’s middle over the last several years. Recently, I got a little more than I bargained for at the Montrose, CO airport, so I went for a stroll outside. There, in a newspaper machine on the sidewalk: I saw this headline on USA Today:

“When the textile mill goes, so does a way of life.”

I found a dollar in change, and got the last copy from the dispenser. The story that followed traced massive job losses in Surry County, North Carolina, once a hub of the domestic textile industry.

Mount Airy, North Carolina

The story is a familiar one, of American manufacturing unable to compete with cheap goods from overseas, but reporter Paul Wiseman did a nice job of putting some faces on the story and looking towards the future. Some of that future, of course, is really bleak (BLS predicts the job market will lose 71,500 sewing machine operators between 2008 and 2018), but Wiseman managed to find a little bit of hope as well. He wrote about a government program called Trade Adjustment Assistance, that helps workers like Steve “Stump” Jenkins, who lost his job at Perry Manufacturing Mill in 2008, train for jobs in other fields. Jenkins chose law enforcement, his reasoning being that the police force couldn’t be displaced by foreign competition. He told the paper he loves his new job, but the fact remains he’s earning only $25,000 per year, less than a quarter of what he earned at Perry Manufacturing. Other workers are training in wine-making at Surry Community College, making use of land where fields of tobacco once grew.

I’ve sort of snubbed USA Today in the past (“Finches fight to death in blood sport” was, after all, the headline beside the one that caught my eye), in favor of fashion industry stories from The Financial Times, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. But I’m glad I was stuck in Montrose for a moment, cause otherwise I might have missed this one.

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Cynthia Rowley’s Meta Madness

In high school, I came to New York City and fell head-over-heels for an unattainable Cynthia Rowley bubblegum-pink strapless satin gown. (It was the late ‘90s.)

Ever since, the designer has remained a sort of NYC fashion fairy for me. When I moved here in 2003 I would wander to her boutique in the West Village when I needed some color. In my first job, at a housewares design company, I got to work on development for her Target collection. I can’t remember what I wore for my single meeting with her, but I’ll never forget a chance encounter on a busy Saturday in her shop, when she admired my (my!) loden green sweater hood, decorated with a knitted pink peony sticking out of my camel-colored leather jacket. I was thrilled last season when Dossier assigned me to cover her show (find below, my notes from the occasion), and pleased as punch to be assigned back this season.

Ms. Rowley has always struck me as a creature not just of fashion, but also of art and business…sort of a princess of pop culture. That combination of savvy and style came through this season, on her runway, in her front row (graced by her friend Thelma Golden) and also in a really clever collaboration with the Gagosian Gallery, where she is selling original samples from the show, photographic reproductions of her collection on fabric panels for fans to cut and sew themselves and even sewing kits, complete with a label, for customers to affix wherever they please…The New York Times called it Duchampian, but it’s sort of more Prince or Warhollian, no?

Whatever it is, I love it. It’s a sexy sort of meta mind-f— that one could also wear to dinner. (Or contrarily, in front of the computer, as they blog about blogging.) Maybe there’s some room in this  for an archival re-release of that rose-colored gown I never got to wear to the prom. It would look lovely printed on a floor-length cotton tank dress.

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The Quiet Before the Storm

Tonight’s forecast calls for heavy snow to begin falling around midnight. The air was heavy and cold as I wandered by the tents earlier this evening, where the crew was battening the hatches for Bryant Park’s final New York Fashion Week.

Beginning next season, the shows will move to Lincoln Center. I’m a bit sentimental about the tents’ last stand in this locale, which has been the nexus of my little universe over the past few years, bordered by the grit of the Garment District on one side and the grandeur of the Public Library and Condé Nast on the other (and conveniently located near my most recent homebase in the CUNY newsroom.)

In a couple of days, Fashion Week will hit the fan, and I’ll be running around to cover it for Dossier. But for tonight I’m battening the hatches at home, for one last fashion week at Bryant Park.

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