Dressing for the Igs

October 2nd, 2011

Dresses don’t adapt well to the “palette” approach, so here are two photos of my outfits for the Ig Nobels. At the show itself, I wore a Donna Morgan flapper dress with long faux pearls. And for the party Saturday night, a Calvin Klein (via eBay!) leopard-print dress with crystal earrings; bracelets of gold, crystal, and black cord; and a gold pin on the dress to highlight the bodice.

Today’s column

October 2nd, 2011

… can be read here.

What is it with men?

September 30th, 2011

Cary Tennis has a letter today that gets at a gender difference I have long noticed and wondered about:

Although [my husband] refuses to go to a doctor, I know he is very ill. If he goes outside to mow, or even spray weeds, he is sick for days afterward. If he helps vacuum or mop, he is sick again.

He is tired all the time. His feet, knees and one hand swell often. Now, his mouth is sore and his face is swollen. I see to it he eats one real good meal a day. Ever since I have known him he has had chronic diarrhea; he says there is no blood. We cannot make plans to go anywhere or do anything because he spends so much time in the bathroom.

Most of the letters in reply are from women describing similar experiences — some more dramatic, some less so — with their own husbands, boyfriends, or fathers. A handful of men also chime in with their own stories of being (rightly) dragged to doctors or emergency rooms by wives or girlfriends. And a few letters, most clearly from men, argue that the husband should be left alone to make his own choices.

Think about switching the genders on a letter like this. If a husband described his wife this way, wouldn’t you immediately wonder if she didn’t have some sort of mental illness as well? I would. And yet, when it’s the husband, we think, “Oh. One of those guys.” In a man, this behavior is recognizable. We don’t see it as necessarily a sign of a deeper pathology. On some level, it’s just a guy thing.

But why? What’s the link between masculinity and medical self-neglect? We all know men like this. We all have these stories. Maybe some of you are those men. I hope so, because I want to hear from you. I’m not asking you to defend yourself, just tell me what it’s like.

And for those of us analyzing the phenom from without, let’s leapfrog right over facile statements about machismo and fear of vulnerability. It’s easy to blame this on some kind of masculine mystique, but I’ve known plenty of doctor-avoiding men who don’t let gender stereotypes control their lives in any other way, and who aren’t invested in presenting a macho facade. How do we account for them?

Palette: Happy New Year!

September 30th, 2011

We eat apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah to symbolize our hope for a sweet new year. For service yesterday, I wore a silk and lace jacket trimmed in red and green over a textured gold skirt. Honey-apple colors.

Lace & patchwork jacket: Susannah’s Boutique
Black tank: Chicos (eBay)
Gold skirt: Thrifted
Orange crystal necklace: Naschmarkt flea market

The scented scuit

September 28th, 2011

Tomorrow the Ig Nobel Prizes will be awarded — 10 prizes given for achievements that first make people laugh, then make them think. You can watch the ceremony at 7:30 pm EST on Improbable.com.

Past winners are always invited back, if they so desire, and this year one of the returning winners is Hyuk Ho Kwon, inventor of the self-perfuming business suit. Here is Mr. Improbable talking about the suit:

He really does own one of those self-perfuming suits, in peppermint. In fact, it’s the only suit he owns, because you don’t really need to dress up to spend all day in your attic writing funny things about science, and when he gives talks, he ought to look like a scruffy academic, not a businessman. Which means every time we have some formal occasion, like a friend’s kid’s bat mitzvah or a wedding, he winds up wearing the scented scuit because I forget to drag him into J Press or some such and have an odorless suit fitted for him in time.

Mr. Kwon won the prize in 1999, and presented Marc with his suit at that time. Ten years and several dry-cleanings later, we took the suit to the wedding of a good friend of mine in Lincoln, Nebraska, during a glorious Indian-summer September. The day of the wedding, it was 85 degrees outside. The wedding venue was nine blocks from our hotel.

Turns out, the scented scuits can be activated by friction … or by heat. By the time we got to the wedding, my man was a walking Altoid, the misbegotten love child of Pigpen and Peppermint Patty.

You just never know.

A classic poem revised to suit my current mood

September 26th, 2011

When I am an old woman I shall say, “Purple?
And a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me?”
And I shall say, “Screw that!”
And get a poison ring instead
And a sword cane like the Kray Brothers carried.

Column & chat

September 25th, 2011

Today’s column — the whole thing — is online here. And this week’s chat is here as well — my apologies for not posting it earlier.

Last week turned into a work-at-homeathon, as whenever my allergies took a break from beating me up, my stomach problems took over the job. However, this week features both Rosh Hashanah and the Ig Nobel festivities, so style palettes will abound!

A thought before the weekend

September 23rd, 2011

From the Facebook of Nelson Mendez.

A pointless accomplishment

September 21st, 2011

And yet, one that I am proud of. My friend and I managed to keep an online Scrabble game confined to the top half of the board until there were no more tiles left in the bag:

Palette: Sinus, fiction

September 20th, 2011

I haven’t done a palette for few days because my allergies have been kicking in but good, so I’ve been working from home, wearing whatever is cozy and comfy. I’ve been about as aesthetically inspiring as this:

I’ve been trying to dress a bit better on days when I work from home, which is a topic for another post. When allergies and sinus kick in, though, it’s all about comfort, and not being any more irritated than I already am.

Both Mr. Improbable and I have been having bad sinus headaches the past week or so, as have several of our friends. Any other Bostonian readers suffering along with us?

I’ve thought for a long time that the key to understanding the work of Sylvia Plath is to know that she had almost constant sinus infections. Explains a lot, doesn’t it?

Arr, alas

September 19th, 2011

International Talk Like a Pirate Day used to be more fun when I was a professor, I tell you what. (Sometimes there would be forced participation. “Will this be on the midterm?” “Will this be on the midterm, what?” “Will this be on the midterm, arrr?”)

In honor of the day, an oldie-but-goodie: my translation of a passage from the 1942 Emily Post into pirate-speak.

The original:

One is apt to think of Etiquette as being of no more real service to the average citizen than a top hat–something that is of importance to none but brides and diplomats or the newly-rich or persons lately elected to political office. As a matter of fact, there is not a single thing that we do, or say, or choose, or use, or even think, that does not follow (or break) one of the exactions of taste, or tact, or ethics, or good manners, or etiquette–call it what you will.

And in translation:

Ahoy, ye bilge rats: d’ye think as manners is akin to a chest o’doubloons–th’kind o’thing the av’r'ge matey might admire but as does him no real good? Belay that notion! ‘Tis not only th’ marriageable wenches, th’hornswagglers and cockswains of landlubber society, them as new to booty, as has a need for the finer skills. Arrr! ‘Tis you and I, decidin’ when to give quarter, when to cut and run, when to attend to the scuttlebutt and when to close our ears, as are usin’ manners every day. Yer manners are the sails on yer mizzen, the tar on yer rope, the fig in yer duff. A gentleman of fortune’ll go no further without manners than a ship caught in the doldrums. A mate without manners ’tis naught but a ship bilged on its anchor. So learn ye the finer skills, and smartly!

Hmmm. I haven’t looked at that Emily Post book in a long time. There might be some material worthy of Gandhi and the Queen. If nothing else, they could take turns reading index entries.

Today’s column

September 18th, 2011

… is online here. I liked both questions very much. Regarding the second one, I wonder how many other advice columnists get asked questions about mirror neurons?

Palette: Sturdy style

September 16th, 2011

Thursday was a long day of office, appointments, schlepping, and theater. I wanted to look pulled together, but not necessarily formal. When I’m going to be running around a lot in my home town, I’ll often wear some of my travel staples, like this crocheted skirt and my striped pashmina.

Striped pashmina: Boutique in London
Grey tee: Old Navy
Crocheted skirt: J Jill, eBay
Gold braided belt: Target
Necklaces: Raspberry Beret, other
Black pearl earrings: gift
Black cord & crystal wrap bracelet: Miami airport store

The necklace with multiple chains and beads is from a consignment store. The other is my talisman.

My mother gave me the Star of David on the silver chain when I converted. Last Thanksgiving, she brought me my paternal grandfather’s pocket knife. It has four tiny blades, a small sapphire on one side, and his initials engraved on the other. This necklace is one of my favorite things.

eBay shopping tips

September 16th, 2011

In response to my recent style posts, Anita asked how I shop for clothes on eBay. Here’s a series of tips that I wrote up a couple of years ago:

1. Only buy garments that have to fit you in one measurement. Don’t buy things like jeans on eBay; you have to try jeans on. Don’t buy vintage clothing on eBay, even though you can get good deals; most clothing from the 60s and earlier was highly tailored and fits either really well or not at all. T-shirts, tank tops, pullovers, cardigans, sheath dresses, skirts are all good things to buy. Skirts have to fit you around the waist and that’s about it. Sweaters can be a little big or a little tight and it doesn’t really matter. If you’re shopping for kids’ clothes, err on the side of getting something the child can grow into, like you don’t already know that.

2. Shop for brands that run true to size. I know my size in Ann Taylor, Eileen Fisher, Chico’s, and several other brands beloved by middle-aged college-educated women who work in offices–you know, my tribal attire. Gap clothing, on the other hand, is all over the board; I’ve got Gap clothes ranging from size 0 to 8. So I wouldn’t shop for Gap clothes on eBay.

3. No, I can’t afford most of those brands in the stores, especially Eileen Fisher. (It takes a lot of money to look that dowdy.) That’s why I buy them on eBay. There’s no point getting Old Navy clothes on eBay–they’re cheap enough in the store, or on sale, and you don’t have to pay postage. Scale up a couple of notches when you’re eBaying.

4. You can shop by brand or by category. Choose which depending on how specific your desires are. If you just want a nice work skirt, “Ann Taylor skirt” with your size number will get you some nice options. If you know you want a green cardigan, search for “green cardigan.” (I have a huge floppy forest green chenille that I practically live in when we travel, and it’s nothing I would have found in stores.) If the seller hasn’t put the measurements in the description, you can always e-mail them and ask.

5. Keep in mind that people can’t spell, and try variants. Mr. Improbable once tried to buy a collapsible top hat (he wears one at the Igs) with no luck–until he accidentally spelled it “collapsable.” Ta-da!

6. Colors don’t translate well on computer screens. If you look fabulous in a blue-based red, but terrible in an orangey red, don’t get anything red on eBay. Only go for colors where the entire color family works for you.

7. Accept that you will make some mistakes. Don’t ever pay so much for something that you’ll be really upset if you don’t like it when it arrives. If it’s not as described, neg the seller, but sometimes even the most perfectly described items just don’t look good on.

8. If you have any sort of gambling or compulsive spending habit, do not shop on eBay. Seriously. It can be just a leeeetle too much fun. Buying more stuff than you really need isn’t saving money, no matter how good a deal you’re getting on it.

Does anyone else have any good tips?

Maybe they’re in the rotary club …

September 15th, 2011

My friend Molly bought a Spare Change newspaper the other day:

Though generally a liberal sort, Molly confessed that “To be honest, I’m not entirely comfortable with men wearing turbines either.”

(The typo was corrected in the online story.)