Category Archives: Clothing

Halloween

Halloween from cradle to cubicle.

Halloween: an American institution from cradle to cubicle.

I like most holidays, but Halloween has always been one of my favorites. In all the years I lived abroad, I tried to celebrate it as much as possible. But it always struck me as a very American holiday – one that Brits may enjoy, and Europeans may make a nod to, but no one else goes quite over the top like the Americans.

This year – my first year back in the US – Halloween falls on a Friday. This weekend I have been invited to no less than three Halloween parties. That is in addition to my office Halloween party which took place yesterday (yes, you read that correctly: professional adults get dressed up at the office in front of their co-workers, during working hours… hell yeah).

And if I hadn’t been feeling under the weather, yesterday evening I would have also attended Night of the Living Zoo, the National Zoo’s annual Halloween event. Yes, a party at the zoo. For Halloween. For adults. Really.

When I was living in the UK, I’d be lucky to get invited to one Halloween party to attend. Now I’m swimming in them. Finally, I can give Halloween the attention it deserves.

Given the four Halloween parties over three days, I even momentarily considered ordering more than one costume, so as to avoid donning the same Alice in Wonderland dress three days in a row. But then I thought maybe that would be going overboard. So instead, I decided to simply sleep in my costume for three nights. A reasonable compromise.

But even if you’re not going to any Halloween parties, you can’t escape. I just stepped out for a coffee, and there are people in costumes everywhere: so far today I spotted a chef, a footballer, a prisoner, and a woman on a bicycle covered in gold sequins and technicolor feathers. Rock on.

The great thing about Halloween in the US is that a costume can be anything. When I was celebrating Halloween in Europe, for example in France, I noticed that people were a lot more limited and formulaic in the costumes they wore. Women pretty much stuck to the standard witch or devil, and men were vampires, ghosts, monsters, or zombies, not straying far from the original meaning of All Hallows’ Eve as a celebration of the dead and departed. My European friends would often question non-scary costumes: “What does Superwoman have to do with Halloween?”

Americans, on the other hand, are as happy to be a nurse as a nun as a ninja. And, if you’re an adult woman (or even a tween, according to this article), generally the idea is for the costume to be as short and skimpy as possible. Because Halloween is the one time of year when it’s totally acceptable for (a) women to dress as provocatively as possible, and (b) men to dress in drag.

P.S. Being child-less and yard-less, I can’t/won’t even begin to touch upon all the other integral and amazing aspects of Halloween in America, including children going trick or treating (an unforgettable part of my childhood), pumpkin picking, carving jack o’ lanterns and roasting the pumpkin seeds, dressing your infant  up in a costume that you enjoy more than they do because they have no idea what is going on, and last but not least the practice of decorating one’s front yard for Halloween. When I was growing up, the only “decoration” that occurred for Halloween was when the high school trouble makers threw eggs and toilet paper at unlucky people’s houses. But now it seems to be a thing that people do: decorate your house/yard for Halloween in the same way you would for Christmas. Take it to the next level, America.

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Filed under Americana, Clothing, Holiday

Public pajamas

She looks like she just rolled out of bed. Quite literally.

She looks like she just rolled out of bed. Quite literally.

One of the many things I have been readjusting to state-side is the American dress code (or lack thereof). I’ve learned it’s okay to wear baggy, ill-fitting clothing comprised of far too much fabric, and conversely to don short-shorts that use about as much fabric as a handkerchief.

Well, another thing that appears to be acceptable in America is wearing your “house clothes” (the comfy sweat-pant/T-shirt combo that you would normally reserve for couch-potato-ing and ass-scratching) out of the house, or even better than that, straight up wearing your pajamas in public.

I remember when I was living in the UK, around 2010, the whole pajamas-in-public thing became an issue. Tesco, a large supermarket chain, had to ban patrons from wearing pajamas while doing their shopping, for fear of them offending other customers. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve heard that in more fashion-conscious countries like Italy, women get dressed up to the nines just to go to the corner shop and buy salami.

A good friend of mine from New Zealand told me that’s it’s also common down under for people to pop to the store for milk or cigarettes without bothering to change into a proper outdoor outfit. I really hope that one day someone goes to the department store to shop for pajamas while wearing pajamas… deep.

But regardless of whether pajamas are acceptable public attire in the US (debatable), for sure workout clothes are. My neighborhood is crawling with chicks wearing yoga pants and sports bras and guys wearing running shorts, even when they don’t appear to actually have done/be doing any sport. Gym clothes are just something you wear, regardless of whether or not you’re going to the gym. Just like pajamas can be something you wear, regardless of whether you are going to bed or not.

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Shopping malls

What, you mean this isn't your idea of a fun Saturday outing?

What, you mean this isn’t your idea of a fun Saturday outing?

I went to the mall on Saturday. It was a a whole production, a full day out. My friend, who has a car, drove us out of the city, along humdrum highways, out to the soulless suburbs that housed the sprawling outlet shopping mall. The occasion was: (a) tax-free shopping day in the state of Virginia, and (b) a dire need on both his part and mine for fall clothing (prior to the shopping trip, my wardrobe literally consisted entirely of dresses – I owned one pair of pants).

My day at the mall brought back memories. “Going to the mall” was an integral part of my suburban youth in Connecticut. In high school, teenagers would hang out at the mall on weekdays after school finished. On the weekends, I’d tag along with my Mom to the mall while she did her shopping. It was the thing you did. What else, after all, was there to do in the suburbs?

I forgot how overwhelming the mall can be. A throbbing mass of humanity slowly ebbs through the mall like blood through arteries, except the arteries are artificial tunnels lined with bright shiny distractions and broadcast with muzak, and the blood clots up around corners and on escalators. And the flow slows down for strollers and toddlers and a troop of teenagers and that wobbling obese person in too-tight jeans who struggles to walk from Auntie Anne’s pretzels to Bath &Body Works and is blocking your access to the exit when you really need to get out NOW! Okay, calm down and breathe…

And then there is the food court. The food court is the pumping heart of the shopping mall beast. All those suburban blue-jean blood cells fixed onto plastic swivel seats in between the greasy smell of heat-lamp Chinese noodles and the pepperoni pheromones of Sbarro’s fat triangle pizza by the slice and the sweet cinnamon scent of Cinnabon. My slow loop of the food court reveals a falafel sandwich as the only remotely healthy food item. And there I am, another blood cell, eating my falafel, chomping chomping chomping, before continuing my circuit of the tunnels of consumption, buying buying buying.

I now own six pairs of pants total.

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Filed under Clothing, Consumerism, Food, Shopping

Short shorts

So-called "butt cleavage."

So-called “butt cleavage.”

A couple of the countries I lived in during my time abroad, especially those in Africa, were fairly traditional. In Somaliland, a conservative Muslim country, I couldn’t leave the house without first fully covering myself with a long dress, shawl, and head scarf. In Tunisia, I wore western clothes to work, but always took care not to wear anything too revealing.

Even in Liberia, in West Africa, I was once told off by a coworker for wearing a dress that was too short. It ended just slightly above my knees. By the end of my stay in Liberia, I had switched over to an entirely African wardrobe of hand-tailored wax print dresses. They all went below the knee.

So, after 2 to 3 years of living in these relatively conservative environments, it was a bit of a shock to the system to return to the US and… see butt cheek everywhere. Apparently, in the 2.5 years that passed since I last came to the US in 2011, a new style had emerged: short shorts. Short short shorts.

Shorts have always been more popular in the US than Europe. I’m not sure if it is because of the cooler weather in many European countries, or a more refined sense of fashion, but I noticed that Europeans don’t really wear shorts (of any length), unless if they are children, or playing sports.

In the US, on the other hand, shorts seem to be *the* staple wardrobe item in the summertime, and not only is everyone wearing them, but they are are wearing less and less of them more often.

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Potato sack style

Maybe I'll gain weight and grow into this.

Maybe I’ll gain weight and grow into this.

Americans have the reputation – at least among Europeans – of being badly dressed. This sweeping statement is certainly not universally true across the entire United States; there are plenty of well-dressed people, especially in the more fashion-forward metropolises like, famously, New York City. But there is definitely more than a kernel of truth to this stereotype.

One thing I’ve noticed since returning to the US is not that Americans are badly dressed as such, but more that they are wearing clothing that is horrendously ill fitting. As in, how did you try that on, look at yourself in the mirror, and think that was okay to buy?

I’ve noticed this with men in particular, and especially white men when they are trying to dress formally for work or other occasions. Nothing looks more amateur and downright un-sexy than an ill fitting suit. European men often wear bespoke (custom made) suits or, if they buy a ready made suit, they will get it tailored so it fits their body smoothly.

The concept of the slender-cut suit seems not to exist among many American men, who buy the off-the-rack suits that leave them looking frumpy with folds of fabric bunched up in all sorts of awkward places (and a belt struggling unsuccessfully to hold it all together). And similarly, what’s up up with American men wearing khaki trousers that are several sizes too large? I saw a guy the other day whose khakis were so baggy, they were literally flapping  in the wind…

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Size 6, my ass!

A 12 is a 10 is a 6.

A 12 is a 10 is a 6.

I went shopping today and I accidentally tried on a pair of size 6 DKNY jeans. I say accidentally, because I never would have intentionally picked a size 6 off the shelf, that not being my size. But, here’s the weird thing: they fit.

There is absolutely no way I am a size 6, not unless the definition of “size 6” has changed. When I first left the US in 1999, I was 18 years old, twenty pounds lighter than I am now, and a size 6. Ten pounds of weight gain is supposedly equivalent to moving up one dress size, so that should make me a size 10 today.

And that is the size I thought I was. After all, I usually fit a European size 40 or a UK size 12, which is equivalent to a US size 10. But there I was in he dressing room, second guessing my calculations. I even went and tried on another size 6 in another style, just to double check… perhaps there was a manufacturing error with that one pair? Nope: the other pair fit, too.

What was going on here? As soon as I got home, I researched it online and was relieved to find that I had not lost my marbles (or my butt). It turns out what I experienced is due to a well-documented phenomenon called “Vanity Sizing,” in which the clothing industry manipulates sizes – which used to be more standardized – to increase sales. Not surprisingly, women tend to feel better about themselves when they fit into a smaller size, and that increased self-esteem translates into increased sales for the clothing brand. No matter if it’s not a “real” size 6, she bought the jeans, didn’t she? (I didn’t, for the record, buy that size 6 pair… marketers, you can’t fool me!)

The clothing industry has finally learned the mirror image of the lesson the condom industry has known for years: don’t label any condom a size “small,” because no man is ever going to buy it. Call the regular size condom “large” and call the large size condom “XL” or “MAXX.” Yes man, you have a big penis, buy our condoms. Yes woman, you have a small butt, buy our size 6 jeans. And everyone lives obliviously and happily ever after. Until they read about “size inflation” in the Economist, which shows them in cold hard graphs how many inches have been added their “size 6” (and their waist) over the years.

To make matters worse, it seems that size inflation has not been consistent across stores and brands, so your size is changing all the time depending on where you are shopping (a website named What Size Am I? has even been developed to try and overcome the problem).

Another off-shot of size inflation is the creation of size zero (0) and even size double zero (00), both of which just sound so wrong. There has even been a campaign against the fashion industry’s use of models of that size, called “Say No to Size Zero.” Perhaps it should be more accurately called, “Say No to Size Zero, Because Size Four is No More.”

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Filed under Clothing, Shopping