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A Passion for Audrey

I have to catch your breath at this breathtaking auction of Audrey Hepburn’s lovely dresses, purses and jewels. It’s the perfect cure for the mean reds. (Click on picture to see the georgeous auction catalogue.)

Yipes. Girls are dressing up like Cyndi Lauper for Halloween. I used to dress like Cyndi Lauper to live my life.

 

See those big black and gold dangly earrings toward the end of the video? Yeah, I had a pair like that. Also the bracelets. Can’t leave the house without an armful of bracelets bought in bunches from an Indian boutique. I had an entire rack of ruffle-tiered skirts. I used to swish them just like Cyndi when I went up and down stairs. Cyndi also inspired me to double pierce my ears in the tiny booth in the mall next to the food court one day after school. I was such a rebel.

What? You mean you never formed a conga line with your girlfriends to dance up and down the halls of your dorm singing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” at the top of your lungs? Well, okay, maybe that’s just me.

the group cover

Of course Betty Draper is reading Mary McCarthy’s bestselling book “The Group.” It’s her kind of book. The 1963 bestseller follows the the lives of eight Vassar women from their graduation in the depths of the Great Depression to the brink of American involvement in World War II. Cosmopolitan called it “juicy, shocking, witty and almost continually brilliant.” What’s not to love? For Betty,the Bryn Mawr grad and former jet-setting fashion model, this is just the sort of book that would capture her imagination.

In the episode “The Color Blue,” Betty is absorbed in the book, the way few characters seldom are on a modern TV drama. Like many people drawn into a good book, she is reading it all day long. She’s reading it while soaking in the tub and picks it up again after dinner while Sally does her homework.

This is entirely appropriate given the novel in question. Mary Mc Carthy was more than just a popular novelist. She was something of a literary legend. “The Group” is steeped in details, some imagined, but many of them subtle and not-so-subtle twists on McCarthy’s real-life college experiences. In an interview with The Paris Review in 1962, shortly before the book’s publication, McCarthy said that she conceived the book as a type of progress novel. She wanted to show the “idea of progress in the female sphere … economics, architecture, domestic technology, child bearing, the study of technology in the home, in the playpen, in the bed,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a history of the loss of faith of progress, in the idea of progress in that 20 year period.” The characters were composites of the girls she knew at school, but said that all of their mothers were in the book. “That’s the part I kind of like the best,” she said.

Critics focused, with varying degrees of approval, on what McCarthy called “the feminine sphere.” The New York Times was impressed by the book’s close study of women’s daily lives “in and out of battles, beds and rather contagious boredom.”

Because of its focus on housewives working women, society matrons and publishing assistants, it was easy to dismiss McCarthy’s decision to focus on consumerist details instead of The Big Issues. But even Norman Mailer, who led the charge on this front (and may have missed the entire point of the novel in the process) stopped to admire McCarthy’s ability to use the details of everyday objects and conversations to add depth and insight to her characters. “The real interplay of the novel, ” Mailer wrote, “exists between the characters and the objects which surround them.”

McCarthy’s relentless skewering of the male characters was also notable. “The men in their lives are satirized mercilessly,” the Times wrote. “[T]hey deserve their places in Miss McCarthy’s lampooning carnival. … I got the impression that she was reversing the cast of one of those minor war novels in which the leading characters are not quite human beings but rather representatives of carefully assorted milieus and callings. No heroes here, at any rate. A bunch of sad sacks, compared to the heroines.”

Even though the novel took place 30 years earlier, someone like Betty who’s focused almost solely on herself, her own vague unhappiness and dissatisfaction, she must have identified with McCarthy’s upper class college girls, their sorry consorts and the loss of faith in progress.

Death, Taxes, Clorox

clorox

Here’s the happy news from Clorox:  There will always be laundry. No matter how far we have come as a civilization. No matter how fancy and colorful our washing machines are. No matter how much money we make, where we live or who we live with.  Clorox is trying to make us feel that the circle of life includes laundry, we should feel connected to our great-great grandmothers — and to Clorox of course — by doing laundry,   but it’s really just depressing. If you are a woman, no matter how far you come in this man’s world, you’re going to have to do at least a few loads of laundry. And you’ll be bleaching your yukky little gym socks with Clorox. As a co-worker of mine from West Virginia used to say, “Accept it, bless it and move on.

Except, no.  My aunt had a cleaning lady named Evelyn who did the laundry. To this day, I’m not sure my aunt even knows how a washing machine works. My first boss, the coolest, hippest TV producer that ever lived, used to drop her laundry off at the laundromat and they’d do it for her.  My best friend would not even consider dating anyone who didn’t do laundry and her adorable husband washes his own smelly gym socks.  Women of the world, if you don’t want to do laundry, you don’t have to.

But aside from this depressing (and maybe a little sexist) vision of  middle-class laundry and the woman who sort it and fold it, is a much bigger question: Does anybody really bleach anything anymore? Tye-dyeing tee shirts does not count. My mother used to bleach things when I was little, in the sink in our laundry room, but she doesn’t do it any more. I don’t think I own a bottle of bleach.  I don’t think I’ve ever needed one.  The dirt and stains in my clothes come out just fine with the lemon-scented detergent that I bought on sale.  A quick visit to the Clorox web site reveals that Clorox and bleach in general can be very useful to kill bacteria but is also pretty toxic. Also there are a lot urban legends surrounding the uses of Clorox bleach that are funny at best, and a little  freaky at worst.

So what we are left with at the end of this walk through the history of modern American laundry methods is the idea that laundry has been and always will be a burden and Clorox is a quaint, arcane and vaguely dangerous product that hasn’t changed a bit in the last 100 years.

Watch it now, if you haven’t seen it yet.  I’m going to pass. On the idea of laundry as destiny and bleach as a necessity. Sorry, Clorox, accept it, bless it and move on.

Happy Birthday Bruce!

born_to_run-092309

When people ask me where I’m from, I usually tell them I grew up in a Springsteen song.  It’s much more evocative than clicking on Google Maps.

Because I had a poster of Bruce Springsteen in my dorm room and because I played Bruce Springsteen albums every day and told people I could not complete an English paper without a Springsteen soundtrack, and was obcessively marking off days until the E Street Band came to the Boston Garden, it was safe to assume that I was a huge, huge fan.

But let me be clear. I am a fan of the music. When he got married, a friend asked me if I was upset.

“Why would I be upset? ” I asked.

“Well, I know you really like him,”  she said.

“I would only be upset if his wife tells him he can’t make any more records.”

The first Springsteen song I ever heard was Born to Run on WBCN in Boston. I was getting ready for school and I stopped what I was doing to sit down on my bed and just listen. Bruce sang about hopeless, bleak factory towns like the one I was growing up in.  He talked about wanting, yearning. He was talking to me. (I wanna know if love is wild/I wanna know if love is real; It’s a town full of loser and I’m pullin’ outta here to win; The poets down here don’t write nothin’ at all/they just stand back and let it all be.”)  And because he was Bruce Springsteen, he was living proof that your future can be something more than a union card and a wedding coat.

I don’t think about Bruce as much as I used to, but when I do, I still get a chill, a rush of excitement. The first time I saw Springsteen live was and still is one of the best rock and roll nights of my life.  After the second (or third?) encore, they put the lights on in the arena after one of his shows as a signal for everyone to clear out and go home. Bruce ran back out on stage, grabbed the microphone and shouted “Hey! Turn those lights out! I’m not finished yet!” It was wonderful!  He played for at least another 45 minutes and did songs that he knew were only available on bootlegs at the time like “Because the Night” and “Santa Claus is Comming to Town.” How can you not love someone who asks the same questions you’re asking and writes great songs to keep you dancing and singing while you’re waiting?

“Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.”

So what am I talking about?

This is the essential classic Rosalita video from 1978. This is quintessential Springsteen.

Live version of Santa Claus is Comming to Town–  Back in the day, you could only hear this live if you were lucky enough to get tickets.

Thunder Road – live from the No Nukes Concert 1980

Check out Paste Magazine’s list of 5 must see Springsteen videos.

equal-pay-nowWhen Peggy Olson closed the door to have her sit-down with Don Draper, her boss, you didn’t have to be a student of history to know it was going to end badly. When women have conversations like this with their bosses about equal pay for equal work, it almost always ends badly.

Peggy’s consciousness-raising moment probably came after her liquid lunch with Duck Phillips. Trying to lure her over to Grey Advertising, he nearly drowns her in a sea of flattery. He says he admires her “focused ambition. He calls her a “free wheeling career gal with great ideas.” He promises her velvet pillows, riches and awards. But most importantly, he tells her that as a single woman with no mortgage or family responsibilities, this is her time. “Strike while the iron is hot,” he says.

She was also encouraged by the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which passed in June. The relevant portion of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that Peggy read about in the paper said sex discrimination would be prohibited in the workplace. Employers could no longer discriminate on the basis of sex by paying female employees at a rate less than what is paid to employees of the opposite sex who perform the same work using the same skills under the same conditions.

However, there are also some pretty big loopholes contained in the act. Exceptions are made for salaries paid in accordance with 1) a seniority system, 2) a merit system 3) a system which measures earnings by quality or quality of production or 4) a differential based on any factor other than sex…”

But it still sounds pretty good to Peggy. Now she has to get paid the same as the pipe-smoking poseur Princeton grad Paul Kinsey. It’s the law! They have the same job, and as she accurately pointed out, she does it better. Kinsey trashed talked the Madison Square Garden people in a pitch meeting. Peggy landed the Popsicle account all by herself. She does pro bono work for her church. She had to share an office with a Xerox machine. She barely makes more than her secretary. So what the hell Don, give the girl a raise.

Sadly, it’s more complicated than that. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was the first step in a long march to equal pay for equal work that continues into the millennium. ” Much remains to be done to achieve full equality of economic opportunity,” President Kennedy said in his remarks upon the signing of the bill. “[In 1960] the average woman worker earns only 60 percent of the average wage for men–this legislation is a significant step forward.” (In 2007, women made about 72 cents for every dollar a man earned.)

Even if Sterling Cooper wasn’t pinching pennies by counting paper clips and redlining expense reports, Don would have had several ready and legal excuses to keep Peggy’s salary right where it is. Don could tell her she doesn’t have the seniority or the numbers to merit a raise and there wouldn’t be much Peggy could have done about it. The law as it was written left a lot of room for a lot of excuses employers could (and did) use to rationalize paying women less than men. In the following four decades, a dozen lawsuits, additional legislation and a very vocal women’s movement will be needed to advance the concept of equal pay for equal work.

Social factors also contribute to the equal pay problem. Peggy works for an old school, old boys advertising agency. No turtlenecks or corned beef sandwiches here. Her boss stormed out of a meeting with a major New York department store because he wasn’t going to let a woman talk back to him. Her boss’ boss Roger Sterling throws parties at his country club where he performs in blackface. One of the account service managers was practically kicked to the curb for suggesting a client target black consumers. And let’s not forget the tragic Ann-Margret diet soda spot. Peggy knew it was a disaster from Day One and she said so only to be shot down by Don who tells her he understands women better than she does.

In 1964 Congress would pass the Civil Rights Act which includes Title VII which prohibits discrimination by covered employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Eventually, it would get harder and harder, but still not impossible for employers to pay their female employees less. Peggy’s time has yet to come.

Imagining Marc Jacobs

marc13What is so very special about wearing a prairie skirt over a vintage trench coat cinched at the waist with a teeny pencil belt? Or this girlie power suit variation in the picture?

Would you consider this combo? On an ordinary day when you are late for work, would it ever occur to you to put your favorite skirt together the blazer you love and the ruffled scarf you made in a weekend knitting class?

It would if you are Marc Jacobs. The Los Angeles Times says it is Jacobs’ particular genius to take a random bunch of cultural touchstones and global references Pierrot the Clown, Zandra Rhodes punk rock chic, the exotic costumes of Asia, Commes des Garcons put them in a blender and come up with something beautiful and fun.

The fashion press has flipped for this collection. I’ve spent the better part of today reading reviews and looking at the runway pictures trying to see the magic.  And now I think I finally get the reason for their giddy enthusiasm. It’s not a beautiful collection. There’s no one piece that is more breathtakingly beautiful or inspired than any other. Even though I do love the ruffled print dresses, that’s not the point. I already have ruffled print dresses. It’s the whole idea of the collection,  which is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

Jacobs’ creative paring of business suits with ruffles with boho skirts and lingerie that is so amazing. I imagine Marc throwing open a trunk filled with looks he loved and starting putting them together too see what disparate pieces might look nice together even if they were never meant to go together.

And really, isn’t this what we do every morning when we get dressed? Grab a favorite skirt, a comfy blouse and a trusty trench coat and wear them all together just because you like them? Nine  year old girls do this all the time, with varied, but amusing results.

But I don’t think that’s what makes Marc Jacobs important. The reason I’m growing fond of him is for creating a collection that gives women like me permission to throw open my closet, take out all my favorite pieces throw them on my bed and try to make something new and fresh and interesting.

So go ahead. Have fun with your clothes.  If it works for Marc Jacobs, with a little practice it can work for you.

See the whole collection here.

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