(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘fashion

“…there may be no forgiveness for polyester. On this one matter, Satan and the Lord are in agreement”*…

Polyester has had a roller coaster ride as a clothing fabric, but now it’s sitting pretty. As Virginia Postrel explains, thanks to advances in materials science, it reinvented itself so successfully that many people don’t even realize they’re wearing polyester today…

Fifty years ago, polyester seemed like a wonder fabric. It freed women from their ironing boards, and they poured into the workforce, feeling liberated in their double-knit pantsuits. Polyester held bright colors better than old-fashioned materials, making it ideal for psychedelic prints, disco attire, and sports teams clashing on color television. It was inexpensive, and it didn’t wear out. People loved polyester.

Until they didn’t. A decade later, polyester was the faux pas fiber. It pilled and snagged. It didn’t breathe. It stank from sweat. And it represented bad taste. ‘It became associated with people of low socioeconomic status who didn’t have any style’, an advertising executive told the Wall Street Journal in 1982.

That year, prices fell by more than 10 percent, as polyester fiber consumption dropped to its lowest level since 1974. Profits plummeted. Plants closed. Industry polls showed a quarter of Americans wouldn’t touch the stuff – with resistance fiercest among the young, the affluent, and the fashion-conscious. For polyester makers, the miracle threatened to become a disaster…

Four decades later, polyester rules the textile world. It accounts for more than half of global fiber consumption, about twice that of second-place cotton. Output stands at nearly 58 million tons a year, more than 10 times what it was in the early ’80s. And nobody complains about polyester’s look and feel. If there’s a problem today, it’s that people like polyester too much. It’s everywhere, even at the bottom of the ocean…

On the past and future of a ubiquitous fiber: “How polyester bounced back,” from @vpostrel.

* “He paused, twisting his goatee, considering the law in Deuteronomy that forbade clothes with mixed fibers. A problematic bit of Scripture. A matter that required thought. ‘Only the devil wants man to have a wide range of lightweight and comfortable styles to choose from,’ he murmured at last, trying out a new proverb. ‘Although there may be no forgiveness for polyester. On this one matter, Satan and the Lord are in agreement’.” – Joe Hill, Horns

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As we contemplate clothing, we might send inventive birthday greetings to Ron Popeil; he was born on this date in 1935. An inventor and entrepreneur, he developed dozens of best-selling products and pioneered the direct-response infomercial form of sales.

At the age of 17, Popeil moved to Chicago and went to work for his father to learn the trade from him. Popeil’s father, Samuel J. Popeil, was an inventor as well, and some of Ron’s earlier famous creations were based on his father’s gadgets. He also discovered a flea market in Chicago called Maxwell Street that helped boost his career considerably. He also demonstrated his products at Woolworths’ in Chicago where he earned in excess of $1000 per week. After acting as his father’s distributor for a few years, Popeil eventually opened up his own company named “Ronco” in 1964.

When Popeil was working for his father, one of the products he undertook to sell was a vegetable chopper called “Chop-O-Matic”. Priced at $3.98, this was one of the bestselling products of his company and sold over 2 million units. The only problem was that salesmen could not carry enough vegetables with them to demonstrate the chopping process at each house. The solution was to record a video demonstrating the use of the gadget. This led him to think about advertising these videos as a commercial on television. Television commercials and Popeil were an instant match. Popeil’s natural selling skills could now reach crowds of millions and further sales began to pour in.

Ron had a long list of bestselling products with his company Ronco. One was a device called the “pocket fisherman” that is a small tackle box with hook, line, and sinker all in one. He called it “the best fishing invention since the fishing pole and only for $19.95”. Another invention was “Mr. Microphone” – a low powered FM modulator and radio transmitter that would broadcast using an FM radio. Another of his bestsellers was the “Showtime Rotisserie” oven for cooking chicken and BBQ. In his infomercials he used the line “Set it, and forget it!” to pitch the product to audiences. Other products include smokeless ashtray, drain buster, bottle cap opener, electric food dehydrator, egg scrambler, hair formula to cover up bald patches, Dial-O-Matic, and a pasta maker.

Famous Inventors

And Popeil was also hugely impactful in the ways that he sold his products, helping to develop and establishing a number of the norms and tropes of the infomercial, including the now-standard catchphrases “But wait, there’s more” and “Operators are standing by.”

Ron Popeil with his “Showtime Rotisserie”

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“The method preferred by most balding men for making themselves look silly is called the comb over”*…

Balding has been the constant scourge of man since the beginning of time, and for millennia, our best solution was the comb-over. Brian VanHooker tells the story of how its once-ubiquitous popularity thinned, receded, and then got pushed to the side…

For decades now, having a comb-over to cover one’s baldness has been generally seen as unacceptable. There may be exceptions, but men with prominent, noticeable comb-overs are often regarded as desperate — instead of aging gracefully, they’re seen as hopelessly clinging to a time when they had a full head of hair. Worst of all, for people with advanced hair loss, the comb-over is entirely ineffective. Instead of disguising a man’s baldness, it only accentuates it, thus laying bare their lack of hair and, even worse, their insecurity.

This wasn’t always the case. For at least a couple thousand years, comb-overs were perfectly acceptable and worn by the most powerful men in the world. It was only during the latter half of the 20th century that it all came crashing (flopping?) down…

From Julius Caesar to Donald Trump, a tonsorial trip through time: “The Rise, Flop, and Fall of the Comb-Over,” from @TrivialHistory in @WeAreMel.

* Dave Barry

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As we resist the urge, we might send scandalous birthday greetings to Giacomo Casanova; he was born on this date in 1725. A Venetian adventurer and author, he is best remembered– as a product both of his memoir and of other contemporary accounts– as a libertine, a womanizer who carried on complicated and elaborate affairs with numerous women.

At the same time, he associated with European royalty, popes, and cardinals, along with intellectual and artistic figures like Voltaire, Goethe, and Mozart. His memoir (written toward the end of his life, while he served as librarian to Count Waldstein) is regarded as one of the most authentic sources of the customs and norms of European social life during the 18th century.

Casanova preferred a wig to a comb-over.

Potrait by Casanova’s brother Francesco

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“I’ve always thought of the T-shirt as the Alpha and Omega of the fashion alphabet”*…

Haruki Murakami on the semiotics of casual accumulation…

I’m not particularly interested in collecting things, but there is a kind of running motif in my life: despite my basic indifference, objects seem to collect around me. Stacks and stacks of LPs, so many I’ll never listen to them all; books I’ve already read and will probably never open again; a ragtag assemblage of magazine clippings; dinky little pencils, so worn down they don’t fit into a pencil sharpener anymore. All sorts of things just keep on piling up.

T-shirts are one of those things which naturally pile up. They’re cheap, so whenever an interesting one catches my eye I buy it. People give me various novelty T-shirts from around the world, I get commemorative T-shirts whenever I run a marathon, and when I travel I often pick up a few, instead of bringing along extra clothes. Which is why the number of T-shirts in my life has skyrocketed, to the point where there’s no room in my drawers anymore and I have to store the overflow in stacked-up cardboard boxes.

Whenever I go to the U.S., after I leave the airport and get settled in town I invariably find myself wanting to go out and grab a hamburger. It’s a natural urge, but you could also see it as a kind of ritual I go through. Either one’s O.K.

Ideally, I go to a hamburger joint around one-thirty, after the lunch crowd has left, plunk myself down at the counter, and order a Coors Light on tap and a cheeseburger. I like the burger cooked medium, and I always get raw onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and pickles. Plus an order of French fries and, like an old buddy I’m visiting, a side of coleslaw. Critical partners in all this are mustard (it’s got to be Dijon) and Heinz ketchup. I sit there, quietly sipping my Coors Light, listening to the voices of the people around me and the clatter of dishes, attentively imbibing the atmosphere of this different land, as I wait for my cheeseburger to emerge. Which is when it finally hits me that, yes, I really am in America.

This T-shirt has a straightforward message: “i put ketchup on my ketchup.” Now, that’s the statement of somebody who is seriously in love with ketchup. It kind of teases those Americans who put ketchup on everything, but I find it interesting that one of the companies that distribute these shirts is none other than Heinz. A little self-deprecatory humor going on here, but you can’t help feeling the American spirit in it, the optimistic, cheerful lack of introspection that says, “Who cares about being sophisticated! I’m gonna do what I want!”

When I walk around town in this shirt, Americans sometimes call out, “Love the shirt!” The ones who do this usually have that “I love ketchup” look about them. Sometimes I feel like coming back with a “Hey, don’t lump me in with you guys,” but usually I just give a cheerful “Yeah, pretty nice, huh? Ha-ha.” This kind of T-shirt communication does a lot to liven things up. You’d never find that happening in Europe. For one thing, Europeans by and large hardly ever eat ketchup.

“I drink Heineken a lot whenever I go to the U.S. In crowded, noisy bars, you have to shout out your order, and I’ve found that the one brand I can pronounce reliably is Heineken.”

How (and why) @harukimurakami_ amassed more T-shirts than he can store (and more examples): “An Accidental Collection,” from @NewYorker.

* Giorgio Armani

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As we slip it on, we might send stream of consciousness birthday greetings to William Cuthbert Faulkner; he was born on this date in 1897.  A writer of novels, short stories, poetry, essays, screenplays, and one play, Faulkner is best remembered for his novels (e.g.,  The Sound and the Fury,  As I Lay Dying, and Light in August) and stories set in “Yoknapatawpha County,” a setting largely based on Lafayette County, Mississippi, where Faulkner spent most of his life.  They earned him the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

From Requiem for a Nun, Act I, Scene III, by William Faulkner

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“Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work”*…

For example…

The slang of 19th century scoundrels and vagabonds: browse it in full at invaluable Internet Archive, “Vocabulum; or, The Rogue’s Lexicon.”

* Carl Sandburg

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As we choose our words, we might send fashionable birthday greetings to George Bryan “Beau” Brummell; he was born on this date in 1778. An important figure in Regency England (a close pal of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV), he became the the arbiter of men’s fashion in London in the territories under its cultural sway. 

Brummell was remembered afterwards as the preeminent example of the dandy; a whole literature was founded upon his manner and witty sayings, e.g. “Fashions come and go; bad taste is timeless.”

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 7, 2021 at 1:01 am

“a total space, a complete world, a kind of miniature city”*…

John Portman’s Atlanta Hyatt Regency, which opened in 1967, kicked off a major atrium-hotel-building craze

If you’re craning your neck as severely when you step inside a building as you did outside it, you might be in an atrium hotel, an intensely American structure for sleep, conferences, cocktails, and much more. These are facilities built around a massive central chamber stretching a dozen or several dozen stories into the sky; at the lobby level, you’ll find bars, restaurants, gardens, live birds, and maybe even a boat or two.

We don’t build them much anymore, but Americans invented, perfected and exported this unique building style to the world (where it continues to prosper). Birthed in brash excess, atrium hotels were first seen as too gaudy by the modernist architectural establishment and as too profligate by penny-pinching chain hoteliers. To varying observers, they suggest everything from Disney to dystopia. But in their heyday, these buildings promised — and delivered — a spectacle like no other.

Real estate developer Trammell Crow, the man with the most Dallas-sounding name you’ve ever heard, provided early inspiration for the form with his Dallas Trade Mart atrium, built in 1958. But it was Atlanta architect-developer John Portman, his occasional partner, who adapted and built the form into a colossus. Portman’s Hyatt Recency Atlanta opened in 1967, and was an immediate sensation. Atriums became a signature of the Hyatt Regency brand, and Portman went on to work for a variety of other chains, including Marriott and Westin. Atriums later became a standard feature of most Embassy Suites…

The benefit wasn’t just grand views from the lobby, but from every floor; each hallway was suddenly a balcony. Inside that central volume of space, hotels stuffed a range of embellishments. “One would move through a set of functions and experiences as one might a city: from home, to garden, to urban plaza, cafe, and bar,” wrote University of Technology, Sydney architectural historian Charles Rice in his book Interior Urbanism: Architecture, John Portman, and Downtown America.

The trouble was, some critics saw, that these atrium hotels tended to be creating, as Rice’s title indicates, a new urbanism that was purely inside. Amenities that once faced streets were pulled indoors and replaced with blank walls and hard-to-find entrances. That formula — so irresistible during an era of urban crisis and decay in the 1970s and ’80s — lost some appeal when cities staged a comeback and the streets again beckoned with their own attractions…

Portman’s first atrium wasn’t in a hotel at all, but in the now-demolished Antoine Graves public housing tower in Atlanta, built in 1965. The idea was simple, says Mickey Steinberg, a structural engineer on many of Portman’s early projects. The architect was just trying to provide some sociable space and ventilation to tenants. (The building was not air conditioned.) “If I had a hole down the center of the building,” Steinberg recalls Portman saying, “people could come out and talk to each other and I might be able to get some air through the building.” 

That notion recurred to Portman two years later for the Hyatt Regency. “It wasn’t any grand philosophy about a style of architecture,” Steinberg says. “He was designing for people to want to be there.”

He was also designing for people who might not have wanted to be in Atlanta, whose central business district was in decline. Steinberg recalled Portman’s intention: “I’m going to create a space for them to want to be in, because downtown Atlanta doesn’t have it anymore.”

The Portman-style skyscraper atrium revived a 19th century tradition: the grand hotel lobby, with its adjoining restaurants, ballrooms and other such attractions. In the motel age, these spaces had often been pared back to a mere desk for paperwork. (You’d even usually go elsewhere for that one ineradicable amenity of the ice machine.) Portman bet that guests would embrace spectacle and activity again…

The atrium concept didn’t initially enthrall the moneymen… Bill Marriott had one look and he said, ‘Don’t bother with it. Motels are the thing.’” Conrad Hilton famously called it a “concrete monster.” A then-unknown savior turned up in the form of Don Pritzker, whose nascent Hyatt chain then had only three locations. 

That bet paid off once the Hyatt Regency Atlanta opened: Visits to the hotel in the first four months of operation exceeded their expectation of the first five years. Guests lined up just to go up and down in the glass elevators. And Hyatt ran with the formula, building additional atrium-equipped Regency locations into the 1970s and ’80s…

A consideration of a uniquely-American style and of the social, cultural, and economic forces that birthed it: “Into the Heart of the Atrium Hotel.”

* Frederic Jameson, describing Portman’s Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, Postmodernism

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As we blow bubbles, we might recall that it was on this date in 1928 that former concert violinist and proprietor of the One-In-Hand Tie Company of Clinton, Iowa, Joseph W. Less, introduced the modern clip-on tie.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 13, 2020 at 1:01 am

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