Friday, May 30, 2008

If only...

(photo credit: The Sartorialist)

*Sigh*... I adore this outfit. It's from the Sartorialist blog and was taken in London.

Everything about is so coolly individual - the bow tie, the brogue shoes, the stripey socks, the stripey dress that would ordinarily be rather ugly on its own but looks inspired paired with the other items.

Imagine if someone wore this fantastic outfit in the Caribbean. Individualism in fashion is not really celebrated. Being 'in style' is celebrated but having a unique personal style is often derided.

I must say one interesting exception to this is the dancehall culture in Jamaica where the stars be they dancers or performers are aggressively individualistic and flamboyant about their style.

And I happen to love that. When you see Elephant Man you might think he looks a damn fool with his two-toned hair and crazy outfits (I saw a vid of him performing in New York in a pirate's outfit - with an inflatable parrot on his shoulder and all!) but you know what - he isn't blending in. And he's an artist, a performer - he's supposed to stand out and look a little different and crazier than regular folk. He's not supposed to look like every other person that is at the fete, nor is he supposed to look like he's going to an office, he's supposed to capture your attention.


Doesn't that capture your attention?

In case you needed another reason to shop...

A story in the New York Times' style section has confirmed what we've all sensed... that while every damn thing is going up, including food, fashion at least is becoming more affordable than ever.

At least at one end of the market.

At the mainstream, 'fast fashion' end of the market, clothes are cheaper than they were a decade ago, especially when adjusted for inflation.

NY Times reports:
As luxury fashion has become more expensive, mainstream apparel has become markedly less so. Today, shoppers pay the same price for a basic Brooks Brothers men’s suit, $598, as they did in 1998. The suggested retail price of a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans, $46, is about $4 less than it was a decade ago. A three-pack of Calvin Klein men’s briefs costs $21.50, only $3.50 more than in 1998. Which is the better buy?

Factoring for inflation, each of these examples is actually less expensive today. In current dollars, the 1998 suit would cost $788, the jeans would be $66 and the underwear would be nearly $24. As consumers adjust to soaring prices for gasoline, food, education and medical care, just about the only thing that seems a bargain today is clothes — mainstream clothes, anyway.

Clothing is one of the few categories in the federal Consumer Price Index in which overall prices have declined — about 10 percent — since 1998.

Fast fashion chains like Forever21 and Target in the US, H&M internationally (or as me and a good friend used to call it at uni 'Old Faithful'), Top Shop and Primark in the UK  are driving this trend, with their incredibly quick turnaround and the ability to replicate almost exactly (but not TOO exactly) the hottest trends straight off the runway at a bargain price.

To be honest, even in the Caribbean where clothing is traditionally so expensive that we turn to the US for semi-annual shopping trips to get our whole wardrobe, I have noticed that prices are coming down. A few years ago it was rare that I would buy any of my clothing here at home. It was only for special occasions and unavoidable instances that I would buy clothing here and it was usually stuff like dresses or tops. Work clothes, jeans and bags were definitely out, as were shoes unless absolutely unavoidable. Otherwise I would wait until I got my vacation and travelled to the US or UK and buy up my whole stock one time.

But the times, they are a-changing. True, many merchants here still juck out our eyes for absolutely no reason. Really, I mean ABSOLUTELY NONE- I know someone who owns a popular small boutique and if they buy say a shirt for US$5 or $10, they will come home and sell it for US$30 or $35! They told me most matter-of-factly that their average mark-up is to at least quadruple the price. And it ain't because of taxes since we know most small merchandisers and the big ones too find various loopholes and grease various palms to pay little or no taxes. Moreover, some of the people that are raping your wallet for clothes are selling ON THE STREET - now why de hell I going to buy a bag for US$50 from a yute on the street that has literally no overhead when I know good and well he got it for US$10? Why?

Anyhow I digress... like I said, while there are still eye-juckists, prices are going down. Trinidad for instance, has long been a bastion of good clothing prices and stiff competition from the Trini clothing stores (who are so confident as to advertise aggressively in the rest of the Eastern Caribbean - especially near to holiday weekends) and perhaps it is the combination of that and the realisation that many people will simply never buy from local merchants because they are too rapacious, that has brought prices down.

Just this week I went shopping at a biggish store which in recent years has gained a reputation for majorly cheap prices and a rapid turnover of items. I got a lovely white and brown A-line cotton work skirt there for US$10- same as I would find in Brooklyn! On Tuesday, I got a pair of cute push-in sneakers with a funky black, red and white argyle and skull-print (it sounds weird I know but it's really nice) for US$5! And a cute navy blue flowered top for US$10!

At these prices, who needs to shop in foreign?

However, at the other end of the market, the luxury end, they have consumers in a chokehold. From the NY Times again:
But at fashion’s high end, it may be consumers who think they are being exploited. Of the name-brand items that Thursday Styles ran a 10-year comparative price check for, the highest gain, 104 percent, was for the Speedy bag, followed by a $1,900 Lady Dior bag (73 percent higher) and a $325 Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress (71 percent higher). These prices were not adjusted for inflation, which has run 32 percent cumulatively since 1998:

Need I say more? Imagine if they had adjusted them for inflation! No wonder people go to Canal Street for the knock-offs. *suck teeth*

Moreover, the decreasing price of fashion has these folks shook.
While fashion deflation may be good news for consumers, it is not necessarily so for stores. Such prices at the low end and, conversely, such high prices at the luxury end, where $1,300 handbags are piled up like tomatoes at Saks Fifth Avenue, are beginning to cause concern among retailers and analysts, because they are having a profound impact on the way people shop.

“Everything we pick up today has to pass a test,” said Candace Corlett, the president of WSL Strategic Retail, a consulting group. During a survey of shoppers in November, 60 percent of the respondents said they had recently begun to stop and reconsider clothing purchases before buying. “To me, that is the scariest thing for retail going forward, because that is a new habit,” Ms. Corlett said. “It’s not like in 2000, when we were just buying so much stuff. We are learning now what we call the cautious pause.”

The fashion and retail industry fear that the appeal of price, for consumers of both mass and luxury goods, is becoming a more important factor in decisions about what to buy than desire, which has been the driving mechanism behind the growth of fashion and luxury for decades.

We as a business cannot afford to have a customer take a second look and ask, ‘Do I need this?’ ” said Bud Konheim, the chief executive of Nicole Miller. “That is the kiss of death. We’re finished, because nobody really needs anything we make as a total industry.” 

Wha de ass? People stopping to consider whether they actually need a hideously expensive bag is scary. Well, well, well. Especially when you consider an article in the same NYT last week, about where high-end designers buy their clothing and how much it actually costs them. A quick quote:
DEPENDING on the complexity of a style (last year Mr. Jacobs had a pants style with 15 zippers), Mr. Capolupo may charge around $50 for a pair of trousers that could sell at retail for $800.

And another:

I wondered about the difference between the money Mr. Capolupo gets for a pair of pants and the price the stores charge.

“Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren do pay a lot to produce their garments,” Mr. Hefner said. “They use high-quality fabrics.”

He touched a pair of navy pants on his table, by Mr. Lauren. “This is cotton from Japan,” he said. “This part is silk. The thread is German. It’s expensive. If it costs a designer $75 in total to make a garment, they charge the stores $150. The stores sell it for $300.”

“But a pair of designer pants costs twice that,” I said.

“A lot of it is branding,” Mr. Hefner said. “Some customers want to buy expensive stuff. Also, it cost a lot to run a fashion company. The staff, the rents, the shows. Every time you open a magazine, you see a Ralph Lauren ad. That costs money. People pay for the marketing when they buy the magazine, plus when they buy the garment. But they live the life of wearing those clothes. It’s worth it to them.”

I asked Mr. Hefner if it made him cynical.

“No,” he said. “Fashion is fashion. You can either buy a $50 pair of pants or a $500 pair. They’d probably both be just as durable but there wouldn’t be fashion. There’d just be stuff.”

I beg to differ. But I may be biased I think having style comes from within yourself and is personal, rather than coming from a designer and being a public display of wealth.

But like Mr. Hefner said ... it's worth it to some people. Thing is, I think a lot of people convince themselves the designer stuff is actually better when what they are actually buying is imaginary, a figment of some marketers' imagination. Obviously it is to some extent, but it's not so many times better that a quality mid-range brand rather than a luxury brand would not have sufficed.'s worth it to some folks.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Like I said...

In my post of May 15th I commented about the issue of the scrutiny and criticism that many female politicians get over their appearances. At the time I said:
Personally, I think considering that is now established that women are outstripping men professionally, academically and financially, we can finally finish with this foolishness of trying to look like one of the guys to be taken seriously. It is just fine to look like a woman and embrace style and attractive cuts and colours because woman a run tings now more than ever and that trend is only set to continue. So the dictates of professional style should be set by and looked at from a feminine perspective.

Maybe it's just a coincidence but ... look!

I happened across this pic of Barbadian Opposition Leader Mia Mottley this morning when I was surfing the regional papers.

Considering that her look before was more like...


This is an interesting change. Though I must say I always prefer natural hair to straightened hair.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The small graces of small islands

Living in a small island can be a study in contradictions for islandistas.

Admittedly there are times it is frustrating for us with our with more worldly tastes - personally I wish there was more theatre, more art, more restaurants, more options for partying, more career options.

Not that we're not getting there - there are more options for partying than ever before, a greater diversity of restaurants, more things to do when you lime and with the CSME, the Caribbean really is our oyster now - in fact, at least 3 of my good UWI friends (hailing from two different islands) may be moving to my island soon. And we are able to move between different islands with ease. Well, not as much physical ease as two years ago thanks to LIAT and Caribbean Star merging and BWEE 'rationalising' - rampant eye-jucking abounds in air fares these days. But in terms of social and cultural ease, true islandistas (and islandistos?) get it - the whole region is our stomping ground - we go from carnivals to music festivals, meeting and greeting friends along the way.

Anyhow, back to the point at hand which is the contradictions. On the one hand,small island life can seem restricting at times. But on the other hand, it is that same restrictingness that gives small islands their endearing graces and intimacies. In an island, you can never feel alone.

Take for example this just started work week. I have returned after a lovely, long vacation and at the bus stop and on my regular bus yesterday morning, everyone greeted me - "I wasn't seeing you in long - how you doing?"

I love that in a small island people feel comfortable and familar enough with each other still to do that. There is none of that (stifling in its own way) anonymity and detachment that you get in larger societies - if people haven't seen you for a month- so what? You could be dead in your apartment and people wouldn't notice. You could be kept in an underground bunker for years (a la Austria) and people would not be prying enough to notice or wonder.

It's not like that in most of the Caribbean. I love that it is so.

Another example. A young schoolgirl got on the bus this morning but she didn't have exact change. So when she got on, she said 'good morning' and then she asked if anyone had change for $10. While no-one had change, they made sure that they gave her exact bus fare to get where she had to go - and she had to take two buses. If that happened in another country, tough luck. No-one would pay attention to you. Moreover, people go out of their way not to pay attention to you - in other countries I've visited, people seemed literally afraid to even make eye contact, far less to say 'Good morning/evening/night' or even nod in greeting.

So there is still much to be said for small island living.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Interesting thoughts on feminism and femininity

I came across this in the UK Guardian a little while ago, in a Q&A with Nancy Dell'Olio (most famous for being the girlfriend of former England football coach and current but-soon-to-be-sacked Manchester City coach Sven Goran Eriksson).

This one comment jumped out at me:
" Are you a feminist?

I am new feminist. New feminists feel we are the same as men, but we have something men do not - our femininity. We are much more powerful than men and that's what women have to realise; that's why men are scared. I want to have equality, but I want to keep my privilege - they have to open the door of my car. I want to use my feminine side. "

In praise of the praise songs of West Indian men

Who says Caribbean men don't show their emotions? Just today in town, I got two passionate declarations of love - in an hour and a half! And none of them were from my man!

The first a fervent "Ras...I love that size" as I entered a boutique. The second a more straightforward "Empress, I love you!" as I made my way out of town.

Look, when I was younger, to be honest I did not really appreciate the attention. I did not know how to react, it made me feel uncomfortable and exposed. As I got older, it just kind of faded into the background or I would dismiss it with a roll of the eyes and exasperation.

But you know how it goes. You never miss the water til the well runs dry and all that.

I spent a year in England...stolid, unemotive England. In the Midlands no less, in a town that had maybe 500 black people in it, including the 100+ at my uni.

And I felt like a complete plod...  to use the British expression. It was horrible! Europeans, strange creatures that they are go so far out of their way not to intrude on anyone's privacy or 'space' that not only did I hardly get any appreciative compliments on the street, I didn't even get a good morning. It was a real culture shock.

Worse, even the black guys were not giving any love ... at least not to black girls. I actually encountered one yute who pushed me out of his way (not a hard shove or anything but STILL) at my uni's club one night to get to a group of white girls - and then he went straight for the homeliest, most overweight, block-shaped one! Wha a gwan wid dese breddas ya?  I actually started to doubt myself after a while. I started to wonder if I was really rather plain and not as attractive and sexy as I know I am.  Felt more self-conscious about my tummy, less enamoured of my spectacular breasts, etc.

Fortunately, that nonsense only lasted about a week until one day I was in class, feeling ploddish, not to mention bored. I looked out the window and caught a glimpse of myself reflected in the glass- the full lips, even features, gorgeous smile ... and realised I was being a damn fool letting these people get to me.

Anyhow, in the summer I moved down to London for an internship. I moved into a shared house in North London (a horrible, grotty place filled with unbathed travellers and their wet laundry but more on that another time). Anyhow, having moved into my place, I decided to wander about and check out the surroundings which were much more evocative of home (a genuine Caribbean restaurant at the end of the road, ackees, yams and sweet potatoes being sold on the streets) than where I'd been the last 10 months.

As I made my way down the road, I passed a black man and all of a sudden, I heard a throaty, appreciative rumble:


I actually stopped dead in my tracks, I was so surprised. And surprisingly touched. It really made me feel like home. And that was not the end of it. I soon realised that I had been right back in the winter- the problem was not me, it was where I was living. Being in London, with a substantial West Indian population (I eventually moved to South London, with even more West Indians...and a barber shop at the top of my road) it was like being home again.

The appreciative and creative comments, the hilarious, bold and yet kind of sweet attempts to get attention with ever more flamboyant compliments, the flat-out lies (like the many compliments on my walk when I know I walk like the Terminator on crack), the inventive ways of making you feel better even when you're feeling at your worst.

Like the guy in my old office complex who used to tell me how wonderfully dressed I looked "every time I see you" or the man who told my friend that she looked like she "could use a long, hot bubble bath" when he saw her (ooking exhausted and no doubt haggard at the end of a work day. Now who else but a West Indian man could come up with such a creative way of complimenting you even when you know you look like shit? :)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

An attractive female politician - the horror!

Just what is people's problem anyhow?

Why is it that whenever a female politician shows any hint of femininity it is jumped upon and savaged? Meanwhile, no-one gives a shit about what male politicians look like.

Wandering through the net this morning, I unfortunately ended up on the site of the British tabloid, the Daily Mail. I knew I should have just clicked that red box with the 'X' in the top left hand corner and gone smartly about my business but it's like crack or reality tv - you know it's rotting your mind but it's so a shallow way.

Soon I saw why I should have just looked away. I stumbled across this ridiculous piece by some blithering right-wing fool called Quentin Letts, where he was having a go at the British Housing Minister Caroline Flint because...well because she's attractive.

A sample of his odious thinking:
" Should Housing Minister Caroline Flint ever lose her Cabinet job - an event not outside the realm of possibility - she should become a catwalk model for the "ageing glam" fashion world.

Ms Flint, 46 going on 23, has one of Westminster's most preening egos.

Consider how many vain peacocks we have in Parliament and you will realise that's quite something. "

But wait! There's more!
" Sure enough, whenever she's marching up Downing Street and the photographers shout their greetings she will wobble that head from side to side like a supermodel. But not even Naomi Campbell is this ruthless. "

Lest we don't believe him, he immediately follows up with a clear example of her sheer and utter ruthlessness.
 " In recent months she has kitted herself out in a variety of vivid-coloured tops, ranging from this week's olive green to a yellow, boxy-shouldered creation which positively shimmers alongside her remarkably black barnet. "

That...bitch! How dare she wear bright colours? What the hell is she thinking - having a sense of style?


(photo credit: The Daily Mail)

It is actually a bit laughable actually. He sounds a bit like a sullen little boy who, annoyed that the object of his affection has not responded to his overtures, is now resorting to pulling her hair.

Were that this attitude was only reserved for the UK. But we have all heard similar sentiments about female politicians - either they are frumpy and mannish and not stylish enough and 'really need to do something with themselves' or they are too stylish and hence either objects of derision for their presumed shallowness or objects of barely-restrained, slightly pervy and voyeuristic lust.

Flint is being held up as an example of the former. As an example of the latter - does anyone remember the reaction to US Secretary of State Dr. Condoleeza Rice's knee-high leather boots?

I swear, I could feel the drool...and other bodily secretions... coming off the pages and pages of newsprint that was dedicated to that fashion statement.

Personally, I think considering that is now established that women are outstripping men professionally, academically and financially, we can finally finish with this foolishness of trying to look like one of the guys to be taken seriously. It is just fine to look like a woman and embrace style and attractive cuts and colours because woman a run tings now more than ever and that trend is only set to continue. So the dictates of professional style should be set by and looked at from a feminine perspective.

I think Ms. Flint looks fly as hell. Get 'em girl! I am loving her colourful jackets and her shoes in particular - I would pull a paro move and tief those brown and black mary-jane platform heels right from under her nose. I bought a skirt just this week that those would go nicely with, thank you.

Time to forget the haters and realise that feminity and power can go together perfectly well.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

No kiddies allowed

I noticed an interesting concept in a party I'm thinking of attending this weekend. On the Facebook flyer, it explicitly states '21 and up, id required'.

I think this is great! Frankly, I am getting TIRED of seeing the kiddies out at every damn place I party. Call me old and miserable - cos I damn well am!  When I was 15 and 16, my tail was not out partying at clubs. My social life consisted of the movies, fast food joints, day-time limes at friends' houses (under their parents' supervision) and occasionally a boat cruise that finished at about 10. So why de hell I should be tripping up on the teenyboppers when I'm out? Can someone tell me why?

I don't get it - why the hurry to be out in the club when you can't even legally drink? All it does is make them look old and dragged down before their time - I see some of these 15 y-o bunnies out partying it up that look older than me - all the make-up clogging up their pores, smoking and drinking got them haggard as hell.

So I like this concept. I like it a lot and I hope they damn well stick to it. NO TEENY-BOPPERS ALLOWED! No sah! It would be lovely to have a grown and sexy party for once.

Summer trend: tams

Or beanies. Or knitted caps.

Whatever. It's one fashion trend for the summer that I can definitely get behind and support ... and it is not often I can say that in these 80s-regurgitating, skinny-jean wearing, leg-warmer sporting lord-save-us, last days of fashion.

I started noticing it a few weeks ago at various parties -several chicks (like the one below, third from left) were rocking tams and I wondered if it is was just a coincidence of bad hair days.



But when I started noticing it on celebs such as Jennifer Hudson and our own islandista Rihanna, I realised it was not a coincidence - the tam is having a 'moment'!










(photo credit:  

And I say - hurray to that! For me, my first love affair with the tam harkens back to my UWI days (which WERE bad hair days) and the first time I started asserting and truly expressing my rootsy/bohemian/funky/slightly touristy style. Tams, cowrie shells, wrap skirts, head wraps, funky, chunky jewellery was all a part of my style so I'm more than happy to see tams making a comeback.

On that point... I've also noticed a bit more than a hint of long, floaty skirts making a comeback a la the ubiquitous boho trend of summer 2005...but this time in a few more colours. Could it be? And where would that leave the dressed up, sexy secretary look (pencil skirts, peep toe pumps, cinched waists) of recent times? I don't think the two looks can be reconciled - it will be interesting to see which one dominates this summer.