Tag: History

Style as a Tool: Crafting a Message

“Create your own style… let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.”
― Anna Wintour

In a really fundamental way, style is a tool to present yourself and certain messages to the world. I don’t mean to say that fashion and beauty are only cold blooded and utilitarian (they are, and are supposed to be, fun), but I do believe that the women (and men) who have been able to develop and capitalize on their style sense have a leg up on those who don’t. From drag queens poking holes in traditional gender expectations, to black dandies dressing flamboyantly in defiance of a historical narrative where sticking out might get you oppressed or killed, kids in puberty trying to take control of their budding sexuality, to CEOs looking to hold a room with messages of wealth and authority…

Presentation is powerful. And personal style is a way of being in command of your own identity and message.

Let’s look at politics and history quickly for some examples. Jackie Kennedy was First Lady for only a few years, but her fashion choices were instrumental in defining her husband’s administration both historically and mythologically. Further back in time, Louis XIV created an even grander mythological role for himself, that of the Sun King, and developed elaborate fashion and lifestyle trends to make the court literally revolve around him as a method of controlling his nobles. Secretary Clinton was ridiculed in the early days of both her husband’s and her own political careers for being “insufficiently feminine” in her appearance. In the 1990s you can see concessions she made to these sexist criticisms (I certainly don’t judge or begrudge those choices), but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the pantsuit later became her signature look. Elizabeth I of England also created a fantasy role for herself as Glorianna, the Virgin Queen, and invested heavily in a wardrobe meant to convey her authority over her country, as well as her wealth from exploration and trade. Towards the end of her life, her Golden Age was starting to collapse on itself, but the propaganda she fostered with her image has lasted right up until today. More recently, Michelle Obama made a lot of deliberate decisions to support American designers as First Lady, often from less well known houses, and also was noted for wearing fashions by designers from guest nations on state visits. Is wearing a gown the equivalent of signing a treaty? Of course not. It can still send a diplomatic message of solidarity…or a quiet note of defiant national pride.

Less grandly for most of us, our day to day style choices are less about playing on the world stage and instead having a sense of command in smaller ways. Consider the workplace. Think of the messages sent by Mark Zuckerburg’s famous jeans, t-shirt, and hoodie combo (“I’m a young company, for young people, and we aren’t going to run ourselves the way companies are run by men who wear suits”). Or how about how Steve Job’s iconic uniform of black turtleneck and jeans became a symbol of his business’s design focus (“I keep my personal life contained and streamlined to pour my energy into my work”). Neither of these men made particularly fashionable choices, but I’d argue pretty strenuously that they made style choices, even though the results were uniform and monochromatic.

Beauty is no different. Singer Alicia Keys has recently chosen to eschew most makeup because she believes there are too many pressures on women to look perfect or sexy, and less acceptance for bodies they way the simply are. Her decision to not wear make up is her personal way of opting out of that narrative, and is as much a style choice as Dita Von Teese’s decision to present herself in a highly stylized, deliberately artificial, and ultra feminine way.

Speaking personally, I enjoy beautiful things and clothes and the way I present myself to the world is important to me, but that isn’t to say I don’t sometimes fall victim to the siren song of marketing and consumerism, or try to fit someone else’s idea of fashionable at the expense of my own comfort or taste. However I think that these days I feel in command of my presentation more than at any other point in my life, which means that my sense of style (by my own definitions at least) is probably better than it’s every been. But it’s still a work in progress.

From dating, to board meetings, I think most of us have had the experience of trying to craft a message with our clothing. I’d argue, though, that this isn’t something that only happens for special occasions, it’s something we do every day. I’m most conscious of this in the workplace, but I’m trying to bring this same awareness to my casual or off duty style. I want to be better about using the things I already own, avoiding defaulting to sloppy/casual looks out of ease, and putting more effort into my clothing messaging. I also want to just have more fun with my clothing and accessories. What is the point of owning things if you don’t enjoy them?

 

Your turn, what do you think your wardrobe says about you? What do you want it to say? Are you trying to cultivate a certain image, and if so, what is it and why? 

Incendiary Monday: Nationalistic Purity is a (bad) Myth

“Nationalism is an infantile thing. It is the measles of mankind.”
― Albert Einstein

This tweet and whole story enraged me. When we are speaking of the human race, there is no such thing as “someone else’s babies.” This is shameful, racist nonsense.

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I fundamentally don’t understand the notion that some people seem to hold that there was once a time where every nation on earth (a concept in and of itself only a couple centuries old) had its own pure ethnic, nationalistic, and presumably racial identity. Nope. Lies in almost every case. We humans have been trading, travelling, mixing languages, creating and abolishing religions, warring, peacemaking, marrying, and swapping science globally for all of recorded history. The only things that have changed in the last thousand years is the rapidity with which we do it, the distances we are able to cross to do so, and the scale of our exchange.

But if I can point out evidence of Africans in Britain in the Roman period, the vast reach of the medieval Chinese navy and their explorations across the Pacific, Vikings in the Americas in the 10th century, a millennia of trade along the Silk Road, ancient African trade routes spanning the continent, and Pan-European Celtic road systems dating to before written language…you don’t get to be surprised that people of a different skin color or religion now live next door to you.

The last time we were a “pure” species was in coming out of Africa–and apparently we still  eventually managed to hook up with Neanderthals at some point. Notions of national purity, always an Us And Them narrative, have only ever served to divide and–in modern history–usually to attempt to conquer.

Emails with Friends: Political Boyfriends

“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice, he is the worst.”
– Aristotle 

This test is important, take it immediately.”
“Huh. George Washington, apparently. Let’s face it, could be much worse.
“Amazing and…accurate? I got JFK because I’m basic af.”
“God, we are both hilariously predictable sometimes because…yeah…totally accurate for me. I like them principled and relatively scandal free.”
“And all I want is the drama and the glamour and the tragedy and exceptional, inaccessible privilege.”
“You like the guy who dies dramatically after a couple of years in office, I like the guy who retires quietly to set a historic precedent…and then goes back to his/our ridiculous estate. Fine with this.”
“We did pick the two wealthiest presidents, so…”
“We may be predictable/basic af but we are not cheap.”
– Katarina and C.

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A Wives Pairing

“I’m Henry the eighth, I am
Henry the eighth, I am, I am
I got married to the widow next door
She’s been married seven times before.”
– Henry Champion

Thank goodness for Beyonce. In all things, really, but specifically when we need a break from the news, be it babies or the Grammys.

Funnily enough, a couple of weekends ago, a Very Important Discussion ensued between Katarina and myself about which Beyonce songs corresponded best with which wives of Henry VIII. We’re fairly intersectional here at SDS headquarters.

After some debate and reallocation, we feel like we nailed the perfect “Wives Pairing” to match women to power anthems/ballads and thought it was only appropriate that we put our selections out to be judged. Therefore, in the interest of making your Monday a bit more fun and ridiculous, find our picks below!

Katherine of Aragon – Hold Up, Don’t Hurt Yourself
The thesis of more than one of our many historical conversations has been that even though Anne Boleyn gets a lot of press time for the break up of the Tudor marriage/English church, the truth is that the story of the king’s Great Matter wouldn’t have been the drama it was if not for Katherine holding her ground in defense of her marriage and title as queen…for years. After turning a blind eye to Henry’s peccadilloes for most of her marriage, when she finally came at him for threatening her with an annulment or convent, she did so on a European wide scale that included trials, Emperors, and popes. Don’t hurt yourself, indeed!

Anne Boleyn – Diva, Ring the Alarm
Anne was nothing if not a hustler and so Beyonce’s definition thereof must stand! By far the most famous of Henry’s wives, even if we think a lot of the credit for her fame actually lies at her predecessor’s feet, she was unable to live with the dangerous precedent she herself had set at court: namely, making the leap from side piece to main squeeze. The caution in her story is that you lose them the way you get them.

Jane Seymour – Rather Die Young, If I Were a Boy
Jane doesn’t get her just dues sometimes…but we’re just as guilty of that as anyone. Sorry Jane. We went for on-the-nose picks for you.

Anne of Cleves – Me Myself and I, Best Thing I Never Had
Anne of Cleves should go down as one of history’s greatest survivors. Not only did she get out of a marriage to a–by that time–fat, diseased, and tyrannical man, she walked away with an amazing settlement and lived out the rest of her life independently wealthy and relatively secure. Atta girl, Annie!

Catherine Howard – Single Ladies, Check on It
I feel like these song choices are fairly self explanatory. She made him put a ring on it and she flaunted what he wanted. Catherine came to a tragic end, but as I tend to view her more as a victimized young woman, we’re focusing on her flirty nature in upbeat, positive picks rather than downer songs.

Katherine Parr – Run the World, Irreplaceable
The first queen to publish a book under her own name, she also served as regent, and oversaw the education of her stepchildren (to excellent effect). Not to mention that after Henry’s largely unlamented death, she had a replacement waiting in the wings.

This sort of important historical theorizing should be what keeps scholars up at night. Let me know what you think of our picks, and loudly disagree with us in the comments if you feel so inclined!

Barcelona: The History

“History is a set of lies agreed upon.”
― Napoléon Bonaparte

If you like places that wear its history on its sleeve, you’ll adore Barcelona. It’s a perfect mix of Roman, medieval, and modern and you can find traces of era all over the city.

For example, in the main square, we stumbled upon some traditional fall festivals that included large “giant” figurines that are paraded in the streets on holy and fest days (and seem to have some Celtic or pagan origins, at least according to some historians) and acrobats which seem to a Catalan tradition.

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For those into conquest, trade, and epidemiology, the court where Isabella of Spain supposedly received Columbus in audience before his voyage is a nice check in.

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And the architecture everywhere is fantastical…until you start to learn how much of it is a lie!

What I loved best about visiting Barcelona and hearing about its history is that the people of this city seem to have been amazingly inventive and innovative with their town. No precious nonsense about accuracy here, what they want is good show. So for instance, when there was a grand exhibition being held in Spain, they thought their cathedral was a bit drab. Romanesque architecture is by definition bulky, angular, and squat. This simply would not do. The enterprising populace decided to commission a faux gothic facade to the entrance in stead. It looks like it’s from the late medieval period, but in fact dates from the 19th century.

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Glance down the side streets and you can see the original, rather less impressive and unadorned walls.

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This triumphal arch is a great might-have-been because it was the original site for an edifice deemed so ugly that the people refused to allow it to be built. And so the Eiffel Tower was erected in Paris instead. Oops.

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The sand was perhaps my favorite story. The Spanish coast on the Mediterranean is rocky and not particularly good for holiday postcards and so when the Olympics were held here and a great influx of tourists expected, our proactive natives again rose to the challenge. Tons of sand was imported from the Middle East and palm trees from Hawaii–none of the tropical foliage you see in the city is native to the area, according to our guides. Marine sand is also different from desert sand, with a different texture and feel due to the polishing of waves rather than wind–meaning the beaches are rather rough to walk on. Doesn’t deter people, though.

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And finally, the iconic Sagrada Familia is an absolute hodge podge because the original plans by Gaudi were lost in a fire. Rather than give up, dozens of architects and artists have been involved with the project and instead of trying to replicate the style of the master, they each have left a different and unique stamp on the area of the basilica they were assigned to. Far from Gaudi’s entrance opposite to this which commemorates the birth of Christ, this doorway memorializes his death in a darkly modernist style. My impious observation was that the statues of Roman guards looked like Cylons from Battlestar Gallatica…but I stand by this observation.

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A completely mad and constantly evolving city!

Services at the Tower

“I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love getting in when or where others can’t. It’s not a noble confession, but it’s an honest one. And if you want a fantastic private peek into what is normally a very public space, make some time in your weekend calendar to attend Sunday services at the Tower of London. The main doors don’t open until after the first of two services (one communion, the other a sung matins), though a side gate admits service attendees without a ticket, and it’s an amazing chance to see this world heritage site nearly free of people. Redcoats excepted.

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The Tower still functions as a military fortress, though the vast majority of its activities are understandably ceremonial. The Beefeaters may wear Tudor era uniforms but their assignment is a proper posting and a detachment of the Queen’s Guard stands sentry over the Crown Jewels.

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However like all military bases, there’s a cottage community thriving here. Beefeaters live at the Tower, often with families, and there is also a small but famous Royal Chapel still in operation under the pastoral care of a military chaplain. St Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in Chains) is a Tudor church famous as the resting place of Queen Anne Boleyn, Queen Katherine Howard, Lady/Queen Jane Grey, St Thomas Moore, Margaret Pole, and others.

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Attending a service here has been on my list of things To Do since moving to London, but I just never really got around to it. Then I went through the death throes of a faith crisis and didn’t really want to do anything more church-y than Christmas–which I still love and always will–and it fell off the radar. And then a friend friend from the MoFem (Mormon feminist) community invited me to attend on September 11th and it seemed a fitting thing to do.

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One of the ravens stood by as a small group filed in for services, beak wide open and likely expecting one of the familiar uniforms to provide him breakfast.

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Katie and I attended both the communion service and the sung matins, which I particularly enjoyed. Between the sessions, we wolfed down croissants and chatted about faith, community, expat life, and the nerdy history of the Book of Common Prayer. Totally normal touristy stuff.

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The congregation was not large, but we weren’t the only Americans there and as a military brat, it was nice to hear a few words on the day from a chaplain whose career was focused in and around active service. The fact that he managed to tie in references to Poldark and Great British Bake Off, before circling around to familiar parables was just icing on the cake. In spite of the day, and the remembrances of the day, the whole experience felt friendly.

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It may not be your usual cup of tea, but it’s worth trying, even if just to sit in stillness in a lovely place for a while.

Emails With Friends: Marital Counseling

“I had an argument with a friend who claimed Henry “didn’t behead THAT many” of his wives (which…lol?) by claiming Cromwell was a proxy Anne of Cleves, and I stand by that assertion.”
“…How many wives does it have to be before it becomes problematic…?”
– Katarina and C.