Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lamb dressed as mutton

Today I picked up my new glasses. I haven't bought a new pair in years and years. The frames I desperately wanted looked like this:

They are by iconic American optical company Shuron. The model is called Ronsir, or as I first thought of them, "Malcolm X glasses". The style is known as browline after the heavy top half and lighter metal bottom half of the frame, but they're also colloquially known as "G-Man" glasses, I guess because they were hugely popular in the '50s and '60s, the period when lots of FBI-themed movies are set. Annoyingly, they're becoming more popular now that people are seeing the style on the TV show Mad Men.

Ray-Ban also makes a style of sunglasses like this called Clubman. Belinda Carlisle wears them in the video for 'Mad About You', which I've always thought was unbelievably cool. With her little black dress and voluminous bob haircut, she reminds me of an '80s version of Marilyn Monroe. Unlike the gimmicky stuff that most kids today think of as '80s, this video reminds me of what I longed to look like back then. I loved Wendy James from Transvision Vamp as well; I thought she was so glamorous and sexy.

The thing that I like most about this style is that it instantly makes me look cooler. I don't especially want to look ultra-hip, but I can't stand looking like a dorky laughing-stock either. I often agonise over this. One of the main shortcomings of my failed leather jacket is that, rather than make me look instantly twice as cool, it makes me look twice as dorky. Now I can only ever wear the leather jacket with some ridiculous hipster get-up, so that the dorkiness and the hipsterness cancel each other out and I represent a modest, acceptable amount of cool. Anyway, the point of these frames is that even a fairly drab outfit will instead look "minimalist", and a potentially frumpy one will look "eccentric".

Australian shops don't really stock browline glasses, and when they do, it's mind-bogglingly expensive. I went to Henderson Optical, where I was told that to get a similar frame from Japanese label Dita, with my lenses, would cost me about $800. For crying out loud! In the end I bought a pair of vintage Ronsirs from eBay a couple of weeks ago. Even with the terrible Aussie dollar exchange rate, the cost of postage and of getting my prescription lenses put in, they'll work out at about half the price.

But along the way I was tipped off about an optometrist in Clifton Hill that might have what I was looking for. Turned out they didn't, but they did have a very attentive (probably bored; I was the only customer in the store) sales assistant who didn't give up when I disliked most of the Sarah Palin-esque frames in the store. She went out the back to rummage in boxes of old and sample stock.

The older and uglier the frames she brought out, the more I liked them, and eventually I got very enthusiastic about a pair of pink plastic grandma frames that, the assistant informed me, she'd got from their "Veteran's Affairs box" - the super-cheap, ugly frames they keep for pensioners. All up, these glasses cost me $270, and I'll admit that it was the price that ultimately won me over.

Today I went and picked up the glasses, and so far I'm disappointed. I wanted some kind of reverse librarian effect: where instead of being told you're beautiful when you take the glasses off, you put them on and instantly your look comes together. However, I look like a bad babysitter who has murdered her young charges. Sorry about my dreadful posing, but this was actually the best of a very bad lot of pictures. The way the frames cut off the tops of my eyes is no good either.

After I picked them up I went for brunch, and I was paranoid that the waitresses were staring at my glasses in order to make fun of me in the kitchen. At first I gloomily figured I looked like Estelle Getty from The Golden Girls, but some picture research shows that her frames are much larger and more owlish than mine. But there's another woman I look like, I'm sad to report:

God save me!

This episode has made me think about how people "pull off" ostensibly unflattering things. I am just going to have to become the sort of person who looks awesome in pink old-lady specs, but I am going to have to rethink my ways of dressing. I will need to dress very boldly and sexily, avoiding all the neat, preppy things I generally like to wear (like this scarf, for instance), because now they make me look like lamb dressed up as mutton.

I have more thoughts about "pulling it off", but they deserve a post of their own.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The vintage/op-shop debate continues

This time it's about the ethics of mining op-shops for clothes and reselling them in vintage shops or on eBay. Miss Patrice wrote an angry post targeting Sarah from Foreva Young Vintage, basically, it seems, for being too entrepreneurial. (Patrice has now edited the post to reflect that Sarah is only one of many resellers who source their stuff from op-shops.) Now the topic has cropped up on I Op, Therefore I Am.

Most of the commenters on the latter blog say they have no problem with resellers and feel they deserve any profit they make from such a labour-intensive enterprise. Defending themselves, the resellers make ethical arguments about saving garments from landfill, or about catering to demand from buyers who don't have easy access to op-shops.

Another comment, which I thought was quite shrewd, was that eBay is now many people's first resort for getting rid of unwanted stuff, so the "good stuff" that all op-shoppers are after sometimes bypasses the op-shop economy altogether these days. (What precisely is "good stuff" depends on the op-shopper's tastes.)

My own feelings on the matter were echoed by an anonymous commenter who wrote:
I don't object to reselling but I don't like the way it's become such a theme on this blog. Somehow a great find doesn't seem so great if you just bought it to sell it.

Another thing that bothers me - and I have posted this as a comment on the blog - is when garments bought in an op-shop are mutilated to make them conform to a more contemporary aesthetic. I write 'mutilated' deliberately, because I see garments being altered in ways that don't respect their original designs. To me this seems to miss the point of vintage: and admiration for the styles of the past.

Of course, I've bought things from op-shops with the intention of cutting them up, re-sewing them or otherwise changing them - but only for me to wear. If you're planning to sell these things to other people, then who are you to decide what's "wearable" and what isn't? Surely that's something a buyer decides for themselves, using their own tastes?

Alternatively, perhaps these people who both resell and mutilate consider themselves creative: what they are selling is a certain look. It's akin to being a fashion designer who works only with second-hand materials. Again, I have no problem with this... unless the clothes are being sold as 'vintage'. You simply can't have your cake (trading on the cachet of vintageness) and eat it too (hacking those vintage garments up so they no longer have their vintage shapes).