Category Archives: Currently Viewing

Currently Reading: All the Best Rubbish by Ivor Noël Hume

When I was a freshman in college I discovered history.  I’d always liked reading about the past, but for the first time I became really excited about it.  I was all ready to major in American literature when I was thrown into the core program at my small, public university.  All freshmen were required to take a year of “humanities” classes which consisted of history, sociology, literature and writing.  My teacher of the first term was a history professor, and he approached the curriculum through the study of history, incorporating the literature of the era along with other social studies.  I was hooked.

It wasn’t enough that I was studying history in class, so I went in search of other things to fuel my interest.  I can’t remember how I came to pick up this book by historical archaeologist Ivor Noël Hume, but I suspect it was a happy accident from repeated browsing at the newly opened B. Dalton bookstore in Asheville.  But however I came to own the book, I quickly fell under the spell of the “Pleasures and Perils” of collecting.  For a while my greatest ambition in life was to go mud-larking on the banks of the Thames, as the author made it sound so appealing.

But my life took a different turn, and instead of becoming a mud-larker, I became a teacher.  And I had not picked up this book for thirty-five years.

Recently I was moving furniture around and in doing so was moving books to a new bookcase.  I ran across my much-loved copy of All the Best Rubbish, and was reminded of what it had meant to me all those years ago.  As a result, I put it in the reading queue.

To my surprise, the book seems to have had a lasting influence on my collecting.  Ivor Noël Hume is not only a renowned archaeologist, he is also a collector, and the book, while it tells much about his job at Colonial Williamsburg, is mainly about the things he found over the years and what he learned from them.  The main take-away is this: The most expensive artifacts are not always the most valuable in terms of history.  Simple, everyday objects are most often the ones that can teach us the most about the past.  And while Noël Hume’s examples were often ceramics and glass, the same can be said for clothing.

Collecting only the best and rarest may be satisfying to the egotist or to the person needing aesthetic stimuli to get him through the misery of life in a world of mediocrity, but it does nothing for anyone wanting to know what it was like to live in other centuries.

Another valuable lesson is that value is subjective, and is more often than not, based on opinion.  Something that is thought to be ugly becomes less so when there are lots of dollar signs attached to the item.

Even though this book was published over forty years ago, so much of it will strike a chord with modern collectors:

The collector…has the residue of a lifetime for research and the acquisition of keys to doors beyond which lie journeys, adventures, and dramas that are not uniquely his own.

After all, it it not just the owning of objects, but the history that we can learn from these objects that is important.


I could not resist adding a photo of this 18th century engraving, as the woman on the left and I share a name.  My grandmother was Elizabeth Adams (but was called Lizzie) and I was named for her, being Sharon Elizabeth Adams. I never knew the original Lizzie as she died the year before my birth, but by all accounts she was a kind and generous woman, with not a trace of larceny in her heart!


Filed under Collecting, Currently Viewing, Viewpoint

Currently Viewing: Iris

Carl and Iris Apfel in IRIS, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Iris, a film about Iris Apfel by Albert Mayeles, was recently added to Netflix, so of course I added it to my viewing queue.  I really wasn’t too anxious to see it, as I’d lumped her into the category along with other eccentric dressers who have attracted the attention of photographer Ari Seth Cohen of Advanced Style.  I was not prepared to find that Iris is the real deal, a woman who dresses to please herself, and not to be featured on a blog.

And while she is known for her extravagant outfits, and especially her vast jewelry collection, Iris is surprisingly down-to-earth.  She dresses in what she likes, whether that be a shirt embroidered with the figure of Mickey Mouse, or a designer item from Bergdorf Goodman.  The overwhelming lesson from Iris is that one needs to be true to his or her self.

Iris has a lot of clothes.  There are racks and boxes all over her apartment, and she kept her mother’s apartment because she needed the storage space.  We see her on several shopping treasure hunts, but the film also shows her in a meeting in one of her clothing storage areas, going through boxes she is donating to the Peabody Essex Museum.   Iris formed a relationship with the Peabody Essex after a show featuring her wardrobe traveled there.  She decided to will her collection to the museum, but she has already gone ahead and started the process of handing over many of her treasures.

The Peabody Essex might seem like an odd choice to receive Iris’s collection, especially since it was the Metropolitan’s Costume Institute that originally developed the exhibition of her clothes.  The movie explains that Iris realized that her wardrobe would fill in a big gap in the costume collection of the Peabody Essex, so she saw the opportunity to make a difference at that museum.  I think she did a wise thing by choosing a smaller museum.  At the Met her stuff would have been swallowed up in their vast holdings.

The film is especially poignant because since it was made, both Albert Mayeles and Iris’s husband Carl have died.  Carl and Iris’s relationship is an important part of the story, as they worked and traveled the world together for many years, and they were very close.  At one point they are talking about decorating the White House and Carl happens to mention that they “had a problem with Jackie.”  Iris punches him on the arm and scolds, “Stop!”

Iris is full of her wisdom, and she has some real insights into aging and how to handle it.  Seriously, you don’t have to love fashion to love this film.



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Currently Viewing: Yves Saint Laurent

Last year two competing movies about the life of designer Yves Saint Laurent were released.   One of them, Yves Saint Laurent was recently added to Netflix, and so I finally got to see it.  To be honest, I was not all that eager to see the film, as YSL – the man, not the designer – seriously depresses me.  After sitting through a documentary that was filmed before his death, I’d vowed to never sit through two hours of Yves ever again.

But I broke my promise,and I’ve got to say that this movie was a very mixed bag.  First, I’ll give you the good news.  Because Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s longtime lover and business partner, and the  president of the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, was involved with this film, the makers had access to the YSL archive, including the actual clothing.  Much of what is shown in the fashion show sequences is thus the real deal, and it shows.

Unfortunately, there was just not much that could be done to make Saint Laurent a more sympathetic or likable character.  Not that he is shown as unlikable, it is just that all the drugs and poor choices combined with the poor, fragile persona that he projected make the depiction of him hard to watch.

It helps to know a bit about Saint Laurent’s life, as the movie is fast-paced, and it is in French with sub-titles.  It seemed to me that it would have been hard to follow had I not already known much of the story.

So, would I recommend Yves Saint Laurent?  Yes, but only for the look at those fabulous clothes in action.  Otherwise, unless you love watching a talented and creative man self-destruct, give it a pass.



Filed under Currently Viewing, Designers

Currently Viewing: The True Cost

When The True Cost was released earlier this year, the reviews raised some concerns about what the film did not do.  While the filmmaker did a good job of showing the various problems – environmental, social, and economic – of fast fashion, there were few solutions to the problems offered.  The film also focuses solely on fast fashion, when the reality is that the problems associated with textile and clothing production is not limited to that one sector of the industry.

I was able to see The True Cost because it just became available on Netflix.  It is also available on iTunes and Amazon Instant, so if you have any of these services, it is worth watching.  No, the film is not perfect, but it is a good view of many of the problems the world faces due to “fashion.”

As I watched the film, I was pretty much overwhelmed by the amount of human suffering that is caused by the clothing industry.  The filmmaker, Andrew Morgan, follows one woman in Bangladesh, telling the story of how she has to take her small child to live with her parents in their village while she is working in a sewing factory in the city. It is very effective.   I was also amazed at the massive piles of textile waste.  It really does make you stop and think.

But where the film goes astray is in offering solutions.  I was almost left with the impression that if we all just stopped being consumers, then the problems would just go away.  One of the persons interviewed (who is a 9/11 truther, though that was not brought up in the film) even said that the only solution was to abolish capitalism.  He may be right, but how likely is it that either of these things is going to happen?

After watching the film I was left with a feeling that I never wanted to go shopping again.  But the film was not really aimed at me because I’m not much of a consumer of fashion.  I sew most of my clothes using mainly fabrics that I’ve bought secondhand.  The message of The True Cost is not hitting its intended audience, the consumers of fast fashion.   The people who might really be influenced by the film are unlikely to see it.  Several teenage girls were shown in the movie posting their “haul” videos, in which they get on YouTube and brag about all the cheap stuff they just bought.

Maybe there should be a second version in which two cute and famous young celebrities narrate and feature in the film.  Then it might be more likely to get the audience that it needs.  In the meantime, The True Cost is preaching to the choir.


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The Great British Sewing Bee on Youtube

I’m a little bit slow to this game, as I had been told that seasons 2 and 3 of The Great British Sewing Bee were now available online to all viewers on youtube. Thanks to an email this afternoon from Del, I had my memory jarred and I’ve now watched the first episode of season 2. Who knew that watching other people sew could be so much fun?

Due to a bit of minor hand surgery I’ve got some downtime coming up this week, so instead of posting here, I’ll be catching up on these episodes.  I couldn’t be away that long without giving you an alternative to my posts.  Enjoy!


Filed under Currently Viewing, Vintage Sewing

Currently Viewing – Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

Australian readers will need no introduction to Miss Phryne Fisher, and she’s becoming increasingly popular in other countries as well.  She’s the lead character in an Australian TV program, which is based on a series of books by Kerry Greenwood.  Set in 1929, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries tells the story of a “lady detective” in Melbourne, Australia.  There have been two seasons so far, and a third is currently in production.

Phryne Fisher is like a late 1920s Jessica Fletcher (Murder, She Wrote) though she is much too busy to bother with writing mysteries, and she is much more glamorous.   There are times when I think that the real star of the show is not Essie Davis, the actress who plays Miss Fisher, but rather, her wardrobe.  The clothes are stunningly beautiful.

They are not, unfortunately, historically correct.  The costumes are a mash-up of styles from the 1920s and early 30s, with a big dollop of 1970s thrown in for good measure.  The 1970s come in the form of long, flowy pants, very reminiscent of Halston at his very best.  Actually, in the most recent episodes, Miss Fisher is much more likely to wear pants than she is to wear a dress.

Unless 1929 Melbourne was very different from and more progressive than the rest of the Western world, Miss Fisher would not be out and about on city streets and in public building wearing pants.  She would wear them at the beach or in her home, but they would not be her every day attire.  (Australian fashion historians, I welcome your input.)

Even more problematic is Miss Fisher’s friend Mac, who is a female doctor, is a lesbian, and who dresses in men’s clothing exclusively.  Even though women often dressed as men as a lark (lots of photographic evidence of that) I can’t imagine a woman who went through her daily life in such a way.  Still, she is a fantastic model for anyone with a tweedy, androgynous  style today.

1929 was an interesting time, style-wise.  Dresses were still 1920s in style, but lengths were in flux, with many dresses having two lengths.  The flapper look was fading, as a more sophisticated woman began to take her place.  Many writers characterize Miss Fisher as a flapper, but she’s really the successor – a thoroughly modern woman.   It helps that Essie Davis is in her mid forties, and portrays Miss Fisher as a woman who has lived and learned instead of an ingenue.  It’s one of the strengths of the show.

That and Nathan Page, who portrays Detective Jack Robinson.  That’s him on the right in the beach scene, and left, below.  It thought it was clever how the writers got these three city dwellers into swimsuits, which are correct for 1929, by the way.  No bare chests, thank goodness!

The first two seasons are available for streaming from Netflix.

Photos copyright of ABC1.

Correction:  Spelling error.


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Currently Viewing: Advanced Style

I have to start by saying that I’m not a huge fan of the blog on which this film is based.  Advanced Style was started several years ago by a young man, Ari Seth Cohen, as a street style blog featuring stylish older people.  The blog became successful, partly due to some of the characters that Cohen featured.  Somewhere along the way the emphasis turned from individual style to style eccentrics, and at that point I pretty much lost interest in Advanced Style.

Cohen and his featured ladies have gone on to become media stars, with an Advanced Style book and documentary.  I wasn’t really interested in watching the film, but I’ve had a recent unfortunate encounter with a nasty cold germ, and so Netflix has become my best friend.  After two days of Miss Fisher, Poiret, and Miss Marple, I was ready for something other than murder, so when I noticed that Netflix was now streaming Advanced Style, I decided to just watch it.  The worst that could happen was that it would put me to sleep.

I’m happy to say that I did not go to sleep and that I found the film to be very enjoyable.  Yes, it did feature older women dressed in a way that most of us would have no desire of dressing, but the point made by the women themselves was not that it was important for them to look “kooky” but it was important that they dress to satisfy themselves.

For most of us, that would not mean putting on bright red eyelashes every day, or wearing a hat that could in no way be over-looked by other people on the street.  What it means is that older women (and men too, of course) should feel free to base their clothing choices on what makes them feel happy.

For many of us I suspect that it might be that we want to be a bit more “put together” in this dress-down casual world of ours.  An Advanced Style attitude would say to wear the dress, even though everyone else at the event will be wearing slacks.  Wear the skirt and sweater though all the other women will be in capris and tee shirts.

After watching the film I decided to give the blog a new look, and was happy to see  that some of the old format has returned.  There were photos of stylish people found on the street, not just Cohen’s “superstars”.  It’s great seeing older people with all kinds of personal style again being given the Advanced Style spotlight.


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