This post is from the Blogs previous owner, which I decided to leave in case any of the old visitors are coming back to the blog!This page is no longer associated with little brown dress blog!
OK, your suspicions are correct, this is really sort of a blog. I just like the word “journal” better. This journal tracked the development of the piece over the course of the 365-day performance.
July 9, 2006
(This is the final entry for the Brown Dress Journal. Click here for the continuation “spinning straw into gold” project).
Hi everybody! The Brown Dress Year is over as of two days ago, July 7 and this is what I’m wearing today, in case you are interested. It’s part of the new project, where I’ll be wearing only things I’ve made, and making new things only from recycled materials. It’s a red T-shirt, I’ve altered it into sort of a blousy shape and added lots of line stitching. The skirt I made several years ago. Brand new shoes made from my leather pants.
But enough about that. Now for a big report from the fabulous “Un-dressing” party on July 7th at Consolidated Works (in a strange twist, this will be one of the last public events at ConWorks’ current venue . . . seems like it’s sunset time for a lot of things).
The party was really great. About 300 people came, I reckon, and I heard from many of them that a big article in the Seattle Times newspaper that morning had spurred them to come down. I was also on the KOMO local radio station that day, I think (it’s all a blur at this point), and there was a preview in our alternative weekly The Stranger . . . so let’s just say there were a lot of people I had never seen before saying “happy birthday, Alex!” to me all night long, which was surreal to the max.
Thanks to amazing photography crew Deena Hofstad, Rob Gruhl, and Ola Czechowska for the party pictures!
I had snapshots of the entire brown dress photo collection on display, which was stunning in one little gallery – whoa, weird experience to see them all at once!
In the big party room I had hanging sculptures by my friend Lucia Neare, and branches overhead and piles of dry brown leaves on the floor – fun for the kids to kick around in!
We had performances by my friends Kristen Tsiatsios, Laura Curry & Lori Dillon, and Ricki Mason, and then I invited everybody into the big theater and I danced my solo.
At the end my partner Freya and our son Ari came onstage with my cake! I blew out the candles and dove into it. Totally excellent, I recommend you try this if you possibly can . . .
I changed into my new outfit (it was a fancy pants & shirt ensemble that I made oh, three years ago, and the new shoes I had finally finished on Thursday night). I took off my earrings which I must mention I have been wearing for twelve years straight, since I was 18 — but I didn’t make them, so they had to go. We all had cake (don’t worry, there were some other, not-jumped-into cakes!), I had a bit too much red wine, said hello to several million people, and watched a beautiful little movie that my friend Jessica Jobaris had made.
Then, it was time to clean up, and at about midnight we realized that somebody had *stolen* the dress (I had left it spread out on the stage after my performance in case anyone wanted to look at it). But there was no time to worry about that, because I had to get home for some sleep before the Today Show interview!
At 3:30 am I got picked up by a car service and taken downtown, to an almost completely deserted massive TV studio building where one lonely technician was working. It took us quite a while to get the Today Show producers in NYC to understand that I actually didn’t have the dress with me because someone had *taken it* (they had asked me to bring it to hold up for the camera). Then I attempted to coherently answer questions posed by a fellow named Lester while talking directly into a disembodied camera on two hours of sleep to a live national audience — hello! Can you say Learning Experience?! Anyway, for those of you who made the effort to get up early and catch the segment, thanks!
Then home again where Ari had spiked a 103.7 degree fever on the way home from the party and was sicker then we’ve ever seen him . . . Freya and I basically spent all weekend cuddling him and debating how many times a day it’s OK to page our pediatrician and how to give overlapping doses of baby motrin and baby tylenol. Now he’s showing classic symptoms of something called Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (sounds like a livestock thing, non?) which is evidently very common and not deadly but he is still pretty miserable. So that took up most of Saturday and Sunday.
Anyway, you may be wondering what happened to our dear old brown dress. And I swear I am not making this up AND it continues to be a complete surprise to me — whoever took it has set up their own special email account, it’s email@example.com if you want to write to them. On Saturday night they emailed me photos of the dress sinking into a body of water (which I think is Lake Washington) . . . and on Sunday night (just a few hours ago) they sent a photo of the dress at a Goodwill donation station.
Now, I was sort of excited about the dress having a final resting place in our local waterways. It’s all biodegradable, after all, and I imagined it enjoying a peaceful, slow decomposition amongst the tangy pollution and lusty migrating Coho.
Then I had a brief fantasy that the dress would begin sending missives from exotic locales, in the manner of the ‘Amelie’ garden gnome. But that would have taken quite a bit of commitment on the part of the hacker, and I’d have been surprised and impressed.
So, it appears that the dress is now in the hands of our mega-thrift powerhouse, Seattle Goodwill. Now, I’ve worked for Seattle Goodwill before, and I just don’t think the brown dress will make the cut on the production floor. That sucker is really worn out. I’m debating whether to make a call to my friends Alice and Betsy just so they know what they might have their hands on . . . otherwise I’m pretty sure the dress will be baled for scrap, and who knows where it will end up!
How do I feel about all this? Just fine. Honestly. I was done wearing it, and it’s actually a relief to not have the pressure of dealing with the dress in it’s retirement, I’ve had so many people asking me what I’ll do with the thing and I didn’t have an answer! I’m ready to move on to next year’s project. They say “imitation” is the sincerest form of flattery, but when you think about it “appropriation” has got to be one notch above that, so mostly I’m just honored. And in a project examining our relationship to our material goods, I can hardly complain if somebody wants to hack in at the 11th hour and rearrange my relationship to this particular item — especially after I had very publicly declared I was finished with it anyways!
I admit I am a little sentimental (only a little), because I had imagined letting the dress gently rest on a hanger in the back of the closet and showing it to Ari every so often as a reminder of his very early days . . . it’s soaked up enough of our DNA to be almost a member of the family by now. But, maybe the lil’ brown needs to get out there and stretch it’s legs a bit, and it may end up back here at Chez Martin at the end of the story after all.
It’s certainly recognizable enough, I’m sure you’ll recognize the dress out there. So if you see it, make sure something interesting happens to it, OK?
OK, I’ll make this quick — in the last 48 hours I was on the radio in Australia and Canada. I also found out that the space we had planned for the “Un-dressing” Party was condemned (the landlords had been illegally — not to mention immorally — leasing it to a group of artists). Panic! Despair! But I scrambled and located a new venue for the party — Consolidated Works in Seattle! And that will be absolutely wonderful. All the details are on the home page.
So now I’m off to alert the press, party ticket-holders, and all my party helpers to the venue change, and re-do all the plans for the event. I tell you, there have been some black clouds crossing my horizon the last couple of days, but now I think we’re out of the woods.
Oh, and for next year’s “making it all” radical recycling project, I stitched up a very successful pair of undies out of an old T-shirt last night and I think I have a plan for making a nice sweater . . . no shoes made yet, but things are looking up in that department.
The thought actually crossed my mind that once I take this dress off it will be nice to wear some *softness*. Like some yummy stretchy shirts and soft cottony pants. Heavy denim next to one’s skin in the midsummer is, well . . . heavy. Funny how you can pretty much get used to anything.
I wanted to show you this photo to reveal the ultimate blow to my vanity — I know it’s silly, but I am very, very conscious and careful about my tan lines. And now, 1/2way through the summer, I will be unmasked in the most hideous “farmer tan” ever seen on this earth . . . damn.
7 more days to go!
Your hardworking brown dress girl,
Hi, I’m still sort of reeling, but my internal chaos is settling back down. And just in time, because I hope to get a LOT accomplished this week — putting together all the plans for my party and working on next year’s project wardrobe. Nothing like a deadline (and public scrutiny) to get a person moving, eh? And lucky me, it’s all in the midst of a heat wave, which makes my little backyard tar-papered studio a less-than-ideal working area . . . oh well.
I’ve been marinating quite a bit on why people seem so interested in the brown dress. There are countless visionaries out there doing projects of their own on similar topics, some in more rarified graphic way, many with a more tangible or political edge, and of course plenty of folks who have simplified many elements of their lives consciously and aren’t making a big fuss over it. But I think my little-brown-dress-for-a-year thing is very internet-friendly because it’s so easy to summarize in one sentence, and the basic idea of paring down the wardrobe seems to translate well across many lines (age, language, politics — and it was strange to see myself applauded on one right-wing pro-Iraq-war site tended by a Christian lady, maybe she didn’t notice I’m a third-wave feminist lefty lesbian mom? Oh well).
I am also guessing this project strikes a chord because it is so FLAWED, just a person floundering through a year trying to puzzle some things out. And I think it’s clear to most observers that I’m not trying to be an example of anything, or preach about it, or even run for office on these issues. It’s just my messy attempt to stand up to an element in my life that I was ready to challenge. And I’m not removed from the daily messy, compromised, mundane nonsense of life, I’m not doing anything that unusual or impossible or residing somewhere alone in a tree (not that I’m knocking you, esteemed tree-dwellers, that’s just an example of a lifestyle choice outside the scope of the general imagination).
But from the messages I’m getting, it sure feels like there’s a clear desire to engage and make conscious choices (in these everyday transactions) that really reflect our values. I am beginning to think that there are people who sort of *need* the brown dress as an excuse to start conversations about this whole mess of consumerism, unsustainable consumption, the societal pressure to focus on the superficial. So if I’m a joke at the water cooler, so be it, because perhaps that joke leads somewhere else.
Anyway, it looks like the weekend Today show (NBC) will be interviewing me and broadcasting the Un-Dressing party right after it happens. In addition, print and radio is happening all over the place, and a lovely tv profile for the Seattle Channel is in the works. So either my 15 minutes is now almost over, or everything is about flip in some completely new direction.
So what’s new in the land of the brown dress?
Well, quite frankly, brown dress girl is reeling. Here’s my story. On Monday of this week, www.littlebrowndress.com received 15,000 hits in a single day (to put this in context, the previous nine months added up to about 2,000 hits total). Hits have tapered off, but are still averaging 3,000 hits per day right now. The result? A huge number of emails from visitors to the site. I also love the discussions that are going on out there in online forums and on other blogs.
I’m delighted to see the ideas my experiment and my experiences have sparked in others, and I am so honored that people are taking the time to respond to my evolving trains of thought about the project. I do admit it is a little surreal to have bloggers writing scathing disagreements with thoughts I wrote months ago in a middle-of-the-night ramble, but I do understand that’s the risk of publishing one’s ramblings online — so, fair enough! And it’s sweet to read writers explaining to each other what they believe my project is about. And it’s really refreshing (and nourishing) to receive some thoughtful critical responses and angry dismissals – please see the links I’ve posted to the online forums on my comments page if you want to go into all of that yourself.
A couple of posts ago, I half-jokingly wrote about the brown dress being an “internet spectacle” and a “media juggernaut” – well, suddenly those things seem to be frighteningly true. Because of the blast of online interest, media folks ranging from Canadian radio and television to regional US newspapers, public radio, magazine writers, and national tv networks (CNN and NBC, which absolutely throws me for a loop because that’s so far removed from my life. Truly, I don’t even watch television — except for a few times a year in airport waiting areas where there’s not much choice) have been calling, interviewing, negotiating, scheduling etc. Can you say whirlwind?
The result of this? Well, frankly, I have a whole lot of anxiety about trying to accurately represent the real ideas behind my project (which is a little challenging even though the exterior of the project is such a simple stunt, because there is no sound-bite, I don’t have “answers” or a single idea to promote). Also I’m struggling to reconcile some opposing feelings:
1 – I have a huge measure of pleasure and delight with all this attention – of course, almost anyone would be delighted to have others take notice and offer to spread the word about their idea or their project – human nature, non? (PRIDE/VANITY/SATISFACTION!)
2 – I have a strong desire to continue my investigation into the principles that inspired me to start the project — this is, after all, supposed to be a journey towards a little bit of simplicity — and instead of focusing on my work or my life I’ve been on the phone with media folks almost continuously the last three days. Really, if I’m going to pull off an excellent party and launch my next year’s project within the next two weeks, I need to get to work poste-haste! Criminy! (EXHAUSTION/PANIC!)
3 – what could happen next? Freya says “maybe someone will ask you to write a book”. My friend says “maybe the Whitney will want that dress after you take it off”. My mother-in-law says “you should be getting some money for all your trouble”. The horizon, which had a specific shape and distance last week, suddenly stretches in bizarre new directions – (AMBITION!)
4 – but, wait a second, brown dress girl isn’t selling anything. Not her ideas, not her dress, not her brand, not even tickets to her party (yep, that’s free too, folks). But if major corporate media outlets use brown dress girl as a lite human interest or lifestyle story to increase ratings to sell ads for products that are manufactured, shipped, and marketed in ways that the brown dress project believes are unsustainable and basically frightening, then what is the brown dress girl really selling? (CONFUSION!)
5 – but if these are ideas that I think are important and I think they’ll have resonance with a mass audience and cause a few more people to reconsider a few of those simple daily choices (to pause, even once) then don’t I owe it to the ideas of the project to allow them their fullest possible life? My mom says “I know how you feel about mass media, but that’s the basic communication system that we have in our society right now. So if you want to get your ideas out on that scale, you’re going to have to go there”. (DUTY!)
6 – Oh, and lots of other opposing feelings too. Oh, poor me, boo-hoo — jeez, Alex, you can do better than this. I am sorry for all this nonsense, it probably doesn’t seem that compelling to you but I hope you understand that, in the context of my experiences, this is new one and a scary one. But what a ridiculously overplayed scenario (SELLING OUT!) and what a typical overwhelmed response (ANXIETY!) — you would think I’d be managing more calmly after this whole year of trying to ground myself and engage and be conscious with my decisions. I’m going to try to do better. Thanks for your patience with this long and annoying, journal entry. (EMBARRASSMENT/SHAME!)
All it boils down to is me, trying to continue to live in the moment, and if this is my 15 minutes then at least I hope to use it for good and not evil. Any advice?
oh, and happy summer solstice – damn, that day was long!
Hi there, I’m still ‘coming down’ from the performances this weekend. The performance piece at On the Boards got a great response (see comments page to read some of ‘em).
I want to report that I’ve realized it’s wonderful fun to ride my bike in the dress. In my pre-brown-dress life, I always thought I had to wear pants to bicycle, isn’t that a funny personal myth? In fact there’s something infinitely satisfying about coasting along with the breeze on one’s knees, and the slightly naughty possibility that if you took a spill your panties would be exposed . . so if you haven’t tried it please treat yourself. Oh, and boys, you too – kilts are really big these days (at least the utili-kilt phenomenon here in Seattle) and I’d like nothing better than to start seeing men in kilts on bicycles . . . fun!
On a theoretical note, I have the thought that one gift the brown dress has given me is the opportunity to delete fiction (or at least, write my own fiction instead of buying pre-packaged fictions). The insidious fictions of advertising and sales, as well as the fictions of self-invention via the surface, and all the daily fashion fictions of dressing/disguising/costuming, and the fiction of spending more than you have to look like something you are not. Speaking of spending, I heard an economic report on the radio that here in Washington state, the citizenry now has a savings rate of negative one percent – a rate not seen since 1932-1933 (hello! that’s the freakin’ great depression, people!!) and personal debt rates that match that era as well. And somehow we’re all supposed to believe the economy is “working”. So when you are considering that next purchase, that thing you “absolutely have to have”, just do me a favor and don’t put it on the credit card. I almost don’t want to be here when the other shoe drops.
I’ve had a couple of requests for the brown dress pattern! I’ll try to figure out a workable way to upload the plans, I’d like it to be ‘shareware’. So check back for that in a few weeks.
It’s opening night tonight at On the Boards, wish me luck! I gave myself the day off and enjoyed the garden and time with Freya and Ari. The raspberries are ripe. How sneaky I feel wearing the same clothes to plant basil in the morning and perform in the evening – what a silly and delightful thing. And it made me realize that one thing I’ve gotten VERY GOOD AT over the course of this year is doing potentially dirty things without getting any mud/flour/soup/dirt/paint on myself. Not sure if this is a habit I can keep once the brown dress pressure is off, since in my former life I particularly enjoyed getting mucky when I worked.
And here am I updating the website so it looks cool when folks log in at the show (I have a little row of laptops set up in the lobby so audience can experience the internet spectacle that is the little brown dress in addition to the live stitchery and dance extravaganza). Speaking of internet spectacle, this thing is getting about 50 hits per day right now (as opposed to the usual 50 per week) – so thanks for checking it out if this is your first visit!
The media juggernaut that is the little brown dress is also really starting to roll, I have interviews happening for written and filmed pieces going on this week and next . . . the pressure of trying to sound smart without the benefit of spell-check and revisions is pretty terrifying, but I think I’m doing OK.
My neighbor totally warmed my heart the other day, I’ve been telling quite a few people this story. He said “You know, I just saw you in your dress and I realized that I’m not going to buy the shiny new bicycle that I looked at today after all. I’m training for a triathlon and I thought I needed a new bike to go a little faster, but just seeing you right now made me realize that my old one will be just fine.” I feel very honored.
I know the photo quality is poor online, but please note the photo above, taken at the END of a 13-hour continuous travel day from Vermont to Seattle involving a car trip, three different airports, several meals eaten on my lap by my 17-month-old son, and several indignities including a major splash of orange juice and nearly 1/2 cup of coffee spilled directly on the dress. No problem! Despite a stronger-than-usual aroma of coffee the dress was in as good a shape as ever — thank GOD I decided to make the dress out of brown fabric! But whether that reflects on the infinite utility of this dress or it’s current general shabby condition, it’s hard to say at this point. All I can tell you is that I have quite a bit of pride in the way this item continues to take a licking and pull through in style! Perhaps an infinitely wearable dress would be a good gift for any new parent – I tell you, air travel with a toddler is a challenge like nothing I’ve experienced before . . .
Many folks have said that the brown dress project reminds them of a “travel wardrobe” – an interesting reflection . . . and since many of us assume that travel is a chance to really put oneself out there, into the elements and out of our comfort zone, to test and expand our sensibilities, then let all of life be “travel”, even if it’s just a walk down the street to grab a croissant! (How’s that for a foolish manifesto?)
So, I’ll share with you a secret idea I’m playing with. How about if, for next year, I start a new project. The rule is — “every day for a year, I will only wear things I made myself”. I’ve been mulling over this idea for a few weeks, and I’m still trying to decide if it’s feasible. There’s a radical purity to that concept that, although perhaps not as graphic as the “brown dress” idea, could actually be cleaner in it’s execution because as you have seen from the photos, I’m always cluttering up the brown dress with factory-produced layers. I think one major consideration will be to limit my materials to fabrics & notions I already own AND recycled materials, so the exercise remains a meditation on non-participation in the consumerist race. The challenge will be to make the project a celebration of sustainability and not a parade of designs . . . but I think after this palate-cleansing year in the brown dress, I can avoid over-fluffing myself!
There’s a simmering debate that I occasionally encounter in the contemporary visual art world, a debate about whether it matters who “actually makes” the art pieces (often a big-name artist creates designs and concepts, and the actual forms are fabricated by assistants and contractors who are experts in their craft – Dale Chihuly being our local Northwest mega-lord of this business model). I think it’s an interesting and timely debate, because as a society we always try to be as disconnected as possible from the hands that actually do our work, stitch the elastic into our underwear, trim the thorns from our rose stems, shine our restroom countertops, wrap the rubber bands around our asparagus. All these things are done by somebody’s anonymous hands, like it or not. So your cleverness in purchasing a fine jacket “on sale” in a store does make you the owner of that material item, but your ignorance of the person who’s hands turned the collar and stitched the pocket lining together makes your ownership incomplete – you can’t really take credit for that jacket’s existence. The designer of that jacket can’t really take complete credit for it either. There’s a magic in building/making, if you’ve ever done it you know what I mean. By designing and building all the pieces of my own wardrobe for a year, can I claim some sort of complete ownership over an aspect of my life?
I can certainly handle building all the basic wardrobe items, and I can knit socks and make nice coats so winter shouldn’t be too big a problem. I’ve decided my eyeglasses are exempt, because they’re a prescription item and not really clothing (maybe I’m being a wuss — but really, how does one even make eyeglasses? do I need to grind some bits of glass into concave shapes or something?). But my biggest hesitation is that I’ve never made shoes! So maybe I just need to dive in and make a pair, and then I’ll know if I can do it or not. If you’re reading this and you know anyone who gives shoe-making lessons, please advise me.
Of course, the real trouble is, once I start going down this conceptual road the imbalances loom large. Am I going to extract and refine my own jet fuel next time I fly somewhere? Build my own laptop and cell phone from scraps at Goodwill? Commit to growing, preserving, and preparing all my own food for a whole year? And today I thought to myself – “what if I could go a whole year buying nothing with a bar code on it?” but a trip to my co-op food store dispelled that notion fairly quickly. I do feel some pride in reducing my ecological and consumerist “footprint” through this art and performances, but I know it’s mostly superficial, all I can hope is that it sparks some interest in somebody else, somewhere, to question the unquestionable and refuse convenience.
Let me know what you think . . . email firstname.lastname@example.org
PS – tickets are going to go fast for the Northwest New Works Festival at On the Boards! And I’m really proud of the solo. I have only three shows – June 16, 17, 18 – check out the schedule and get tickets at www.ontheboards.org.
The hole! A split in the side-seam of the bodice, just below my right arm . . . just my thumb fits through. Now that it’s finally arrived, I am so shocked – surprised by where it started, wondering if it was there for several days before I noticed. And also I’m delighted! It’s nice to have change, feels like progress of some sort.
The dress is on the road! We were in North Central Washington visiting my family last weekend – see the photo journal for evidence of the dress on fresh dewy mountaintops. And we leave tomorrow for a trip to the fine cities of NYC (well, mostly Brooklyn probably), Boston, and Montpelier, VT. When we return I’ll be updating with excellent evidence of the dress in the urban jungle and New England idylls . . .
I admit I am little intimidated to take the dress to NYC. Every somewhat-annual trip brings fresh angst over the shabbiness of our Seattle wardrobes — our scuffed shoes, our snagged sweaters, our woolly eyebrows, our un-filed nails, our baggy-kneed pants. Freya and I lived there for a few years, we met there and still have bountiful friendships there. Our NYC friends, for the most part, simply look fabulous every single day, no matter their financial, emotional or psychological condition. When several of them made the trip to the Pacific Northwest to our wedding a few years ago, they confessed that they loved it here, it was so fresh and beautiful, but they couldn’t possibly move here because they could never wear “those shoes!” (pointing wide-eyed to our scuffed & shabby leather clogs – sturdy, practical, worn by nearly all of our Seattle friends for gardening, hiking, and to work and even out to dinner until they get too walked-over to be presentable).
So, in preparation for the trip, Freya spent several hours the past few days sorting and packing her clothes, updating hair and face, polishing her excellent knee-high boots. And Ari has new shoes (well, he needed those, his feet have really started to grow!) and all his most excellent baby outfits packed. But here I go, proudly sporting not only my safety pin and frayed pocket but a genuine hole!
I’ll talk to you when we get back ~
Today was hot. Yes, so warm that Ari got to run around naked in the backyard all afternoon. And I believe all toddlers behave this way – but as soon as his clothes are off, he takes off at his fastest toddling run, ducking and weaving and flapping his arms in delight, squealing in joy and excitement and grinning ear to ear. Glee, I think it’s called – it’s nice to have that in the house!
So, in my last posting, I was writing about “rules” and “breaking the rules”. Yesterday in a meeting with a group of artists – planning a big site-specific project for later this summer around the 520 Bridge interchange – OH! And can I just tell you how surreal it is to be in a planning process now for a project that will happen AFTER I take this dress off? Freaky. Time keeps on a’rollin . . .
Anyway, in this meeting, a delightful installation artist named Nicole Kistler announced that she was planning to “think outside the box. No, more than that, let’s say there is no box, I’ve never even seen a box.” (By the way, link here to Nicole’s recent amazing collaboration, the Living Barge, a barge installed with gorgeous greenery and floated one of Seattle’s toxic waterway/canals!).
This snippet of conversation stuck in my mind because it’s so timely for me – it made me look at my indecision inside this project between wanting to use the dress to frame all the hot-button topics of the day, and simply just wanting to pretend there are no topics, I never heard of topics, I never heard of a box, I never heard of rules, I never heard of fashion. How would you dress if you had never HEARD of fashion? If there are no rules, we don’t have to get caught up in the tedious process of breaking them and commenting on them, and commenting on the process of breaking them . . . and isn’t that what the fashion industry constantly does? Recycle all the old images into something new by smartly “commenting” on the old? Maybe let’s forget we’ve ever heard the language, and then it won’t be so difficult to move on to something that’s actually fresh.
Hi there -
I am so excited, finally booked an awesome space for the Un-Dressing Party! See the home page for all the details on that, and I hope to see you there on July 7 . . . that’s just two months away. Pretty soon I may start counting the days. Not in the sense that I’m “sick of” this project and want to get out of this dress, but more with the excitement and anticipation of transforming into the next shell I’ll be wearing. I am thinking more and more seriously about what next year’s assignment will look like . . .
I’m using a close-up picture for this entry so you can see the safety pin at my waist. Yes, it’s true, that’s the button that broke during a performance almost a month ago. I’ve decided I’m not going to replace it. This is a major decision, and my choice is based on three factors:
1 – I don’t have any more buttons and I have finally admitted to myself that I’m too busy with other responsibilities AND I’m saving gas money(!) by not going to the fabric store for another batch of buttons.
2 – Since it broke during a performance, it somehow feels important, as if it’s valuable to keep a permanent record of that particular damage .
3 – I can honestly say that the safety pin holds the dress together just as well as the button did, and the loss of efficiency in getting dressed/undressed is minimal.
And you know what? If anything else breaks/falls apart/comes undone, I’m just going to live with the damage. Let Time have its way with the little brown dress. Let us celebrate entropy!
By calling into question the wisdom of following the rules (the basic societal rule I am breaking is “thou shalt not wear what you wore yesterday”), eventually the doors fly wide open and all rules can potentially be broken. I think this is why the project is frightening to some folks I talk with, and it sort of explains that first warily-asked question – “Do you wash that dress?”. Will I eventually stop following all the rules of presentation and personal grooming (trimming nails, washing body, cleaning clothes, brushing teeth, etc)? I still feel about as polished as I ever did (perhaps even more so, in fact I notice myself putting forward a snappier image these days when I go out into the world to compensate for the threadbare, safety-pin fastened dress).
In fact, I had a fascinating conversation with Freya on a related topic – she watched my solo rehearsal today and encouraged me to perform wearing just underwear underneath the dress (instead of longer pants or shorts or bloomers). “But” she said, “you’ll need to get a bikini wax or something, you don’t want the audience to be distracted from the line of your legs”. Well, this poses a huge dilemma – if one of the cornerstones of the project is to question societal pressures of beauty on women, why in the world would I get a bikini wax (something I’ve never done before!) to conform to that standardized, hair-less image onstage? And, while I am actually pro-armpit-hair, I am not “pro-pubic-hair” in general (I’m just anti-pain, and also anti-spending-money-on-”beauty”, thus I’ve never picked up on the waxing trend), I generally just choose clothing, performance costumes, and swimming suits that cover the top inch of my leg so I don’t have to worry about flashing any hair to the world. But I do agree with Freya, the dance would look very nice in regular underpants . . .
Well, sorry if that was “too much information”, I realize we probably don’t know each other well enough to share these concerns – but these are the details we dancers and costumer-designers worry about. Throwing in the extra curveball of trying to remain true to some invented set of principles is really giving me something to chew on. I guess I have a few weeks to make a decision . . .
Last Saturday night performing at Mars Bar – oh you should have seen me trying to get everyone’s attention, attempting to take the stage during this rock-n-roll show in a little rock-n-roll bar . . . a big challenge because during a rocknroll show the folks in the bar just keep shouting at each other across tables and carrying on conversations during the fiercely loud music, and that doesn’t really work for dance, especially this particular piece where I start out by making the audience sing along with me. But once I leveraged some interest by offering to unbutton my dress (that got their attention – aha!) it was an excellent run. I was hopping up and down off this little concrete stage, sometimes dancing down on the floor (trying not to step in beer or on the splintery spots), it was truly incredible. I would do it again. Need strange performance art booked in your bar? Email me.
And here are some audience comments from the run of the Buttrock show in general -
- I felt like was on drugs when I was watching that dance
- You made me feel like a little girl, I wanted to jump up and down and cry all at the same time
- I wished your dance was longer, could have watched a whole night of that
- I think you must be kind of crazy
So in general, solo performance feels like a success. I’m going to be in the studio every day for the next couple of weeks building the next incarnation for the On the Boards show, and I guess I have a good thing going now but I’d like to wipe the slate clean and start fresh . . . so . . . wish me luck!
Oh, and I think very soon my right-hand pocket is going to blow an actual hole – how exciting! – I can see the threads starting to give. That pocket usually holds my cell phone and my keys, and I keep my wallet on the left side. Will I end up carrying (gasp!) a purse for the final month of the project? Stay tuned . . .
The radishes are now 3/4″ tall.
Just a quick note, especially for my mom because she was so interested in the “duct-tape pasties” (this is my costume for the dance solo I am currently performing – see below for a photo of me in costume dress/pants/pasties in the backstage warm-up room after the show last Saturday). All was going well until the fifth performance, when I suddenly must have developed a sensitivity to the duct-tape adhesive, and now it’s markedly less comfortable. Ack – the things we do for art!! Good thing I have a few days to let my skin rest before the final weekend of shows . . . And see mom, it’s not really sexy, just a strange version of my usual strange look, right?
Also, I broke a button ONSTAGE during the show last weekend, that was exciting. In hindsight I see that this was bound to happen. I’ve just been tying something around my waist to keep it closed the last few days. Lazy lazy lazy.
Random thought #1 – I think the very, very best thing about this brown dress is that it has freed me to think outside of other people’s expectations in lots of other categories of life. Small example — the other day we needed dog food. This comes in 40-pound bags, and we buy it at our neighborhood pet store about 4 blocks from the house. It was a gorgeous day and I rather than jump in the car I grabbed the wheelbarrow out of the shed, put Ari in his pack on my back, and headed off down the sidewalk. This doesn’t seem so eccentric when I write about it, but I guess the image was really confusing to folks because I had to tell four different neighbors where I was going with the wheelbarrow! Their incredulous inquiries made me smile . . . nobody would have cross-examined me if I drove my car eight blocks, because that, for some reason, is “normal”.
Random thought #2 – Happy S.F. Earthquake Day!! Oh, I am SO obsessed by 100-years-ago things in general (a product of growing up learning stories from my Great-Grandma who was born in 1904) that this is a big one for me emotionally (also, I guess, since I live here on the shaky Pacific Rim, feels like fresh news).
Random thought #2.5 – And speaking of 100 years, I want to mention that I think we are quickly approaching an historic pop-culture threshold that I personally am going to be delighted for – a time when we have full catalogs of recordings of popular music – an entire century’s worth of songs. Being able to hear actual recordings, by the artists of the day, of the songs that people were hearing and singing themselves gives me an instant way into their mindframe and their aesthetic. Some sort of generic and yet totally true snapshot of the moment.
And, after well over 100 years of popular photography, are we approaching some sort of threshold where EVERYTHING is recorded as it happens, and therefore recording will no longer be relevant – when everyone carries a camera in their cellphone and every intersection camera makes a permanent record of traffic infractions – will the new cutting edge behavior be to *not* record anymore? Will it make a special moment *more* special and memorable to not stick a lens or a microphone or some other gadget between yourself and the experience? Just a question from a lady who takes her own photo every day . . .
So, I performed in the dress for the first time this weekend. It was great! Sort of wonderful to just wear the dress all day, dance in it, and then just put on my shoes after the show, not so much primping and changing and transforming as usual. Although I do wear duct-tape pasties, which are sort of fun to put on and not so fun to take off. Also, I decided to perform not wearing any makeup, probably for the first time in my entire dancing life – sort of an attempt to untie all of my performance habits and see what’s left without the trappings and rituals. I think it’s going really well! Come see the show if you are anywhere near Seattle, I think you’ll love it – bring your lighter to hold aloft during the ballads and I recommend a pair of sunglasses for viewing my piece. Details at www.buttrocksuites.com.
Freya and I cleaned out the closet this weekend. I have about five garbage bags of clothes to take to Goodwill this morning. Last summer, when I packed away everything I couldn’t layer under or over the dress, I just was certain I would want to keep it all!
So here’s something I’ve written about before, but I’ve been thinking more about it in the last few days. Since I am continuously engaging in conversations about my attire this year, I have become really sensitized to our cultural slant towards giving “compliments” on each others’ daily outfit. “Oh, I just love your (fill in the blank – bag, hair, shoes, socks, sweater, dress, earrings, jacket, bracelet, hat, scarf)” – and tragically often, this is the intro to a conversation about where the item in question was purchased, a perfect segue back into our place as consumers in this economy. These conversations are not out-and-out evil, but I do think they are a symptom of the insidious fashion culture that keep us, and here I mean ESPECIALLY girls/women/ladies, so ridiculously busy consuming. waxing, accessorizing, and beautifying to perfect our wardrobes and fashion alignments that we can’t possibly find the time to accomplish anything more revolutionary or important.
So from now on, I am playing my own game instead! If I want to give someone a compliment, I’m going to think of something real to say about them AS A PERSON, not admire their style or fashion or beauty. And if I can’t think of an example of this person’s courage, strength, gentleness, personal or professional accomplishment that I can give a compliment on, I’m just going to have to get to know them better!!! Here’s my call to you all – please, let’s start having conversations about what’s really happening in our lives.
So what’s going on these days? Lots of weeding out in the yard. Lots of working – seems like I have meetings all the time with people who don’t know about the project, and the shabbiness of the dress here in it’s final season produces a real puzzle for me. I always just tell myself that I’ll proudly introduce the project right off the bat, pull out my brown dress business card and give them the quick intro speech. But really, when meeting with clients I think it’s best to let them focus completely on themselves and their needs, and I keep postponing the introduction . . . until a second or third meeting, when it feels bizarre that I’ve waited so LONG to talk about it. Agh!
I randomly found a blog the other day from a young lady in NYC doing a reduce/reuse/recycle fashion project – http://www.fiftyrx3.blogspot.com. It’s a funny mix of green and global consciousness blended with bubbly shopping tips and high-end style recommendations – definitely not a site about not-buying! But it’s fun.
However, with my dress in the current state of extreme damage (threadbare at all the edges, pockets about to actually give way at the stress points, one button now actually not matching the others) I am forced to ask myself, is *looking like a slob* really the way to question fashion? Or just a spoiled-bratty way of refusing to play?
I have had a couple of sweet ‘brown dress conversations’ with men recently. It’s interesting to me because I don’t feel familiar with the male response to the pressures of fashion – having conceived this project as a strongly feminist statement, it’s fun to hear that the brothers are feeling just as frustrated.
Paraphrased Conversation #1 – this fellow says “My wife told me about your dress, how cool. How long did it take before people started noticing?” Me “Actually, I just had to tell everyone after a couple of months. Nobody ever noticed I was wearing the same thing every day.” Him “Wow! I go to such lengths every morning because my mom always said ‘you don’t want to wear the same thing two days in a row’!” Me “Yeah, but think about it. Can you look around this room and even remember what anyone was wearing yesterday?” Him “Totally not. I guess we’ve all got better things to keep track of.”
Paraphrased Conversation #2 – Me “So, did I tell you about my brown dress yet?” And this dude says “Yeah, I love your dress thing. In fact, it totally stopped me from going shopping. The other day I was like, well, it’s springtime and I should probably go get a couple new T-shirts, a pair of jeans, and some shorts because summer is coming. And then I was like, no way, I’m not doing it! Alex is wearing the same thing she wore last summer and so can I!”
I am wrestling a bit with the impending “public-ness” of the final phase of this project – almost like I’m about to push this dress out of the nest and watch it sink or swim (sorry for the mixed metaphor there!).
I’m also about to enter a very public phase for the project, making a big publicity push. So I’m trying to clean this site up, fix the typos, add my ‘professional artist resume’ (you can find it on the “contact” page, if you are interested), and generally make the whole thing “look important”. In some ways it’s really fun. In other ways it feels really false. Like I’m trying to take something so dear to my heart, this tattered old mule of a dress, and polish it up to parade it around town.
But it’s nice to be noticed, of course. And a columnist in Dubuque, Iowa just wrote a lovely article about the project! I have it posted in the “comments” page.
Oh, horrors, is the dress about to become a costume? I am about to start an extended series of performances in the dress, and I feel a lot of tension about putting it in that position, making it “perform” . . . although I’m looking forward to performing myself!
In general, it’s suddenly dawning on me that the project is going to END someday (on July 7, to be exact), and between now and then I need to orchestrate a gear shift from personal life project to performance project, and I just hope I can hang on to my process in the meantime. I have a fear that soon people will begin to ask me – “well, what dijya learn from all this?” and expect a concise, well-formulated answer. I feel myself dragging my heels on some elements of the ‘grand finale’ – for instance, I notice myself deeply procrastinating on making my real plan for the “un-dressing party”. Maybe that’s because it will mean the year is really almost over. And I won’t be the lady in the brown dress anymore, I’ll be that lady who wore the same dress for a year, which sounds sort of sad in the past tense, doesn’t it?
But I don’t mean to make it sound like I’m feeling down about the project, quite the opposite, things are going great. And if I’m not quite ready to leave the dress behind, that’s OK, I have a generous three months to prepare myself.
And maybe I will be ready to leave this shell when the time comes. I have to sneakily admit it, I cleaned out my sewing studio the other day, sorted my fabric stash, dusted off my spools of thread, and started tearing pages out of design magazines, started feeling intoxicated at the sight of randomly embroidered swirling fabrics and tender pin-tucks and deeply gored sloping angles. Maybe it’s time to sew. Maybe from July 7 on I am only allowed to wear my own design/creations? That sounds like a great idea . . . but I don’t know how to make shoes – and I’m hardcore, but I don’t think I can go barefoot for a year . . .
Isn’t it funny, the pressure I feel to already plan a bigger, better “stunt” for when this one ends? A self-created pressure, for the most part, but here and there people are starting to ask me “what will you do when you take off that dress?”
Yesterday marked the end of my eighth month in the dress. We’ve seen three seasons now! What will spring bring?
Here are some random updates from the last several weeks of Brown Dress adventures:
I spent a funny day in February running around Consolidated Works dressed in a Tyvek suit over the dress, because I was painting walls for my work on the Artist Trust events and I didn’t want to get paint on the dress. Is that just unforgivable vanity? I feel embarrassed that I am such a wimp about getting paint on the dress. If I wear a jumpsuit that completely covers the dress (oh, and a disposable suit at that – oh, the hypocrisy!!), am I still wearing the dress on that day?
But the upside was that dozens of people noticed and asked me why I was wearing the big white suit, so I got to tell them about the dress project! No one ever notices the dress itself.
In fact, now that I’m on the topic, no one has ever, throughout the life of this project, noticed the dress at all. Is it like I somehow designed an item of *non-clothing*? Is it somehow, visually, the absence of something? Nowadays, since it is looking a bit shabby, maybe people are just politely ignoring it, but nobody noticed it from day one. Hmm.
Visited my Grandma in Arizona, and she washed the dress for me and then sweetly suggested that it would look better if it was ironed. I haven’t ironed it yet, and I turned her down on that suggestion, maybe I’m just superstitiously afraid that heat would weaken the fabric and hasten the dress’ demise!
I feel anxious for springtime – a little taste of AZ’s 70 degree weather reminded me how sweet it feels to wear *just the dress* without jeans underneath and sweaters over. I’m looking forward to that again!
Visiting Southern Arizona was really interesting, because although we didn’t actually encounter any illegal immigration activity, it’s certainly in the air, and on signs in shop windows, and in everyone’s awareness . . . and spending a little time in that desert, contemplating the journeys of the people who make that trek across the amazing inhospitable mountains in search of an American life . . . wow. I don’t think I realized how I would instinctually know, just by gazing out at that landscape, what a truly deadly place it is once you are a few miles from the sprawling housing developments and drinking fountains.
On returning home to Seattle, I serendipitously received email from Portland’s PICA arts center that brought me to this website for Simparch – an artist-devised water purification project in the southern borderlands. I found this really inspiring as a work that illuminates an issue by HELPING TO SOLVE IT instead of just complaining or abstracting the problem . . . wow. See it at http://www.simparch.org – look at the “drink the water” project.
I’m currently missing a button AGAIN. Maybe after I finish writing I’ll go stitch it back on. Sigh. I was so interested in doing maintenance, even potential mending to the dress when I started this project (you know, because that’s how clothing used to be, a person would have one or two full sets of clothing and would mend and care for them for as many years as possible). But let’s just be honest, after replacing buttons six or seven times I am just bored of it. A lifetime of replaceable clothing may have spoiled me forever.
My friend Alissa was here at the house visiting tonight, and we were talking about patching a pair of her pants. I think sometimes about mending and recycling in the context of our lives in the future, during what I predict as the inevitable coming of a Great Depression – just because this economic pendulum will swing, and it will have to swing far, and perhaps it will swing in my lifetime. Often I think that I should host free “learn to sew your clothes together” workshop/parties for anyone who’s interested. Is anyone interested? Then, I immediately feel a crush of privileged guilt, because it’s just from my perspective that times are currently relatively good. Here I sit, comfortable through happenstance and inheritance while folks are picking their way through the Arizona desert on their way North, looking for their piece of the pie.
But here in Seattle the daffodils and forsythia are blooming. And soon we’ll be taking off our winter shells.
Looks like it’s been a whole month since I wrote. You know, people actually started noticing, and telling me I hadn’t written for a while. It’s nice to know folks are “following the story” – but can little brown dress girl take the pressure?
It’s been a very busy month! We performed my project The Onion Twins three weekends in a row, in Bellingham and then in Seattle . . . and now that project is all put to bed!
Totally strange month for the Brown Dress, because for three weekends in a row I was wearing my Onion Twins costume. I felt so yucky the first time I put it on for dress rehearsal (having not worn it for a few months) – I felt all soft and lumpy and exposed, without my shell. You know my astrology sign is Cancer, the crab . . . I guess I’ve built myself a real shell, if you believe in that line of thinking . . .
The show got wonderful responses and even reviews, and a photo of me got published in the Seattle Weekly along with a review (here it is if you are curious – http://www.seattleweekly.com/arts/0604/onion.php) – and while of course I’m *totally thrilled* with the excellent coverage, you have to agree that it is so utterly bittersweet that this photo widely circulated around town features me NOT wearing the dress. Ack! Oh well, that’s the joy and danger of doing two projects at once, I guess.
On another note, it’s January, which means lots of “sale” racks around town. I noticed one beckoning from inside a store as I was waiting for the bus the other day. A big mash of sparkly stretchy things, hangers mashing up against each other in an appealing tangle, big paper signs telling me “$10 rack” “clearance”. There I was, literally “killing time”, waiting for the bus, and I felt so happy when I realized I was not responsible for going over to the “sale rack” and spending my time shopping.
It made me realize the strange relationship I have had, since maybe 6th grade or so, with the “sale rack”. The word RESPONSIBLE keeps coming up. Almost like I am urgently responsible for shopping my way through it to be sure that there is nothing I want. If I don’t take time to look, it’s like I’m throwing away a vital opportunity. And on the rare occasion that there is something on the rack that catches my interest, I’m almost morally responsible for purchasing that item just to be sure it goes to a good home, rather than to whatever dark fate awaits the merchandise that isn’t chosen. Is the sale rack merchandise like abandoned puppies? If I don’t save that particular sparkly stretchy thing, will I be haunted with guilt and disappointment forever? Will some secret “sale rack” karma become imbalanced, and future clearance racks keep their treasures hidden from me? I am somehow now freed from these concerns, but will they return if I take up a “normal” wardrobe again? This may sound over-dramatic, but the urge is so strong, and feels tied to some twisted pressure towards thriftiness, couples with acquiring the ‘perfect find’. As my dad likes to poke fun at advertising — Buy More, Spend More, Save More!
This winter is gray and soggy beyond compare. I’ve already bailed out the basement at least a dozen times, and I’m trying to decide what to do about the waterlogged sewing studio – just save the fabric and let the rest of it rot to the ground?
hope you are well,
Well, happy New Year!
. . . and Happy New Year to you, brown dress. About 175 days into the project now, and we’ve survived maybe 60 trips through the washer & dryer.
Every so often, I wonder what I’ll do when I take off the dress on July 7. Make a new one and put it on for another trip around the sun? Maybe just a new color (little blue dress? little orange dress? little gray dress?) or a new style (little flouncy brown dress?). Or enter the mainstream of wearing different things every day. Or something else that I can’t quite think of yet.
I’ve been trying to write less. What happens if I just have a life and don’t record it? Taking the daily photo is very difficult these days. I feel a big resistance to that part of the assignment right now. And a resistance to the whole notion of “creating a record” – a video, a photo, a scrapbook, a photo album, a mix CD, a blog, a website . . . bleaaagch. I am getting a bit tired of moving through the world as if directing and starring in a movie about my life rather than actually digging into the experience. I don’t really blame the brown dress for creating this phenomenon, but it certainly puts the pressure on in a new way.
All is well after an extremely uneventful hibernating holiday break. Back into the big busy world this week – back into work, rehearsal, and I’m producing The Onion Twins in Bellingham and Seattle this coming month.
I’ll see you out there! love,
The other morning, as I was sewing on a button – (Yes, another button! Lost two in the space of a week, the second one fell off in the studio during rehearsal. Are we hitting some sort of entropy threshold now?) – I felt a pang of *sympathy* for the dress.
I felt guilty, like I’m really putting it through more wear and tear than any item of clothing should expect in this world. It has the beginnings of the look of a sad old creature, a workhorse past it’s prime, and wants to just be put out to pasture, but I keep demanding another day, and another, and another. I can’t think of any good way to thank it for all it’s hard work.
Of course, it’s ridiculous to feel sorry for the dress, it probably loves the attention, right? The dress is probably more recognizable than me at this point. I’ll have to keep wearing it after the year is up, or no one will no who I am. Ha!
I have noticed that I’m actually writing MORE than I thought I would. And re-reading old postings, it’s wild that new slices of the project keep coming up as we go along. It’s a real treat to follow my process and my reactions to my own reactions throughout this project.
There is so much of my art-making (dance-making) where I just soldier forward in a mad dash from inspiration, through the creative process, into producing the work, and then move on to the next exciting thing. Though I listen and incorporate my internal doubts or questions, I certainly don’t share them with the audience. What artist really does share that? It’s all about marketing and confidence and doing the work and seeing the project through and selling some tickets and sending in the invoice to claim your grant money. In the Brown Dress, the ‘art making’ is already done, and the life and my reactions and following my evolving thoughts become the work. Whoa, hope I can take another six months of this!
yours in pre-holiday tranquility,
Well, I lost that waist button again. This time I have no idea when or how it broke off, I just went to get undressed for bed and it was gone . . . So I have one practical note for others about to begin long-term dress-wearing projects (and I know you are out there, right?): I suggest metal buttons, not shell!
I’ve gone over that last journal entry so many times in my head this week – it’s like a bad joke, some lady blogging about her feelings about her butt. Eesh, eesh, eesh! Oh well, at least I can honestly say that this project has taken me to places I could have never, ever anticipated. Isn’t that funny, that I never dreamed that a project that takes place only on my own body would eventually draw my attention to my feelings about that body? I am so thick-headed sometimes, I swear, it seems obvious in retrospect.
Freya asked me about this journal, she said “how come you are writing about all this stuff, I never hear you having conversations about these things?” I said it’s totally different than a conversation, it’s more like my brain spinning things forward. In a conversation I would have to stop and consider somebody else’s feelings, or listen to their side of a story, or find a counter-argument, or come up with a related and appropriate antidote . . . and in a conversation, I have to assume that anything the other person says is equal to or of greater importance than what I am saying, and therefore I don’t waste their time with even half of the thoughts that cross my mind. The lucky thing about a journal is that I get to indulge in my delusions and tangents (in fact, wallow in them) un-interrupted.
So, thanks for reading. And go ahead and interrupt me if you want, I can take it.
Uh-oh, “body image” themed posting alert.
I had the funniest thing happen this morning! I was getting dressed, and chasing Ari through the house – now that he walks there’s a lot more chasing in a day’s work! I caught sight of myself (in my undies) in the mirror. I had to stop and look, the sight of my waist and hips in the mirror was really truly novel. My first strange impulse was to do a plie (not so strange, really, I guess that’s what dancers do when faced with themselves scantily clad in a mirror, just years of habit). But I was startled by how happy I was to see myself.
It’s probably a mark of my general dissatisfaction with the shape of my body that it took me 4 1/2 months to miss the sight of it! I’m always so proud of what my body can do – in dancing and in general life – but having spent so many clothes-shopping and daily outfit-assembling sessions in front of a mirror critiquing the exact fit of fabric across my butt for the last 17.5 years (I’m counting since about the age of 12, when I started to consider such things) I have not always been satisfied with it’s exact shape. Could those leg bones just be a little longer? Could that extra softness not collect along the side of my thighs? Could those ankles just be narrower? Feelings, of course, carefully trained into me by society and marketers, but even when you know the source of your insecurities these are still real feelings and hard to shake.
I even think that avoiding the sense of powerlessness that comes from trying to *fit myself into clothes* is one big reason that I love sewing so much. Imagine if everybody could just make clothes to fit them perfectly and avoid the whole task of worrying about what “size” they are supposed to be?
It’s really been a welcome respite these last few months! Sparing myself the daily work of trying to put on something that “flatters” me has been an awesome fringe benefit of this project that I really didn’t appreciate until now. Reflecting on it, I realize I built the Brown Dress with my maximum comfort both physically and emotionally in mind. The Brown Dress looks trim, but gently obscures the actual shape of my body with thick, stiff fabric and darted structure. It is completely oblivious to my monthly swelling and slimming. And, it reflects my own preferences by showing off my ribs & shoulders but completely hides my hips. Really, it’s sort of a perfect snail-shell that blanks out my insecurities for me. Will that blankness open a space for a new-found sense of appreciation and wonder at the true shape of myself? I would be truly grateful – but who knows how long that will last once I enter the normally-clothed world again?
Moving on to other Brown Dress news – I have been accepted to present a solo performance piece related to the project in the Northwest New Works festival at On the Boards in June. I’m delighted, and I always work best with a target – all of my mucking around the studio will need to take some sort of shape relatively soon – and it will be a great way to prepare for my birthday “un-dressing” party as well! Wish me luck . . .
Happy Thanksgiving, eat lots!
I’ll right, I’ll make this quick -
Has anyone else noticed what has happened to the story of the hurricanes? As I’m reading this month’s batch of magazines, every single one has a story from a “hurricane survivor”. I paraphrase: “Oh poor us! Luckily, we were out of harm’s way when the storm hit, and our three pedigreed lap dogs are safe and sound too. But our wonderful, lovingly-restored historic bungalow was devastated by mold – we will never be able to save the upholstery. Our neighbors lost all their heirloom nut trees, but luckily the liquor cabinet was spared . . . What a disaster! We were forced to move temporarily to our swank Manhattan town-home. Why won’t those heel-dragging politicians let us return to our true home in New Orleans? It’s such a delightfully fun & diverse city, we can’t imagine living anywhere else!”
It’s so predictable, (and obviously these people do have a real story, it must be really sad to lose all your antiques in one fell swoop) but I’m still so angry about how stories come to be told only by those with the means to tell them.
Hey, we are officially FOUR MONTHS into the project. Flyin’ high! Halloween was interesting, I didn’t dress up (well, I guess I’m already dressed up).
We dressed Ari up for Halloween, though! I wanted to write in response to my friend Paul, another new parent, who wrote me about his fear of his child becoming a “fashion opportunity”. Upon reflection I can see that I have totally succumbed to the temptation to style the baby. On some levels, this seems absolutely natural (and I would feel like a rotten parent if I didn’t care what he was wearing). I saw a great book recently with photos of babies from traditional cultures around the world and the amazing traditional magical garments they wear, with bells and animal horns to disguise them from evil spirits, and tiny makeup designs painted on their faces to enhance their health and beauty. Wow! That urge to decorate and groom and linger over the appearance of the baby seems like an inherently “right” human parenting instinct. And, of course, I can justify our primping of the baby with my righteous (how silly is that? but that’s how it feels to me, righteous!) knowledge that 99% of his wardrobe is hand-me-downs, gifts, or thrift store finds, so at least we’re not keeping the Baby Gap in business.
Last week, Freya launched a project of grubbing through the bins at the Goodwill outlet for soft old colorful T-shirts, cutting & sewing them into new funky shirts for Ari – she is having so much fun . . . and the shirts are fantastic – bright, multi-patterned, gender-neutral and fun. So clearly, we are very deeply engaged in styling the baby, and at this point I doubt very much if I can turn that around. I assume at some point he’ll get tired of us dressing him and turn on us, but I think we have at least a couple of years before he has many strong preferences. But, in support of Paul’s concern, I do see the nasty traps lurking there. How do we engage in loving and grooming the baby, and filling his world with color and texture and patterns and fun, without being sucked into the void? At this point the only answer we have found as a family it to TAKE CONTROL and make his fashion something that reflects our own family values, not dress him in corporate slogans, branded characters or weird gender symbols.
I think this relates to another question that some people have asked recently, which is something like “Gosh, you always look so nice. Your project isn’t really *anti-fashion* at all, is it?” Now, I hate to be nit-picky, but I think it’s time to get really clear about the DIFFERENCE between *fashion* and *style*. I do, actually, believe very much in style, which I define as using my aesthetic eye and whatever tools and skills and materials I can gather to create a world that matches my vision. This flows over into the entire field of design, and I believe very much that it’s my right as a human (and as an artist) to use my energy to design the things around me to match my desires. The appearance of my home, my garden, my person – heck, I’ve been cutting my own hair for ten years now . . .
Also, in a more abstract way, the word can be used like “I like his style” – the communication skills I use to interact in the world and the way in which I interact as a member of the various communities through which I roam. Warmth, integrity, mutual respect, honor – how I show my values to the people I am with. On all those levels, it’s actually hugely important to me to have ‘good style’.
Fashion, on the other hand, is an industry. It is based on creating distinct “looks” for every consumer product, from shoes to night-lights to telephones to lipstick cases, which can quickly move from the “in” list to the “out” list and therefore generate more sales for the industry’s next wave of seasonal products. (I speak with some insider knowledge here, not just as a lifelong follower of fashion, but as someone who has entered the eye of the storm itself – during the years I lived in NYC, I worked backstage during fashion week dressing the models. The spinning world of this industry is addictive and wonderful and charged with amazing people and their creativity – but couldn’t that creativity be spent on creating things that are built to LAST?) Fashion is a world in which huge sums of money are gambled on a fresh & dusty new shade of orange, the exact placement of a button is the stuff that careers are made of, and media outlets sell millions of copies of magazines filled with articles to help us sort through the barrage of new products. Fashion messages are always delivered in black & white – “what not to wear” “must-have” “dos versus don’ts”. I quote from a recent headline that made me smile: “We’ll help you separate the fads from the trends!” What’s the @&#$(%^ difference? Does a trend last two years, whereas a fad lasts two months?? Whatever!
Anyway, I stand by my statement that the Brown Dress is a project against fashion. Or, at the very least, a the Brown Dress is a project that pits style and fashion against each other before the backdrop of sustainability and righteousness.
Or, maybe, a wrestling match between conscience and desire. Or, a bittersweet tale of cold knees and messy baby dinners. Or, a suit of armor in which to explore a highly charged territory. Or a blank canvas. Or a silly game.
OK, enough for now.
Class. Status. Privilege. On the one hand, part of my original intent was to draw attention to the clothing options of some of our planet’s poorest citizens – many of whom have only one set of clothing to last as long as it lasts, blah blah blah. But honestly, I’m now embarrassed that I thought I could make any real comment on that. I can’t even say I’ve actually become acquainted with anyone in that situation – have you? Their images are clear in my mind, encountered on sidewalks here in Seattle, and from bus windows traveling across Mexico, viewed in pages of National Geographic, but that hardscrabble life – though not too distant – is a galaxy away from my actual sphere.
Truly, the only reason I can do this Brown Dress thing (as well as many other elements of the life I have chosen) is because of the broad, loving net of support that my family has created for me since before I arrived on this earth. First of all, the modest financial safety net that my extended family provides. I’ve never needed to call on my family for emergency funds, and I’ve lived in financial independence since I finished college at age 19 – but I know that in the event of a horrible tragedy I would not be homeless or destitute, and I know that when I old I will not be eating cat food or living in a shelter. Just this simple knowledge of that cushion gives us the freedom to take incredible risks, doesn’t it? Second and perhaps more importantly: the simple intangible daily gifts of love, encouragement, education, skills in living and working, cultural & creative training throughout my childhood, connections for jobs and apprenticeships in my youth. Not to mention my body, the most basic gift from my family – my lucky society-dominant white skin and a reasonably attractive healthy face & body.
All these factors have combined to give me the tools I have needed to create the life I have – and as you can probably see from the photo journal, life is pretty freakin’ good in the scheme of things. External trappings such as the house, car(s), dog, cat, nice little trips to visit family, comfortable furniture, delicious food, space to garden, my awesome business (I plan parties! Does it get any better than that?), the comfort of choosing an urban neighborhood where my gay family will be safe, the ability to hire a great babysitter to stay with Ari just a few hours a day while Freya and I work, the beautiful baby boy courtesy of (ridiculously expensive!) donor insemination . . . well, let’s just say that although in the scheme of things I know I’m just barely above the technical poverty line, life seems so rich and so safe! All these factors combine daily to give me the confidence, chutzpah, snappy vocabulary, and self-determination to do, basically, whatever I am interested in without too much fear.
Of course, as a parent these are all the things I dream I can impart to my son in some fashion or another, so I don’t mean to disparage any element of this or imply that I’m not grateful and satisfied with my life and the choices I’ve been able to make.
Coming home tonight I became aware, driving past a young man panhandling in a pretty sorry state, that if he was my brother Owen he would not be standing there . . . first of all, because I would pick him up and take him home. But more importantly because my family would never let him fall into a state of ill health, unemployment, poverty, addiction, and depression/hopelessness. Some of these thoughts are bubbling up in response to ongoing media coverage of the journeys of disaster survivors (here, there and everywhere – is it now mandatory that we have a major flood, storm, or earthquake every week?) – and the clearly untold story that there is a whole class of people whose fortunes will never really suffer, no matter what disasters befall their neighborhoods or the rest of our world.
Anyway, I guess what I’m struggling to express here is some discussion of how my personal privilege as a member of the creative class is playing out in this project. The privilege to choose to wear the same dress every day for a year (as it gets increasingly battered and worn) would simply not be available to me if I had to wear a Subway uniform to work.
OK, I think I’ll leave it at that for now.
I feel I should mention that today is my & Freya’s 3-year anniversary! Well, three years since the wedding, 8 1/2 years of being sweethearts. Feeling lucky – going out to dinner tomorrow night, our second evening out without Ari since he arrived . . .
Nobody’s writing to me these days – has everything been said? Say it’s not so. Drop me a line at email@example.com.
My mom read my last posting and sent me two pairs of winter tights and a pair of wool legwarmers. Sweet!
In other news, I had my first genuine celebrity sighting last weekend – in a crowded event, some fellow called out – “Hey, that’s the brown dress. You must be Alex!” He had heard about the site through a friend . . . we had a good conversation. It was very exciting for me, proof positive that the project has finally reached beyond that first or second degree of separation.
In news of the dress, I have to report there is a grease spot on the left pocket, probably the first discernable “damage”. It’s been through the wash several times and hasn’t faded. Not too noticeable, but perhaps an omen of things to come. It’s going to be pretty delightful to wear the dress when there is a whole year’s worth of stains and damage in evidence. At the beginning of this project I was pretty anxious about that possibility of “shabbiness”, but now I think it’s super-fancy! This week, in public situations, I give myself a secret smile just realizing that I am, almost without a doubt, the only person in the room who’s been wearing the same thing for three months.
I’m also noticing how much people have to find something in my outfit to complement. Isn’t it funny? “I love those socks” “Oh, you got new glasses!” “Those shoes are so fun” “Did you make that scarf?” Now that I notice it, I realize that people have always talked this way. Maybe it’s a way of supporting each other, noticing the effort everyone makes to look presentable, and having fun sharing style and color and texture with the world. I feel a little at a loss as to how to respond, because I have so much else to say about personal appearance and presentation, but I find myself back in the old rut, saying “yes, thank you” . . . how do we change this conversation?
I ran into an old friend, and started to tell her about the project. She interrupted me to say “Oh, honey, I’m such a fashion victim.” What an startlingly interesting phrase – “victim” being such a powerful word. If nothing else, at this juncture of the project I am convinced that we absolutely have the power to be in control of our own fashion.
Brrr. I am freezing. Not at the moment, because I’m at home wrapped in a down comforter with the furnace on – but in general it’s definitely high time to figure out the “winter” version of this project. Today I was even considering going to the fabric store for more brown denim and making a long-sleeved floor-length version of the dress . . . but I’m holding on for now. Maybe I can wear the two dresses on top of each other when it gets really cold. I may have to go SHOPPING for wool tights and tight sweaters to wear underneath – isn’t that hilarious? What if I have to purchase a whole new wardrobe to survive in this dress all year – now that would be poetically tragic(!) Maybe I could knit my own – but I think I would just flare up this pesky wrist injury, and at my moderate knitting pace I wouldn’t have a pair of tights until May.
Feeling the danger of improvisation! Wish me luck.
In a way it’s getting to something basic about “what is clothing really for” – and the nonsensical devotion that I have to this brown dress is truly tripping me up as much as any foolish fashion trend. When the damp and chill sets in, clothing is really for keeping us from freezing to death, non?
All else is good.
I feel my last post was a bit too dramatic, sorry if it put you off. No more disasters since last Saturday – I did lose a button dancing (that bottom button takes a lot of strain in rehearsal) but I just sewed it back on.
My biggest challenge now is the weather. It’s getting very chilly! I’ve tried to limit my options, but with sweater/shirt/jacket/pants/socks/shoes (and soon enough it will be scarf/hat/mittens/coat as well!) it’s just frighteningly easy to create full “outfits” around the dress, looking very different every day. I think I may need to put even more things in storage and keep only the layers that are simplest. Or maybe just one of each thing. I need to think about that . . .
Questions people ask me:
- still the very first question from almost every new audience member is “do you wash it?” This is starting to give me the giggles, because after three months wouldn’t you smell me coming from a mile if I hadn’t washed the dress this whole time? I think the question speaks to a certain anxiety about personal cleanliness in general – since “clean” equals “healthy/happy/normal/good” . . .
- people have just started to ask me “do you think it will last the whole year?” I do think it will last, the fabric is getting softer but all the threads are holding (except for those buttons, of course). And if it doesn’t last, it’ll just be a scrap by next July, and I’ll survive.
What an interesting week. The dress and I have been to Idaho (Coeur d’Alene) and taken the train to Oregon (Portland), put up part of The Onion Twins onstage at the West Seattle new Dance Festival, suffered a total PROJECT FAILURE (more on that later), finally got the business cards for the brown dress and it’s to fun to hand those out to people, and baby Ari has had fevers and some difficult days and nights. We are guessing it’s just teething fevers, but it’s really hard to see him struggling and feeling under the weather . . . dosing him with baby tylenol (interesting how my commitment to allowing the body’s natural healing powers to work flies out the window when I see my own little kiddo suffering!)
But, I have to tell you what happened today – TOTAL PROJECT FAILURE. Or, let’s just say some good lessons learned.
Our story begins this afternoon – I confess that I decided to make my first ever private exception to my dress-wearing rule, and I didn’t wear the dress in the backyard digging in the compost heap (yes, New York friends, here in Seattle we all have goofy things like personal compost heaps – what can I say? No better way to get in touch with your kitchen scraps than to watch them rot . . .) My rationale for the rule-breaking was that later tonight I had a concert (the afore-mentioned West Seattle New Dance Festival) and didn’t want to be greeting folks in the lobby after the show with smears of compost on myself. I had one brief panic during my yard project when our neighbor Jennifer came over and visited with Freya and Ari in the front yard. I almost dashed inside to change, but I decided to relax, and I just waved from over the fence, hoping she wouldn’t notice my lack of brown dress.
At the end of my little yardwork project, I grabbed the Onion Twins costumes and leaped hurriedly into the car to go pick up my dancer Monica and head to the theater, very very distracted because another dancer in the project had injured her neck and wasn’t able to dance tonight. We were rushing to the theater early to re-choreograph our show for group of four instead of five dancers. Of course, since I am totally not in the habit of checking my outfit when leaving the house, it wasn’t until 20 minutes into the journey that I realized I WAS NOT WEARING THE DRESS. Interestingly, I realized it the moment that Monica got into the car – when I was “seen”. The shock of the realization was physical – like those “I’m naked at school” dreams.
The worst part of the story is that I have been promoting the Brown Dress project big-time, mentioning it in my performance bio, handing out these Brown Dress business cards everywhere, there was even a stack of cards in the front lobby at the theater . . . I felt exposed and horribly embarrassed.
I frantically phoned home to Freya for help, thinking perhaps she could bring the dress to me, but we both agreed that with Ari feeling under-the-weather it wasn’t fair to drag him out in the car right at his bedtime to deliver the dress to me at the theater.
Monica and I agreed that if I just put on my performance costume and stayed in it all night, it would be OK. So that’s what I did, feeling super-awkward – but I was able to focus and re-stage our performance, re-set the light and sound cues, warm up and perform. The show was great, everything went smoothly and the audience was standing-room-only! The awkwardness returned after the show, and I found myself collecting my stuff and sneaking out the back door wearing my costume.
Part of me feels really silly – what an stooopid(!) blunder, and a missed opportunity at such a public event. Another part of me feels conflicted – should I have just worn my grubby yardwork clothes out to the lobby with pride and chatted with the audience members, laughing off the brown dress project (or giving excuses for not having it on) if it came up? I just couldn’t bear to let the project seem so weak. But, of course, here I am writing about it so now everyone knows about my failure anyway . . .
This brings up a question for the whole project – if I’m really doing a project about “fashion” or the absence of “fashion”, it really shouldn’t matter what I’m wearing, right? But the project has to have shape, a rigor, a rulebook, or it’s nothing.
So, the lesson I am taking away is this: never ever take the dress off, compost smears be damned – it’s just much too great of a probability that I’ll forget to put it back on. In a way I’m really, really grateful for the immediate consequences to my rule-breaking. I can see now that making exceptions for mess and vanity is a bad slippery slope – once you start breaking the rules for compost, where do you stop?
I’m just going to file that lesson and move forward with the project tomorrow morning. Onward!
PS – Oh, exciting side note – Rebecca Brown, our collaborator who wrote the libretto for The Onion Twins, was awarded a Stranger “Genius” Award by The Stranger, one of our local weekly lefty papers. (It’s a chunk of cash and some nice recognition) – what a thrill, Rebecca is truly deserving and doesn’t get enough of that public award stuff!
Yes, the button is finally fixed. And I have a four little things to write about today -
- I’ve noticed that people are connecting to the project by talking or emailing to me about their memories of a limited wardrobe when doing extensive travel. I really enjoy the thought of this as a “traveling” wardrobe – a dress to go places in, both geographically and internally. Maybe all of our clothes should be traveling clothes.
- My cell phone is broken, and I went to the store where I bought it to ask if it was under warranty (it’s not) and if they could recommend anyone who could fix it. Really, the only trouble is with the speaker that talks into my ear. Seems like a tiny loose connection that could be easily fixed (if I knew how). The young fellows in the store had never heard of anyone trying to fix a cell phone, and immediately started to sell me a new phone. Oh, the frustration! Why are things not made to last? Or even designed to be repaired?? I feel so connected now to the idea of choosing something sturdy and sticking with it through thick and thin – why are my things not designed to stick with me? Well, d’oh, obviously so I’ll just buy a new one every year or two . . . which I will probably end up doing, but not until I’ve stubbornly refused for a few weeks more. If you are reading this and you know how to fix the ear-speaker in a cell phone, please email me, I have a little job for you!
- I think my favorite part of this project is the total self-reliance of it. To put this in context, you have to understand that I’m a choreographer, and therefore everything I do depends on other people to make it real. My dancers who work with me in the studio every week (of course), but also collaborators, tech and stage crew people, and most importantly the AUDIENCE needs to be there to make the performance a reality. It’s so refreshing to wake up every morning, put on my dress, take a photo, and know that I have done the project for the day, without having to ask anyone for any favors. I made the dress myself, the website also I am doing totally single-handedly, and it’s only me who has to “perform” the piece every day. I think this is the truest “solo” project I’ve ever done.
- I’m just starting to imagine the more formal performance element of this project . . . I feel like a few more months of collecting data will be needed, and then maybe by the end of the project next summer I will feel inspired to build some performance. It’s fun to get the first glimmers of that in my imagination, I wonder what will happen.
Still haven’t replaced the button, it’s weighing on my mind – I don’t mind wearing a safety pin, but I feel I should make more of an effort to fix the problem. And, I miss the satisfaction of that line of seven buttons. Mending has never been my strong suit. Usually there are no consequences for not mending my clothes, I just stop wearing the item that needs repair and give it to Goodwill.
My first chance to go to the fabric store and look for a button is probably Saturday, and who knows if the right button will be there? I could just use a different button. Not a problem.
I’m having weird night visions of climbing to the roof of the house, trying to save my little family, it’s certainly hurricane sympathy pangs – is all my life a futile frivolity? Sometimes I get a little down on myself for doing such a frivolous project. There are people who have devoted themselves to much more helpful pursuits. All I’m doing is wearing clothes. So self-centered and not so important really, is it? Maybe next year I should bicycle everywhere instead of burning fossil fuels, or mentor neighborhood children, or replant deforested areas, or save an endangered language.
Well, a couple of days ago a button broke – that’s a first! I was lifting Ari out of his backpack and the button caught on part of the backpack frame and snapped. Haven’t had a chance to go back to the fabric store to get a new button yet (and I decided not to cannibalize Dress #2 by stealing a button, although I could still resort to that if I get desperate), so I’m wearing a handsome safety pin at my waist!
I’ve been working a lot on the brown dress website, and I placed the order for the cards tonight! But Freya and I had a disagreement – she didn’t want pictures of Ari on the website, she believes it’s not right since he’s not really able to give his permission for that. I do see her point, but I was so frustrated because he appears in so many photos from the first month or so, and I wasn’t willing to lose that material! So our compromise is that I’ll blur his face where he appears.
I’m excited to do the real launch of the project. In a way, it’s nice that I didn’t have the business cards or website when I first started – it might have been premature to go “public” too early.
Some sort of ‘buzz’ about my dress seems to have started within my performance community, which (I admit) is very fun. A few acquaintances have come up to me having heard second-hand about the project – and conversations are going well. I think as the project ripens for me I have much more intelligent things to say.
I sort of wonder if folks in the neighborhood have noticed me looking the same for almost two months (I walk around in Columbia City with Ari a lot these days). Maybe not. Maybe the whole project is not that noticeable. Would that be a good thing, if the only lesson learned from this year of nonsense is that it doesn’t really matter if I never change my outfit? So not dramatic. Anyway, it will be fun to hand out cards and a good excuse to start more conversations.
Just re-reading some of these journal entries, and I noticed how much I write about talking to people – Is this whole project just a way for a shy girl to have an excuse to strike up a chat, and provide something witty for her to talk about? Why can’t I just a start a regular conversation like a normal person?
Is this whole brown dress thing not actually about fashion and society, but some sort of weird opportunity for self-reflection for me?
Not to mention, how strange and egotistical is it to publish hundreds of daily photographs of myself online? Who will ever want to look at that, besides me and maybe my mom? Someday will I just be embarrassed by this whole escapade?
This last week was really hard. I was up at Centrum (spectacular arts center in Port Townsend, WA) putting up a huge concert (the world premiere, in fact!) of The Onion Twins, my two-act dance opera collaboration with Rebecca Brown and Mike Katell, and my amazing ensemble of five dancers, a narrator, lighting designer, four-piece chamber orchestra, and singers . . . and, well, between taking care of all these people and my own performance, I admit that I didn’t get a single photo from the last several days. Drat. I’m feeling like a bit of a failure here, its so frustrating to feel disappointed in myself.
I still wore the dress every day, I promise! Although I did take it off to put on my costume for the performance – and that was really amazing, to see my body in pants for the first time in six weeks. Ha! My pelvis still exists! But I was so focused on putting the show together and trying to be a strong performer that I couldn’t really focus on my reactions to that, it all got swept up in the moment.
I’ve already taken a few photos myself holding the camera at arm’s length. I think I’m going to start taking photos with the time-lapse so I can just pose myself – it’s too difficult finding someone to snap a photo for me every day. I guess they don’t have to be gorgeous photos, as long as I make an effort. If I had a budget for this I’d have to hire a photographer to visit every day . . .
Big day, I coordinated a wedding this weekend out on Whidbey Island. It was gorgeous. Of special note because I wore Dress #2 for the first time! I have decided (for now, at least) to treat Dress #2 as a ‘special occasion’ dress.
A couple of the wedding guests noticed the dress (it was a destination weekend event, so these folks saw me looking basically the same all three days . . .) and I had some good conversations. Feeling much more positive and relaxed than last time I wrote.
Also, the weather has been cooler so I don’t have the panicked over-heated feeling anymore. Things are leveling out, I think.
Day 25 of the project.
Physical changes in the dress – I think the dress is fading! Must be all the sunshine. I turned back the collar the other day and the inside facing is a distinctly darker shade of brown. Bottom button almost fell off last night, I sewed it on again with extra thread. Lots of stress on that button, especially in dance rehearsals.
I’m still working with only the first dress. I was sewing on the second dress last night and noticed that, in comparison, the first dress is markedly softer after all the washings. The second dress just needs buttonholes and it will be in service . . . but here I am sitting at the computer instead . . . soon.
It’s been very hot the past two weeks – many days in a row I was quite uncomfortably warm wearing the thick denim. I get sort of panicked when I’m too hot, so a couple of days I actually felt a little angry at the dress. That feeling passed somehow, thank goodness – maybe I just got through the first wall. Now, the weather has shifted to cool (hooray!) and today I wore a shirt over the dress all day.
Changes in me – I have a wretched tan line now, perfect farmer tan around my arms and neck to match the dress. It’s a strange vanity, to be so disgusted with a tan line. A good challenge, I’m trying to rise above it. Doesn’t matter if I have a line, I only wear this one thing, right?? I have to keep reminding myself.
I saw a fashion spread in a magazine two days ago, and I almost laughed out loud. Some ridiculous thing about how the “new Boho” is “darker” than the “old Boho”. The saddest thing is, I probably would have read this and found some important, useful information in it two months ago.
Reactions From People – I had a really bad run with reactions recently. Folks at Freya’s workplace, Artist Trust, had lots of critiques for the project (and some of them haven’t even seen me wearing the dress yet). I’ve never done a project of this nature before – is it normal that when you are doing a project with your daily life people feel entitled to give you lots of “tips” on how you should do it better? Before the project started, I was actually soliciting lots of opinions at that point – but somehow, now that it’s started, I feel that people should stand back and let me give it my best shot, even if it’s all a blunder in their eyes. I feel a little prickly about it – in addition to being Freya’s permanent workplace, Artist Trust is a wonderful event client of mine, and the opinion of these folks is important to me.
Here’s why I think I had such a bad response: these very same friends and acquaintances have NEVER given me blunt negative opinions of my choreographic work, especially sight-unseen! Is that because I am more skilled at choreography than I am at this project? Does the whole concept just suck? Or, I imagine, they see the dance work as my “serious” creative work and this brown dress thing as something I shouldn’t be attached to. Or maybe there’s another explanation. When I’m not feeling so prickly, I’ll have to inquire.
In any case, I need to develop some new coping skills for facing unsolicited opinions. I tried suggesting that my critics would be more than welcome to launch their own ‘clothing for a year’ project if they could improve upon my plan, but Freya said I was sounding hostile and defensive. So now I guess I just smile, shrug, and nod – until I come up with something better.
Notes on the Photos – Freya decided she didn’t want Ari to be in any more photos on the internet. So now I am appearing solo in the photos. I look a little lonely, don’t I? You’ll notice I was wearing a wrap for a few days – my wrist has been really hurting, I think from carrying the baby as he gets heavier and heavier . . .
The photos from the last few weeks are not so glamorous, no vacations. Mostly just me in various rooms of our house (and a few taken in rehearsal studios, I’m working a lot on my dance opera project The Onion Twins).
So far so good. A few new thoughts since the last journal entry . . .
Environment – I had a happy thought the other day – as I was walking on the beach and seeing lots of plastic trash, duct tape, old balloons, flotsam from 4th of July firecrackers, etc and just generally feeling lousy to be a member of such a nasty, polluting species – I realized this dress is totally biodegradable! It’s made of 100% cotton denim fabric, cotton thread, and shell buttons. I’m sure the materials weren’t manufactured in a particularly environmentally-aware manner, they are just purchased from Jo-Ann Fabrics. But at least the “product” won’t still be around when my bones are dust, unlike some of my other wardrobe staples.
Photos – Looking at the pictures so far, it is interesting how small a slice of my daily experience is getting captured – generally photos are taken (by Freya) just as I’m dressed to walk out the door, or during a quiet family moment. All of that is great, of course, but I do so much more than that in a regular day – work, errands, rehearsal, meetings . . . I think I may start taking the camera with me and asking folks out in the world to take my photo.
One of the most interesting experiences so far may sound a little dorky, but I went in to browse in a sort of hard-edged used CD store on the very first day of the project. This is a place I would generally feel sort of out-of-place, not for any reason except my own neurosis of “not looking rock-n-roll enough to shop here”. Somehow the brown dress, though certainly not standard rocker gear, gave me some sort of instant immunity from those ‘out of place’ feelings. Here is the magic – Since there is no possibility of changing my outfit, the outfit I have on instantly becomes the ideal “look” for any situation. I look forward to testing this new super-power!
Reactions from others – Really, nothing too dramatic yet. General reaction is slight disbelief, polite questions, and mild curiosity. A small slice of people seem genuinely put-off. I find it really helps to allow enough time for conversation – the first misconceptions are easily dispensed with in just a few moments, and then we can get to the much more interesting discussion. I think the project also truly develops for people over time – I get new questions, and have new answers, every few days from the people I see regularly.
Well, this is the official 12th day of the project. What have I noticed so far?
A couple of physical changes in the dress. It’s been washed probably 4 or 5 times now (I haven’t kept track). After the second washing/drying the dress seemed a little shrunk in length – it’s now definitely above my kneecaps, where at the start I think it was a bit longer. Also, the front placket above the top button at my neck has developed a little forward curl – visible in some of the photos from this week. I feel comfortable and happy with these changes, and very happy with the design – it feels comfortable and practical.
A couple of behavioral changes in me. I was never known as a fastidious person, but now I find myself reaching for my napkin or the dishtowel rather than drying my fingers on my thighs – just trying to make it to the very end of the day without anything nasty on myself. Before, I would have just counted on changing my clothes if needed. The dress seems to launder very well, and dirt-hiding brown already feels like an excellent choice!
I find myself putting on a second daily dose of underarm deodorant – especially on hot afternoons, when I have an evening meeting or something to do late in the day. After dance rehearsal is a particularly difficult time – I’m so used to ripping off my sweaty rehearsal clothes and jumping in the shower, I’m missing that luxury already. I guess I could still jump in that refreshing shower, but knowing that afterwards I’ll just have to put the dress back on . . . I just figure I’ll save the water and reach for the deodorant instead. Some of this may change when I make the second dress (which is still hanging ½ finished in the sewing studio – no time, no time, no time . . . ). I don’t know if the second dress will make things easier, or more complicated . . .
I need a new transition ritual! Generally, when it’s time to leave the house, in my old life I would spend a few minutes sprucing up my outfit, changing my shirt, adding a belt, etc as a way to prepare for the next adventure. Now, I find myself just circling the house aimlessly, washing my face one more time, and then heading out the door . . .
Right now, you may notice in the photos I have a dark blue string around one wrist – it’s in honor of the impending birth of our friend Amii’s baby, and I’ll take it off when I hear the word that the new baby has arrived – any day now!
On the very first day of the project, my birthday, I was so, so, so tempted to put on a pin or something for my birthday party! But I resisted, wanting to keep things simple as long as I can. I did put a pin in my hair for the party, but nothing since – actually, I haven’t been tempted since that very first day.
It is interesting to wear something so non-descript every day. Of course, changing a jacket or shoes seems to transform the dress quite a lot – looking at the photo from last week in my pink jacket, I feel like a CHEATER. I can do better than that – I need to try not to embellish needlessly (especially now when the weather is warm enough to wear the dress alone)!
Layers – As you’ll see in the photos, I’m been out to the Pacific Ocean beaches and on Puget Sound on some weekends with family, all kinds of weather (Western Washington in July means temperatures swing between 50 and 100 degrees). Wearing jeans under the dress and a sweater over is totally comfortable. I still feel a little sad to cover up the dress . . . but I guess it’s good to have a sneak preview of what I’ll look like all winter. For dance rehearsals I have been wearing a pair of my dancing pants under the dress – except the other day it was so hot in the studio that I went with just my underwear and the dress, and that was fine too except my knees got a bit more wear & tear (from the work we do on the floor) than usual.
Wardrobe – My partner Freya generally thinks the project is crazy, but at least she’s happy to have an excuse to retire my ample clothing selection to cold storage! A couple days after the start of the project, Freya and I put a huge bin of my clothes away under the bed. I think I’ll be able to narrow it down even more – lots of things just don’t fit right under or over the dress.
At the seashore with my family.
“See this dress?” I say, “I’m going to wear it every day for a year.”
My brother, eyebrows raised, says “Really? Cool.”
After a few slow nods he says “You know what I hear about nuns? They’re really into fancy lingerie.”