Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Movie Review - Toy Story 3

This was a great family movie. It's got something for everyone - the parents, the children, and even the teens who were reluctantly dragged into the theater! This film explores the themes of growing up and letting go while still being paced to keep the kiddies entertained.

The story follows our original hero Andy who's now all grown up and leaving for college. His room, once brimming with toys as we remember from the original Toy Story, is now populated only by a handful of survivors who sit in his toy box collecting dust. When Andy's mother accidentally throws them away, the toys donate themselves to Sunnyside Daycare, which they soon find out is an awful place to be...

Most of the remaining characters are voiced by the original actors (with the unnoticeable exception of Slinky, voiced by Blake Clarke since the passing of Jim Varney) which already gives it points in my book. Not only that, but the animation style and quality are actually superior to the first two films. This is important since most sequels released by Disney tend to be made much more cheaply than the originals, or are made so long after the originals that they don't seem to really follow the original. The Toy Story franchise has retained its tone, the charm and personalities of its characters, and the general good vibes since the first film in 1995. Toy Story is also the film that sparked a long and highly successful string of films, including Finding Nemo and Up, which is the first CGI film to be nominated in that category. It really excites me to think of what Pixar will come up with next!

The humor in this film - though sparser than I had expected - hit a home run. I especially enjoyed the interactions between Barbie and Ken, as well as the sequences with Bonnie's toys (how can you not love a thespian porcupine in lederhosen?). Here is where the movie fits for everyone. There's a lot of slapstick and physical humor for the little ones as well as some more clever jokes and even risque jokes that go over their heads and are aimed more at adults.

In keeping with Pixar tradition, this movie made me cry my eyes out during several scenes. Of course the idea of Andy going off to college hit home with my mother and me, but it was also the idea (emphasized toward the end) that you're never too old to play and use your imagination. This is why I love Pixar films, they really do drive home important lessons for children, like perseverance or friendship, in a realistic way.

As to the appropriateness of the film, I say everything is fine but for one element: the monkey. Younger or more easily frightened children might not like this character. Even I found him a bit creepy. Other than that, parents should find no objections to the film.

If you're like me, you enjoyed not the first two Toy Story films, but also most of Pixar's body of work. If you are indeed like me, go see this film!

Nostalgically Yours

Put on Your Sunday Clothes!

Most of you will recognize this song from "Wall-E", one of my favorite movies. As I explain in my review of "Toy Story 3", a Pixar movie will inevitably make me cry. Today, however, I weep only for the lost traditions of yore.

The song you just watched speaks to the lost western cultural phenomenon of "Sunday Clothes" (you've heard the expression "wear your Sunday best"?), when people would wear their best dresses and suits to Mass on Sunday morning. Obviously, this has its roots in Christian tradition, probably dating as far back as the Sunday "sabbath" in the time of Constantine I. Since the rise of Christianity, those who worked did so Monday-Saturday. Our modern concept of the weekend wasn't nationally accepted in the United until 1940 (Pioneers of the two-day weekend included Henry Ford in 1926). This meant that Sundays were all the more special for people, since it was their only day off. Though the leisure class could afford to dress lavishly on a daily basis, the working classes had only Sunday to look forward to show off a new dress, a new tie, a new hat. Depending on their income, after Mass most people would go out to the park, to the beach, to enjoy some sort of recreation and to further display how swell they looked. The idea of Sunday clothes is about more than just religion, it has to do with a sense of decency and decorum that went out with the Baby Boomers. Nowadays, being well-dressed is optional. People don't blink an eye if a person goes grocery shopping in sweatpants, but even fifty years ago people thought it was important to look well-kept and elegant.

On this vein, in a relatively recent article from the April issue of Southern Living, Valerie Fraser Luesse pines the loss of three classic icons of feminine propriety:

"1. The Easter Dress
We used to start shopping for out Easter dresses before the Valentine's candy was even stale. An Easter dress was your prettiest, dressiest Sunday-go-to-meetin' ensemble of the year. It screamed spring: floaty fabrics in pastel colors; short sleeves, puff sleeves, or no sleeves; store-bought or handmade. Pearls required. and glovesHat and gloves optional after 1960. [...]
2. The Mother's Day Corsage
When I was a kid, if a mother came to church without a corsage from her children, the whole family went on everybody's prayer list. Now almost nobody buys one, and that's a shame. Here's how it works. You choose the flowers for your mother's corsage based on whether her mother is living or dead. If her mother is living, she wears roses or carnations in pink or red. If her mother has crossed over, she wears white or yellow roses or an orchid. Everybody gets baby's breath. It's just the right thing to do.
3. The Hostess Apron
'When you saw my grandmother's mint-green organza apron, you knew some cucumber sandwiches were coming out,' my friend Rebecca says. Back in the day, Southern [and most other American] women wore kitchen aprons, which they actually wiped their hands on while they cooked, and hostess aprons, which adorned and protected their good dresses while they served guests."

I guess my upcoming move to New Orleans really has me thinking about long-gone nostalgia such as this. Southerners have a reputation for being much more old-fashioned than Yanks - and it's really true. a New Yorker sticks out like a sore thumb in the Crescent City. My last visit to NOLA left me completely flabbergasted. I wondered at the courtesy and warmth I encountered wherever I went. I'm excited about getting more in touch with my New Orleans past. My mother and aunt were the seventh generation born there. I'm also glad I inherited my family's Southern sensibilities, which is why I really agree with Ms. Luesse in that it's a crying shame that these and other traditions have been abandoned. Of course, as she also says in her article, certain things are better left in the annals of Good Housekeeping...

However, in our desperate attempt to do away with those things we saw as uncool and old-fashioned, we effectively threw out the baby with the bathwater. The Baby Boomers were so preoccupied with breaking down the establishment that they didn't stop to think about what might be nice to keep around. Eventually we reached today's generation - the new "Silent Generation". Not silent like the first one, because it had been assimilated by World War I, but silent because we're simply not involved in anything outside our Facebook accounts or our television screens.

The good news is that I think things are changing. Artists such as Katy Perry and Christina Aguilera have done a lot to try and modernize the looks of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, making it cool to look retro. Lady Gaga and Laroux are both intensely reviving the 80s. Hopefully this will encourage other young people to examine the lifestyles of days gone by and maybe start picking out and adopting the things that are relevant in the 21st century. This is especially true because I don't know if we've really found our voice as a generation (thus the "silence"), so perhaps in a world saturated with information, we'll begin to combine the past with the future in finding an identity of our own.

Here's Hoping!

Nostalgically Yours

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sewing Tips Series #1 - DIY Markers!

No, not a marker for drawing, a marker for sewing.

"What is a marker?" you ask? Simple: it's a cutting guide used by professionals in the fashion industry to plan the layout of their pattern pieces before they cut to avoid wasting fabric. I found this is much simpler and saves time, as opposed to going in blindly and finding out too late that you're out of fabric. This is especially helpful when you have a very limited amount of fabric like I did in my Medieval Dress, where I had to use remnants which I couldn't buy more of. Here you go!

  1. After blocking, measure the width and length of your fabric.

  2. Open a paint document or any other sort of simple drawing program. Things like Photoshop can work, but might be too complicated a program for this task.

  3. Using the scale of your choice (for example: 1 pixel = 1 inch), create a scale diagram of your fabric. Remember to include important information such as border width, etc.

  4. Take each individual pattern piece and take important measurements such as length, width, and any others you might need, depending on each pattern piece. For instance, the sleeve pattern below required four measurements: length, width at wrist, width at elbow, and width at bicep. As long as you can create a rough block of the pattern's shape on your diagram, what measurements you choose aren't important.

  5. Draw each pattern piece into the fabric diagram - don't forget, some pieces might need to be cut multiple times or be cut on the fold. Be sure you allow for these and make sure to mirror anything cut on a fold.

  6. Once you've toyed around with different layouts and you've found one that suits you, you can start cutting. Since your diagram is to scale, you can accurately place your pattern pieces on the actual fabric by measuring the depths of folds or the distance of one piece from the selvage.

Here is the marker I made for the Medieval Dress I created. Each blue square equals one inch.

There you have it! Now you, too can create your very own markers for all your future sewing projects. This will eliminate waste and prevent mistakes in cutting that are too late to fix. This concept can also be applied to finding out how much fabric you'll need before you go shopping. For this you simply need to create two templates: one measuring 42" wide, the other 60". Place your pattern pieces as you would normally, and when you're done you can count how many yards you'll need!

Hope this helps!

Nostalgically Yours

Hat Etiquette

This morning I had a doctor's appointment. I felt like dressing up, so I wore a suit and my straw boater - this was unfortunately before I knew the temperatures were going to hit 80 before 10am... Nevertheless, I think I looked pretty snazzy. My father and I were in the waiting room, and he looked over and mentioned under his breath that I should remove my hat. Quietly, I wondered aloud if a gentleman really needed to remove his hat in what I considered a public place, but removed my hat to please my father.

I was already thinking a lot about headgear when something else hat-related happened. The nurse attending me gave me great praise for wearing my boater, and told me she wished all her patients wore hats regularly. This got me thinking of the legitimacy of wearing hats in the 21st century, and why we as a society choose not to wear them on a daily basis. Even fifty years ago a well-dressed man or woman did not leave the house without a hat. So what had happened?

Millinery and Haberdashery (women's and men's hat making, respectively) were very closely tied to Couture style fashion. With the rise of ready-to-wear in the 1960s, it became "uncool" to wear hats, since they were associated with the "old world of fashion. Nowadays, most people completely overlook the practical aspects of the hat.

Dermatologists agree that prolonged sun exposure speeds up the aging process. Wearing a hat protects not only from that but also from the UVB rays that are linked to skin cancer. Obviously, in winter a hat will keep you warm.

Another overlooked aspect of hat etiquette is the layer it once added to social interaction. In olden days, when a gentleman tipped his hat to a passing female acquaintance, it was not only a means of showing respect for the woman but could also be a subtle flirtation. A woman could flirt right back by playing hard-to-get under a merry widow.

Of course, the fashionable aspects of wearing a hat go without saying. Emily Post was quoted in 1959 as saying: "It is impossible for a hatless woman to be chic."

Well, I can definitely say that I am officially a hat person. My new goal is to collect hats and eventually be able to wear a hat whenever I leave the house. Because of this decision, and because I was still curious as to who was right between my father and myself, I did some research and found several accounts on hat etiquette from reputable sources such as Miss Manners and Amy Vanderbilt.

If I've convinced you that hats are not only healthy but are also a great way to express your sense of style, stick around for a brief lesson in hat etiquette. You'll be able to wear your hat next time without any embarrassing faux-pas! Before I explain hat etiquette, though, it is important to know some hat anatomy:

(A) Brim: This is the part of the hat that extends from the head, shielding you from the sun.

(B) and (C) Crown: This is the part of the hat that generally sits on the head.

(B) Hatband: This term applies both to the sides of the crown and to the decorative band of fabric on the hat.

(C) Tip: This is the top of the crown.

The last thing to know before I start is a little terminology. To don your hat is to put it on your head. To doff your hat is to take it off. Finally, to tip your hat is to grab the brim of the hat and either bow your head, or briefly remove the hat - both as a greeting or sign of respect.

For the Ladies:

Your rules for etiquette are really quite simple. You get to keep your hats on under any circumstances, even for the national anthem. However, if you choose to wear a hat that is considered "unisex" (like a baseball cap) then the rules for a gentleman apply. See below. I hope the above diagram sheds some light as to the "ladies' exception - women's hats traditionally cause more problems when being removed. Thus, she is never required to take it off.

For the Gentlemen:

Your rules are much more complicated, so if you want to know all the dirty little details I've provided a link in the sidebar. I'm just going to cover some basics here. Generally speaking, if you're outdoors or in a public place (such as a lobby or waiting room), your hat should stay on. When passing a lady outside, a gentleman need only tip his hat if he addresses the lady to say such things as "good morning", "hello", or "excuse me". When indoors, a gentleman always removes his hat, especially in the presence of a lady. Also, indoors or out, a gentleman always removes his hat for his or any national anthem.

I'm sure some of you are thinking that these are a bunch of boorish, outdated social conventions that went out with corsets and chaperoned dates. I'm sure some of your are wondering why hat etiquette should matter. I'll tell you. I think hat etiquette is important because it shows people that we care about and respect them. For you male readers, it's a great excuse to get complimented and catch someone's eye. For a lady hats can be flirtatious and provocative. Plus, learning manners where hats are concerned is a gateways to better manners all around... and couldn't the world use a bit more courtesy and kindness?

Nostalgically Yours

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Tony Awards - Best Dressed

I know it's long overdue, but I thought you might like to know what I thought of the Tony gowns. Before I do, I would like to share with you a picture you will find hilarious if you follow theater news:

I did not create this image, nor do I own it. All credit goes to the original author

Anyway, back to business. I'll start out by saying that Sean Hayes did an incredible job hosting. The highlight of the evening was, of course, his and Kristin Chenoweth's big kiss. According to Us Magazine, the kiss came in response to claims from Newsweek that Hayes couldn't convincingly play Chenoweth's husband in their Broadway hit "Promises, Promises" because he was openly gay.

Photo credit: Kevin Mazur/

And here I thought they were just playing off the string of same-sex kisses at awards shows we've seen recently!

Moving on to the best dressed. These are not listed in any particular order, just some of my favorite gowns, who wore them, and why I thought they were fabulous.

Catherine Zeta-Jones

The "Little Night Music" star really knows what colors suit her. Pastels look lovely on her dark complexion. The form-flattering bodice is beautifully detailed with piping and ruching, and the light, airy skirt hits her hip just right. She opted for a simple pair of earrings which compliment the complexity of the bodice, without distracting from it.

Cate Blanchett

I always admire risk in award show dress, and Blanchett really put herself out there in this silver pant suit. She looked spectacular, and she dealt with the question of "What blouse can I wear with a metallic suit?" very well! Simple make-up, hair, and accessories made sure the look didn't go overboard. Kudos!

Idina Menzel

The former "Wicked" star shows off her raven hair in a matching princess line gown with a white embroidered floral motif radiating from the waist. Another great example of how detail work can really make what might otherwise be a simple gown really special. Again, no jewelry (I smell a trend) and simple makeup and hair round out the look quite nicely.

Scarlett Johansson

I have to say that I was unimpressed with this gown until I saw a photo of it online. I had no idea it was green! Up close the rows of sequins and/or embroidered jewels are actually visible. The detail work on this gown is amazing, and I very much like the extra straps. Yet again, only earrings and a great pompadour complete the outfit, and if it weren't for the awful color of her nails, this would be a perfect ten.

Viola Davis

I've seen this color green in many stores, in fact my mother owns a dress in exactly this color, however I rarely see it worn by women. Here is a great example of how risk-taking in fashion can really pay off. Color can be especially dangerous because of its dependence on the light source. Colors onstage can look drastically different to color in a photograph or in natural lighting. I have yet to see a bad picture of this dress. Stunning.

Photo credits go to CBS and Huffington Post

Some honorable mentions include: Helen Mirren (but really, when doesn't she look fabulous?), Laura Bell Bundy, Lea Michelle, Paula Abdul, Bebe Neworth, and Bernadette Peters. Though I adore Kristin Chenoweth, I felt that she and Jada Pinkett Smith looked a bit out of place in their super-trendy, super-short dresses.

Nostalgically Yours

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Project #1 - Medieval Dress - Part I

I finally was able to delve wholeheartedly into my blogging... I'm going to start with my first project for the summer - a Medieval dress for my cousin's "Medieval Feast". I did some preliminary research in two books I already own: Le Costume Français, by Flammarion publishers, and Costumes for the Stage: A Complete Handbook for Every Kind of Play by Sheila Jackson. I also did a little bit of research online, but outside of Costumer's Manifesto, most of what I found were either a pastiche or were Medieval-inspired. Anyway, I came up with some basic sketches - a selection of silhouettes and styles ranging from about 1200-1400ca.

Being a stickler for accuracy as I am, I was surprised to find my research was incorrect, and that I had made a mistake in my terminology. What I called the kirtle was, in fact, the smock or chemise in the outfit.

Anyway, of the outfits I designed, she seemed to lean towards design C. We attempted to really gel the design, but I never feel confident in deciding a design until I've chosen the materials.

Fabric presented a challenge for this project, since my budget was literally zero dollars, unless I wanted to use my own funds. So it was up to the attic with me, where my family keeps the discarded or unused remnants of projects past. Among such horrors as fuchsia moiré satin and faded pea-green lace seam binding, were a decently-sized group of contenders. With some guidance from me, my cousin chose a cream satin-back imitation-silk polyester, and a maroon broadcloth for the surcote. Though I had found a white linen I wanted to use for the chemise, I opted instead for my muslin because it was more comfortable. Once I had decided on the final fabrics, I was able to solidify my design, since the fabric choice ultimately dictates what one can accomplish.

We finally decided on a chemise, gown, and side-less surcote. Because of the limitations of fabric, I thought I wouldn't have enough fabric for a wide skirt and sleeves. So many of the designs above that feature large sleeves have straight skirts with large slits down the sides. The concept being that the surcote would cover the slits in the gown, so it wouldn't be noticed when she wore it.

More later!

Nostalgically Yours

Read Part II and Part III!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Note About My New Profile Picture

No, I don't smoke. I was modeling for an anti-smoking PSA campaign. I just thought it was a very old-fashioned-looking photo of me, which is appropriate for this blog...

Nostalgically Yours

Return of the Blog!

Hello readers,

After a hiatus of several months, I am back! Many things have changed since I've last written:

-My family is moving to New Orleans (and I with them)
-I'm taking a year "off" from school in San Fran to help out down in "crescent city"
-Both my parents will be changing posts this fall

Basically a lot is going on, but I really do want to get back to writing. I've decided to focus this blog more on my historical costume perspective, as well as on goings on in pop culture, etc. I feel a bit more in touch nowadays, since I'm watching the news regularly again as well as talk shows such as "The View", "Ellen", and "Oprah".

I've actually already gotten started on my first summer project: a medieval gown for a cousin's school event. See more in later posts.

It's good to be back!