louche lady

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I’ve been sitting on this idea for a few weeks now. I had meant to take a backlog of photos before leaving for camp, but heat caught up with me: I melt so easily that posing in full-length dresses in 90-degree weather would’ve made a sullen, sweaty mess. All I can offer for now is the first round, but I’m pretty damn proud of it.

I’ve mentioned before that I am first and foremost a costume designer. My daily outfits are a natural extension of that theatrical sensibility, but there’s just nothing like rolling up my sleeves to costume a show and pinning feverishly until everything is just right. Teaching theater this week has reminded me of just how much I love it.

Lately I’ve been trying to market myself as a freelance costumer. Working in the underbelly of Vermont’s ragtag theater scene would be a childhood pipe dream realized. Outfitting the stage with my vision is almost as good as occupying the spotlight myself, I figure. In the name of turning this blog into not just a personal outlet but a CV of sorts, I’ve decided to start an ongoing series of costume-design posts. All my favorite fictional characters and historical figures are fair game. The Louche Ladies.

Today I start with my favorite mythical witch of them all: Morgaine le Fay herself.

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Although my favorite interpretation of Morgaine, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon version, treats her as rather plain and pious, I decided to go fully regal with this look. I admit I was constrained by what I had in my closet, but I also wanted to broadcast power in a more immediate way than I think plainer clothes could’ve accomplished. In this spangled dress and shawl, Morgaine colludes directly with the dark around her. She establishes her dominion via her finery while still, with the dark themes, acknowledging the partnership inherent in her craft. The spangles, in my mind, represent little sparks of ghostly light she’s pulled from her environment and fastened to her person.

I whitened my face and put on extra lipstick for a bloodthirsty kick. I can pull off the pale, doughy-limbed medieval-painting look pretty well.

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I didn’t get as many pictures of this look as I would’ve liked to. My camera shit out around the ninth shot or so, and dusk was over by the time I’d finished charging the battery. On second thought, though, I like the photoset as it is. This look doesn’t call for too many close-ups. The power is best appreciated as a whole.

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A shawl atop empty air. She’s in ghost form.

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I do wish I’d gotten a better shot of the Celtic-knot headband. It was the perfect touch.

Dress: Stella Mae Shawl & Headband: Gifted Bracelet: Battery Street Jeans


a brief moment of silence

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…for my jewelry box, which I left sitting square on my bed fifty miles from where I currently write to you. Until this coming Saturday, I will be without any baubles save for the ones on my person when I arrived. After I’d mourned appropriately, though, I decided to take the sartorial challenge presented to me without losing any of my gaudy flair.

I work at a summer camp called the Talent Development Institute, which is not, despite its rather austere name, any kind of summer school or correctional center. It’s just a camp for kids who don’t, for whatever reason, get a lot out of school: TDI is a place to try all manner of interesting, educational pursuits without grades or cliques looming. I have been involved with this camp for eleven years, and it’s given me most of my best friends and a lot of creative direction my life might’ve lacked otherwise. Once upon a time, I was but a wee stage whore: now I’m in my third year as one of the camp’s three theater teachers. I am affectionately referred to as “crazy costume lady”. Children are hella observant.

Today’s challenge: going without jewelry while still managing to present as the crazy drama teacher you all knew and some of you loved.

TDI is held at Vermont’s Johnson State College, which is where I took outfit pictures during my break today.

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This is almost a hobble skirt – or, at least, it gives the appearance of one – but it moves beautifully when I walk. I love sartorial surprises like that.

I’m not usually an earth-tone gal (gee whiz, couldn’t have guessed), but this skirt’s shape and texture were magnificent enough to override its shade.

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TDI, objectively speaking, is a bit of a sausagefest. About two-thirds of both campers and counselors are male. Demographically, this makes sense – boys, due to their higher incidence of ADD and autistic-spectrum disorders, are more likely than girls to be bored by school. That said, I’ve noticed that even among young ages, there’s pressure in this environment to be “one of the guys” in a way that not all girls are comfortable being. Of course the sexes shouldn’t be absolutely segregated, but I do find there’s undue pressure on girls to adopt “boy” activities, and much less on boys to tap into their feminine sides. I’ve written many times on the power of femininity, and how clothes and dolls and indoor games are not “lesser” for their association with the fairer sex. While I’m at camp, I like to live that principle, model it for the young ladies in my care. Over the years, I have gone out of my way to brand myself as the “girly” counselor – the one who will paint your nails and share her fashion magazines while still displaying intelligence and being a kickass theater teacher. Embracing natural talent and intelligence, as kids are urged to do here, doesn’t mean giving up “frivolous” things like fashion.

And the little girls just eat me up. I’ve accumulated a passel of them following me around, squeeing over my accessories and asking me to take their pictures. I value all my campers, but watching the more femme girls of the bunch take in a grown-up version of themselves and realize that they can be vampy without being vapid is very gratiying.

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You see why I love this skirt so much? I feel like a mermaid.

Top: Old Gold Skirt & Bow: Battery Street Jeans Belt & Hat: Goodwill

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The costumes I brought for my younglings. They spent the day in textile heaven. This trunk contains about two-fifths of my total costume collection, and I was gnawing my nails to stumps as they pawed through it, but they turned out to be perfectly gentle.

Pictures of them in their finery to come soon!

flappers don’t smile

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…except when we do, because we gotta keep y’all guessing somehow.

In yet another amateur-photographer cliche, I’ve tried my hand at the ubiquitous train-track pics. There’s a right way to do those, but I’m not entirely sure this batch of photos falls under that umbrella. They weren’t quite as evocative as I wanted, but I figured I’d post them for the outfit porn and get critique on my photography technique later.

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Sometimes in photos my hair falls into an A-line bob. I’m debating getting it cut like that once and for all.

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I can take or leave monochromatic (and I usually leave it), but I’ve got a lasting love affair with sharp, succinct duochrome. I’m always looking for clothes that seem likely to stand out on a stage, to broadcast their symbology loud and clear across a packed house, and concise duochrome, with maybe a pop of a third or fourth color here and there, is one of the best ways I know of doing that.

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My style is perpetually indecisive about whether it wants to pledge loyalty to flappers or to the New Look. I go back and forth every damn day – sometimes in the same outfit, as you can see. Tim Gunn writes in his Fashion Bible (one of my favorite fashion books ever, by the way) that dresses can be divided roughly into “Cleopatra” (fitted) and “Helen” (draped) styles. Most women apparently prefer one or the other. If that’s true, then I’m fucked right and proper. As personal styles go, mine isn’t terribly defined. I don’t consistently favor certain silhouettes or even fabrics. I like interesting clothes, plain and simple. I’m more invested in exploring the fashion world in all its schizophrenic glory than in hewing to one particular style.

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Dress, Belt, & Blazer: Goodwill Bracelet: Old Gold Necklace: Battery Street Jeans Hat, Shoes, & Tights: Gifted

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arson, murder, and unabashedly fluorescing

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No part of me is, will be, or ever has been subtle. But I’m of the opinion that (almost) any publicity is good publicity. I hardly care whether the heads I turn are fixed in sneers or smiles: at least I’ve been noticed. At least I’ve done my part to keep Vermont blossoming with eccentrics. The function of art is not just to please but to provoke. I just want to make you think: I don’t give a damn what conclusion you actually reach.

I took these pictures in City Hall Park. I’m not sure how flattering the light was (and try as I might, I couldn’t crop out all the passersby), but I feel that City Hall Park pictures are an amateur-Burlington-photographer rite of passage.

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It seems I’ve laid a small child. Curious.

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My lipstick is terribly smudged. Thanks, Obama Josh.

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Josh yelling from out of frame: “don’t fall in the malaria fountain!”

And we laughed, but seriously, that fountain is really, really gross.

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Blouse & Peekaboo Bra: Handed down from Mom Skirt: Goodwill Belt & Necklaces: Old Gold Bracelet: Urban Outfitters Tights: Handed down from Marissa Hat: Handed down from Josh Shoes: Gifted

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Vermont’s alternative paper, Seven Days, holds a yearly “Daysies” competition, in which readers choose the best stores, food, and attractions from around the state. This year they’ve added a “best dressed” category, and it would blow me away if y’all could take the time to vote for me. Click here to vote, and comment with any questions. Thanks so much in advance!

waterhouse heroine

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My love of fashion is rooted in a love of costume. Some fashionistas get their start collecting favorite designers and leafing through Glamour before they’re remotely old enough to care about erogenous zones. As a child, I was mostly indifferent to high fashion, but I was designing bangin’ Halloween costumes when my classmates were still in the “clip-on fairy wings” stage. I portrayed Maleficent, Santa Lucia, and Joan of Arc before I was ten years old. (Then I grew up and became pagan, and Halloween is still my favorite day of the year, though for different reasons.) I am a theater geek born and bred, and my favorite part of a show has always been always zipping into costume and slathering myself with greasepaint, Skye receding in subordination to the muse.

I’ve accented my outfits with bits of my favorite costumes for years now (witch hats were my signature in middle and high school), but the day I realized there was a whole community dedicated to unabashedly garish outfits was momentous indeed. I fell in love with Fated to be Hated and Advanced Style and Elsa Schiaparelli. Learning to infuse my wardrobe with my love of performance has given me, over the years, an itch for all fashion, not just costume. I follow the designers and read all relevant literature like a proper fashionista, but my first love will always, always be costume. I’m fascinated by the semiotics of clothing: how a certain neckline or texture can make so many statements about both itself and its wearer. I love to tell stories with my outfits, and costumes, be they for stage, Samhain, or street, do it more boldly than any other medium I’ve found.

This past weekend I took a few cues from my favorite painter, John William Waterhouse.

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I was afraid to pin this hat too precisely, as it’s veritably ancient and I’m planning to sell it on Etsy. I think the (albeit imprecise) placement gives a decent suggestion of the era, though.

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Dress: Stella Mae Belt & Silver Bracelet: Battery Street Jeans Pink Bracelet: Old Gold Shoes: Goodwill Necklace & Tights: Gifted

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Waterhouse painted witches and mythological women, for which I love him unconditionally. I’m such a sucker for dreamy, romantic images of sorcery.

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ultra clutch

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First of all, this photo summarizes my existence beautifully. Preening pose, colorful hair, moldering corpse in the background.

It says a lot about me that when I make a point of doing early-’60s chic, the resulting look is identical to what I wear day in and day out. I’m fully aware that I have a uniform. High-waisted skirt + colorful blouse might get old someday, but for now, if it ain’t broke by god don’t fix it.

Yesterday’s look was extra-authentic, though, thanks to the hair and makeup I was still sporting from my Owlhurst shoot that morning. The sheer blouse and skirt brought a bit of era-mixing to the metaphorical table. Overall, I’m satisfied with this look, even if it is fairly basic. I’m still embracing my inner grandma – I’m just dressing like she might’ve in her prime.

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All these colors work together so precisely that I feel like I’m wearing a costume. Like I’m playing a ’60s girl on stage and this is what the costume mistress has put me in, assaulting the audience with the most obvious possible semiotics of the era.

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Yesterday I wore this to my Owlhurst shoot. Josh, as you might recall, ended up modeling a bit. After we’d wrapped up and changed back into our own clothes, Erin tossed us a cloth bouquet she had lying around: “Let me take some coupley shots of you guys.” We gladly complied, and I’ve been looking forward to posting the results.

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Josh has the elfiest elf ears I’ve ever had the pleasure of nibbling on.

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Blouse: Yard sale Skirt & Pink Bracelet: Goodwill Belt & Necklace: Old Gold Gold Bracelet: Urban Outfitters Shoes: Gifted

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keep matches away from me

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I’ve got roughly a canister of spray in my hair, which is a helluva lot for hair only six inches long. It’s too much to do every day – holy bovine is it crunchy – but it was perfect for today’s 60s-style shoot with Owlhurst Loft Vintage. I’d really been looking forward to shooting with them again since our work in February, and today I finally got my chance. Everything I’m modeling in the following shots is for sale on Owlhurst’s Etsy page, and more information is available on Facebook.

All rights reserved by the lovely Erin Stancliffe. Many more shots to come over the next few days!

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I’m not exaggerating when I call this the softest dress I have ever worn. Pure silk. It was fairly hot today, but the material, even with the long sleeves, aerated me nicely.

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So. Over. Everything.

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Something about the character of my face, my eyes most specifically, really reminds me of a Dr. Seuss character at certain angles. That quality is very visible in the above shot, I think.

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Josh drove me to the shoot, came in to say hello, and ended up not only staying and helping me accessorize but also modeling a few things himself. He was one hell of a natural (though I refused to let him upstage me – what kind of diva would I be?). The shots we did together are worth a post unto themselves, but I thought I’d tantalize y’all with a preview.

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Best part about that last shot? Those are our own clothes. We’re a fashionable pair.

this is what casual looks like

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I really, really don’t need any more black floral dresses. There was really no reason other than sheer materialism for me to snag this one at Goodwill a few days ago. Well, sheer materialism, a $4.99 price tag, and a sexy-as-all-get-out neckline.

Black floral dress + belt + colorful hat = my approximation of a no-frills outfit. It’s a comfortable, reliable formula, ready to be thrown on whenever I oversleep or have cramps or just plain lack another fuck to give. It’s a weird world where my casual equals most people’s formal, though. I’m frequently asked what I’m all dressed up for when I feel at my most basic. I mean, I’m not even wearing any sequins or plastic bangles. I might as well be hiking the Appalachian trail.

Nothing about me will ever be subtle. I’m just fine with that. One of the many, many things I love about fashion, my particular garish brand of fashion in particular, is that it keeps me a little unapproachable. Despite what my whimsical appearance might suggest, I am one hell of an introvert. I don’t like to talk unless I have something to say; idle chatter wears me out. My appearance makes people wary. It keeps them observing me from a distance, exactly the way I like it. Everybody wins.

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This neckline begs for a necklace, but for once in my life I was content to go without one. I loved the few simple pops of color too much to disrupt their effect.

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Pre-shoot bathroom selfie. I love how my hair looks.

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I wish this dress had a few more buttons. To the art room!

These tights are much paler in person. They actually accent the dress’s pink flowers very well.

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Dress & Belt: Goodwill Tights: Handed down from Marissa Hat, Shoes, & Bracelet: Gifted

sixty years too soon

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Despite the scads of bloggers I admire, my style almost certainly has more in common with the Advanced Style ladies’ than with anyone else’s. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I was “born in the wrong era”, because that statement always grates on me (please, tell me more about how you’d prefer typhoid and oppression to indoor plumbing), but I am frequently drawn to ensembles several generations too old for me. This often means that I trot about in styles and patterns identical to those of the grandmothers I pass on the street. Sometimes – yesterday in Goodwill, for example – we’re browsing the exact same racks, and often eyeing the same damn dresses.

When old ladies smile at me and my shoulder pads and garish prints, moved by recognition, and girls my age gawk and giggle, I’m always reminded of this:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

Especially the end:

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

When I am old, my dresses will be older. I will be wispy and creaky but still sharp underneath, and maybe my hair will still glow pink. I will be the garish harridan from the turreted house in the part of town that makes everyone skittish. I will sic my pet spiders on neighborhood children like a hag from Roald Dahl’s annals. I will show off my saggy tattoos.

Why not practice now?

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Dress & Scarf: Handed down from Mom Sweater: The Classy Closet Ring: Battery Street Jeans Glasses: Birthday gift from Josh

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Why should I wait until I’m crotchety and incontinent to stop giving a single flying fuck?

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A girl once sneered at me “Halloween is in October!” as we passed on the street. Not as far as I’m concerned. Not only do I start planning my costumes in July, I do my best to inject my favorite day of the year into the rest of my life. Everything I wear is at least a subtle homage to my god of costumes and candy, but sometimes I go all out. Today marks my bright, summery tribute to that day of days.

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The blazer doesn’t look great unbuttoned, so you can’t see the glittery spider on my shirt. Skulls on spiders on spiders. All I need in this world.

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Josh is an artist. A real live one – he has his master’s in fine arts. He makes mostly theater props and steampunk paraphernalia. He happens to live with two friends who share his proclivities, so they turned their apartment’s spare room into an art room It’s sunny and colorful and pleasantly cluttered, and it’s where I took today’s pictures.

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Slightly visible behind me is Josh’s golem, Woodhouse, whom he made from glue and plastic to resemble a decaying corpse.

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I really like the soft light in this shot.

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Top: Goodwill Blazer: The Classy Closet Skirt & Skull Necklaces: Old Gold Shoes: Danform Spider Necklace: Battery Street Jeans Tights: Handed down from Marissa Hat: Gifted

I’m an unabashedly huge fan of Celtic Woman. If cheesy Celtic girl groups are wrong, I don’t want to know what’s right. The best part of this song? I actually am the sky. Well, the Skye.