the sacred in the profane

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church I

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Today my head is abuzz with religious symbols: I’m halfway through an essay on spirituality for the Prague Revue, and it’s got me thinking in loose, drunken hierophanies. There’s transcendence everywhere. More than that, there’s so much to say about it. Although my personal spiritual affiliations lean heavily pagan, I’ve always found a great deal of peace in religion in general. I am naturally drawn to houses of worship, and I’ll gladly sit through almost any service. The pursuit of transcendence and universal truth is a compelling one indeed. Though I didn’t go on to work in the field (let’s be real: who does?), I don’t regret a minute of my religious studies undergrad. It’s taught me to find symbols and sacredness everywhere. In the most mundane of acts. In something as aggressively modern and overtly narcissistic as taking selfies.

A few blocks from my apartment stands a lovely old church that I’ve been wanting to photograph for months. Today’s mindset, combined with four o’clock’s last blaze of light, made it the perfect place for today’s shoot.

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I felt vaguely blasphemous today, but that was the fun of this shoot. I was, after all, appropriating a holy site to produce my own graven images. Fashion photography is already considered one of the shallower crafts. But when it comes down to it, art is art, whether its medium is my body or the walls of the Vatican. Today’s shoot is the high and the low together. The sacred and the profane. The desperately superficial and the aggressively profound, united finally as just plain art.

I have the modern luxury of loving both fashion and religion. I can even frame my pursuit of beauty as glorification of the divine without getting burned at the stake. And if there’s anything in this world worth bowing down to, I think it’s creative force. I believe there’s room for every kind of art. For worship of everything that wants worshiping. Though it wasn’t this church’s stated aim, today I’m using it to aid my own supplication: to beauty, to art, to erudition, and to everything in between.

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Any art can be spiritual. Any act can be imbued with sacrality. This happens to be mine.

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Sweater, Skirt, & Belt: Replays Coat, Hat, & Tights: Old Gold Pearls: Battery Street Jeans Shoes: Savers

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steam-powered witch

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I wrote yesterday about my latest inspirations and the way I’ve been integrating them into my daily style. Today I’m illustrating what that actually looks like. This is a far primmer silhouette than I favored earlier this fall, when I was swishing about in cloaks and peasant skirts. The past few weeks, I’ve been all about crispness and crinolines.

I’ve also found myself influenced by Josh’s aesthetics. The man is unendurably steampunk. He wears top hats and white gloves on the regular. Sometimes I like to be his female counterpart in more ways than one. I appreciate our contrasts, but I also like it when we match. Today I attempted to combine our respective styles: I’m a witch, done fluorescent steampunk style. I went for steampunk silhouettes, but rendered in aggressively mod colors.

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Why choose between a broomstick and a parasol?

I’m not sure how I feel about the contrast between the wall and the grass. It doesn’t look stylized or deliberate enough. It’s too incidental, like I didn’t give enough of a shit to find a cleaner setting. Then again, this entire outfit is a study in contrasts. Why not one more?

Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking of investing in some studio space one or two days a week. I could haul a trunk of props and hammer out two or three different shoots in a place I could design to my specifications. Does anyone in the Burlington area know where I might find such a thing?

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Dress: Handed down from Mom Crinolines, Tights, & Gloves: Spirit Halloween Coat: Macy’s Hat & Necklace: Old Gold Boots: Battery Street Jeans

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splatter

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Today I’m guest posting over at Floral Prints and Common Sense, teaching y’all how to make and style blood-spattered shoes. Head over and check it out (and I highly recommend following Floral Prints and Common Sense while you’re at it!)

because i can

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I took these photos a month ago yesterday. Even Cernunnos is scratching his horns over why I never posted them. I love the outfit, and I love the slightly surreal, thoroughly witchified setting. But I tried at least three times to pull these together into a coherent post, and it just wasn’t coming. And now I’m thinking that I just plain don’t have much to say about these pictures. There’s not much words can add here, really. Sometimes I’m tired of making statements. Sometimes dragging up deeper meaning behind every glance of light and turn of phrase stops being astute and becomes unbearably, obnoxiously po-mo. Hell, the fact that I just unironically used “po-mo” in a sentence is a testament to my analysis lobe needing a break. Enjoy some beauty for the sake of beauty. Enjoy a pretty outfit on a pink-haired witch, and I’ll be back soon with your regularly scheduled pretension.

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It’s delightful to find two pieces that were clearly meant to go together – e.g. this dress and blouse. The silhouettes match seamlessly, and the black-and-white is classic, but the textures are just different enough to keep things interesting.

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My friend Lizzie took this one. Thank her instagram filter for the sepia. A storm’s a-coming.

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Dress, Blouse, Boots, & Brooch: Battery Street Jeans Tights: Gifted

ravens land

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It’s not Halloween without a little Voltaire. You’re welcome.

Welcome to my second costume tutorial for Downtown Threads! My goal with this project is to design my own versions of a few classic costume ideas. Yesterday I wrote about my obnoxiously literal take on the French maid. Today I’m putting a conceptual spin on a Halloween staple: the raven.

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Too many animal costumes resort to big honking masks and bulky fur suits. I’ve never found much excitement in exact duplication. As you saw in yesterday’s post, I much prefer to costume the idea of something. I might not literally resemble a raven, but I resemble the common cultural shorthand of what ravens represent: mystery, cruelty, seduction.

Basically, I like designing costumes that look like outfits and outfits that look like costumes. There’s so much more overlap than many people realize.  It’s why I love designers like Westwood and Schiaparelli. This costume would work pretty well at a black-tie event. And most of my everyday outfits look at least a little like Halloween costumes. There’s history and semiotics in everything.

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To symbolize the cruelty and indifference commonly associated with ravens, I used this earpiece as a breastplate and layered the necklace over it. My raven proudly wears effects – a skull and a wing – from members of her own species. I might as well wear a bracelet of human teeth.

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My other goal with this look was a sexy costume for those who’d rather not show skin (or are just too damn cold to do so. Let’s be real; it’s OCTOBER). Not that there’s anything wrong with wearing a micromini, but it’s sure as hell not the only way to turn someone on. This costume is sexy in a menacing, I’m-gonna-eat-your-heart-for-breakfast kind of way. It’s always interesting to witness the marriage of sex and death, especially at this time of year.

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Remember that all these pieces will be for sale within the next few days! If you’re inspired by my costumes and want to steal them for your lovely self, check out Downtown Threads on Church Street.

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Dress, Shawl, Necklace, & Earpiece: for sale at Downtown Threads Fascinator: Battery Street Jeans Mask: Homeport Shoes: Dirt Chic Tights: Sox Market

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Caw.

french maid

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Earlier this month, I approached Downtown Threads about doing a series of costume tutorials. They loved the idea. I currently have a whole chairdrobe of loaner clothes languishing in my bedroom. Until Halloween, I get to borrow interesting/eccentric/eyesore-tastic clothes from their main store and have my costumey way with them. I get blog traffic, and Downtown Threads gets free promotion. A win-win if I’ve ever seen one.

With two weeks to spare ’til that day of days, the first post drops today. Behold my own painfully literal take on a classic costume: the French maid.

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This dress reminded me instantly of a French impressionist painting. It got me excited to design a concept rather than a character. I did some research into the artistic dress movement and discovered that this dress fits it not only symbolically but more literally as well: its structure and texture are very much in keeping with the loose, muted, medieval-inspired dresses of the pre-Raphaelites and their ilk. I love it when pieces work on multiple levels.

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For accessories, I turned to staples of the Impressionist period: summery hats, gold jewelry, and heeled shoes with narrow toes. The white tights have little historical precedent, but I think they still work. Most of the time, I’d rather capture the feeling of an era than go for strict accuracy.

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I’ve been meaning for years to get into the Society for Creative Anachronism. My friend Holly promises to drag Josh and me to an event sometime this winter. I need some motivation to refine my knowledge of historical dress. I can date pretty much anything from 1900 on, but I’m ashamed to say I’m utterly lost in older times.

My hair would probably scandalize the entire Society, though. Holly says they’re sticklers. I really enjoy having a few obviously-not-vintage things about me, though. My hair, my tattoos, the stud in my nose. It keeps my costumes fresh. No matter how timeless the rest of my look, there will always be something that breaks the flow. And I’m all about shocking people out of their collective comfort zone.

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Dress & Shawl: Currently for sale at Downtown Threads Bangles: Old Gold Hat: Gifted Shoes: Goodwill Tights: Sox Market

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strange doll

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Josh’s work is currently being exhibited in a show called Art of Horror. We attended the opening last Friday night. Of the event, I will say that 1) it was very nice not to be the only person wearing a cloak, 2) THERE WERE FINGER-SHAPED COOKIES, and 3) after oohing and aahing over Josh’s piece, I spent most of my time browsing the room devoted to Beth Robinson’s Strange Dolls.

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Beth Robinson might be my favorite local artist. Her work is one hell of a spice in my glitzy, gothy glop of inspiration stew. Today I took advantage of the abandoned shed in Josh’s backyard and delivered my own rendition of a Strange, Strange Doll.

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I really like the visual mindfuck of a broken old doll wearing an antique cameo. It suggests a matryoshka quality, an infinite recursion of uncanny-valley porcelain skin. If the miniature human has her own miniature human, how far can it go?

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I considered whitening my neck and hands too, but I think I prefer the look isolated to my face. I would much rather stylize a costume than precisely duplicate its source material. I like the allusive and the heavily symbolic. My whole body needn’t be stark white, as long as the parts I do whiten clearly scream “creepy-ass doll”. The cracks needn’t be photorealistic, as long as it’s clear what they’re supposed to be.

Often, though, I wonder whether my takes on classics are too subtle. Too lacking in obvious, translatable tropes. As a costume designer, I think way more obsessively about clothes than most people do. And I want to make sure I’m designing for the more casual onlooker as well as for Srs Fashion Ppl. That’s the challenge I have in designing for the Haunted Forest. Each scene is only three or four minutes long. Any exposition time is precious stuff and will sure as hell not be spent examining the costumes. My task is to rustle up clever, innovative costumes that don’t require more than a cursory glance to understand. And I think I’m doing all right, but only opening night will tell.

(I’mma take this opportunity to plug the Haunted Forest. We run at the Catamount Center in Williston, VT, from the 25th to the 27th. This year’s theme is Olde England – prostitutes, plague doctors, and all.)

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Jumper: Battery Street Jeans Blouse: Downtown Threads Necklace: Vintage Marketplace Bow: Spirit Halloween Tights & Shoes: Gifted

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little red

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In a time when I still counted years

I skipped from fen to forest

with a basket over my arm,

with offal tripe and fruitcake

tucked into a pouch of love

from mother to grandmother,

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and I, the intergenerational messenger,

I skipped from fern to fungi to roots

that stretched out,

angling to ensnare.

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I counted brushes of my feet against the ferns

and stones against my heels

and whispers of wind

inflating the lining of my cape.

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And when a thin, keening voice

wailed my name between howls at the rising moon,

I didn’t stop to let its portent soak.

I was too steeped in my love of the

numerical,

the rhythmic,

the categorical.

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But the keening voice belonged to a rangy grey figure

who stepped into my path,

on two legs,

deigning to appear more man than beast,

but his snout planed out from his whiskery face

at an indecent angle,

a cockeyed, sinister gesture

(like a butcher, all swathed in blood

but clutching flowers in his hand).

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His face was athletic –

he’d chased before and he knew all the steps to the dance.

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He came forward, snapping

I hid my basket of offal tripe and fruitcake,

foolishly thinking that was what he wanted,

that no thick-muzzled wolf-man was going to snap up

the pouch of love and sweetbreads

sent by my mother, who trusted me

a little too much.

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It wasn’t what he wanted.

Of the feast, I remember nothing.

Only that I am glad my cloak was red,

for it hid the steepness of my stains,

and the blood on the insides of my thighs.

“`

Skirt, Hat, Tights, & Pentacle: Gifted Blouse, Brooch, & Boots: Battery Street Jeans Sweater: The Classy Closet Cloak: iParty

Poem by me. Photos by Josh. Autumn by Mother Nature.

nonchalantly bloodstained

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Franceta Johnson posted an incredibly salient rant today about how tiresome the “glorified selfies” aspect of style blogging can get. She yanked the words right from my brain: there’s practically nothing inspired about three posts a week featuring the same poses, same background, same suspiciously grainy mirror shots. Your outfit better be hella impressive if you’re going to rely on those tropes post in and post out. I suspect that, too often, formulaic photo technique and unvarying background makes fashion photography less of an art form and more of a consumerist “this bag speaks for itself” label circlejerk. And that’s so not what I want my work to be about. The materialism of much of high fashion culture gives me serious misgivings. I love clothes because of the stories you can tell with them using nothing more than fabric draped around a human form. I’m fascinated by just how many volumes color and texture can speak. A $1,000 dress isn’t worth a damn thing if you can’t give it artistic relevance.

I’d really like to move away from your average “stand and pose” fashion photography. We (read: fashion bloggers) all succumb to that sometimes, but if I’m modeling an outfit, I damn well want to model it! To move in it, to play its nuances off the background and the light, to make my photos suggest a story more than the sum of their individual parts. I like working in themes. I like syncretism. My favorite magazine, Vogue, treats its clothes as costumes and its sets as artistic playgrounds. It contextualizes and refines the outfits and the sets until each photo is a complete story unto itself. That’s what I strive for in my fashion photography.
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Today I’m trying to parody the “lazy Sunday” aesthetic. No big deal, I’m just hanging around my kitschy little apartment, absurdly fancy as usual. To further queer the imagery, I played with the light and turned the shots dark and dramatic, not what you’d expect of a cute retro kitchen.
Oh, and the whole shoot was a little inspired by Amanda Palmer’s “The Killing Type” (super super NSFW).
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The shock value works on another level, too: “No big deal, I’m just drenched in blood.”
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Dress & Belt: Downtown Threads Shoes: Old Gold Tights & Bow: Spirit Halloween Glasses: Zenni Optical
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My Karen Walker face.

skulls on skulls

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As I bounced down the street in my cheap Spirit Halloween finery, an irrationally angry girl yelled “FREAK!” at me from a passing car. I have to say, I’m disappointed that was the best she could do. Scoundrel, slattern, harlot, blackguard, rapscallion. Someone needs ten vocabulary drills, stat.

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I really love creepy-cute. There’s something so adorably eerie about smoothing the raw edges of horror into something youthful and hyperfeminine. It’s a dichotomy that makes people look twice: “how cute…wait, are those skulls?” It turns the placid unsettling. I’m also a big fan of imbuing femininity with power, and few things scream “power” to me more than the macabre and the paranormal.

It’s also interesting how context influences and corresponds with individual items. Do the skulls make the dress macabre, or does the dress neutralize the skulls? It’s hard to parse the exact percentages, which makes the social response so interesting: what exactly are we reacting to? Is it just the shock value, or something more nuanced?

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I think so much about clothes. Do other people think this much about clothes?

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I love tightly wound color schemes with one real shock of variation.

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The fickle weather turned some of these shots a little grainy. I kind of like it. It complements the pastels.

(That’s hair dye on my wrist. I don’t have the plague.)

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Dress & Belt: Old Gold Cardigan: The Classy Closet Necklace & Suspenders: Battery Street Jeans Tights & Shoes: Gifted Headband: Creative Habitat

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