The Rational Dress Society

I first learned of the Rational Dress Society by watching a show on Youtube entitled, “The Deadly Fashions of the Victorians”. Not only did it discuss their love of lead paint, and of gas heat which was prone to explosions, and of baby bottle designs that were impossible to clean and were therefore bacteria factories, but it also went into detail about the wearing of corsets.

Corsets were in fashion for 500 years. Heaven knows why. They restricted breathing to the upper lungs, often causing the lower lungs to fill with mucus. There is a reason that women were often described as “breathless” or having a “heaving bosom”. Women practically had to hyperventilate to breathe in one of these contraptions. A recent study shows that a woman wearing a Victorian corset of the most extreme type from the 1860’s had to breathe 25% faster to avoid fainting. Women who wore corsets were prone to lung infections.

Further, corsets caused livers to be squashed upwards. Many Victorian livers, after autopsy, were shown to be deeply ridged as they attempted to push through the rib cages in a desperate search for enough space to function. Corsets pushed the stomach and abdomen down as well, and were the source of many a prolapsed uterus.

According to Wikipedia, some mothers forced corsets upon their daughters at very young ages, and this caused distorted bones. Sometimes women’s rib cages would crack and puncture their lungs, bringing about death by fashion. The strictest of mothers would force their daughters to wear corsets even at night, and some even resorted to tying their daughters hands or chaining their waists to prevent them from taking the corset off for a comfortable sleep.

The Rational Dress Society was founded in 1881 in England, to protest such harmful fashion. The members felt that a woman’s movement should not be impeded, her health shouldn’t be put at risk, and her figure shouldn’t be deformed. I have no doubt that I’d have joined this society, and gladly. I’m all about comfort. I haven’t even worn heels in decades, and can’t imagine that I ever will again. The society also spoke out against high heels, and any clothes that were heavy for any reason other than warmth.

The RDS wasn’t promoting radical fashion changes. They just believed in comfort and convenience, and perhaps a style that wouldn’t render the wearer sterile. Was that too much to ask? Some of the most ardent members of the society were women cyclists, who wanted freedom of movement to cycle, as riding a bicycle was “an opportunity to escape overly restrictive societal norms.”

Unfortunately, the existence of this society didn’t seem to alter the popularity of the corset. It continued to be worn into the early 20th century. What seemed to bring about the change was a combination of things. The hobble skirt came into fashion, and it required a wider waist. In exchange, ironically enough, it severely restricted the legs. That fashion got women out of the habit of wearing corsets for about 6 years, which was the beginning of the end for corsets.

But the thing that really took the corset down was something I love: The fact that women were finding their voices. They were learning to speak out as suffragettes, and when they got the vote for women in 1920’s America, they found the time to look up and say, “I don’t want to be uncomfortable anymore!”

Good on them! We owe those suffragettes a debt of gratitude not only for getting women the vote, but also for taking our bodies back. That is why I look on in horror when I hear girls today complaining about the size of their waists.

I think the Rational Dress Society would be proud of me, sitting here in my t-shirt and baggy shorts and bare feet. No woman should ever be restricted in any way! Never again.

The internal results of tight lacing a corset.

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You Can’t Have My Hawaiian Shirts

I just love Hawaiian shirts. They’re cheerful. They’re colorful. Wearing one is a definite reflection of my good mood, and I hope that feeling spreads to others. I defy you to look at a Hawaiian shirt without smiling. I’m even wearing a Hawaiian print facemask these days.

So I was horrified to discover that the boogaloo movement is attempting to hijack the symbol of the Hawaiian shirt for their hate-filled, violent agenda. The Boogaloo Bois are far-right, anti-government extremists who hope to incite a second civil war in America. They’re gun-toting libertarians, often white supremacists or neo-Nazis.

They show up, heavily armed, at peaceful protests wearing Hawaiian shirts and military fatigues, and they intimidate people. Some movement members have been charged with killing or attempting to kill police and security officers, and they’ve been implicated in setting fire to a young woman, badly scarring her face.

The movement is big on conspiracy theories, and lone-wolf terrorism as well. They love to spread disinformation and chaos. They are present at most anti-pandemic lockdown protests, because they seem to believe that a coordinated effort to reduce the deaths of the citizenry is somehow governmental overreach. They like to be seen as security against protesters.

I think that the reason that they don’t choose a specific uniform is so that they have plausible deniability. They don’t use a specific Hawaiian print, or a specific military fatigue print. So you can never really be sure of who these people are, but for the fact that they’re toting guns in public places to engage in domestic terrorism.

Clearly they’re more interested in not being identified while doing acts that they know are wrong than they are in making their movement more cohesive through branding. By not picking a specific print, they seem to think that every Hawaiian print is theirs.

To this I say a big and hearty hell no. You don’t get to take my Hawaiian shirts and poop all over them. I refuse. I will not stop wearing them. I will not let you turn something bright and beautiful into a symbol of hate.

I take comfort in the fact that for every member of the boogaloo movement, there are 1000 other people with sunny dispositions and debatable taste out there who are willing to dilute this twisted group’s hate with a whimsical, vacation-like sense of joy. Hawaiian shirt wearers unite! Spread the colorful love!

Hawaiian shirt

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Your Stool is Worth HOW Much?

My doctor was running late. (Aren’t they always?) So I found myself sitting in a waiting room with nothing good to read. Out of pure desperation, I began flipping through a fashion and style magazine. I figured that would be good for a laugh, and I was right.

It never ceases to amaze me how much people are willing to spend (read: waste) to be on the cutting edge of fashion. I’m sorry, but there are really only so many ways to make pants and shirts and shoes. It’s all been done before. A famous label added to a time-honored tradition of clothing doesn’t render it superior. You can pay a fortune for clothes, unless, like me, your priorities lie elsewhere.

To a certain extent, I feel sorry for people who think “stuff” is important. I inwardly chuckle at people who say, “He who has the most toys wins.” Actually, no. He who has the most toys has less money to spend on life experiences.

Life experience. That’s what’s really valuable. Making memories with people that you love. Seeing new places. Doing new things. Learning. Helping others. Making the world a better place. These things may not take up space in your closet, but they are priceless.

Stuff, on the other hand, wears out, gets outgrown, falls out of favor, takes up space, and will become one more thing to add to the Goodwill bag when the people who survive you are left with the unpleasant task of sorting through your mounds of crap.

While skimming that magazine, I was thinking that I pity those people with their priorities skewed toward accumulation. But then I flipped the page and saw an advertisement for a 3 footed stool. Granted, it was a beautiful stool, but it costs $1,900.00.

That’s when I nearly lost it, right there in the waiting room. In what world must you be living that you think a foot stool is worth throwing away 1,900 US dollars to obtain? It’s. A. Stool. A stool! Come on, people!

How can you be that selfish? How can you buy a stool like that when people are sleeping in the streets? How can you say to yourself, “I know that many children only avoid total starvation because they participate in a school lunch program, but hey, I need a stool.”

And when all is said and done, that stool will wind up in the same place your other stool does: in a landfill somewhere. Let’s face it: you can’t take it with you. That’s all stuff is, really: garbage that just hasn’t reached its final destination yet.

Wake up, people. Please. I’m begging you.

stool

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The Bumblebee Shirt

I am convinced that some people should not be allowed to dress themselves. You know the ones. You pass them on the street and the first thing that crosses your mind is, “What the hell were you thinking this morning?”

I must admit I’m not exactly a fashion plate myself. Comfort matters much more to me than brand names or the latest trend. But I try not to clash. I try to avoid spandex. I try to be age appropriate. And as a general rule I try not to look ridiculous.

I used to date a guy who liked to wear a golf shirt that consisted of wide alternating stripes of olive drab and mustard yellow, which was horrible, but tolerable, until you added in the fact that it had a large powder blue coat of arms stitched on the upper left side. I used to call it the bumblebee shirt. The thing was awful. And it didn’t help that he was a redhead. People would stare at him with a look of pity when he wore it.

I have to admit that I teased him about this shirt. This was before I realized that he hadn’t matured past the age of 12 and that teasing actually emotionally lacerated this guy. You couldn’t even get into water fights while washing the car with him, because he’d take it personally and actually get tears in his eyes. This made it awfully hard to have fun with him.

When we broke up, I discovered that what I intended as good-natured teasing and maybe a little bit of advice came off as bullying to him. He never had the backbone to speak up at the time, and eventually he got rid of the shirt. But now I feel kind of bad about it. Maybe it would have been better to let him be laughed at by the whole world. I was genuinely trying to protect him from that. But he was notorious for not picking up on blatantly obvious social cues, and ignorance is, after all, bliss.

bumblebee shirt

He actually wore all of this stuff except the tank top.

Lifestyle Sanctimony

I love to people watch, and operating a drawbridge as I do, I get plenty of opportunity. Half the time people don’t even realize I exist. They must assume that the bridges open themselves.

I particularly enjoy unique individuals, and as I observe them I make up stories in my head about what their lives must be like. For example, there’s a wizened old man who wears a dark grey trench coat and a blue beret, and has a van dyke beard. I imagine him to be an artist, and I assume he eats baguettes (the bread, not the jewelry) filled with unpronounceable cheese, and he drinks Earl Grey tea.

And then there is the couple who always walk across the bridge holding hands. Or rather, she is holding his hand. She’s also doing all the talking and walking slightly ahead of him. I suspect that if given the choice and the backbone, he wouldn’t be holding her hand at all.

I enjoy watching groups of students and can almost always see who has a crush on whom. Photographers intrigue me. What do their eyes see? And it makes me smile when people walk their dogs, but I hate it when they jog with their dogs, and the dogs are a pace behind, looking desperate, nervous and exhausted.

But now and then I’ll see someone who seems to be trying be someone else. I could be wrong, of course. Maybe this is their style, but I honestly believe that some people are trying too hard.

The other day there were two women who, I swear to god, must have been in their 40’s, and they were wearing spandex exercise tights, brightly colored body suits, leg warmers, headbands, and their hair was in pony tails. Their huge plastic dangling ear rings only added to their ridiculous image. I nearly choked. I said to myself, “1970’s is calling. It wants its neon lycra back.”

And there’s that guy who wears black from head to toe, as if he’s crying for help. “Feel sorry for me. I’m trying to look mysterious but I actually look unhappy.”

And then there’s the student who is trying so hard to look cool that he crosses the boundary and looks effete. He’s probably wondering why he isn’t in with the in crowd. He’d be much better off just being himself.

It’s cool to have style. It’s even cooler to have a lifestyle. But lifestyle sanctimony is just sad.

lycra

[image credit: pinterest.com]

Back to School at 46

A couple of years ago I decided that my life had hit a dead end and that what I needed was a massive “do-over”. So I quit my job, sold my house, and went back to college to get my third degree. The first time around I was straight out of high school, and it was a different experience entirely. Going back again at this advanced age really made it obvious to me just how much I’ve grown and changed with time.

First of all, I’d chosen to major in Dental Laboratory Technology and Management, so there were only 12 students in class, and we took a great deal of our classes together. We seemed to be divided into two groups: those in my age group who were seeking a career change, and those who were fresh out of high school who for the most part didn’t take their education particularly seriously yet still seemed to do very well.

The younger group assumed that their life was going to work out and they’d have this smooth sailing career with no challenges. Ah, to be young again, full of confidence and free of cynicism.

I noticed that the two groups even sat on different sides of the room. And we old-timers would dress for comfort, whereas the whippersnappers were fashion plates for the most part. That pretty much says it all in terms of a difference in priorities. We would ask questions. They would barely take notes.

And not once in my two years at that school did I participate in any social activity, in stark contrast to my last time around. It was a completely different mindset. No dorm drama, no parties. I was strictly there to reach a goal, and that was my only focus. This was my life. My whole life. You don’t see it that way at 19.

Moot point, as it turned out to be a gigantic waste of time. Of the 12 of us, only two got jobs in the field, and they were both from the younger group.

When you see all those commercials about going back to school to pursue a new career, a career that’s simply desperate for employees, a career that’s guaranteed to pay you a fortune and transform your life, what they don’t tell you is that this is actually a great big steaming pile of bs. These colleges are businesses. They are there to make money, and the way they make money is by getting warm behinds in those classroom chairs.

Don’t believe me? If you are considering going back to school, before you sign on the bottom line, ask the department head for statistics. What percentage of their graduates have actually gotten careers in their chosen field? I guarantee you that they will tell you that they don’t keep statistics of that nature. Of course they don’t. They don’t want you to know how long your odds truly are.

And do they help with job placement? If so, they should be able to provide you with a list of business partners. Call those businesses and ask them how many people they’ve hired with that degree from that school. You’ll be disappointed by the response. I’m telling you people, don’t waste your time.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a strong advocate for getting a college education. Everyone should go to college after high school if they possibly can. It will teach you more than just what you need for a particular career field. It prepares you for life in so many ways.

But going back later in life? Unless it’s your first degree, which will indeed greatly improve your earning potential, it’s an exercise in futility. Like I said, the odds of getting a career in your field, regardless of that field, are long. But they’re 10,000 times longer when you are competing for those jobs against people who are younger and stronger and healthier and more attractive and have decades ahead of them to dedicate to that industry.

I love school. I loved that two years. Every single second of it. And I would have loved to have worked in the industry. But after graduating summa cum laude I applied to 198 labs all over the country and nothing. Nothing at all.

It wasn’t worth the risk. I sacrificed too much. I lost too much, and now I’m worse off than I was when I started. Go to school when you’re young. And once you’re done, don’t bother going back. That’s the advice I’d give anyone who asks.

job

(Image credit: http://www.findtherightjob.com)

“I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper
And I was free.”

               -The Indigo Girls “Closer to Fine

A Newfound Respect for Journalists

The other day I got an idea for a blog entry. I was going to write about the death of the wristwatch. I mean, I haven’t seen one in ages. And what do you need one for anymore? We have cell phones and laptops and a whole host of other electronic devices that include time pieces, after all. I haven’t worn one in years.

But something made me ask my Facebook friends, and the response I got was surprising. A whole lot of them still wear them. The reasons were varied. Some did so as a fashion statement or a status symbol. Others did it out of habit; they would feel naked without them. Another mentioned that nurses still needed them for the second hands when taking a pulse. Still another said it was just too big a hassle to dig out your cell phone every time you want to know what time it is.

So much for my blog entry about the death of the wristwatch. I was kind of disappointed, to be frank. I already had it all plotted out in my mind.

But that made me think about journalists. People often grumble that they are biased, especially when the report is something that the complainer desperately wants to disagree with. But to be honest I really am impressed that they aren’t much more biased, given my firsthand experience, humble and limited though it may be. The urge to write the story that you want to tell is almost overwhelming. And doing research is a pain in the neck. I was going to actually sit at the mall or something and see how many wristwatches I actually saw, but then I thought, “Oh to heck with it. Life’s too short.” The constant temptation to be lazy and jump to conclusions and pull the information out of one’s own behind must be hard to resist.

So here’s my own personal high five to all the journalists out there. Keep up the good work. Because work it is, indeed.

reporters

(Image credit minnesota.publicradio.org)

It’s World Hijab Day. Should I Care?

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a Muslim. I’m a Unitarian Universalist. But I have worn a hijab on two occasions. Since I am not a Hijabi (which is a woman who wears a hijab), and have not experienced what it is like to wear a head scarf day in and day out, I cannot speak to that part of the issue. I’ve never experienced the heightened respect nor the prejudice that this simple piece of fabric can evoke. But I am a woman, so I will speak in that capacity.

Women wear the hijab for many reasons. The purest of which, in my opinion, is the voluntary wearing of the hijab due to one’s religious belief. I have complete and utter respect for this choice. If a Catholic woman can hold a rosary, then a Muslim woman has the very same right to wear a hijab.

Other women simply wear it as a fashion statement. And I have to agree that there is something quite beautiful and even ethereal about a woman in a hijab. I imagine that it makes people look at you differently. Those without prejudice have to see you for you, and not be distracted by your exterior. That appeals to me greatly. I get so tired of constantly being compared to other women. In that scenario, someone is bound to be found wanting, and just as often as not, it is me. This can be quite draining. Unfortunately, prejudiced people will not see you for you at all. They ONLY see the scarf and make assumptions, quite often political ones, from there. This is not a reflection on the Hijabi. This is evidence of the ugliness in the prejudiced person’s soul. I firmly believe that a woman should have a right to wear whatever she chooses.

The two occasions when I wore a hijab were both during visits to mosques in Istanbul, Turkey. I did so happily, and out of respect. I was well aware that I was a visitor in a place of worship, and as such I had absolutely no problem complying with their rules of proper etiquette. I must say I was surprised at the instant difference I felt within myself. I was calmer, and I felt more reflective. I also felt more formally beautiful, which was a nice feeling indeed.

Barb in proper mosque attire Me at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

Regrettably, there are also negative reasons for wearing a hijab. I was listening to a radio show called BBC’s World Have Your Say today, and the topic was World Hijab Day. Many women called in to discuss the positive reasons for wearing the head scarf, but a lady called in from Egypt who said that many women there wear the hijab in public simply to avoid sexual harassment. Some people do believe that men cannot control themselves and therefore the women must cover up. I find this to be tragic. I think it underestimates men and causes women to live in fear. In countries where the hijab is not common, you don’t regularly see women being attacked in the streets, so men can be civilized, especially in an atmosphere where respect is expected of them. In places where laws are not enforced, sadly, mob rule often takes over. That is the nature of humanity, and it’s heartbreaking to contemplate.

On the most extreme end of the spectrum you have women in fundamentalist areas, such as Iran, who are forced to wear the hijab. You can actually be jailed in Iran for not doing so. I think the Iranian government is making a very drastic mistake by doing this. Forcing something upon any person, man or woman, will simply encourage rebellion in their hearts. It will not make someone want to be a devout Muslim. It will simply engender depression, resentment, suicide and every other thing besides spirituality. In my opinion, in situations like these the beautiful and religious and modest hijab has been warped into a tool of control and imprisonment. It is the very opposite of faith and therefore the worst type of violation.

So, if I see you on the street and you are wearing a hijab, I must apologize in advance for staring at you. I’m not doing it for negative reasons. I’m not looking at you as a freak. In fact, I most likely think you’re beautiful. Chances are I’m just wondering about you and your motivations, and hoping, for your sake, that they are pure and positive and liberating, not dark and negative and repressing. I want only good things for you, and wish you well.

So should I care that it’s World Hijab Day? Yes, indeed, and for more reasons than one might imagine on the surface. This is a deep and complex issue that needs more exposure, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Rules? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Rules!

As I lie here in a feverish fog brought on by a cold that surely came from the very bowels of hell, I have been thinking about chaos, or more specifically, what keeps our world from falling into chaos. Rules. Not laws, mind you. Those we cannot really control, and must abide by. No, I’m talking about the rules by which we lead our daily lives. These are often unwritten and seem to be agreed upon by some anonymous majority that has to do, by and large, with culture and community. We often follow these rules without even thinking about them or questioning their veracity.

Many rules make perfect sense and are created to preserve our lives, health, safety, or simply to sustain our collective ability to live in large groups. These rules include such things as looking both ways before you cross the street, not shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, washing your hands after using the bathroom, and waiting one’s turn. I can live with these types of rules.

But then you have rules that we all seem to follow, like lemmings off a cliff, for no good reason. For example, our front yards must be covered in a skinny green plant called grass, which requires a ghastly amount of time to maintain. It can’t be a skinny orange plant. It can’t be dollar weed, which is flat and green, too, and requires no maintenance whatsoever. No. It has to be grass. That’s the RULE.

And then there are fashion rules which we all seem to follow simply to avoid being laughed at. For example, men should never dress like women. Whatever. And tell me, why do both of our socks have to be the same color? Who decides which colors clash? And why is a paisley tie, for example, more formal than a tie-dyed T-shirt? Thank goodness some fashion rules have fallen by the wayside, mainly due to their lack of comfort, it seems. You just never see women wearing bustles anymore, or those conical bras that looked like they came from outer space. You don’t see men wearing powdered wigs. I think panty-hose is slowly making its exit, and I won’t be sorry to see it go. I don’t know why ties persist, as they serve no purpose. High heels should go, but I doubt men will ever stand for that (pun intended). Trust me when I say my high heel days are over.

Some rules made sense when they were first created, but frankly are outmoded. We seem to cling to them for tradition’s sake and for no other reason. For example (and here’s where I’ll probably alienate and/or offend half my readership), dietary rules. They made perfect sense at a time when we had no refrigeration, or when we were too nomadic to properly store or prepare our food, but nowadays?

Then you’ve got rules that are based on…nothing logical whatsoever. Even though it has long been proven to be untrue, how many of us were forced by our parents to wait an entire hour after eating before we could go swimming? How many hours have been lost to that annoying old wives tale? And why was I told once that it was tacky of me to have a roll of toilet paper on my desk for nose blowing purposes? Why must the paper be in rectangular sheets and stored in a cardboard box for it to be acceptable? And why must we eat dessert last, even as adults?

I must warn you, though, that once you start questioning the accepted norms of society, you are really going to open up a can of worms. People don’t LIKE their routines disrupted. They are made uncomfortable by people who zig when they should zag. So proceed with caution, and remember that this was written by someone with a low grade fever who is feeling rebellious.