Monday, August 22, 2011

1.8: Ben Franklin Never Did This

Paul:  There wasn't a whole lot to the Post Office episode that I was instantly compelled to write about.  I enjoyed it to be sure.  Then it hit me that the underlying theme of this episode may very well be one of the most important topics in the subject of fashion.  It was a challenge to unite form with function.

Laurie:   Oh how I adore form meets function!! It's one of the funnest of all life's little challenges.  I always say, if you're going to make something, you might as well make it pretty. After all God didn't just create a world that works and adapts.  He made it gorgeous!

Paul:  I love it too.  I get such delight from an object that is elegant, beautiful, and useful. As a child of the 1980s who grew up 30 miles outside of Los Angeles, I remember all of those Modern Architecture buildings from my youth.  The 1980s as I remember it was full of functionalist buildings and there is a beauty to that.  Those lovely, minimal Mies van der Rohe/Le Corbusier/Gropius inspired pieces that Tom Wolfe made so much money from sneering at.  The utilitarian school of design trickled down to the public schools, strip malls, and condominium collage that was my Orange County childhood, but it started on a grander scale.  Of course, I am also noted for my fondness for the baroque, but I think you know I have a strong modern streak running down my spine.

Laurie:  So far as I can tell you love it all.

Paul: On the recent trip we made to Los Angeles, I was struck by the few remaining skyscrapers that were made in that style and how dated (and almost Soviet) they look in this post-post-modern age.  We now are mainly surrounded by artifacts of the decades of prevailing whimsy and unfettered frivolity that brought us to our current state of crisis.  Strange how the practicality of those old modern structures seem refreshing given the advantage of retrospect.

More local and contemporary, Laurie and I both can fall into ecstasies over silicone cookware.  I remember being appalled at the thought of having a cat tree in our house and demanding an elegant cat tree (which doesn't exist.)  I think this accounts for a great deal of the popularity of Apple products whether the purchaser realizes it or not.  Just on externals alone, I would rather look at a turned off iPad than a turned off Kindle or Nook.

I've said it before, but I am of the firm belief that one ought to fill their senses with beauty and greatness in hopes that beauty and greatness is what will come spilling back out.  I am also of the belief that the world is whatever we make it.  This was a challenge in which both of these worldviews of mine come into play.

As for clothing, there is nothing so utilitarian and almost nothing so often neglected in the department of loveliness than the uniform.

Laurie:  Well, actually, I beg to slightly differ. Several branches of the military have men's uniforms that I think are gorgeous.   Military and the occasional law enforcement agency aside, though, I tend to agree with you.

Paul:  The challenge was to spend a day as a mail carrier and then design a new outfit for mail carriers.  Our designers (mostly) sought to bring out beauty in the selected form, sometimes to a fault.  I do not think that the designs caught on, but it was a pleasant diversion of an experiment.

Laurie:  The designers were the recipients of special deliveries of brown paper packages tied up with string not to be opened until the following morning, at which time they found themselves in the possession of U.S. Postal Service uniforms, complete with black velcro-closure sneakers. They got dressed and showed up for "work" where they were broken into little groups and sent out to shadow real live postal workers.  They walked, carried equipment and sweated for what appeared to be several hours to get a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of the current uniforms. The Postal Service representative who briefed them would also, as it turned out, be one of the judges, which led us to hope the winning design might actually be incorporated.  But, yeah, I'm pretty sure I've never seen a mail carrier wearing anything remotely like our winning design.

Austin's Design*
Austin's design without cape*
Paul:  Michael Kors says that Austin's design is too cutesy, like a costume for a film where Doris Day plays a postal worker.  I think Austin and I had the same reaction to that statement.  Why can't we live in a world where postal workers can look like Doris Day playing a postal worker?  Why is that assumed to be a bad thing?

Laurie:  Well, Paul, there are the male mail carriers to consider here. 

Paul:  I understand what you're saying, but one of the designers (I really can't remember which) says at one point that everyone likes to look good.  Even if you're a 46" waist, people feel best in clothes that make them look good and I am of the belief that clothes do make the person.  If you are dressed well, you feel and behave well.  If you are dressed like a transient, you are more likely to feel bad about yourself on a level which you may or may not realize.  People may not instantly go with me on this one, but try this experiment: On your weekend, dress in your best clothes as if you're going to a job interview as you do your grocery shopping or walk in the park.  Notice how it feels.  Next week, do the same activities in sweatpants and your rattiest t-shirt.  Or, for our unattached readers, notice your courage levels in talking to someone you are attracted to in light of how well you are dressed.

I would also add that this works externally.  This is why people in positions of financial security generally do not take that fact as an opportunity to dress slovenly.  People believe what they see.  Now, I am not saying that if we lived in a world where letter carriers dressed like a Doris Day film we would then live in a more Doris Day film world.  What I am saying is that this was the challenge in the series so far which I have liked best.

Laurie:  I can't help but do the chicken v. egg thing here wondering about how the rapid decline in public manners seemed to begin at about the same time women (and men) stopped donning hats and gloves before stepping out in public. My mother's generation did not leave the house un-groomed. I never saw her wear a pair of blue jeans (and we were not wealthy people). Casual dress leads to casual behavior...or is it the other way around? This is not to say that well-dressed people never behave badly in public, just that it would definitely be more unexpected. People tend to put on their better behavior along with their better clothes. I've also noticed a correlation between work ethic and dress in the workplace.

Anyway, I say all that to say that I think there is something to what you say.  Clothing reflects a frame of mind, and possibly vice versa.

Paul:  One of the high points of the whole season is one of necessity giving birth to invention.  Jay's model for this challenge does not show up at all.  There are a few moments of panic before the moment of inspiration.  Austin is of a similar body type to Jay's model.  It, too, was a lovely outfit.  Granted, again (and with the glaring exception of the monstrosity of butch and dowd hoisted onto Melissa by Wendy Pepper), the designs did tend toward the decidedly feminine.

Austin modeling Jay's design

Laurie:  Yes, they did, although I think Kara Saun's creation could have easily been adapted to a male version. I really liked hers, and thought it deserved the winning vote - which it got.  My only critique was that it seemed a bit, I don't know, casual?  Okay, I've got it. It was not crisp, particularly the pant, which reminded me vaguely of hospital scrubs. Again, though, a minor criticism.

But back to Jay. I really liked his design as well, and Austin made a great model! That was one of the funnest moments of the show so far, seeing him come out with his serious model face on.  Austin is nothing short of lovable, and he is one of those rare humans who appears to really be cut from whole cloth.

Robert Plotkin's entry
Paul:  Robert's design looked more as if the challenge was to have a fifth grader assemble a new postal uniform by using only materials from the discount rack at Old Navy and put together the night before the project was due.  I felt (as did the judges) that the release of his design onto our national postal employees would be a major blow to western civilization.

Laurie:  Well,  you may be over-stating it just a bit, but the whole look was very casual and he provided only two pieces with no layering. 

Paul:  I never overstate.  I hate hyperbole like the Devil and all of his workings.

Laurie:  Beyond that, as you alluded to, the fabric appeared flimsy and I can't imagine any female postal worker being handed the key to a delivery van wearing that sweater with no bra.  Robert is perhaps a bit too enamored of the female form. Everything he makes seems to scream "This is what I want to see my girlfriend wearing right before I...." well,you get the idea. And as this does seem to reflect his personality, I suppose he's just cut from a whole different cloth.  I must say that I prefer Austin's respectfully-feminine style any day.

Wendy Pepper's creation
And I guess it wouldn't hurt to comment on Wendy's design.  Mr. Gunn had to talk her out of actually using the aforementioned standard issue black sneaker with her design.  She ended up trying to jazz up her lackluster design with her own red sneakers, which truly were the jazziest thing about it.  I would describe her design as "the current uniform with darts added, pockets moved, and pants made to look even more uncomfortable...or where they shorts?" 

And, in case you flew past my brief mention, Kara Saun was the winner of this challenge.


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