Her hair

I’ve never known how to live up to my maternal line, though I’ve burned up a lot of energy trying. Womanhood to me is the feeling of always striving. Striving even when there is no endpoint. I learned early on that to be a good woman—a strong woman—means scheduling, doing, achieving. You execute this series flawlessly and without any complaints. You survive in this world by showing up, pretty and prepared and perfect, hopefully more articulate than anyone else in the room—and always with done hair.
 

Wonderful essay by Rachel Wilkinson about one of the dilemmas of being a woman, the tension between feminism and beauty.

I believe I had a feminist childhood. I had the kind of upbringing where my mother gave me, at age nine, a book of 100 women who changed the world, and sent me to a middle school where we discussed the misogyny of The Little Mermaid. In my mother’s eyes, these were important lessons for me. Intelligence was the thing that would allow everything in my life to fall into place. She’d cultivated me to be the perfect millennial daughter: existing in a meritocratic world where looks didn’t matter so much because I could be anything I wanted if I were just smart enough. Like all parents, she contains contradictions.
 
Part of me loves her for telling such an exquisite lie. Not even a lie so much, but what she’d truly hoped would be true for me—a parental lie. I think about how much I’ve tried to let this shield me, to let it protect me from uncomfortable feelings. But with my 45-minute hair routine, I’ve only embraced her perfectionism—and her same contradictions. I wish her lie were true: that appearance didn’t matter, a nuisance held up against smarts. Or I wish I could care less about it—that I could hold to feminist principles, smash my blow dryer and somehow transcend the whole gendered mess. But even then, it wouldn’t be enough.
 
My head of hair is a perpetually living and dying thing: inconstant, uncontrollable, inescapably corporeal. It’s a promise that I am always a body—despite how hard I might wish to be just a mind.

BauBax travel jacket

The BauBax travel jacket is the most funded clothing project in Kickstarter history. It comes in four models (blazer, windbreaker, bomber, sweatshirt) and comes with features like a built-in neck pillow, eye mask, and Gloves, earphone holders, a drink pocket, and a zipper that turns into a pen or stylus. I'm going to venture it's the nerdiest jacket ever created.

The zipper pen is described thus:

Your zipper is now smart, useful and social. It's a 1 inch pen that extends to 4 inches - great way for making new friends.

“Looks like you could use a pen to fill out your customs declaration form. And to write down my Snapchat username.”

It's rare that form and function cohere in an elegant way, though if I were to name two places they do off the top of my head I'd point to the iPhone and some of the modern sneakers worn by people who don't use them for running but for general comfort.

New Balance Mid-Century Modern Collection

I'm a big fan of New Balance sneakers, they fit my particular foot shape—really wide forefoot, narrow heel, collapsed arch—comfortably in a way that brands like Nike and Adidas just don't. Their new Mid-Century Modern Collection is really striking in that somewhat muted New Balance way. No fluorescent colors, New Balance shoes typically use the darker shades of any color it employs, with everything else from shape to material somewhat restrained.

The 998 Distinct Mid-Century Modern, one of four shoe models and five colorways available in the collection.

Fast Fashion

Fascinating article on the phenomenon of fast fashion, much of it tied to the an area of downtown Los Angeles known as the Jobber Market.

In the 2000s, the first major wave of second-generation Korean immigrants— kids who had grown up around their parents’ showrooms—started hitting adulthood. They headed off to American universities to study business, or to schools like Parsons to acquire skills in design, marketing, and merchandising. “They are going to fashion schools everywhere—in Paris, London, Milan, L.A., and New York, all over the world,” says Tommy Choi, a 15-year veteran of the Jobber Market.

On their return to Los Angeles, the kids revamped their family businesses: re-branding, creating company logos, building out showroom spaces to make them appealing to American wholesale buyers, and setting up sleek websites. Their Americanized cultural identities and native English skills allowed Jobber Market businesses to communicate fluently with domestic department-store and retail buyers. And their design, marketing, and merchandising skills allowed companies in the neighborhood to start making clothes on the cutting edge of fashion.

...

Competing against retailers that were still observing the three-month fashion cycle, Forever 21’s buyers only needed to show up daily in the Jobber Market and choose from a smorgasbord of fashion-forward designs, all ready to be shipped that day. If the company’s buyers did not agree with one vendor’s price, all they had to do was go next door, where a similar design could likely be had for cheaper.

...

There’s one more important part of the picture: Fast fashion did not just arise from a new intergenerational division of labor within Korean fashion businesses. It also arose from a new distribution of risk in the industry, with much of it falling on the shoulders of the Korean and Mexican families near the bottom of the production chain. For the fast-fashion suppliers in the L.A. Jobber Market, consumer demands are unpredictable and the market is highly volatile. Wholesalers live at the mercy of retailers who set prices and squeeze profit margins; families must invest cash and put thousands of styles into production before knowing what will sell. Everyone in the Jobber Market tells me about the stress, likening the business to gambling at a casino.
 

So much to unpack in that story, well worth reading.

I had no idea cycle times for fashion could be so short. One more advantage of “made in the USA”: the ability to rapidly reduce cycle time in an industry where trends can be fleeting.

At some point, perhaps manufacturing shops in the Jobber Market move down the apparel value chain and start selling direct to consumers? I need to wander through that neighborhood the next time I'm back in L.A.

The digitization of signaling

Another factor chipping away at teenage retailers may be the shifting priorities among young people. Where clothing was once the key to signaling a teenager’s identity, other items may have become more important and now compete for their dollars.

“Probably the most important thing a teenage boy has is his smartphone,” said Richard Jaffe, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus. “Second, is probably his sneakers. Third, maybe, we get to his jeans.”
 

From the NYTimes on the struggles of clothing retailers focused on the teen market, like Abercrombie and Fitch.

It makes sense that if we spend more of our time immersed in the world of information that we'd shift some of our signaling efforts from the physical world to the digital one. From purely a leverage perspective, shooting, editing, and posting one photo of yourself to Instagram or Facebook or carefully crafting one tweet or Facebook status update might reach more of an audience than, say, the outfit you choose to wear that day.

It both amazes me and doesn't surprise me at all how many people choose a custom cover photo for their Facebook timeline. Think about how many otherwise modest people you know who retweet tweets that are complimentary of themselves. In the shift to digital signaling new norms have formed. 

Sartorial non-conformity

While people generally adhere to group norms for fear of disapproval or reprimand, anecdotal evidence and the occasional study suggest that high-status folk feel free to break rules—by eating with their mouths open, violating traffic laws, and expressing unpopular opinions. But how is nonconformity interpreted by others? Do we see it as a sign of status? New research, to be published next year in The Journal of Consumer Research, suggests that we do. The authors call the phenomenon the “red sneakers effect,” after one of them taught a class at Harvard Business School in her red Converse.

 

From Matthew Hutson in The New Yorker.

The red-sneaker effect fits in with a wider body of research on the idea that certain observable traits or behaviors signal hidden qualities by virtue of their “costliness.” For instance, a peacock’s colorful tail feathers make it easy prey for predators, but they tell a peahen that he’s fit enough to sustain the risk. The more one has of the trait to be touted (fitness, say), the less costly the signal (feathers), making the display of the signal a reliable proxy for the trait. This is how conspicuous consumption works: jewelry is costly, unless you’re rich and won’t miss the cash. Similarly, deliberate nonconformity shows that you can handle some ridicule because you’ve got social capital to burn.

The economist Nick Feltovich and his colleagues have done work demonstrating that this kind of behavior—known as costly signalling—can also lead high-status people to avoid being ostentatious. Imagine three groups of people: those with low, medium, and high amounts of a desirable trait, like wealth. Someone without much income would have to make big sacrifices to buy a BMW. If you’ve got a bit more money—you’re a medium—it’s easier for you to signal wealth, and you might buy status symbols so that no one mistakes you for a poor person. A really wealthy person, on the other hand—a high—can distinguish himself from the mediums by choosing not to send costly signals of wealth. If he has enough secondary signals of status—a prime address, a high-profile list of friends—he’ll feel secure in not being mistaken for poor. (Understatement can also work when signalling talent, popularity, or intellect. Thus, Harvard graduates say only that they went to school “in Boston.”)

 

In other words, you look cool if you break the rules, but only if people know that you broke the rules knowingly.

I hypothesize that playing the contrarian is a simple way to signal non-conformity and power, but it can be a bit of a parlor trick if used too often. There's a fine line between being a reasonable skeptic and someone who just wants to stand off to the side smoking a cigarette.

NBA players in short sleeves?

A coworker shared this at work: the Golden State Warriors are going to debut a short sleeve jersey in their game Feb. 22, and they'll wear it for two more games this season.

Though that's what the majority of recreational players wear to play basketball, I've gotten so used to seeing pro basketball players in tank tops that the idea sounds strange.

If the idea spreads and sticks, though, it may be economic reasons and not fashion reasons that lead the way. Says an Adidas executive in the article:

"Fans like the opportunity to wear a short-sleeve shirt to the games to support their team but also high school kids can wear in the hallways to the mall. It's a great solution for fans to support their teams."

It's easier for kids to wear short sleeve shirts than tank tops. Not mentioned, but perhaps also relevant: shot sleeves provide a bit of additional real estate for ad decals to be affixed should the NBA ever go that route for an additional revenue stream.

Should the NBA ever go down that road, however, they may face a bit of resistance from NBA players, so many of whom have invested a lot of money in elaborate shoulder tattoos, all of which would no longer get much airtime on TV.