Monday, July 14, 2008

Sharpening Pencil Skirts

Bill Cunningham for The Times
It is without a hint of shame that I tell you that my favorite part of the online edition of the Sunday New York Times has become Bill Cunningham's audio slide shows of On the Street. For three-or-four minutes he discusses fashionable trends he's seen on New York streets and his take is always fascinating. Whether he's discussing low-slung men's jeans or oversize handbags, his enthusiasm and admiration for the trend, and his passion for fashion in general, is really quite special. I believe he only began these interactive audio discussions earlier this year (I could be wrong on that date), but the interjection of his voice and his sparkling personality is what his column has always needed—you just didn't realize it until he started doing it! (Granted, I've always glanced at On the Street, which has been around for in the hard-copy NYT for something like 35 years, and I know it's wildly popular and Bill is credited with making street fashion "important," but I only became addicted when the audio was added).

This week was especially of interest to me because he talks about the trend of women wearing tight pencil skirts paired with spiked heels on blistering hot July days. His point of view is fabulous, and he goes in depth into the cut and tailoring of the backside and likens "this very disciplined look" to a new form of hobble skirt (as anyone who reads this blog knows, the Hobble Skirt was my favorite chapter to research in my book). His vocabulary is marvelous (he calls spiked heels "a saucy, bit of a sagacious kind of look") and his depth of fashion history is vast. Toward the middle he discusses "French skirts," a cut I wasn't familiar with.

I strongly recommend listening to this week's short audio and when you're done, catch up on all of Bill's interactive features and read this terrific profile of him in ArtForum by now-fellow NYT fashion writer, Guy Trebay. It's a great piece of background on Bill written 12 years ago in 1996, and even then establishes his legacy as an influential fixture, albeit humble one, in the fashion world. And then if you're looking for even more information on pencil skirts, read "Cold War Years," chapter 9 in The Long (and Short) of It: The Madcap History of the Skirt.