Monday, October 26, 2015

I got married! Here's my wedding dress!

Hi, guys!  I got married on Saturday!

If you've been wondering why I haven't been posting much over the past month or so, it's because six weeks ago my then-fiance and I realized that we'd set a date but hadn't done any planning for the wedding, so...yeah.  A lot had to get done in not that much time.  The wedding itself was small and low-key, but exactly what we wanted.  We invited our parents, the two friends who brought us together, and the two friends who helped with the wedding logistics and their baby.  There was a short ceremony and a small reception at an elegant and picturesque research institute where I'd worked in the past, and then we all went out for dinner at our favorite steakhouse.  Awesome.

But, that's probably not what you're here for.  You want to see the wedding dress!  And here it is.  I was too busy doing wedding things to take decent photos, and the professional photographer will take a few weeks to deliver the photos that he took, so here's the best photo that was taken at the time. 
The dress is the 1935 Madeline Vionnet dress (see e.g., here, here, and here), but in cobalt blue four-ply silk crepe.  I didn't want a wedding dress per se, just a really nice dress that I could continue to wear, and this fit the bill perfectly.  I think it's my favorite of all the versions I've made so far.  I didn't line it, unlike the white four-ply silk crepe version, and I think it drapes and moves better.  I'm looking forward to getting a lot of wear out of it in the future!

Edited to add:  I took some more photos of the dress this evening.  They're not great because I didn't have a lot of time to experiment, but at least they give you a better idea of what it looks like.  I have to add that the fabric photographs up more vibrant than it is in real life-- the color is less royal blue than cobalt blue, and it's not as shiny in person.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Women's Dress Shoes: A Public Service Announcement

With job hunting season in full swing and a recent trip to the mall, I've been reflecting on my old nemesis--women's dress shoes--and how difficult it is to navigate the world when you have health problems which conflict with society's view of acceptable dress.  Fashion and social norms, particularly for women, are inflexible and unaccommodating to an extent that people without chronic health problems do not understand.  It is unrealistic, and even harmful, to expect that someone with such health problems will invest the time and energy required to find a solution which works for them and is socially acceptable-- if such a solution even exists.  Instead, each and every one of us has a responsibility to make the world a better place for people with chronic health problems by not judging people harshly for failing to dress appropriately.  After all, none of us ever knows the full story.

I have severe, chronic foot problems.  I've had them since I was a teenager, and I'll probably have them for the rest of my life.  My foot problems seriously restrict my shoe options.  On better days, I'm limited to flats with decent arch or ankle support; on worse days, nothing short of hiking boots, custom orthotics, and foot tape will do.  By now, I've settled into three classes of workable shoes-- hiking boots, sandals with serious footbeds, like Birkenstocks, and cowboy boots.  Cowboy boots might seem like a surprising choice, but they're uniquely good at accommodating my weirdly-shaped feet, they're flat with very sturdy soles, and they allow me to use foot tape.

Like many women who have health problems that conflict with fashion norms, I have spent hundreds of hours trying to find acceptable options.  At this point, I can say conclusively that the reason I can't find dress shoes I can wear is not that I haven't tried hard enough, but because the design philosophy of women's shoes is fundamentally incompatible with what my feet need in terms of support.  Most dress shoes are heels, which I can't wear.  The flats typically have flimsy soles, don't offer any support, don't have removable footbeds, or are not high enough to accommodate orthotics. I'm grateful for sites like Barking Dog Shoes, but my foot problems are far more extreme than the issues they address.  I don't need comfortable shoes; I need shoes with a specific set of structural requirements that allow me to not be in pain.

It is much more difficult to dress around health problems if you are a woman than if you are a man.  If I were a man, I would have no problem finding appropriate dress shoes.  I know this because one of my male family members has the same foot problems as me, and standard men's dress shoes work for him.  There are a myriad of different health problems that involve a similar double standard-- imagine a woman vs. a man with a skin condition that prevented them from wearing makeup, or a woman vs. a man with a health problem that prevented them from wearing tight-fitting clothing.

I'm often judged negatively for not wearing appropriate dress shoes, and this judgment comes by and large from other women.  Men generally don't care.  In fact, they generally don't even notice.  Women have told me many times that it's my fault that I can't find appropriate dress shoes, and if I can't find decent dress shoes, my career will be doomed because I will fail every job interview.

Along with the judgment comes unsolicited advice.  This "help" can be reduced to four unhelpful categories:

(1) You should just put up with it!  For many people, this is not a viable option-- the short-term or long-term effects are too severe.  For me, assuming I could make it through the day, which I probably couldn't, I would likely be crippled for weeks.  I would be unable to cook, do the dishes, do the laundry, or any one of a number of mundane household tasks that require standing.  I'd be lucky if I could leave the house.  It's hard to understand the true extent to which health problems can impact your life unless you've experienced them yourself. 

Beyond the practical issues, consider the implications of that statement:  "Surely your health problems can't be all that bad."  "Appearances are more important than your ability to live your life to the fullest."  "Rather than accept you for who you are, the world and I would prefer that you suffer."  This attitude is toxic and offensive.

(2) You just haven't spent enough time looking!  Again, the implications of this statement are troubling.  How do you know how much time someone has spent looking?  Why did you automatically assume that lack of effort is the problem?  Or that continuing to look is a good use of time?

For me, my hit rate is so low I would have to spend tens of hours looking for shoes to even have a hope of finding something.  But, in those tens of hours that I spent fruitlessly searching for supposedly job-appropriate shoes...I could have spent that time on career development with actual substance.  I could have written a first draft of a paper, or learned a new programming language.  Personally, I'd rather put my time into out-badassing the competition by such a wide margin that nobody even cares about my shoes.  Not everyone wants to eat the opportunity cost that comes with an extended uphill battle against the system, and that's OK.

(3) You should just try X!  This response is a manifestation of a very common, and frustrating, occurrence for people with any kind of chronic health problem.  Someone with no firsthand experience of your condition or your day-to-day life sweeps in and declares that they can fix everything in one simple step.  It's clear that they mean well, but habitually fielding well-meaning but misguided advice is exhausting.  In addition, for some people, there is a very real cost to trying new products.  For someone whose skin is sensitive to makeup or jewelry, the result of a failed experiment could last for days.

(4) You should just try ordering online!  Online shopping is no magic solution.  It's great that many online stores have shipping and return policies that allow customers to try on clothes or shoes for free.  However, for some people, the hit rate is so low that they might have to try on tens or hundreds of items to find something that works.  This involves fronting large amounts of money over a long period of time.  Again, it is not reasonable to expect that everyone is willing or able to expend so much time or so many resources in this way.

In the end, for me, it is simply not a good use of my time or money to actively continue trying to solve my dress shoe problem.  The deck is stacked against me and the opportunity cost is too high.  I don't need to find the perfect pair of shoes; I need a paradigm shift. 

Listen.  The fashion industry isn't going to change any time soon.  Fashion editorials aren't suddenly going to start celebrating orthotic-friendly shoes, and high-end designers aren't going to start producing a flood of stylish and supportive flats.  So I'm talking to you, readers.  You get to decide for yourself how harshly you judge women based on their appearance.  If you sit on a hiring committee, if you get to decide in any way who you work with and how they get promoted, you have great power.  And with great power comes great responsibility.  You don't know whether someone's odd clothing, makeup, or shoe choice is due to some kind of medical condition they do their best to work around.  Don't be judgmental.  Don't be a jerk.

Because you-- YOU-- are the ones who can make a real difference.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The year in review: photography

As I mentioned in my end-of-the-year review for sewing, my sense of time tracks the academic calendar, so that's why I'm doing my year-end reviews in September.  This one was a little late-- blame that on getting new projects up and running.

I thought I would do an end-of-the-year review for photography as well as for sewing.  Starting my blog was an excuse for me to start learning portrait photography, and so now I can look back and see how far I've come.  For instance, this was one of my first photos of myself for the blog:
It's fine.  It does what it needs to do-- you can see the dress, and I don't look too dumb.  On the other hand, it's nothing special.  I had this awesome dress and there are so many cool directions I could have taken with this photoshoot!  But I didn't!  Aaargh!

But, I got a lot better.  What follows are my ten favorite shots and how I set them up.

(10)  Vogue 8488
Pentax K-3, 40mm Limited, f/5.6, 1/2000th sec., ISO 100, natural light around noon.
I love this action shot of my hair.  The fact that I captured this shot was a happy accident.  I set the camera up on a tripod and set the intervalometer to take pictures every X seconds as I walked forward and back in front of the camera.  The camera just happened to catch this moment as I was playing with my hair.

(9)  Self-Drafted Tube Dress
Pentax K-3, 31mm Limited, f/7.1, 1/160 sec., ISO 100, one flash at head height maybe 45 to 60 degrees to the left.
I love the framing in this shot, and how the orientation of the flash casts long shadows on the wall.  This was one of my early adventures with flash.  At that point, I didn't have a flash stand or any hardware to attach a flash to a tripod.  So, my dad and I put the flash in the hotshoe of an old film camera and mounted the film camera onto a tripod.

(8)  Eva Dress U30-7202
Pentax K-3, 40mm Limited, f/4.0, 1/100th sec., ISO 100, natural light with the wall in shadow.
I love how the dress and the location came together so well.  I had tried using the side of my apartment building for the photoshoot, but it didn't work out, so I went down to the elementary school near my house because it was convenient.  I didn't have any preconceived ideas about where I should shoot or what background I should use, so I was delighted that the chalk on the wall coordinated with the colors of the dress so well.  The colors of the dress glow against this background.

(7)  Vogue 2636
Pentax K-3, 31mm Limited, f/7.1, 1/160, ISO 100, single flash maybe 45 degrees to the left..
Sunset at the beach!  I've really come to appreciate windy days for adding visual interest to my hair.  This was my first go at adjusting the flash power to light myself while using the shutter speed to get the exposure of the sunset right.  I think it went very well.  I set up the technical aspects of the shot, but my fiance took the picture, so the framing is all his. 

(6)  Super Hexagon Dress
Pentax K-3, 31mm Limited, f/4, 1/800, ISO 100, natural light, late afternoon.
Another example where the location and the dress came together really well.  Someone had set up these giant red Z-shaped benches/artworks in a courtyard along my walk to and from my office.  I love the contrast between the green dress and the red of the Z, and how my boots and belt also pick up the red.  I also like how the zigzags are echoed by the shadows in my skirt and the building in the background.

 (5)  Self-Drafted Tube Dress
Pentax K-3, 31mm Limited, f/11, 4, ISO 100, artificial light and flash about 45 degrees to the left.
This was a difficult shot to pull off, as the model.  I wanted the streetlights to be starbursts, so I stopped the lens down to f/11.  With such a small aperture, I had to use a long exposure (four seconds!) to gather enough light from the background.  I had to stand very still for the long exposure.  Most of the light on me came from the flash, but even so, the exposure was so long that the background would start to show through me like a ghostly apparition if I moved too much. It was also difficult to time the shot with the traffic lights so that there weren't cars driving down the street behind me.

(4)  Advance 9441
Pentax K-3, 31mm Limited, f/11, 1/50, ISO 100, natural light around midday.
I had always wanted to do one of those lying-in-the-flowers shots.  What better time than bluebonnet season, and what better place than Wildseed Farms?  On the other hand, this shot presented unanticipated technical difficulties.  I couldn't use the tripod because there was no way to position the camera directly over me.  So, my dad had to take the picture.  However, my dad wasn't able to just stand over me to take the picture-- the field of view of my 31mm lens wasn't wide enough to fit my entire body, and a wider lens would have introduced too much perspective distortion.  Plus, with the sun almost directly overhead, his body would have cast a shadow on me.  We solved these problems by having him climb up onto the big concrete cylinder at the base of a light pole.  To top off the problems, I hadn't been paying attention to the camera settings, and this photo came out very overexposed.  I had to do a ton of postprocessing to make it presentable. 

(3)  1935 Vionnet Dress
Pentax K-3, 31mm Limited, f/1.8, 1/4, ISO 100, flash to the left, don't remember what angle.
A fantastic evening dress, a rooftop pool in Hollywood with a view of the LA skyline, and a flash.  Not much more to say about this one.  I shot at f/1.8, and there were quite a few focus misses.  I wonder if in the future it might be a better idea to shoot at f/2.8 or f/4.0 instead-- with a greater depth of field, it's less disastrous if the camera focuses on the railing instead of my face. 

(2)  Sweetheart Overalls
Pentax K-3, 15mm Limited, 1/50, ISO 200, diffuse natural light in the evening
Overalls and cows!  MOO!  Rarely do I get to use an ultra wide angle lens for fashion photography, but it worked out well here. 

(1)  Self-Drafted Polka Dot Skirt
Pentax K-3, 31mm Limited, f/1.8, 1/180, ISO 100, single flash behind my head.
This was tons of fun to shoot.  I love the rim light from the single flash behind my head.  I set the lights and the camera settings, but I had my dad take the pictures to get the timing of the twirl just right-- burst shooting would not have worked in this situation due to the recycle time of the flash.

In conclusion, I think the past year's photography went very well given that I was just starting out.  In the future, I'd like to do more interesting location shoots, and I'd also like try using lighting modifiers.  I've had my eye on this one gridded softbox for a while...