Some Small Sense

Shopping experiences and store reviews by a very petite woman. Indeed, it sucks. 4'10", 87 pounds, and full grown - is it a surprise I have trouble finding clothes?

September 26, 2006

Petite Sophisticate Is Back

A surprise for me, Retail Brand Alliance didn't just send Petite Sophisticate to the chop shop last January. According to the Chicago Sun-Times here, Charming Shoppes, owner of Lane Bryant stores, bought the brand instead and is going to be opening 43 Petite Sophisticate Outlet stores this Friday, September 29th. (They have a nice placeholder at their website for the new line, but no information is available there yet!)

The stores will carry career and casual clothing in sizes 0 to 14. Prior to the closing of the stores under RBA (which currently owns Brooks Brothers), half of the customers were shopping for career apparel. "We are looking at a broader strategy," Gayle Coolick, director of investor relations at Charming Shoppes, said Monday. "[Petite Sophisticate] is a fabulous brand name with lots of loyal customers. We'd like to look at expansion."

I hate to say it, but I hope the brand is ready to fight to regain its turf with more fashion foward offerings. The clothing sold by the old Petite Sophisticate was...fuddy duddy, but servicable. Let's face it - it's not like there's a lot of choice out there, and a girl's gotta find professional clothing that fits, even if it's not exactly stylish. Gap, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Loft, and other stores have definitely stepped it up to fill in the petite gap, despite moves by department stores to the contrary.

Unfortunately, since I'm car free and far from any outlet malls, I won't be able to visit the new locations to check them out myself. Definitely give me an update if you manage to stop by on Friday!

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September 21, 2006

NY Fashion Week - the Skinny on the News

This entry isn't going to be a style commentary - admittedly, my taste is pretty mainstream, not edgy or progressive. Honestly, it's mostly going to be a rant. If you want the "official" coverage, check out Instead, here are some of my personal impressions of being a part and attendee of Olympus Fasion Week for the Spring 2007 collections. Sorry, we were asked to not take pictures while working, so you'll have to satisfy yourself with my prose for the most part. Working at fashion week opened my eyes to a lot of things. I never bought into the razzle-dazzle of the "beautiful people", so I approached it fully as a learning experience. And boy, did I learn a lot. My more mundane (but practical) understandings were posted a few days ago here, but I wanted to cover some of my emotional impressions too.

Working backstage as a dresser, I had a lot of down time. We came early and didn't really need to - except for the shows that had complicated looks or multiple/confusing costume changes. We didn't cost anything, so why not have the reassurance of everyone being ready? (And yes, the shows partially depend on the sweat of free or highly underpaid labor. No doubt about it.) Most of my prep work involved a lot of waiting around, with a few moments of frantic dressing a few minutes before they step onto the runway (less chance to muss the clothes), or quick undressing/dressing if a model was to wear more than one outfit. The stylists had a lot more to handle and tended to be mostly and noticeably short women. I guess some of them just want to be close to the action, since they can't be on stage.

A lot of my impressions came down to two things: hunger and efficiency. Hunger in all respects were clearly visible - the competitiveness of the photographers in the pits (I was perpetually waiting for an avalanche of equipment and photographers to go tumbling down - never happened), the actual aching and obvious surpressed hunger of the models, and the hunger of the emerging designers to make it this season. The efficiency and routinization of the events was also a thing to behold. Events always started late, but once they started, they were as precise as clockwork. Audiences rushed out of the door so fast that the halls were almost empty a minute after the designer stepped out to say goodbye. Tiny armies were backstage making sure that the troops were fed, models done up, clothing stored, and interviews given and conducted.

A lot of hard and frantic work goes on behind stage to pull off the shows. An enormous amount of money is also put into the event. At it's best, the efficiency of the hair and makeup artists is phenominal - seeing about 5 makeup, hair, and clothing people crowd around a model to get her back on stage with a completely new look in under 2 minutes is amazing. A lot of the efficiency, though, involves dehumanizing the model. Sadly, that part appears to be unpreventable. The model is already dressed but there's little bits of lint all over her chest - so you run the lint brush over her, just as if it weren't on a real human, but a clothes hanger. You don't have time to feel badly that you're practically ripping off her high heeled shoes to undress her between looks. Neither the nail artist or the model has time to wait for a stripping solution to disolve the nail glue, and so the fake nails must painfully be ripped off - both of the are already late for their next shows. The designer moves the model around like a mannequin because he's so focused on last minute touches to his clothes and how it's fitting a human being - while ignoring the person inside his clothes. The models are indeed, walking clothes hangers, both on and behind stage.

Hunger has been a topic of great concern lately. The last week or so has been touched by the news of Madrid's fashion show. They decided that any woman walking the shows must be above a certain weight. "Organizers say they want to project an image of beauty and health, rather than a waif-like, or heroin chic look." The New York Fashion shows didn't follow suit. The NY Times of course followed up post haste with a full blown article - When Is Thin Too Thin? by Eric Wilson today. "Linda Wells, the editor of the beauty magazine Allure, said there were moments during the shows when she could hear gasps in the audience at their appearance. 'What becomes alarming is when you see bones and start counting ribs,' Ms. Wells said."

While I applaud Mr. Wilson's reporting, I don't particularly believe that he supports the sentiment. Perhaps I am too cynical, but I was actually sitting not 5 feet away from him and some of the other writers from the NY Times at one of the shows. They weren't particularly dismayed by the women walking in the show. No gasps were heard from them - they were in fact, seemingly bored with the whole affair. I should, perhaps, give them the benefit of the doubt and say, perhaps they've been too numbed by the experience to notice. Or perhaps, it was only the newbies like me who were gasping - those who haven't yet become desensitized to image of skin covered bones walking down the aisles and runways.

Maybe I should have sat next to them during the Rosa Cha bathing suit show. This was the first one I saw from the audience. I was in the standing room section at the back of the hall, and even there, I was aghast when the models emerged from behind stage. Very tiny bathing suits were worn, so there wasn't much to hide the ribs, hip bones, and knobby joints of the women parading down the stage. I was quite mistaken in believing that the swimsuit models might be a bit curvier - after all, these were supposed to be sexy suits no? Frankly, they were so uncurvaceous, that they could have been men without their naughty bits. It looked like bandaids and tiny little bikini bottoms. Like toy soldiers for the final bow out, they were all the same exact height and looked almost exactly the same impersonal type. I also came to suspect that the models at this show weren't any less thin than anywhere else.

It was somewhat surprising to see that when offstage, many of the models seemed awkward and uncomfortable about their lankiness and their height. They almost all wore flats and had an almost dowager hunched look about their shoulders. These women didn't actually seem all that comfortable in their own skin off stage. I guess it's hard being a tall woman, no matter how idolized. It's shocking to realize that you can be used to seeing anything - like lots of bony ribs and hips, and thinking that it's just plain normal.

So, after barely a week of looking at towering stick figure models up close and personal, the feelings of years of built up "I'm too skinny-ick" thoughts have somewhat abated. While certainly a personal hurrah for me (well, we all have our personal body issues don't we?), this still strikes me as a rather perverse thing. Great, I have a better self image. But that's only because I started out thinking that I'm too thin. It's a little shocking, that somehow, less than a week around a ton of incredibly skinny tall women has shaken a view I've held for at least a decade. I can only imagine the influence this experience would have on woman with actual curves - you know, one with real hips and a full chest.

Modeling agencies cried foul when Madrid's show cut out the super thin - they didn't believe it was the industry's fault or responsibility that generations of women had body issues or eating disorders. How ridiculous, I snorted when I read this. Of course it is their doing! And it is ours too for romanticizing and fetishization these models. When observed closely from a few inches away undressed, these girls were freakily skinny and awkward looking. They are compared to gazelle, but the first thing that came to mind when I saw them up close was newborn horses. Seeing some of them practically stumble around backstage, I don't know how they managed to keep upright and strut once they were on stage. From a model card, I read the following measurements: 5'10", size 2, size 10 shoes, 33" chest, 22" waist, 34" hips. (Hell, I don't even have a 22" waist, and I'm a foot shorter!) This cannot be natural slenderness but some sort of combination eating disorder/drug use/smoking habit/overexercise. But somehow, we as the audience are only dazzled by their height, their slenderness, their fabulous and glamorous image.

Some of the other women working backstage were practically sighing and oogling the models. I heard more than one utter something like 'oh, I love watching the models get ready. I wish I was able to be a model!' Apprently, what's not to like? It's practically the lifestyle of the stereotypical kept woman. They had their hair, nails, makeup, and clothing attended to by people like me. But looked at it another way, these girls don't really own the bodies they have. Everything was free to be touched, massaged into place, primped. Another image crossed my mind - a groomer attending to a much loved pet poodle. Am I souring your impression yet?

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September 18, 2006

Modeling Scam Verified!

A few weeks ago, I had mentioned an ad in Craigslist for a petite model casting call. I wrote about about my experiences here, and it turns out I was indeed correct! Below is the post I found about it, again on Craigslist:


Reply to:
Date: 2006-09-17, 1:42AM EDT

The woman that keeps advertising here for Petite Fashion Show for Bloomingdales, also Gitano Jeans, and other designer names is a scam. She wants you to come to the above address and then tries to con you out of money for pics. I actually called Bloomingdales, NYC today and the director of fashion called me back immediately when she was told what this was about.
She said they are not even doing a Petite Fashion Show and that they never use an agency in Newark. In fact they hold their OWN auditions.

So all you young ladies that are asked to go to Newark, BroadStreet for anything, don't do it.

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September 17, 2006

Dressers, Stand By Your Racks!

I wouldn't have bothered attending at all had I not been given an opportunity to work backstage as a dresser for a few runway shows. Unless you're invited, it's really hard to attend otherwise. My first and last ones were both in the tents at Bryant Park, and the rest were scattered around in art galleries or other open spaces. As a volunteer, I was to help a model get into the designer's ensemble without mishap, which includes clothing, jewelry, shoes, and other accessories. Since the clothing pieces were actually prototypes, it was important to make sure that everything got returned. When the show ended, I was responsible for making sure everything the model wore was accounted for and packed up.

The first show was a sudden shock for me when I stepped in backstage, an hour and a half before the official start time. After checking in just inside the back entrance, I was directed to the prep area. It was surprisingly sparse but frantic with activity. The makeup and hair areas were filled with long tables and chairs. Clip lights were mounted and floor length mirrors were precariously propped against tent poles horizontally. It literally felt primitive and tent-like, as all the "pretty stuff" was reserved for the front house or on the models themselves. A high profile show, the designer's crew had ordered food from Balthazar and there were even tiny bottles of champagne (which were popped and tossed back with enthusiasm way before the show even started) mixed in with the soda cans. Most of the models hadn't even shown up yet at this point. I learned afterward that most shows start late and the models usually were scurrying in from another venue's runway. Shows started late either because they were waiting for key audience members (buyers, press, celebrities) or for models.

The backstage experiences blended together for the most part. It is always busy backstage. Make-up, hair, and nail artists had to prep the "girls" and sometimes men as soon as they walked in. Dressers were usually fussing with the loose threads, but mostly lounging about till "first look" was called a few minutes before the show started. Shoes were tried on and were sometimes switched up or shared. Photographers with backstage passes stalked about, snapping up shots left and right, usually getting in the way of the preppers. If the press or non-preppers were preventing us from doing our jobs, we were given permission to practically shove them out of the way, as the timing for these events don't allow much flexibility once the show starts. The designer(s) alternatively hurried about with last minute tweaks and fittings, chatted it up with friends or staff, or was giving full blown interviews to TV crews.

When the clothing arrived and was hung on wheeled clothing racks, everything was still bagged and needed to be inspected and unwrapped. "Looks" were tagged separately and were numbered in the order that they were to appear on the runway. An oak tag sign was included with each look, listing the clothing, jewelry, shoes, and other details that were part of each ensemble. A photo of the full outfit was included so we knew how to dress the models, and the first name (if necessary, last initial) and a picture of the runway model was attached to the tag. We delinted and unbuttoned/unzipped at this point so that clothing could be slipped on as quickly as possible. Once we were assigned an outfit or outfits, we were reminded to stay by our rack and be available to the models whenever they needed to get dressed.

I was always assigned to pretty easy outfits - most of them were just one piece dresses with few accessories. The other dressers, mostly women, were usually from FIT. Some of them were also new, but others had been doing this for years. Most of them also seemed to be interested in becoming stylists. They usually came prepared with a delinter roller, tiny scissors, and other tools. I came empty-handed but usually borrowed if I needed to.

The models were usually prepped by hair, makeup, and nail artists before they changed. Models remained dressed in street clothes until they are asked to change into their first look. This is to minimize damage or creasing of the clothing. Linen was probably the worst in this regard. Shirts had to be carefully slipped off as hair and possible hairpieces and hats needed to remain undamaged. Sometimes, this wasn't possible as they sometimes showed up with tight necked shirts - you'd think that they'd make sure to wear button-downs or wide necked items! Women did not wear bras under any of the outfits on the runway, and always came wearing a nude thong. Men showed up in whatever standard clothing they had - which was sometimes problematic.

Male models didn't really need our help, as they practically dressed themselves. Pretty much our only responsibility with them was to make sure their clothing got back on the hangers after the show. Zippers, hook and eye closures, ties, buttons, shoes, and jewelry were more plentiful amongst the women's outfits. Most models wanted their high heeled shoes strapped on as tightly as possible so that they could walk securely during their aggressive runway struts.

Most of the shows I did had very few models that had to walk down the runway with more than one outfit - except for the very last show. This was a blessing, as otherwise she literally would have a minute or two to strip and reclothe in the new outfit, change shoes, and possibly have hair and makeup retouched. Probably the most problematic items were women's shoes, as they often had to be wrestled on and were sometimes difficult to latch, tie, or otherwise manage. And even though shoes usually stayed the same between looks for a model, shoes needed to be off so that the first outfit could be removed. The clothing for the second outfit was slipped on quickly, and as zippers buzzed and buttons were buttoned, shoes were again strapped on. A few models had to change into three different outfits!

Once every model is in his/her first outfit, they are lined up in order and the music starts pumping. The crazy period is very short and is concentrated to those ten or more minutes that the show is actually running. If a model has to change, there is a mad rush of makeup artists, hair stylists, and dressers towards the model as soon as she steps off the stage to get her prepped for the next look. For the last show, I was responsible for helping with the shoes for changing models. Because of the onslaught of so many bodies, it's actually hard to try to, say, get her shoe off when she's hopping around on one foot to get the tight pants off and the makeup artist and other dressers are pressed close and are in the way. Somehow, I managed and she's sent out again in the lineup.

Once every look is presented, most shows end with a finale - but not always. If they do it, every model is again paraded onstage for a sweep before the designer goes out and greets the audience. Because of this, it was important for the models not to step out of the clothing before the end of the show. Backstage helpers join in with the audience by clapping and congratulating the designer on a successful show.

At this point, the show is over and it becomes very crowded behind stage. Tons of people from the audience pour in. Interviews are being conducted and the noise gets rather loud. The makeup, hair, and nail artists pack up and leave as soon as possible if they don't have to do anything else with the models. The models toss off their last outfits as quickly as humanly possible so they can hop over to their next gig. Dressers must rehang each garment and account for each accessory. Looks are rebagged and condensed onto as few racks as possible. Everything accounted for, we are thanked and dismissed, and usually wander into the front of the now eerily empty house and make a beeline for the tent lobby, which allowed entry into all the tent venues (it's one giant tent that is compartmentalized). Trade publications are stacked up, ready to be grabbed, and it's now time to snag a complimentary drink and relax!

And that's the whole crazy process, more or less. Pretty straight forward but insane! My next entry will be about my impressions and feelings about the experience, so check back soon!

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September 14, 2006

Olympus Fashion Week - Spring 2007

Sorry if my posts have been a little less focused recently - I've been volunteering part of the time at the shows in and out of Bryant Park the last few days. This was my first Fashion Week experience, and I'll be writing about my impressions about it as a novice shortly.

While it certainly isn't a place to check out the latest petite fashions, I saw it as a good opportunity to see how the designer ready-to-wear collections are presented to buyers, press, and fashionistas around the world. Much like sausages and legislation, the actual process of putting on a show is a lot more messy than the end production lets on. Since very few people outside of the industry get to see the guts of the process, my next post will be an account of my experiences as someone looking in from outside.

The first picture is of the familiar entrance to the tent - and about as close as most non-ticketholders can get to the action. The second is a shot of the inside display in the lobby. For those of you that would like to get a look at some of the models and designers, you can stalk to your heart's content near the back entrances (last picture). You'll be sure to see someone famous flitting in or out - and if it's right after a show finishes, you'll see a flood of models walking out.


September 11, 2006

A Question of Semantics - Our Favorite Dwarf Planet

Slightly behind the news cycle, this week's New York Times On Language essay by William Safire recapped the revocation of Pluto's planetary status because of its irregularity.
Pluto is now officially downgraded to a new category called dwarf planet, and all textbooks in all languages are ordered to refer to it with that adjectival derogation....The interest of language mavens in this astronomical rejiggering is the connotation of the words dwarf.... Dwarf, as both noun and adjective, means “shorter than the average for the species,” sometimes “malformed or disproportionate.” Because of cruel folklore portraying those affected by dwarfism as ugly Rumpelstiltskins, many with that genetic abnormality prefer to be called “little people” or “of short stature.” Midget, though well proportioned, is used to describe objects like tiny cars and submarines, and many little people take offense when the word is applied to them.
While he is certainly at least slightly tongue in cheek about the whole thing, Safire is nevertheless one of the few (maybe only?) well known writers that is actually taking notice of the incorrect and disparaging use of these terms in the public arena.

For a nation that is almost squeamishly politically correct on certain topics in both language and concept, America (and, mostly everywhere else too) remains quite blissfully ignorant of the problems of heightism and sizism. Writers don't question the inclusion of size (or lack thereof) as a point of either unflattering or irrelevant discussion.
Under the new rules, a planet must meet three criteria: it must orbit the Sun, it must be big enough for gravity to squash it into a round ball, and it must have cleared other things out of the way in its orbital neighborhood. The last of these criteria knocks out Pluto and Xena, which orbit among the icy wrecks of the Kuiper Belt, and Ceres, which is in the asteroid belt. Dwarf planets, on the other hand, need only orbit the Sun and be round. (emphasis added)
Taken from the NY Times again, the quote above neatly points out a not insignificant problem with the literal designation of a planet as a 'dwarf'. From this definition, it is clear as day that Pluto's problem isn't really size at all, but an entirely different requirement. Could it be that usage of the term 'dwarf' stems from a more insidious figurative implication?

Perhaps it comes from the assumption that the smallest humans are not supposed to have the force of will to forge ahead and clear out our own earthly paths. We need only gravitate towards, or just plain avoid, our larger and superior neighbors for survival. Our astronomers have seen fit to let us know that 'dwarf' refers not to a smaller body, but really, to a weaker spirit.

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September 07, 2006

Stone Soup Comic Relief - Double Zero?!

Thanks to my brother Gene for pointing me to Tuesday's Stone Soup. Similar to the comments made by most of my male friends, Val's confusion expresses the sentiment exactly!

So ladies, how do you feel about wearing basically size nothing?

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September 05, 2006

Model Casting Scam?

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a petite modeling ad I found in Craigslist. I've been somewhat embarrassed and reluctant to admit that I went, but I figured - where else could I air out my most embarrassing moments to a bunch of complete strangers, if not here? Also, I figure some of you may be able to comment on whether my bizarre experience was unique or typical. Somewhat against my own judgment, I stopped by the model agency anyway to have a look - I figured I'd meet some other petite women at the very least, and maybe learn a bit about the industry.

The first thing that was odd was that the office was in Newark, NJ. When I got out, I was surprised at how economically depressed the area seemed for a location of a modeling agency - 99 cent type stores were all over the place. When I got to 744 Broad Street in downtown Newark, the whole situation struck me as...sketchy. The company, supposedly called Models and Talent (or something like that), seemed to be renting a temporary tiny office in another company's office. Aside from one other petite woman who was not conducive to conversation, it was empty of visitors. I guess not many aspiring models go running to New Jersey to get a gig! No surprises there.

The agent came out to 'greet' me. She was probably in her mid-forties and had the look of a more modestly dressed hooker. I'm not kidding here - super tight clothes, too much make-up, and a voice that obviously croaked out 'smoker'. She didn't bother with any pleasantries, but got straight to the point. Somehow, I expected to be visually skewered, but she barely glanced at me.

Pretty much the first thing out of her mouth was that my small hands would be good for cigarette (ugh) and jewelry ads. Ah yes, bigger is, of course, always better. Apparently, small hands make cigarettes and bling look more impressive. Immediately, I wondered why they didn't just use children - but I guess that sort of thing can't really fly. (Just picture it - 'diamonds are forever' ads with gorgeous 30 year old men proposing to...14 year old girls, or Joe Camel lighting up with a horde of giggly, but scantily clad, teenagers.)

She asked me if I had photos. I told her that I didn't. She gave me the "are you an idiot or what" look, and I hastily mentioned that the woman I spoke to on the phone mentioned that it'd be ok - they were looking for new talent after all. At this point, she decided to mention that the company was actually a photo agency that contracts out its models. Kinda like a brothel, I guess. When I hesitantly inquired what companies used its services, the shrew of a woman snapped back that of course she can't disclose the list of clients...ever! Er...ok, sorry to ask where my winsome face (or I guess, hands) will be plastered. Clients are shown a photo set of 'girls' and if I have what it takes, the client will hire me through the agency. How fabulous!!!

I was given the marvelous privilege of plunking down $300 for shots by the agency's photographer. Who happened to be in Manhattan. It was implicitly understood that had I brought photos, I would have to do the same thing anyway. At this point, I was just completely incredulous about the whole thing. I mean, was this a joke? I was given no contract to sign, no paperwork, no nothing. At this point, enough was enough. I asked for a business card, but she had none with her. (Strange and convenient, wasn't it?)

So, this entire thing seemed to be a scam. But maybe I'm wrong about that. If this is how models are treated all the time, what a horrible way to work! I knew that the modeling industry isn't kind, but this was just outright crazy. I can see plenty of young naive girls not asking any questions, and putting down the dough, never to hear from anyone connected to the agency again.

When I told her that I wasn't ready to put down the cash, I could see the moment she wrote me off. Mentioning that they were only doing open calls for another day, she brusquely escorted me out of the office and gestured for the petite blond woman that was waiting. I wonder if blondie had $300 cash on her, ready to be dropped down the rabbit hole.

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