Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Medievalists di moda: Fashionline Siena

by J J Cohen

The Cohen family is back, at least for a week, from their peregrinations round the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean. I hope to post something of some substance about the MAA and AZ when jet lag abates, but meanwhile: for your entertainment, a guest post written by someone who saw you and judged you at NCS Siena. Ah, Italy, land of fashion and elegance. Just look at these two movie star quality medievalists resplendent in the sun of San Gimignano. We can't all be Stephanie Trigg and Myra Seaman, but now don't you wish that your socks had at least matched, that you'd pressed that shirt, that the pasta splotch on your shoulder hadn't been quite so visible? I know I do.

I've sworn to keep our guest poster anonymous due to fear of reprisal, but before you start believing that it was me let me point out my numerous faux pas in Siena, including the wearing of a plaid shirt (albeit a crisp purple one) and a T shirt (albeit one with an alchemical equation upon it). Also my wearing of shorts was an attempt to instigate a Sexy Legged Medievalist Contest, not a symptom of the heat.

Without further ado ...


Fashionline Siena
by Gloria Lechelle

NCS Siena, 15-20 July 2010, was possibly the most stylish conference for medievalists in recent memory. (Lamentably, putting “stylish” and “medievalist” in the same sentence has been an oxymoron of late.) The exquisite Italian setting, fabulous cuisine, and enticing shops were unparalleled. Medievalists arrived in droves each evening on Il Campo, in places like the Palio Bar, where people-watching (and being watched) became a spectator sport. As the nights lingered on, more and more of the Sienese came out to enjoy the cool temperatures. Their footwear, among other features of their attire, made the confusion between natives and i turisti absolutely impossible. But against this background, it soon became unavoidable to notice the more stylish, more fashionably savvy members of the NCS—as well as some of our more fashion-challenged colleagues. It is our hope that the Siena conference will set some trends and raise the bar, even, for all medievalists, who appear (from reports from Kalamazoo) to have become too comfortably frumpy in their apparel of late.
Here we offer the TOP TEN highlights from NCS Siena in the hopes that future Congresses may see something of a fashion renovatio:

7-10: The baseline of style was kept by a strong showing in crisp linen: George Edmondson, Claire Waters, Jeffrey Cohen, and David Lawton always looked cool, crisp, and un-crumpled, even at the end of the day. Cohen gets extra points too for wearing shorts in a never unprofessional way. Well done.

6: Sarah Kay—we all lamented Sarah’s absence from the closing plenary, where we also missed her neat skirts and fun blouses, a chic French style not to be daunted by the Siense heat.

5: Matthew Goldie—made me reconsider my rule against t-shirts at the closing banquet. A neat, plain black shirt, coupled with pale pink trousers took Villa-banquet style to new places. Points for originality without sacrificing neatness.

4: Ruth Evans—knows how to ACCESORIZE. Famous for her shoes (showcased on her Facebook page), Ruth never lets us forget medievalists have style too. She’d regularly be misrecognized as a Romance language scholar at the MLA Convention. We love her for keeping us on our toes.

3: Cord Whitaker—did anyone miss Cord’s white slip on shoes, his white collared and cuffed shirts or those cuff links sported in Siena? Well, if so, you just weren’t paying attention (and I don’t want to know what you were wearing)! Freshly pressed every day from breakfast to dinner, Cord has set a new style trend for NCS men. One can only hope for imitators.

2: Kellie Robertson—Whether on her own or en famille, Kellie gives classic style a new twist, adding vintage accessories to a plain, neat linen trouser and blouse. Never with a hair out of place, Kellie looked as comfortable on the podium as on Il Campo.

1: As is only fitting, our new NCS President once again shows herself off as an NCS trendsetter. With as many smart dresses as there were days in the sun, Carolyn Dinshaw made her mark as she splashed fashion sense all over the NCS presidency. We can only hope to see the entirety of the next congress in such sophisticated attire. It can only reflect well on our collective self-possession.

Some trends to avoid were also observed. Here are some fashion lessons to take to our next congress:

1. Men certainly have a harder time in the heat. No cute sundress is going to get them through Italy neatly. Matthew Goldie not withstanding, t-shirts were a big no-no. It’s hard to be taken seriously when you are wearing what looks like sleepwear.

2. Plaid is almost universally deadly unless monochromatic (and generally very small), so as not to look like plaid. This is a fashion faux-pas to be avoided at all costs, particularly if it’s crinkly. Never to be worn by women. NEVER.

3. Cargo anything is OUT. It’s hard to look neat, chic, or serious if you are covered in pockets. Worse if anything is actually in those pockets! Neatness gives way to saggy. Best to avoid entirely.

4. Black. Too hot in the heat, too severe for the day, black can be worn only by the young and really, only at night. Lighter colors worked much better, especially against pale skins accustomed to much work in dimly-lit libraries and unaccustomed to the Tuscan sun. And finally, nothing really beats some nice navy linen pants—as Kellie showed. Never underestimate the value of a good blue (or grey) suit.


Rob Barrett said...

Now I am only more adamant in my desire to wear superhero t-shirts at the next NCS I attend. :)

Eileen Joy said...

Other people I would have also nominated to the best dressed-list:

Myra Seaman
Stephanie Trigg
Michelle Warren [quirky but cool]
Karl Steel [retro-prep + Rat Pack + lady's sunglasses, for god's sake--it worked!]
Shayne Legassie
Bettina Bildhauer
Lara Farina

I have to say I also admired Amy Hollywood for not caring a damn *what* she was wearing [like, a plain blue t-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes]--she's so freaking brilliant, who cares!!?!! It was like she was dressed to do the laundry. In all sincerity, I love this woman on every level--he dress was as unaffected as her person, completely approachable, and always fun.

p.s. typing this in Denver airport--international concourse--where everyone is also stylish and beautiful [regardless of David Sedaris's recent New Yorker piece on the way Americans dress when they fly--he's mainly right, of course]

Eileen Joy said...

And how could I forget??!!??


She always dresses so cool!

Myra Seaman said...

Valerie Allen!! She absolutely must replace me on Eileen's list. And let's imagine her there, next to Stylish Stephanie, in the San Gimignano photo.

As for Amy Hollywood, how impressed was I when her glasses broke, reducing her to wearing her prescription sunglasses to a session right before participating in the closing panel discussion? She was absolutely carefree about the whole thing. Fabulous.

And Jeffrey, your t-shirt rocked the house.

medievalkarl said...

I am at this very moment wearing a plaid shirt and cargo shorts. I'm probably the second-best dressed person in my house.

Anonymous said...

So, I get it that this is all in good fun. And I hate to be the humorless killjoy. But, this post depresses me.

Given the much more serious and important issues being debated here, and given the fact that there are many medievalists who couldn't travel to Siena due to travel budgets being gutted in combination with salary cuts and furloughs, well, all I can say is, it must be great to be so privileged as to be able to afford both to travel to Italy and to be fashionable in smartly pressed linen clothes and cool accessories.

I am sad for the colleagues who may have managed to make it there, present a great paper, and still be pilloried for their so-called unfashionable attire, which may have as much to do with their less than luxurious institutional circumstances as with their lack of fashion sense or their lack of concern for what the guest blogger deems to be appropriate personal presentation. It somehow does not surprise me that most of the "Glamour do's" in the post have prestigious jobs. This post, even though I get the humor, exudes an elitism I don't expect in this venue.

Unknown said...

"Sufficeth me, as I were ded,
That no wight have my name in honde.
I wot myself best how y [dress]."

Anonymous said...

#1 and #2 are ALWAYS the best dressed.

Cord Whitaker said...

Trust me, remaining "freshly pressed" in Siena (which I'm not quite so sure I did) was no small feat! Kudos not only to those who made their enjoyment of fashion apparent, but to all those who pressed onward through the nearly intolerable heat to produce a rigorous and vigorous academic meeting.

And thanks to the guest blogger for infusing these last days of summer with such humor, and dare I say, a little style.