All Blog Posts

Red Jacket with Chains
Friday 16th August, 2019

This jacket, I'm told, is probably by a luxury designer such as Versace. Apparently, the chain design is typical.

Red wool jacket with printed chain design.
Red wool jacket with printed chain design.
Red wool jacket with printed chain design.
Red wool jacket with printed chain design.
Red wool jacket with printed chain design.

Red Frogged Reversible Cropped Jacket
Monday 12th August, 2019

Here's an unusual red cropped jacket, reversible, with an interesting design on the other side. It came from Unicorn.

Red frogged reversible cropped jacket.
Red frogged reversible cropped jacket.
Red frogged reversible cropped jacket.
Red frogged reversible cropped jacket.
Red frogged reversible cropped jacket.
Red frogged reversible cropped jacket.
Red frogged reversible cropped jacket.
Red frogged reversible cropped jacket.
Red frogged reversible cropped jacket.
Red frogged reversible cropped jacket.

Intense Blue and Chocolate Reversible Silk Chinese Jacket
Friday 9th August, 2019

The theme once more is blue. But also chocolate, because this jacket is reversible. That seems to be common with these Chinese jackets: I posted about a reversible blue/gold silk jacket a week ago, and this red silk jacket is also reversible, with solid red on one side, and black with red circles on the other. When I posted about it, I remarked on the intensity of its dye. The colour here is if anything more intense. It makes anything else I wear it over look shabby.

Intense blue and chocolate reversible silk Chinese jacket.
Intense blue and chocolate reversible silk Chinese jacket.
Intense blue and chocolate reversible silk Chinese jacket.
Intense blue and chocolate reversible silk Chinese jacket.
Intense blue and chocolate reversible silk Chinese jacket.
Intense blue and chocolate reversible silk Chinese jacket.
Intense blue and chocolate reversible silk Chinese jacket.
Intense blue and chocolate reversible silk Chinese jacket.

Pink Cropped Velvet Jacket with Appliquéd Flowers
Monday 5th August, 2019

This is, as the title says, a pink velvet jacket. As its hang in the first photo shows, the fabric is very soft.

Pink cropped velvet jacket with appliqued flowers.
Pink cropped velvet jacket with appliqued flowers.
Pink cropped velvet jacket with appliqued flowers.

Blue and Gold Reversible Silk Chinese Jacket
Friday 2nd August, 2019

Here's a reversible Chinese jacket. Blue again on one side, and an exceedingly grand gold on the other. The embroidery is a delicate pattern of birds, flowers and trees, and what looks like a man on a camping punt.

Blue and gold reversible silk Chinese jacket.
Blue and gold reversible silk Chinese jacket.
Blue and gold reversible silk Chinese jacket.
Blue and gold reversible silk Chinese jacket.
Blue and gold reversible silk Chinese jacket.
Blue and gold reversible silk Chinese jacket.

Short Blue Velvet Cape
Monday 29th July, 2019

Like my embroidered velvet Turkish cape, I suspect this one was intended for decoration rather than protection. It's made of blue velvet, now a little faded in places, as the third photo shows. Short blue velvet cape.
Short blue velvet cape.
Short blue velvet cape.
Short blue velvet cape.

Vintage Labels
Friday 26th July, 2019

The Vintage Fashion Guild website has a "label resource" at . This is an alphabetical index of pages, each linking to a list of labels under its letter. Some pages have as many as 50 brands, or even more. Brands that I looked at included Frank Usher: their page showed labels from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, plus one fake, a knockoff from India.

I thought I'd list the labels I've photographed, in case it's any help in adding to such resources. I can't vouch for the dates of any of my items, but I'm sure there are experts who will be able to give good estimates. If you want to use any of the photos on your own site, please let me know via my contact form. Below, there's a photo, with label, of each item for which I had a label. The little hand to the right of the brand name links to its original blog post. The WordPress link also points at those posts, plus this one.

Agnes b blue and yellow cropped jacket Agnès b

Arrow top, with Vogue print Arrow

Benetti blue-purple printed shirt Benetti

Colorpoint shirt, with aliens printed Colorpoint

Eastex Liberty-print shirt Eastex

Elegance printed jacket Elegance

Falabella indigo velvet jacket
Falabella indigo velvet jacket Falabella

Fosby multicoloured cropped velvet jacket Fosby

Frank Usher pink silk top Frank Usher

Gerry Weber pink silk jacket Gerry Weber

Heather Valley printed shirt Heather Valley

His Lordship green velvet jacket His Lordship

Jacques Vert multicoloured top Jacques Vert

Jake cropped paisley-on-black velvet jacket Jake

Klaus Rheiner orange velvet jacket Klaus Rheiner

Kuku sequin-striped bolero jacket Kuku

Nina Boutique striped silk top Nina Boutique

Oakland fruit-and-flower printed velvet waistcoat Oakland

Ravi Sehgal red velvet jacket Ravi Sehgal

Tian Bao Gong peacock-printed black kimono Tian Bao Gong

Tracery bolero jacket Tracery

Wallis striped linen blazer Wallis

Wow! embroidered velvet top Wow!

Ship-Street Psychedelic
Monday 22nd July, 2019

Here are some more experiments in style transfer using DeepArt, to follow Ship-Street Salvatore. I tried making my drab tourists psychedelic by using the album cover from Yellow Submarine as the styling image.

In the first attempt, I submitted the cover picture unchanged. The result is surreal, though I do like it. The walls and windows have undergone some distortion, and I can see fragments of lettering and other twiddly bits mixed in with the psyechdelised tourists. The ground has inherited some styling from the mound that the Beatles are standing on.

I then tried reducing this distortion by removing the mound, leaving only people, a few twiddly bits, and a kerb or gutter in my second styling image; and the original walls plus a more representative group of psychedelic people in the third. (I didn't really want the white gaps between walls and people, but as I complained on Friday, Gimp's "intelligent scissors" are anything but.) My results are below, arranged in the same way as before. One interesting thing is the way some tourists in the third result have gained black Beatle shoes.

Group of drab tourists in Ship Street Oxford, repainted in a psychedelic style.

Group of drab tourists in Ship Street Oxford, repainted in a psychedelic style..
Group of drab tourists in Ship Street Oxford, repainted in a psychedelic style..
Group of drab tourists in Ship Street Oxford, repainted in a psychedelic style..

Decolouring Ferragamo
Saturday 20th July, 2019

As well as colouring clothing pictures with style transfer, one can decolour. I tried the same DeepArt submissions as before, except that I swapped the styling and content images. So now, my drab Ship-Street tourists have leached colour from the Ferragamo collection:
Salvatore Ferragamo's Milan 2013 spring/summer men's collections, decoloured to approximate the colours of a group of drab tourists in Ship Street Oxford.

Here are the individual results:
Salvatore Ferragamo's Milan 2013 spring/summer men's collections, decoloured to approximate the colours of a group of drab tourists in Ship Street Oxford.
Salvatore Ferragamo's Milan 2013 spring/summer men's collections, decoloured to approximate the colours of a group of drab tourists in Ship Street Oxford.

Ship-Street Salvatore
Friday 19th July, 2019

In "Pages from The Oxford Book of Tourists", I wrote about the continuing lack of colour amongst Oxford's visitors:
Group of drab tourists in Ship Street, Oxford.

I'd once thought that it would be a lovely idea if some philanthropic company would do for clothing what Dulux did for buildings in their "Let's Colour" campaign, donating paint around the world in a mission to add colour to people's lives. Imagine Salvatore Ferragamo donating a design from his Milan spring/summer 2013 men's collection to every one of Oxford's 155,000 inhabitants. I mention this particular show because the vigour and purity of its colours still impresses me.

When I thought that, I tried recolouring a few photos to show how much more joyful it would make our streets. But the image processing was horrible, because I needed to cut the people to be coloured from their backgrounds. The "intelligent scissors" in my Gimp image-processing tool are as stupid as the proverbial bag of hammers, and none of the online cutting tools are any better.

But technology advances. Last year, I wrote about style transfer: re-painting one image in the style of another. The researchers who made such an advance in this work — Leon Gatys, Alexander Ecker and Matthias Bethge — have now, with their colleagues Łukasz Kidziński and Michał Warchoł, created a website at Go to the Create Your Own page, and you can upload an image to repaint, and an image to give the new style. Repainting takes only a few minutes. The site is painless to use, except that when I tried to register for my own account, it never mailed me the verification link, so the account was left in limbo, un-log-innable-to. Mailing the administrator at was no help, as he or she never replied. However, you don't seem to need to register: I presume it's just easier to keep track of your images if you do.

Here's a screenshot of some results. I found four photos of Ferragamo's Milan spring/summer 2013 men's show. I then asked DeepArt to repaint my drab-tourists image in the style of each. Here's a screenshot of its results page:
Group of drab tourists in Ship Street Oxford, recoloured with to approximate the colours of Salvatore Ferragamo's Milan 2013 spring/summer men's collections.

And here are the results individually. Click on any one to see it enlarged.
Group of drab tourists in Ship Street Oxford, recoloured with to approximate the colours of Salvatore Ferragamo's Milan 2013 spring/summer men's collections.
Group of drab tourists in Ship Street Oxford, recoloured with to approximate the colours of Salvatore Ferragamo's Milan 2013 spring/summer men's collections.
Group of drab tourists in Ship Street Oxford, recoloured with to approximate the colours of Salvatore Ferragamo's Milan 2013 spring/summer men's collections.
Group of drab tourists in Ship Street Oxford, recoloured with to approximate the colours of Salvatore Ferragamo's Milan 2013 spring/summer men's collections.

The results aren't perfect: there is cross-coupling between style and content. This is very noticeable in the final image, where the walls show definite signs of jacket. It probably hasn't helped that in this run, the people in the styling image were much bigger than those in the content.

And there is leakage from one part of an object to another. For example, the top recoloured image has a number of spotty areas such as the legs of the person with the backpack on the left. DeepArt must have derived these from the cardigan on the right of the complete styling image, shown here. (It's from a report by Gildas Le Roux in The Times of Malta for July 1 2012.):
Screenshot of the 'Times of Malta's report on the Milan Male Spring-Summer 2013 collections, showing Salvatore Ferragamo's Milan 2013 spring/summer men's collections.

So DeepArt is a quick and fun way to recolour images, although not perfectly. But one can tweak the styling image to reduce unwanted effects on the content. More on this later.

Ossie Clark Sparkly Klimt Top
Monday 15th July, 2019

Here's a wonderful sparkly top by Ossie Clark, with as much luxury to it as any Klimt. It's more subtle than the Kuku and Tracery jackets in my last two posts. This top is one of my favourites. Ossie Clark sparkly Klimt top
Ossie Clark sparkly Klimt top
Ossie Clark sparkly Klimt top
Ossie Clark sparkly Klimt top

Kuku Silver-Stripe Bolero Jacket
Friday 12th July, 2019

Here's another patterned bolero jacket to go with the Tracery in my last post. This time, the stripes are made of plastic rings sewn onto the fabric. Would one call these sequins, or do they have a special name?

Kuku silver-stripe bolero jacket
Kuku silver-stripe bolero jacket
Kuku silver-stripe bolero jacket
Kuku silver-stripe bolero jacket
Kuku silver-stripe bolero jacket
Kuku silver-stripe bolero jacket

Tracery Bolero Jacket
Monday 8th July, 2019

This is the jacket that's behind the security guard's hand in my last post ...

Tracery bolero jacket
Tracery bolero jacket
Tracery bolero jacket
Tracery bolero jacket
Tracery bolero jacket

The Security Guard’s Hand
Friday 5th July, 2019

Some cartoon clichés don't happen. There are no flying saucers with anntenaed aliens stepping thereout, no single-palmed desert islands surrounded by sharks, and no little boys with a bandage round their jaw to relieve toothache. But I know one cliché that did happen: a man putting his hand in front of my camera to stop me photographing. This is the hand:
Security guard's hand in front of my camera, obscuring Tracery bolero jacket hung on the door handle of Podarok in the Clarendon Shopping Centre, Oxford.

The hand, and presumably the keys, belong to the security guard in the Clarendon Shopping Centre in Oxford. I was photographing a jacket, and had hung it on the door to Podarok, one of the shops there. I thought its pattern went with the background formed by the door handles and shop interior. The guard didn't like this. It would be alright, he said, to photograph Podarok from outside the Clarendon Centre, but not from inside it, because Podarok was private property. Since almost every piece of land in this country is private property, the reason seemed suspect. But the guard was insistent.

This didn't seem consistent. A few days ago, a big group of English-language students — Oxford overflows with them during the summer — were sitting near Podarok taking photos of each other on their phones. No guards were stopping them. Anyway, like so many other shops in Oxford, Podarok has closed down. The Clarendon should be more welcoming.

Cranston-Pickle Pink
Friday 28th June, 2019

Cranston Pickles bubble-and-squeak Scotch eggs. One is sliced open, showing the pink colour of the coating.
It isn't often that my clothing gets compared to a Scotch egg. In fact, until Wednesday, it was never. But then in the Gloucester Green market, I stopped to look at a new food stall. It was called "Cranston Pickles" — no relation to Branston, but the owner's surname — and sold pickles and vegetarian Scotch eggs.

While I was looking at these, the stall's owner said "That matches your outfit!" What I was wearing was the pink Gerry Weber silk jacket which I posted about last summer:
Pink silk jacket

I tried one of her spicy kedgeree eggs, and the coating was pleasingly light, without the cloddy heaviness that I find in the supermarket brands. These show a combination of stodge and impenetrability which inspired one humourist — Alan Coren perhaps, or Bill Bryson — to describe these as eggs coated with firebrick.

But this blog is supposed to be about colour, not taste. So I then decided to find out whether Cranston Scotch-egg pink really does match my outfit. I loaded photos of the egg, and of my jacket, into the Gimp image-processing program, cut out a small uniform portion of each, and fed both these into 3D Color Inspector, Kai Uwe Barthel's colour-analysis program that I wrote about here. This plots the distribution of colours in colour cubes with axes representing the strengths of red, green, and blue. Here are my results, the jacket colours on the left:

I conclude that my jacket is a purer colour, and more towards the white. Which I thought it would be; I just decided I'd use this post to remind readers of 3D Color Inspector's existence, as well as writing about some colourful and tasty new foods I'd seen. So thanks to Cranston for the photos and the eggs. Now, has anyone written a Taste Inspector program?... Output from (imaginary) Taste Inspector 3D program, favourably comparing the Cranston Pickles Scotch egg with one from a well-known supermarket.

Wolvercote Horticultural Summer Colours
Monday 24th June, 2019

Orange-red rose, displayed on table as exhibit in Wolvercote Horticultural Society summer show.

I've blogged quite a few photo-posts about spring and summer flower colours, to show how much better we could do with our clothes if our attitude to them matched our love of flowers. I'll use the splendid rose exhibit above to open another. I love the rose because it's vivid, its colour is consistent all across the petals, and it's an unusual shade. This exhibit grabbed my attention when I saw it in real life, and it grabs my attention when I see it in photos.

I say exhibit: this was one of the items displayed at yesterday's Wolvercote Horticultural Society summer show. There are photos of some others below. Photo number five is striking because of the orange flower at the focus of the arrangement.

WHS had a textile section as well as flowers, from which I've shown a colourful tapestry stool. The judges' label on it reads, "Lovely stool with a bright and detailed design. Love the way the braiding on edge matches the design." I'd give the exhibitor's name, but they were anonymous, known only as Exhibitor No. 28.

Nina Boutique Silk Striped Top
Monday 24th June, 2019

Here's an impressive striped top by Nina Boutique. The reason I'm impressed is that it's so carefully cut; one could call it sculptural. I've tried to bring that out in the last three photos.

Nina Boutique striped silk top.
Nina Boutique striped silk top, showing label.
Nina Boutique striped silk top.
Nina Boutique striped silk top, showing button.
Nina Boutique striped silk top.
Nina Boutique striped silk top.
Nina Boutique striped silk top.

I'm told that this top would have been made in the late 70's, perhaps on sale for evening wear from a small boutique in an area such as Chelsea or Kensington . It could have cost around £400, which would have been several weeks' wages.

Friday 21st June, 2019

Mallow flower on towpath of Oxford canal. Here's another in my series on seasonal colours. I saw this on the towpath of the Oxford canal, and liked the colour and pattern. I suspect it's a mallow. The photo is a close-up: the flower in its entirety is below.

Mallow flower on towpath of Oxford canal.

Oxfordshire Reuses
Sunday 16th June, 2019

I've just put up a slideshow called "Why Buy Vintage?" for today's Oxfordshire Reuses Zero Waste FestivalWayback. Once the title and the button below it have appeared, press the button and wait.

Style By EWM Plum Velvet Embroidered Jacket
Friday 14th June, 2019

Here's a light coat or jacket good for late spring and summer evenings. Style by EWM plum velvet jacket
Style by EWM plum velvet jacket
Style by EWM plum velvet jacket
Style by EWM plum velvet jacket

I found one other EWM jacket on the web. This one was put up for sale by Oxfam, and sold long ago. Notice the similar style of embroidery. If anything, I prefer that colour to mine.
Blue velvet embroidered jacket, made by Style By EWM

Chocolate Velvet Moroccan Top With Cream Embroidery
Monday 10th June, 2019

Here's another one of my Moroccan tops, from Fez:

Chocolate velvet Moroccan top with cream embroidery
Chocolate velvet Moroccan top with cream embroidery
Chocolate velvet Moroccan top with cream embroidery

Orange-Red and Yellow Roses
Sunday 9th June, 2019

Orange-red rose in St. Giles rose garden, Oxford.

Yellow rose in St. Giles rose garden, Oxford.

I took these photos yesterday. I like the yellow rose almost as much as this peach rose. The photo above it, I think, is a young rose hip. There's a small spot of intense orangey-red visible in the middle, bordered by the less intense outer part of the hip and contrasting with the glossy dark leaves.

Elegance Summer Jacket
Friday 7th June, 2019

I've just enhanced this website so I can tell it to display specified blog posts right across the screen, using the space normally taken by the list of posts and other side material. I did this because I thought this jacket, by Elegance of Paris, deserved the extra magnification. As with much of my collection, it came from Unicorn.

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

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Elegance summer jacket

Manual Auto

Peach Rose
Thursday 6th June, 2019

Peach-coloured rose in garden.

I photographed this peach-coloured rose yesterday. It would make a good colour for ... well, just about any item of clothing. Looking at the photo, I find the combination of peach and green very satisfying. I'm not really sure what I mean by that, but I think it's some kind of equivalent of "filling", applied to a good meal.

Frank Usher Puff-Sleeve Pink Silk Top
Monday 3rd June, 2019

This Frank Usher top is a lovely pure pink, and has very elaborate puff sleeves, gathered at the cuffs and shoulders. Despite the extra volume added to both the top and bottom of the body, it looks very good when I wear it tucked into some of my Moroccan harem pants.

According to "" on The Vintage Fashion Guild's label-resource page for Frank UsherWayback, Frank Usher started in 1946. Its speciality was "bringing high end details and fresh off the runway inspirations at a more moderate price range, emulating such designers as Ossie Clark". Frank Usher went into receivership in 2001, was sold to management, and was then bought by the Simma Corporation.

I was surprised at the 1946. Ossie Clark was 4 at the time, so he can't have been designing much that Frank Usher would want to emulate. Moreover, Britain was deep in rationing and austerity, and not even the New Look had been launched. But the date does seem to be accurate, as I've learned from Advantage In Vintage's "They Created Frank Usher"Wayback by "liztregenza" (19 November 2015). There already existed an almost-defunct firm called Frank Usher which was bought by Max and Anne Bruh, Germans who moved to Britain in 1939. They married in 1945, and Max, a director of one of Berlin’s pre-war top fashion houses, was keen to start his own business. For more, see the above link. It includes a copy of the article "They Created Frank Usher" from Woman and Beauty July 1961.

Wytham Pink Rose
Saturday 1st June, 2019

Technically speaking, these aren't quite summer colours, as I photographed them yesterday. I walked up to Wytham, where there's a little village store that also sells afternoon teas, with scones, jam and cream. To be eaten, at this time of year, in the garden amongst the roses. The pink is almost the same as that of an item of clothing I'm going to show shortly.

Martin Amis, an Exquisite Velvet Fop
Friday 31st May, 2019

Cover of Interzone 110, August 1996. Drawing of David Langford from Interzone 110, depicting him as a bust in a futuristic bar, gazing benignly over two drinkers in the foreground.

Other writers present included Brian Aldiss, John Brosnan, Chris Evans, Harry Harrison, Rob Holdstock, Roz Kaveney, Christopher Priest and Andrew Stephenson — all of whom invariably gravitated to a pub and swapped fond anecdotes about Richard. One that he used to tell himself concerned his first day at Oxford, when after lengthily gathering courage he stepped out of his college room to be confronted by an exquisite fop in a velvet suit, cape, and broad-brimmed aesthete's hat, who sneered and passed by. Deeply conscious of his jeans and t-shirt, Richard retreated to his room and (he claimed) stayed there for three days. The other chap proved to be Martin Amis.

"Ansible Link", Interzone 110 (August 1996) by David Langford

This excerpt, from David Langford's news-and-gossip column "Ansible Link", refers to the funeral of Richard Evans, senior science-fiction editor at Gollancz. "Fop" has pejorative overtones; and since Langford is an author, critic, and editor, words are his business. If "fop" was his choice of word, he intended these overtones. But why?

It rains almost every day in Britain, so broad-brimmed hats are very practical. More so than umbrellas, which I loathe. They poke into eyes, monopolise a hand, and leave themselves behind on buses. Hats do none of these.

Practical too are capes. Superheroes revere them because they excite the brain region which recognises raptors. But I enjoy their convenience. I have a long navy-blue cape labelled Selfridges Schoolwear, bought for £10 at the local market. It must be at least 40 years old, and we think it was intended for a teenager at a posh public school. It's made of felted wool, goes over anything, and I wore it a lot while the Beast From The East was raging. Covering the arms completely, it's warmer than a coat, and experience showed that it's great at keeping off snow.

Some capes are beautiful. The one below is Turkish. It's gathered at the shoulders, and falls in a way which smooths out one's bumps and hollows much as does a jacket. In his student days, Evans would have smoothed out the bumps and hollows in his walls by covering them with posters (probably of the Athena Tennis Girl); why object to Martin Amis doing likewise for his body? Wearing jeans, on the other hand, makes your legs more lumpy, and often stumpy and dumpy too.
Maroon embroidered velvet Turkish cape

I enjoy the feel and the light-effects of velvet, so I own other velvet clothes. And these include a velvet suit by RiteRhode: maroon with flared trousers. I've also got a jacket-and-harem-pants suit in silver silk velvet, made for me in Morocco. Henry Cavendish is said to have favoured a velvet suit, and if that's good enough for the man who explained latent heat, measured the density of the Earth, and isolated hydrogen and argon, it's good enough for me. Since he also researched the spectrum, he probably enjoyed velvet's sheen and shimmer.

Indeed, you needn't search far to find websites advertising velvet cushions under brand names such as "Champagne", "Luxury", and "Opulence". But did anybody ever dare sell a cushion in denim? There's a cat poem one of whose verses runs:

For from that day I ceased to be
The master of my destiny,
While she, with purr and velvet paw
Became within my house the law.

Not, please note, "and denim paw".

The standards applied to clothes are very different from those applied to similar materials and decorations in domains such as interior design. That is strange, and a shame.

Wow! Embroidered Velvet Shirt
Monday 13th May, 2019

This is an unusual top with embroidered flowers and two odd plasticky translucent strips attached, visible to the top left and bottom right of the buttons.

Embroidered velvet top, made by Wow!
Embroidered velvet top, made by Wow!
Embroidered velvet top, made by Wow!
Embroidered velvet top, made by Wow!

Soft Green Velvet Jacket
Friday 10th May, 2019

Here's another green velvet jacket, softer in both texture and colour than the bright-green one by His Lordship.

Soft green velvet jacket Soft green velvet jacket
Soft green velvet jacket

Velvet Evening Bag
Monday 6th May, 2019

This bag was probably intended as an evening bag, but I bought it to use as a purse. After a time, though, the decorations started catching in things around them and getting damaged, so now I just keep it because I like the design.

Velvet evening bag.
Velvet evening bag.

Astra Cigarette Bag
Friday 26th April, 2019

I've shown two bags already. This third one is very unusual. I found it in a charity shop — possibly Age Concern — in Greenwich, in 2007 or so. Astra Cigarette bag

The bag is lettered in Russian, "CIGARETTES / ASTRA": "СИГАРЕТЫ / АСТРА". At the bottom in smaller letters is the equivalent of our health warning, but from the USSR Ministry of Health: "МИНЗДРАВ СССР ПРЕДУПРЕЖДАЕТ КУРЕНИЕ ОПАСНО ДЛЯ ВАШЕГО ЗДОРОВЬЯ".

Some Googling taught me that Astras are made by a Moldovan company, Tutun-CTC. Indeed, their products page shows a pack. An image search for Astra turns up bags captioned in several languages, including Moldovan, Lithuanian, and Uzbek.

I don't carry this bag around as much as the other two I've shown, but I do use it regularly. It's just the right size to hold the Derwent Coloursoft pencils that I do most of my coloured drawings with. You can just see two trays sticking out of the top.

Pages from the Oxford Book of Tourists
Monday 15th April, 2019

I once made an American tourist very happy. I walked near her with my camera, and pretended to take her photo. I then told her that she'd been specially selected to feature in the Oxford Book of Tourists. She was ecstatic. I did more for the Special Relationship that year than anybody else except perhaps Tony Blair agreeing to support whatever war the US wanted to get on with.

That was a practical joke: as far as I know, there is no Oxford Book of Tourists. At least, Google finds only two occurrences, both mine. But I think there should be, on the same principle that one can learn about other parts of the solar system by studying meteorites. Here's a group of tourists that I photographed in Ship Street in Oxford yesterday:
Group of drab tourists in Ship Street, Oxford.

And here's a collage of tourists made last September, from my photos here:
Groups of drab tourists in central Oxford.

Chromophobia, it seems, is world-wide.

Embroidered Indian Bag
Monday 15th April, 2019

Here's another bag. I use this instead of the satchel if I have more to carry. I just realised that I've left most of the strap out of view, but a small section is visible on the right. Embroidered Indian bag.
Embroidered Indian bag.
Embroidered Indian bag.
Embroidered Indian bag.

In or Out?
Friday 12th April, 2019

I was walking through the local market last week, wearing my EU beret:
Dark blue EU beret with yellow stars One of the stallholders shouted at me, "You should be wearing it half-on and half-off!"

I walked through the market again yesterday. Another acquaintance mentioned the Halloween extension, and told me that it would have been much better had we left today. Astrologically speaking, he said, April 12th is auspicious. October 31st is not.

Multicoloured Satchel Bag
Friday 12th April, 2019

This is a bag which I use almost every day, bought from Fez. It looks like an old-style school satchel, but in fact it closes by magnetic snaps. One can be seen behind the left buckle in the final photo.
Multicoloured satchel bag
Multicoloured satchel bag
Multicoloured satchel bag

I was carrying the bag on the bus one day, and another passenger said to me, "That looks like a Daisy Did bag!". A quick search led me to What Daisy DidWayback, a page on the EthicalShop site advertising leather bags made from recycled materials by Daisy and Ozric, founders and partners of What Daisy Did. There are pictures of some colourful Daisy Did satchels in a 24th March 2016 post on Erica Louise's Recycled Fashion blog, "What Daisy Did: Ethically Made Satchels and Fashion Accessories"Wayback.

Jacques Vert Multicoloured Top
Monday 8th April, 2019

Jacques Vert multicoloured top
Jacques Vert multicoloured top
Jacques Vert multicoloured top
Jacques Vert multicoloured top
Jacques Vert multicoloured top
Jacques Vert multicoloured top

Green Flower-Embroidered Velvet Top
Friday 5th April, 2019

In "Spring" and "More Spring Colours", I wanted to tempt readers to try spring colours in their own clothing. Looking through my own wardrobe, the nearest I can come is this:
Green embroidered velvet flowered top
Green embroidered velvet flowered top, showing detail of embroidery

More Spring Colours
Monday 1st April, 2019

I walked to Sandford-on-Thames on Friday. Primroses and other primulas were abundant in the churchyard, and the café and village shop had a pot of wonderfully intense violets. On the way back, I saw what can only be described as a shoe tree.

Primroses, Sandford-on-Thames churchyard
Primroses, Sandford-on-Thames churchyard
Violets, Sandford-on-Thames village shop and cafe
Violets, Sandford-on-Thames village shop and cafe
Shoes on a tree, Meadow Lane, Donnington Bridge, Oxford

“Oh My God. He’s Dressed Like a Europe Flag!”
Monday 25th March, 2019

I bought this beret from Oxford For Europe. It's made by bEUret, whose site describes it as the iconic symbol of the Remain Campaign. On which topic, sign the petition!

The beret is almost exactly the same colour as a Charles Ingram cropped velvet jacket I have, shown in the third photo. It's also almost the same as a pair of Moroccan trousers I own. I was wearing the beret, jacket and trousers while shopping, when I heard a voice outside: "Oh my God. He's dressed like a Europe flag!" It was a student from Italy, talking to his friend. He asked me "Is that a European hat?", and when I said yes, he said "Thank you!" I found it rather sweet.
Dark blue EU beret with yellow stars
Dark blue EU beret with yellow stars
Dark blue EU beret with yellow stars, next to cropped velvet Charles Ingram jacket, almost the same colour
Sunday Sport editorial saying that George Osborne and his pro-EU pals were responsible for the baked-bean hoarder's death

In my photo, the bEUret is resting on a copy of the Sunday Sport. I wanted some Brexit news showing — there was bound to be some — and the Sport's journalism seems appropriate to the times. This is the paper that once reported a German World-War-II bomber being found on the Moon.

Thursday 21st March, 2019

It's spring! Today is the official beginning; and yesterday even felt pleasantly bright and warm, after more than two weeks of continuous wind and rain. Here are three photos from last spring showing what we have to look forward to. Even in these three, taken from very similar viewpoints, there is so much variation amongst the greens and pinks.

South Parks Road in Oxford during spring 2018, showing blossom and fresh green leaves
South Parks Road in Oxford during spring 2018, showing blossom and fresh green leaves
South Parks Road in Oxford during spring 2018, showing blossom and fresh green leaves

The Tale of Baba Marta, Little Sechko, and the Early Spring
Monday 11th March, 2019

This year, spring came early, in the last days of February. And then retreated. So this story seems apposite. I found it in "Bulgaria: A Curriculum Guide for Secondary School Teachers"Wayback, by Jeanette A. Hahn and Gina Peirce, University of Pittsburgh Center for Russian and East European Studies, 6th January 2006.

In Bulgaria, March 1 marks the beginning of spring, and the month of March is personified as Baba Marta (Grandmother March), a hunched old woman whose unpredictable temper is reflected in the changeable March weather. She is always arguing with her brother, Little Sechko (February), who likes a drop to drink.

One year, spring came earlier than usual in February, and an old woman decided that she would take her goats up to pasture before the proper time on March 1. "Why should Baba Marta mind?" she said to herself. "After all, isn’t she a woman, like I am? Grandmother to grandmother, what will she do?"

Baba Marta overheard her, and watched in a fury as the old woman set off up the mountainside with her herd of goats. At once Marta stormed off to her brother, Little Sechko. "Brother," she cried. "Now it’s time for you to repay me for stealing my wine. Lend me three of your days so that I can kill that old woman who mocks me by taking her goats early to pasture." So Little Sechko, remembering how Marta had once threatened him, gave his sister what she wanted.

Then Marta started to blow and to storm, to rant and rampage across the mountain, breathing icy winds and blizzards of snow. For three days and three nights she raged. And the old woman on the bare mountainside shivered and shook until her heart grew numb, her blood froze and she turned to stone. For three days and three nights Baba Marta raged, but at last her anger subsided, the weather calmed and the sun smiled.

The people of the village wondered what had happened to the old woman during the terrible snowstorm, so as soon as the fine weather came they went up the mountain pastures to look for her. They found her turned to stone. But from her bottom half, a spring of water was flowing. Although the villagers were very thirsty after their long climb, they could not bring themselves to bend down and drink because it made them laugh so much!

So, it is said that Baba Marta wreaked her revenge and had the last laugh on the old woman. And that is why Baba Marta has 31 days, and Little Sechko only has 28.

Pink Regency Velvet Coat
Friday 8th March, 2019

This is a very unusual coat. Was it, perhaps, made for a play?
Pink Regency-style velvet coat
Pink Regency-style velvet coat
Pink Regency-style velvet coat
Pink Regency-style velvet coat
Pink Regency-style velvet coat
Pink Regency-style velvet coat
Pink Regency-style velvet coat
Pink Regency-style velvet coat

In my title, I've called the coat pink. It's an easy description. Some variety of fuchsia might be more precise, though fuchsias come in so many shades that the term doesn't seem terribly useful. Looking at Wikipedia's article on "Fuchsia (color)"Wayback, on my screen, the nearest variants would seem to be French Fuchsia and Fuchsia Purple.

Purple Velvet Coat
Monday 4th March, 2019

Despite my start-of-Spring-martenitsa post, the weather is nasty at the moment, with squally winds and rain forecast to last the week. So I'm wearing a heavy coat. But things will improve, and when they do, the light coat shown here is nice for keeping off the chill. It's purple velvet: and note the covered buttons in the third photo.
Purple velvet coat
Purple velvet coat
Purple velvet coat

Mărțișor, μάρτης, мартинка, мартеница
Friday 1st March, 2019

Martenitsa, pinned to a cropped velvet jacket

I trust academic websites more than some others. More than tourist sites, pushing souvenirs at the expense of truth. So when I wanted to find someone describing how they wear the decoration above — a martenitsa — I searched . The blog post "What's New!" by Veneta Haralampieva at Manchester University was the first thing I found:

Finally, I would like to wish you all "Chestita Baba Marta!". In the beginning of March in my home country we celebrate Baba Marta or Granny March — a mythical woman who brings with her the spring and marks the end of the cold winter. Her holiday is celebrated by exchanging martenitsi — a small piece of adornment made by interweaving red and white yarn. It is also given as a token of good health and one usually wears martenitsi until the end of March or until a stork or a budding tree is seen. So lets welcome the spring and "Chestita Baba Marta!" everyone!

I blogged about martenitsi last March, and now it's March again. My photo shows a martenitsa given to me at a Bulgarian party, pinned to this cropped velvet jacket:

The cropped velvet jacket from the above photo

Were I in Bulgaria, I would probably forfeit it once I'd seen a stork or budding tree, perhaps tying it to the tree or putting it under a stone. But I don't have a replacement, so I'm going to keep it. The stork and buds, explains Wikipedia, are evidence of spring, indicating that Baba Marta is in a good mood and is about to retire. Her mood is crucial: the web page "Grandmother March, Baba Marta, 1st March, Martenica" from the Regional Historical Museum in Burgas adds that Baba Marta is moody and easy to anger. So on the first of March, old women stay at home, because Baba Marta wants to see only girls and young brides; and those people who do go out welcome her with red.

There are big martenitsi as well as small. Here's a photo of one on the clock tower in the Bulgarian town of Botevgrad:
Clock tower in Botevgrad with martenitsa [ Photo: via Wikimedia, by Dimitǎr Boevski ]

Martenitsi are sometimes made in the form of dolls, the characters Pizho and Penda (Пижо и Пенда).
A martenitsa in the form of Pizho and Penda [ Photo: via Wikimedia, by Elena Chochkova ]

In Radio Bulgaria's "Pizho and Penda: the folklore symbolism of the martenitsa", Vihra Baeva, a folklorist at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Institute for Ethnology and Folklore Studies says that the white and red symbolise masculine and feminine, passive and active, purity and the force of life. Bulgarians also use these colours in weddings: the bride wears a white apron and a red sash, and the groom, a red waist-band and a white kerchief in his hand. In this sense, says Baeva, the couple are like a martenitsa come to life; and vice versa, Pizho and Penda being seen as newly weds.

There are lots of Pizhovchi and Pendi in a sweet little photo gallery halfway down the Burgas museum page. In the second row, there's a sampler with the words "Честита Баба Марта" — "Happy Baba Marta". I had to peer closely before deciding that the squiggles on the top left were a word rather than decorative embroidery; but in handwritten Bulgarian, the first word resembles Честита, so the wiggles are just its middle letters in somewhat wobbly stitching. In the fifth row there's a card with the same words in capitals. Probably a a school project, because there's the name of a school ОУ „Найден Геров” underneath.

Bulgaria isn't the only country with martenitsi. A web page from the European Parliament, "Martenitsa — a symbol of spring, health, peace and fertility", says the tradition also exists in Romania (Mărțișor), Greece (μάρτης), Macedonia (мартинка), Albania, and Moldova. The page is by the EU Terminology Coordination Unit, who help make documentation and terminology consistent across languages. I love the idea of standardising the terminology for the martenitsa and its counterparts. An organisation that does this can't be all bad; but no doubt Theresa May would disagree. A citizen of everywhere is a citizen of nowhere, and as a true Briton, I should be concerned only with British spring rituals. Though in Oxford, I think we only have May Morning, Ascension Day, and assorted Morris Dancing.

Where did the tradition come from? The Alexander Fol Centre for Thracian Studies have a page on the topic Translate. This discusses the origins and symbolism, saying that the tradition is not purely Bulgarian, but originated in ancient Thrace and Greece. Which is contrary to the title of Radio Bulgaria's feature "Martenitsa, the uniquely Bulgarian symbol", but that's national pride on the web for you. In modern Greece, says XpatAthens's "Martis — A Greek Tradition To Welcome Spring", the martis is considered to help protect the wearer's skin from the coming months of strong Greek sunshine. If only.


"What’s new!", by Veneta Haralampieva, 5th March 2015 Wayback

Wikipedia: "Martenitsa" Wayback

"Grandmother March, Baba Marta, 1st March, Martenica", Regional Historical Museum, Burgas Wayback

"Pizho and Penda: the folklore symbolism of the martenitsa", by Vihra Baeva, Radio Bulgaria, 3rd January 2015 Wayback

"Martenitsa — a symbol of spring, health, peace and fertility", by Kalina Pesheva, European Parliament DG Trad Terminology Coordination Unit, 7th March 2017 Wayback

"Марта (Мартеница)", Encyclopedia of Ancient Thrace and the Thracians, Alexander Fol Centre for Thracian Studies Wayback Translate

"Martenitsa, the uniquely Bulgarian symbol", by Tania Harizanova, Radio Bulgaria, 3rd January 2014 Wayback

"Martis — A Greek Tradition To Welcome Spring", XpatAthens, 28th February 2019 Wayback

"Grandma March Day — cultural practices on the Balkans", HAEMUS Center for scientific research and promotion of culture Wayback

"The Nomination for the ICH element 'Martenitsa' is inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO", UNESCO, 6th December 2017 Wayback

"Cultural practices associated to the 1st of March: Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Republic of Moldova and Romania. Inscribed in 2017 (12.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity", UNESCO Wayback

Splendid Ankle Length Gold Embroidered Velvet Coat
Monday 25th February, 2019

There are some clothes that I can only describe as "splendid". My red and turquoise kimono-coat is one; this embroidered velvet coat is another. Again, I don't know its country of origin, though I've found images of similar-looking garments from Lebanon. But wherever it originated, I myself found it in the Age Concern charity shop on Cowley Road, about ten years ago.

Splendid ankle-length gold-embroidered velvet coat
Splendid ankle-length gold-embroidered velvet coat
Splendid ankle-length gold-embroidered velvet coat
Splendid ankle-length gold-embroidered velvet coat
Splendid ankle-length gold-embroidered velvet coat
Splendid ankle-length gold-embroidered velvet coat
Splendid ankle-length gold-embroidered velvet coat
Splendid ankle-length gold-embroidered velvet coat

One notable feature is the thread buttons. I've had these checked and sewn on more tightly where necessary, because they'd be very difficult to replace once lost.

Navy Blue Embroidered Velvet Coat
Friday 22nd February, 2019

The weather is getting warmer, so I'm going to display one of my light coats. While it wouldn't do protection against the Beast From the East — that required this — it was perfect against today's blue-sky chill. The body is navy-blue velvet; in some lights, it has a slight purple cast, as on the right sleeve in the second photo below.

Dark blue embroidered velvet coat
Dark blue embroidered velvet coat
Dark blue embroidered velvet coat
Dark blue embroidered velvet coat
Dark blue embroidered velvet coat
Dark blue embroidered velvet coat

Splendid Red and Turquoise Kimono Coat
Monday 18th February, 2019

I was surprised at how well bright red and turquoise go together. This is a very unusual woollen coat. The sleeves are just over half-length, and there's something of the kimono in the way they hang. The ends of the sleeves, the pockets, and the body of the coat, have been embroidered in turquoise. There is no label, and I don't know where this would have been made. Was it made in Britain to an unusual design, or somewhere else where that shape would be more natural?

Splendid red full-length coat with turquoise embroidery
Splendid red full-length coat with turquoise embroidery
Splendid red full-length coat with turquoise embroidery
Splendid red full-length coat with turquoise embroidery

I took the photo last Friday. For February, the sun was unusually bright.

Hunkpapa Red Tailcoat
Friday 15th February, 2019

Oxford has many buskers. One of them used to play the saxophone. He was also a bodybuilder, and — so I'm told — would hire himself out to hen parties, where he would play the saxophone naked for a hundred quid or two. This post, however, is about busker costume, not the lack thereof. Coming back from the dry cleaners mentioned in my last post, I saw a band new to me performing in Cornmarket. Note the red coat:

They're called Hunkpapa, and a quick check of their Twitter account and gallery proves that they are indeed the people shown in my photos.

So, in fact, does the BBC Music NI site, which tells me they're a four-piece band from Armagh, here performing their short EP "Enemy". I didn't have time to listen to more than a few bars, but here's a review by Chantelle Frampton (16 March 2018) for of a gig in Limelight 2, BelfastWayback. They are, she writes, one of those bands that seemed to just pop up in the Northern Irish music scene and then they quickly took it by storm. Not only are their sets incredibly fun and energetic, but they also ensure their live shows are all varied and keep the crowd coming back for more.

The squalid building behind the band, by the way, is in Oxford. Yet another boarded-up shop. One would not, any more, describe Oxford as "whispering from her towers the last enchantments of the Middle Age". Home of lost causes, certainly, especially — when one is the council, or a college — that of pride in one's city.

Blue Heavy Cotton Sarouel
Tuesday 12th February, 2019

I've just been to the dry cleaners, and thought I'd show off what I had cleaned. This is a sarouel made for me a few years ago in Morocco. As with my silver silk-velvet sarouel, I bought the material from A-One Fabrics in Goldhawk Road, Shepherd's Bush. This time, it was several metres of heavy blue cotton, intended for wear during the colder half of the year.

I then took it back to Oxford, and had it washed and thoroughly dried at a local laundry, one accustomed to cleaning large quantities of bedding and other heavy fabric. I wanted to make sure that if the cotton did shrink, it would do so before it was made into trousers. Washing that much material at home would have been impractical, and drying it, even more so. I then had it taken to Tangier and made into trousers. I don't have a photo of them stretched out, but the shape is like that in the above post.

Blue heavy cotton sarouel
Blue heavy cotton sarouel

Maroon Embroidered Turkish Cape
Friday 8th February, 2019

Some capes are designed for protection against rain and cold. This one, made of maroon velvet, definitely is not. It's a light fabric, perhaps originally used as formalwear. A colleague thinks it originated in Turkey. The embroidery is intricate, and looks as though it was all done by hand.

Maroon embroidered velvet Turkish cape
Maroon embroidered velvet Turkish cape
Maroon embroidered velvet Turkish cape
Maroon embroidered velvet Turkish cape
Maroon embroidered velvet Turkish cape
Maroon embroidered velvet Turkish cape
Maroon embroidered velvet Turkish cape
Maroon embroidered velvet Turkish cape
Maroon embroidered velvet Turkish cape
Maroon embroidered velvet Turkish cape
Maroon embroidered velvet Turkish cape
Maroon embroidered velvet Turkish cape
Maroon embroidered velvet Turkish cape

Zebra-Stripe Velvet Jacket
Monday 4th February, 2019

Here's another velvet jacket: zebra-stripe, this time.

Zebra-stripe velvet jacket
Zebra-stripe velvet jacket
Zebra-stripe velvet jacket
Zebra-stripe velvet jacket
Zebra-stripe velvet jacket
Zebra-stripe velvet jacket

Red Purple and Black Velvet Jacket, Re-Dyed in Afghanistan
Friday 1st February, 2019

This jacket came from Fusion Fashion in Portobello Road London. I'm fairly sure they had two shops when I bought it, but I can only find the address of one: 242 Portobello Road, not far south from where the Westway crosses. The owner of the shop told me it was probably made in the UK as a conventional one-colour jacket, but then sent to Afghanistan to be re-dyed: in the 1970s, if I remember correctly. Apparently, that was trendy then.

Red, purple and black velvet jacket, re-dyed in Afghanistan
Red, purple and black velvet jacket, re-dyed in Afghanistan

Klaus Rheiner Orange Velvet Jacket
Monday 28th January, 2019

To continue my series of velvet jackets, this one is by Klaus Rheiner, from Austria. It's the only orange velvet jacket I've ever seen. The label reads "Klaus / Rheiner / Mens : Attire : 1964".

Klaus Rheiner orange velvet jacket
Klaus Rheiner orange velvet jacket
Klaus Rheiner orange velvet jacket
Klaus Rheiner orange velvet jacket
Klaus Rheiner orange velvet jacket
Klaus Rheiner orange velvet jacket
Klaus Rheiner orange velvet jacket
Klaus Rheiner orange velvet jacket, showing label

Purple Velvet Jacket
Friday 25th January, 2019

To follow my green velvet jacket and red velvet jacket, here's a purple velvet jacket. Unlike those two, it's a women's rather than a men's, but the only significant difference in appearence is the position of the buttons.

Purple velvet jacket
Purple velvet jacket
Purple velvet jacket
Purple velvet jacket -->

Ravi Sehgal Bright Red Velvet Jacket
Monday 21st January, 2019

From green to red. Taken on the same day as my His Lordship green velvet jacket — and how unattainable such an intensity of sunlight now seems — here are some photos of a bright red velvet jacket. The velvet is softer than in the green one, as can be seen from the way the pocket hangs. And once again, the jacket is from an exotic location. Thailand this time: the label says "Ravi Sehgal Bangkok / Since 1976 /". As there's a web address, this must be recent, at least by the standards of vintage clothes.

Ravi Sehgal red velvet jacket
Ravi Sehgal red velvet jacket
Ravi Sehgal red velvet jacket
Ravi Sehgal red velvet jacket
Ravi Sehgal red velvet jacket
Ravi Sehgal red velvet jacket
Ravi Sehgal red velvet jacket, showing label

Ravi Sehgal is still going, with a website at the same address. Most garments on the site are less colourful than my jacket, though Ravi does display one rather fetching pink suit. Click the thumbnail to view it in his Instagram account at full size:Wayback
Man wearing pink jacket and trousers

His Lordship Bright Green Velvet Jacket
Friday 18th January, 2019

I haven't posted any clothing photos for a while, so here are some taken last summer. Several years ago, I was walking over Magdalen Bridge, and saw a student wearing a bright green velvet blazer with grey edging or piping. It wasn't in any college colours as far as I could tell: just an unusually vivid two-colour velvet. I liked it, so I was pleased when two years or so later, the owner of Unicorn pointed this one out to me. No edging, but the velvet was the same vivid green. There are several photos below, showing it under different early-morning lights. The label says "Exclusively styled for you By His Lordship, Wellington, New Zealand". It's the only clothing I've ever seen from there.

His Lordship green velvet jacket
His Lordship green velvet jacket
His Lordship green velvet jacket
His Lordship green velvet jacket
His Lordship green velvet jacket
His Lordship green velvet jacket
His Lordship green velvet jacket
His Lordship green velvet jacket, showing label

The Pod/Piccalilli Effect
Monday 14th January, 2019

In previous posts, I've talked about how the shape of fonts connotes their "personality". Today's post is an example of how shape connotes personality in a more literal sense. Take a look at these two thumbnails:

Nick Sharratt's illustration of Mr Pod in his living room. Nick Sharratt's illustration of Mr Piccalilli in his living room.

Both drawings are by illustrator Nick Sharratt, who I'll introduce via this interviewWayback with Angela Ferguson for Northern Soul (20 October 2016). I know of Nick for the distinctive flat style of his illustrations for Jacqueline Wilson's books. However, these two images are for a different author's story, Mr Pod and Mr Piccalilli. You can see them at their proper size on Nick's page "Mr Pod and Mr Piccalilli: A story written with Penny Dolan" Wayback. Follow the link to see the full-size pictures, and thence to go to the rest of Nick's website (menu on top right) or to his publishers (link in footer).

Every line in each image is shaped to reflect the personality of its owner. I'll say more about this in my next post on the semantics of style.

Connotation and Denotation: Would You Wear a Saliva Tree?
Friday 11th January, 2019

Above are two very different images. On the left is an orange-red velvet dress embroidered with silver, from Unicorn. On the right, a detail from Sphere's cover illustration for The Saliva Tree, a science-fiction short-story collection by Brian Aldiss. The title story was rated by one reviewer as truly horrifying: an evaluation reflected in the illustration. Now, the saliva tree and the silver sprays both have "bits sticking out". But you would not want to wear the saliva tree on a dress, even were I to erase the mouth. What makes the two so different?

This question is related to the topic of my post "Assertive, Rigid, Rude, Sad, Unattractive, and Coarse: I Chose My Font Well for Mrs May’s Speech" about the personalities that people associate with typefaces. We associate personalities with decoration too, and I suspect this is for much the same reasons. What are they?

Part of the answer is denotation: what the picture actually represents. In the case of the saliva tree, this is a HIDEOUS THING WITH FANGS, drooling. But there's also connotation. The site explains the difference thus:

Although both words broadly mean "to signify" they are technically quite different. "Denote" refers to the literal primary meaning of something, whereas "connote" signifies the attributes of a word aside from its primary meaning.

I've was prompted to consider this topic when seeking a font in which to render part of Theresa May's "Citizen of Nowhere" speech, but it's something I'd intended to discuss anyway. How might we build a Style Reader: that is, a program that can analyse decorations and predict their personalities? I shall give some thoughts on this in future posts. For the moment, here are some more images.

A motif from my Artesania Pop Wuh waistcoat. It looks like a light-blue/purple ear of wheat or fern leaf.

The same motif flipped vertically, so that the tip is at the bottom.

A motif from my velvet evening bag. It is gold on black, forming a bunch of three leaves pointing down. The central leaf is vertical, and the other two are symmetrically arranged
around it, curving down to the left and down to the right.

The same motif flipped vertically, so that the leaves are pointing up.

A single element from my Jake paisley velvet jacket. It is a gold teardrop-shaped motif on black. The small end is curved in on itself, bent down and to the left. The same motif turned clockwise by 90 degrees.
The same motif turned anticlockwise by 90 degrees.

The same motif turned clockwise by 180 degrees.

A cartoon of Pogo the alligator. He has a long rightward-pointing tail, a short leftward-pointing foot (his other foot is less visible), and a stubby leftward-pointing nose.

The Chinese character 'fang'. It looks like a lowercase 'h' with a horizontal bar on top, and a dot above that. The back of the 'h' is slanted from lower left to upper right, and the short rightmost vertical is slanted the same way, with its lower part bent under like a foot. The whole thing is rather like a person, with the dot for the head, the horizontal bar for arms, and the lower part for legs and a foot.

The Chinese character 'jin'. It looks like a capital 'F' with a vertical line added beneath the lower horizontal line. The back of the 'F' is slanted slightly from lower left to upper right, and the top horizontal line bends slightly upwards, as though waving.

A dog standing on its hind legs, front paws extended, mouth open expectantly.

The logo of Norwest Holst. It's a capital 'N' joined to a capital 'H'. Both are standing on the ground. They join at centre-front, with the 'N' coming diagonally from back left and the 'H' going diagonally to back right. So they form the front two faces of a cube. The inner sides of the verticals of the 'H' are slanted so that they look like girders. Both letters are squat, blocky, and powerful-looking.

Two small boys standing covered in dough. It is dripping in coils to the ground from their hands, and teardrop-shaped pieces are dripping from their hair, noses, and fingers. The surface of the dough is smooth and gently curved.

A shape that looks like a star but irregular. It has seven pointy bits sticking out.

A shape that also has seven bits sticking out, but they are gently curved, like pseudopods.

Assertive, Rigid, Rude, Sad, Unattractive, and Coarse: I Chose My Font Well for Mrs May’s Speech
Monday 7th January, 2019

A few weeks ago, in "Citizen of Nowhere on a Brexit Farewell Tour", I quoted Theresa May's

If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don't understand what citizenship means.

This is a dreadful insult, from somebody who appreciates neither the opportunities offered by free movement within the EU, nor the attitude of people who wish to seize them. So to set her words, I wanted a font that would convey my opinion thereof. I also wanted it to stand out from the surrounding text, while still fitting in with the stark black and white design of the WordPress theme — presentation software — I'm using. So I Googled "typeface indicating anger". I was pleasantly surprised when Google came up with a relevant link in its second search result, to HubSpot's "Fonts & Feelings: Does Typography Connote Emotions?".

That post summarises research published in 2006 by A. Dawn Shaikh, Barbara S. Chaparro & Doug Fox at the Software Usability Research Laboratory, Wichita State University. Beware, because there's a link in "Fonts & Feelings" to the lab's website, whose domain has been taken over by a domain scammer. Luckily though, Shaikh et. al.'s paper is available via CiteSeerx, at "Perception of Fonts: Perceived Personality Traits and Uses".

The authors introduce their research by noting that researchers have paid more attention to font readability than to personality:

Often credited with creating first impressions, fonts are typically classified according to unique typographical features (serif, sans serif, etc) and overall appearance. The combination of appearance and typographical features often lead graphic artists and typographers to describe typefaces using personality traits ("less cuddly, more assertive," Berry, 2004)§. In a BBC audio program (Peacock, 2005), fonts were depicted as feminine and masculine, among other traits. Feminine fonts were described as fine, serifed, sleek, and elegant; masculine fonts were characterized as being blocky and bold.

Most empirical research concerning fonts focuses on the legibility or readability with little concern for the perceived personality of typefaces. Typographers and designers are often interested in the typeface personality or "typographic allusion" which refers to "the capacity of a typestyle to connote meaning over and above the primary meaning which is linguistically conveyed by words" (Lewis & Walker, 1989, p. 243).

Brumberger (2003) describes the Bauhaus school of design and their belief that the "content and purpose of the text should dictate the design — the form — of a document, and that form, including typography, should express the content just as the verbal text itself expresses content" (p. 207). Within communications research, many experts suggest that typefaces can convey mood, attitude, and tone while having a distinct persona based on the font’s unique features. Each document should be rendered in a font that connects the mood, purpose, intended audience, and context of the document.

The authors aimed to provide empirical evidence to make up for this lack. They actually carried out research on both the personality of fonts, and their uses, but I'm going to describe only the former. They began by choosing 20 fonts to investigate:

  • Serif fonts: Cambria, Constantia, Times New Roman, Georgia;
  • sans serif fonts: Calibri, Corbel, Candara, Arial, Verdana, Century Gothic;
  • scripted/fun fonts: Rage Italic, Gigi, Comic Sans, Kristen ITC, Monotype Corsiva;
  • monospaced fonts: Consolas, Courier New;
  • display or modern fonts: Impact, Rockwell Extra Bold, Agency FB.

This is what these look like:
The table from the paper by Shaikh et. al. showing the fonts
associated with each personality.

As well as deciding on fonts to rate, the authors worked out 15 pairs of contrasting personality adjectives, such as sad/happy, conformist/rebel, polite/rude, and cuddly/coarse. They say that they determined these through personality research, adjective lists, and pilot testing. Here's the complete list:



























































































With these starting materials in hand, the next stage was an online survey. Each subject was shown a sample of text in each of the 20 fonts, and asked to rate it on the scales above. Text was displayed online, because the authors were interested in on-screen fonts rather than printed. 561 subjects answered.

The outcome (I presume) was that the authors ended up with 561 ratings for each font. Each rating would have been a collection of 15 numbers between 1 and 4, thereby classifying it along 15 personality dimensions.

This is a lot of data, so the next step was to simplify it by so-called "dimensionality reduction". To see how this works, imagine that instead of 15 pairs of adjectives, there had been just 3: sad/happy, conformist/rebel, and cuddly/coarse. Suppose also that subjects always answered conformist/rebel and cuddly/coarse in the same way, so that both always got the same numeric values. We can see that as both values are always the same, one is redundant: it doesn't tell us anything the other doesn't.

Here's a possibly helpful way to visualise this. Imagine each rating as a point in three-dimensional space with an X distance along a sad/happy axis, a Y distance along a conformist/rebel axis, and a Z distance along a cuddly/coarse axis. But the Y and Z distances are always equal, so we can drop one of them, thereby reducing the number of dimensions from 3 to 2.

In practice, data is never neat, and different dimensions are never perfectly correlated. Nevertheless, it is still possible to dig out some correlations. Using a technique called principal-component analysis, the authors did so, and reduced the number of dimensions from 15 to 5. In effect, the ratings, taken over all subjects, ended up classifying the fonts into five groups or clusters, which corresponded to the original division into serif, sans serif, scripted/fun, monospaced, and display or modern. Interestingly, subjects were fairly consistent about how they assigned personality traits to these, as shown in the list below:

  • Serif fonts: Cambria, Constantia, Times New Roman, Georgia. Scored highest on traits such as Stable, Practical, Mature, and Formal;

  • sans serif fonts: Calibri, Corbel, Candara, Arial, Verdana, Century Gothic. Did not score extremely high or low on any personality traits;
  • scripted/fun fonts: Rage Italic, Gigi, Comic Sans, Kristen ITC, Monotype Corsiva. Had the highest means for Youthful, Happy, Creative, Rebellious, Feminine, Casual, and Cuddly;

  • monospaced fonts: Consolas, Courier New. Had the highest means for Dull, Plain, Unimaginative, and Conforming;
  • display or modern fonts: Impact, Rockwell Extra Bold, Agency FB. The traits Masculine, Assertive, Rude, Sad, and Coarse were most associated with these.

We can invert this. Instead of looking at the personality traits associated with a font, what were the fonts associated with each personality trait? The authors show this in their Table 3, which lists the fonts rated the highest for each personality trait evaluated in the survey:
The table from the paper by Shaikh et. al. showing the fonts
associated with each personality.

So now you know why I chose Impact. As the table shows, it was rated assertive, rigid, rude, sad, unattractive, and coarse. (And masculine, but let's ignore that.) Just like Theresa May's Citizen of Nowhere insult.


"Fonts & Feelings: Does Typography Connote Emotions?" by Sophia Bernazzani, in the HubSpot blog, 2 Jan 2017, updated 18 April 2018. Wayback

"Perception of Fonts: Perceived Personality Traits and Uses" by A. Dawn Shaikh, Barbara S. Chaparro & Doug Fox, in Usability News, Software Usability Research Laboratory, Wichita State University, February 2006. Wayback

§ Berry, J.D. (2004). Now read this: The Microsoft ClearType font collection. Seattle, WA: Microsoft Corporation.

Peacock, I. (Speaker). (2005). From Arial to Wide Latin (Radio Broadcast). London: BBC Radio. (Available online: )

Lewis, C., & Walker, P. (1989). Typographic influences on reading. British Journal of Psychology, 80, 241-257.

Brumberger, E. (2003). The Rhetoric of Typography: The Persona of Typeface and Text. Technical Communication, 50(2), 206-223.

Fun, Environmentally Friendly, and Food for the Senses
Friday 4th January, 2019

The front cover of 'Interzone' number 57.

The quote below is from an article about the history of science fiction: Brian Stableford's "Adolf Hitler: His Part in Our Struggle. A Brief Economic History of British SF Magazines" from Interzone number 57, March 1992. Replace "sf" by "vintage clothes", and perhaps "thought" by "senses", and it would be spot-on for those.

As products go, sf has a lot to be said for it: it doesn't kill anybody, it doesn't use up much in the way of non-renewable resources, it doesn't create much waste, it's mostly fun, and it offers food for thought which is occasionally nourishing as well as flavoursome.

Real Girls Don’t Wear Trousers
Monday 31st December, 2018

Cover of a Topper annual

There is no date on this Topper annual, but I suspect it was published in the early '60s.
A Nancy strip near the end of the Topper annual. See the description below.


Sluggo is walking through town, past a few houses, leafy gardens, and shops. In the first frame, he is glancing at a woman carrying parcels. She is wearing trousers. He is annoyed. An exclamation mark appears in a speech bubble above his head.

In the second frame, Sluggo sees another two women in trousers, his face scrunched up in irritation. In the third, yet another. He says, "I hate women in slacks." In the fourth frame, he sees two more women in front of a shop window, and he continues, "That's all you see these days."

Most of the women seem to be shopping. In the fifth frame, Sluggo passes two more carrying parcels and says, "Phooey!" In the sixth, there's a group of three gathered on the pavement, one showing a package to the other two. Sluggo remarks, "Why do they want to dress like men?"

The seventh frame shows Nancy in a yellow coat and red trousers, standing proudly with hands on hips. Sluggo shouts "YOU TOO?" and stomps off.

And in the final frame, Nancy is on the right of an open space near a tree. Sluggo walks to the left leading his dog. The dog is wearing Sluggo's trousers on its hind legs, and Sluggo a short print skirt. Astonished, Nancy stares.

The Power of Colour
Friday 28th December, 2018

Cover of 'Talking Fashion'.

The pieces from your collections that are motley-coloured probably don't sell as well as the more toned down, plain or pastel coloured ones?

Quite the contrary. You could even say: the stronger, the better. Customers who come to me want colour. People who prefer something discreet or black, well, they can go to other designers — Rick Owens or Damir Doma for example. In any case, if I do something black — which happens from time to time — it's hardly sold. But of course, it can be difficult to be taken seriously if you dress very colourfully, at least in Western societies. I think that's very stupid, because actually it's a sign of strength if you wear a bright red suit or a bright orange suit instead of a black one. You're making a statement. People will look at you differently, and that's a powerful moment, because you're forcing them to position yourself in relation to you.

From an interview with Walter Van Beirendonck, in Talking Fashion by Jan Kedves, Prestel Verlag, 2013.

Pavement Pleasure
Monday 24th December, 2018

Badges with the words 'Pavement Pleasure' on.

Pavement pleasure means dressing so as to please other people on the pavement. Today, I got three pavement-pleasure compliments. The first was from a member of staff in my local Costa, who told me she always admired my fashion sense, and particularly liked what I was wearing now. The second happened a few minutes later, when I was sitting in the foyer of the Tesco next door. A group of Americans came past, and one touched the sleeve of my coat, and said "Very nice!". And the third was a few minutes later than that, in the same Tesco, when another man came past and told me he loved my colourfulness and that it had brightened up his whole day. So to people who say "I can't carry it off", my reply is, "Experience proves that you can."

What I was wearing: purple full-length sarouel; brilliant blue wool jersey; purple velvet coat; green silk scarf; green Jaeger hat.
Purple velvet coat, green hat, green scarf, blue jersey, and purple sarouel.

Vaisto High-Waisted Sarouel
Friday 21st December, 2018

Moving back up the map from Greece to very northern Europe, here's a high-waisted sarouel from Paul Tieman, an artist from Maastricht now living in France. I've mentioned him before; in the preamble to his blog Saaibestrijding, he says:

Some first steps toward the re-introduction of colourful and creative men's clothing, after two centuries dominated by black, grey, boring mass clothing. That is what Saaibestrijding is about. Often in cooperation with creative designers, makers, photographers and other enthusiastic people I try to trace new paths in male clothing. I am not a fashion designer. Not at all. My mother considered it necessary for her son that he learned how to use a sewing machine, but it was the central theme of my artwork that made me curious about, for example, the question why millions of western men are wearing day after day a tie around their neck. An extremely weird habit if you think further about it.

The Saaibestrijding project wants to inspire, to encourage everybody to leave the rude dictatorship of the fashion industry and its commercial power behind.

The trousers shown today are from Paul's post "Zeven-en-veertig" (19 November 2009) Wayback. They were made specially for Paul by Vaisto Design of Finland. The waistband is unusual. A rough measurement suggests it's eight to nine inches high; in fact, it comes up as far as the bottom of the sleeves on Paul's short-sleeved shirt. It's laced on each side with two interlocking zigzags of cord, and bicoloured, decorated in front with broad chevrons.

I don't know whether it's the fault of my terminal, but Paul's photos look quite dark, and I find it hard to see the different regions of colour. There used to be another photo in Vaisto's catalogue, which I remember as showing the patterning more clearly, but I think that's gone. So below are copies of the photos which I've lightened and made the colours more distinct in.
Front view of Paul Tieman wearing this sarouel.
Side view of Paul Tieman wearing this sarouel.

Also in Paul's post is a rather elegant stylised drawing of the trousers seen from the front. This clearly shows the high waist and lacing, as well as what I now know — from the historical-costume book of my previous post — are called the canions. But again, I don't see the colours as very distinct, so I've tweaked that too. The version below now has very inaccurate colours, but does reveal the patterning.

Greek Costume at the Benaki
Monday 17th December, 2018

Nicholas Sperling, I said in "Vraka", was a painter who was commissioned to paint Greek costumes for the Benaki Museum in Athens. The Benaki has several subsidiary museums, but the main one, very easily findable if you know Athens, is near the junction of Koumpari Street with Avenue Vas. Sofias, and is devoted to Greek culture. Including costume.

I found some lovely photos in a blog post by "Joy": "Costumes at the Benaki" in her blog Of Stranger Sensibilities (30 June 2012) Wayback. Joy writes:

One can definitely tell that a whole assortment of foreign influences that were introduced and worked into the costumes, such as some Turkish elements for example seen here and there.

However what really drew me in were the rich details and intricacy of the embroidery. The sumptuous fabric and jewel tones of the different pieces are absolutely beautiful. I can't imagine scarcely imagine just how much time and energy it would have taken to craft each individual article of clothing, and the incredible amount taken to don the many layers. Of course, I highly doubt ordinary folk were dress as such on an everyday basis; these were likely the clothing of the elite who could all the handmaiden and servants to assist them each morning. While this makes me appreciate all the conveniences of modern sportswear and the like, there is a part of me that wonders what would have it been like to actually see people dressed as such on the streets. I guess the modern answer to this would be couture.

Do take a look at Joy's post. Even in photographs, the costumes are stunning.

One costume, less elaborate than the others, stuck in my mind because I've been writing about vraka. It has vraka with vertical blue and yellow stripes, and a purple-velvet cropped jacket with flared sleeves and gold edging over a blue waistcoat. Here's a thumbnail to entice you to look at one of the original photos linked from my post.
Mannequin wearing vraka with vertical blue and yellow stripes, and a purple-velvet cropped jacket with flared sleeves and gold edging over a blue waistcoat.
[ Image: thumbnailed from the post below, "Η Ελληνική ενδυμασία στην Αιολίδα" ]

I realised that I've seen these vraka and that jacket before. It was in another blog post: "Η Ελληνική ενδυμασία στην Αιολίδα" ("Greek costume in Aeolis") by Athanasia Stavropoulou in Ο Ελληνισμός στη Μικρασία – Küçük Asya'da Helenizm (Hellenism in Asia Minor) Wayback. It's in Greek, but Google does a surprisingly good job of translating: click here to read it in English. It's a short account of men's and women's costume in Asia Minor, mainly on Lesbos and Ayvalık on the Turkish coast, east from the northern end of Lesbos. As I said, it includes the photo from which I made the thumbnail.

Hose, With Doublet: 17th-Century Men’s Dress Patterns 1600-1630
Friday 14th December, 2018

A friend this week bought a copy of a book published jointly by Thames and Hudson and the V&A. It's 17th-Century Men's Dress Patterns 1600-1630, by Melanie Braun, Luca Costigliolo, Susan North, Claire Thornton, and Jenny Tiramani, 2016. Since I've just blogged about one kind of baggy trouser (vraka) and this describes how to make another (hose), I decided to mention it it here.

The blurb on the back cover reads as follows:

This book presents full step-by-step instructions for the making of early 17th-century men's clothes and accessories in a technically accurate, visually exciting and easy-to-follow format. Twelve garments — all historical pieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum's collections — are featured: a suit, three doublets and a cloak, as well as a felt hat, an embroidered nightcap and a plain nightcap liner, a pasteboard picadil, a sword girdle and hangers, a pair of mittens and a linen stocking. They have been analysed so that every aspect of the pattern is exact. Scale patterns and precise construction diagrams are accompanied by colour photography of the whole garment as well as an abundance of informative details and X-ray photographs that reveal the hidden structure of each piece, showing the precise number of layers and the types of stitches used inside. The methods and techniques of historical tailoring and plain sewing are shown in detail.

The authors have some of the best historical tailoring skills in the world and have worked with world-renowned institutions such as the Globe Theatre in London, creating award-winning costumes for film, stage and television. This book is a unique resource for costume and fashion designers, fashion historians and students.

I gave the authors' names, but it seems only fair to name the photographers as well: Henrietta Clare, Pip Barnard, and Paul Robins. That's because the book has over 1,300 meticulously created illustrations, many of which are photos of the V&A exhibits listed above.

To appreciate the care taken, look at section 6, "Embroidered silk damask cloak". It begins with front, side and back views of a three-quarter circle Spanish cloak: red damask embroidered with metal and silk thread, and implied to be mid-16th century. For comparison, there's a shot of another Spanish cloak from the V&A's collection, c. 1580-90, red velvet with yellow satin decoration.
Page 134 of the book, showing three photos of the red Spanish cloak, and one
of another cloak from the collection.

The facing page continues with a detail of the embroidery, and a painting of Philip IV of Spain, shown wearing a cloak of similar length, and presumably of similar shape.

The next two pages show details of the right and wrong sides. The 11 photographs here illustrate, for example, what the cloak looks like when laid flat; how seams are constructed; and the embroidered motifs. The next two pages give a pattern for the cloak, including a list of materials. At the end is a cutting layout, showing the authors' best conjecture for how the pieces were cut from a rectangle of damask. This was worked out by matching the weaves of the pieces. And on the final two pages, there are 13 illustrations and six photographs showing the construction sequence, and the embroidery technique.

By comparison with doublet and hose, the cloak is a simple garment. The doublets and hose are much more complicated, being made of many layers. And here, the authors used a different kind of photography — X-ray — to reconstruct how these were put together. If you're interested, look at the V&A's page "X-radiography as a tool to examine the making and remaking of historic quilts" by Joanne Hackett, V&A Online Journal (Issue 3 Spring 2011) Wayback. This demonstrates, with photos, what X-rays can tell us about how clothes and other objects were made, and even how they were altered afterwards.

You can get a good idea of the type of content in 17th-Century Men's Dress Patterns from photos in a review of another book in the series. The review, "17th Century Women’s Dress Patterns — Book Review", by Mary Corbet in her blog Mary Corbet's Needle 'n Thread (July 18 2011) Wayback. Mary's review shows one invaluable feature of the book: an introduction to the tailoring techniques of the time, including detailed illustrations of sewing and embroidery stitches.

There's a review of 17th-Century Men's Dress Patterns 1600-1630 itself in "17th Century Men’s Dress Patterns 1600-1630 — book review", by Pat Poppy in the Costume Historian blog (18 January 20) Wayback.

I learnt a lot from the book, and not just about costume-making. Other things include:

"Canion". I didn't see this word explained, but it appears to mean the short cylinder at the bottom of each leg of a pair of hose. It is a word that I, unlike most people, have a use for, as it probably also can be used of the end-of-leg cylinders on my qandrissi.

Violence. Most of the portraits in the book show their sitters with their cloak draped over the left shoulder. The authors explain that this leaves the right arm free to draw a sword if need be. However distasteful I find Brexit, I guess, it having divided the country into two mutually antagonistic factions, that I'm lucky it's happening now rather than 400 years ago when these factions would have been armed.

Inconvenience. The authors also say that from at least the 14th century, a man's hose were tied to his doublet with "points", or lengths of ribbon. These did eventually become decorative only, but at the time the book is about, it seems that they were still functional. Surely tying and untying them must have been terribly inconvenient, if, say, you needed to go to the toilet?

Discomfort. The authors say that:

By 1600, doublets were quite snug-fitting with armholes cut high in the armpit and with the top of the undersleeve cut very high to enable maximum movement of the arms. Even for those men who did not favour the tightest fit, it was essential that the doublet was tight around the waistline to support the sword girdle and weapons. In his autobiography, Thomas Raymond records that James Hay, 2nd Earl of Carlisle (1612-60) was chastised by his father when he complained that the doublet of his masking suit was too straight: 'Fye, boye', said the Earl, 'are you not ashamed to complayne of that? Whie, when I was a masker and the mode was to appeare very small in the wast, I remember I was drawne up from the grounde by both hands, whilst the taylor with all his strength buttoned on my doublet.'

Perhaps such things are why Bill Bryson, in his book At Home: A Short History of Private Life says that until the 18th century, no word existed for the idea of having comfort at home.

Box Pleats for Warmth
Monday 10th December, 2018

In my post about vraka, I showed pairs from various parts of Greece. Some are highly pleated, the most so being this very smart pair from Crete:
Costume from Crete, showing vraka. [ Image: via Wikimedia, uploaded by user Pycckhcoz, attributed to E. A. Cavaliero ]

This interests me because most of my sarouels — baggy trousers or harem pants — are in light fabrics, so not ideal for British winters. I caught a glimpse of the Daily Star this morning, screaming about Icebox Britain; and though this may not be entirely reliable (the paper also claims that a "Secret space programme base" has been spotted in a crater on the moon), the Beast From The East could yet revisit.

This brings me back to a remark I made in "Citizen of Nowhere on a Brexit Farewell Tour". The Wikipedia article on the fustanella or Greek kilt cites the paper "Akritan Ikonography on Byzantine Pottery" by J. A. Notopoulos, which says that the fustanella evolved from the Roman toga, and that in cold climates, pleats were added for extra warmth. I was puzzled about how this works, but it makes perfect sense when you look at the diagrams in "'Military' Box Pleats" in the blog Matthew A. C. Newsome KiltmakerWayback.

These are the diagrams, which show how the pleats bend and overlap as the kilt is made wider:
Box pleat in a four-yard kilt.
Box pleat in a five-yard kilt.
Box pleat in a seven-yard kilt. [ Images: by Matthew A. C. Newsome, in his blog post "'Military' Box Pleats" ]

To see photos of the effect in kilts, visit Matthew Newsome's blog post. I've never seen harem pants designed this way: if they have pleats at all, these are for decoration and to allow the fabric to gather. But it seems an excellent idea, and makes me think I should commission a kiltmaker to design my next pair.

Friday 7th December, 2018

Here are some more pictures of vraka, the baggy Greek trousers that I mentioned in passing on Friday. I obtained them by an image search for images of "vraka" labelled for reuse. They all turn out to be from Wikimedia, which isn't surprising because that must be one of the main public-domain sources. Below, I've captioned each with its title or region, linking this back to the original, and with attribution to its author and the user who uploaded it to Wikimedia.

The first two don't have a region given. One of them is of a soldier, Ιωαυ. Πολυξιγκης. Presumably, his first name is Ioannis. I like to think that, whatever he may have achieved militarily, he's now just famous for his trousers. The other is labelled merely as Greek costume.

Greek costume, showing vraka.
Greek costume
Unknown , Ketsocruz

Then there are a lot of pictures from Crete:

Greek costume from Crete, showing vraka.
Perakis, Fortzakis & Cie, Pycckhcoz
Greek costume from Crete, showing vraka.
Unknown, Pycckhcoz
Greek costume from Crete, showing vraka.
E. A. Cavaliero, Pycckhcoz
Greek costume from Crete, showing vraka.
E. A. Cavaliero. La Canée, Pycckhcoz
Greek costume from Crete, showing vraka.
E. A. Cavaliero, Pycckhcoz
Greek costume from Crete, showing vraka.
E. A. Cavaliero, Pycckhcoz
Greek costume from Crete, showing vraka.
Behaeddin, Pycckhcoz
Greek costume from Crete, showing vraka.
E.Athanasiades, Pycckhcoz
Greek costume from Crete, showing vraka.
Sperling, Nepuzedin
Greek costume from Crete, showing vraka.
Sperling, Nepuzedin

And then there are costumes from other parts of Greece. These are all, like the final two above, attributed to Nicholas Sperling. According to The American College of Greece, Sperling was a miniaturist who was commissioned to paint Greek costumes for the Benaki Museum. Some of his watercolours are visible on the American College of Greece's Sperling page. By the way, this page shows the picture of the Cypriot as being of a woman from the Dodecanese. I'm not convinced: "he" doesn't look female, and his costume is very different from that of the women shown.

Greek costume from Corfu, showing vraka.
Sperling, Nepuzedin
Greek costume from Cyprus, showing vraka.
Sperling, Nepuzedin
Greek costume from Epirus, showing vraka.
Sperling, Nepuzedin
Greek costume from Northern Epirus, showing vraka.
Northern Epirus
Sperling, Nepuzedin
Greek costume from Lefkas, showing vraka.
Sperling, Nepuzedin
Greek costume from Skyros, showing vraka.
Sperling, Nepuzedin

In everyday use, "βράκα" in Greece appears to refer to harem pants: an image search turns up mainly pictures of trousers for sale that may be baggy, but certainly don't look as well tailored as the traditional variety above. When I'm next in Greece, I'll have to visit some vintage shops.

Use the Wayback Machine!
Monday 3rd December, 2018

In "Citizen of Nowhere on a Brexit Farewell Tour", I pointed at the blog entry "'Military' Box Pleats" by Matthew A. C. Newsome. Near the top of this post, Matthew writes that for fourteen years he worked at the Scottish Tartans Museum, educating the public about the kilt both historical and modern. In view of such experience, Matthew's diagrams showing how pleats change and overlap as you add cloth ought to interest anyone making a pleated garment. Especially if the pleats are being used to add warmth as well as for show.

Matthew's blog is on Blogger, a blogging system owned by Google. Unfortunately, Google seems to have a habit of closing projects. There are users who were extremely annoyed when it closed down its newsreader, Google Reader. So, just in case Blogger eventually goes the same way, I've archived Matthew's post in the Wayback Machine. I urge you to do the same with any web pages you value. Including mine.

Citizen of Nowhere on a Brexit Farewell Tour
Friday 30th November, 2018

I've been pondering questions. Why do Brexiteers sound dashing, whereas Remainers sound like Remoaners? Did you know Theresa May has three ears? A left ear, a right ear, and a rabid Brexiteer. And did you hear the new idiom coined to signify minuscule in influence or effect: "as meaningless as a Remainer's vote".

If I sound bitter, it's because I'm going to lose my European citizenship and my right to move freely through 27 countries. Guy Verhofstadt, Brexit coordinator for the European Parliament, has suggested giving EU citizenship to those Brits who want it post-Brexit, but nothing has yet happened. My previous experiences of visa-based travel involve trogging up to the Romanian embassy in Berlin's Dorotheenstraße, after expending some effort to fit in with its peculiar opening hours; and, later on the same trip, being woken by a border official at 3am as my sleeper car crossed the Danube from Romania to Bulgaria. "Come, Mr Englishman", murmured the guard as he beckoned me from the train, onto a platform at Ruse station, and into the customs room. I'm not thrilled at the prospect of such things returning.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, wealthy young men were wont to take the Grand Tour. They'd meander around Europe, acquainting themselves with the Renaissance and Europe's classical heritage. I suggest we hold a one-off equivalent; the Brexit Farewell Tour. Everyone will be encouraged to spend as much of a year as they can visiting, or revisiting, those countries that will henceforth no longer be accessible without visa-based inconvenience.

It's almost Christmas, so I'd begin with Germany. Probably Münster, because I know the city well, the cathedral with its green copper roof is sublime against the snow, and Münster does Christmas markets as well as anywhere in Germany. I'd order what I think was called "drin, draus": a small glass of Glühwein with two joined sausages balanced on the edge of the glass, one dipping into the wine, and one thereout. But so that I can stand at the stall and drink in comfort, first I'd follow the advice of a friend. When I arrived in Münster in winter one year, he said, "Right. The first thing you do is to go to the nearest department store and buy yourself a pair of lange Unterhosen." These are German long johns. The best are made by Schiesser, a company known to every German, and I do recommend them. They're very warm, and they last.

The Schiesser lange Unterhosen I bought lasted for over 10 years, and did me very good service against UK winters. Here, you can survive without them. But in Germany, such protection really is needed. I once walked across the Aasee, the lake in the middle of Münster, on a — for there — perfectly normal November day. It was -12°C, and the air felt like flame in my stomach. Against such extremes, another item of clothing is useful, and that's the Unterziehrolli: a polo neck that you wear under your shirt. There are thermal skiing versions which I've worn when walking in Bavaria, and these are great against the mountain air.

But enough of the cold. After Germany, I'd make tracks for Greece. In Athens in January, you sometimes get the "halcyon" days when the temperature can rise to 20°C. This happens, according to one myth, because it's then that the kingfisher — the halcyon — builds her nest on the sea, and her father, Aeolus god of the winds, calms the winds to protect the young. For such warmth, the baggy trousers shown below — vráka or βράκα, plural vrákes or βράκες — look ideal. The two pictures below show versions from Skyros and Crete.
Man wearing Skyros shepherd's costume, including vraka trousers. Postcard of man wearing Cretan costume, including vraka trousers.
[ Images: (1) via user Pycckhcoz on Wikipedia, originally by E. Athanasiades; (2) via user Nepuzedin on Wikipedia, originally by Nicolas Sperling ]

I never saw vráka while living in Athens, but I often saw another pleated garment, the fustanella or φουστανέλλα worn by the Presidential Guards in Syntagma Square. A member of the Greek Presidential Guard, wearing a fustanella. [ Image: via Wikipedia, by Stanislav Amelchyts ]

Wikipedia on the fustanella cites the paper "Akritan Ikonography on Byzantine Pottery" by J. A. Notopoulos, which says that the fustanella evolved from the Roman toga, and that in cold climates, pleats were added for extra warmth. I was puzzled about how this works, but it makes perfect sense when you look at the diagrams in "'Military' Box Pleats" in the blog Matthew A. C. Newsome Kiltmaker. These show how, as you add cloth, the shape of the pleats changes, resulting in more overlap up to an effective four or five layers per pleat. It makes me think that none of the pleated Moroccan trousers I own were designed for British winters, and I should commission a kiltmaker to make a pair that are. In Scotland, because it's the only country I'll be able to visit without a visa. Until the next independence referendum, that is, when Scotland rejoins the EU.

On the way from Germany to Greece, I'd pass through Italy. If Münster cathedral is sublime, so is the train journey down through the Alps via Rosenheim, Kufstein, Innsbruck, Brenner, and the towns of the Italian Tyrol. Watching shoppers getting on and off the train as it stops at the stations: weekly routine to them, a thrice-in-a-decade occurrence to me. Looking down at the onion-dome churches in little villages far below the railway track. And sitting in the dining car as the train speeds past the Adige south of Trento, the river foaming past near the rails, pine forests and bare peaks in the background.

Italian tailoring is legendary, and I have a fine specimen of it myself, this Falabella velvet jacket. But Italian clothes still share the same body plan, shall I call it, as English ones, so I don't find them as interesting as the more exotic styles I've blogged on this site. But there is one splendid exception. Strictly speaking, it's not in Italy, but I'm still going to show it. It's the Pontifical Swiss Guard of Vatican City:
A member of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, in his colourful blue, yellow, and red uniform. [ Image: by Mircea Iancu, via Pexels ]

Now to Portugal. If Athens has the halcyon days, the Algarve has folksongs about the almond blossom coming out in January. So that's another place I'd go for warmth. But for tailoring, I might need to go further north. There's a saying: "Braga reza, o Porto trabalha, Coimbra estuda e Lisboa diverte-se". Braga prays, Oporto works, Coimbra studies, and Lisbon plays. The tailoring I've seen would bear out the part about Oporto working. When I was last employed in Portugal, the city was full of little independent clothes shops, selling excellently cut clothes made from local fabrics. One shop owner told me that Portugal has excellent textiles, but that they were little known outside Portugal, because the companies didn't do enough marketing.

There was a great deal of black. The Portuguese have this word "saudades" that they claim no-one else truly understands: a national melancholy, perhaps for the loss of an empire. (That's better than Tory party nostalgia, which manifests itself in unrealistic longings for Empire 2.0 while playing silly buggers with the EU.) Saudades shows itself in much use of minor keys in music; and in the colours of everyday dress. Traditional costumes, however, are more colourful. Search for "trajes tradicionais Portugueses" and "trajes folkloricos Portugueses". The minstrel and academic costumes, "trajes de tunas Portugueses", are also worth seeing.

But that's quite enough of Europe. I hear Theresa May yell. "If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don't understand what citizenship means." I've seen at first hand the national costumes of four countries, bought clothes in six, and had haircuts in three. I know where to buy the best bread in Athens, and the best beer in Brussels; how to order doces de ovos in Coimbra, speculaas in Maastricht, torte in Münster, and churros in Salamanca. If I'm not now as fat as a house, it's because I've also walked and run: amidst the piney aromas of Strefi hill in Athens; 20 km from Eindhoven to the Achelse Kluis monastery on the Belgian border, returning with a rucsack full of Trappist beers; meandering amongst the National Rebirth architecture of Plovdiv; exploring Sintra, of which a Spanish proverb says, "to see the world and leave out Sintra is to go blind about."

I've made phone calls in five languages, written emails in four, and listened to lyrics in eight. There's a lovely melancholic song "De Fanfare van Honger en Dorst" — "The Fanfare of Hunger and Thirst" — written by Lieven Tavernier and sung by Gerard van Maasakkers that I found out about by reading a music review in a discarded paper in a café in Maastricht. It still makes me want to cry. So, in a different way, do tracks from the Galician group Luar na Lubre's Plenilunio. I once walked back at night in Sintra singing pre-revolutionary songs by Vitorino with a musician from the Grupo de Ação Cultural, a group that fought against the dictator Salazar. I don't know whether she ever heard Manos Loïzos singing "Ο Δρόμος" and "Τρίτος Παγκόσμιος", but I've heard those too, and they would have fitted right in. With a few languages and some persistence, the EU provides such treasures for the taking. Has Theresa May ever opened herself to such opportunities? I think not. So here, from Redbubble, is my final item of clothing.
Man wearing a T-shirt with the legend 'CITIZEN OF NOWHERE'. The shirt is black, with the legend in white and Theresa May's face under it.
Available in small, medium, large, extra large, and double extra large.

Colormind II
Monday 26th November, 2018

In last Monday's post, I wrote about Colormind, a program which extracts colour palettes from photos. And on Friday, I turned to pix2pix, a program which can be trained to transform images, producing effects such as these:
Screenshot of the pix2pix page, showing a sketch for a cat, and the picture generated from it.
Screenshot of the pix2pix page, showing my sketch for a handbag, and the picture generated from it. [Images: (1) in tweet 19 Feb 2017 by Christopher Hesse; (2) Chromophilia ]

As it happens, Colormind is two different programs. On Friday, I discussed one of these, the extractor. But there's also an ab initio generator. Colormind's author Jack Qiao describes it in his blog entry "Generating Color Palettes with Deep Learning". Here, he trained pix2pix to generate complete palettes from partial ones. He did this by giving it a database of pairs of images. In each pair, the "output" image was a complete palette from Adobe Color, and the "input" image was the same palette with some colours missing. So in effect, he was training pix2pix to "fill in" missing colours.

One could regard this as analogous to what I showed on Friday, where pix2pix was being trained to "fill in" handbags, shoes or cats from their sketches. (For the technically minded, the original authors of pix2pix note under "Color palette completion" in "Image-to-Image Translation with Conditional Adversarial Nets" that this "stretches the definition of what counts as 'image-to-image translation' in an exciting way"; it may not be the best choice of representation.)

I'm not clear from Jack Qiao's writeups how closely the ab initio generated palettes resemble those created by people. In describing the palette extractor, he says it submitted the palettes it generated to a gatekeeper, which rejects those that don't look like human-created ones. The ab initio generator doesn't have a gatekeeper: its knowledge comes from complete palettes from Adobe Colour. Do these have the same kind of high-level structure that human-created palettes do? I don't know.

To experiment with the ab initio generator, go to . You'll see a strip of five colours. Each box in it has either three or four controls under it. These are represented by icons for: a padlock; sliders; and a left arrow or a right arrow or both. Clicking on the sliders icon gives you controls for changing the colour. Clicking on the padlock locks in your choice. And clicking on the arrow(s) exchanges your colour with the one on its left or right. Clicking "Generate" will generate a new palette from the locked-in colours.

Designing Handbags with pix2pix
Friday 23rd November, 2018

I just designed a handbag!
Screenshot of a handbag designed by Christopher Hesse's pix2pix page.

To be fair, there's very little about the bag that's mine, apart from its outline. I made the image by sketching a handbag in the "Input" box in the "edges2handbags" section of "Image-to-Image Demo Interactive Image Translation with pix2pix-tensorflow", by Christopher Hesse. Once I'd done so and pressed "Process", his software did the rest:
Screenshot of the pix2pix page, showing the generated handbag above, and my sketch for it.

As well as handbags, Christopher Hesse's page allows you to generate shoes from sketches, cats from sketches (with gruesome results if you get it wrong), and buildings from facade plans. It's all based on Hesse's re-implementation of pix2pix, a rather wonderful piece of machine-learning software, which can be trained to carry out a variety of general-purpose — and hard — image transformations.

To train pix2pix, it must be fed with a database of pairs of images. With the handbags, shoes, and cats, the "output" image of each pair was a photo of a handbag, shoe, or cat. The other image in the pair, the "input", was a black-and-white "sketch" thereof, automatically generated by software that detects the edges of objects. Once pix2pix has been trained, it can take new inputs and generate outputs from them.

You can try this for yourself, at various levels. To try Christopher Hesse's generators, go to his page. He recommends using it in Chrome. I tried it in Firefox, and found that the browser kept popping up messages saying "A script is slowing down the page: do you want to kill it or wait?". (Obviously, one should then wait, not kill.) Typically, this would happen three or four times during each run. But the runs do eventually end, and then you get a new handbag you can admire, or a new cat you can run away from screaming.

Training pix2pix on new sets of images would be fun. At the moment, I think this still requires knowledge of programming: that is, there aren't yet systems that will allow you to (for example) click on loads of handbag photos, automatically turn them into sketches, feed the sketch-photo pairs to a learning program, leave it to train on them, and then embed the result into a web page or app you can use to generate new pictures from sketches. No doubt someone will eventually build one, but in the meantime, the pages above plus "Pix2Pix" by Machine Learning for Artists contain enough information for a reasonably skilled programmer to get started.

And at an even deeper level, one can research into improved learning programs for fashion design, as in this recent paper: "DeSIGN: Design Inspiration from Generative Networks" by Othman Sbai, Mohamed Elhoseiny, Antoine Bordes, Yann LeCun, and Camille Couprie. That requires a deep knowledge of machine-learning-related things such as loss functions, as well as the visual language of clothing. But let's return to something simpler, the handbags. Here are some more of my runs:
Screenshots of more handbags generated by Hesse's pix2pix from my sketches.

It's notable how sensitive the output is to minute changes in input. See how the texture and colour of the right-hand face of bags 1 to 4 change when I add small details to the sketch. Or the way the colouring of bag 5 changes when I add a handle.

Why? Christopher Hesse says that he trained the handbag generator on a database of about 137,000 handbag pictures collected from Amazon. But bags vary hugely in surface detailing: one bag could be made from indigo ruched satin, while another with almost the same outline could be navy viscose/polyamide netted with black lace. A not-too-clever edge detector might output very similar sketches for both. So the mapping from sketch to bag is, as mathematicians like to say, "not well behaved": moving from one point to the next, you feel like a chamois leaping around a million-dimensional version of the Brenner Pass. One infinitesimal step in one direction, and you plummet down a precipice in some other direction that you can't define and never wanted to go.

In addition, the edge detection isn't perfect, so if you sketch a handbag using unbroken even lines, your drawing won't be using the same "notation" that the inputs do.

And, according to a remark by Jack Qiao on

Pix2pix is great for texture generation but bad at creating structure, like in the photo->map example straight lines and arcs tend to come out looking "liquified".

Here for comparison is a real bag: an evening bag that I bought from Unicorn to use as a purse. It has lots of structure.
Black velvet evening bag. It's the size of a large purse, rectangular, and decorated with sequins, small plastic beads, and leaves and spirals made from metal segments.

Primark and the Spectrum Suckers IV: Brown Needs Purple?
Monday 19th November, 2018

Here's an interesting sidelight on human-designed colour palettes. I tried running my photo from "Primark and the Spectrum Suckers" through Colormind. The photo is predominantly brown, and every single palette Colormind made from it contained some kind of purple, not too different from the one on the left below.
Colour palette from Colormind for the photo of Primark used in 'Primark and the Spectrum Suckers'.

Colormind, I explained in my post about it, extracts the main colours from a photo, produces random variations on them, and then sends these for scrutiny by a gatekeeper: a machine-learning program trained on palettes that Jack Qiao, Colormind's author, thought were good looking. I wonder whether Jack didn't use enough palettes to teach it that brown doesn't always have to go with purple. Google colour palette brown and you'll see that there are other choices.

Monday 19th November, 2018

While I was looking for photos of green-and-purple clothing, I came across a colour-scheme generator named Colormind. There are lots of generators on the web. What distinguishes Colormind is that it tries to make its schemes acceptable to humans.

This is difficult, says Colormind's author, Jack Qiao. In his blog post "Extracting Colors from Photos and Video", he writes that:

Human-designed color palettes typically have some high-level structure — a gradient running left to right, similar hues grouped together etc., and have some minimum amount of contrast between each color. Automatically created palettes [ones automatically created from an image] look more haphazard, with colors distributed according to how they were used in the original image.

There's a short discussion about this on the YCombinator Hacker News group at There, Jack proposes an experiment to demonstrate the difference between randomly generated palettes and ones designed by experts. Go to and click on one of the color rules. Adobe will generate a random palette based on that rule. Then compare it with a palette uploaded by users on or .

Given that there is this difference, how can one make a machine generate human-style palettes? Jack's answer is to use the results of machine learning. Here's his diagram for the process:
Diagram of how Colormind generates a palette from an image. It starts
with an extracted palette labelled 'MMCQ'. This is followed by four slightly
different palettes labelled 'Random Variations'. These lead to another four
palettes labelled 'Shuffle'. They are all fed into a 'Classifier'. The output
from the classifier is the same as the 'Shuffle' palettes, except that each is
annotated with a number. Finally, there is an 'Output' palette. In the diagram, this is the one
with the highest number. [ Image: from "Extracting Colors from Photos and Video" by Jack Qiao in his blog. ]

The first stage is colour quantisation. And now you know why I devoted a post to this last Friday. In the diagram above, that's represented by the first sub-image, the one labelled MMCQ. That's an abbreviation for the name of a particular colour-quantisation algorithm, the so-called Modified Median Color Quantization. The second stage is to produce a few random variations on the extracted palette, shown in the row below. The third stage is labelled 'Shuffle'. From Jack's diagram, this appears to mean that it shuffles the order of colours within each palette. The fourth stage feeds all the shuffled palettes to a "classifier", which rates them for acceptability. And the fifth stage rejects unacceptable palettes.

Where machine learning enters is the classifier. Jack trained this on palettes that he'd chosen as "good looking". As he says, "In the end [after some experiments] I built a self-contained classifier and trained it on a hand-picked list of examples. Good color palettes generally have good color contrast and an overarching theme, and bad ones look random and/or has bad inter-color contrast." Once trained, Jack's classifier acts as a gatekeeper, letting through only palettes that it thinks are good looking.

So to summarise, Colormind reduces a photo to a palette consisting a small number of colours. It then generates random variations on this, and then rejects those that, to a gatekeeper trained on appealing palettes designed by humans, look bad. I was curious to see how this would apply to my red silk top, which as I mentioned in "Visualising Clothing Colours as a 3D Cloud of Points II", is an intense red with little white. Here are three palettes Colormind generated from it:
Three palettes generated by Colormind for my red silk Chinese top. Each has an intense red, two pale brick-reddish-pinks, a very pale whitish red, and a dark maroony-aubergine.

Each has an intense red, two pale brick-reddish-pinks, a very pale whitish red, and a dark maroony-aubergine. For comparison, here's the TinEye palette. It has a very different distribution. which hasn't balanced the darks with a pale:
Colour palette from TinEye for my red Chinese silk top, with a copy of the photo reduced to that set of colours. The palette contains one intense red (Cinnabar), two much browner reds (Guardsman Red and Monarch), a blackish brown (Aubergine), and a pink (Sea Pink).

Here's one other example, from the photo of the blue, green, and plum shirts together. The first image is from Colormind, and the second from TinEye. I don't know why Colormind hasn't given me the colour labels this time.
Colour palette from Colormind for my sage-green, ice-blue, and plum velvet Moroccan shirts.
Colour palette from TinEye for my sage-green, ice-blue, and plum velvet Moroccan shirts.

To see how Colormind does on other images, try it yourself. Should you want to use my photos, I've made them available in this zip file.

Primark and the Spectrum Suckers III: Four Browns, Two Greys, and a Black
Friday 16th November, 2018

Here's a TinEye colour extraction for my Primark photo from "Primark and the Spectrum Suckers". Four browns, two greys, and a black.
Colour palette from TinEye for the photo of Primark used in 'Primark and the Spectrum Suckers', with a copy of the photo reduced to that set of colours. The palette contains four shades of brown, two shades of grey, and a black.

For comparison, here is the palette for mud .
Colour palette from TinEye for a Wikipedia photo of dirt and mud. The palette contains two shades of brown and a shade of grey.

Extracted from the photograph at, credited to user 0x0077BE.

Colour Quantisation
Friday 16th November, 2018

In my previous two posts, I showed off the colour distributions for some of my clothes. These vary widely from one garment to the next. But they all consist of innumerable points, each representing a slightly different colour from those nearby. Sometimes, we need to reduce this multiplicity to a much smaller number. That's called colour quantisation, and is what I'm going to introduce today.

Wikipedia explains colour quantisation as "a process that reduces the number of distinct colors used in an image, usually with the intention that the new image should be as visually similar as possible to the original image". I referred to Wikipedia because I wanted to use two of its public-domain images. The first is this rose:
A yellow rose. The photo has had all its blue removed. [ Image: from Wikipedia article on "Color Quantization". Credited to Dcoetzee. ]

The second picture I wanted is below, and is the colour distribution for the rose. It was produced by different software from the distributions in my last post, so doesn't look exactly the same, but the idea is the same. The only difference is that because the blue has been removed, there are only two colour axes. I.e., the distribution lies in a plane:
The color space of the photograph: a plane containing a broad diagonal coloured band running from the black corner at bottom left towards the white corner at top right. The plane also contains line dividing it into 16 polygonal regions, each with a dot marking its centre. [ Image: from Wikipedia article on "Color Quantization". Credited to Dcoetzee. ]

I mention lying in a plane only because it makes the next bit easier to understand. As well as the distribution itself, the image contains lines dividing it into 16 regions, and blue dots marking the centre of the regions. These describe, Wikipedia says, "an optimized palette generated by Photoshop via standard methods". What this means is that Photoshop has squished the multiplicity of colours down to 16. It thinks that these are "optimized", in that if you were to replace each region's colours by the region's centre, this would do less damage to the image than if you used any other set of 16 regions.

What would such a colour-reduced image look like? I don't have one for the rose, but I've made a different example. At the top of this post, you'll see my logo: a pattern of fruit and flowers taken from a rather lovely velvet waistcoat by Oakland. I fed this to the online TinEye Color extraction page. Doing so is easy: just browse and upload an image, or submit its URL. Here's the result for my logo. The reduced set of colours is on the right, and the reduced image made from them is the top one on the left.
Colour palette from TinEye for my logo, with a copy of the logo reduced to that set of colours.

That's almost all I want to say about colour quantisation, now that I've introduced the concept. There are a variety of algorithms for achieving it, and these have been built into lots of different software packages. Wikipedia sounds a caution about these:

The name "color quantization" is primarily used in computer graphics research literature; in applications, terms such as optimized palette generation, optimal palette generation, or decreasing color depth are used. Some of these are misleading, as the palettes generated by standard algorithms are not necessarily the best possible.

In other words, distrust the words "optimal", "optimised", and "optimum".

Before finishing, here are some more examples, using the clothing photos I analysed for colour distribution in the previous two posts. These are also from TinEye.
Colour palette from TinEye for my chocolate-brown velvet Moroccan shirt, with a copy of the photo reduced to that set of colours.
Colour palette from TinEye for the Colorpoint silk shirt, with a copy of the photo reduced to that set of colours.

Colour palette from TinEye for my garnet-red velvet Moroccan shirt, with a copy of the photo reduced to that set of colours.
Colour palette from TinEye for my orange qandrissi and ice-blue velvet Moroccan shirt, with a copy of the photo reduced to that set of colours.
Colour palette from TinEye for my plum velvet Moroccan shirt, with a copy of the photo reduced to that set of colours.
Colour palette from TinEye for my red Chinese silk top, with a copy of the photo reduced to that set of colours.
Colour palette from TinEye for my rose-pink velvet Moroccan shirt, with a copy of the photo reduced to that set of colours.
Colour palette from TinEye for my sage-green, ice-blue and plum velvet Moroccan shirts, with a copy of the photo reduced to that set of colours.
Colour palette from TinEye for my sage-green velvet Moroccan shirt, with a copy of the photo reduced to that set of colours.

Visualising Clothing Colours as a 3D Cloud of Points II
Monday 12th November, 2018

Friday's post was about displaying the colour distribution in clothing photos. Here are the results of trying it on some more of my clothes. The first few are velvet Moroccan shirts in chocolate-brown, garnet-red, violet, ice-blue, rose-pink, and sage-green. Then there's a cube for the green, blue and violet shirts together. Then one for my red silk Chinese top. And finally, one for this silk shirt by Colorpoint, decorated with figures of the Roman-inspired Marvin the Martian.

The preponderance of Moroccan is because I need the background removed, so that its colour distribution doesn't get mixed in with that of the clothes. As it happened, I'd already done so for most of the Moroccan ones, when I was preparing for a show. But background removal is tedious and imprecise, and I've not done it for most of the other clothes.
Colour-distribution cube for my brown velvet Moroccan shirt. The cube contains a fairly tight diagonal line going from the black corner to the white; i.e. from (0,0,0) to (1,1,1).
Colour-distribution cube for my garnet velvet Moroccan shirt. The cube contains a diagonal line going from the black corner to the white. It has a small offshoot going to the blue corner, and a bigger offshoot parallel to the red-blue face of the cube, going about 1/3 of the distance to the white corner.
Colour-distribution cube for my plum velvet Moroccan shirt. The cube contains a bluish-violet banana going from the black corner to the white. The middle part of the banana bends away from the green corner.
Colour-distribution cube for my rose velvet Moroccan shirt. The cube contains a white-pinky-blue banana going from the black corner to the white. The middle part of the banana bends away from the green corner.
Colour-distribution cube for my sage-green velvet Moroccan shirt. The cube contains a greenish-yellowy-white banana going from the black corner to the white.
Colour-distribution cube for my sage-green, ice-blue, and plum  velvet Moroccan shirts. The cube contains tongues of pale green, ice blue, and pinkish-violet, and a little white.
Colour-distribution cube for my red silk Chinese top. The cube contains a plume of red going from the black corner to the red corner, and a fine spray of white going to the white corner.
Colour-distribution cube for the Colorpoint silk shirt, which is black decorated with green, yello, and orange-red aliens. The cube contains vivid roughly parallel sprays of these three colours, plus a bit of pale blue.

I love the vividness and contrast in the distribution for the Colorpoint shirt. But the most noticeable thing is the intensity of the colour plume for the red silk Chinese top. Unlike with the other clothes, the plume goes off to a colour corner (red), with only a very thin offshoot to the white corner. This may be because most of the other clothes have either patches of whitish shine, or actual whitish material as in the garnet-red shirt. But also, the silk top does look an intense red when I wear it — a red that I 've not seen on any other garment. I've been told that silk dyes more intensely than other fabrics, though I can't find anything online that confirms this.

Primark and the Spectrum Suckers II: Visualising Clothing Colours as a 3D Cloud of Points
Friday 9th November, 2018

    In my post "Primark and the Spectrum Suckers", I imagined white light passing through a Primark shop and exiting as a spectrum made entirely from grey:
    Two pictures in one image. The first is a prism with light going through and forming a spectrum, labelled 'PRISM'. The second is the same prism with an interior photo of the Oxford Westgate Primark shop superimposed. It is labelled 'PRIMARK'. The light coming out is the same spectrum as for the first prism, but grey, not coloured.

    My collage was inspired by the stunningly dreary Primark in the new Westgate shopping centre in Oxford. I'm sure it's obvious that I made the grey "spectrum" by monochromaticising the one in the upper half of the collage, which I'd taken from some free clip-art. But how could I produce a real picture of the colour distribution? I've been looking for tools, and found one recently whose output I'll show. As this is also related to an article I'll post next week about generating colour schemes — including green and purple colour schemes — I've decided to write about colour distributions today.

    One standard tool for displaying colour distributions is the two-dimensional colour histogram. Here's one for the Primark photo from the collage. I made it in Gimp, free image-processing software that I use for editing photos and a host of other things, including retouching cartoons.
    Photo of Primark shop from the above collage, with a colour histogram superimposed.

    Such histograms are easy to produce, but as David Tschumperlé explains in "Visualizing the 3D point cloud of RGB colors", they have disadvantages. He displays a photo of the Swedish model Lena Söderberg, and another photo edited so that the green channel has been reflected around the X-axis, and the blue around the Y-axis. The second photo appears to have much more green, but its histogram is exactly the same as the first photo's.

    But there are other ways to plot colour distributions, using the idea that because we have three colour components, we can represent them as points in three-dimensional space. Take any pixel, and express it as so much red, so much green, and so much blue. This gives us three numbers, each between 0 and 1. A pixel that's black would be (0,0,0); one that's white would be (1,1,1); and one that's pure red would be (1,0,0). Treat these as a point, and plot it. Repeat for all the pixels. This gives us a cloud of points lying within a cube. To display the distribution of colours, colour each point with its actual colour; to display the number of occurrences, give each point a colour that represents these. These, as David Tschumperlé says, give us more information about the global variety of colour in the image, and the local dispersion of tones around each point.

    There are examples for Lena and other images in David's article. Here are some of my own, made using Kai Uwe Barthel's Color Inspector 3D. Each of these shows an image and the corresponding distribution cube.
    Colour-distribution cube for a red square. There's a red
dot at the (1,0,0) corner of the cube.
    Colour-distribution cube for a green square. There's a red
dot at the (0,1,0) corner of the cube.
    Colour-distribution cube for a red square next to a green square. There's a
red dot at the (1,0,0) corner of the cube, and a green dot at the
(0,1,0) corner.
    Colour-distribution cube for a red square next to a thin green rectangle. There's a red dot at the (1,0,0) corner of the cube, and a green dot at the
(0,1,0) corner.
    Colour-distribution cube for my logo. There's a spray of green, purple, and pink, fanning out from the (0,0,0) corner.
    Colour-distribution cube for orange sarouel and ice-blue shirt. There are two 'bananas' going from near the black corner to near the white corner. One is blue, the other orange.

    In the first image, all the pixels are pure red. So strictly speaking, we'd end up with just one point, at the position (1,0,0), the red corner of the distribution cube. Color Inspector 3D has made a small dot rather than a point, probably to make the results easier to see. The second image is all green, so we get its counterpart: a cube with a green dot at (0,1,0), the green corner.

    The third and fourth images show what happens for more than one colour, in this case pure red and pure green. We get a red dot and a green dot.

    And the fifth and sixth images show results for two realistic images. One is for my logo, which is from this Oakland velvet waistcoat. The other is for my orange qandrissi and ice-blue shirt.

    Note that in the third and fourth images, the results are the same regardless of the proportions of red and green. I have a reason for mentioning this, and it's to do with "anti-aliasing". Look at this:
    Colour-distribution cube for a red line. There's a red dot at the (1,0,0) corner of the cube, and other dots on a diagonal leading to the white corner, (1,1,1).

    What I did here was to get the colour-distribution cube for a red line. But if it's red, why are there those increasingly white dots leading down to the white corner of the cube? I suspect the reason is that to counteract the relatively low resolution of the line, the drawing program (Gimp, but other programs would do the same) gives pixels at the edge of the line colours intermediate between the line and its background. In this case, various shades of reddish-white. This is called anti-aliasing. You can see this in this zoomed-in portion of the line:
    The red line enlarged. On its edges are paler, reddish-white, pixels. As the distribution plots don't record how many pixels of each colour they see, these few intermediate pixels have as much impact on the display as the pure red ones.

    I didn't start today's post with the intent of writing a graphics tutorial. But I noticed these unexpected intermediate colours when analysing example coloured images I'd drawn, and decided I'd better understand where they come from, because they could mislead. I don't know whether similar artefacts could arise in other ways, for example when resizing JPEG files. But I'm fairly sure that some of my images will be affected by the following. Some of my clothing pictures are ones where I've separated the clothing from its background. But it's hard to do so perfectly, so there are minute remnants of background clinging to their borders. This seems likely to bias the distributions, perhaps by giving them tails that shade off towards black.

    With that out of the way, let's look at Primark. Here's my original photo:
    The photo used in 'Primark and the Spectrum Suckers'. Interior of the Primark shop in the Westgate Shopping Centre, Oxford. If the photo seems rather "chewy", it's because the original suffered from motion blur, which I reduced by using Focus Magic. I didn't want to stand around with a tripod, and my camera isn't sensitive enough for a fast point-and-shoot response to indoor lighting.

    And here's the colour distribution:
    Colour-distribution cube for the photo of the Primark shop used in 'Primark and the Spectrum Suckers'. It's a moderately loose diagonal line,
stretching from the black corner to the white corner. There are a few dots of red, green, and blue further out.

    So what do we have? It's a moderately loose diagonal line, stretching from the black corner to the white corner. There are a few dots of red, green, and blue further out. These, I suspect, come not from the clothes, but from their labels.

    It's rather sad that the labels on the socks are the most colourful thing in the shop.
    Detail from the photo used in 'Primark and the Spectrum Suckers'. The sock rack in the Primark shop in the Westgate Shopping Centre, Oxford.


    "Visualizing the 3D point cloud of RGB colors", Open Source Graphics, by David Tschumperlé, 24 February 2018.

    I used Color Inspector 3D by Kai Uwe Barthel. This is a Java program, packaged as a JAR file: something rather like a zip file, containing all the program components. On Windows 10, I was able to run it by following Kai's instructions: download ColorInspector3D.jar from the link, and double click on it. This requires the computer to have Java, which the one I'm using must have got. Once you've started the program, click "File" and then "Open", and select an image. Its colour cube should then appear. I found that the program failed on very big images, and I had to reduce their size.

    Colourful Cowboys with Green and Purple
    Monday 5th November, 2018

    Cover of the Monster Book for Boys, possibly 1954 Title page of the Monster Book for Boys, possibly 1954
    Because it's related to the theme of green and purple, I'm going to post an illustration from a children's annual. It's from the Monster Book for Boys and shows three colourfully dressed cowboys. One is wearing green and purple. Real cowboys, I suspect, were not so picturesque. Illustration from the Monster Book for Boys, possibly 1954. Shows three cowboys
wearing blue trousers with red shirt, black waistcoat, and green bandana; grey-blue trousers, red-and-white checked shirt, yellow jacket, and blue bandana; and purple trousers, green shirt, and bottle-green waistcoat.


    The website Old Classic Car has a page "Old childrens books and annuals that feature cars". One of the front covers shown is the same as my Monster Book for Boys. The author says their copy was a Christmas gift from 1954, so perhaps the book was published in 1953 or 1954.

    Placeholder: the Hackers and Hardware Freaks of Borin Van Loon
    Friday 2nd November, 2018

    I've been maintaining the website this week, which means I've not had time to blog anything. So this post is in the nature of a placeholder. Imagine me in the attitude below, hunched over a heap of image-conversion utilities, file upload scripts, directory listers, and flexbox reference guides:
    Cartoon of typical hacker at work: a sweaty, fat, unshaven programmer hunched over his computer, shirt undone and clothes covered in food stains.

    That isn't me, of course. I don't drink Coke or drip food on my clothes: too many are irreplaceable. Nor do I use floppy discs:
    Three floppy discs and 84.8 copies of my logo, with the caption: 'The disc on the right can hold 84.8 of my logos'.

    I mention floppies because they were once the last word in portable storage. There's an 8GB memory stick plugged into my computer. Had I been writing this twenty years ago, it would have been a 3½-inch disk with a capacity of 1.44MB. As my logo is 16.98kB, it would hold only 84.8 copies thereof. The discs in the cartoon are an earlier kind, which as far as I can see from Wikipedia, would have held at most 720kB and more likely 360kB.

    It's that era that the cartoon is from. It was drawn by illustrator Borin Van Loon for the 1984 book Micromania: the Whole Truth about Home Computers, by David Langford and Charles Platt. One of Micromania's objectives was to warn against the dangers of computer addiction. In the case of the hacker, these include obesity from bad diet and never moving away from the screen. Those who are addicted to hardware — building gadgets from electronic components — don't suffer from this, it seems, perhaps because they spend so much time traipsing round component shops:
    Cartoon of typical hardware freak: a gaunt balding figure clutching pieces of hardware and a box of discount components. His trousers are done up with wire.

    Here's a Borin Van Loon videogame addict. He would easily transpose to today's notorious addiction: the smartphone.
    Cartoon of typical videogame freak: a young man with bulging bloodshot eyes, neck rigid with tension, gaping mouth, permanently-clenched joystick hand, and vibrating fire-button finger.

    When I started writing this, I was going to remark on the difference between the way Van Loon's hacker is dressed, and the interest in mathematical elegance that programmers exhibit. These search results show how often the topic gets discussed online:
    Some Google search results for 'programming elegant'.

    So why aren't people who are elegant in one field (programming) also elegant in another (dress)? But then I remembered from the book that the hacker is not meant to be a professional programmer anyway. He's a hobbyist obsessed with throwing together computer games, but who won't take the time to learn how to do so properly. If you want drawings of such people and their dress sense, Van Loon is your man, and there are contact details on his home page. I'll end with his picture for the cover of Micromania. Cartoon of a different hacker, for the cover of Micromania. Gaunt like the hardware freak, he is sitting in a moonlit room at 2 in the morning. His decor has computer motifs such as transistors and space invaders. His eyeballs are shaped like TV screens with small irises on the screens.

    Green and Purple
    Friday 26th October, 2018

    The purple in Monday's post goes very well with green. I don't yet have my own photos of the two together, but have a look at's "Coloured trousers for men: how to wear them this winter". This thumbnail is taken from there, and shows one of several schemes they suggest.
    Man wearing purple trousers and light green velvet jacket

    I like green and purple. More people should wear it. Unfortunately, I couldn't find many other examples of this combination on the web. I've seen engravings of 18th century French courtiers wearing such colours, but Google wasn't helpful in locating them online. The nearest I came was an article about court fashion during the reign of Louis XIV in the Serbian blog Moda Nekad i Sad (Fashion Then and Now). There are two pictures which approximate the colour scheme I'm trying to describe:
    French purple trousers and light green coat French purple trousers and light green coat


    "Coloured trousers for men: how to wear them this winter" by Nicoleta Parascan,, 9th December 2013. This is the right-hand frame of a composite photo captioned "Purple coloured pants at Dirk Bikkembergs, Paul Smith and Etro, F/W '13".

    "Luj XIV" ("Louis XIV") by Marina Skrinjik Ćorić, Moda Nekad i Sad (Fashion Then and Now). The blog is by Marina Skrinjik Ćorić at the School of Design in Belgrade; she says that her many illustrated posts are to compensate for the lack of Serbian-language literature on costume history and fashion.

    Purple Satin Sarouel
    Monday 22nd October, 2018

    On Friday, I posted about an orange satin sarouel made for me in Tangier. The tailor there made two sarouels for me, and this is the orange one's counterpart in purple. It too has flies, belt loops, deep pockets, and elasticated ankles. It's also very nicely pleated.
    Purple satin sarouel

    Purple satin sarouel

    Purple satin sarouel, showing flies, belt loops, and pleats

    Orange Satin Sarouel
    Thursday 18th October, 2018

    On Monday, I showed pictures of a full-length silver silk-velvet sarouel, made for me in Tangier with material from A-One Fabrics in Shepherd's Bush. But I've had trousers of the same design made with Moroccan fabrics too. I once commissioned two on spec, with colours to be chosen by the tailor.

    For one pair, he'd chosen a wonderful vivid orange satin. Here are some photos, including two which show the fly, belt loops, and elasticated ankles:
    Orange satin sarouel

    Orange satin sarouel, showing flies and belt loops

    Orange satin sarouel, showing elasticated ankles

    Orange satin sarouel

    Though rather thin for winter, the material is OK for autumn and spring. Because it's so bright and cheerful, I wear this pair a lot. The orange makes a stunning contrast with this ice-blue top and this turquoise top. In a different way, it goes very nicely with this green, this black and scarlet, and this Chinese red. And with some others that I don't yet have photos of.

    Silver Silk-Velvet Sarouel
    Monday 15th October, 2018

    The silver silk-velvet jacket pictured in Friday's post was made with the same material as the sarouel trousers I'm going to write about now. In a sarouel, the lowest the crotch can be is at the ankles; when, really, it isn't a crotch any more, but just an edge with holes in for the feet. As in this design from Balenciaga:
    Sarouel with crotch at ankles

    I've seen sarouels this shape in shops. At least one "Oriental" gift shop in Oxford sold them, made out of silk; Fusion Clothing in Portobello Road, London had a more robust version in a rather rubbery synthetic; and FantaZia in France had a very sturdy kind made from denim, their Sarouel Jean Mixte Zayu. Sturdy that is apart from its colour, because I bought one once, and when I got caught in a June rainstorm, the dye ran and stained my jacket.

    But none of these have flies; they all use drawstrings rather than belts; the material tends to be thin and droopy; pockets are non-existent or so floppy as to be unsafe; and the designs available tend to be "hippie". (Admittedly, the last three don't apply to the Jean Zayu.) I wanted a properly tailored sarouel, nicely pleated and made with as much detailing as a conventional pair of trousers.

    Moreover, I'd seen photographs of flowy grey-velvet trousers — in a Tom Ford collection, I think — and thought it would be nice to get a full-length sarouel made with a similar fabric. Full-length because I have a lot of three-quarter-length Moroccan trousers, but in Britain we have winter; and velvet because a full-length sarouel has a lot of relatively flat surface interspersed with pleats and folds, which gives loads of room for velvet's shine and shimmer.

    So when I was in London one day, I took a side trip to Shepherd's Bush to get some fabric to have sent to Tangier. As Sew Over It's "Fabric Shops in London" explains:

    If it's fabric bargains you're after, there is no better place to go than Goldhawk Road in Shepherd's Bush. Head out of Goldhawk Road tube station (Hammersmith & City line), or walk five minutes from Shepherd's Bush (Central line), and you'll find yourself in fabric shop heaven. There are over ten fabric shops on Goldhawk Road, and whilst they can be a bit higgledy-piggledy, it's worth the rummage. My favourites are Classic Textiles and A-One Fabrics.

    I went into several shops. A-One had the nicest selection of velvets, including a variety of greyish and blueish silk velvets. So after taking samples outside to see how they looked in the sun, I chose seven metres of silver-grey. I had it taken to Tangier, together with my Jean Zayu to show the tailor the shape I wanted. And the photos below show what I got back.

    Silver silk-velvet sarouel, made in Morocco

    Silver silk-velvet sarouel, made in Morocco

    Silver silk-velvet sarouel, made in Morocco

    Silver silk-velvet sarouel, made in Morocco

    The sarouel, by the way, cost me about £30 for labour, plus the cost of the velvet. Or half the velvet — about 3½ metres — because the rest went on my jacket. And this was cheap. When walking around London on another visit, I happened to pass a boutique named Digitaria run by Eleftheria Arapoglou and Stavros Karelis at 60 Berwick Street. I don't believe it's there any more, despite that link; but they had one sarouel, not quite full-length, on sale. For £450. It was cashmere, but even so.


    From "How Low Can You Go?" by Sameer Reddy, The New York Times Style Magazine, 9th March, 2010.

    Silver Silk-Velvet Jacket: Dress Reform and the Leg-of-Mutton Sleeve
    Friday 12th October, 2018

    Last time, I wrote about the influence of dress reform on architecture. If you Google images for "dress reform cycling", you will find a lot of drawings of women wearing clothes similar to these: bloomers, a cropped jacket with leg-of-mutton sleeves, and a hat with a feather in.
    Woman cyclist wearing bloomers, hat with feather, and cropped jacket with leg-of-mutton sleeves

    The most appealing such picture I've seen was in a book of reprinted cartoon-style pen-and-ink drawings, probably done in the 1920s for Life magazine. The protagonist there looked quite masculine, and may even have been a man — the picture was too small to tell. I thought it would be nice to get a similar jacket made, because the picture suggested it would look good with various of my baggy qandrissi trousers. Something to do with the fitted look of the jacket balancing the volume of the trousers, I suppose.

    So I bought some silk-velvet fabric, about which I'll say more in my next post, and arranged for it to be taken to Tangier to be made into a jacket. I also provided a pattern for leg-of-mutton sleeves; in French, where the term is "manche gigot", as a Moroccan tailor was more likely to be able to read that than English. This page, "Les manches bouffantes : explications + tuto"§ from mad moi Zelle shows outlines of various types of baggy sleeve and their names in French, as well as a simple tutorial on how to make leg-of-mutton sleeves for a T-shirt.

    Here are three photos of the result. The jacket isn't as fitted as the one in the Ellimans picture, but I don't think I'd asked for that. Nor are the sleeves as puffed, but they do look more leg-of-muttony when I wear it. The pockets have lost their shape a bit. I've worn the jacket a lot, and the silk velvet is very soft.
    Silver silk-velvet jacket, made in Morocco

    Silver silk-velvet jacket, made in Morocco, showing sleeve head

    Silver silk-velvet jacket, made in Morocco, showing sleeve head


    I took the image, which is public domain, from Wikipedia. Its page there describes it as a "1897 advertisement in The Graphic for Elliman's Universal Embrocation (manufactured in Slough), showing a relatively early example of an ordinary non-sea-bathing Western woman appearing skirtless in public (wearing 'rationals' or 'knickerbockers' or 'bloomers' for bicycle-riding). The whole outfit (top and bottom) was known as a 'bicycle suit'. For the radical change in the way that women rode bicycles over a period of just ten years, compare and im Sociable um 1886 - Verkehrszentrum.JPG (which date from just before the 'safety bicycle' and the woman's 'bicycle suit' started to catch on)."

    I also like this one:
    Two cyclists wearing bloomers and cropped jackets with leg-of-mutton sleeves
    I found it in "Rational Dress Reform Fashion History — Mrs Bloomer" by Pauline Weston Thomas, . I've no idea of its origin or usage rights, but there are many copies scattered across the web.

    § "Les manches bouffantes : explications + tuto" by "Scarlette" from mad moi Zelle, 10 June 2010.

    Seasickness Between Two Shelves at Zara, and Buttons in the Mucous Membranes
    Thursday 11th October, 2018

    Excuse me while I vomit on my epaulettes. I ran Google Translate over "Les manches bouffantes : explications + tuto" from mad moi Zelle, because I wanted to see how it translated "manche bouffante". Is this a collocation which translates to something equally specific in sewing English, or just a general combination like "baggy sleeve"? Google was no help, but it did provide some amusement. Here's its translation from one passage in the linked page:

    In the following pages, I propose to you to make yourself a top with gigot sleeves, if you have not yet had seasickness between two shelves at Zara and that the sight of these sleeves does not give you buttons yet even in the mucous membranes.

    And here's another:

    This update comes one season after the reimplantation of the 80's maxi-square way by the Balmain house (among others). It would seem that this place under the sunlights (and on the catwalks) has favored the reappearance of this type of sleeve that had been abandoned in the girls' costume department for years (and Nelly Olson, this bitch.) I see it a bit like a way to say "Good guys, we made them eat squaring squares all winter, you have not an innovative idea? By what I will soon vomit on my epaulets bling-bling. And this is where a small trainee raised his hand shyly: "Well, uh, as long as we're in the revolution of the shoulders, we have not yet exploited the seam of the sleeves of cucul-la-petite-princesse Well, I do not know, you must see.

    I think, Google, some more research on automated post-translation editing is needed. And why can't you translate "gigot"?

    Dress Reform, Architecture, and Modernism
    Tuesday 9th October, 2018

    In my last post, I wrote about Daniel Miller's paper on the anthropology of drabness in clothing: "The little black dress is the solution. But what’s the problem?". He examined four possible reasons for the current epidemic of dreary dress: the fashion industry; historical precedent; modernism; and shopping habits. (To the philosopher in the front row who has just shouted out that historical precedent is not the kind of thing that can be termed a cause, I should explain that there, Miller was looking at previous turnings toward drabness, and whether their explanations threw any light on what's happening today.) I summarised what Miller wrote about three of these, but left out modernism. I felt his analysis thereof merited a post of its own, rather than getting buried amongst lots of other discussion.

    Also, I wanted to experiment with animation. Miller discusses the book White Walls and Designer Dresses by Mark Wigley (1995), who traces the links between dress reform and architecture. By drawing a diagram of how ideas spread and mutated as they diffused outwards from dress reform, and successively unhiding it from its centre, I thought I could make this easy to understand.

    Unfortunately, this was not straightforward. I couldn't find any software that lets me arrange text and images nicely, while at the same time displaying links between them, and defining an order in which to reveal elements. I looked at lots of things, including mind-map creators (Mindmap Maker is one that's free and easy to use), Microsoft PowerPoint, network-visualisation packages such as vis.js, and animated GIFs of hand-drawn cartoons. None did what I wanted. Since I know how to write web pages using CSS stylesheets and the JavaScript language, these seemed the easiest solution: at least the web browser would give me typography and text layout free. So that's what I did. I had to write some code to progressively reveal blocks of text and images, and more to draw arrows between blocks. Anyone interested can find them at the end of this post.

    Having made my animation, and tested it on a stand-alone web page, I then found that it didn't display as I wanted when I copied the HTML into this blog. Probably WordPress styles were interfering. Also, it needs a nice wide window area to spread out the diagram in, and my current WordPress theme usurps a lot of the space for past blog posts and other things. So I've kept it as a stand-alone web page, also called "Dress Reform, Architecture, and Modernism".

    Beware. Anyone writing a serious analysis of this stuff should not depend on my animation: it's a summary of a summary, it mixes causation with passage of time, it's grossly oversimplified, and I'm not an expert. Read Daniel Miller's text, and then Mark Wigley's book.

    The two paragraphs of Daniel Miller's that I was animating, I've included below. These are only part of his discussion of modernism, which can be found under the section heading "Interrogating the Third Suspect — Modernism" in the web page I already linked to, "The little black dress is the solution. But what’s the problem?".

    Fortunately, in contrast to Chromophobia, there is a book with a less succinct title, but quite excellent in its substantive content called, White Walls and Designer Dresses by Mark Wigley (1995). This makes precisely this argument for the centrality of leaching to the modern movement, but does so with considerable and impressive scholarship and through making an unexpected, but convincing, link between the histories of clothing and of architecture. Wigley starts from the pervasive presence of white walls in modern architecture. His argument is that these are supposed to be neutral and silent but actually speak volumes about the attempt to assert certain hegemonic values through modernism. He shows how white, and I think we can add black, is not a neutral absence but often an assertive presence. Tracing back its source, he sees a powerful influence upon architects such as Le Corbusier to be found in earlier dress reform movements. It was in dress reform that there developed a clear ideal of rationalism applied to aesthetic form. Rationality seen as both the ends and means of civilisation itself proclaims white as a form of purity, the hygenic, the pristine. This allows for a pure utility, that which is assertively functional to emerge from mere decoration. But behind this in turn lies another set of oppositions. The dress reform movement proclaimed an opposition that was repeated in the architectural literature between decoration and function.

    While this is common to both genres, there are also specific associations within the field of clothing. Decoration in dress is associated by the reformers with the phenomenon of fashion, and this in turn with superficiality and with women. These associations formed part of a larger logic by which rationalism as the civilising tendency is seen as a robust male endeavour that needs to overcome a whole series of what in contrast are seen as primitive and superficial tendencies. Indeed in its more extreme forms, colour and print become associated not only with a kind of non-civilised and irrational world, as illustrated in naïve or primitivist art assumed to be analogous with the pre-modern, but also with the dangerous, the uncontrolled, the images of the drugged and the bestial (also in Batchelor 1999). Women are seen as the conservative force retaining a less civilised and superficial fascination with colour and the decorative.

    Links to code

    Here are links to the code I wrote:

    The little black dress is the solution. But what’s the problem?
    Monday 1st October, 2018

    Salman Rushdie's wonderful children's book Haroun and the Sea of Stories is based on the premise that there is some evil mechanism that is taking away the vital stream of stories that course through the veins of our world. My paper is based on a kind of adult equivalent to this story. During my lifetime I have been witness to a similar dreadful loss and in this paper I want to don the mantle of the anthropologist as detective and see if I can locate the culprit. The crime is evident all around us. There has been a gradual leaching out of colour and print from the world of Western women's clothing.

    So begins a web page titled "The little black dress is the solution. But what’s the problem?" by University of London anthropologist Daniel Miller. It describes how he came to write a paper of the same name about why people today dress so drearily.

    Miller says that as a child, he worked in a Carnaby-Street-style boutique and was "enthralled by the coral sea of clothing, while festooned in my own purple flared trousers, beads and floral shirt". When he started lecturing as an anthropologist, he was still wearing a bright orange jersey and a necklace of shells retained from his fieldwork in the Solomon Islands. But even then, this was making him look anachronistically hippy-ish, so he gradually drabbed down, adopting "the general conventions of male clothing based around indigo and black, which is constructed along a vague polarity with `classic' Armani emulating cuts for more formal wear, and jeans materials for the more informal to today's customary indigos and blacks".

    Now, indigo can be a blazing, dazzling, glaring colour, as in this indigo coat of mine:
    Bright indigo coat I suspect, however, that Miller doesn't mean he's wearing this kind of indigo, but the sort that gives jeans their colour — or lack thereof. As he says, "About the most existing possibility left to me is to discover a new shade of grey."

    But while resigned to the dreariness of day-to-day wear, Miller did still expect to see more adventurous clothing on holiday, a 'Hawaiian shirt' lifting of the gloom:

    Well for a while this seemed true, but then I was starting to find that my fellow tourists were bringing out the same dull drab clothes on holiday that they were wearing at home — just more interesting messages on the T shirts. But at least I felt that if holiday clothes had also become drab, the last refuge of colour would indeed be the beach and the swimsuit, with at least some desire to 'fit in' when snorkeling over a coral reef. So the decision to write this paper can be precisely timed. It came when taking a family holiday on a beach in Mexico. I had my novel and my drink and was relaxing under a beach umbrella. This was quite a European resort and the people around me were probably Dutch, Swedish and English with a few Americans. Anyway, after a while, I started looking around me and what actually caught my eye was that every single bikini or swimsuit as far as my eye could see was — you guessed it — black. At that point I decided that surely if the anthropologist could turn detective, I might not be able to stem this tide, but might at least find the culprit."

    So what was the culprit. Very disappointingly, Miller doesn't have his paper on open access. There's a database entry for it linked from the 2004 section of But even though this service is called open access, it says the full text is not available. However, he does summarise it in his web page. He starts by discussing four possible causes. These are:

    1. The fashion industry. Is it promoting drab colours because they’re more profitable?
    2. Historical precedent. Have there been past turnings toward drabness? If so, could their causes throw light on the current turning?
    3. The rise of modernism and modernist minimalism. Have these caused the recent decline in colour?
    4. How people behave when buying.

      Miller dismisses the first three causes. Regarding the first — the fashion industry — he argues that if the world has gone black, one can't merely assume designers who promoted the trend are responsible. Clothing is one of the most diverse industries. In order to survive, companies will always be seeking new niches. Some may go black, but this will drive others to seek alternative, and therefore more colourful, niches.

      Concerning historical precedent, Miller says that that have indeed been previous turnings towards drabness. In his 1995 book Men in Black John Harvey discusses the Victorians. Victorian dandies wore black, adopting an ascetic and minimalist appearance which favoured elaboration in style rather than in colour. The middle classes also adopted black: probably not because of influence from the dandy elite, but because the Church had for centuries associated black with sobriety. What really cemented this association, Harvey says, was the Victorian Cult of the Dead. To me, this is exemplified by any number of gloomy images, such as the splendid picture heading Essie Fox's Virtual Victorian blog.

      But all the above shows is that there were other periods when "clothing leached and bleached". It doesn't prove that the reasons for this were the same as today. After all, Miller writes, a girl picking out a little black dress for a party is unlikely to think of herself as dressing for a funeral.

      The third possible cause Miller considers is the rise of modernism and modernist minimalism. Have these caused the recent decline in colour? I'll say more about these next time, but Miller concludes that they have not.

      This leaves the fourth possibility, people's behaviour when shopping. Miller and his colleague Alison Clarke observed shopping habits in North London. They found that "there remains a considerable desire to wear different colours and prints, and yet at the moment of purchase women seemed unable to bring themselves to fulfil their own desires".

      This appeared to be because of anxiety: "One of the extended examples presented in Clarke and Miller 2002 was a woman — Charmaigne who sets out to buy a floral dress, in a deliberate attempt to expand out of her conventional wardrobe and to try and associate herself with this other genre of clothing. By following her around the shops we can actually watch her increasing anxiety when it comes to making a choice that will lead to her expressing a more distinct sartorial identity in public outside of the arena of what are experienced now as simple and safe minor variants upon the core of printless and colourless clothing."

      So women get anxious, and this inhibits them from choosing interesting clothes. But why do they get anxious? We need to ask, because: "Finding anxiety at the root of this refusal of distinction does not tell us anything about why women are so anxious, and why this might be more the case now, than say thirty years ago."

      Miller argues that: "what we have uncovered is the combination of two forces; one long term and one short term. The long term trend could be identified, not so much with modernism, as with modernity. The condition of modernity as analysed by Habermas (1987) is one in which we become decreasingly convinced by the authority of institutions and rules that previously determined how we should act. We can no longer say simply that this is our 'custom' or our 'religion' Instead we have to face up to the degree to which we are making up our own moral rules. We become, as individuals, increasingly burdened with the task of creating normativity for ourselves. This is even more difficult given our increasing self-awareness, that this is what we are engaged in. All of this pressure to create our own normativity in turn produces a tremendous desire for self-reassurance (for details of this argument see Miller 1994: 58-81)."

      That final reference is to Modernity: an Ethnographic Approach by Miller (1994), Oxford: Berg. I haven’t read it yet, so I can't go any further in explaining the above. But the consequence is: "This is why the shoppers are less and less confident about making a clear choice. They want to buy something strong and bright, but they just can't bring themselves to do it. We live not in a risk society, but in what we might better call the no-risk society. What we do is pretend that choosing shades of grey is more subtle and sophisticated — an intelligent choice. We say to each other we are all very cool and sophisticated. But of course this is nonsense. We would much rather be making bold choices, but (speaking now as a man), we just don’t have the balls to actually do so, because of the burden of freedom. Because we are defensive about being held responsible for the sartorial statement we have thereby made."

      Miller concludes that "Contrary to the expectations of the 1960's and 1970's we have excavated a logic which explains why a free world is likely to be a drab world."

      Daniel Miller, "The little black dress is the solution. But what's the problem?". In K. Ekstrom and H. Brembeck, ed., Elusive Consumption, 1st ed. Bloomsbury Academic, pp.113-127, 2004.

      John Harvey, Men in Black, Chicago, 1995.

      Chromophilia in Oxford
      Friday 28th September, 2018

      Non-drab person in Broad Street, Oxford
      This photo was taken at the same time as the ones in the previous blog posting. This is the only person I saw who was wearing something interesting.

      The Brightest Thing She’s Wearing Is Her Bag: Chromophobia in Oxford
      Friday 28th September, 2018

      Drab people in Broad Street, Oxford

      Drab people in Broad Street, Oxford Drab people in Broad Street, Oxford Drab people in Broad Street, Oxford
      Drab people in Broad Street, Oxford Drab people in Broad Street, Oxford Drab people in Broad Street, Oxford Drab people by Sheldonian, Oxford
      Drab people by Sheldonian, Oxford Drab people by Bodleian, Oxford Drab people by Bodleian, Oxford Drab people by Bodleian, Oxford
      Drab people by Sheldonian, Oxford Drab people near Balliol, Oxford Drab people near Balliol, Oxford Drab people outside Balliol, Oxford
      Drab people in Broad Street, oxford Drab people in Cornmarket, Oxford Drab people in Cornmarket, Oxford Drab people in Cornmarket crossing George Street, Oxford
      Drab people in Cornmarket, Oxford Drab people in Cornmarket, Oxford Drab people in Cornmarket, Oxford Drab people in Cornmarket, Oxford

      I reckon that, on average, each group of people is at least two-thirds tourists. And some of the tourists look as though they come from a long way away. So although the setting for this cornucopia of chromophobia is the middle of England, the phenomenon is world-wide.

      Flowered Ballerina Top
      Monday 24th September, 2018

      This, from Unicorn, is a ballerina top, rather similar in colouring to the black peacock kimono from 天宝工 TianBaoGong. It's double-breasted, in the sense that it has a lot of overlap at the front. One side ties over the other with the ribbons that you can see hanging on the right.

      Flowered ballerina top
      Flowered ballerina top
      Flowered ballerina top, showing detail of pattern
      Flowered ballerina top, showing detail of pattern

      Emerald-Green Kimono, Much Loved
      Friday 21st September, 2018

      Here's another kimono from Unicorn. This is much later than the paisley-blue, probably 1980s. The material is synthetic rather than silk. But the colour is unusual, and nice to have for combining with others.

      Emerald-green kimono
      Emerald-green kimono, showing pattern
      Emerald-green kimono, showing pattern
      Emerald-green kimono, showing pattern
      Emerald-green kimono, showing pattern
      Emerald-green kimono, showing pattern
      Emerald-green kimono, showing pattern

      Like the paisley-blue kimono, this one has been valued enough for someone to spend time on repairs. Emerald-green kimono, showing repaired region

      Blue Paisley Kimono, Much Loved
      Monday 17th September, 2018

      Here's another kimono from Unicorn, decorated with paisley. It's slightly heavier than the two shown so far, enough to be used as a very light coat. The material is silk, and it was probably made in the 1930s.

      Blue paisley kimono

      Blue paisley kimono

      Blue paisley kimono, showing pattern

      Blue paisley kimono, showing pattern

      This kimono must have been much loved. The photo below shows where one of the paisley motifs, which seems to got completely ripped off, has been carefully stitched back. Blue paisley kimono, showing repaired region

      天宝工 TianBaoGong Peacock Kimono
      Friday 14th September, 2018

      Before diverting into style transfer, I posted some pictures of this flower-decorated kimono top. Here's another with a rather different design. Like the first, I bought it from Unicorn. It was longer, but to my non-Chinese eyes, that made it look like a dressing gown. So Unicorn shortened it for me by folding up the excess material into a hem, and sewed on a popper to close it at the waist. The result is a decorative summer top, with colouring nicely matching the Linaria growing on the wall.

      TianBaoGong peacock kimono

      TianBaoGong peacock kimono, showing label


      TianBaoGong peacock kimono, showing pattern

      TianBaoGong peacock kimono, showing pattern

      Unlike with some of the clothes I've shown, I'm pretty sure that the manufacturers of this one are still going. Searching for the Chinese characters in the name, aided by Purple Culture's mouse-written Chinese input program, I found this site: The page mentions the Linhai Yujie Garment Embroidery Factory, and that 天宝工 or TianBaoGong is its brand. Judging by the photographs, Linhai Yujie Garment Embroidery make a lot of designs. This is one, and shows a kimono very similar to mine as it was before being shortened. Part of Tian Bao Gong web page, showing a similar kimono

      Gallery Updates
      Monday 10th September, 2018

      I've been processing and sorting photos, most of which I've now added to the gallery. As I mentioned in a post written just after this went live, the gallery page displays a selection of clothes. The selection is determined by two buttons. One looks like this:

      and displays all the clothes I've got photos of. These include those I own, as well as ones I've seen and photographed but not bought.

      The second button looks like this:

      As its caption says, it displays only the clothes that are mine.

      Why do I have two buttons? The first displays a wider range of patterns and designs. For example, here's the pattern from a silk shirt by Colorpoint. The belligerent little aliens with which it's printed are fun: Colorpoint silk shirt printed with aliens But the shirt was a size too big for me, so I didn't buy it. By the way, the aliens are Marvin the Martian, a character "who was quiet and soft-spoken, but whose actions were incredibly destructive and legitimately dangerous". All credit to his creator, the excellent Chuck Jones.

      A garment of quite a different kind is this brown coat, embroidered with spiky greens and golds: Brown coat embroidered with green and gold In the photo, this is a really dramatic design. But when I tried it on, too much of the pattern went round my sides, and wasn't visible from the front. So though the coat would have looked great framed on my wall as abstract art, the design lost coherence when I wore it.

      I hope these will inspire those who like designing and making, and persuade you — if you need persuading — to try your nearest vintage shop. Buying vintage is a good re-use of resources. And with companies like the loathsome Burberry, reported to have destroyed £105,000,000 worth of stock in the past five years, fashion needs all the help in conserving resources that it can get.

      Here's one resource I'm conserving. It's a green velvet jacket: Light green velvet jacket It must have travelled halfway around the world, because it's made, the label says, by His Lordship of Wellington, New Zealand: Label of light green velvet jacket, reading 'Exclusively styles for you by His Lordship, Wellington, New Zealand'

      Here's another. This one is red velvet: Bright red velvet jacket And it's only travelled 5,960 miles, as against His Lordship's 11,703, because it's from Ravi Sehgal in Bangkok: Label of bright red velvet jacket, reading 'Ravi Sehgal, Bangkok, since 1976.'

      This one is purple velvet: Purple velvet jacket Unlike the two above, it's actually a woman's, as revealed by the position of its buttons. But notwithstanding this, which I mention because of Grayson Perry's teenage fears about being thought effeminate for wearing buttons on the left, few people will notice or care. So you could safely wear that, or the green, or the red, and give greater chromatic pleasure to yourself and those around you than if wearing cord, leather or tweed. Showing such examples is what I wanted the "only my clothes" part of the gallery to be for.

      Short Rations
      Friday 7th September, 2018

      Cover of the Pick of Punch for 1942 Title page of the Pick of Punch for 1942

      Cartoon from the Pick of Punch for 1942. Two clothes moths are on a jacket hanging in a wardrobe. It has holes in. One moth says to the other 'Careful, dear! This one's got to last us until August!

      Here's another austerity cartoon, from the same Pick of Punch annual that I wrote about in "Austerity Patchwork". I put some references at the end there explaining the history of WWII clothing restrictions. I don't know the significance of August, but maybe it was the first month after publication that readers would have been allowed to obtain new coupons.


      Two clothes moths are on a jacket hanging in a wardrobe. It has holes in. One moth is saying to the other 'Careful, dear! This one's got to last us until August!"

      Style Transfer: Does Deep Learning Understand Art Deeply?
      Friday 31st August, 2018

      How deeply does style transfer understand the styles it transfers? Not very, I suspect. Consider analytical cubism. This was the early cubism of Braque and others, who composed paintings from fragmentary images, each showing the same object from a different viewpoint. These paintings have a distinctive texture:
      A selection of analytical cubist paintings [ Image: Google Image Search for "analytical cubism" ]

      According to Google's usage-rights tool, most of the analytical cubist paintings are not public domain, so I'm restricted in what I can show. As the search results above are practically unusable, I hope I'm OK in claiming "fair use" for them. But one that is public domain is Juan Legua by Juan Gris (1911):
      The painting 'Juan Legua' by Juan Gris [ Image: From, Metropolitan Museum of Art ] This demonstrates the multiplicity of viewpoints and how these get pieced together, while the smaller pictures give an impression of the overall texture thus created.

      What has this to do with style transfer? Were I to ask a program of the kind described in my Style Transfer post to render a photo in the style of one of the above paintings, I am sure it would do so. But it would do so in the way someone would whose only experience with analytical cubism comes from one of those tiny pictures.

      In other words, it would have a superficial model of the target style, namely that the distribution of colour and tone is fairly even, that the colours are not bright, that there are a lot of short dark lines, that these tend to be straight or slightly curved, that they tend also to be fairly evenly spaced, and so on. What it would not have is a more profound model of the analytical cubist's intentions, as stated, for example, in this quote by Peter Vergo:

      What the Cubists had done was to create a new image of reality, influenced to some extent by the radical theories of the French philosopher Henri Bergson. Rejecting any conception of painting as a kind of 'window on the world', they broke decisively with the post-Renaissance convention of depicting objects as if seen from a single viewpoint, employing instead what Metzinger called 'mobile perspective' — moving round objects, simultaneously recording not only different images of the same object, but also the near and the far, the seen and the remembered. The more radical also analysed, probed, destroyed objects in order to reconstruct them, enhancing the emphasis given to the surface plane of the picture while at the same time progressively blurring the separation between the motif (figure, object, etc.) and its environment.

      Why does this matter? I don't know whether it does matter to style transfer for clothing design. But it's good for programs to have as deep an understanding as possible of their task, and this seems to be a case where style transfer is currently lacking. I'll give another example, probably more relevant to fashion, in a later post. Meanwhile, I'd like to issue a challenge to the style-transfer researchers: build a program that does cubism properly!

      From Peter Vergo's Introduction to Abstraction: Towards a New Art. Painting 1910-20, Tate Gallery, 1980

      Using Style Transfer to Design Clothes
      Monday 27th August, 2018

      Here's a follow-up to my style-transfer post, itself inspired by this flowery but earth-toned kimono, this not-at-all earth-toned Yves Saint-Laurent dress, and the onset of this year's very-definitely earth-toned autumn. Put these together, and I'm sure you can see what I'm aiming at.

      Briefly — I want a kimono with colours as vivid, bright and bold as that dress. I probably am not allowed to pay someone to make one with exactly that dress's designs, because it would violate Yves Saint-Laurent's copyright. I can't afford to pay an artist to invent a new design that's equally good but just different enough to avoid violation. But suppose I could run a computer program that either (a) inputs designs from all the "Homage to Pablo Picasso" dresses and invents one in the same spirit, or (b) inputs one design and mutates it to produce an equally good variation.

      That seems to be what is described in the paper "Fashioning with Networks: Neural Style Transfer to Design Clothes" by Prutha Date, Ashwinkumar Ganesan and Tim Oates, 31 July 2017, posted on the arXiv. The method is similar to what I described in my style-transfer post, which is why I went into so much detail.

      For our purposes, the differences seem to be that, first, the garment and its parts are the "content": that is, the object. The style is the colouring and texture. Transferring the style from one shape of garment to another automatically makes the colouring and texturing follow the second shape:

      Image from the paper cited above, showing: a content image (an elaborately shaped top); a style image (picture of one other top, different in shape from the content image); and a generated style image (a top shaped like the content image, but coloured with designs from the style image)
      [ Image: by Prutha Date, Ashwinkumar Ganesan and Tim Oates, from the paper cited above ]

      Actually, I'm not quite sure whether I have that right, because it doesn't always seem to happen in style transfer from paintings to photos: see for example the Tübingen examples in my style-transfer post. In the one for Munch's The Scream some of Munch's sky has migrated into the frontage of a house. On the other hand, I did note that van Gogh's stars stay strictly within Tübingen's sky. I think the truth is that there are no rules in the style-transfer code that make style follow shape. However, style still tends to follow shape, because the optimisation process that I described in my post tries to preserve as much content as possible. But content is the objects in the image, and they will be lost if restyling erases or blurs too much of their boundaries. So there is an implicit bias in favour of retaining their shape, and therefore in favour of making the styling flow round it.

      At any rate, the second difference between painting-to-photo style-transfer (in the research I've written about) and the garment-to-garment style transfer paper is that the latter can merge styles from several garments before transferring. This is demonstrated in the following image from the paper:
      Image from the paper cited above, showing: a content image (an elaborately shaped top); four style images (pictures of four other tops, different in shape from each other and from the content image); and a generated style image (a top shaped like the content image, but coloured with designs from the four style images)
      [ Image: by Prutha Date, Ashwinkumar Ganesan and Tim Oates, from the paper cited above ]

      So is that all I need? Not quite. I want a garment, not a picture of a garment. Amazon is said to be developing factories that could automatically make clothes given their specifications: see "Amazon won a patent for an on-demand clothing manufacturing warehouse" by Jason Del Rey, recode, 18 April 2017. The style-transfer work would have to generate that specification, however — that is, some kind of sewing pattern — and as far as I know, it can't yet. But who knows what research is being done that hasn't yet been reported?

      Austerity Patchwork
      Friday 24th August, 2018

      Cover of the Pick of Punch for 1942 Title page of the Pick of Punch for 1942

      Cartoon from the Pick of Punch for 1942, set in a men's outfitters. A customer is walking away from the counter and out of the shop, wearing a suit. The jacket and trousers are made from rectangles of differently-textured and -patterned materials stitched together. The tailor is saying to his assistant, 'And there goes the last of the pattern-books.'

      I found this in a 1942 Pick of Punch annual. It's not about colour, but is fun nevertheless. For anyone who doesn't know the history of WWII clothing restrictions, this article from the National Archives explains it, including the rôle of Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies, their styles, and how ration coupons worked. There's another explanation here from the Imperial War Museum.

      "Fashion or ration: Hartnell, Amies and dressing for the Blitz" by Robert Daoust, The National Archives
      18 February 2010

      "How Clothes Rationing Affected Fashion in the Second World War" by Laura Clouting and Amanda Mason, Imperial War Museum
      5 January 2018


      A men's outfitters. A customer is walking away from the counter and out of the shop, wearing a suit. The jacket and trousers are made from rectangles of differently-textured and patterned materials stitched together. The tailor is saying to his assistant, "And there goes the last of the pattern-books."

      Style Transfer: a Summary
      Tuesday 21st August, 2018

      Here's an answer to the question "What is Style Transfer?" that I posted recently in a discussion forum. It has the same structure as yesterday's post on the topic, but is shorter and so might be easier to understand.

      In its most general sense, rendering one artefact in the style of another. Most research recently has probably been on style transfer in visual art: particularly on rendering photographs in the styles of various famous painters. Here are some examples:

      [ Image: via "Artistic Style Transfer" by Firdaouss Doukkali in Towards Data Science, credited to @DmitryUlyanovML ]

      [ Image: from "Convolutional neural networks for artistic style transfer" by Harish Narayanan in his blog ]

      [ Image: via "Artistic Style Transfer with Deep Neural Networks" by Shafeen Tejani in the From Bits to Brains blog, from "Image Style Transfer Using Convolutional Neural Networks" by Leon A. Gatys, Alexander S. Ecker, Matthias Bethge ]

      The concept of style transfer doesn’t need to be restricted to visual art. For example, there’s a paper on style transfer in cooking described in Lucy Black’s “Style Transfer Applied To Cooking - The Case Of The French Sukiyaki” (14 May 2017). The work she describes is by Masahiro Kazama, Minami Sugimoto, Chizuru Hosokawa, Keisuke Matsushima, Lav R. Varshney and Yoshiki Ishikawa, one of whom she says is a professional chef. It’s written up in an arXiv paper at [1705.03487] A neural network system for transformation of regional cuisine style .

      In visual art, the concept doesn’t need to be restricted to photographs and paintings. Prutha Date, Ashwinkumar Ganesan, Tim Oates have written a paper on Neural Style Transfer to Design Clothes , also available in the arXiv. (This is one reason I’m taking an interest.)

      But now let’s talk about photographs and paintings. As I understand it, the “modern era” in style transfer began with a paper by Leon A. Gatys, Alexander S. Ecker and Matthias Bethge, . There had been work on the topic before, but it tended to use only low-level image features to define style, and could cope only with a restricted range of objects in images, e.g. faces. The advance of Gatys et. al. was to use so-called “convolutional neural networks” (a.k.a. “convnets”). These can be trained to recognise a vast range of common objects, making it possible to separate the “content” of an image (i.e. the things it depicts) from its style. They are also able to recognise higher-level aspects of style than could previous work.

      The key points as I understand them are:

      1) Style (in most of this work) refers to the technique of a single artist in a single painting. Though there is now research on inferring style from multiple paintings by the same artist, e.g. all Impressionist paintings by Monet.

      2) Style means things like the thickness and smoothness of lines, how wiggly they are, the density and distribution of colour, and the surface texture of brush strokes in oil paintings.

      3) Style can occur at a range of scales.

      [ Image: incorporates Wikipedia's The Starry Night ]

      In the above images, the circles represent what a vision scientist might call “receptive fields”. Each one “sees” the properties of the image portion within it. The first set of circles “see” how the boundaries of the church and its spire are painted. The second set “see” the swirls in van Gogh’s sky. Each one sees an individual swirl, and can perceive bulk properties such as its width and curvature. The third set of circles also “see” the swirls, but in much more detail. They see a swirl as a bundle of strokes, and can work out how far these are apart, how their shapes match, and so on.

      4) Style is distributed across the entire image. The above should make that clear. Or think of other examples, such as a cartoonist’s cross-hatching. So estimating style entails working out correlations between different parts of the image.

      5) Given two images, it’s possible to work out how close they are in style. In other words, style can be quantified. This is important, because if we write a program that wants to render (say) a portrait of Quora’s founder in the style of The Starry Night, the program has to know when its output actually looks van-Gogh-ish.

      6) As already said, images have “content” as well as style. The content of an image is the objects it depicts.

      7) The detection of content actually rests on a vast amount of work done to train learning programs (these “convnets”) to recognise objects. This work in turn has relied on (a) a huge database of images called ImageNet; (b) a huge number of volunteers to label the images therein with their descriptions; (c) a huge database of words and concepts called WordNet. The last of these gives the volunteers a consistent framework, so that if two volunteers label a picture of a crocodile (say), they’ll do so in the same way.

      8) Unlike style, content is local. Objects occupy a fixed part of an image, and the recogniser need only be interested in that. Unlike style, most objects don’t contain long repeated patterns. (Indeed, if they do, I think we’d often regard that as texture, and the choice of how to depict the texture as style.)

      9) Given two images, it’s possible to work out how close they are in content. In other words, content can be quantified. This is important, because if we write a program that wants to render (say) a portrait of Quora’s founder in the style of The Starry Night, the program has to know when its output actually looks like said founder.

      10) OK, now we have everything we need. So suppose I have two images. One, Q, is the “content” image: the photo of Mr. Quora. One, S, is the “style” image: a photo of The Starry Night. Now I generate a third image, O, at random. This is going to become my output: Mr. Quora retouched in the style of The Starry Night.

      By point 5, I can measure how close O and S are in style. By point 9, I can measure how close O and S are in content. And I can continue doing this no matter how I change O.

      So I now start optimising. If O is far in style from S, I tweak it so as to bring it closer. If O is far in content from Q, I tweak it to bring it closer. And I keep doing so until the result is quite close to S in style, and quite close to Q in content.

      The important point here is that my tweaker doesn’t itself need to know how to measure style and content. It just needs to feed O into the “how close am I to S in style meter” and the “how close am I to Q in content meter” mentioned two paragraphs ago, then keep tweaking O until both meters give a high reading. And, just to recap, by “meter”, I mean the “convnets” that Gatys et. al. used.

      How does the optimisation know how to tweak an image? After all, if it just kept on doing so at random, perhaps millions of years would pass before it got an acceptable result. The answer is something called “gradient descent”. This is like a man standing on top of a hill, and taking a few strides along each path down it, in order to estimate which path will get him to the base most quickly.

      So that’s a non-technical summary of “modern era” work on visual style transfer. I’ve written it up in more detail as a blog post, “Style Transfer - Chromophilia” . This post has references in it to the paper by Gatys et. al., and to various review and blog articles.

      Style transfer research will continue, I’m sure, in many directions. I can foresee researchers wanting to make it more “semantic”. When you see this word, it’s a give-away that the author wants their programs to become less superficial, looking at “meanings” rather than surface features. And although current work already produces some stunning images, it by no means has a perfect conception of style.

      For example, Analytical Cubism refers to the early cubism of Braque and others, where paintings were made from a variety of fragmentary images, each showing the same object from a different viewpoint. These paintings have a distinctive texture which many will recognise:

      [ Image: via , Le Jour ni l’Heure 3854 by George Braque ]

      I suspect that if you were to ask the program Gatys et. al. describe to render an object in this style, it would faithfully emulate the texture. But I bet that it would not break the object into fragments and paint each from a different viewpoint. That’s one of the main characteristics of the style, but I don’t think the current generation of style-transfer programs could know this.


      Style Transfer
      Monday 20th August, 2018

      I've been blogging about my admiration for Yves Saint-Laurent's "Homage to Pablo Picasso" dress, and my desire for similar designs on my own clothing. I'm going to write more about this, but I want first to introduce a discipline called "style transfer": using computers to render one picture in the style of another.

      Some examples

      A now famous example of style transfer is redrawing photographs to resemble van Gogh's The Starry Night. There are loads of illustrations of this on the web. Here's one, showing a dog photo thus treated:
      Photo of dog, followed by van Gogh's 'The Starry Night', followed by dog photo rendered in the same style [ Image: via "Artistic Style Transfer" by Firdaouss Doukkali in Towards Data Science, credited to @DmitryUlyanovML ]

      Here are more, one of which also takes its style from The Starry Night:
      Various artworks, each followed by photo of child rendered in the same style [ Image: from "Convolutional neural networks for artistic style transfer" by Harish Narayanan in his blog ]

      And here are yet more, showing a photo of the Neckarfront in Tübingen rendered in the styles of The Starry Night, Turner's The Shipwreck of the Minotaur, and Munch's The Scream.
      Various artworks, each followed by photo of child rendered in the same style [ Image: via "Artistic Style Transfer with Deep Neural Networks" by Shafeen Tejani in the From Bits to Brains blog, from "Image Style Transfer Using Convolutional Neural Networks" by Leon A. Gatys, Alexander S. Ecker, Matthias Bethge ]

      Where did these techniques come from, and how do they work? The main principles seem to be these:

      Defining style

      1. "Style", as the term is used in this research, means things like the thickness and smoothness of lines, how wiggly they are, the density and distribution of colour, and the surface texture of brush strokes in oil paintings.

      Style and scale

      2. Style can happen at many scales. I'll demonstrate with the images below. They show a lattice of circles overlaying The Starry Night. The circles are what vision scientists would call "receptive fields": each is sensitive to the visual properties of what's inside it, and summarises these for use in higher-level analyses of the scene.

      The first lot of circles are scaled so that they "see" the thickness of the lines painted round the church. The second lot of circles see the swirls in the sky: each circle is big enough to see a swirl in its entirety, so can concentrate on bulk properties such as its width and curvature. The third lot of circles also see swirls. But I've made them much smaller, so that they see the strokes making up a swirl, and how these strokes resemble one another.
      Circular receptive fields overlaying 'The Starry Night', analysing the lines painted
round the church
      Circular receptive fields overlaying 'The Starry Night', analysing neighbouring swirls
in the sky
      Circular receptive fields overlaying 'The Starry Night', analysing the internal makeup of
the swirls [ Image: incorporates Wikipedia's The Starry Night ]

      Style is distributed

      3. Style is spatially distributed. What's important when characterising it is the correlations between different regions.

      So what's important about the boundary lines around the church, for example, is that they are all similar. What's important about the swirls is that their constituent strokes are bundled, being roughly the same distance apart, the same width, and the same wiggliness. And in the second image above, we look not at the correlation within a swirl, but at the correlation between swirls, noting how one resembles that next to it.

      The distance between two styles

      4. There are programs that, given two images I and J, can calculate how close J's style is to I's. If I were The Starry Night, such a program would be able to work out that the restyled dog photo in my first picture is close to it in style, while the original dog photo is much further.

      How do these programs work? They look for spatially distributed regularities, such as those I mentioned in point 3. In principle, a skilled programmer with a knowledge of drawing and painting techniques could write such a program. But it would take a long time, and lots of trial and error, to precisely specify the style used by any particular artist in any particular picture; and then the programmer would have to start all over again for the next picture. So instead, programs have been developed that, given examples of a style, can learn the features that distinguish it from other styles. That's why I've categorised this post as "machine learning" as well as "style transfer".

      Style versus content

      5. As well as style, pictures have "content". This is the objects they depict: such as the child in Harish Narayanan's examples above. When you change the style of a picture, you want something else to remain unchanged: that's the content.

      Extracting content

      6. Programs can be written to detect the objects in an image. This was once a vastly impossible task for computer scientists. When you think of all the possible objects in the world — on the Internet, we see mainly cats, but there are also catkins, catalogues, catamarans, catwalks and catteries, not to mention cattle, cathedrals and Catholics — how on earth could one hope to code a description of the features that distinguish them one from another and from non-objects?

      As with style, the answer is machine learning — but to a much greater degree.

      Before going further into machine learning, I want to mention a project called ImageNet: a large visual database designed for use in research on software recognition of object images. This was described in Harish Narayanan's blog post, "Convolutional neural networks for artistic style transfer". ImageNet contains over 14 million images, divided into groups covering about 21,000 concepts with around 1,000 images per concept. For example, there are 1,188 pictures of the African crocodile, Crocodylus niloticus: A page of pictures of crocodiles from ImageNet [ Image: screenshot of an ImageNet page ]

      How does ImageNet know what the pictures are of? Because volunteers have labelled each image with details of what it contains. To ensure that the labelling is consistent, they've followed the conventions of a database of concepts and words called WordNet. This provides a framework within which each volunteer can label in a way consistent with all the other volunteers.

      Now back to machine learning. With a database showing crocodiles in all possible orientations, surroundings and lighting conditions, and of all possible colourings and ages; with all the crocodiles consistently labelled; and with all other objects (such as alligators, logs, boats, and newts) also consistently labelled, it's possible to train a suitable machine-learning program to pick out crocodiles and distinguish them from other objects (such as alligators, logs, boats, and newts). The content-extracting programs used in this research have been pre-trained in this way.

      The differences between looking for style and looking for content

      7. As it happens, the programs used to learn style are very similar to those used to learn objects. One big difference, I suppose, is the huge pre-training on objects that I mentioned just above.

      Content is local

      8. Another difference is that whereas style information is distributed across potentially the entire image, object information is "local": that is, confined to a fixed region. A glimpse of this can be got from the diagram below:
      The features recognised at various different layers of a convnet object classifier [ Image: via "Convolutional neural networks for artistic style transfer" by Harish Narayanan in his blog, from Deep Learning by Ian Goodfellow, Yoshua Bengio and Aaron Courville ]

      This disgram shows a "convnet" or "convolutional neural net", the learning system used in the style-transfer research I'm covering here. I've taken it from the section titled "How do convnets work (so well)?" in Narayanan's post.

      The diagram shows that the learning system contains one layer of receptive fields similar to those I drew over The Starry Night. This layer recognises basic visual features such as edges. It passes its summaries up to a higher layer, which recognises higher-level features, such as corners and contours. And this passes its summaries up to a yet higher layer, which recognises even higher-level features such as simple parts of objects.

      As an aside, it's interesting to look at the pictures below of one of my Moroccan shirts. Would the decoration count as style or content, and what features might be used in recognising it?
      Plum velvet Moroccan shirt, showing embroidery down front

      Plum velvet Moroccan shirt, showing embroidery down front [ Image: Chromophilia ]

      Demonstrating content recognition

      9. There's a wonderful demo program recommended by Narayanan, "Basic Convnet for MNIST". This demonstrates how a convnet recognises numerals. Go to the page, and click on "Basic Convnet" in the menu on the left. Then draw a numeral on the white canvas. To erase, click the cross next to "Clear". The second "Activation" layer shows (if I understand correctly), receptive fields which respond to parts of the numerals. You can see from the dark regions, which part of the numeral each field regards as salient.

      It's probably worth saying that the features recognised by each layer are not arbitrary, but are (again if I understand correctly), those needed to best distinguish the objects on which the program was trained. So if the objects were the numerals, the upper left vertical in a "5" would probably be important, because it distinguishes it from a "3". Likewise, the crossbar on a "7" written in the European style would be significant, because it's a key feature distinguishing it from a "1".

      The distance between two contents

      10. Given two images I and J, we can calculate how close the objects in J are to those in I's. That is, how close J's content is to I's. If I were the original dog photo in my first picture, such a program would be able to work out that the restyled dog photo in my first picture is close to it in content, while The Starry Night is much further. This is the content counterpart of my point 3.

      Generating images with the right balance of style and content

      11. So suppose that we have an image I which is The Starry Night, and an image J which is the unretouched dog photo I showed in my introduction. And we generate a third image at random, K. From 3, we can see how close its style is to The Starry Night's, and from 10, how close its content is to "a dog as in my photo".

      Now we change K a tiny bit. This will make it either more or less like I in style (The Starry Night), and either more or less than J in content (my dog). And we keep changing it until we achieve an optimum balance of style and content.

      But there has to be a tradeoff, because we don't want the style to be too perfect at the expense of the content, and we don't want the content to be too perfect at the expense of the style. (This, of course, is a familiar situation in art. The medium and the tools impose restrictions which have to be worked around. For example, it's difficult to depict clouds and blond hair when working in pen and ink.)

      At any rate, this is the final piece in the jigsaw. The style-transfer programs covered here contain an optimiser, which repeatedly tweaks K until it is optimally near I in style (but not at the expense of its content) and optimally near J in content (but not at the expense of its style). The technique used is called "gradient descent", and resembles a walker at the top of a hill taking a few strides along each path down, and estimating which one will get him to the bottom most quickly.


      I've included some references below, for computer scientists who want to follow this work up — or for artists who want to persuade a computer-scientist collaborator to do so. The first reference is the paper that ushered in the "modern era" of style transfer, inspiring the methods I've described above. It and the next two references point back at the history of the topic; the third reference, "Supercharging Style Transfer", also describes work on inferring style from more than one artwork — for example, from a collection of Impressionist paintings. The next reference is the one I've referred to throughout this article, by Harish Narayanan; the one after it one is another, briefer but in the same vein. It shows some more nice examples. And the final one is a technical paper on extracting style, referred to by Narayanan: "This is not trivial at all, and I refer you to a paper that attempts to explain the idea."

      For more pictures generated by style transfer, just point your favourite search engine's image search at the words "artistic style transfer".


      "Image Style Transfer Using Convolutional Neural Networks" by Leon A. Gatys, Alexander S. Ecker and Matthias Bethge, Open Access version also published on IEEE Xplore
      16 May 2016.

      "Neural Style Transfer: A Review" by Yongcheng Jing, Yezhou Yang, Zunlei Feng, Jingwen Ye, Yizhou Yu and Mingli Song
      17 June 2018.

      "Supercharging Style Transfer" by Vincent Dumoulin, Jonathon Shlens and Manjunath Kudlur, Google AI Blog
      26 October 2016.

      "Convolutional neural networks for artistic style transfer" by Harish Narayanan in his blog
      31 March 2017.

      "Artistic Style Transfer with Deep Neural Networks" by Shafeen Tejani, From Bits to Brains blog
      27 December 2016.

      "Incorporating long-range consistency in CNN-based texture generation" by Guillaume Berger and Roland Memisevic
      5 November 2016.

      Homage to Picasso: Scarlet, Blue, Intense and Bold
      Monday 13th August, 2018

      At the end of "Flowered Earth-Toned Kimono Top", I said that I would love to have a copy of the top styled in the same colours and designs as the "Homage to Pablo Picasso" dress shown halfway down "Should Fashion Legacies Be Controlled" by Suzy Menkes, 12 June 2017. Her feature, published in Turkish Vogue is about Pierre Bergé, co-founder of the Yves Saint Laurent label, and his plans for museums in Paris and Marrakech to house and exhibit an archive of 5,000 clothes, 15,000 accessories, and numerous sketches. Menkes writes:

      Saint Laurent will hold his lofty position in these two permanent exhibitions, designed to keep the single flame alive. Perhaps the legacy of Yves Saint Laurent deserves this unique position, since he was the first living designer to have been granted a retrospective show at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art back in 1983.

      Thumbnail showing one of Yves Saint-Laurent's 'Homage to Pablo Picasso dresses' In my mind, one design that most certainly contributes to this unique position is the "Homage to Pablo Picasso" dress. Not wanting to violate copyright, I've shrunk a picture of it, making it just big enough to tempt you to view the original. I hope that will be acceptable under fair use. To see the original, read the in the Vogue link above. Or you can see it in tbe BBC's feature "How one man changed fashion forever", by Dominic Lutyens, 3 October 2017. In the latter, it's the dress on the right. Gaze and admire.

      One thing I like about it is the vivid scarlet. Another is the shape: the well defined waist, the flared skirt, and the leg-of-mutton sleeves. And a third, I've realised, is the sheer boldness of the designs on the skirt. The blues and greens and blacks and purples are thick thick thick. They're the antithesis of High Street designs today. Google "river island floral dress" to see what I mean. Or "gap floral dress", or "next floral dress", or ... .

      Why this should be, I don't know. Surely these companies have the technology to do better. Is it really too expensive to employ it and still sell at a reasonable price? Is it really too expensive to pay a proper artist to design the decoration, and to spread the cost of doing so over every unit sold?

      Flowered Earth-Toned Kimono Top
      Friday 10th August, 2018

      The heatwave — our own little slice of meteorological Paradise, weather more often imagined than granted — has ended, and temperatures have dropped by ten degrees. So to ward off any slight chill, I'm wearing a light kimono top, bought from Unicorn, over my short-sleeved shirt. It's this:

      Flower-printed kimono top

      Flower-printed kimono top

      Flower-printed kimono top

      Flower-printed kimono top

      The pattern on the kimono isn't so different in colour distribution from the Liberty print shown in my last post. The motifs — the flowers — are much bigger, however, and I find something peculiarly satisfying about them when displayed on screen. Particularly, here, in the final two photos.

      But at the same time, the sky is now 100% cloud, and I'm yearning to wear something more intense. And I can't think of anything more intense than Yves Saint-Laurent's "Homage to Pablo Picasso" dress shown halfway down this page? Does anyone feel like making me a top of the same shape, but in those colours?

      “Should Fashion Legacies Be Controlled?”, Vogue Turkey, Suzy Menkes, 12 June 2017.

      Eastex Liberty-Print Shirt
      Monday 6th August, 2018

      Continuing the theme of flowers, this is a Liberty-print long shirt I saw in Unicorn:

      Eastex Liberty-print long shirt

      Eastex Liberty-print long shirt, showing label

      Eastex Liberty-print long shirt, showing pattern

      Eastex Liberty-print long shirt, showing pattern

      Eastex Liberty-print long shirt, showing pattern

      Heather Valley Delphinium Purple-Blend Shirt
      Friday 3rd August, 2018

      Here's an unusual patterned shirt from Unicorn:

      Heather Valley delphinium purple-blend shirt

      Heather Valley delphinium purple-blend shirt, showing label

      Heather Valley delphinium purple-blend shirt, showing pattern

      Heather Valley delphinium purple-blend shirt, showing pattern

      Heather Valley delphinium purple-blend shirt, showing pattern

      Real Men Don’t Wear Lace
      Monday 30th July, 2018

      Cover of the Daily Mirror 1962 Andy Capp annual

      Cartoon on page 5 of the 1962 Andy Capp annual, set on a cricket pitch. Andy and another member of the team are walking side by side onto the pitch. Their wives sit watching them at the edge of the field. The other man's shirt is hanging out, but Andy's isn't. His wife is saying to the other woman, ''I soon cured Andy of it — I sewed an edgin' o' lace round the bottom''.


      A cricket pitch. Andy and another member of the team are walking side by side onto the pitch. Their wives sit watching them at the edge of the field. The other man's shirt is hanging out, but Andy's isn't. His wife is saying to the other woman, "I soon cured Andy of it — I sewed an edgin' o' lace round the bottom".

      Knitted Flowers on White
      Friday 27th July, 2018

      Here are more flowers, knitted this time. The photos are slightly fuzzy, but the garment was sold — in Unicorn — before I had a chance to take any more.

      knitted flowers on white

      knitted flowers on white

      More Embroidered Flowers
      Monday 23rd July, 2018

      Here are some more embroidered flowers from Unicorn. I think they were on a black jersey. I urge you to click on the photo and let it fill your screen. On a proper computer, not a phone. The effect is stunning.

      embroidered flowers

      Let's look at variations on a theme of flowers. Here are the above compared with flowers from two earlier posts: one lot also embroidered, and one lot woven.

      If Only Prince Charles Had Given Him Permission
      Friday 20th July, 2018

      I've experienced some odd conversations. I was once walking on the banks of a river in a nature reserve on the outskirts of Eindhoven, when a man came up to me, started chatting, admired my tan, and asked whether it continued under my shorts. Maybe this is a popular chat-up line in Noord-Brabants culture: if so, I'm very happy to donate it to anybody elsewhere who can use it. But the oddest was when I walked into an Oxford charity bookshop. The volunteer at the till admired the Moroccan clothes I was wearing, and then said "I wish Prince Charles had given me permission to wear exotic things".

      Another customer came into the shop, so we had to cut the conversation short. But the gist was that Prince Charles had been on TV recently, at some theatrical event where he and others were flamboyantly dressed, and the volunteer wanted to be able to dress as flamboyantly without people thinking he was odd. Charles proclaiming "OK, you can wear these in the street" would have been sufficient justification.

      I did offer to tell the volunteer where he could buy Moroccan clothes, but he said it wasn't his style.

      Wallis Brightly Striped Linen Blazer
      Monday 16th July, 2018

      This light linen blazer from Unicorn is one that I've worn a lot this summer, when I've needed to take the chill off mornings and evenings. I like its cheerful colours.

      Wallis striped linen blazer

      Wallis striped linen blazer, showing yellow stripe

      Wallis striped linen blazer, showing stripes

      Wallis striped linen blazer, showing label and purple lining

      Wallis striped linen blazer, showing purple lining

      Wallis striped linen blazer, showing purple button

      Wallis still exist, but they don't make such colourful clothes any more. I know this, and I know the blazer is 24 years old, because yesterday, someone told me how nostalgic it made her feel. She'd bought such a jacket, exactly the same style and size, when her now 25-year-old daughter was one year old. She'd loved it — but somewhere along the line between multiple house moves, it got lost. And Wallis discontinued the line.

      Which is a shame, because I'm sure people would buy it. A few weeks ago, the owner of a stall in the local market told me that a lady saw me shopping there the previous week. A few minutes after I'd left, she asked him, should he see me again, to ask me whether I'd sell her the blazer.

      Variations on a Theme of Black and Gold
      Friday 13th July, 2018

      Black and Gold Brocade
      Friday 13th July, 2018

      Here's a black and brocade jacket that I bought from Unicorn. Like my Chinese green silk top, it's difficult to photograph, because the pattern looks washed out in strong light. The first three photos hint at the bright shimmer that I get on the gold, but the effect is stronger in the library photo. An odd thing is that the pattern fuzzes out if I look at it straight on, becoming more distinct away from my line of gaze.

      Black and gold brocade jacket

      Black and gold brocade jacket

      Black and gold brocade jacket, showing detail of design

      Black and gold brocade jacket, showing detail of design

      Black and gold brocade jacket

      Black and gold brocade jacket

      Monday 9th July, 2018

      I've added a gallery page to this site. Technically speaking, it works by randomly choosing from my photos, using a PHP script and a list of attributes stored as YAML, and then arranging the results by running David DeSandro's masonry program. You probably didn't want to know that, though if anyone's interested, I'm happy to pass on the code. But web programming aside, the gallery shows off some of the diverse designs and patterns I've come across. If you make clothes, or are looking for something different to buy, use them for inspiration. And it has another purpose, related to my Grayson Perry quote about the buttons.

      Some of the jackets are women's. This pink silk, for instance. So as is the custom, they have buttons attached on the left rather than the right. In my experience though, and in contrast to Grayson Perry's fears, most men don't notice, or at least don't care enough to comment. Some women friends have, but none of them care. Of course, the shape of the jacket has to be suitable, which rules out ones curved to fit a bust. But that still leaves a lot that a man can wear, such as this smart linen blazer by Wallis.

      So that's one way of finding vivid colours and interesting designs. Clothes from outside Europe are another: see the Chinese silk tops and all my Moroccan clothes. And a third is those vintage clothes that were made for men and that do happen to be colourful or otherwise interesting, such as my Falabella velvet jacket and Oakland velvet waistcoat.

      So that's why my gallery page has two buttons on it:

      The second button selects only the clothes that I myself wear. And if I can carry them off, anyone can.

      The Decorative Impulse
      Sunday 8th July, 2018

      A garden patch with pinks and some other little flowers

      A bicycle basket decorated with pink plastic flowers

      A man walking, dressed entirely in black

      The Buttons on the Other Side
      Saturday 7th July, 2018

      Cover of Grayson Perry's book 'The Descent of Man'

      I don't know exactly when C.O. wrote "Neck or Nothing", but it must have been 1925 or earlier. Ninety years later, and attitudes are much the same. Here's an extract from Grayson Perry's book The Descent of Man, in which he tells how he ruined a jacket his mother gave him, because he didn't want it to be seen to be a woman's.

      Watching a men’s haute couture fashion show, one might easily be fooled into thinking that next season, all blokes will be wearing calf-length floral culottes and a neon string vest under oversized silver foil parkas. But go to the high street and what’s on offer will be a tiny shift in what was available last season, maybe with some slight nod to emerging trends, a "daring" colour or change in width of lapel or trouser leg. Most of the time the racks are a sea of black, grey, navy and khaki. Men are becoming more clothes-conscious, but few stray out of the territory of well-established masculine classics. To wear anything not approved by the Department of Masculinity is to bump into that gay electric fence.

      During my later years at school, I was the proud owner of a camouflage army-issue combat jacket, which I teamed with a skinhead haircut. When I came home with my surprise crop, my mother said I looked like I had lice, which was nice. I think I adopted this very masculine uniform as a counterpoint to my rebellious sexuality that wanted flowery frills, heels and make-up. Perhaps I sensed one of the attractive qualities of uniforms — that they imply a public role rather than an individual private identity. They distract from the individual body as object, and I certainly wanted distraction from my body as a teenager. After the camo came a donkey jacket, the tough workman’s garment with leather shoulder patches, teamed with 18-hole Dr Marten boots. I was protecting my softie self with the hooligan armour of the mid-Seventies. When I bought my first motorcycle, my mother gave me her old sheepskin jacket to wear while I rode it. I ruined the jacket by attempting to swap the buttons and buttonholes over, so paranoid was I of being seen wearing a woman’s jacket.

      We Were Promised Jetcars
      Friday 6th July, 2018

      Cover of John Sladek's book 'The Steam-Driven Boy'

      Here, set in a universe slightly askew from our own, is an extract from a story about an inventor who travels from 1878 in order to escape the town bully and seek his fortune in the future. Some things, he realises, don't change — and given the age of the essay I blogged yesterday, it's apposite to note that one of them is men's clothing. The story is John Sladek's "1937 A.D.!", published in his collection The Steam-Driven Boy, all of which is worth reading. It includes some wicked parodies of Asimov, Heinlein, and other writers.

      In a moment he had made his decision. He would go into tomorrow! He would see 1937 A.D., that promised land — the very system of numbering our years promised it! He would drink in its wonders: flying machines, the bridge across the English Channel, immortality through mesmerism, electric cannon, a world at peace, where the sun never set on the flag of the United States of Columbia!

      'Are you gonna stand gawking at that pitcher or are you gonna wash my wheel?' demanded Morbes.

      'Neither. You may take yourself off my property at once,' replied Emil. Raising his clenched fists, he added, 'Go to Maud Peed. And tell her — tell her —'

      His hands dropped to his sides, and as his head bowed, the unruly lock of hair fell over his eyes. He looked not unlike the young Abner Lincoln, thought Morbes idly.

      — tell her,' Emil said quietly, 'that the best man has won. I wish you both a — haha — a happy future!' With a strangled sob he turned away.

      Morbes was so startled by this outburst that he was unable to summon a bluster to his lips. He turned and walked out.

      Emil knew he had done the right thing. Without another regret, he filled his pockets with his Mom's homebaked cookies, took a last sip of lemonade, and began to pedal the great generator that powered his engine. He had mounted a special clock face on the handlebars before him, and when its hands reached 1937, he depressed the telegraph key. 'Now it is


      1937 A.D.!' he exclaimed, and looked about him.

      The room had not changed considerably, though it seemed to have become some sort of museum. Emil found himself surrounded by velvet ropes.

      'Here, get off there!' said a man in uniform. He seized Emil's arm and dragged him away from the time engine. 'You're not to touch the exhibits, understand?'

      Before the bewildered inventor could explain, he found himself outside the shop, looking up at a brass plaque which read, 'The Emil Hart Historical Museum'. He was historical!

      Pausing only a moment to marvel at his fame, Emil strode toward the main street of town, eager to see the changes time had wrought. The streets, he noticed, had a new hard surface, and there was not a trace of manure upon it!

      Then he saw them, lined up at the sidewalk. Great trackless locomotives, just as he had imagined them. As he watched, two men emerged from a store and entered one of them. Through its window he could see one man shovelling coal into the boiler while the other turned valves. In a moment, the great, chuffing engine moved off down the street.

      His momentary elation dissipated at once, when Emil turned to look at the shops. There was not a single new building on Main Street, and though many had installed large plate glass windows, the facades above them were faded, dirty and abused. Delmonico's Dining Room had become the Eateria, but Carlson's Peafowl Feed Store had not even changed its sign. Emil examined the contents of a clothing store window, his gorge rising at their dull familiarity. Why weren't people attired in seminude costumes of gold, with scarlet capes? The mannikins showed only women in the same silly hats and long gowns, men in dark, dull suits. Worse, the one or two pedestrians he glimpsed wore overalls of the same cut and hue as his own.

      He was thoroughly depressed by the time he reached the end of the town's single street and the Public Library. Despairing of seeing any more wonderful inventions like the trackless locomotive, Emil made his way into the familiar building to the tiny room marked 'Science and Technology'. Here at last he might find respite from the past. Here he might find the future that seemed to have overlooked his town.

      Neck or Nothing
      Thursday 5th July, 2018

      Cover, title page, indicia, and first contents page, of C.O.'s Cameos by C.O. of the Evening Standard, 1925

      Here's an short piece about men's dress from a book of whimsical essays by "C.O." of the Evening Standard. The book it's in, C.O.'s Cameos, was published in 1925. The essay is called "Neck or Nothing".

      A LETTER from an indignant young man with a grievance has drifted to me, and merits attention :

      " It is all very well for people to write platitudes that women's dress is so much more healthy than ours—don't we know it ? And wouldn't we give worlds to be able to go to the office in open necks ! You know as well as I do that if I rolled up to the office in comfortable kit the chief would sack me.

      " In fairness to the young men of to day who are always being taunted on this point, but are helpless owing to the fact that they must keep their jobs to keep their own women going, will you publish this letter ? "

      Right heartily ! Here is where I feel I can come down heavily as a publicist. Let others write about the League of Nations and what the Prime Minister ought to say to the Bey of Algiers. I feel I have a lance to break in favour of the young men who want to show their necks, so that the air may circulate freely, but are prevented from doing so by tyrannical employers.

      All this has been brought up because of a weighty report from the Ministry of Health, which records an immense improvement in the health of women and girls as a result of their sensible dress. But men can go on dying in tight collars and nobody cares.

      It is merely another example of the way in which the women get the best of both worlds. Not only do they steal our jobs, but they come to the office clad in a fashion which if it is not a delusion is certainly a snare.

      Suppose some brave man in the City decided that the pursuit of health was paramount, and turned up at the office showing all those rounded contours which make Miss Tictac of the same office so beautiful to look upon !

      Think of the cold and cutting stare of his hierarchial chief.

      " Mr. Bloggs, are you so proud of your Adam's apple that you must flaunt it in my face ? When I wish to see the masculine form in all its beauty I will go to the British Museum and look at the Elgin Marbles. In the meantime will you return instantly to your distant suburb and put some clothes on ? "

      " But, sir, Miss Tictac is attired like this, and is all the healthier for it. I am sure it makes for efficiency."

      " Mr. Blogg, the dictates of female fashion are no concern of mine. It is true that there are days when I am not quite sure whether Miss Tictac is dressed or merely pretending. But so long as she can type my letters satisfactorily, I am indifferent whether she wears a crinoline or a bathing-gown. They look alike to me.

      " As for yourself, I offer you the choice between respectability and continued employment, or semi-nudity and instant dismissal. I would advise you to take a taxi and go away and cover up your shame."

      And, of course, a little later :

      " Good morning, Miss Tictac."

      " Good morning, sir."

      " Please take this down. . . .  Pursuant to your favour of the seventeenth ult. . . .  By the way, another new frock ? "

      " Only a little one. I made it myself."

      " Really ! Delightful. So free, so healthy, so—er—flimsy, so becoming. . . .  Pursuant to your favour . . . And you really say that you made it yourself ? "

      " All of it."

      " How clever of you.  Ah me ! why cannot men dress like that ? "  And when Miss Tictac departs the Chief is left wondering how old he is.

      There is the unfairness of the whole thing. Miss Tictac shows her little neck, and all is well. Mr. Bloggs shows his, and gets it there.

      I don't think there is anything to be done about it. It is just part of the general handicap of being a man. Even Apollo nowadays would have to stay indoors if he lost his collar stud.

      Jake Velvet Paisley Gold and Black
      Monday 2nd July, 2018

      Here's a cropped velvet jacket in black with gold paisley from Unicorn.

      The shapes are overprinted, and some are paler than others: in certain lights, they seem to lie above and below one another, jostling for space like paramecia swimming.

      A Dulux Challenge
      Friday 29th June, 2018

      The Times of Malta for July 1 2012 has a wonderful photo. It accompanies a report by Gildas Le Roux about the Milan Male Spring-Summer 2013 collections:
      Screenshot of the 'Times of Malta's report on the Milan Male Spring-Summer 2013 collections, showing Salvatore Ferragamo spring/summer 2013 menswear collection

      This made me reflect on Dulux. In 2014, this company donated 15,000 litres of paint to give the Belgian city of Charleroi a colour makeover, after it was named the ugliest city in the world four years earlier. This was part of Dulux's "Let's Colour" campaign, in which Dulux, saying its mission was to "add colour to people's lives", donated paint to local communities and public bodies around the world. Wouldn't it be nice if Dulux would do this for clothes as well as paint?

      Agnès b. Blue with Yellow Bubbles
      Monday 25th June, 2018

      The sunlight is at its most intense, so this seems a good time to show off some brilliant yellow, made all the more vivid by contrasting it with blue. Like the Cyrillic-lettered top on my last-but-one post, the garment here is from Unicorn. Also like that top, it's slightly too short for me, otherwise I'd have bought it to cheer up the oncoming winter. It's an Agnès b. cropped jacket, made from a blue backing containing densely packed raised yellow bubbles. When viewed in the sunlight, the result is dazzling.

      Agnes b blue cropped jacket with yellow bubbles

      Agnes b blue cropped jacket with yellow bubbles, showing detail of bubbles

      Agnes b blue cropped jacket with yellow bubbles, showing detail of bubbles

      Chinese Green
      Friday 22nd June, 2018

      In Chinese Red, I featured a red silk Chinese top. I've worn this a lot: it's light, easy to carry, is a striking vivid red without being garish, combines well with lots of other colours, is reversible should I want a different design, and can be worn under or over other layers. Now here's another high-quality silk top, but green rather than red. Like the red one, it's from Unicorn.

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top

      Though the top is easy to wear, it's not easy to photograph. The silk is shiny, and in strong direct light, the fabric looks washed out. These photos, taken in the diffuse light of a library, are more like what I see.

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top

      In some lights, the patterns seem to drift on a green sea.

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top

      The fastenings look like Chinese characters:

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top

      The fabric is embroidered, with people, birds and fruits, as well as elaborate circular symbols. In some places, these have been worked into the pockets:

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top

      Sometimes these symbols look darker than the surrounding fabric, and sometimes lighter:

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top

      The embroidery and fastenings are intricate. Here are some close-ups:

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top, detail of embroidery

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top, detail of embroidery

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top, detail of embroidery

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top, detail of embroidery

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top, detail of embroidery

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top, detail of embroidery

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top, detail of embroidery

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top, detail of embroidery

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top, detail of embroidery

      Green embroidered silk Chinese top, detail of embroidery

      Can You Identify These Buttons?
      Wednesday 20th June, 2018

      Can anybody identify these buttons? They're on a woollen sleeved cape, which my friend thinks was made in the 70s, maybe by Westfield. The design on them could be a reef knot. Or possibly a granny knot, though as this is considered inferior to a reef, that seems less likely.

      button from cape

      button from cape

      Бжоһєд Cyrillic Silver-Grey Top
      Monday 18th June, 2018

      This top from Unicorn was slightly too short for me, otherwise I'd have bought it for the unusualness of its design: a pattern of silver Cyrillic and Early-Cyrillic lettering on a background of black stars and lines. The garment is asymmetric: the point at the bottom front isn't quite central, and the right-hand side of the waist is slightly higher than the left.

      Grey top with Cyrillic lettering

      Grey top with Cyrillic lettering, showing details of lettering

      Grey top with Cyrillic lettering, showing details of lettering

      Most of the writing on the top is pieces of alphabet. However, there are larger letters running down the left-hand side. These look like "БЖРОҺЄД" except that the Є is shaped like an ε, and the top of another letter is just visible after the Д.
      Grey top with Cyrillic lettering, showing possible name As this is the only writing on the garment, I did wonder whether it was the maker's name. Unfortunately, the label has been cut off.

      Benetti Purple-Blue Blend
      Friday 15th June, 2018

      Here's a vivid shirt in shades of purple and blue with a pattern like dewdrops on blue grass. I bought it in Aachen in 2001. I can't remember where, other than that it was in a sale in a shop in a side street off one of the long main shopping streets. There were several hung together on a rack, and I should have bought a spare. But this one has survived very well.

      Benetti purple-blue-blend shirt

      Benetti purple-blue-blend shirt

      Benetti purple-blue-blend shirt

      Benetti purple-blue-blend shirt

      That these lovely shirts were in a sale suggests chromophobia amongst the Aachener and Aachenerinnen. Chromophobia now also afflicts Benetti. There is still a company of this name — albeit with a different design of label — but its shirts are bland.

      Anna Murphy, Shake My Hand
      Monday 11th June, 2018

      The Times last Wednesday ran an article in Times 2 called "We should pity poor men — women can wear any colour".
      Scan of 'Times 2' fashion article for 6 June 2018, with the title 'We should pity poor men — women can wear any colour'

      In it, the fashion editor Anna Murphy writes:

      I received a letter from a reader in response to something I wrote about trousers, verboten for women until remarkably recently. In the first paragraph, the reader told me they were a fan of skirts. "I hate trousers because of the way they compress my nether regions." In the second they revealed themselves to be "a bloke" and, in so doing, to have the narrative pacing of Dashiell Hammett.

      "I am not trans," our anonymous reader went on to say. "I have no desire to be a woman. Women's clothes are FUN. Men's aren't. Why should we be denied this? Clothes do not have gender — people do."

      Let's pity poor men their wardrobe limitations and hope for their sakes that this changes, while in the meantime enjoying our lack of them. Let's wear our red suit and pink top. Let's tell another woman how good she looks when she does. And if a man does, let's go up and shake his hand.

      As I've shown in this blog, you can find men's clothes that ARE fun. And you can find men's trousers that don't compress your nether regions. I'll write about this in another post, but Indian and "Eastern" shops are a good place to look, so is "Fez", and so are online suppliers such as Fantazia.

      After seeing Anna's article, I sent her a tweet inviting her to shake my hand. But perhaps she won't take up my invitation. Because The Times hardly ever writes about clothes for men. When it does, the clothes are drab. And it always writes about new clothes. Never vintage. And never ever ever foreign styles such as the Moroccan and their wonderful colours. Her paper's words belie her pity.

      Chinese Blue
      Friday 8th June, 2018

      The four photo-posts before this have all been of pieces of clothing that aren't mine. But here's another that is, a blue Chinese embroidered silk top.

      Blue Chinese silk top
      Blue Chinese silk top
      Blue Chinese silk top
      Blue Chinese silk top
      Blue Chinese silk top


      From some angles, the designs look surreal: segmented biological forms undulating over a blue silk sea. Arp blobs, but with internal structure.

      Blue Chinese silk top

      Blue Chinese silk top


      From other angles, they seem like floating islands.

      Blue Chinese silk top, showing detail of embroidery stitching


      Notice the details of the embroidery.

      Blue Chinese silk top, showing detail of embroidery stitching
      Blue Chinese silk top, showing detail of embroidery stitching
      Blue Chinese silk top, showing detail of embroidery stitching
      Blue Chinese silk top, showing detail of embroidery stitching


      As a friend said, sometimes the patterns look like a dream:

      Blue Chinese silk top, showing detail of embroidery stitching
      Blue Chinese silk top, showing detail of embroidery stitching
      Blue Chinese silk top, showing detail of embroidery stitching

      Woven 1960s Flowers
      Monday 4th June, 2018

      Here's a cheery design from Unicorn. It's a 1960s stretchy swimming-top with brightly coloured woven flowers.

      '60s swimming top with woven flowers

      Four Embroidered 1980s Flowers
      Friday 1st June, 2018

      I've flowers today, from Unicorn. They're on a 1980s panelled elastane corset-top, embroidered with stems, buds, leaves, and four flowers. White patches on the petals give an effect of light shining onto them; and white threads radiating from the centres of the biggest flowers look like bright rays against the red underneath.

      '80s flower-embroidered corset top

      '80s flower-embroidered corset top, showing flowers

      '80s flower-embroidered corset top, showing one flower

      This is a simple, elegant, somehow calm design. Patterns don't need to be elaborate to be effective.

      Scarlet Satin Devil-Dice
      Monday 28th May, 2018

      This, again from Unicorn would also make an interesting shirt. It's scarlet satin. Printed onto it are motifs which include dice, mermaids, hearts surmounted by "HELL BUNNY" scrolls, stars, diamonds, the word "DREAMS" on scrolls, swifts (or possibly swallows), and butterfly-winged skulls.

      Scarlet satin dress with printed 'devil-dice' motifs

      Scarlet satin dress with printed 'devil-dice' motifs

      Scarlet satin dress with printed 'devil-dice' motifs

      Scarlet satin dress with printed 'devil-dice' motifs

      Scarlet satin dress with printed 'devil-dice' motifs

      Scarlet satin dress with printed 'devil-dice' motifs

      Scarlet satin dress with printed 'devil-dice' motifs

      As I mentioned, one of the motifs is a scroll bearing the words "HELL BUNNY". I searched for this, and found a lot of hits. I'd wondered whether the phrase was a generic description of the style, in the same way as I'd thought of it as devil-dice, but it turns out to name Hell Bunny the clothing company. Who do indeed sell a dress of this type, described as flocked satin 50's style, with a design-tattoo of daggers, hearts, mermaids, and swallows:

      Image search also found variants on the design. Not on Hell Bunny's site, but on sale at Jackdaw Landing, is the same red with spider print, described as a Hell Bunny red Mary Jane dress.

      Arrow Vogue Print
      Friday 25th May, 2018

      Like the Colorpoint shirt and its feisty Roman aliens, Unicorn's garment featured below is fun. It's a 1980s top, and since it's rather skimpy for me, I didn't buy it. But the design would make a nice shirt.

      Arrow print top with design featuring 'Vogue' title

      Arrow print top with design featuring 'Vogue' title

      Arrow print top with design featuring 'Vogue' title

      Arrow print top with design featuring 'Vogue' title

      Gaydar Blip
      Monday 21st May, 2018

      I was sitting with two acquaintances. One asked me "Are you gay? You always wear bright colours." The other replied, "No, he isn't. I am, and I'd know if he was." But why did the first assume that I have to be gay in order to like colour?

      Westgate Drab
      Friday 18th May, 2018

      "Primark and the Spectrum Suckers" was inspired by the Primark shop in Oxford's new Westgate shopping centre. Primark's decor brings to mind the inside of an industrial warehouse: Inside Primark, Westgate Shopping Centre, Oxford Dilapidated abandoned warehouse

      Now, I did like some things about the new Westgate. It completes the west end of Turn Again Lane, which used just to peter off. And in the summer, it would have a nice feeling of being open to the sky, almost as if at the seaside. Other things are less appealing. Why a national-chain Lebanese café at the entrance when Oxford has so many independents: Al Shami, LB's, Le Kesh, Pomegranate? In fact, Westgate has no independent shops at all.

      And here's another less appealing thing. Next door to Skechers is a picture of a thugulent yob grunting "I refuse to become what they call normal." But he is. He has a black cap and shades and T-shirt, with stubble to match. And he perfectly echoes the clothes in Westgate's shop windows. Black black black; navy, beige, denim or grey. The shoppers were no better: jeans, black coats, an occasional dark suit. The brightest splash of colour was an orange Sainsburys bag. Just what I wanted when the centre opened last October, with the clocks gone back and five months of darkness due.

      I asked the assistant in one shop to find me some clothes that weren't drab. He said, "I don't know the word." I asked, "You don't know the word 'drab'? Are you English?". He said "I am, and I'm a qualified English teacher. But I've never heard the word 'drab'."

      Fish have no word for water.

      Primark and the Spectrum Suckers
      Friday 18th May, 2018

      Two pictures in one image. The first is a prism with light going through and forming a spectrum, labelled 'PRISM'. The second is the same prism with an interior photo of the Oxford Westgate Primark shop superimposed. It is labelled 'PRIMARK'. The light coming out is the same spectrum as for the first prism, but grey, not coloured.

      Falabella Velvet Indigo
      Monday 14th May, 2018

      Here's an elegant and very smart velvet jacket from Unicorn. Notice the stitching.

      Falabella indigo velvet jacket

      Falabella indigo velvet jacket

      Falabella indigo velvet jacket

      Falabella indigo velvet jacket

      Colorpoint Roman Aliens
      Friday 11th May, 2018

      This short-sleeved silk shirt isn't something I bought, because it was too big. But the little cartoons on it are fun, so I decided to show it anyway. It's labelled "Colorpoint", and is covered in cartoon aliens wearing Roman plumes on their helmets. Once again, I found it in Unicorn. Click on the aliens to see a picture of the design surrounding them.

      Colorpoint silk shirt

      Colorpoint silk shirt

      Black and Gold Silk
      Monday 7th May, 2018

      This is a gold-on-black silk jacket from Unicorn. Probably Chinese or Japanese, and perhaps the flowers are stylised chrysanthemums? The colours contrast nicely with both reds and blues, worn over or under, and this top is useful as an extra layer in the spring. Like my red Chinese silk top, the fastenings are loops and Chinese balls rather than buttonholes and buttons. You can see three loops to the left of the pocket in the second photo. Unlike the red silk, the texture is glossy and almost rubbery. In contrast, the red silk is matte and feels slightly cottony.

      Black and gold silk top
      Black and gold silk top

      Artesania Pop Wuh Embroidered Foliage and Flower
      Friday 4th May, 2018

      Here's an embroidered waistcoat from Unicorn.

      Artesania Pop Wuh embroidered waistcoat
      Artesania Pop Wuh embroidered waistcoat
      Artesania Pop Wuh embroidered waistcoat
      Artesania Pop Wuh embroidered waistcoat
      Artesania Pop Wuh embroidered waistcoat

      The brand-name on the label is Artesania Pop Wuh. I wondered whether this was anything to do with the Popol Vuh, a Mayan creation story from what is now Guatemala. According to French Wikipedia, "Popol Vuh" can also be transliterated as "Pop Wuh". And indeed, when I searched for "Artesania Pop Wuh", I did find this image on Pinterest (apparently copied from Ruby Lane), showing a purple Pop Wuh waistcoat tagged as from Guatemala.
      Artesania Pop Wuh embroidered waistcoat

      But the most similar to mine was this, offered for sale on a now-defunct page at the Department of Architecture in the Catholic University of Paraguay.
      Artesania Pop Wuh embroidered waistcoat

      May Morning: the Coloured and the Odd
      Tuesday 1st May, 2018

      Morris dancer in flower-bedecked hat, High Street, Oxford, May Morning.
      Morris dancers, Horns of Plenty, Pink People and Green Men: there was a lot of colour on view during May Morning. Here are some photos: on a separate page so as not to break the flow of these posts.

      Jaeger Russian Red
      Monday 30th April, 2018

      I was going to write a post called "Artesania Pop Wuh". But that will now be next time. The Beast from the East returned for the day, so as I bundle up against a final slash of the Beast's claws, here's something bought at the start of the winter for practicality as well as style.

      It's a red Jaeger coat, 1980s and more interesting than most of that company's clothes were in later years. Its length, elegantly fitted contours — most visible in the side-view and penultimate photos — and high velvet-lined collar make me think of something Russian and military. And as you'd want from something Russian and military, it's warm, being pure wool. Length is an advantage during today's north-easterly blasts. I bought it from Unicorn. Coats don't have to be black.

      Jaeger red coat
      Jaeger red coat
      Jaeger red coat
      Jaeger red coat
      Jaeger red coat
      Jaeger red coat
      Jaeger red coat

      Antique Velvet and the Nihilistic Sewer
      Friday 27th April, 2018

      Let's go back to the velvet waistcoat I showed on Monday in Oakland Velvet Fruit and Flower: Oakland velvet waistcoat

      Its colours are implemented by printing:
      Oakland velvet waistcoat

      But velvet can be intricate, with patterns made by weaving rather than by printing. Here are two samples from Velvets by Chiara Buss, published by Collezione Antonio Ratti. Text in quotes is Buss's.

      Five-colour velvet for man's waistcoat, 1895-1905 "Lyon, 1895-1905
      Five-coloured figured cut pile velvet (bordeaux, orange, beige, blue, light blue), on a moss green reps ground.

      The highly stylized floral design is achieved in a profusion of brilliant colours in contrast with the dim, dull colour of the ground."

      Light blue velvet for man's coat or jacket, 1750-1170 "Lyon or Venice, 1750-1770
      Light blue figured velvet, cut and uncut pile, on a light red taffetas doubleté ground.

      Tiny 'E'-shaped, 'S'-shaped motifs and dots are arranged with binary alternation along diagonal bands, with an up/down and right/left alternated orientation. Pattern in cut pile with borders in uncut pile on a bare ground."

      Both of these are in the men's fashion section of the book. The first, 1895-1906, is for a man's waistcoat. Buss remarks that "it was only in the tie and waistcoat that [men] could combine colour, silk and pattern, and only in the waistcoat could they wear the most precious of all silk fabrics, namely velvet."

      The second, 1750-1770, is for a jacket or coat, prestigious because of the cost of its fabric.

      'Portrait of the Marchioness Brignole-Sale with her Eldest
Son (detail showing son in velvet suit), by Anton Van Dyck And here is one yet earlier. This is a detail from Anton Van Dyck's "Portrait of the Marchioness Brignole-Sale with her Eldest Son", showing the son in a velvet suit. Next to it, Buss displays a sample of red figured velvet on an ivory-coloured ground, from Genoa around 1620-1630. She notes that we can conclude that it was made there because it's so similar to the velvet in the portrait, the son being a member of one of the most powerful families in Genoa.

      As I don't want to go beyond copyright fair use, I've kept the images small, and only shown those two samples. The book has many others. They show what could be done with the technology of the times, some of it even before the automation of the Jacquard loom.

      So with our technology, why can't we do better? As "Dismuke" says in Objectivism Online Forum's thread "Why are men's clothing so boring?":

      The reason I think is because style, glamor and grandeur in fashion, like virtually every other aspect of our popular culture, collapsed into a nihilistic sewer during the 1960s and 1970s and has only partially recovered in the decades since.

      Look at old photos from the 1930s. Both men and women dressed very attractively as a rule — and this included ordinary people who were less than affluent and at a time when the country was in the middle of a very severe economic depression and when clothing was much more expensive (after adjusting for factors such as inflation) than it is today.

      There is no rational excuse for the population of today to be less nicely dressed than that of our grandparents — clothes cost a lot more less to make, technology has given us a wider variety of fabrics to choose from and we have had several decades that could have been used for aesthetic innovations had the culture been open to such innovation.

      Oakland Velvet Fruit and Flower
      Monday 23rd April, 2018

      Here's something for the spring, even if fruit won't be out till autumn. It's a velvet waistcoat by Oakland, with a design of fruit and flowers. Like many of the others, I bought it from Unicorn.
      Oakland velvet waistcoat

      The colours are wonderfully subtle.
      Oakland velvet waistcoat

      Fosby Velvet Glow
      Friday 20th April, 2018

      Here's another item from Unicorn. It's a cropped multicoloured-velvet jacket by Fosby, with flower and leaf patterns outlined in gold.

      Fosby velvet multi-coloured jacket

      Fosby velvet multi-coloured jacket

      The jacket is light in weight, and I've been wearing it over the red silk top shown above, both over a silk shirt, for the coolish spring mornings of the past few days. Once the sun begins blasting down, discard all but the shirt. The jacket is wrinkle-proof when wet, which is an advantage when the April showers come.

      But another nice thing about it is that it glows. Notice the end of the sleeve on the right: Fosby velvet multi-coloured jacket

      This is because of the "tracks" which you can see below: Fosby velvet multi-coloured jacket

      Fosby velvet multi-coloured jacket

      The glow in some lights is intense, like internal fire. The three photos below were taken inside, and my camera couldn't quite focus without flash, which would have spoilt the effect. But they've caught the glow better than any others. Fosby velvet multi-coloured jacket

      Fosby velvet multi-coloured jacket

      Fosby velvet multi-coloured jacket

      What Is It Like To Be A Bat?
      Monday 16th April, 2018

      The philosophy of mind has a long history of "thought experiments": experiments that aren't actually possible, but that philosophers like to imagine in order to clarify their intuitions and ideas. John Locke asked about the "inverted spectrum". If Alice sees colours the opposite way round to Bob, so that she experiences red where he sees blue, and vice versa, how could we ever know? And if we can't, doesn't that prove it's impossible to know how anyone else perceives the world? Douglas Hofstadter had the fable of Mr. Chase and Mr. Sanborne that I told in the previous post. And in 1974, philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote a famous paper titled "What is it Like to be a Bat?"

      Bats, Nagel says, are alien. They perceive their world by sonar, computing the distance, size, shape, movement, and texture of objects from the way these reflect their own high-frequency shrieks. This is such a different sense from any we possess, so is there any way to know what the bat experiences? He concludes that we can't. Even if you try imagining that you have webbing on your arms, fly around at dawn and dusk catching insects in your mouth, locate these by sonar, and spend the day hanging upside down by your feet in an attic, that only tells you what it's like for you to be a bat. The bat's brain is wired so differently from ours that it says nothing about what it's like for the bat to be a bat.

      Nagel isn't especially interested in chiroptology or in emulating Doctor Dolittle: his bat is a stand-in for "any sufficiently different mind". For me, the class of "sufficiently different mind" is the girls I see with holes gaping in the knees of their jeans. What aesthetic pleasure do those give them? When I look at clothes, my attention immediately seeks beauty: vivid colours, graceful flowing lines, intricate embroidery, patterns you can get lost in. I know what it is like to want and enjoy these. And the girls with holes in their jeans must get joy from those, else why wear them?

      But even if I try imagining myself feeling intense pleasure while gusts of winter air blast around my red knobbly knees and passers-by stare at me as if I've crawled out of the poorhouse, that only tells me what it's like for me to be one of those girls. It says nothing about what it's like for those girls to be those girls.

      What Does He See In it?
      Friday 13th April, 2018

      I was in Unicorn talking to Iva. A student came in, riffled through the rack of shirts, and pulled out a white polo shirt. He pulled it on over his black T shirt, and started admiring himself in the full-length mirror. Turning himself from side to side, adjusting his collar, craning his head over his back.

      To me, the shirt was so uninteresting that I can't work out why he gave it so much time and care. To try and understand this, I remembered a fable by the cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter. He tells of two coffee tasters, Mr. Chase and Mr. Sanborn, who worked for Maxwell House. When they started their jobs, Chase and Sanborn both loved the coffee. "It's the best-tasting coffee in the world," they said.

      But over the years, they become less and less happy. Mr. Chase confides to Mr. Sanborn: "My tastes have changed." I used to love that taste. But I think I now want something more sophisticated. That taste now bores me."

      Mr. Sanborn replies to Mr. Chase: "For me, the experience is the opposite, but the effect is the same. I still love that taste. But when I drink Maxwell House, it's no longer that taste that I taste. With you, your perceptions seem to be the same but what you want from them has changed. With me, it's my perceptions — my ...tasters... — that have changed, while my wants stayed the same."

      So, analogously, it is between me and white-polo-shirt man. Is his vision better, so that he's seeing details I can't, but that I'd like if I could? Or is it his aesthetics that are better, so that he sees the same as I do, but appreciates subtle details for which my aesthetics are too coarse? It's very odd. I can't work out what he was seeing, when he was preening and adjusting with his little careful touches.

      Gerry Weber Pink Silk Jacket
      Monday 9th April, 2018

      Here's another item from Iva at Unicorn: a champagne-pink silk jacket. It looks very nice when worn over turquoise.

      Pink silk jacket

      Chinese Red and Moroccan Green
      Friday 6th April, 2018

      I like playing with combinations of colours. The intense silk red of my last post combines very well with my sage-green Moroccan shirt:

      Red silk Chinese top and sage green velvet Moroccan shirt

      Chinese Red
      Monday 2nd April, 2018

      I bought this wonderfully intense red silk top in Unicorn, Ship Street, Oxford. Notice that it's reversible. Iva, the owner of the shop, said that silk takes these intense dyes well: it would be unusual to find anything so vivid used on cotton or other fabrics. In spring, which I believe this weather is supposed to be, it's a good layer to have between a jacket and something inner such as a thin shirt.

      Red silk Chinese top

      Red silk Chinese top

      Red silk Chinese top

      Kardashian Type Two-and-a-Half Civilisation
      Friday 30th March, 2018

      "I can recognise a culture in decline when I see it. America is now what anthropologists call a Kardashian Type Three civilisation: more than fifty percent of GDP is in the attention economy."

      This is a quote from "In the Ruins", a short story by science-fiction writer Greg Egan. There's an allusion there to Nikolai Kardashev, an astronomer who proposed measuring a civilisation's technological advancement by how much energy it is able to use for communication. A Kardashev Type One civilisation would be able to use all the energy falling onto its planet from the sun. A Kardashev Type Two could use all the sun's energy, not merely the tiny portion radiated onto its planet. It might do this by building a gigantic shell around the sun to capture the energy. And a Type Three would not be satisfied with one miserly sun, but could control the energy emitted from its entire galaxy. We are nowhere near being even Kardashev Type One. But there's another scale, the Kardashian scale, that we are fast ascending.

      In Egan's near-future America, celebrity is everything, while being curious or interested in science has become socially unacceptable. The story's protagonist is a physics student: the only way she can make her studies socially acceptable is by live-blogging them as a kind of stand-up comedy show, while disowning pride in her cleverness by calling herself a "poopy-head" or "snot-face". Unlikely? It seems to me a logical extrapolation of a Daily Telegraph feature published in 2009.

      The feature was headlined:

      Research reveals how to be both clever and popular at school

      Clever schoolchildren can avoid being labelled "nerds" if they follow fashion and have a "fall guy" friend who is badly-behaved, new research has found.

      It went on to say that children who were both clever and popular tended to be good-looking and extrovert. Girls wore make-up to school and used lots of hair accessories. Boys were often had styled or gelled hair, wore their ties in a "jaunty" way, carried branded sports bags, and were good at sports.

      There's no formal definition of the Kardashian scale, of course: it's a joke by Egan. Who, by the way, loves physics, is a skilled mathematician, has just published a book called Dichronauts which explores a universe which has two space dimensions and two time rather than three space and one time, and uses "In the Ruins" to teach some nifty geometrical facts about four-dimensional rotations and electron energy levels in the atom. So you can be sure that he does not admire civilisations that rank high on the Kardashian scale. The Kardashians, of course, specialise in grabbing attention: in being famous for being famous, in being celebrity influencers. And one of the things they influence is denim styles.

      [Photo: Pixabay]

      I reckon we're up to Kardashian Type Two-and-a-Half.

      Pavement Pain
      Monday 26th March, 2018

      The opposite of pavement pleasure must be pavement pain. I like graceful flowing lines, such as those of the satin and velvet full-length harem pants made for me by my tailor in Tangier. I dislike the graceless wrinkles in jeans, especially around the knees. But in truth, most clothes I see do not grab the attention enough to cause pain. Drab, shapeless, beige: they're merely pavement bleurgh.

      Pavement Pleasure
      Friday 23rd March, 2018

      One can take pleasure in vividly coloured clothes, so it's a shame more people don't. A friend of mine coined a phrase about this:

      Pavement Pleasure: dressing to please other people on the pavement.

      We'd had coffee and come outside, and he was admiring my turquoise Moroccan top over which I'd draped a salmon-pink silk scarf. In the sun, the contrast was striking and enlivened both colours. "Wonderful colours!" he burst out. "Pavement pleasure!"

      Badges with the words 'Pavement Pleasure' on.

      Morocco Brought Me Colour: Scarlet
      Monday 19th March, 2018

      This splendid long-sleeved Moroccan top is black velvet with richly scarlet edging at collar, wrists, shoulders and waist, as well as down the zip. It's only two colours, arranged very simply, but what a result!

      Black velvet Moroccan shirt with scarlet edging

      Moroccan Embroidery
      Friday 16th March, 2018

      I said that the decoration on the front of my turquoise shirt is called the Moroccan Cross. Here's another example, this time in white on dark blue.

      Dark blue Moroccan shirt with white embroidery (worn in Oxford High Street near Magdalen Bridge)
      Dark blue Moroccan shirt with white embroidery (worn in Oxford High Street near Magdalen Bridge)

      Like the turquoise shirt, I bought this one in 2009. Despite almost daily wear during some summers, it's survived almost unscathed. The main wear is that the collar folds over, obscuring some of the decoration.

      Morocco Brought Me Colour: Garnet
      Monday 12th March, 2018

      This is a garnet-red velvet Moroccan shirt.

      Garnet velvet Moroccan shirt

      Shorts from the Sahara
      Friday 9th March, 2018

      This is a pair of qandrissi shorts, which I was told was made in the Sahara. Notice the "watermarking" and the decoration around the pocket and ankles.

      Blue Moroccan qandrissi shorts

      Blue Moroccan qandrissi shorts

      Blue Moroccan qandrissi shorts

      Blue Moroccan qandrissi shorts

      A Strange Moroccan Fabric
      Monday 5th March, 2018

      This is a very unusual pair of qandrissi. They're a kind of turquoise, but the weave contains some orange cross-threads. It's also very open. Although the trousers initially were very good against the wind, some threads tended to fibrate apart in the way that worn shoelaces do. This happened particularly on the pockets, which is why they've been bound with ribbon. My thanks to Carole Duma for doing this.

      Blue qandrissi shot with orange

      Blue qandrissi shot with orange (detail of weave)

      Blue qandrissi shot with orange

      Thursday 1st March, 2018

      Today is the first of March, an appropriate time to mention an item not of clothing but of adornment, the martenitsa:

      This is Bulgarian, and its name would be written in that language as мартеница. I have been to Bulgaria, but I think I was given mine at a party in Oxford. What I was told is that it symbolises spring. You start wearing it on the first of March, and continue until you see the first stork (or possibly the first tree in leaf: I can't remember). You then throw it into a wood or under a tree. I may also have been told that the colours relate to a legend about two babies abandoned in a snowy wood and saved by a stork which tears out its feathers to cover them with. The white stands for the snow or the feathers, and the red for the stork's blood.

      My reading found numerous other origin-legends, some linking the martenitsa to the founding of Bulgaria. But everyone seems to agree that this adornment is worn to give thanks for the ending of the long and brutal winter. With which I can fully agree. I shan't be throwing mine away, though, because I wouldn't be able to get another to replace it.

      The jacket holding the martenitsa came from the vintage shop Unicorn in Ship Street, Oxford. I buy a lot of my clothes there, as posts to come will show, and recommend it.

      Morocco Brought Me Colour: Maroon
      Monday 26th February, 2018

      This is a maroon crushed-velvet qandrissi, the same shape as the orange one shown under "Morocco Brought Me Colour: Orange". Both photos are from the same day, an Oxford May Morning. Or at least, the first one is May Morning. The second is May Afternoon, when I and the photographer were riding on the model railway in Cutteslowe Park. I'm also wearing the turquoise shirt. My tailor made the trousers to my request, so like some of my others, they're full-length.

      Turquoise Moroccan shirt and maroon velvet Moroccan qandrissi (worn during May Morning in Broad Street, Oxford)
      [Photo: Nasir Hamid]

      Turquoise Moroccan shirt and maroon velvet Moroccan qandrissi (worn at Cutteslowe Park Miniature Railway, Oxford) [Photo: SeongMo]

      You Can Carry It Off
      Friday 23rd February, 2018

      It's interesting to see how others react to vivid colours. One day, I was in the café. A business-suited woman came in and sat down. We started chatting. She was an optometrist from Sheffield, here for a day on a conference. She told me, "I love those trousers." They were the purple full-length harem pants made for me by my tailor in Tangier. I replied, "I could get a pair made for you." She said, "You can carry them off; I couldn't."

      I've had this reaction many times. Men say it too, but at least half the time, it's from women. Which is odd, because they have a much wider range of clothes that they are able to buy, and a much wider range of clothes that they can wear without being thought unconventional.

      Morocco Brought Me Colour: Purple
      Monday 19th February, 2018

      Here's that turquoise Moroccan shirt again, worn with a purple satin sarouel. Another pair of vivid colours that go very well together. The sarouel was made to my design by my tailor in Tangier, so isn't quite like a conventional qandrissi. It's full-length, and the "crotch" is the lower edge of the trousers, with two elasticated holes for my ankles. Unlike the "hippie" versions that I've mentioned before, this is carefully tailored, with pleats, belt loops, proper pockets, and a fly.

      Turquoise Moroccan shirt and purple satin Moroccan sarouel (worn at Gloucester Green Market, Oxford)
      [Photo: Dorothy Patricia Megaw]

      Morocco Brought Me Colour: Turquoise
      Friday 16th February, 2018

      The two photos below show a turquoise Moroccan shirt. I bought it in 2009 — the first shirt, in fact, that I bought from "Fez" — and 8½ years later, it's still almost as good as new. The zip jammed and had to be replaced, and a few of the black and blue bobbles near the neck have been lost, but that's all. Notice the elaborate decoration. This, I've been told, is called the "Moroccan cross". There'll be other examples in future posts.

      Turquoise Moroccan shirt

      Turquoise Moroccan shirt

      Morocco Brought Me Colour: Chocolate
      Monday 12th February, 2018

      To complete the family of Moroccan shirts that I've been exhibiting, here's a brown. It came from the same place as the others, Fez at 71 Golborne Road in London, and has similar decoration.
      Brown velvet Moroccan shirt

      Brown velvet Moroccan shirt

      Dress Code
      Friday 9th February, 2018

      I wrote the piece below for Dr Dobbs. This was once a respected and densely informative print magazine for home microcomputer hobbyists, born in 1975 as dr. dobb's journal of Tiny BASIC Calisthenics & Orthodontia (subtitle: Running Light Without Overbyte). When I started blogging for it in 2008, it was online only, and a few years later, it ceased publication altogether. The piece explains how, through spreadsheets, I discovered sarouels and Moroccan colours. Saaibestrijding is the blog by Paul Tieman that I wrote about in my last post but one.

      1. Ugly and uncomfortable "business clothing" often worn by non-hackers. Invariably worn with a "tie", a strangulation device that partially cuts off the blood supply to the brain. It is thought that this explains much about the behavior of suit-wearers. Compare droid.
      2. A person who habitually wears suits, as distinct from a techie or hacker. See pointy-haired, burble, management, Stupids, SNAFU principle, PHB, and brain-damaged.
      Definition of suit from The Jargon File.

      ... it was the central theme of my artwork that made me curious about, for example, the custom of lots of western men to wear ties around their neck. An extremely weird habit if you think further about it.
      From the introduction to Paul Tieman's Saaibestrijding blog.

      In July 2002, I went to a conference about spreadsheets in Cardiff. Now, the first modern spreadsheet was created in 1979. Since then, technology has made spreadsheets look much nicer, but it is still hard to build reliable software with them. That's one of my research interests, and that's what our conference was about.

      So to emphasise how bad spreadsheets still are, I found a retro clothing shop, bought a pair of extremely flared 1970s bellbottoms, and with marker pens and fluorescent yellow card given me by the shop's owner, made a lapel badge reading Spreadsheets have not evolved since flares were ‸last in fashion. Readers whose teenage daughters don't habitually drag them to empty out their credit cards in New Look every weekend are reminded that it was the early 2000s when flares came into fashion for the second time.

      Ever since then, certain conference delegates have regarded my dress sense with apprehension. In 2008, it was hot, so I wore shorts. With the result that before the 2009 conference, one delegate asked me not to do so again; and another even waved a pair of emergency black trousers before me as I started my talk, just in case. "We want businessmen as well as academics", I was told, "and must show a professional image".

      Which was a shame, because I was in Paris, it was the week northern Europe had a heatwave, and trousers were itchy and sticky. Besides, when it's 31 degrees in an un-air-conditioned lecture theatre, wouldn't you prefer someone lightly clad in short cotton to be sitting beside you, rather than a besuited gent oozing sweat from every wool-covered armpit and tie-constricted neck?

      After the conference, I explored Paris. I happened to see a man wearing a pair of those very baggy trousers worn also by North Africans, and — approximately — by Aladdin and his genie. With memories of lecture-room sweat, and because they looked so comfortable, I asked where to buy them. "New Zealand", he said. That was not useful. "And Morocco". That was. Because Paris has Moroccan shops in Barbès, behind Gare du Nord. So I Metroed over there, and bought a pair in a shop — number 5, I think — in Rue Caplat.

      The trousers delivered as much comfort as promised by their look. They turned out to be named le sarouel: French doesn't share the English obsession with pluralising V-shaped objects such as trousers, glasses, scissors, and tongs. Actually, the name derives from Arabic sirwal or سِرْوَال, cognate with salwar in Indian salwar kameez. Because they feel much freer than normal trousers, and are cut in a way that doesn't wrinkle so much and thus stays smart, I found I like sarouels and have bought others from Fez, a shop I found at 71 Golborne Road in London. But I suspect that wearing one to my conference would be even less welcome than wearing shorts. Which is funny, because ergonomics is important, and one aspect of ergonomics is comfort.

      Another is maintenance. I once spent three months travelling from Oxford to Oxford via Berlin, Bucharest (and Transylvania and Bucovina and so on), Sofia (and Plovdiv and Koprivshtitsa ...), Athens (and Thessaloniki and Delphi ...), Münster, and Amersfoort. Along the way, I helped a friend install Lisp at Bucharest University, gave a talk to the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences about teaching Artificial Intelligence, and worked on document cataloguing with Prolog in Athens. I carried or wore shorts, a red and a blue and a green Marks & Spencer T-shirt, a thick cotton lumberjack shirt, and a bottle of Body Shop Ice Blue Shampoo for hair, body, dishes, and clothes. I did have to cover my legs for admission to the painted monasteries of Bucovina; but that was religion. The Lisp and the Prolog did not require me to lug long trousers around the Balkans.

      Philosopher A. C. Grayling suggests that yet another aspect of ergonomics is fun, or colour, or exuberance. In an essay on Depression from his book The Meaning of Things, he writes:

      "Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius," said Pietro Aretino; and only an Italian could say such a thing. In the far north, where humans first undoubtedly went not for love of cold and dark, but to escape the danger of other humans, the sunless months are long and many. Suppose it to be true that humanity's first home was hot, strongly lit, riotous with vivid tropical colours and luscious scents; what deep instincts are forced to lie dormant in a silent world of snow, where night never ends?

      So, if you were managing 30 programmers in the drizzly gloom of a November 3:30pm, with yellow leaves falling and bus windows all steamed up, would you really want them to dress all in black, grey, and brown? I'd prefer the inventiveness of Paul Tieman's Saaibestrijding. And I'd leave the sumptuary laws to the Roman emperors hogging their Tyrian purple, and the Victorian idiots who ridiculed Amelia Bloomer for wearing trousers. In other words, I'd let my programmers wear shorts and throw away their ties.

      Monday 5th February, 2018

      If you look at Paul Tieman's Saaibestrijding blog, which I wrote about in my last post, you'll see that many of the photos show him wearing a skirt. There's no reason other than convention, of course, why he shouldn't. In others, he's wearing an equally comfortable but less familiar item of clothing, a sarouel. What does this word mean?

      There's an Arabic word "سِرْوَال" or "sirwal", cognate with "salwar" as in Indian salwar kameez. It has been taken into French as "sarouel", and occasionally gets used in English. In French, it seems to denote any kind of low-crotch trouser including qandrissi, or at least I get that impression from shops and other sites. In English, the nearest equivalent is probably "harem pants".
      Google search for 'harem pants, male'
      Of course, the French have more contact with North Africa than we do, there being probably so few qandrissi wearers in England that this question of semantic boundaries has never arisen. I, anyway, tend to talk about sarouels rather than harem pants. And so, when writing English, does Paul.

      I have bought one or two non-Moroccan sarouels, to try different styles. I wanted the same things from them as from the Moroccan ones, namely comfort and smartness. And I like the long flowing lines in the very low-crotch versions. When taken to the extreme, their crotch becomes just the bottom edge of the trouser, with two holes for the legs. If this is at the ankles, then the trousers are better for cold weather than the typically ¾-length qandrissi.

      But a disadvantage is that most of the trousers are "hippie" styles from India, Nepal, or Tibet. They tend to lack flies and belt loops (using drawstrings or elasticated waistbands instead), and to have insubstantial shallow pockets. I have had pairs also where the dye wasn't fast. In one pair from , it was so un-fast that when I got soaked in a sudden June downpour, the dye ran onto my jacket.

      The photos below show a pair I bought online from "Mr Tipoi", (now expired, sadly), because I liked their long vertical lines and flared shape. They're from her online catalogue, and are the very same ones that I bought.

      French sarouel

      French sarouel

      French sarouel

      Friday 2nd February, 2018

      The title of my last post, "The Sullen Boredom of Jeans", made me think that this is a good time to mention a blog called Saaibestriijding by Dutch artist Paul Tieman. In Dutch, saai means "boring" or "dull", and bestrijding is "struggle". And like mine in Chromophilia, Paul's struggle against boredom concerns clothes. His blog's sidebar starts:

      Some first steps toward the re-introduction of colourful and creative men's clothing, after two centuries dominated by black, grey, boring mass clothing. That is what Saaibestrijding is about.

      As Paul says in Tópicos 2e1: Paul Tieman", a post for the São Paulo artists' collective "Dois e Um", men's clothing today is limited almost entirely to T-shirts, jeans, and suits, not to mention dull colors and patterns. But he dived into history, and found to his surprise that previous centuries were much more colourful. 13th-century European men, for example, wore two-tone trousers and brilliant colours. So Paul introduced colour and creativity into his own clothes.

      The results can be seen in Paul's blog posts, which feature clothes that he has designed, bought, or commissioned. Here are two examples, from posts Acht-en-vijftig and Negen-en-vijftig

      : Photo from Paul Tieman's Saaibestridjing blog Photo from Paul Tieman's Saaibestridjing blog

      To some people, these may look like exact copies of clothes from the past. But they're not. As Paul says in post Vijf-en-Seventig:

      Just an ordinary day in my working studio in Maastricht (the Netherlands). Often people are commenting like: it's just renaissance clothing what you are wearing. But it is definitely not. It is all contemporary design, only slightly inspired by the past. For example, in medieval or renaissance times, men did not wear black. And, another example, jeans were inspired by rough cloths worn by some american men in the 19th century, but evolved after their re-introduction into timeless basics. Saaibestrijding would like to widen the range of timeless basic clothing for men by showing the great opportunities of leaving the dictatorship of the present dullness behind.

      The Sullen Boredom of Jeans
      Monday 29th January, 2018

      Cover of David Baboulene's book 'Jumping Ships'

      I've been reading Jumping Ships: The Global Misadventures of a Cargo Ship Apprentice by David Baboulene. The blurb describes him as "like a Bryson who has really played the field". However, Bill Bryson strikes me as cautious. I can't imagine him going for a run around an animals' watering-hole during the African sunset, "bereft of the basics for supporting life, and closer to nature, red in tooth and claw, than humans can advisably get". Closer, that is, to a nature where:

      It wasn't just lions and leopards one had to fear in this part of the world. There were insects that could kill you! Plants that could maim! Spiders, snakes, crocodiles! Who knows what might drop out of a tree?! Even the dogs would tear you limb from limb — none of that 'nice-doggy-fetch-the-stickie-have-a-bonio' stuff around here. Just Death. This was nature with the roof off.

      That was one misadventure Baboulene had, during a stop-over in Kenya while waiting for his ship to arrive. Another, which happened to him later while ashore in South Africa, was having to dress up as a nurse in order to escape from a nursing home. Which brings me to my title subject. Baboulene writes:

      Now, I do not wish to make any statements here which could prejudice judgement or lead to awkward questions at some future date. We were all young once, and these things happen, but I have to admit that there was something — I don't know — intriguing about wearing Chevvy's clothes. I mean, I don't want to make a habit of it or anything, you understand, but it was a new experience in life's rich tapestry and it felt… soft. It was different from the sullen day-to-day boredom of men's jeans and T-shirts. There is a sensual side to women's clothes which we chaps are denied in our own wardrobes.

      "… soft". I find it rather sad that Baboulene waited so long to experience this. The trousers I wrote about in my last post were very soft: as I said there, they're probably the most comfortable pair I've worn. Sensuality in both colour and texture is something the Moroccans seem extremely good at. And they don't restrict it to women.

      Morocco Brought Me Colour: Silver
      Friday 26th January, 2018

      The trousers shown in these photos were, I have to admit, a slight mistake. I'd asked for grey velvet, but the nearest fabric the tailor could find turned out to be an intense silver. But they're the most comfortable trousers I've ever worn, and warm as well. The detail of pleats in the third photo shows the care that went into making them.

      Silver velvet Moroccan qandrissi

      Silver velvet Moroccan qandrissi

      Silver velvet Moroccan qandrissi (detail of pleats)

      Morocco Brought Me Colour: Orange
      Monday 22nd January, 2018

      Still on trousers, but back to the topic of colours. This is a pair of orange velvet qandrissi, from "Fez":
      Orange velvet Moroccan qandrissi

      I've said that qandrissi are typically ¾ length. These, however, were made for me. Omar at Fez took my measurements to Tangier, where a tailor converted them into trousers. He knew that I wanted the legs to go down to my ankles.

      Finally, let's contemplate some colour contrast. These orange trousers with the ice-blue shirt.
      Orange velvet Moroccan qandrissi contrasted with ice-blue velvet Moroccan shirt

      Friday 19th January, 2018

      Sage-green velvet Moroccan shirt and blue qandrissi (worn at Russian Orthodox Bazaar in Oxford)
      Photo: James Hyndman

      In my last post, I said I'd explain the above image. I'm wearing the sage-green Moroccan shirt, and also a pair of Moroccan "qandrissi". These are baggy trousers with the crotch at the knee or a bit lower, usually heavily pleated, ¾ length, with the lower legs narrow and sometimes finished with button-up cuffs. I wore a suede waistcoat over the shirt: something about its relatively snug fit and the V and VV at top and bottom seemed to make a nice contrast with the volume of the trousers. Also, its colour was a nice bridge between the yellow-green and the blue.

      Here's a detail from the photo, showing the pleats and cuffs — the latter just visible as a button on the right, and a loose thread dangling from a not-quite-visible button on the left.

      Blue Moroccan qandrissi (detail of pleats, dart, and cuffs)
      Photo: James Hyndman

      The detail also shows: the two nested triangles making up the "Moroccan dart" at the end of the fly; seams where the lower-leg sections are attached; and seams showing the extent of the pockets. These are very conveniently deep, much more so than in conventional trousers. It's a nice habit in English villages that householders put boxes of windfall apples out for passers-by. I once walked home from a neighbouring village with a kilo of these, divided between my two pockets. The pockets' depth also means that keys and other valuables don't fall out: a security enhanced because the pockets often have zips.

      The photo below is another pair, petrel-green, again showing the pleats:

      Green Moroccan qandrissi
      Photo: Paddy Summerfield

      It's odd that none of the high-street brands have learnt from this. As well as having secure deep pockets, the trousers' loose fit makes them very very comfortable, and the cut means they don't wrinkle as easily as with our styles, so one can keep them smart for longer. The whole design is much better thought out.

      Morocco Brought Me Colour: Green
      Monday 15th January, 2018

      Sage-green velvet Moroccan shirt

      Sage-green velvet Moroccan shirt (worn at Russian Orthodox Bazaar in Oxford)
      Photo: James Hyndman

      This is another top from the same family, this time sage-green. More about the second photo in my next post.

      Morocco Brought Me Colour: Violet
      Friday 12th January, 2018

      Plum velvet Moroccan shirt

      Plum velvet Moroccan shirt (detail of embroidery)

      Yet another colourful Moroccan top, from "Fez" once more. I subtitled this post "Violet" because I wanted to illustrate all the colours in Yves Saint-Laurent's "groupes impressionnants d’intensité, de relief, des hommes et des femmes où se mêlent des caftans roses, bleus, verts, violets". It's maybe better to call it plum.

      Morocco Brought Me Colour: Blue
      Monday 8th January, 2018

      Ice-blue velvet Moroccan shirt

      Ice-blue velvet Moroccan shirt (detail of embroidery)

      This is a blue almost-counterpart to that rose-pink shirt, but the surface is smoother, without the crushed-velvet effect. Once again, it's from "Fez". (I'm quoting the name of the shop to distinguish it from the Moroccan city.) The second photo shows a detail of the embroidery.

      Morocco Brought Me Colour: Pink
      Friday 5th January, 2018

      Rose-pink velvet Moroccan shirt
      Rose-pink velvet Moroccan shirt (back view)

      Here is a rose-pink crushed-velvet shirt. Like most of my Moroccan clothes, I bought it from "Fez", 71 Golborne Road London. Run by Omar Serroukh and family, the shop sells clothes, carpets, furniture, pottery, shoes and gifts. Some of the clothes I'm showing were specially bought for me by Omar, and some he arranged to be made by tailors in Tangier, so you won't find them in the shop. But ask, because he may be able to find something similar next time he travels to Morocco.

      Morocco Taught Him Colour
      Monday 1st January, 2018

      In my next few blog posts, I'm going to show off some Moroccan clothes, because I love their vivid colours. I'm not the only one. Here are three quotes by Yves Saint-Laurent:

      A visit to Marrakech was a great shock to me. This city taught me color.

      In Morocco, I realized that the range of colors I use was that of the zelliges, zouacs, djellabas and caftans. The boldness seen since then in my work, I owe to this country, to its forceful harmonies, to its audacious combinations, to the fervor of its creativity. This culture became mine, but I wasn't satisfied with absorbing it; I took, transformed and adapted it.

      At every street corner in Marrakech, one stumbles upon striking groups of men and women, appearing as if in relief: pink, blue, green and violet caftans blending with one another. One is surprised that these groups, which seem drawn or painted and evoke sketches by Delacroix, are in fact spontaneous arrangements of everyday life.

      I first came across all three on the web. But disappointingly, none of the pages indicate when or where Yves Saint-Laurent said them. And I'd like to know. Why did he write or say them? Was he keeping notebooks, or were these casual utterances to friends? Or are the quotes "Chinese whispers", not really what YSL said at all?

      Well, in a sense, they're not what he wrote or said, because presumably he'd have done so in French. So what are the original French versions? Googling possible translations, I found these:

      J'ai découvert Marrakech très tard et ça a été un choc extraordinaire. Surtout pour la couleur. Cette ville m'a amené la couleur.

      (La visite de Marrakech a été un grand choc pour moi, cette ville m'a appris la couleur.)

      (Quand j'ai découvert Marrakech, ce fut un choc extraordinaire. Cette ville m'a appris la couleur.)

      (Avant Marrakech, tout était noir. Cette ville m'a appris la couleur, et j'ai embrassé sa lumière, ses mélanges insolents et ses inventions ardentes.)

      Au Maroc, je me suis rendu compte que la gamme de couleurs que j'utilise était celle des zelliges, des zouacs, des djellabas et des caftans. L'audace observée depuis lors dans mon travail, je le dois à ce pays, à ses harmonies énergiques, à ses combinaisons audacieuses, à la ferveur de sa créativité. Cette culture est devenue la mienne, mais je ne l'ai pas simplement absorbée; Je l'ai prise, transformée et adaptée.

      À chaque coin de rue, à Marrakech, on croise des groupes impressionnants d'intensité, de relief, des hommes et des femmes où se mêlent des caftans roses, bleus, verts, violets. Et ces groupes qu'on dirait dessinés et peints, qui évoquent les croquis de Delacroix, c'est étonnant de se dire qu'ils ne sont en fait que l'improvisation de la vie.

      The first, I found in "La dernière déclaration d'amour d'Yves Saint Laurent: Une exposition consacrée au grand couturier et à son attachement pour le Maroc se tient au musée de Majorelle jusqu'au 18 mars prochain.", Le Matin, 26 November 2010. YSL apparently said this in a documentary broadcast during an exhibition in the Majorelle museum.

      That seems the most likely French original — not least, because Le Matin presumably checks its facts. But I did find three other possible versions, which I've put in small. One was from "'Perspectives of Life' par Christine Mignon" by "Eric", Hipstography, 26 February 2018. One was in Newsletter 3 of the Académie du Luxe. And one turned up in a page for the Four Seasons Resort, Marrakech. No indication from any of these about when or where their versions were said.

      The second quote, about the zelliges, zouacs, djellabas and caftans, I found a French version of in "YSL: ouverture prochaine des deux musées en sa mémoire" by Anne-Sophie Castro, FashionUnited, Friday 9 June 2017, amongst other pages. Several of these — including "Yves Saint Laurent, citoyen de Marrakech" by Leïla Slimani for l'Express 5 June 2008, and "Ouverture du musée YSL" at Madame à Marrakech — write that YSL said it in 1983.

      And the third, the pinks, blues, greens and violets, turns up in various places, including Yves Saint-Laurent by Laurence Benaïm, Yves Saint-Laurent, l'enfant terrible by Sandro Cassati, and "1966: La découverte du Maroc", a web page for the Musée Yves Saint Laurent in Paris. The first book attributes it to Le Monde 8 December 1983, if I understand correctly.

      So all three quotes were probably spoken during interviews. Anyway, my next few posts will feature some Moroccan pinks, blues, violets and greens.