The Weekender, August 25, 2017

1) “Confessions of a Costume Curator” (The Atlantic, 9 minutes, August 2017). Every once in a while, I’ll find myself taking for granted that someone had to do a job in order for me to experience the result — basically, I hear the job and say “oh, yeah, I guess someone has to do that.” This was one of those moments. The author of the article is a fashion historian — the person who selects and restores the outfits you see on display in museums and the like. This first-hand look into fashion curation shows how much work goes into these exhibits — and work that we, by design, aren’t supposed to think about.

There’s something transgressive about touching other people’s clothes—especially dead people’s clothes. Some would even call it spooky. As a costume curator and fashion historian, I have colleagues who swear that they have felt, and even seen, ghostly presences in their museums’ costume-storage areas. It’s easy to get the chills in those cramped rooms, which are climate-controlled to the ideal temperature and humidity for textiles, not for humans. I myself have not encountered any phantom fashionistas, but once I opened a box and a fox stole—complete with eyes, paws, tail, and teeth—seemed to leap out, making me scream so loudly that two security guards came running. Occasionally I’ll find a stray hair, a frayed hem, or a telltale stain on an otherwise pristine garment carefully packed away for posterity in acid-free tissue paper and remember, with a jolt, that there was once a living, breathing, sweating human body inside it—a body that has been still for up to hundreds of years.

Obviously, this is not the impression we curators want to give museum visitors. Blockbuster fashion exhibitions are big business, from the $25 tickets to boutique-like gift shops, and the only scary thing about them should be the hours-long line to get in. Once inside the galleries, visitors see clothes reanimated on mannequins, with atmospheric lighting and music, high-tech interactive displays, and painstakingly researched explanatory labels and catalogues. The Costume Institute’s 2016 show Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology was the seventh most attended exhibition in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 147-year history, beating the record-breaking Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty show from 2011. The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier, organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, drew even more people over the course of its five-year, 12-city tour, which ended last year. Even museums not known for collecting costume have bought into the trend; the Museum of Modern Art’s upcoming Items: Is Fashion Modern? will be the institution’s first fashion exhibition in 73 years when it opens in October.

2) Support Now I Know: As many of you already know, researching, writing, and (save for the daily typo or two) editing Now I Know is a pretty big endeavor on my part. Keeping the project financially sustainable is a battle, and to that end, I’ve tried many different avenues.

One of them — a major one at that — is my ongoing Patreon campaign. It’s an old-style patronage campaign, where readers such as yourself support Now I Know through a monthly pledge. A $5 a month pledge comes out to about 25 cents per article I send; a $1 a month pledge is roughly a nickel. Please consider supporting Now I Know through Patreon by clicking here. It’s entirely optional and you’re under no obligation to do so, so don’t feel bad if you can’t or don’t want to. But if you do, please know it all adds up, and I greatly appreciate your support. Thanks!

3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

Monday: The Swarm That Darkened The Skies. Locusts, not eclipses. ​

Tuesday: The Political Race Which Was, Literally, a Race. I mentioned in this one that the governor took a “jet” from D.C. to Washington state; a billion of you thankfully wrote in to correct me, pointing out that it wasn’t a jet, as jet planes hadn’t been invented yet. I fixed that error on the archives. (Oops!)

Wednesday: Why Paper Cuts Hurt So @%^$@ Much​. The science behind a small thing which brings big pain. Sorry that the link to the Growing Pains video in the bonus fact broke; that’s beyond my control. If I can find a new one, I’ll update it it.

Thursday: Why Pisa’s Tower Leans. And, whether it will eventually topple.

4) “How Watermelons Became a Racist Trope​” (The Atlantic, 6 minutes, December 2014). The subhead: “Before its subversion in the Jim Crow era, the fruit symbolized black self-sufficiency.” So, what changed? The Atlantic explores.


5) “Wrong Way” (Tampa Bay Times, 22 minutes, August 2017). The subhead: “At 15, Isaiah Battle was the county’s No. 1 car thief. He had every reason to stop.” Caution: This one is sad, maybe even upsetting.

Isaiah Battle believes in heaven. When he pictures it, everything is gold, everyone sitting on couches among clouds. He is not sure if people in heaven have to share rooms. But if they do, he hopes he can share one with his sister, Dominique.

They shared one on earth, in St. Petersburg, back before she drowned in a stolen car in a cemetery pond. Two beds where they’d lie side by side and joke about their boyfriends, girlfriends, school. Smoke weed and watch whatever was on TV. Tell each other I love you before lights out each night.

The many things they shared also included the backseat of a police cruiser. In the year before his sister died, Isaiah was the kid arrested the most for stealing cars in Pinellas County: a Camry from a driveway, a Porsche from a man pumping gas. He did donuts in a silver minivan and took his hands off the wheel of a Hyundai, holding them above his head like he was on a rollercoaster, laughing.

And she did it, too. When Isaiah was first caught driving a stolen car, Dominique was one of his passengers. She laughed as police handcuffed her, told them it wasn’t a big deal.

Isaiah went to her wake in shackles, sentenced for his own crimes. He cried over his sister’s body. He swore he’d never steal a car again.

But nine months later, Isaiah took an Acura. He sped through the St. Pete night with his headlights switched off, blowing stop signs and running red lights.

6) “Sesame Street: El Patito featuring Ernie and Rubber Duckie (Despacito Parody)” (Sesame Street, via YouTube, 2:28, August 2017). This one is fun — and I may have had something to do it.

Have a great weekend!