Saturday, November 21, 2009

Threat #2

One of the most tasteless misinterpretations of tact is the currently popular practice of listing prices as whole and mixed numbers without dollar signs. By taking away the common signifiers of price ($ and the format X.XX), hipster cafes can delude themselves into the illusion that they are above the commonness of money.

If you want to subvert the grotesque way our economic system works and are tempted to list your prices in this tasteless manner, the editors of this blog can offer more effective methods of challenge.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


This photograph is one of a delightful collection of 1930's kitchens on display at

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Unsolicited Advice #19: Tasteful hospitality

It is always and forever tasteful to offer refreshments to guests upon arrival. Whether you are hosting in your cubicle, your dorm room, or somewhere where you control the kitchen, make sure your guests feel welcome by offering them a little something. Tiny cookies and tea are not your only options. Chips and beer may be more welcome. I know a flawlessly elegant 91 year old woman who informs her guests of the state of her marijuana stash immediately upon their arrival at her palatial 1950's ranch house. Try to tailor your friends to your cupboards or your offerings to your friends. Either way works.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sven Markelius

Sven Markelius (1889-1972) was one of the most important modernist Swedish architects and a major forerunner of Swedish functionalism.  He played an important role in the urban planning of post-war Stockholm.  Inspired by Le Corbusier and Bauhaus, the Swedish functionalists presented variations on French styles of functional furniture at the radical Stockholm Exhibition of 1930.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Character Assassination #2: Real! Live! Tastelessness!

"The ontological structure of our emotional lives is totally Buddhist inspired."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Unsolicited Advice #17: Instant Message Etiquette

Nobody likes feeling snubbed.  But with the casualness of the instant messaging medium sometimes one gets involved in a conversation at an inopportune or inconvenient time.  This is particularly true because a conversation can be started by one party without the other party's consent.  The protracted process of polite conversational extrication can in those instances be too much.

We give you permission to sign off abruptly with no real excuse.  

Just be sure to include a salutation and to sign your communication with your initial or name.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Announcement #3: "Earth Day" and Dentistry Edition

You and I (and everyone except for Astronauts and astral-projection experts) live on Earth every ever-loving day.  We are dependent on Earth's habitability every ever-loving day.

The Earth is like your teeth.  You need them and use them every day.  So you brush them every day.  If you only brushed your teeth once a year your teeth would fall out.

The Earth is not your teeth.  It's not going to fall out or rot.  Instead it's going to reject us like a healthy immune system rejects a nasty virus.  Or reject us like a reasonable woman rejects a subpar man.  Basically, like the dentally short-sighted child, we're setting ourselves up for failure.

"Earth Day" is not "everyday" when riding your bike is incentivized once a year.  And while I'm on the subject, what's up with giving out non-vegan cookies and free coffee to folks who say they didn't drive?  How does that convince folks to stop living lives dependent on the depletion of the systems that keep our planet habitable?

It doesn't.

"Earth Day" is clearly not "everyday."  "Earth Day" is just plain never.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Invite to Opine #3: facebook

This blog's editorial staff is married on facebook.  We find that our faux-union is a pleasing simulacrum of our real-life long term, committed best friendship.  But we also know that marriage is a real state for some folks and that our misapplication of the "relationship type" function on that website is perhaps dishonest.  

What are the taste issues involved in misrepresentation on social networking sites?  

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Unsolicited Advice #18: French Rap

Why not.

Character Assassination #1: Shoes, rouge, and bikes

In the interest of developing a less judgmental tone here on the blog, we have decided to begin the painful process of disclosing our own tastelessness through attacks on our own aesthetic choices.

We are sometimes pretty tasteless here at Practical Aesthetics. We wear too much makeup in the daytime. We use blogger. We use drop bars, gears, and multiple sprockets. We think Denver is cooler than Portland and that Centralia is coolest of all. We go to psychobilly shows in sketchy warehouses and free klezmer shows at the community center. We ride the bus a lot. We carry our things around in canvas bags. We dress inappropriately for the weather. Most days at least one article we’re wearing needs mending. We get our knees muddy, tear the inseam of our right pant legs, get grease on our cuffs, and generally sully our appearances, all without taking the time to change or wash. We bike and text and talk on cell phones on the bus. We are tactless in our questions, in our answers, and in our correspondence. We use facebook. We are unabashedly political about almost everything. We dance like hippies in the 1990’s. We wear too much cologne. We talk too loudly on the street and in restaurants. We sometimes don’t bathe often enough. We wear cowboy boots with men’s 1980’s shorts and those god-awful athletic socks from the 1970’s with dresses. We both own Patty Loveless’ bluegrass album and play it regularly. Sometimes we bring books on dates, just in case. We still like Calvin Johnson’s “Loose Banana.” We wait tables dressed like prom queens, drag queens, and 1950’s housewives on dolls. We show up at our office jobs in ridiculously frilly little dresses, children’s clothes, socks with holes, and last night's makeup still smeared on our faces. We bike in high heels.

The most tasteless thing we do, however, is refer to each other as “my best friend.” We’re 27, folks. And we still have best friends. Nothing could be more pre-pubescent. Except if we wore side ponytails. Which we do.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Unprovoked Threat #1: Comment on Pauline Garvey

Some time ago, in the midst of a caffeine-fueled paper-writing frenzy, we posted without comment a pithy observation by an Irish Anthropologist, a Ms. Pauline Garvey. Sharing with her an interest in Norwegian aesthetics, we stumbled upon one of her papers about the framing of “practicality” in the justification of home decorations decisions and were overcome with admiration. So we posted a quote and went back to social theory and data flow diagrams.

We would like to comment now.

Pauline Garvey is brilliant in her incision of the whole concept of practicality. She slices away at the favorite justification of the hipster/housewife/construction worker and we like the cuts she makes. Applying a kind of rhetorical analysis beyond our sophistication, she tears to ribbons the concept that anyone truly decorates their home in a “practically” superior way. In her analysis of her qualitative data, she draws chalk-line parallels between the Norwegian-home-owner-described “practical aesthetic” of Norwegian homes and normative control.

We’re going to bone up on whatever it was she did and we’re going to do it, too.

So if you think you wear Vans because they’re practical, or if you think you wear jeans because they’re comfortable, or if you think you shower because it’s “just a good idea,” you have another think coming.

And we’re bringing it. Watch yourself, because we’re going to do a series of posts on the speciousness of “practicality” as justification.

Unsolicited Advice #17: Monday Mornings When the Weekend's Toll is Large

It is better to go to work - even if you are late, wan, and poorly dressed - than to not go at all.

So what if the only outfit you can compose makes you look like a frumpy 12 year old boy who got home after dark? Who cares but you if you’re a-game is jammed behind the toaster at home?

Go anyway. Just hide in your office and soothe yourself with coffee and cigarette breaks.

Your at-work reputation is not so spotless that another speck will really impact the overall level of tarnish. We promise.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009

Unsolicited Advice #16: Getting People to Participate

When soliciting participation in an unsavory, challenging, or otherwise daunting activity, it is uniformly tasteful to motivate your interlocutor with a brief, recriminatory "Cowboyup."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Misapplication of Math #1: Size

As a popular, witty blog of note, we feel motivated to deliver this message:
The cult popularity of skinniness, while seductive like Hedwig's more provocative dance numbers, doesn't really deliver on the making-your-life-suck-less front.

Take it from someone whose closet contains 2s, 4s, 6s, 8s, and 10s.  (I'm a real-life statistician, so you can trust me):

Let X=dress size.

Let Y=relative happiness, measured by the inverse of the number of times folks on the streets tell you to smile.

Given the cultural belief that skinnier selves are happier selves, let the null hypothesis be (where a is just some scaling factor): 


After a long data collection period (we're talking over a decade here) with significant variation in the independent variable, and through ordinary least squares regression, I have rejected the null at alpha=0.01 and developed this crappy model, whose r-squared value reflects that the unexplained variation is pretty much all the variation:


Skinnier = more people telling me to smile.  By a large factor.  And if you've never been told to smile by a stranger, then I'll let you know this: It sucks.

Policy Implications:
If only emotions listened to econometric reason the way the Federal government does, maybe there would be implications.

A. Gander (2009, forthcoming)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Unsolicited Advice #15: Deal with illness tastefully

When one finds herself laid up, whether with a head-banging injury or a nasty cold, it is tasteful to hide.  Don't try to go out with your friends and act as if the affliction is minor.  They can always tell that it is not and they will fret about you, removing the net benefit from your presence.

Instead, stay home with your dog and read a trashy 1920's society novel or some trashy 1990's non-fiction.  Sleep.  

Skip the Sudafed.  It will only induce you to write ill-advised emails and blog posts, and it might convince you that you are well enough to leave your house.  Which you should not do.

Illness is like pregnancy before 1965 - an affliction whose presence in society is unwelcome. This may explain your housemates' strange, unflattering clothing selections while ill.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Invite to Opine #2: Coffee Shop Judgement

If you saw a young woman in a coffee shop with a small but substantial stack of pink advice books and a little trove of page-flags furiously typing away on her laptop, what would you think?

a) She's clearly just been dumped/just realized that being single is a crime against the patriarchy/just been hassled by her mom about not being hitched.  She must be composing an internet dating profile in her desperate attempt to make it all better.

b) She's clearly procrastinating writing her thesis by reading those trashy books.

c) She's clearly writing an academic paper with some really horrible source material.

d) I'm going to go hit on her right now.

Unsolicited Advice #14: Be More Like the Sundance Kid

It is completely tasteful to crouch and mime fancy gunslinging while crossing streets or coming around corners.  Ignore the stares.  They're all just jealous.  

Monday, February 16, 2009

Consumer Frenzy #6

Delaunay scarf from Le Train Bleu: $169

Mid-century sterling silver TAXCO earrings from Green Gloves Vintage: $52

Strand textile necklace from Hier Apparel on Etsy: $45

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Consumer Frenzy #5

Rachel Comey silk dress: $540


Some time in the 80's, Jim McBride remade Godard's Breathless for an American audience, and this evening one of this blog's authors had the opportunity to watch the second half of said film with her uncle.  There's a great scene where cop-killer Jesse Lujack (Richard Gere) and his hot French girlfriend Monica Poiccard (Valerie Kaprinsky) arrive at an 80's warehouse dance venue, the pigs in hot pursuit, in order to collect some cash that Jesse has coming.  Jesse's sleazy friend critiques the plaid pants he's been wearing throughout the second half of the film, urging him to acknowledge (even as the police search lights drag the room) that style is important, and hands him the blazer off his own back.  We couldn't agree more.  Without that blazer, where would Jesse Lujack be?  Dead, that's where.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Invite to Opine #1: Pants

Regular readers may have noticed that we hate pants.

However, we are willing to admit that there are occasions on which pants are tasteful.  Our comprehensive list follows:

Onboard a submarine
While big game hunting

Loyal followers are invited to proffer their proposals for the expansion of this list.  We'll consider them.

This post co-authored by Seaspawn and Seawrack and gander.

Theory #7: Pauline Garvey on Practicality

We can understand practicality, that ubiquitous justification for consumption and decoration choices, as "an idiom through which an acceptable image of individual priorities is projected." 

How to Have a 'Good Home': The Practical Aesthetic and Normativity in Norway. 2003.  Journal of Design History, 16(3).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Dating Destination

When facing the daunting challenge of selecting a suitable dating destination, the painfully sensitive among us are frequently overwhelmed by the complexities of the choice.  The arboretum, whose trees' latin name tags will compose themselves into a love poem of sorts through the course of your stroll?  Acer argutum Ficus macrophylla Paeonia japonica. Construct a poem.  A planetarium, a la Manhattan?  (If God fails to grace you with a rainstorm from which to seek shelter, a preparatory shower may be advisable).  This point may strike some as obvious, but food is good.  Why? Because it fills the mouth, obviating conversation.  Among the alternatives, choose a venue:

(1) that you have dined at at least twice, so that you will be familiar with the space, and feel fairly certain that the food is consistently good.

(2) whose fare you anticipate digesting comfortably, under the worst of circumstances.  Sushi, for example, rather than barbeque.

(3) that is counter-cultural neutral.

(4) where the food is shared.  Again, sushi, Ethiopean, tapas are good choices, because they introduce a little intimacy to the dining experience, and enable you to observe how your date handles thorny financial questions (does he/ she offer to pay for everything?  suggest you split it down the middle?  Offer absolutely nothing or all-too-eagerly accept your offer to pay?)

(5) whose bathroom lighting is flattering, so that you can find a little affirmation in the mirror every time you take a trip to the toilet.

(6) that is not super-cheap, but is affordable regardless of your income.  You don't want your date to face the embarrassment of ordering nearly nothing, though he/ she is ravenously hungry, because he/ she can't pay for the entrees.

(7) that serves drinks, so that in case things are going well (but perhaps not amazingly well), you aren't confronted by the awkward moment of deciding together whether to relocate to a bar in order to continue your conversation.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Announcement #1

The editors of this blogodrome, Practical Aesthetics, are unabashedly dames.  Our advice is designed for our own consumption.  

If you're butch or masculine or a dude or what-have-you, use our advice at your own risk.  Despite our abiding interest in gender piracy, we are only really experienced in the art of feminine gender performance.  From what we can tell masculine gender performance requires lots of props and words we don't understand.  


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Unsolicited Advice #13: Western Wear

The fortunate but indigent recipient of an invitation to a dinner in a nice restaurant may ask herself, “What the devil do I wear?”

We here at Practical Aesthetics are uniquely positioned to answer this question. We are intermittently indigent and consistently only willing to shop at thrift stores on half off day. But even given our limited access to the newest fashions in Portland’s Pearl District boutiques and Boulder’s Pearl Street salons, we manage to be fabulously dressed for all our fancy dinner dates.

The secret is to be young, to pay attention to color and fabric, and to not care what’s cool. Until recently we had no idea how important the first condition was. But as we approach our late twenties (we’re rat Aquarius and rat Pisces here), we are beginning to notice the toll of late nights in confusing loud bars, late nights in paper writing agony, late nights in proof writing agony, and early mornings with the dog.

But while we’re all still young…

Do: Have the courage to drag your 80's prom dress out of the closet and sport it with an appropriate fake fur shawl.  It's just hotter that way.
Don’t: Wear anything new, except shoes, gloves, and outer wear.
Do: Wear gaudy, gaudy costume jewelry made before 1955.
Don’t: Wear any jewelry made after 1955 unless your grandmother or some other benefactor gave it to you.
Do: Wear a scarf that matches whatever you’ve got on your legs.
Don’t: Match your handbag with your shoes unless you’re trying to look crazy.
Do: Wear a dress instead of a skirt and a blouse.  Pants are right out unless you have an unusually persuasive pair of culottes.   
Don’t: Wear a dress, hose, and shoes all of the same color. 
Do: Wear clean clothes, fresh hosiery, and a properly sized slip.
Don’t: Wear anything with holes in it unless the holes are conveniently located on the back of the garment and you are prepared to engage in acrobatic feats in order to remain facing your date at all times.  We only recommend going to these lengths for truly amazing articles.
Do: Wear cowboy boots, even if they're scuffed. They're likely to be your best shoes.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Unsolicited Advice #12: St. Valentine's Day

This unfortunate holiday is peppered with land mines and rat traps for the hopeful young romantic with any self-respect.  Chocolates in heart shaped boxes are acceptable gifts for your daughter or grandmother, but are not okay for someone you want to sleep with anytime soon.  Even in this grim age which has grown deaf to the language of flowers, a dozen roses still transmits a clear signal concerning a donor's sentiments.  However, snooty young ladies everywhere will not fail to discern an unflattering lack of reflection in the choice of blossom.

The sensitive lover will turn to handmade gifts and cards and creatively selected bouquets (perhaps including barren branches).  Tasteful gifts can also originate in the examination of the donor's own many loves (love for books, love for Scandinavian death metal, and so forth).  

And on a petty personal note, one of the authors' regrettable past boyfriends informed her upon the receipt of a complete set of Proust's In Search of Lost Time, bound in beautiful vintage hardcover, that the gift was inappropriate because it reflected her passion, not his.  He was wrong.

This post co-authored by gander and Seaspawn and Seawrack.


We wish to announce that February is the most tasteful month.  It successfully avoids the pitfalls of the pessimistic Fall months.  (November's depression is unpleasantly reminiscent of Centralia or Shelton in the 1990's.)  It manages not to reflect the unbridled enthusiasm of the Spring months.  And, while Summer's sultry and painfully hot sensuality is highly popular, popularity is certainly no good measure of tastefulness.  

February may not be popular.  February may not be sexy (unless you are into sweaters and tights).  February may not be an up-and-coming band with dirty bass.

But February is sufficiently distinctive (frigid!) and not too riotous. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Unsolicited Advice #10: A reminder.

As previously discussed on these pages, it is still totally tasteful to blame "the recession economy" where you might otherwise have blamed the vengeful fates.

Example: "I keep getting flats on my bike. It must be the recession economy."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Unsolicited Advice #9: Wear the same clothes again.

Take a page from the less-is-more playbook and choose a few fabulous outfits to wear again and again.  It will make your life simpler when you're busy.  It will make you look great more often (unless you have a unfailing preternatural knack for outfit composition).  It will make you more like my Norwegian grandmother.  It will make you memorable.  And it will give you permission to wear that amazing red velvet dress more often.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Edward Steichen: In High Fashion

See the New York Times' slide show of Edward Steichen's fashion photography at

Monday, January 12, 2009

Art Deco Architecture

Check out the collection of beautiful Art Deco architectural details at (unfortunately, I couldn't upload any of them here; these are from other sources).

Monday, January 5, 2009

Architect Ray Kappe

Unsolicited Advice #8: How to Look Like a Small Child Playing Dress-Up

In college, I had a professor who dressed in drag every day.  One day, she would show up as a maid, the next day in a chinsy red Flamenco costume that clashed with her red hair.  In her honor, then, try to amuse yourself when you're getting dressed.

(1) There's absolutely nothing wrong with pairing a gold necklace with silver earrings.

(2) Wear all the jewelry you own at once.

(3) Strap up slightly oversized dresses with multiple belts or swaths of fabric wrapped around your torso.

(4) Excessive elegance of dress should be offset by humble footwear.