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Apr 3, 2010

IT'S OVER: Why I Broke Up With The Sartorialist

I tried to make it work, really I did.  But at a certain point you have to accept that it wasn't meant to be.  There were no angry confrontations, no broken plates or slamming of doors; I just left.

We met by chance, really: someone on Pattern Review had told me last summer that something I'd sewn was worthy of The Sartorialist.  I didn't get the reference so naturally, I had to find out who this Sartorialist was.  I paid him a visit, and then again, and again and, well, you know how these things happen.

Initially I was attracted, oh, so strongly.  All those stylish people from so many different countries wearing beautiful clothes and looking so great in them.  I saw unusual looks that made me think about new silhouettes, and fresh color and pattern combinations.

But like many ill-fated relationships, this one got old fast.  This is NOT meant to be a criticism of The Sartorialist, btw.  It wasn't him, it was me.

Here's why I drifted: 

1. You probably know by now that I'm really into context.  I'm interested in why we dress the way we do, what clothes mean and why, and how we use them to express who we are in the world and who we want to be.

At the Sartorialist, images are usually decontextualized (i.e., displayed out of context).  We just see a photo of an attractive person wearing stylish clothes; a typical heading reading, "On the Street...Suzette, Paris."   I want to know, who is this person, what kind of life do they lead, where did they get what they're wearing and what did they pay for it?  Do they have health insurance?

2)  As much as I enjoy making clothes, I'm not a fashion person.  I'm interested in the history of fashion design and I like to play dress up but I don't care much about today's trends.  I dress very simply.  The Sartorialist usually features fashion people: editors en route to a fashion show, models, stylists,  photographers.  Of course, those people are going to look stylish, it's their job.

3) This relates to yesterday's post about class: You may disagree, but to me most (not all, most) people featured in The Sartorialist look affluent.  I see people whose lives allow them to wear uncomfortable shoes, beautiful and expensive-looking designer clothes, and live in glamorous cities. 

It's the same way I feel about home decor magazines: you're shown some wealthy couple's fantastic country house that they usually haven't even decorated themselves  -- they've paid someone else to do it for them so of course their house is going to be gorgeous.   Who are these people and why do they have so much money?  Did they inherit it or did they earn it and if they earned it, how?

I enjoy looking at beautiful things but at the same time I resent the display of wealth, especially when it's not treated as worthy of comment.

4) Too many of the younger, non-fashion-editor-types featured on the Sartorialist look...ordinary.

5) The comments people make on the Sartorialist -- and I don't blame the Sartorialist for this -- are vapid, generally things like "great shirt!" "awesome shoes!"  (It's not like he made the shoes, for Pete's sake!) As someone who sews, I can't get very excited about someone wearing something purchased, as challenging as it can be to assemble an outfit.

So that's it, my five reasons.  I'm not trying to change any minds here.  I'm still going to visit the Sartorialist from time to time; no hard feelings.  There's still some attraction there for sure.  We're just not together anymore.

On a related note, there really is too much fashion imagery in our lives already.

I find myself agreeing with reader Monica, who commented the other day, "there is way too much judgment based on personal appearance in this world, and I wish we would all be more understanding the next time someone's appearance triggers feelings of discomfort or contempt."

I want to add that while I write a lot about clothes, no one has to look or dress a certain way to earn my respect or love.  I really don't care.


  1. I had looked at The Sartorialist several times but really couldn't "get into" it. Didn't exactly know why . . . but you've verbalized my reasons for me! You're gonna need more than just pictures to hold my interest in a blog . . . discussion, backstory, information on the people, etc.

  2. Peter - My problem with the Sartorialist is that, by definition, Scott Schumann is expressing this: "I took a photo of this person for the precise purpose of giving YOU the opportunity to judge them." Some of the photos (and I have to admit, part of this is because of my feelings about being judged on my appearance as an older person), especially when they are of older people, or people who are not 'young, affluent, and wearing the latest whatever', seem to be framed in almost a snide way, a 'this is our little secret joke' way. Scott Schumann has done very very well for himself -- he claims that all he set out to do was take and present pictures of interesting people he sees, but in the end, this reminds me of nothing more than the case of the woman who did the blog about cooking her way through Julia Child's "The Art of French Cooking" to give herself something to do which might possibly get her a book contract. Life is NOT always about self-promotion (yes, and I realize I have a blog and am perhaps as guilty as the rest...).

  3. Very interesting comments, Peter. I've looked at Sartorialist from time to time, but not regularly. I'm not good at small talk and I'm not a self promoter, so I'm not comfortable with 'look at me' kind of people. I guess the reason I visit Sartorialist so rarely is I feel he doesn't really have much to say. I agree with AuntieAllyn and Toby Wollin. Your last sentence sums up why I like your blog. You get a thrill from a dress or shirt or even a pair of boxers made from an old sheet. You are about the creativity behind the garments and sewing.

  4. Great post! I too noticed the lack of context, but being a highly imaginative person, I would make up stories about those people. Have you checked out Anders Anziehen? That blog is about people on the street too, but with their background included. And they are ordinary, but interesting and fashionable, people with accessible (read not expensive) tastes.

  5. For me all of it seems so unattainable. The people look great, and the photography is lovely, but every pic seems to imply--here's this lovely person in exotic locale in designer gear and your stuff can't be interesting because it's not designer and your living in the great Midwest.

    Perhaps I'm assigning too much judgment to it all, but I want to know who these people are too...surely there's things about them that are more interesting than their clothes. Take Cathy, for instance. She wouldn't be near as fabulous as she is without the amazing stories she's wrapped up in that you let us peek in on.

  6. Ouch! I'm not wealthy--not even close, but I've paid someone to help me "decorate" (I hate that word) my house. I know what I want, but when I try to do it myself, I transgress. I just can't quite pull it off. I've also bartered with a neighbor who has the skill; I'll shorten your MOG dress if you'll arrange my Delft collection. I'm a person who is very sensitive to my surroundings, and living in a space that is proportionately and otherwise pleasing is a great source of pleasure to me. I'll sacrifice other things to be able to have that. Some people derive great pleasure from wearing the very latest styles, but not me. However, I haven't just paid someone to furnish and otherwise make my home pleasant, and I doubt that most people featured in Architectural Digest have, either. I think they've participated in the process like me, and their home reflects their taste and what they like in their head, but can't create. It's like enjoying beautiful painting, but not having the skill to paint it. Most decorators, or designers as they call themselves, delve into the person's lifestyle, taste and preferences before they render advice or start ordering furniture. I'm not being snarky here, I'm just making a very wordy comment about one little statement you made.

    I don't visit the Sartorialist much either. I do occasionally, because I think some of the subjects are quirky and interesting. However I agree that most look wealthy and completely unlike me or anyone I know.

  7. Lynne W RatherBeSewingApril 3, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    Peter, your post today is exactly why I love you so.

    Creativity, class and style (and heart) has nothing at all to do with $$$.

  8. Look at this one:
    Don't you feel that this picture says a lot about who this person is? For me, this is what interests me in the Sartorialist's pictures : how people express themselves through their clothes and I think this comes through stronger somehow without a lot of context info. So, of course, I'm a lot more interested in the more original types than the fashion editors and models during fashion week types. And every once in while I'll bookmark pictures as sewing inspiration.

  9. I am in full agreement with you, in fact you've managed to put my feelings on the site into words for me. It's a beautiful site for sure, but without context I find it very vapid and disconnected. Thanks Peter!

  10. I used to look too, but I also really hated that there was no story behind the people, the location, or the clothes. nothing!

  11. I used to like the Sartorialist a lot better when it was first starting out, before Scott was famous. Now, not so much.

    I do like Bill Cunningham's photo essays though.

  12. Word of the Day: "Vapid"

    I just love when I read something that distills my "as-yet-unarticulated-uncomfortable-feelings" about something/someone.

    Very nicely done!


  13. I agree with Nancy, Bill Cunningham's essays are fabulous. There's a joy in them and since they feature a single topic through so many vignettes you feel you have spent the day in his shoes and being immersed in the zeitgeist. The Sartorialist can be so dry - yawn.
    As I've been reading the posts I wonder if what we're discussing is partly a cultural attitude regarding clothes. Our national affininty to have an over abundance of only the newest, branded items, every moment of every day seeking to be the center of attention and envy. This is rather vulgar behaviour. There's little appreciation in the broad market for quality or understanding of fit, fabric and tailoring when these simple items can be had at any price point if one is willing to do their homework or the actual work (hello to us sewers!).
    Otherwise I think it's great people have the choice to dress pretty freely now, there's little harm, it's only clothes and hair. However people pass judgement based on a person's appearance and with that in mind I do dress considering where and what with my personal twist included, it's like cutting through the clutter of preconcieved notions. Although, I enjoy the opportunity to let the diva out of her cage but only in controled circumstances.

  14. I'd never heard of that site until you mentioned it today. I went and had a peek and lasted all of 5 seconds. So *not* my thing at all. I totally agree that there is way too much fashion imagery in the world and far too much value placed on one's appearance.

    Like you, I could care less about fashion trends and I wear and sew what I like and what makes me feel good. I'm a simple person who sews simple clothes and loves to play dress up, too.

    Thanks for this great post, Peter. :)

  15. Hello Peter,

    I used to visit the Sartorialist because I liked his portraits, not for the fashion images -- I agree that there aren't so many interesting images any more there. My favorite one is of someone who is hardly wearing any clothes :)

    Have you read Luxirare? She is someone I think of as operating on a different plane -- loves couture, makes her own clothing and shoes (!), fierce aesthetics, unbelievably talented, unafraid of trying anything it seems.

    I have really enjoyed following the adventures of makers/creators (like you) rather than editorialists/observers-only (like the Sartorialist) recently.

  16. Peter you are great you verbalized what I am feel about fashion blogs. I totally agree with you and I love your blog

  17. I'd never gone to the Sartorialist before, and I'm not even embarassed to say I had to wiki what the hell the word meant.

    But yeah, two seconds of that and I'm off to something else. Way too much time in life to spend it staring at photos of what other people are wearing on the street, let alone commenting on it. And maybe this is just my perspective, from someone who has lived in Europe and now lives in the Midwest, but that blog smacks of someone who considers anything (and by that I mean anyone) outside of NY NY to be lesser than.

    So yeah. I think you made the right choice.

  18. Being a stay at home mom from a mid-sized city in Alabama I don't live a life that would ever compare with those photographed by The Sartorialist.

    I do, however, enjoy seeing a different slice of life than what I live. I do like when he posts photos of very simple chic outfits on ladies about my age. I do love a cute breezy summer dress. I remember a photo a year or two back of his own daughter wearing a skirt that he made for her out of Chinese brocade. He admitted it was really poorly sewn, but it was very cute. At the time he posted that, I had a piece of Chinese brocade on my sewing table making a skirt for my daughter.

    His photographs have changed a bit over the time that I have followed his blog. I enjoyed it more when he first started out. He is becoming less about interesting people on the street and more about people who hover around designers. I do find quite a bit of it vapid as other have said. I think the number of photos of people with a posture of being snarky or bored as their photos are taken are a turn-off. I guess it is my tendency to assign a personality to a person in a photo. I respond much better to an open genuine look of a person than an aloof coolness.

    I find much more inspiration on sewing blogs. Yours is my current fave. It really is a bright spot that starts my day. So I must say thank-you for that. I am really needing the inspiration right now. My sewing has been sidetracked lately making bedroom curtains. I won't sew anything, but emergency items until they are finished and I am great a procrastinating about finishing them. I am quite bottlenecked right now.

    I can also identify much more with your style. Your postings about your dear cousin Cathy revamping your wardrobe were very inspirational. That is something that is now on my to-do list. I also identify with your shopping tendencies. I once visited Britex fabric in San Francisco and was too overwhelmed that I did not buy anything.

    Please, keep doing what you are doing. Bring us fashion for the rest of us Peter-style.

  19. Could you do another post about the sub-porn Lolita-referencing faux-infant bare-legged, finger-sucking, knock-kneed-photo-stance of so many female "style" bloggers, especially Mommy-style blogs? Really sets my teeth on edge.....


  20. This post couldn't come at a better time for me to read. I just got home from a wonderful dinner at a very expensive restaurant that my husband took me to for my birthday. What did I notice? That I was the only one dressed in color and in something that I handmade and hand fitted to my body. I saw a lot of very expensive and very black fashion. But that's all it is, fashion. I don't think it means a whole hell of a lot to the people wearing it. It just means that they had the money to buy it. What did my outfit mean to me? It meant the world. And not because I'm in love with fashion or clothes or even style. I've occasionally looked over at the Sartorialist, but I've found it so impersonal that the fashion represented there means nothing to me. It's not even inspiring. I come here because I'm so inspired by you and the fact that you have personality and it is so infused into the way you dress and sew and how you live your life. That's fashion. At least to me. Beautifully eloquent post. Peter, you are wonderful and have such fabulous style!

  21. I value my life so I don't hang out with people who dress like gang members or Nazi skinheads, etc.

    So yes, the way one is dressed does matter to me.

    Granted, just because you wear the clothing of a criminal/zealot/radical does not necessarily mean you are one; but that you do, one can at the very least reasonably subsume that you are a bit dim...


    Scott, whom I found on the Ask Andy About Clothes forum, lost me when he set about to teach a teenager how to dress. This would be one of the rare times he posted a chunk of narrative. Well something about it seemed Red Flag! pervy and I still remain creeped out by him.

    I stalk Facehunter every now and again and I found one for DC but he doesn't update very regularly. Besides, they never say which and what is homemade, refashioned, etc.

    Sweetheart, your blog is way, way better than Satorialist. You are wonderfully thought provoking and a hell of a seamster.

  22. Your post made me smile in a happy way. It put into words a lot of things I've been unable to about similar sites/magazines/other publications.


  23. I totally agree about your class perceptions of who the Satorialist shoots. I can tell you that everyone from Paris is from a neighborhood I'd never live in, and rarely go to.
    I also agree that the comments are particularly vapid. I occasionally look at his page only because I make it a very strict rule not to read the comments, otherwise my blood pressure would need treatment to see so much stupidity in one place. Enough to drive one to wearing overalls again and - oh wait, not this eyar :-)..

  24. Ahhh... you're speaking my language!

    Because I have a degree in Fashion (which always sounds very fluffy and not worthy of the letters "BA"), people always assume I'm interested in all the glossy stuff.... and you've summed up my feelings exactly. I don't check in on The Satorialist and I don't read fashion mags either.

    Hooray for keeping it real!

  25. Hi Peter, new reader here!

    I think it is cute you pulled the "it's me not you" excuse, commenters on nymag weren't so nice. They just flat out called him a snob.

    But I have to agree, the Sartorialist is losing a bit of its charms.

  26. couldn't agree more. seriously dropped off when a makeover was suggested then never followed up.

    it's like reading vogue for me. really enjoy it when i do, then leave it months before i feel the need to again.

    each unto their own, i guess.

  27. I love looking through the Sartorialist and when I do visit it I look through all that I have missed. Not everything grabs me, but then why should it? Do I like every single thing eny one particular blogger has written or done? No.
    Sometimes his portraits are so amazingly beautiful it lifts my whole day just to look at them. One of my favourties was of a girl in Islamic garb, here in Melbourne, Australia. She was lovely and well put together and had the most beautiful smile. The composition of the photo was wonderful as well.It worked on so many levels.
    As a creative or visual person I don't know how you can not go past all the high fashion poser stuff and not see moments of pure magic there.

  28. I'm with you. I have spent time on The Sartorialist in the past, but got bored of looking at rich people.

    You must visit The Catorialist. Hilarious, and I don't even like cats.

  29. love this post, it clarified my own thoughts, giving them coherent words and phrases rather than, "there's just something about it that isn't enough".

  30. Hi Peter, I followed you from Elizabeth's (eword10) site...
    First I came because I loved your blog title. But then I read this post.... I don't want to put the cart before the horse or anything.... but you and me, I think we're going to get along smashingly...*wink*

  31. Once again, I completely agree with your points about The Sartorialist blog. Love looking at the images from time to time, but ultimately I'm not a fashionista. And for me anyway, the images lessen my already somewhat fragile self esteem. I'm not in a position to afford those fabulous looks, nor would I probably invest so much time, energy and money even if I could afford it.

    Keep up the great work Peter. Love your blog, love your writing style, and love your attitude!

    Here's hoping that Cathy shows some self restraint while shooting the pilot and is able to fit into that skirt!

  32. Thanks, Jon!

    Yes, poor Cathy has been known to hit the Ben & Jerry's from time to time...

  33. Peter said...I find myself agreeing with reader Monica, who commented the other day, "there is way too much judgment based on personal appearance in this world....

    Judgment based on personal appearance is a very primal part of our humane nature. Sizing someone up, determining if they're a threat or not - fight or flight.

    How could you NOT judge someone based on their personal appearance?

    The judgement might be favorable or one of indifference. You can choose not to critical. But you'll have a reaction. It's a part of being human.

  34. Frequent reader, not so frequent poster here. :)

    I really enjoyed reading this post and I have to say that for whatever reason, I'm not a fan of this Sartorialist person either. I have heard of him, and I have occasionally stopped by the blog to see what all the fuss was about. I don't get what all the fuss is about. I think that is the whole problem. So much fuss, not getting why.

    I have never been a person to go along liking what everyone else likes simply because I have been told that I should be really into it. In fact it inspires the opposite effect in me. This seems be the case with the Sartorialist. Read a few fashion blogs, or even Vogue and a reference to this blog will pop up at some stage - and you feel as if you should be all about it, but meh... not so much.

    So in short, yeah I would have broken up with him too - if we had been involved.

    On a side note this post was GOLD!

    "Could you do another post about the sub-porn Lolita-referencing faux-infant bare-legged, finger-sucking, knock-kneed-photo-stance of so many female "style" bloggers, especially Mommy-style blogs? Really sets my teeth on edge....."

    Hatty, I know exactly what you mean...

  35. The Sartorialist has moved from great street photography to great fashion photography. I don't like his blog as much as I used to, but his portraits are amazing, and what are clothes if not context?

    I find there is a lot of fashion imagery on this blog too. Your context is that of quirky handmade, not NY sophisticate, but it's there nonetheless. I can love and appreciate both. Keep doing what you do <3


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