Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Interview with writer Ali Basye

Meet Ali Basye: prolific freelance writer, author of a fab new book "The Long and Short of It: The Madcap History of the Skirt" and wedding guru (she's the editor of Seattle Bride magazine). Hear what she has to say about writing, weddings, time management, and oh yeah, skirts! (I don't know about you, but I'm going to find myself a Gary Graham skirt -- and fast. See below.)

SJ: What a fun concept for a book! Where did you get the idea for it? (There must be some wonderful backstory here!). And, for those of us who haven't yet bought a copy yet (going to the bookstore today!), give us a plump and juicy fact from your pages, please!

AB: The inspiration for the book comes from the fact that I have a background in the arts—I studied Textile Design at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia—and I love history (I even worked my way through college as one of those old time tour guides!) I wanted to do a fashion history book and several ideas were bandied about but the skirt story was the best. For one thing, it's the world's oldest garment. Secondly, no one had done a history book specifically focusing on skirts, which really surprised me.

But my absolute favorite chapter to research was the Hobble Skirt (the skin-tight skirt from the early 20th century that flared mid-calf). This skirt completely underscores the idea of Fashion Victim. Because the skirt only had a four or five inch stride, it all but eliminated high stairs and broad steps. Newspapers had a field day mocking the skirt when it debuted, and crowds would literally gather on street corners to laugh at women mincing along in their tight skirts. Women actually died wearing this skirt, either because they couldn't get out of traffic's way or from a particularly hard fall. Hobbles were banned from the court of England (because you couldn't properly curtsy the Queen in a hobble) and many schools wouldn't allow their students to wear them.

This is all so fascinating to me because the hobble came on the scene at the same time that women were fighting for men to take them seriously in order to earn the right to vote. This quote from the New York Times in 1912 sums it up: "If women want to be able to run for governor, they ought to be able to run for a car…If they want to be legally free they shouldn't be sartorially shackled. There are some so unkind to suggest that trousers would have been better—far better—and much more comfortable [than the hobble skirt]."

SJ: On the subject of skirts, do you wear them often? Because I try, and just feel so darn awkward. I love the thought of wearing a skirt, but pulling it off well is another story. What is your favorite way to wear a skirt -- long, short, with boots, with leggings, over pants?

AB: People always ask me this question now that I've written a book about skirts! The answer is, yes, I love skirts and I have my favorites: Gary Graham makes absolutely fetching skirts that always stop people in their tracks. I've never worn a Gary Graham and not been bombarded with compliments. I’m also a big champion of locally made, natural-fiber clothing—but it has to be stylish! I like Anna Cohen a lot and Carol Young of Undesigned. But my figure is challenging: I have a tiny waist and a bigger butt, so more forgiving styles, like A-line, is always best. I always love a tall, sleek boot or somewhat pointy-toed shoe with a low vamp to make my legs look longer. Also, I live in Seattle where it's damp nine months of the year and I get too cold to wear skirts in the winter. But I ride a bike everywhere and I always pull a stretchy A-line black mini skirt over my pants as a sort of mud guard. It actually looks really chic and keeps me clean if I'm headed somewhere important.

SJ: You have so much going on -- from your work with Seattle Bride to your freelance gigs -- what are your time management tricks?

AB: Lists and highlighters! I make or check my list every morning and I never have more than one list going at a time. So I make sure that doing my laundry is on the same list as making a deadline. So much of being a successful and balanced freelancer is in understanding that balancing my checkbook is as important as interviewing a source or researching a topic. Things I would normally hoard for the evenings or weekends are done during the day at a normal pace so that my downtime is relaxed and uncluttered. Also, I covet highlighters and use them to cross things off my lists, rather than a pen, because it feels more celebratory and finalized!

SJ: Speaking of brides, I know several people who are heading to the alter soon. Any interesting wedding trends that you're excited about for 2008?

AB: There are so many exciting trends for brides these days, mainly because they have more and more freedom to step outside the box. The best weddings are always the most personalized ones, in which couples strive to share their lives with their friends and family in an authentic and stylish way. I'd have to say the trend I'm most excited about is the enthusiasm that couples have for eating seasonally and locally. In the Northwest we are truly blessed with a year-round bounty of options, including wine and spirits and organic or vegetarian meals. Northwest couples can have entire gourmet meals culled from a 50-mile radius of their wedding! Couples also seem to be scaling back a bit, too, which I think is smart. I always remind my brides that they are planning a marriage first and a wedding second. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that.

SJ: Since it's January, I have to ask: What do you think of New Year's resolutions? Love em, hate em? And, do you have any interesting ones this year?

AB: New Year's Resolutions—bah! I try and resolve to do good things for myself all through the year. But I do have one tradition: Every year around the first of December I make an Annual List of my favorite things from that year. I list the year's highlights (a dear friend got married, I had a book published, my uncle survived cancer) as well as low-lights (this year my beloved aunt passed away) so that I can look back and remember what events marked that year. Then I write down what I'm doing at that point and what my goals are for the future. Finally, I list all my favorite things of that moment: Films, books, artists, authors, things to do, foods, people, friends and anything else I can think of. I've been doing this list since I was about 12 and it's so much fun to look back and see what I was reaching toward and what I loved at each year of my life. This year my goals were more conservative: to continue to grow my business, take a trip with my high-school friend Jen with whom I recently reunited, and (finally) learn Spanish.

1 comment:

Ad said...

Obviously a lively, intellegent, literate woman. Read her book - loved it, even though as a guy I cannot (will not) appreciate the virtues of a skirt. Looking forward to her next read.