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From the Classifieds to the CFDA Fashion Awards

Way back in the 1980s, Lynn Yaeger started working in the Village Voice’s classified ads department. It wasn’t long before she was publishing insightful (and often biting) articles about street-level fashions and the politics of dressing. Tonight Yaeger is receiving an award from Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Below we’ve included a couple of choice articles and examples of the ways in which Yaeger cast a discerning (and sometimes dissenting) eye over the fashion landscape.

Affordable Antiques & Collectibles

Left But Not Forgotten — Part One
November 8, 1988

Persons evincing even the most cursory interest in the American political scene will find themselves agreeing that this presidential season can be termed the autumn of our collective discontent. It was not always thus. Readers of a certain age can remember the headier polit­ical struggles of yesteryear, when extra-parliamentary parties crowded the tickets, and the talk around town, rather than merely decrying the desultory task of holding one’s nose and flicking a lever for the lesser of two evils, considered the possi­bility of settling disputes at the barricades.

But not our task to survey and critique the mainstream candidates as they go pranc­ing around the country de­ceiving the electorate, obfuscating issues, and engaging in mean-spirited, self-aggrandizing attacks on one another. No, we are here to share with you a world which you may have just about forgotten lately­ — the world of “third party,” “progressive,” “socialistic” politics and its attendant memorabilia and ephemera. We mean something to the left of the despised “L­-word” here — we mean the more than 100 years of working-class organization and struggle, of the fight for equal rights and woman’s suffrage, immortalized in scraps of paper, pamphlets, postcards, buttons, medal­lions, and the occasional doll or bronze bust.

Although there are many people who maintain an in­tellectual interest in the hid­den history of progressive America, a lot of these types confine their collecting to books on the subject, which they then proceed to read. Undoubtedly a solid knowl­edge of the subject matter is imperative in the building of your collection (how else you gonna know to buy a convict number 2253 but­ton? How you gonna be ready to grab a Victoria Woodhull carte de visite?). We are not interested here, however, in bibliophilia, but rather in the physical evi­dence that these social movements actually existed.

There are, given the mass support many of these movements enjoyed, sur­prising few of these items extant. This is easy to ex­plain. Most people interest­ed in overthrowing the gov­ernment were poor. Poor people lived in crowded ten­ements and did not, as a rule, spend their time lov­ingly storing in scrapbooks or attics the precious souve­nirs of their radical youths. (The very same reasons it is so difficult to find a 1910 apron but relatively easy to locate a ball gown apply here.)

Your best bet if you’ve never even seen any of this stuff is to visit a postcard or paper ephemera show, where there is usually some­thing appropriate for sale. Postcards with women’s suf­frage themes (“I want to vote, wife won’t let me” de­picting a man scrubbing and a gamboling baby) or other lefty motifs usually turn up, though prices at these shows may be discouraging. Dealers specializing in paper ephemera are sure to have something — look through stacks of magazines from November 1917 forward for responses to the Bolshevik Revolution, ranging from the nervous to the hysterical but with a few surprisingly optimistic accounts.

Those with sufficient knowledge to seek out a bar­gain should look with both eyes at the displays of but­ton and ephemera at general flea markets. Here it is like­ly that you will know more than the seller and, when locked in battle over a Farmer/Labor pamphlet or William Z. Foster button, you will probably emerge the victor. (We were able to pick up a Robert Emmet “Let no man write my epi­taph” commemorative badge for a song because the 19-year-old dealer thought it was just a funny old piece of junk.)

Of course, the more you know, the easier it gets. You may spend a lifetime chas­ing Knights of Labor, I.W.W., and Lowell strike items without success, but along the way you will surely turn up some fascinating substitutes. Though it’s pos­sible, after years of stalking, to locate a “Votes for Wom­en” bisque statuette or a Eu­gene Debs convict bust, we dare you to bring us, at whatever price, the circa 1875 Automatic Toy Works suffragette clockwork toy, who, when activated, leans forward in her checkered dress and bonnet and bangs her tiny fist on a miniature rostrum to illustrate her point.

(Next column: The Mod­ern era! The War Years! The ’60s! The Panthers! The New Left!) ■

Feminist Collectibles
July 4, 1989

The antiques price guides we read list plenty of souve­nirs of suffrage. They men­tion “Votes for Women” pin-backs, “Mr. Suffer-Yet” cartoon buttons, and Em­meline Pankhurst bronze medals. They tell of 48-card “Votes for Women” games, and suffragette glass candy containers, and geese figu­rines wearing sandwich signs. Maybe we’re always in the wrong place at the wrong time (something we’ve long suspected), but, not unlike notoriously elusive Wobbly (IWW) material, suffrage stuff always re­mains in the rarefied world of the memorabilia price lists, never an arm’s length away from us on a bridge ta­ble at the flea market.

Let’s face it — we are what used to be called “political” people. When we think about old pamphlets, leaf­lets, banners, and the like, we twitter with excitement. We can’t think of a whole lot of things we’d rather spend our money on than the ribbons, pennants, and other assorted insignia from the late 19th and early 20th century women’s movement. We even think we have a fair idea of what we’re look­ing at and for (after all, didn’t we spend years in the academy blathering on about “women’s hidden history”?).

And we truly believe this stuff has got to be out there somewhere! The assiduous collector might begin by hunting through stacks of printed matter at that old standby, the paper ephem­era show, where one can usually come up with a mag­azine or newspaper article at least tangentially related to the subject under discus­sion. (Suffrage, always a hot topic for editorial page writers, is not difficult to find mention of once you famil­iarize yourself with the dates involved.) The travel­ing autograph shows held frequently in midtown hotels are less intimidating than upscale autograph showrooms; and might be able to produce something along the lines of, say, a Vic­toria Woodhull carte de vi­site. (Geraldine Ferraro autographs, for those who believe that these constitute a wise investment, are usu­ally available and fairly cheap.) You might also consider visiting one of the fre­quently held all-postcard shows — bizarre affairs where members of this par­ticular subculture crouch for hours in front of endless rows of boxes flipping and flipping through millions of pieces of cardboard. Ask the dealers if they have any suf­frage items and you just might be surprised with a British “I Want My Vote” meowing kitty card or a multicolored “Stumping for Votes.”

Of course, you could ditch the suffrage angle altogether and come up with a unique one-of-a-kind collection documenting the position of women in history. Here the ingenuity and wit of the cu­rator, rather than the vaga­ries of the market, would hold sway. How about the collection of makeup, start­ing with an 18th century patch box (spend the mon­ey!) through Princess Pat and Mum, right up to Biba (keep looking!) with a little homespun Avon thrown in? Why not a collection of bathing outfits dating from 19th century swimdresses with their stockings and shoes (difficult but not im­possible to find) and ending with a Rudi Gernreich top­less number? The clever connoisseur, by selecting just the right field and then tracking down the most au­thoritative examples, can end up building a collection more exciting, more infor­mative, and more scathing in its critique of women’s roles, than the highest, thickest stack of vintage pa­pers and buttons. ■

 

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Lynn Yaeger’s Final, Indispensable Shopping Advice for 2008

If anyone gave you a gift card this Christmas, leave work immediately — tell the boss you have rabies! Herpes! Anything — get yourself to that shop and use the card immediately. Even if you have to buy something at random — underpants, M&Ms — you must rid yourself of that plastic thing at once.

Remember what happened when Sharper Image went belly-up last February? There was that little matter of $25 million worth of gift cards the company simply refused to honor.

Now, with so many stores teetering on the brink, with even behemoths like Saks Fifth Avenue slashing prices to Kmart levels, there’s no telling who will be bankrupt next year, next week, even tomorrow! And then you know what you can do with your gift card? Put it with those statements you got last month from Madoff Securities International LLC.

 

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The Year’s Fashion Lowlights

It’s the very last week of 2008, the worst 12 months in living memory for the fashion business, an annus horribilis if ever there was one. All of which means it’s time for the first annual (and maybe last annual) Village Voice Lowlights of Fashion Awards. Ready? OK, let’s start small with the . . .

Worst Choice of Dress for the Most Electrifying Moment in Recent U.S. Political Life: Michelle Obama’s red-and-black Narciso Rodriguez debacle in Grant Park on election night. We love the way Michelle embraces young American designers (they could sure use a boost in 2009), but this fiasco should be left at the Goodwill when the Obama family leaves for Washington, where it can keep company with the . . .

Most Excessive Alleged Donation of Clothes Ever Bequeathed in the History of Charity: Sarah Palin’s $150,000 worth of duds from Saks and Neiman’s. (Check the secondhand shops in Wasilla if you’re looking for a smart little suit with a fancy provenance.) Which leads us to wonder: Did Sarah Jessica Parker get to keep the thousands of dollars’ worth of costumes she wore in the . . .

Worst Fashion Movie of 2008, and Probably Lots of Other Years, Too: The terribly written, totally bogus, abysmal Sex and the City movie, which, except for the characters’ names, bore no resemblance to the beloved and wonderful TV series. Actually, it was a harsh year for SJP all around, since her ridiculously inexpensive Bitten line was the cornerstone of Steve & Barry’s, just one of the many retailers to tank during the . . .

Worst Era for Clothing Stores Since 1932: Here is just a partial list of retailers sinking into quicksand: the weird Russian Kira Plastinina, which has 12 stores in the U.S., is reportedly this far from declaring bankruptcy; Ann Taylor is closing 117 stores nationwide; Eddie Bauer’s burying 37; Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug, and Catherine’s are each losing 150 stores nationwide; Gap’s murdering 85 stores; Foot Locker is shuttering 140; Zales is dumping over 100 “underperformers”; Wilson’s Leather’s deep-sixing 158; and Pacific Sunwear is obliterating 154 outlets. Well, at least there are no Marc Jacobs boutiques on the list, even though Marc was involved in the . . .

Most Brazen Attempt to Be Cooler-Than-Cool and Secure the Park Avenue Armory for Your Exclusive Use During Fashion Week Even if It’s a Teeny Bit Illegal: Marc Jacobs’s company reportedly paid a million dollars to settle bribery allegations related to his relationship with the armory. Of course, the MJ company’s crime pales when compared to the sins of Wal-Mart, the latest and most horrible being the death of Jdimytai Damour, who was trampled to death by an out-of-control crowd on Black Friday because Wal-Mart was criminally negligent about security. Damour joins these other . . .

Sad Losses of 2008: The elegant Yves St. Laurent, who put women in tuxedos and safari jackets and brought a refined street sensibility to the couture catwalks, and Richard Sylvan Selzer, a/k/a Mr. Blackwell, who created the “Ten Worst-Dressed Women List,” which eviscerated everyone from Martha Stewart—”Dull, dowdy, and devastatingly dreary”—to Cher—”A million beads, and one overexposed derriere.” If only those ladies stuck to St. Laurent, they would never have made the list. And now, Cher, Martha, you can pick up vintage YSL duds at reduced prices because of the . . .

Best Thing to Come Out of the Economic Crisis: The Euro and the pound are sliding against the dollar, which means you can plan a trip to Europe and visit those wonderful Parisian department stores you love. (Don’t worry! That dynamite the French police found last week in the bathroom at Au Printemps didn’t go off!) Though the Euro has recovered a bit of late, here’s hoping Europe sinks into worse trouble than ever. Otherwise, we’ll just have to stay home in our bunny pajamas and watch some of the . . .

Most Unexpected Developments in Fashion TV: 1) The first-ever transsexual contestant who lit up America’s Next Top Model—”My cards were dealt differently,” the 22-year-old aspirant, Isis, told Us Weekly; and 2) the disappearance of Project Runway, the odd outcome of its being fought over by NBC Universal and Lifetime, resulting in this peculiar conundrum: People actually liked it, so now Heidi Klum’s not on the air? Oh, well. Too bad we can’t just turn off the TV and go out to eat at our favorite bistro in the meatpacking district, but our spot suffered the . . .

Most Tragic Result of Revolting Gentrification: The closure of Florent on Gansevoort Street last spring, the final gasp in a dying battle against the dull shops and overpriced eateries that now swamp these cobblestoned streets. The only possible upside is that drunken, callow Wall Streeters may no longer be able to afford these swanky dumps, which could lead to mass closures, returning the area to its historic role as a hooker-friendly backwater. But who needs designer duds bought for exorbitant prices on far West 14th Street when you’re carrying the . . .

Preachiest Politically Correct Tote to Replace Vuitton, Fendi, et al.: The “I Am Not a Plastic Bag” canvas sack by Anya Hindmarch. Pretty soon, it could change its name to “I Am Not a Bag That Costs Six Cents,” which is what Mayor Bloomberg is proposing stores charge for those plastic bags we’ve all grown so accustomed to. Now, not only will we have to fork over our loose change to tote those Lean Cuisines home from Gristedes, but we’ll be paying through the nose for everything else because of the . . .

Most Distressing News to Emerge Thus Far From the Office of David Paterson: The sales tax on clothing is going up! The guv wants to take away the tax-free status of clothes under $110. (He’s also proposing jacking up the tax on luxury goods like jewelry and furs costing over $20,000, but it’s kind of hard to be too upset about that.) Plus it’ll probably cost more to get to the stores and take longer to get there because, in case you haven’t heard, mass transit is in the toilet. (Buy a $50,000 watch. Maybe some of the extra tax revenue will be diverted to the L train.) Then again, when you get to the stores, there is at least something positive to report. This year, expect to see the . . .

Best End-of-Year Sales in Recorded History!: If everything is 80 percent off now, what’s it going to be on December 26? Ninety-nine percent off? Happy holidays!

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Lynn Yaeger Gift Idea: Paul Mitchell Blago Brush

Well, it’ll be a merry Christmas for at least one merchant: Ramazan Baydan, a shoe manufacturer in Istanbul, Turkey, says he recognized one of his shoes as the infamous Oxford hurled at President Bush in Iraq last week. That undistinguished clodhopper is now a must-have hot item in the Mid-East — in fact, orders are pouring in from all over the world.

But clunky shoes are not the only quirky accessory that may prove to be an unexpected goldmine this holiday season: Want to sport that rich, silky ‘do favored by disgraced Illinois Governor Blagojevich? Then you need to purchase his indispensable Paul Mitchell hairbrush, the grooming tool the Guv calls the “the football,” a reference to the “nuclear football,” or the bomb codes that are never supposed to be out of reach of a president.

Or as Rudyard Kipling once put it, “I’m never, ever without my XX*&# Paul Mitchell, it always keeps my X$%#&@ coiffure ‘just so.'”

 

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Lynn Yaegar Laments Bare Bruni Bag Bust

Waaah! All I wanted for Christmas was a tote bag printed with a nude photo of the first lady of France, and now I’m not gonna get one!

It seems that the Pardon purse company was doing a fine business selling totes emblazoned with Carla Bruni Sarkozi’s splendid unclothed physique and a speech bubble that read: “My boyfriend should have bought me Pardon,” until Madame sued the handbag people for violating her “image ownership rights.”

Carla won, and the bag company now has to pay a 40,000 euro fine, which will reportedly be donated to charity.

But good news, Pardon is appealing! If they win, what’s next? Michelle in the altogether with a bubble reading, “My husband would never have anything to do with anyone, ever, ever buying a senate seat?”

 

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Open Letter from Lynn Yaeger to the Newly Cost-Conscious Queen Elizabeth II

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth has decided to turn off the lights in unused Buckingham Palace rooms, re-serve morsels left over from lavish banquets, and repeat a dowdy outfit now and again.

Nice try Queeenie, and we’re glad you’re keeping up with the news and all, but how about adding these thrifty measures:

Dispense with the royal Windex sprayer, who spiffs up the glass carriage you ride in on special occasions.

Have diamonds in your tiara and scepter polished after only every other wearing.

QUIT. And take all your silly unemployed sycophantic royal relatives with you! Save your struggling populace trillions wasted cosseting your antiquated hide. Queenie, look deep in that royal mirror and ask yourself not “Who is the fairest of them all?” but “Who needs a monarchy in 2009?”

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Sarah Jessica Parker Gives Me a Guided Tour of the Met. Sort Of.

Things apparently did not work out with Mr. Big. Carrie Bradshaw, broke and alone, is filling her time by narrating “Costume: The Art of Dress,” an audio tour of the fashions in the collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Curious about how much fun something like this could possibly be, I find myself in the Great Hall on a warm December day, a break from my usual haunts: department stores, where everything at this point is 99 percent off. (Plus, the people at Bergdorf’s will come to your house dressed as elves and bearing trays of Beluga; the staff at Saks will sing you a lullaby and tuck you in—if you’ll only just buy something.)

I am ashamed to admit that a profound failure of mechanical ability has prevented me from ever putting on headphones and taking an audio tour before. (I am so lame that I can’t even open the package of peanuts on an airplane, let alone operate the joystick.) Also, I’ve always thought that wearing headphones was dorky (not that I know what I’m looking at most of the time without them—I assure you, I do not). And, of course, the apparatus does wreak havoc on one’s hairdo. But this time, I have no choice. If I want SJP to tell me about doublets and ruffs, pleats and poufs, I have to contact the Costume Institute’s publicist and get her to help me.

The museum isn’t as crowded as I’d expected (are people too ashamed to give a dime instead of the $20 recommended pay-what-you-please admission and so just staying home?), but there are still plenty of tourists milling around. I suddenly discover something really wonderful about wearing headphones: You can see the other visitors, but you no longer have to endure the dumb things they say! That gang of seven-year-olds running past you and pointing at the statues’ wieners? Wonder of wonders: You cannot hear them shriek.

Instead, I stand in a welter of blessed silence in front of a fourth-century marble statue, and my friend Parker is telling me about how this goddess is wearing a Kiton made of pleated linen. (What she doesn’t say is that this gal is hardly a sylph, and a swath of gently folded fabric always looks good when you’re a bit chunky.) Parker’s soft, cheery voice not only evokes Carrie, but also brings to mind Annie, that plucky, curly-haired orphan who saw the nation through the last Depression and who a surprisingly uncloying SJP played in the original Broadway production.

Once you disregard the fact that you look hideous with this thing on your head, an audio tour is not half-bad! Parker and I visit Asmat body masks and Renoir dowagers and Peruvian nose ornaments (there are around 20 stops all together, and more are planned), but you can look at as many or as few as you like—this isn’t school! The trouble is that after a while, you actually want Parker to tell you about clothes that aren’t on the tour—the peasant frock in Jules Bastien-Lepage’s Joan of Arc, for instance, a painting I’ve always adored, though it caused my art-history professor decades ago to sigh in despair at my gross plebeian tastes. (Well, love what you love, my teacher finally muttered, echoing Van Gogh.)

When we get to Agnolo Bronzino’s Portrait of a Young Man, the publicist (her name is Nancy Chilton, and she’s very nice) and I stop dead in our tracks. This 16th-century fellow is beyond foppish, a real Miss Thing—”What an attitude!” Parker breathes in my ears. But wait, I know who he looks like! Excuse me, I say to Nancy—and talk about dumb things people say in museums—but doesn’t he remind you of Chuck Bass?

Miracle of miracles—Nancy bites. I had seen only the first half of Gossip Girl the night before, so I didn’t know what Chuck was looking for in his desk when Lily confronted him, or whether Blair’s mom really married Wallace Shawn. As we continue our tour, wonderful Nancy describes how Blair finally says, “I love you,” to Chuck, and he tells her it’s too late. Oh, no!

We have a little trouble finding the Standing Bodhisattva Maitreya, and when he shows up, I try to pay attention to SJP, but I am powerfully distracted. Did Serena go back with Dan? I whisper. No, she went to Buenos Aires for Christmas with that horrible weasely artist guy who is supposed to be Wallace Shawn’s son. (Must be adopted.)

My reward for all this bad behavior is lunch in the museum’s trustees’ dining room with my friend Harold Koda, the Costume Institute’s curator. I love the trustees’ dining room, which overlooks Central Park. It isn’t open to the public—it’s reserved for donors, which means that even in these times, we are surrounded by quietly rich people. And guess what? It turns out that Koda, who recently received the Oracle Award from Fashion Group International, was seated for the ceremony at a table with—you’ll never believe it—Serena and Dan. Turns out that not just Nancy, but other smarty-pantses on the museum staff, after finding out who Koda was sitting with, begged him to ask Dan if he got into Yale and Serena if she was going to be a bitch all season.

After this high-toned, erudite conversation, I bid goodbye to Harold and Nancy and make my way to the vast museum shop on the main floor to see if there’s anything new. Though I have a soft spot for William—the Egyptian faience hippopotamus that dates from 1981 to 1885 B.C. and is the Met’s mascot (he’s available inexpensively as a magnet or a tree ornament)—I am otherwise usually disappointed by the store, which favors scarves and jewelry that are invariably too conservative for my taste.

But this season, there’s a nice, snug black T-shirt with a trompe l’oeil gold necklace, in honor of the current exhibit of Calder jewelry (I should be looking at that instead of lurking in the gift shop), for $40, which seems a little high for a tee. On the other hand, it’s cheaper than the molded-plaster model of the museum building for $595 (also available as bookends for $300). A $20-and-under table holds that unwelcome gift, the dreaded mug, which, although it is printed with shoes, I doubt would satisfy any sex-and-the-city-dwelling gossip girls. I’m about to give up when I spot a modernist silvery card case for $40 that I assume is an homage to Mondrian but turns out to be engraved with a Frank Lloyd Wright design based on a window triptych from the Illinois Avery Coonley Playhouse, circa 1912. It’s accessible yet slightly pretentious, alluring but pragmatic—just like Carrie, Serena, and Blair themselves.

lyaeger@villagevoice.com

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Bush Shoe Toss Joins Great Moments in Footwear

Sure we deplore violence as much as the next guy, but that doesn’t mean we could entirely suppress a smile when an Iraqui reporter threw not one but two of his shoes at President Bush’s press conference and shouted, “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” during his surprise visit to Baghdad yesterday. I mean, how many times have you wanted to hurl something other than invective at your TV when W. starts fulminating?

The whole incidence got us thinking about other great moments in footwear:

Anyone out there remember that before his recent conviction on kidnapping charges (hooray) O.J. Simpson described one piece of incriminating evidence in his previous trial, the size 12 1/2 Bruno Maglis he was wearing the night of the murders of his wife and her friend Ron Goldman, as “ugly-ass shoes?”

And what of Imelda Marcos, widow of the dictator Fernando Marcos, who was the original Carrie Bradshaw, if that nice girl had a repellent political agenda. Before the Blahnik era, Marcos owned an astonishing 1060 pairs of shoes. (But only 888 handbags.)

And let’s not forget Cinderella, an exploited domestic worker who found fame and redemption solely (sorry!) because her foot was smaller than normal.

 

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Maybe Reverend Billy Was Right All Along…

We’ve long been of two minds regarding the Reverend Billy — is he a self-promoting shyster or a genuine visionary? A craven scam artist or a brilliant performance artist? Last winter we did have a delightful time shopping with him in the East Village — he’s a guy who’s very hard not to like in person — and this season, what with the spectacular downturn in the economy, his message of “Stop Shopping! “(which we hate) seems, alas, more prescient than ever.

Which is to say: Instead of going to department stores on Sunday, you might consider joining Billy and his 40-voice Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, who, according to an email missive, “Will fill your heart with holiday buylessness,” at Dixon Place. Hear their new hit single: “Not A Lotta Shoppin’ Goin’ On!'”

The event is in honor of Jdimytai Damour, who was trampled to death on Black Friday at Wal-Mart.

 

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Big Girls Don’t Cry, Oprah

You can be the most important, influential woman in the entertainment universe, you can help elect a home-town guy to the presidency, but, unlike your male cohorts, when it comes to celebrating this triumph at the inaugural ball you face a hideous dilemma:

“I had a dress on the vision board,” Oprah Winfrey confesses, “but I’m not sure that’s going to fit. So I have to work on something else.” She adds mournfully, “I definitely wasn’t setting an example. I was talking the talk, but I wasn’t walking the walk. And that was very disappointing to me.”

A big guy can just wear a big tux (and he should follow Barack’s example and get a union-made Hart Schaffner Marx number for under a thou) but a woman who, like Oprah, has gained 40 pounds (and those of us who live with Winfrey in yo-yo diet land know just how easy this can be) has to deal with the sartorial consequences.

To which we say — Oprah darling, do not let this ruin your evening! Swath yourself in yards of black satin, have a ball at the ball, and then, like the rest of America, greet the new era by knocking off a few measly pounds.