You know how Project Runway has that inevitable segment where the aspiring designers assemble stylish outfits from coffee filters and other stuff purchased at a grocery store? Well, the costumes in Ken Roht’s musical 99 Cent Only Calendar Girl Competition are kind of like that, but even more drag queen–esque. (Click here for our online slide show of the costumes.) Miss July’s dress is reminiscent of an Independence Day picnic table. The bustier worn by Miss October (“I’m the one with the orange hair, like a pumpkin,” s/he said) is encrusted with flower-shaped soap petals. The winner gets to heft a scepter made of a colander, and ascend a dais shaped like a giant cat-food tin. King Lear, this isn’t. Like Webber’s Cats, there’s no hardcore storyline, just plenty of singing and dancing and audience participation including an intermission “vote” for your favorite Calendar Girl.

My favorite part of the musical was a Bollywood number instigated by Miss August. My second-favorite part was a robot dance, reminiscent of the best of the They Might Be Giants oeuvre. My third-favorite part was probably the neat little Bootleg Theater itself, where the play is currently running (’til Feb. 1). “Oh, you’ve never seen the show before? You’re in for a treat. These actors can really sing,” one woman said to me, as we filled our brown-paper baggies with popcorn from the machine near the bar. She’d seen the show six times.   

R.I.P. Retail Stores That Bit the Dust

So many stores didn’t make it through 2008. Here is a list of some of them and a few things we’ll miss about each.

Ann Taylor, closed 117 stores out of 966. Things we’ll miss: Classic black cardigans. Determined-looking petite Asian women elbowing you in the stomach when you reach for the last 50 percent–off turtleneck sweater.

Bombay Company, closed all outlets. Filed for Chapter 11. Things we’ll miss: Vaguely British Colonial style dressers, fake Chinese vases, pillows with gold fringe, “mahogany” sleigh beds, and accessories Liberace would covet.

Circuit City, closing all 155 stores. Filed for Chapter 11. Things we’ll miss: The bright-red tile outside their building. The nerdy name.

Eddie Bauer, closed 29 stores. Things we’ll miss: Rugged backpacks and long underwear marketed in the same breath as business suits.

Ethan Allen, closed 12 stores. Things we’ll miss: Almost nothing. Or, see “Bombay Company.” Oh, okay, fine. I’ll miss their secretary desks. But that’s all.

Foot Locker, closed 274 stores in 2007, another 60 in 2008. Things we’ll miss: Cute sales clerks who fetch you running shoes in a multiplicity of sizes.  Things we won’t miss: Annoying sales clerks who send text messages instead of fetching you running shoes in a multiplicity of sizes.

Kira Plastinina, closed almost all of her 12 U.S. stores. Things we’ll miss: Everything, everything, everything. Even the pants with the zipper vent in the butt. Sixteen-year-old Russian models do too know how to design clothes.

Sharper Image, closed all 184 stores. Filed for Chapter 11. Things we’ll miss: Random, weird gadgets. Ionic Breeze air purifiers that die within several months of purification use. The feeling that if the stores had held on for just a few more years, they’d have been ’90s-retro cool.

Linens-N-Things, closed 120 stores. Filed for Chapter 11. Things we’ll miss: Overpriced hangers, scented candles and feeling that your home can be organized and sparkling given enough plastic shower caddies and Orange Glo cleaning solution.

Shoe Pavilion, filed for Chapter 11. Things we’ll miss: Cheap ballet flats. Hooker-ish stilettos you wear one night and throw away the next.

Steve & Barry’s, filed for Chapter 11. Things we’ll miss: Celebrity fashion lines, like Sarah Jessica Parker’s “Bitten” line and “dear” by Amanda Bynes.

Twisted Balloon Fashion … or, Stay Away from Cacti

Um, is this a thing now? People wearing dresses made out of balloons? (See the slide show at The outfits probably make a sound like bubble-wrap when you sit. I wonder if those girls are naked under those balloons. I don’t know the why, the where, or even the how. Except I would like to see the girl in the yellow wrestle with a porcupine. Also, if you fill the balloons with helium, do the girls float up into the air? So many questions.

I scrolled through the comments on our slide show, and man, the arguments in the world of balloon fashion are fierce. (Oops, sorry, my New Year’s Resolution is never, ever to use the word “fierce” again — unless in reference to a mountain lion.) This is the best comment, from “Marie,” a fier … feisty defender of the trend: “I have personally met every one of the artist’s showcased and am close friends with several. I don’t understand the comments such as, ‘Wish I had a pin,’ any more than a mainstream artist would understand, ‘Boy, I wish I could take that painting of yours and just cut it into a million pieces.’ How do you sit down? You don’t. You’re displaying a piece, not slipping into sweats. What happens if they pop? Stay away from cacti and chances are you may lose a bubble or two, but that’s about it. Balloon dresses, balloon couture and balloon fashions of all sorts have become very popular.”
“Balloon couture”? Really? Ah, hell. Welcome to the new year.

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