Bill Cunningham’s Uniform

Bill Cunningham at Fashion Week. Photo: Jiyang Chen.

Bill Cunningham at Fashion Week. Photo: Jiyang Chen.

Some time ago and to much favorable response, Kelly announced her equivalent of a moon shot: the sewing and deployment of a practical, everyday uniform. With pockets, of course. Like most NASA scale projects, there have been cost overruns, delays and setbacks. Hopefully she’ll be getting back to it soon.

One person that did figure out a personal uniform was the late New York Times fashion and society photographer Bill Cunningham, the subject of an entertaining documentary you can watch in Netflix, “Bill Cunningham New York.” Cunningham had an eye for creative people, not necessarily rich or connected, with a sense of fashion. He cared little for the niceties of life, preferring to dine on $3 sandwiches, get around on a bicycle and sleep in his studio surrounded by filing cabinets full of 35mm negatives.

He also managed to engineer a uniform for himself in keeping with his frugal lifestyle, but at the same time, oddly stylish. Wherever Cunningham went you’d see him in a French worker’s jacket or bleu de travail. Reading between the lines in the documentary, it seems like he’d stock up on them when the Times would send him to Paris.

Blue worker’s shirts and jackets have a long history in all Western countries including the U.S. It’s the origin, of course, of “blue collar.” American uniform shops carry something similar but I like the cut and pockets of the French and German versions better (hint to American uniform manufacturers: you should bring back your vintage patterns and slimmer sizes!). Some enterprising Etsy folks have shops devoted to vintage European uniforms. Here’s a French uniform shop selling them for around 18€ (a steal at $20 USD–no wonder Cunningham liked them!).

So enterprising homesteaders, I’m handing you an entrepreneurial opportunity. Buy a pallet of European worker’s uniforms and open yourself a boutique or sell them on Amazon. I’m very surprised no one has tried the latter.



Saturday Tweets: Waffles, Shipwrecks and Soil Erosion

The Week in Pictures


Both Kelly and I came down with colds this week. It takes superhuman effort on my part to string words together into sentences when I’m feeling well. With a cold I run an even greater risk of committing grave grammatical and punctuation errors. So rather than write, I decided to shuffle out of the house yesterday and take a few pictures. Above is the view from our front porch.


The Malva parviflora is back which means that we’ve had some rain this year. I take this as a hopeful sign even though we’re not out of the drought in Southern California.

little library

Our neighbor Jennie Cook (a guest on episode 50 of our podcast) put up a Little Free Library in her parkway a few years ago. It’s been a huge success. I’ve gotten rid of and acquired quite a few books and sometimes I just stroll down to look at what oddball things have shown up.


One street over a neighbor has a huge stand of this common cactus that I, sadly, don’t know the name of (if you do, please leave a comment).


A relative sent Kelly a get well bouquet of succulents that now lives on our front steps.

Once I stop swigging DayQuil, Root Simple will be back with our regularly scheduled programming.

Three California Natives that Double as Culinary Herbs


In my perfect world we Southern Californians would cast off our topiaried Home Depot shrubbery in favor of California natives and a few carefully chosen Mediterranean plants. No more petunias, leaf blowers or fake lawns either. Imagine if all our residential, government and commercial spaces had climate appropriate landscaping? Native insects, birds and other critters would explode in population. It would be a paradise.

It would also be a huge culinary resource. Grow these plants in your garden and you can dodge the controversies of foraging in the wild. Towards that end, I thought I’d look at three easy to grow California natives that look great in a garden and double as culinary herbs.

White sage (Salvia apiana)
If you can grow this one you should. Like most California natives, when used as a culinary herb, it’s much stronger tasting than its cultivated cousins. You need to use it sparingly when cooking with it. Our neighbor has one that made it through our multi-year drought without a drop of water. When you grow it in a garden it’s best to prune it back every year to prevent it from getting rangy looking. You can use the cuttings as smudge sticks or dry them for use in the kitchen. White sage is over-harvested in the wild for the crystal shop smudge stick market which is another reason you should grow this one in your garden.


Black sage (Salvia melifera)
Our black sage plant has become a giant blob that threatens to take over the backyard. The Chumash people made a tea out of it that functioned as a pain reliever. Like white sage, you can use it in cooking (again, sparingly because of the strong taste).


California sagebrush (Artemisia californica)
When I imagine of the scent of our local mountains it’s this plant that I think of most. It was the Cahuilla people’s DayQuil. Using it as a culinary herb brings the taste of California to your food. Bees love it too.

You can make a tea with all of these plants and you can dry them for use as a spice herbs. And a reminder that if you’re in a hurry you can dry herbs in a microwave by putting the leaves in one layer between two paper towels. Microwave for one minute and let the leaves cool. If they aren’t brittle, microwave for another minute.

Pascal Baudar (a guest on episode 89 of the Root Simple Podcast) has a phenomenal spice herb blend that uses all three of these herbs combined with some garlic salt. I made a batch last week and have already used it on salmon and popcorn. You can find that recipe on page 158 of his amazing book The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir. I also strongly suggest taking one of Pascal’s classes.


Saturday Tweets: Squirrels and Other Stuff