All that glitters is not gold

Leslie and the Lys rap about kitsch culture and, most of all, gem sweaters

Amber Schadewald

The gem sweater is often thought of as a ’80s fashion phenomenon – the era when the Bedazzler sought to turn every piece of fabric into a glittering sea of rhinestones.

The style, however, dates back to the 1920s, when hip flapper gals started using sequins and strings to fancify their dresses. Skip past the Depression and straight to the ’50s, when cardigans became all the fashion. Lacking sparkles, these downers gave the sweater a bad reputation and kept them deep inside the closet on Friday nights. The ’60s revival of glamorous Western wear and the ascent of Elvis’ rhinestone-ridden jumpsuits inspired the Old Maids to knit something new into their warm creations.

Leslie and the Lys with ZibraZibra and Ice Rod
WHEN: 8 p.m. tonight
WHERE: 7th St. Entry, 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis
TICKETS: $6, 21-plus, (612) 338-8388

The gem sweater was born; a comfortable and somewhat modest way to display your favorite bling bling (Snoop Dogg will probably be wearing one in his next video).

Ames, Iowa native Leslie Hall is dead set on saving these threads from hanging limp on rusty wire hangers in thrift stores, finding them new homes on warm bodies.

As of Monday, Leslie had 406 gem sweaters in her collection, but every day’s mail brings the possibility of another addition.

She began collecting gem sweaters in high school after a shimmering sequin caught her eye from a rack in Goodwill.

“Gems and rhinestones dribbling down it like the wind blowing a poem or sweet summer song,” she said recalling the blue beauty.

(Please note: A gem sweater is a knitted or crotched pullover, decorated with sequins, beads, rhinestones, pearls, jewels and gems. Not a sweatshirt. Puffy paint, metallic thread, iron-on transfers, ribbon, buttons or embroidery don’t count.)

In 2000, Leslie began displaying her growing collection of sweaters online, transforming her into an Internet icon and earning her a spot in VH1’s “Top 40 Greatest Web Stars.”

Leslie says she’s been training to be famous all her life, practicing in front of mirrors, singing for her grandma and hunting for the fashion to define her fabulousness.

Realizing her destiny to share her passion for the gem sweater with the world, Leslie formed a band with two of her elementary school buddies, becoming “Leslie and the Lys.”

Leslie and the Lys are currently touring the country in their Mobile Museum of Gem Sweaters, spreading awareness and education about the underappreciated garment art.

Monetary donations are gladly accepted, helping cover the dry cleaning and repair costs for the sweaters, as well as gas for the museum on wheels. By 2099, Leslie hopes she and the sweaters can raise enough money to travel to space.

Until then, here on Earth, Leslie will continue to pump up the jams Ö I mean, gems.

Leslie and the Lys’ first album, “Gold Pants,” was released in 2004 and the second disc, “Door Man’s Daughter,” came out last year. Both were created on Leslie’s Mac.

The pulsating wonder beats and laser sound simulations put the listener in a spacey arcade setting, as Leslie mesmerizes with her magical lady rhymes, sharing knowledge about everything from zombies to Cheetos.

With 13 tracks, “Door Man’s Daughter” is only 26 minutes short (any longer and you’d probably feel nauseous from overstimulation). The album is gem-packed full of precious hits like “Shazam I’m Glamorous” and “Holla Back Ames.”

Leslie is the white-trash version of Lady Sovereign and a less sexual adaptation of Peaches, making for a ridiculously entertaining spectacle live. Whether performing on roller skates at the rink or singing love songs in a karaoke booth at the mall, Leslie is like a Jazzercise instructor crossed with your crazy Aunt Susan who’s obsessed with collecting swans and tiny spoons.

Leslie also posts podcasts on the band’s Web site, including “Ring My Bell,” which features Leslie answering fan phone calls. Episode two consists of five glorious minutes of uninterrupted witty banter as she chomps on tortilla chips, plays with a pretend seagull and hangs upside down while strapped in a harness hanging from a 2-by-4.

On stage, Leslie doesn’t wear her precious sweaters, but rather spandex suits, each of which was made by Leslie Hall’s mother. The color: gold.

“Gold is my signature color of desire,” she said. “Gold is what makes the boys scream and the girls cry for more. Trust me.”

Exuding the ideal confidence every woman should have, Leslie is guaranteed to jiggle her voluptuous woman curves into a fury of sparkles.

In the words of the Keeper of the Gems herself, “Come watch the sweat dribble from my eyes. Watch the pain of each jam taking its toll on my 200-pound frame.”

Ö Just don’t forget your gem sweater.