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The Man in the Blue Jacket

I never met Bill Cunningham. He never took my photo and published in in the New York Times. But like millions of people around the world, the news of his death at 87 this past Saturday brought me to tears.

He seemed – from the 2010 documentary about him and from the voice-overs he did for his weekly “on the street” column – to be a truly genuine person. Eccentric as all get out, but honest, humble, hard-working and funny. Cunningham had an eye, you see, that not so much noticed trends, but that started them. He photographed everyone from the rich to the poor, the only criteria being that they were wearing something unique and attention-catching. He had no interest in celebrity (“I’m not interested in celebrities and their free dresses. I’m interested in fashion!”), and would not take so much as a glass of water when photographing events – meaning he was free of any obligation to include anyone other than those whose style he felt truly inspired by.

Cunningham started taking street photography in the late 1960s and always worked in film, keeping the negatives of every photo he’s ever taken, filling row upon row of filing cabinets, documenting the changing styles of the street for half a century. He was apparently approached once to do a book based on his archive but later backed out. I dearly hope that whoever takes control of his estate recognizes the value of his work and finally turns those photos into a book.

Scratch that – I want a series of books. Hundreds of pounds of books – to rival that massive molecular gastronomy collection from a few years ago – that literally documents western street fashion for the past half century. Donate the proceeds to FIT or the Met, or use it to create scholarships in fashion and photography, just please, can we have something tangible to remember him by?

Some other people whose writing I admire have documented their meeting with Cunningham. Check these out if you want more on the mahvellous man and his work.

Cintra Wilson for GQ Magazine

Forest City Fashionista

Idiosyncratic Fashionistas

My own Ode to Bill from 2014.

And if you haven’t seen Bill Cunningham New York, watch it now. If you have seen it, watch it again, it’s worth the 2 hours of your life.

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Book Review – The Lost Art of Dress

If I ran the world, every child, starting at about age 10, would be required to take some kind of “home”-related course. I hesitate to call this home ec, because there are certain connotations to “home economics” of olde tymes, but rather a course where all children, regardless of gender, were taught basic sewing, cooking, and home repairs, plus maybe some woodwork and basic plumbing and electrical. So, make an apron, build a bird feeder, bake a cake, hang some wallpaper, wire a lamp, learn to do basic taxes.

We lost home ec in the 80s because it was considered sexist… in my junior high, all but two girls took home ec while the boys were shuffled off to shop class.

But a lot of good came out of knowing how to sew, and repair garments – skills that we’ve almost completely lost today.

In The Lost Art of Dress, author and historian Linda Przybyszewski traces the history of the sewing component of home ec, from late Victorian times to the 1970s and 80s when such courses were removed from most school curricula. The women (and men) who developed and taught these courses were known as “The Dress Doctors” and as individuals and teams, they created home ec programs, fashion and sewing books, and garment history programs for universities, schools and 4H clubs, and were responsible for teaching generations of young women how to dress.

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Smörgåsbord – Mamakas Tavern

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I am terrible these days for going out to try new restaurants and either just not taking photos or taking a pile and never uploading the things. So hurrah that it’s only taken me about a month to remember that we had a fantastic meal at Mamakas Tavern.

Mamakas is a fresh take on Greek cuisine, and it’s being touted as the best Greek restaurant in Toronto. It’s certainly a few steps up from the tired pile o’ dips and sad souvlaki typically found on the Danforth, and it’s scored fantastic reviews from both The Star and The Globe in the past few months. Which is why the place was packed on a Tuesday night.

Chef Chris Kalisperas and owner Thanos Tripi keep the menu innovative and fresh, based on what is good that week – many things we had (below) or that were on the menu during our visit have since been replaced with other dishes.

Enjoyed it very much, stoked to go back.

Above: A Mataxa Mule cocktail with Metaxa 7, ginger beer, lemon and lime, and cardamom bitters.

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Book Review – Some Wear Leather Some Wear Lace: The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s

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Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace: The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s
Andi Harriman and Marloes Bontje

Back in the 80s, when Dave Vanian put on white face and Siouxsie slithered into a black rubber skirt, part of the UK punk scene morphed into Goth. It was still just plain old post-punk then, maybe “deathrock” for reasons of trying to explain the fascination with vampires and spiders and fishnet, but it was all we had, and we were happy for it, if for no other reason than it gave an awful lot of freaks and weirdos a place, music, and style, that allowed an expression of their darker side.

Over almost 40 years, Goth has shape-shifted a hundred times in a thousand different directions. The classic post-punk style, now known as “trad goth” was forced to step aside for new and interesting variations and influences, from cyber and Victorian steampunk to perky, Lolita, nuGoth and for a while there in the late 90s, world music, folk music, and even Goan techno. All of these offshoots are valid (sub)sub-cultures in their own right, based on a distinct look and sound that sometimes only minimally references back to the original movement. But if you came of age in the 1980s, then that original post-punk style is still the only “real” Goth look, no matter how it might be dressed up otherwise.

Chronicling the decade of post-punk and Goth are Andi Harriman and Marloes Bontje in their 2014 publication Some Wear Leather Some Wear Lace – The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s. Looking at the music, the style and the clubs, predominantly in the UK and Europe, that shaped the scene, Harriman and Bontje explore how Goth developed and grew throughout the decade.

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Book Review – Please Kill Me

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Please Kill Me – The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

With apologies to junkies past and present, fuck me, junkies are tiresome. Nevermind that the majority of the most creative talents of the punk generation were hooked on something, and that the junk might have had some bearing on the work that is their legacy, most of the people that made up the punk scene of New York in the 70s were strung out, misogynistic, assholes with a Nazi fetish. And I say that in the nicest way possible.

The origins of “punk” notwithstanding – we’ll hand the coining of the term to the Punk Magazine crew (channelling William Burroughs) although I love the story of Marlene Dietrich using the word to describe Johnny Thunders – and the argument about which side of the pond birthed the “movement” also being irrelevant, the scene back in the day was barely able to stand upright, let alone have their shit together enough to actually be rebelling against anything.

Please Kill Me, the 1996 oral history by Punk Magazine’s Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain documents the progression of the New York scene from The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol to the deaths of Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders, documenting, along the way, the creation and break-up of bands and relationships, all told via snippets of interviews, strung together both chronologically and by topic. Imagine a documentary with interview clips of people laced throughout and it makes more sense.

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Book Review – Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys

 

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Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys
Viv Albertine

Harrowing. Not the bits about being chased by skinheads, or learning to play guitar, or even her abusive father… the most harrowing part of Viv Albertine’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys is her life after The Slits. More specifically, her life after having a career, when she opted to move to Hastings, live by the sea and be a housewife.

These progressions happen naturally, of course, and as they’re occurring, most of us don’t really realize how momentous our choices are, but it wasn’t until the dissolution of her marriage that Albertine realized how much of herself she had set aside in favour of her family life – a life that, despite having a kid that she adored (and fought to bring into the world), didn’t make her happy.

Clothes Music Boys tells the story of Viv Albertine’s life from a boy-crazy young woman who found herself smack in the middle of London’s punk scene in the 1970s. Dating Mick Jones of the Clash and best pals with Sid Vicious of The Sex Pistols, Albertine would have been a prime chronicler of the times even if she hadn’t been in one of the most influential bands of the era. (Albertine paints Sid as an intelligent, funny, thoughtful, talented guy who was totally misunderstood and under-appreciated – despite the joke that Sid only knew three chords, Albertine tells of how he taught himself bass guitar in just a couple of days.)

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Four Books on Goth

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In my exploration of Nu Goth and Dark Mori recently, one of the points I kept coming across was that the Goth kids of today just didn’t take the time to learn about the origins of their subculture. And while there is plenty of information online for anyone capable of using the Goggle box, for some reason we still look to the dead tree format as the last authoritarian word on any given subject. So I went to the good ol’ library and pulled some books on Goth to see what exactly is the definitive and printed word on the subject.

I guess the most important thing to note is that there aren’t a great number of non-fiction books about Goth, and of those that exist, many were created by small imprints and aren’t widely available. What I was able to track down is fairly dated, but as they mostly cover the history of the scene, would be a good launch pad for anyone wanting to start from the beginning.

Goth Chic by Gavin Baddeley was originally published in 2002, making it the oldest of our collection. Despite the title, the book mostly deals with the origins and influences of the scene, including art, literature, film and television, and only touches on fashion in one chapter. Baddeley splits most topics into classic and modern chapters, separating the work of Edgar Allan Poe from from that of Anne Rice, for instance. The music chapter is more of a primer, covering the origins of Goth music and the first Goth bands, but keeps things pretty basic. Even with the “primer” aspect of Goth Chic, Baddeley manages to cram a lot of information into its 288 pages, in part by using a teeny tiny font. Printed in black and white, Goth Chic looks its age, but is a wealth of basic information.

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Book Review – Girl In a Band

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Girl In a Band
Kim Gordon

The most refreshing part of Girl In a Band is that Kim Gordon is a really great writer. Not that I’m surprised by that – she’s written pieces for a variety of publications over the years – but so many rock star autobiographies are stilted, repetitive and trashy. Gordon approaches the story of her life as a grand piece of art, with different elements, mediums and characters, that are all explored, and related to the audience, with sensitivity and care. (Okay, there’s a bit of trash talk about Courtney Love that seems as if Gordon gave in to an editor insisting that she share the dirt, but for the most part, that’s the only point where there’s mud flying.)

As a California girl from the late 60s, Gordon is no stranger to gender stereotypes and misogyny. While the title comes from the oft-asked question from media “what’s it like being… a girl in a band”, the bassist seems to not have experienced much sexism from bandmates and peers (or at least none that she’s related), although her experiences growing up with a schizophrenic brother often left her feeling that she had to take on the traditional female roles of being docile and supportive within her family. Add to that the spectre of Charles Manson, who Gordon references on multiple occasions throughout the book, and you can see how she entered adulthood with lots of questions about her identity and her role in the world.

While people will know Gordon first and foremost as a member of Sonic Youth, and the (ex)wife of bandmate Thurston Moore, music is just one of her talents – she admits it wasn’t on her radar as a career until she met Moore. Gordon is also an artist, fashion designer, writer and actress. Much of Girl In a Band explores Gordon’s other projects, touching on relationships forged in the art, fashion, and music worlds. In any other book, this would seem like name-dropping but in Gordon’s case, it’s just factual, and allows her to give props to the creative talents around her.

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Book Review – The Bag I’m In

 

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The Bag I’m In
Sam Knee

Music and style – they go hand in hand. Youth culture through the decades has always consisted of a specific type of music paired with specific sartorial elements that defined each trend. Imagine A Flock of Seagulls in anything other than the winged hairdos and the snap-front overlapped shirts or Kurt Cobain without his ratty sweater.

From the 1960s to the early 1990s, music and style in Britain changed so rapidly that it must have been hard to keep up. Movements around a particular scene (punk, for instance) gave way to styles associated with specific bands, record labels, and clubs (Smithsmania, The Postcard Look, and the Blitz kids, specifically). Many of these scenes were short-lived, many morphed and melded, punk being the seed for almost everything that came after it, and some even came back around as revivals of themselves after a few years.

Documenting all of this is Sam Knee. Himself a life-long Mod and vintage clothing expert, Knee’s book The Bag I’m In documents 36 “youf” cultures of Britain between 1960 and 1990, all of which were associated with a specific genre of music and a specific style of dress. Starting with Mods and Rockers, Knee moves through Hard Mod to get to the original Skinheads, looking in on Beatniks, Boho/Art School and Hippies along the way. He traces the move through Punk to its various offshoots (2nd Wave, Goth, Crust, Anarcho…) and then the influence of indie labels and New Wave.

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What Are You, Nu?

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While it’s heartening to see young people still dressing in a Goth style, are these kids in their floppy black hats and crucifixes “real” Goths? The debate over Nu Goth has been taking place for a few years now, a weird conversation really, given the misuse of “nu” to denote a resurgence of something that never really went away. But while old school (trad) Goths will point out that they’ve never stopped being Goth, for a few years there, the acknowledgement and interest in Goth fell from the mainstream – which is to say that mainstream fashion, for one or two years, didn’t trot out black clothes for fall and go, “Ooh, look! Spooky!”

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Book Review – Fear and Clothing

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Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling American Style
Cintra Wilson

Style is the collision point between our fantasies of who we are, the larger realities we live with and the way we are perceived by others.

As much as I appreciate the sincerity and empowerment behind style campaigns like #fuckflattering or “I wear what I want”, I almost always find the idea disingenuous. We don’t always wear what we want, because of various extenuating forces, and if we do, we’re seldom aware of the message we’re sending out to others via our choice of garments.

That’s not a bad thing – more power to the person who can go through life giving no shits about how they present themselves. But for most people, their first impression of others is intrinsically linked with appearance, especially clothing. Which is to say – every outfit is a complex story about the wearer, a story with a different plot based on who’s interpreting the information provided.

This is the basic premise of Cintra Wilson’s Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling American Style in which the fashion and culture writer, known for her witty, occasionally caustic snark, travels across the US, documenting regional style. From the colourful clothes in Miami to the all-black enclaves of artists and other alternative types in coastal towns like New York and San Francisco, to the power dressing of DC or the celebratory, over the top hats at the Kentucky derby, Wilson examines the cultural factors that create definitive local style.

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Book Review – Pretty In Punk

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Pretty In Punk
Alyce Benevides and Jacqueline Milles

Make stuff. It comes up every year at this time, one of the regular resolutions – be more crafty, make more stuff. DIY, y’know? And as far as resolutions go, it’s not a bad one. You get the sense of accomplishment of making something with your own hands, you get a cool, thing, made exactly to your measurements and specifications, and you (probably) save some money over buying a similar thing in a store.

I picked up Pretty In Punk on a whim. It came up in a library search and I grabbed it thinking it would be a good chuckle. Published in 2007, it caught that first wave of young hipsters who had started to learn the craft skills they were never taught as kids (as opposed to Gen X – most of whom could at least do some basics because we still had Home Ec and industrial arts when we were in school).

Created by Alyce Benevides and Jacqueline Milles, Pretty In Punk includes patterns for items from their popular Knit-Head line and shop, including their signature Punk’s Not Dead earflap hat with fringe mohawk.

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I’m An Adult Now – Organizing Your Closet (When Most of Your Stuff Is Black)

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I’m betting that if you’re one of those folks who make New Year’s resolutions, somewhere on your list is a variation of “get organized/tidy house”. Tidy houses are great things – they allow you to find things easily, move about freely, and be less stressed by clutter, but even with resolutions they are often hard to achieve.

The big hit organizing sensation of 2015 was Marie Kondo and her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Now, I don’t know about the “Japanese art” bit here, because most of the tricks Kondo espouses in her KonMari system are things that I’ve always done. (I’m apparently slow on the draw for telling people how to be like me and making money from it.)

Kondo’s advice includes things like discarding any item that doesn’t “spark joy” and thinking of your belongings as having a soul. There’s a whole lot of talking to your stuff in this system – “thank you tea towel, for making my dishes dry…” that is kind of hokey and unnecessary, but the idea of having a sense of respect for your belongings, and taking care of them, makes a lot of sense.

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One of a Kind Fashion Finds

The One Of a Kind artisan show takes place in Toronto twice a year (there’s also a version in Chicago), and the holiday event attracts almost 800 artisans, designers and craftspeople. While the goods range from tasty to twee, OOAK has become a major event for many indie clothing and accessory designers from across Canada. We scoured the aisles for the coolest duds, with an eye – of course – to things suitable for folks with a “still weird” sensibility.

Everything mentioned is available online. A couple of caveats; while women’s wear is quite prevalent, we found very little in the way of cool clothing for men. And of the ladies wear, plus sizes were often hard to come by, although some designers did carry stuff up to about an 18 or 20.

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This linen Gusto vest from Ruby Diego comes in three colours and can be worn year-round. Beautiful seaming down the front creates an hourglass effect.

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Book Review – My Life as a Pretender

 

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Reckless: My Life as a Pretender
Chrissie Hynde

The most interesting thing about biographies, especially autobiographies, is what isn’t included. So often, a person’s story intertwines with that of someone else’s, who may not wish to have their dirty laundry displayed for all to see.

In Chrissie Hynde’s Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, the singer shares some incredibly raw events, but stays quiet on others. Telling the story of her life up to the end of The Pretenders and the deaths of band mates James Honeyman-Scott in 1982 and bass player Pete Farndon in 1983, Reckless details Hynde’s time as a hippie, witnessing the massacre at Kent State, and watching from the sidelines as all her friends in the London punk scene go on to form bands and sign record contracts, but is often mum or overly subdued on her real relationships. For instance, after nearly marrying Ray Davies of The Kinks, they went on to have a child together, and while Davies is included because their relationship fell within the time-line of the book, he had apparently asked not to be, so references to him are minimal.

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Film Review – Northern Soul

 

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Northern Soul is a little film by director Elaine Constantine that came and went without so much as a whisper. Released in the UK in 2014, Northern Soul debuted in North America at TIFF in September 2015 and opened to a limited release in October, disappearing the following week.

In as much as the plot was formulaic, Northern Soul the film mostly flew under the mainstream radar because so few people (especially in North America) know what Northern Soul music actually is.

Northern Soul grew out of Mod, separated from its skinhead twin in style and sound but with much of the same working class attitude. In the wake of Motown and other successful US R&B labels of the 1960s, many smaller, much more obscure labels began recording, pressing extremely limited quantities of discs by artists who would, for the most part, remain unknown. In northern England in the late 1960s and early 1970s, while everyone else was listening to prog rock, pub bands and more psychedelic-oriented mainstream rock, working class kids in the north were listening to soul music, competing to find the most rare and obscure titles. DJs would travel to the US specifically to comb record stores to find even more rare discs.

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10 Fabulous Fashion Bloggers Who Are Keeping It Weird

So… there are a lot of fashion bloggers out there. And while they all have their own following and style niche, as a Still Weird Gen Xer, I’ve personally found it hard to track down bloggers whose style speaks to me. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve hit someone’s site and had my eyes burned with an excess amount of beige or acid wash denim. This gets even more difficult when the goal is to find fashion bloggers with a truly alternative style who are over 40, as most people tend to creep towards conservative styles in mid-life.

Thus, I present to you a collection of style bloggers who are rocking a truly alternative sense of style that would appeal to old punks, goths, rivetheads etc. They may or may not be part of the alternative scene themselves but they have a sense of style that is unique, sometimes challenging, and totally inspiring.

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Trystan Bass has been working a CorpGoth look since back in the alt.gothic days of the mid-90s. Her style blog This Is Corp Goth offers tips, tricks and style suggestions for Goths who work in a corporate environment but don’t want to assimilate. Great for office appropriate style suggestions and ideas.

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Book Review – Punk Books For Kids

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One of the toughest things for the still weird is explaining to their kids (or grandkids) about punk or the other sub-cultures that remain a big part of our lives. This gets easier with books written specifically for kids, and there are a small handful that do a great job of explaining different aspects of the scene in different ways.

punkkidhappyHappy Punks 1 2 3 by John Seven & Jana Christy ** is a bright and colourful introduction to punk. Geared to younger readers, the book’s purpose is to teach counting, but does a great job of celebrating the punk scene and its original diversity and openness with a number of colourful characters and situations. The punks go thrifting, hang posters for a show, and go to a concert. The text is simple, yet captures the punk attitude, and Christy’s vibrantly-coloured images evoke the fun and excitement of the scene.

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I’m An Adult Now – Winter Boot Care

Today we’ll be going over how to take care of your winter boots, something that, surprisingly, many people don’t know how to do. Maybe it’s our attitude of fashion being disposable – we don’t care for and repair our clothes, we just buy new ones. But a bit of effort, at least on the waterproofing front, makes your footwear last longer and keeps your feet drier and warmer.

Beyond basic leather cleaner and polish, there are a variety of products to waterproof footwear for winter, and which one to use depends on what the boots are made of.

First, start with a clean, polished boot. Use a soft cloth to wipe down the boot. Clean the welt (the outside edge where the leather meets the sole) with a welt brush or an old toothbrush. Use a wax-based polish that matches the colour of the shoe and apply with the same soft cloth, using circular motions. Allow to dry for five minutes and then buff to a shine, first with the same soft cloth and then a horsehair brush.

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