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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Book Review – Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s

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Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s
Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein

Lipstick, big hair, floppy shirts and synthesizers. “New wave” was a unique trend that was the conglomeration of many things – punk, post punk, new romanticism, technology and attitude. And in the early 1980s it defined a generation.

While bands were always making albums, the genre was defined mostly by singles – songs with a quality that stood out as a representation of a band (especially a new band) and helped to sell both albums and concert tickets as well as the 7-inch single itself. While some bands exist only as one-hit wonders, others have used their success in those early days to create music – and careers – that spanned decades.

Mad World by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein is a collection of those songs in book format, each with an introduction, some snarky facts, a “where are they now” update, a “mixtape” list of suggestions of similar songs and, most importantly, an interview with the principal artist in each band.

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Chauffeurs, Hairdressers and Tambourine Shakers – Girl in a Band: Tales From the Rock’n’Roll Front Line

I have a great tattoo on my right wrist – a bracelet of cartoon cameos of old Hollywood movie stars, all women. I’ve always wanted to add another bracelet tat just above it – the same concept, only with cameos of the great women of rock (or at least the ones I admire enough to put permanently on my skin), except that there just aren’t that many to choose from. This is mostly because rock music, even today, is still all about the guys.

Sure, there have been fantastic female musicians, solo acts like Adele, and bands like the Go-Gos. But the number of women working side by side with men, who are considered equal to their band mates (and not just a sexy tambourine shaker) are actually pretty few.

Kate Mossman, the pop culture writer for the New Statesman thought the same thing, and recently completed a documentary on the subject. Girl in a Band: Tales From the Rock’n’Roll Front Line (inspired by the autobiography of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, released earlier this year) ran on BBC on October 30th (UK residents can view it on the iPlayer, the rest of you need to find yourself some VPN access).

In it, Mossman explores the ongoing struggle that so many female musicians encounter. She starts with session guitarist/bassist Carole Kaye who worked with everyone from Richie Valens to Phil Spector to Sinatra and the Beach Boys. Kaye’s extensive catalogue should have set a bar for both respect and equality for female musicians – she did well for herself because of both her talent and her refusal to take any shit. Unfortunately, Kaye was a rarity and women in bands, even when they were as (or more) talented than their male counterparts, often found themselves not just playing music but, as Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads recounts, playing chauffeur and hairdresser as well.

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Style Icon – How to Dress Like Miss Fisher

Like a good detective, she managed to slip in without us realizing. The Australian hit series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries starring Essie Davis, based on the books by Kerry Greenwood were, for a time, only available in North America on the small UK-centric streaming service Acorn and select PBS stations. But once Netflix picked it up, many more viewers have become fans of the charming, rich and totally stylish lady detective of 1920s Melbourne.

While the plots are decent, and the simmering romance between Miss Phryne Fisher and Detective Jack Robinson make for enjoyable television, most of us, let’s be honest, are watching (and re-watching) for the incredible outfits by costume designer Marion Boyce.

In fact, the costumes are so popular that they’re on display in Australia; beginning as part of Melbourne’s Festival of Phryne back in May, they’re now touring the country.

There’s an absolutely brilliant interview with Boyce in Vanity Fair, discussing the many ways she’s had to adapt the costuming to accommodate the show (more pants than would have normally been worn, due to the very physical stunts, but no modern fabrics; a handbag that allowed easy access to Phryne’s gun), and why they couldn’t use actual vintage pieces.

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Happy Anniversary to the Miniskirt

While it would have happened eventually, a slow burn rather than an explosion, on this day in 1965 the mini skirt had its official debut as worn by model Jean Shrimpton at the Derby Day races in Melbourne, Australia.

The invention of the modern day mini is attributed to British designer Mary Quant (there is some historical reference to a garment similar to a miniskirt being worn in Egyptian times), but Shrimpton’s appearance in a short dress that would seem demure by today’s standards caused a fashion revolution to go mainstream.

Shrimpton was the world’s first supermodel, paid to appear at events in garments by certain designers or manufacturers; in this case textile manufacturer DuPont de Nemours International had engaged her to promote their new fabric, Orlon. The whole wardrobe was custom-made by designer Colin Rolfe, and kept secret, with no media previews.

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So when Shrimpton appeared at the derby revealing her knees – and a few teeny inches of her thighs – the official excuse was that Dupont had not sent enough fabric to make the dress the intended length. That the model also appeared without gloves or stockings at a very stuffy and conservative event probably didn’t help.

However, changing morals, youthful rebellion and that crazy rock and roll music meant that the mini skirt was quickly embraced by British – and then world – youth culture and has never really gone away. The hemline has moved up and down, as hemlines do, but it’s no longer considered risque, even when it reveals underwear.

Alternative sub-cultures also embraced the mini skirt and encompassed the garment into part of the uniform for punks, goths and mods. Here’s a look at the progress that little bit of fabric has made…

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Book Review – A Treasury of Great Recipes

pricebookA Treasury of Great Recipes
Mary and Vincent Price
Dover Publications; 50 Anv edition, 512 pages

You’d hear stories about people finding copies in used book stores. Or thrift shops where an unknowing relative had dumped the belongings of a deceased loved one, never knowing what an actual treasure they were giving away. There was a small re-pressing in 1974, but for decades, people talked about it with a bittersweet awe, for only a lucky few would ever possess it.

Until now.

Last month, A Treasury of Great Recipes by Mary and Vincent Price was republished in all its original 1965 glory.

Yes, that Vincent Price.

It seems the actor was a great gourmand, and along with his wife Mary, an enthusiastic home cook. Both were avid travellers who enjoyed trying new restaurants. Together they toured the world, eating in the best bistros and cafes, convincing chefs along the way to share their recipes, and writing a number of cookbooks together. Because if you were a chef in the early 1960s and Vincent Price showed up at the door of your kitchen, wouldn’t you give him a recipe when he asked for it?

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When Style and Art Combine

Most of the people I know who have come out of alternative music scenes also tend to have an alternative sense of style. They work really hard to ensure they look unique, avoiding the mall or mainstream stores, as well as specific sub-culture clichés, in order to rock a look that is all their own. They usually do this by shopping from small artisans making one-of-a-kind goods.

Recently we had the opportunity to attend two events here in Toronto that celebrate indie artisans; The Wearable Art Show is a small annual, curated event that features designers and makers of clothing, jewelry and accessories. The Bazaar of the Bizarre occurs in Toronto 3 times a year, and bills itself as a “marketplace for all things different, interesting and macabre…”

While each event attracts a different audience, we found goodies at both that might appeal to anyone looking for some unique pieces to incorporate into a more daring or offbeat wardrobe.

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A Letter to Myself on the Occasion of My 47th Birthday

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Dear Self,

47, huh? That’s one of those totally irrelevant birthdays that you pretty much just ignore. No milestone, no novelty balloons, probably not even a cake, just you and maybe a loved one out for a nice dinner and home and in bed at a reasonable hour. You could just be easing up to the halfway mark of your life (hey, Grandma has made it to 90!), but more likely than not, you’re sort of thinking about how life is slowing down, and how you need to adjust pretty much everything in preparation for the years ahead.

This past year has not been your best. Memorable for prolonged illnesses and a traumatic event that tipped you onto a path of anxiety, 46 was mostly a year to recover from and hopefully forget, not one to note in any way.

But let’s face it, Self, even at your most depressed and anxious, you still have a fiery spark of optimism. You’re hanging in there because you live life by the motto “that which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”. You like being angry because you see it as an impetus for change.

Well change is ahead, my friend. It’s happening whether you like it or not, so you might as well get on board and make the most of it.

Here are the rules for year 48…

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Alo! Alo!

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So these are from a visit on July 29th (was sick, then travelling, then sick again… really. Stupid recirculated airplane air.), so the menu at Alo might have completely changed in the meantime, but we were so taken with Chef Patrick Kriss’ lovely new spot at Queen and Spadina that I couldn’t just leave these photos sitting on my hard drive.

In a city where the dining scene has become a rush to line up for the opening of the latest burger joint, it is really refreshing to see someone doing refined cuisine. French food doesn’t have to be stuffy and Kriss and general manager Amanda Bradley have created a spot that is both welcoming and comfortable. There are no white table clothes, but we did get lots of cutlery.

While the food and service were sheer perfection, professionally executed without being overbearing, both Kriss and Bradley keep a keen eye out for any issues. They both noticed me smelling my hands after a trip to the washroom (scented soap in restaurants is one of my biggest peeves), and put out some unscented soap to accommodate me.

And while the room got busier as the evening progressed, an earlier reservation (on a sunny day) means getting to experience the room as it lights up with a beautiful pinkish glow as the sun sets to the west and shines through the row of windows looking down onto Spadina.

The menu is 4 courses with 2 options at each course, plus plenty of  amuse bouche, pre-desserts and fun things in between.

Fabulous food, fabulous room, can’t wait to go back.

Shown above: Lameque oyster, watercress, salsify, cultured cream.

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Book Review – Stir

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Stir – My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought Me Home
Jessica Fechtor

In February of this year, I got knocked down in the street. A complete accident, it occurred as a woman was stepping out of a shop door and wasn’t watching where she was going. She slammed into my back and sent me flying, face-first onto the sidewalk. I walked away from the fall but was left with severe muscle tears and sprains, including both shoulders. On top of an already herniated disc in my neck, the combo left me useless in terms of cooking or housework for months. Even now (mid-July) my shoulders are still very fragile, having been re-injured a number of times when I overdid something such as lifting a too-heavy item or exercising too much, too soon.

Through it all, as my husband and I ate take-out or prepared food night after night for dinner, I desperately wanted to get back into the kitchen. But I couldn’t bend my head forward to chop, lifting stockpots sent me back to recovery, and even the repetitive action of hulling a bag of peas caused a major set-back. Of all the different types of illness and injuries I’ve had over the years, I’ve never gone this long without being able to cook.

So Jessica Fechtor’s story in Stir, of how a brain aneurysm that nearly killed her, also took away the thing she loved doing most, was very relatable to me. Not the nearly dying part, but definitely the part about wanting to get back into the kitchen.

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