Just Say No to Fashion Mags

This started as a book review of Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano.

And, I admit it – before I write a book review, I usually head over to GoodReads to see what other people thought of it. Not to crib their thoughts but to get a general consensus of things. What I found for Autumn Whitefield-Madrano’s book on the beauty industry and the impact it has on women and their self-esteem was pretty much what I thought of the book when I was done.

Discussing cosmetics, selfies, ad campaigns. self- esteem and the marketing of cosmetics to men, Face Value wants to be an informative read on the industry. But it’s a bit all over the place and never really commits to one path or point of view.

Given that Whitefield-Madrano has worked for years at various fashion mags, I guess it was optimistic of me to hope for a call to just stop buying into the manipulation, but that didn’t happen.

So I’m gonna do it myself.

Sorry, writer friends, journalists, and anybody who still works in an ad-driven media industry writing about fashion, cosmetics or lifestyle, but the honest to God best way to stop feeling bad about how we look is to…

STOP BUYING MAGAZINES

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Rebel, Rebel, Rebel – Three Books on Fashion’s Rebellious Style Icons

What makes someone a fashion rebel? Is it about bucking trends to find a personal style, dressing in really out-there, head-turning garments, or about doing everything that rock stars do in terms of getting dressed?

While surfing Amazon lately, I came across three titles that purported to be about rebel fashion. Two of them ended up being books intended for kids, and none of them really came close to what I was expecting in terms of rebellious fashion icons or rebellious style in general. (I think Michelle Obama is awesome, and definitely is/was a fashion icon for this generation, but I don’t think her style of mixing high- and low-end garments to be particularly “rebellious”).

In any case, the first two titles would be good books for kids with an interest in fashion who want to learn more about personal style and fashion history. I’m still not sure what to make of the third one.

Bad Girls of Fashion
Jennifer Croll, illustrated by Ada Buchholc

This collections of style icons is geared towards young, middle school readers, and does a decent job of explaining their individual styles and influences on fashion through the ages from Roman times to modern day. The illustrations are truly fabulous but I’d love more of them. The writing style is simple and straightforward and gives a clear explanation of each person featured without talking down to its intended (young) reader. Unfortunately, the layout is weirdly confusing with chapters on the greater influencers being broken up with shorter pages or sections about other (sometimes) related stylish women. This makes for disjointed reading. Croll also steps away, possibly intentionally, from discussing cultural appropriation, such as how Cleopatra has always been portrayed in Hollywood by white women, or how Madonna made Hindi style cool for the pop culture masses. Points for forthrightness about gender issues with the inclusion of George Sand and Kathleen Hanna, and also points for including some fairly subversive and not well known characters like Rose Bertin and Beth Ditto.

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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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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 – 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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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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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.

fashion_corpgoth

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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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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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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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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Review – Fixing Fashion: Rethinking the Way We Make, Market and Buy Our Clothes by Michael Lavergne

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Fixing Fashion: Rethinking the Way We Make, Market and Buy Our Clothes
by Michael Lavergne

There are plenty of books on the market bemoaning the sad state of the mainstream fashion industry from working conditions to the life-cycle of the average fast fashion garment. And while they are all well-written, carefully researched, and offer inspiration to change our shopping and fashion habits, most of them fall short on two counts – first because they are seldom written by someone with a first-hand, working knowledge of the apparel industry, and second, because while the suggestions for change are well-intended, they aren’t based in practicality.

Fixing Fashion by Michael Lavergne (Amazon) offers a different perspective. Lavergne made his start in the fashion industry working for corporations such as WalMart, and the apparel arm of Sara Lee. He specialized in product sourcing and supply chains (getting all the material to the right place at the right time and then getting the manufactured goods to stores halfway across the world in a timely fashion), and became an expert in labour and safety standards as he witnessed contractors and sub-contractors ignoring local laws (and corporate standards) regarding everything from wages to child labour to building codes.

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The Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger

dior1While it’s often easy to think of fashion as mere frippery, looking back on changing styles reveals a clear indication of society’s attitudes and politics of a particular era. As the western world adjusted to peacetime after a long and terrible war, women were trying to find their new place in society after years of fashion freedom in which they wore slim, close-fitting dresses and even trousers, and worked in factories doing jobs typically belonging to men.

Christian Dior’s New Look of 1947, while offering a whole new silhouette of gorgeous, glamourous dresses, was met with mixed reactions. French fashionistas with money adored the wasp waists and voluminous skirts, but most women, Americans especially, rejected Dior’s designs as restrictive (back to corsets and garters instead of comfortable pants) and pretentious.

The Girl in Dior (Amazon, Powell’s) gives us an insider’s view of the designer’s atelier during this time. The fictional Clara, a fashion journalist assigned to cover Dior’s show, causes a stir when a photo shoot goes wrong, inadvertently pitting models dressed in expensive gowns against impoverished people running market stalls.

The job gets her fired but Dior takes pity on her and she becomes one of his top models; going on to meet her future husband, she moves from Dior model to Dior customer.

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Why We Should Mourn For Worn

I’m not sure how I missed the boat when it comes to Worn. I had always sort of known of their existence, but maybe I wrote them off as being a bit too indie girl twee or something. Or wrote myself off as too old, since it seemed directed to a younger demographic. In fact, I don’t recall actually picking up an issue until I came across a volunteer manning a table at City of Craft a few years back. I bought a couple of issues and even met with editor Serah-Marie McMahon, who was kind enough to offer me some wise advise regarding indie magazine start-ups (I was considering starting a food magazine at the time), but maybe because I assume that, despite (or because of) my own rockin’ style, fashion magazines have little to offer me, I never followed through on keeping up with new issues.

I even missed the publication of the Worn Archive in the spring of 2014, and it wasn’t until the fall when McMahon announced Worn was shutting down operations (the project had always struggled financially), that I clued in and bought the book.

And then I realized what I had been missing.

Because Worn is everything most of us who don’t care about “fashion” actually want a fashion magazine to be. The photo shoots are modelled by Worn staffers and volunteers (Wornettes) – regular-sized folks of various ages and sizes, usually wearing their own clothes. No, you can’t rush out and buy that exact outfit from a store – but that’s the point – Worn is more about personal creativity and inspiration that being able to “shop that look”.

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Arthur Elgort’s The Big Picture

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The photographs are, of course, iconic. As in, I remember exactly where I was when I opened that September 1991 issue of Vogue to flip to the page of Linda Evangelista kicking that bagpiper (plaids are hot for fall, ladies!). But Arthur Elgort’s The Big Picture (Amazon, Powell’s) is about more than pretty fashion models.

Oh, there’s plenty of them there, dating back to his first shoot for British Vogue in 1971, and there’s a sub-theme in The Big Picture that is really the history of haute couture from the 70s forward, as the photographer worked with not just Vogue but Interview, GQ, Life and Rolling Stone, and shot advertising campaigns for Chanel, Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent.

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Lucky Dip – A Selection of Strange and Awesome Stuff – January 15th, 2015

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Mötley Crüe rehearsal, 1983. Photo credit: Gary Leonard.

If you’re in Los Angeles, stop by the Los Angeles Public Library and check out the fantastic exhibit From Pop to the Pit: LAPL Photo Collection Celebrates the Los Angeles Music Scene, 1978-1989. Full of photos of some of your favourite bands (especially if you’re a GenXer) from gigs to publicity shots, and encompassing the full range of pop-ish music from rap to punk to metal with everyone from Quiet Riot to the Minutemen  to the Go-Gos.

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Autumn Hawk / 8″h x 5″w x 5″d / Hand-dyed Wool housed in a Glass Dome by Lana Crooks

Lana Crooks is a Chicago-based textile artist whose work, made with wool and silk, includes some spectacular pieces meant to look like bones and skeletons. Just as fascinating as the real (creepy) thing, but also art. [Via This Is Colossal and Geyser of Awesome]

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