Book Reviews – Women In Clothes & It’s So You

fashionbooks

Women In Clothes
by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton
2014, Blue Rider Press, 528 pages

It’s So You: 35 Women Write About Personal Expression Through Fashion and Style
edited by Michelle Tea
2007, Seal Press, 300 pages

No matter what we wear, we all think about fashion to some extent, even if it’s just to give a shirt off the floor the sniff test to see if it can go another day. To be honest, I find the whole “no judgment” trend seen on various blogs a bit disingenuous. We all judge each other’s appearance. We’re hardwired to do so, if only to weed out safe people from unsafe people. And most of us judge ourselves more harshly than we do strangers.

Thinking about what we wear, as well as our sources of inspiration for our fashion choices, and how we judge ourselves and others, is the topic of a couple of books I’ve come across lately.

Women In Clothes, edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton is a massive tome of snippets from a massive survey about clothing completed by hundreds of women. Questions range from familial influences to admiring women on the street, the difference in taste versus style, the process of getting dressed in the morning, political messages within clothing choices, etc. It’s extensive to the point of exhaustive, and must certainly have been overwhelming to many of the women who completed it.

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People of the 1980s: The Street Fashion Photography of Derek Ridgers and Amy Arbus

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When I say 1980s fashion, most people are probably prone to shudder and reply “ugh!” Yes, the 80s were a bad time for mainstream fashion – big hair, big shoulders, jelly bracelets, parachute pants… it was all pretty awful. Which undoubtedly makes it confusing when I then say that the 80s were the best era for fashion – alternative fashion, that is.

In places like London and New York, the political climate encouraged lots of people who didn’t fit into the mainstream to express themselves via their clothing. Punk, post punk, new wave, no wave, goth and more all had their origins in the late 70s or early 80s, and while those trends gave way to rave and club culture on both sides of the Atlantic, the fashion of the decade was marked with an independent creativity that hasn’t really been achieved since.

Two books of street fashion demonstrate this point beautifully.

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Awesome Thing (That I Made!) – Feathered Hat Pins

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For decades, I wasn’t able to wear hats. The things just didn’t look right on me. Then a year or so ago I changed my hair slightly and all of a sudden, hats looked grand! I celebrated by buying many of the things. Which was suddenly easy because hats had become stylish again. Or at least basic hats had become stylish again. Fedoras, pork pies, cloches in basic colours. Outside of weddings and horse races, women still weren’t getting their Downton on, even though I think we all secretly wanted to. Damn Toronto’s conservative streak.

In any case, I was tired of wearing plain hats so I started making feathery pins that I could mix and match amongst my hat collection. A couple of these are reworked pins from hats I bought long ago from the amazing Gina at Retro G when she had a shop on Queen West (and never wore, because hats looked dumb on me then), but the majority are whipped up from a pile of goodies bought at Sussman’s on Queen West.

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Book Review – Stitched Up – The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion

stitchedup_coverStitched Up – The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion
Tansy E. Hoskins
Pluto Press © 2014

Many books over the past few years have detailed the myriad wrongs of the fashion industry. Sweatshops, environmental damage, classism, racism, sizism, misogyny, not to mention the overall affect of rampant consumerism and debt on Western culture – all of these things come up time and again. And we read them, feel bad and then sooth our bad feelings by going shopping.

Tansy E. Hoskins’ Stitched Up looks at all of these and more, complete with extensively researched statistics and facts that will make anyone stop and revisit the idea of buying new clothes ever again. Hoskins examines the ownership of high-end fashion companies and the profits they make – given most high-end brands are made in the same sweatshops as fast fashion items, the corporate (and personal profit) can be astronomical. This is on the backs of underpaid workers, using processes that destroy water supplies, or using lethal chemicals (the exposure to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas in Bhopal, India in 1984 occurred when the chemical – which had been used on cotton crops – was left in unmaintained tanks when Union Carbide abandoned their factory). Hoskins’ account of the process to slaughter crocodiles for Hermes bags is shocking and horrific.

The overall theme of corporations creating demand to influence consumers to buy things they don’t need plays out in other chapters as well, as Hoskins’ demonstrates the way that women are made to feel too fat, not pretty enough, or even the wrong skin colour in order to sell merchandise. Fashion companies need to continually sell new goods; many chain stores now put out new “collections” every week instead or 2 or 4 times a year; everything plays to our insecurities, even if women of colour or larger sizes are not represented on the pages of magazines.

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Awesome Thing – Fashion Blows

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Anyone who follows fashion will have heard of Isabella Blow, the iconic stylist who was  fixture on the UK fashion scene. She was known for her fantastic wardrobe, purchasing Alexander McQueen’s entire 1992 St. Martin’s College MA collection and launching his career.

Blow committed suicide in 2007 and her entire wardrobe was sold to another UK fashion icon, Daphne Guinness.

As part of a fund-raising initiative for the Isabella Blow Foundation, Guinness has brought part of Blow’s collection, as well as a few piece from her own extensive wardrobe, to The Bay at Yonge and Queen in an exhibit entitled Fashion Blows.

The fund-raising part was a swank dinner, for the rest of us, the exhibit is free to view, set up throughout The Room, the Bay’s upscale fashion boutique. Blow’s well-worn pieces (complete with stains and cigarette burns – she didn’t believe in keeping fashion for special occasions) include many items by McQueen, as well as Galliano, Gaultier and Dior. It’s a beautiful selection of Blow’s memorable pieces (most with her famous Phillip Treacy hats) and the styling fully captures her spirit.

The exhibit runs until November 1st.

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Full press release here.

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Awesome Thing – Brooches from StoryFolk

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Who is your favourite fictional character? Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice? Goldilocks? Romeo and Juliet? Maybe Anna Karenina? Wouldn’t you love to have an adorable brooch with their image on it?

Christine Su is the mastermind behind StoryFolk, and creates felt brooches of a vast array of characters from literature, from the gingerbread man to Gatsby and Daisy. Her work is super cute and very well done and it’s incredibly hard to choose just one. She’ll also bring beloved characters to life via custom orders.

Perfect for the bookworm in your life for this upcoming gift-giving season.

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Awesome Thing – Cashmere Jockstraps

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So… being neither a guy, or a jock, I can’t speak to the quality and comfort of the wares of Happenis Jockstraps (Get the play on words? Cute, huh?), but when I came across Phred Stewart and his display at the Etsy Made In Canada event, I had to declare the things awesome.

Each jockstrap is handmade out of reclaimed cashmere. So not only are the things soft and cozy, they make great use of old bits of lovely sweaters that are no longer wearable, keeping lots of fabric from becoming landfill. Phred even details the original garment in each Etsy listing. Items are sized for a comfortable fit, and custom orders are available.

Why are they awesome? Come on – how can you not love something that is cheeky, upcycled and fuzzy? These would make the best Christmas gift for the jock in your life.

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Awesome Thing – Fabulous Felted Jewellery

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Cute right? Look again… these beaded necklaces are fuzzy! Which makes them even cooler, if you ask me.

I came across Sandra Negrete of Azul Nocturno at the Etsy Made In Canada event this past weekend, and I absolutely adore her jewellery made of felted beads. She makes a whole variety of bracelets and necklaces, and is happy to do custom work for weddings and events. The best part is her prices – bracelets start at $8 and necklaces at $25 so it’s easy to stock up and buy a pile for gifts.

More items on her Etsy page.

 

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Exhibit – Politics of Fashion – Fashion of Politics

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When you choose your outfit in the morning, do you ever think about the statement you’re making? Sure, what we wears tells the world about who we are, but what about consciously choosing to make a political statement to the world? The latest exhibit at the Design Exchange is all about people who do just that – and the clothes they’ve worn.

Politics of Fashion – Fashion of Politics, guest curated by Jeanne Beker, is really a two-part exhibit. In the first section, political statements through fashion are laid out semi-chronologically, starting with the 60s youth-quake in Britain and the raising of hemlines as a means of self-expression and creativity.

Issues such as the Vietnam war, sexual freedom (the topless swimsuit by Rudi Gernreich), homosexuality (Bowie’s boots, Klaus Nomi’s tuxedo, RuPaul’s corset for the MAC VivaGlam campaign), and racism (a selection of pieces by African-American designer Patrick Kelly, who intentionally incorporated imagery of racial stereotypes into his designs, as well as pieces from the 1998 collection of varying length chadors by Hussein Chalayan) are all represented.

Various western sub-cultures and their “uniforms” are also prevalent, with a vast selection of Vivienne Westwood pieces from the 70s punk era, as well as pieces demonstrating the mod and skinhead styles that were worn at the time.

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The Mahvellous Bill Cunningham

Street fashion – and street fashion photography – is now ubiquitous in most cities. Online, there are even niche sites dedicated to older women, people of colour or particular style trends. But most of these blogs tend to simply record what’s out there, and what’s currently hot within mainstream fashion. Here in Toronto, where we’re definitely less adventurous than other cities, it’s not uncommon to visit street style websites, or even articles in our major papers, and see pretty young girls in the same trends – currently, cutoff jeans, brown suede boots and flowered shirts – from the typical fast fashion mall store.

But in New York, street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham of the New York Times doesn’t just record the fashions he sees on the streets, he takes an active part in setting trends and provoking stylish New Yorkers to follow suit.

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You Can Call Me Shithead

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First, some background – I am a fat lady. I am okay with being a fat lady, but like everyone, I need clothing. I am lucky in that I work from home, so I can spend my days in cheap yoga pants and t-shirts, and don’t need a lot of “work clothes”. I’m also lucky in that I sew reasonably well, and make about half of the clothing that I do need for functions outside of the house.

Occasionally, though, I need to buy an item of clothing from a store. And Toronto has a mere 17 places where a woman wearing plus sizes can do that. Ruling out the ones that are beyond my budget, or that cater to certain demographics (office wear, club wear), the number of places I have to choose from is very small. Which is why I do, occasionally, much against my will, end up at Addition Elle.

I don’t have an issue with the clothes at Addition Elle. They’re decently made, decently priced, and for the most part, are on trend. (As an old punk lady, this isn’t something that appeals to me personally, but for the majority of people, that would be a positive thing.) But I will do my damndest to avoid going into an Addition Elle store.

This wasn’t always the case, but in the past year or so, the chain has started a practice of asking a customer’s name as they are escorted to a change room. The customer’s name is then written on a small chalk board on the door of the change room, and the salespeople all make a point of addressing each customer by name… frequently.
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Stupid PR Tricks – Yep, Still Getting ‘Em

Since I stopped writing for the Toronto Star, the number of emails from PR people flooding my inbox has dried to a trickle. It helped that I deleted my TasteTO email address completely so the PRs who just refused to remove me from their mailing lists just got bounces. A few somehow made it to my personal email account but for the most part, I am delighted that I no longer get inundated with junk about birthday cake flavoured vodka, cheez whiz or chain restaurants anymore.

So imagine my surprise when I get an email pitching “content suggestions” for a “fat fashion” article.

Now… I am fat. And I wear clothes. And I think I am stylish. But I don’t write about plus size fashion. And as Adam Ant says, “We don’t follow fashion, that would be a joke.” I have almost zero interest in mainstream fashion. Nada. I am a cranky old Goth. I don’t want to look like everyone else at the maul. I certainly wouldn’t be caught dead in any of the “5 Pieces That Will Carry Your Spring Wardrobe” suggestions the PR sent to me, hoping that I would write a piece on this blog about the company he represented.

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Advanced Style Documentary – a Review

advanced_styleI’m still sorting out my thoughts about the Advanced Style documentary I saw on Saturday as part of the Hot Docs festival. Based on the incredibly successful blog and book by photographer Ari Seth Cohen, the film introduces us to a number of Cohen’s regular muses/models; a collection of stylish, creative women who have stood their ground in the face of society’s patronizing attitudes towards older people, and have refused to go to a quiet, beige place and crochet doilies.

Each of the women has their own style and their own story, but nothing feels especially in-depth. I learned more about each of the stylish women by reading an article in The Guardian than I did from the film, and instead of focusing on their personal style – how it developed, how they put together outfits, how they manage on budgets, etc., the film instead centres around the growth and popularity of the blog. We follow Cohen and the ladies to Los Angeles where they appear on the Ricki Lake show, and we see a couple of the women model for a Lanvin ad campaign. Throughout it all, there’s an odd undertone of… cattiness. These ladies are not friends, they come from different walks of life, are different ages (ranging from mid-60s to mid-90s) and have been brought together only by their shared interest in Cohen and his project. There’s a weird feeling of competition that is uncomfortable coming from a piece of work (and a group of people) that is supposed to be celebrating diversity, creativity and really, self-esteem.

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Coming Up – Toronto Indie Arts Market Spring Fashion Extravaganza

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Yes, another post where I blather on about neglecting poor old blog. This place never gets any love. I should change that, I know, but in the meantime, my energies have been elsewhere. Specifically, putting together the super cool Toronto Indie Arts Market.

And even better – the Spring Fashion Extravaganza event on March 15th that features 50 local artisans, designers and makers of beautiful clothing, jewellery and accessories.

If you’re in Toronto, please come check it out. It’s been a long winter and we all need a little something pretty and sparkly to make us hopeful that Spring will come soon.

Also, we’re donating 40% of the admission sales to The Corsage Project – an amazing organization that puts together prom outfits for under-privileged teens.

Go check out the TIAM website for a full list of participants. Plus, members of our mailing list will have a chance to win passes.

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Abercrombie & Fitch, Marketing to Fatties and the Death of “Cool”

cool_joe“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids.”

Do you see anything wrong with that statement? I mean besides the obvious douchbaggery behind it? Mike Jeffries of Abercrombie & Fitch only wants young, attractive (thin), “cool” people to wear the clothes his company sells.

But are all popular, pretty people “cool”?

When I was a young teenager, which is presumably the target market for stores like Abercrombie, the “cool” kids were the ones who hung out off campus so they could smoke. The girls looked like Joan Jett, and jean shorts were only considered appropriate if you were washing the car.

The popular kids, the sporty ones, hell, the RICH ones, with a tennis court and a pool in the front yard and a 30 ft yacht moored in the back, they looked like the models in the Abercrombie ads. Very, very few of them were “cool”. They were pretty, had nice clothes, nice cars and were assured nice university educations, but their lives were too easy and too pretty for them to be cool. They were popular – they ran the student council, they were on all the sports teams, other kids aspired to be like them. But did they have that edge, that spark, that thing about them that drew people to them (as opposed to perfect teeth and shiny hair)? Nah.

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Book Review – Overdressed The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

overdressedOverdressed The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion
Elizabeth L. Cline
Portfolio Hardcover, June 2012, 256 pages

On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself sitting in a restaurant measuring the cost of my meal against the cost of the clothes on my back. This entree costs as much as my shirt. This tiny dessert, more than my scarf. A multi-course tasting menu can ring in at more than a pair of really well-made boots.

Like most people I’m inclined to blame this disparity on the high price of food. But I am wrong to do so, for the problem is not that quality, well-prepared restaurant food is to expensive, it’s that the clothing that we typically buy in chain stores across the Western world is far too cheap.

As Elizabeth Cline points out in her engaging and delightfully well-written book Overdressed, we like cheap clothes. A lot. Most of us have more clothing than we can ever reasonably wear, and manufacturers feed into our desire for more by creating clothing as cheaply as possible. Who cares if a shirt falls apart after two washes when it only cost $10 to begin with?

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Seeing Red

If you watched the last episode of Mad Men this season, you may or may not have noticed a trend towards the use of the colour red strategically throughout the episode.  An article on Slate works on the theory that the red, used at some point to costume each of the female leads, represents female power, as Joan, Peggy and Megan all wear red as they move on to achieve goals or more important roles in their respective careers.

Studies show, however, that the colour red works in a very specific way on men (but not women) to make them amorous. To men, red is the colour of love (which might explain the marketing machine that is red roses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates on Valentine’s Day). Photos of women wearing red, as opposed to other colours, were thought by men in the study to be more attractive.

In the restaurant industry, female servers who wore red got better tips from male customers. There was no difference with female customers.

The initial study took place in 2008, and the restaurant study earlier this year. But the phenomenon likely started long ago.

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Flower Child

So florals are big this spring. They’re showing up on everything from dresses to pants to bags.

I’ve always been big on florals. Maybe not on fabric – the wrong print can make the wrong person look like they’re wearing Aunt Bertha’s curtains – but who doesn’t love having flowers in their life? Living in a place without a garden of my own, I desperately miss having fresh flowers. I try to buy cut flowers but a certain family member seems to consider them salad.

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