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

gothchic

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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What Are You, Nu?

nugoth

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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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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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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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

elgort

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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Awesome Thing – Fashion Blows

blows2

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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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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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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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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The Gold Ribbon

While I love the concept of public transportation, and use it regularly, there are times when it’s not all its cracked up to be – like rush hour.

Working from home, I seldom experience the crush of people jammed onto a bus or subway car, and given that I’m subject to the occasional panic attack when I find myself in a crowded place and unable to easily get out, that’s probably a good thing.

Last Monday, I had to go uptown at evening rush hour. The streetcar ride was fine, and I managed a seat on the subway, but within a few stopped people were crammed in with no room to move. Directly in front of me were a pair of girls and a guy, talking about music and friends and school as young people do.

The one girl closest to me was a wearing a hounds tooth wool coat. Near the hem were a couple of threads and some lint, which I thought was odd, but not unusual. However when she shifted position, her left elbow ended up very close to my face and I was confronted with a piece of gold ribbon that was stuck to her sleeve.

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