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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review – Please Kill Me

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Book Review – Girl In a Band

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Girl In a Band
Kim Gordon

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

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

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

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Book Review – The Bag I’m In

 

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The Bag I’m In
Sam Knee

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

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

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

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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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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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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 – Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk

stein1Chris Stein /Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk
Chris Stein
Rizzoli, 2014, 208 pages

Chris love Debbie.

If you got to spend your youth with the most beautiful woman in the world, wouldn’t you take a lot of pictures of her?

While Chris Stein is well known as the driving musical force behind Blondie, most people don’t know that his artistic CV is quite varied and that, since the late 60s, he’s never been far from a camera. Working and living with someone as photogenic as Deborah Harry, it only seems right that most of the photos are of her.

In his recent book Chris Stein/Negative – Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk, Stein not only chronicles the ascent of Blondie but the New York punk scene of the 70s.

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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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Old Punk Rockers Never Die

Okay, well, technically they do, eventually.

Last night, Greg and I attended a photo exhibit called Toronto Calling, of photos of concerts that took place in the early 80s in Toronto featuring bands like the Clash and the Ramones. We didn’t actually stick around to see the photos, though, as the gallery space was packed solid with old punk rockers, so much so that we couldn’t get in to see the photos.

The era in question took place before my time in Toronto, with most of the gigs featured taking place between 1979 -1981. I arrived in Toronto in late ’87, so this was not my scene per se, although I was listening to all of these bands back home in Halifax, a no-man’s land when it came to international tours. Hats off to Billy Idol for not forgetting about us in 1984.

But the remarkable thing was that here was a group of people in their late 40s – early 50s… and there was a still a solid punk vibe going on. Piercings, tattoos, oddly-coloured hair. These folks were still flying the freak flag.

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Thirteen

There was a post the other day on Shapely Prose, a kickass fat acceptance blog, that included a heart-breaking letter from a 13-year-old girl who was considering suicide because of pressure from her classmates and her family. As of this writing there are over 150 responses, the majority of which seek to reassure the girl of how it all gets better because thirteen sucks so heartily for everyone.

The letter caused a lot of upset, sending almost all readers back into the depths of their own pasts to recall being thirteen.

For anyone who has been fat, heavy, plump, etc., their whole life, thirteen was likely a pretty shitty year. I know it was for me. I wasn’t actually the heaviest kid in my class, but as the other heavy kids were athletic in some way, and appeared on the surface to have a higher sense of self-esteem, I was the lucky pariah of the class who got picked on. Constantly.

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