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”.

The Worn Archive includes the best collection of anti-fashion articles ever – from instructions on how to launder or repair garments, an interview with a button collector, to piles of fashion history including the story of the leather motorcycle jacket, the evolution of the bust line, fashion conservation, and an interview with costume historian Alexandra Palmer of the Royal Ontario Museum.

Politics – something seldom mentioned in mainstream fashion rags – is a prevalent theme in Worn, ranging from pieces on the various face-coverings for Muslim women (do you know your hijab from your chador?), to our gender preferences in clothing for children, or clothing and gender identity in adults.

Primers also abound – Worn readers knew their collar types, how to tie various necktie knots, the styles of men’s suit cuts, and were offered an expert history on Bakelite jewellery.

The more you read, though – and every piece is well-written and engaging – the more you can see why Worn ultimately failed. There are few celebrities, and those who show up are almost anti-celebrities (Jim Jarmusch, for instance, or in a hair-themed issue not included in the archives, a feature on NYC drag queen Lady Bunny). The articles expect the reader to think, to DIY, to care… to have their own style as opposed to being interested in the latest fashions at the mall.

Worn didn’t try to sell its readers anything by making them feel insecure or in need of fixing. In fact, Worn celebrated uniqueness – everyone and everything that was cerebrally stylish, whether you were a fat girl with a sewing machine, a dude with long hair, or a skinny trans guy with sparkly boots.
I’m as guilty as the next person of not offering Worn the support it so clearly deserved. Because Worn needed people just like me – people who care about indie projects and who aren’t interested in mainstream crap. I know there’s plenty of us out there – and maybe we all just let Worn blip off our individual radars, but it’s an absolute shame in so many ways because this great, supportive, inclusive, creative resource is now gone. And the world of fashion is a sadder place because of it.

As I flip through my copy of the Worn Archive, I can’t help but remark on how timeless most of the articles are. Unlike magazines that focus on the styles of the moment, Worn talks about issues that will still be relevant for years to come. Most of the photo spreads are of vintage gear anyway, so none of it is really ever out of date. So my thought is now to buy a second copy of this great collection. My niece is currently 4 years old; by the time she’s old enough to care about fashion Worn will be but a sweet memory for most of us. And who knows what fashion magazines will look like in ten years. But Worn is something I’d very much like to share with her when she’s old enough to appreciate it, because it demonstrates an attitude to fashion that more women (and men) – young and old – need to cultivate.