We don’t want your summer music festival fashion tips

I like music. I enjoy live music. I go to see concerts. I’ve been to more than a few music festivals over the years.

I’m also pretty stylish and interested in fashion.

So why is it that every music festival related fashion story makes my blood boil? Why are they all so soaked in vacuous sexist assumptions? Why does every “festival fashion round-up” present a very limited spectrum of body types, and tend to be overwhelmingly female?

I’m thinking about this now because it’s the summer and it is everywhere. Osheaga is kicking off this weekend in Montreal, and here’s just a sampling of headlines:

Link after link, are we really encouraging women and girls to think more about what they look like than about the experience of enjoying music performed live? For real? I’m not surprised by fashion brands hopping on the “female music fan” bandwagon when festival season comes around, but I am dismayed by the tone employed by so many fashion writers.

This isn’t even about telling women how to dress – I really could go on and on about how impractical many of the suggested “looks” are, but that’s not what this is about. For years, I’ve been ranting about the ridiculousness of white girls wearing headdresses (from Halloween costumes to music festival “accessory”) and more recently bindis. But now that it seems we’re slowly starting to be on the same page (see link above) about how shitty those “music festival fashion choices” are, now I’m reminded of the bullshit female music fans have to put up with any time they decide to go to shell out hard-earned cash to go to a music festival.

First things first: you do not have to gender this shit.

If you’re hell-bent on taking photographs of fans at music festivals, include dudes. Better yet, try and reflect the crowd in your selection of 5-10 outfit photos. Are fashion writers, photographers, even considering about how they are representing communities by only highlighting a handful of conventionally attractive tall skinny white girls in their round-ups? The ever-amazing Jes Skolnik mentionned how fat people are rarely ever featured earlier this summer, and it has really stayed with me.

Yearly reminder to festival fashion photographers to include some fatties in your roundups. We, too, look cute as shit (and we have to work harder at it because of how society views chubby/fat bodies as inherently slobby). modernistwitch

But there’s something more that gets under my skin about these “festival fashion round-ups”: it’s one of the exceedingly rare mainstream moments where I see women represented as music fans, included as part of the conversation as music lovers. Why does it have to be all flower crowns and denim cut-offs?

Perhaps it’s because I feel these issues are so conflated with other sexist bullshit that permeates the music industry. Underscored by experiences I’ve had as a teenager who started going to punk rock shows at 15, 16, and never really wondering why I wanted to dress like the boys, meld in with the boys, to be seen as anything other than a girl. Because I knew what being seen as a girl could mean. Maybe it’s because I’ve been, and I’ve known many other young women, who have been sexually harassed at shows. Maybe it’s because I took to wearing steel-toed boots, not because of how they looked, but because it made me feel like I had a weapon on my feet if the wrong guy decided to touch me the wrong way, again and again, in the mosh pit. Maybe it’s because I’ve overheard one too many bro dudes tell me how the band on stage is “pretty good… for a girl band.” Maybe it’s because I’ve read one too many concert review which spilled far more ink on how a female performer was dressed rather than how she played her instrument, how she sang her songs, how she connected with the crowd.

Now that I’m older I care less. I care less about what people might assume about me, about my knowledge of bands because I don’t wear band t-shirts, because I don’t look like I would have band x in my record collection. I care less, mainly because of the people I surround myself with. I’ve made really great friends – hell, I even met the love of my life in line for a concert I impulsively went to by myself. Because it’s easy to make friends when you’re there because you genuinely want to be there. I don’t go to music festivals to socialize, to impress strangers, I go to enjoy live music, to support the artists who tour their butts off, and to have fun.

A selfie of the writer, garconniere, on her way to see Sylvan Esso in Montreal on June 18, 2014

Just last month, I ended up at the wrong venue in a city I still manage to get lost in even though I’ve visited more than a dozen times. Instead of at La Tulipe to go see Sylvan Esso and tUnE-yArDs, I ended up faced by a long line of mostly tall lanky long-haired white dudes dressed in all black. The clock was ticking and I realized I was at the wrong venue, but briefly debated going to see Xiu Xiu and Swans instead. As I was getting my bearings, I overheard one of the men in the crowd say “Someone’s lost.” It might have had nothing to do with how I was dressed. It probably had more to do with the bewildered, slightly frantic look on my face as the feeling of being lost sunk in. But it felt like a jab. It felt like a judgement, an assumption about what kind of music I would go to see live… because I was a girl in a dress.

It was a reminder, though, that even though I don’t particularly care, I’m lucky because I don’t have to care. I’m privileged not just because of my size and gender, my confidence and my friends, but because of where I live. Because the music scene I’m a part of in Quebec City is really exceptional. Because the music scene I used to be a part of in Peterborough was pretty awesome too. Because I don’t have to worry about being harassed or touched without permission in a concert crowd. Because there are festivals and off-shoots run by badass people who think about gender diversity in their programming, on their stages, and in their crowds. Because my record store is co-owned by a cool couple who never make me feel like they are judging me when I go up to the cash register with my choices.

Photograph of crowd at Festival OFF

Photograph by Maryon Desjardins

I found myself reflecting on that privilege I have after I saw this photograph Maryon Desjardins took of me, as Viet Cong wrapped up their set at Festival OFF. I didn’t know there was a camera there. I didn’t know someone had taken a photograph. And when I saw it, I loved seeing the look on my face. Remembering the feeling of that long drawn out song, the jangling guitars, the intensity of the room. Remembering that I went to this show by myself, who cares, because I wanted to see good live music and it was so fucking good and you can see how good I thought it was because I’m there, in the moment. And it was a reminder that I live in a place where I’m lucky enough to do that without worrying about what people might think of what I’m wearing, or far more importantly, worrying about my physical safety.

It strikes me more when I’m online, when I see these click-bait garbage lists over and over. It makes me worry about the young girl I used to be, the young people not entirely unlike the person I used to be, insecure and thirsting for community, for something to give them a sense of purpose, peppered in small towns around the world. It makes me worry about the young people whose access to music and the communities that build around them are limited or filtered by what they can find online. I worry they might think there’s only one way of looking like a music fan, and it involves wasting your money on destructive fast fashion.

Can we stop this ridiculously reductive way of speaking to young female music fans? I want to be part of a music scene that fosters, encourages, and creates spaces for young women, for diversity, for accessibility, for safe spaces. No one should be left feeling like they have something to prove. I shouldn’t envy the experiences of so many of my straight male friends who get to go to shows, be as enthused or unenthused as they want to be, without wondering if people are making assumptions about their knowledge or taste in music based solely on their gender or race or size or style.

Why waste our time with these stupid lists every festival season; let’s invest our time in more worthwhile battles. What are some of the festivals with the highest rates of gender diversity on stages and in the crowds? How do we create cultures at music festivals where we are working to prevent harassment, rape, and offering resources and support to people who find themselves in unsafe situations? What are some of the music festivals that make diversity part of their mandate? What are some of the most wheelchair accessible outdoor music festivals in the world? Who are the singers, the activists, the guitarists pushing for fostering creative spaces for growth and expression through music, like rock camp for girls? How do we empower young music fans to create the kind of music scenes they want to be a part of, instead of encouraging them to spend money on clothes for a 3-day music festival that will hopefully be more memorable because of the amazing music you got to hear?

So thank you to the people who smash this shit down on the daily. Thanks to the people writing about the latent sexism present in a plethora of music scenes. Fuck your condescending capitalist bullshit disguised as festival fashion tips. I’ll save my money for the merch table instead of your shitty magazine.

RECOMMENDED READING:

RECOMMENDED WATCHING:

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2013: year in review

Two weeks into 2014, I’ve still got my neck craned, looking back on the year past. And in my mind, if writers and critics can publish their “best of 2013″ lists in November, I can publish mine a whole 2 weeks into the new year.

It’s times like these when I miss the days of faithfully writing in my (live)journal almost every day. I have definitely fallen out of the habit of dilligently documenting my life, but still relish in reflecting: stepping back at least once a year to take stock of my accomplishments, my failures. On what has changed, and what hasn’t.

2013 was eventful, to say the least.

If you’re a longtime reader, you know how this goes. Scroll down below to see 12 pictures of my face, accompanied by a brief summary of what went on in my life that month, paired with recommended reading/listening.

If you’re new here, here’s 2012 and 2011.

I put three stars next to the pieces I find ***Flawless.
julia-blue

January:

  • My cat Louise moved into my house and my heart
  • Dealt with a lot of stress at work
  • Was frustrated by a lot of political issues, namely media coverage of Idle No More, and you know, the usual I’m always writing about here.
  • Was completely enamored with Caroline Polachek for a hot minute

Recommended Reading:

02-Feb

February:

Recommended Reading:

I was babely in the month of March so you get two photos:

Julia poses in front of old books in Quebec City's historic Morrin Centre

feminist fuck you

March:

  • Said goodbye to a very important mentor in my (radio makin’) life
  • Admired the awesome new graffiti in my neighbourhood
  • Cheered on Simon has he published a phenomenal new book, Mélanie.
  • Cried my heart out when Jason Molina passed
  • Cut my hair real short again and had lots of feelings/questions about gender

Recommended Reading:

S0031986

April:

  • Visited my family in Trenton for the last time before they moved
  • Spent a lot of time thinking about place, home, dis/location
  • Was fascinated and terrified by rape culture, consumed far too much media about it…
  • Listened to excessive amounts of Mykki Blanco
  • Read that piece by Ariana Reines again and again and again
  • Enjoyed freakishly warm temperatures

Recommended Reading:

Such great heights

May:

  • Was really really pissed by tragedy in Bangladesh
  • Enjoyed my partner’s newly acquired 1963 Mercury Meteor a lot
  • Became really interested by sound art

Recommended Reading:

06-June

June:

  • Was pretty sad all the time
  • Thought a lot about this

Recommended Reading:

july 2013

July:

  • Worked a lot, challenged myself
  • Started spending too much time/money at the new record shop
  • Met Nadège
  • Went out lots of amazing little weekend roadtrips in our Meteor
  • Found my dream house for sale
  • Worked too much

Recommended Reading:

August 2013

August:

  • Iris came to visit
  • Went to Sappyfest (after years of saying I would, finally!)
  • Went swimming in the OCEAN
  • Drove more in one day than I ever had before (I learned how to drive in 2013!)
  • Got a flat tire
  • …and then spent the rest of the month working way too much.
  • Oh yeah! Hosted a lovely house show

Recommended Reading:

Septembre - Palais des Papes

September:

  • (proposed) charter charter charter charter (of “Quebec values”)
  • MARSEILLES!
  • Seeing Louise Bourgeois and Kiki Smith pieces in the Palais des Papes, par hazard
  • On my way back from France, a 5-day pit stop in Montreal
  • Going to see the expos at Musée McCord with Karina, loved Wearing our Identity
  • Spent a lot of time thinking about pop culture criticism

Recommended Reading:

trois-rivieres

October:

  • Worked a lot.
  • Saw La Corriveau’s cage
  • Read… a lot.

Recommended Reading:

novembre

November:

Recommended Reading:

dec

December:

  • Went to Toronto for work for the first time ever
  • Met some of my radio heroes
  • Spent (quality) time with great old friends
  • BEYONCÉ
  • Accomplished some major goals
  • The Atlantic called me “an inquisitive Canadian researcher
  • Walked along my favourite beach in Petawawa on a winter’s night with my parents

Recommended Reading:

Happy new year.

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Bad Dancer/Good Living

I’ve been in a rut. A style rut, a blog rut. I feel like everything I have to say has been said by someone else, better, more quickly. Daunted by all of the things that should be written about, that deserve to be written about, yet never finding the (quality) time to actually put pen to paper (but I’ve tried to articulate this dilemma before).

To top that off, my sartorial documentation skills have fallen to the wayside… it is hard to believe there was a time, not so long ago, where I could be bothered to take decent photographs of my outfit for one hundred days straight (!). I still having been able to put my finger on why it feels… almost boring to take photos of myself now.

But messages from long-time readers and friends have reminded me: I didn’t carve out this online space for anyone but myself, and that’s part of what makes it special, and why it keeps drawing new readers month after month. A space to share my ideas, whether they be half-baked or fully sussed out. A place to share photos of myself, my outfits, my ideas about our relationship to fashion. Every post doesn’t need to be me slamming my fist on a pulpit, perfectly articulating complicated debates and issues. Shaking off the feeling of never being quite up to snuff is something I try to do in my day-to-day life, but it’s been challenging in a different way when it comes to applying the same ethic to à l’allure garçonnière.

Accept this post as a long-winded apology for my absence, and take away this token of my own way of motivating myself. Lately I’ve been trying to kick myself in the butt (not literally, because that would be far too complicated) to at least share something in this space.

And who better to inspire than Yoko Ono?

I watched this video probably 10 times the first day it was released.

The same week, on a Friday night, my friend Annemarie and I decided we needed to kick our less than great feelings to the curb, get decked out to the nines, and go out dancing. Can you tell who inspired my outfit?

Julia dancing with Annemarie and Yoko

baddancer

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baddancer03

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baddancer-timeline

baddancer-annema-01

baddancer-annema

Also, Annemarie wrote a great review of the bands we saw that night. Follow her blog A house down the road for wonderful music reviews.

Oh, and of course, I can’t leave you without a photo of the shoes I topped this outfit off with. What are short shorts without a pair of silver glittery tights and shoes to accompany it?

baddancer05

Treat yourself to a living room dance party, would ya? The world needs all the levity it can get these days.

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Filed under music, personal, quebec city, Uncategorized, what i wore today

Revisiting the politics of protest

Following politics closely has become pretty disheartening as of late. Between spying revelationsfederal mud-slinging campaigns and story after story of political corruption emerging from Quebec, I find my head in my hands on a weekly basis. “What the hell is going on,” I overhear people ask each other at bars, at work, in the streets.

And that’s just locally; staying on top of protests in Turkey, Brazil and Sweden is an even more daunting task. But it’s reminded me of the importance of civil liberties, of the never-ending fight for the right to speak out against governments in power, and how political changes are enacted.

Women Firewatchers’ by Lee Miller for British Vogue, 1940

Women Firewatchers’ by Lee Miller, 1940

One story in particular that made me want to bury my head in the sand (or is that criminalized now, too?) is an amendment to Canada’s criminal code. As of June 19th, the federal government has banned the wearing of masks during a riot or “unlawful assembly.” It’s not so much the ban (and the debateable purposefullness of it) that is shocking, but rather the penalties that may be incurred, and the vague language around what constitutes a “mask” and what constitutes an unlawful assembly.

Check out the discussion that took place re: act to amend the criminal code.  Michael Byers, Professor and Canada Research Chair, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia presented just some of the reasons why this change to the law is potentially dangerous:

Unfortunately, it is relatively easy for a peaceful protester to unintentionally find himself or herself involved in an unlawful assembly. The definition of an unlawful assembly in paragraph 63(1)(b) of the Criminal Code says that it is an assembly that “causes persons in the neighbourhood…to fear, on reasonable grounds that they will by that assembly…provoke other persons to disturb the peace tumultuously.” This is hardly clear and definitive and is therefore open to subjective and controversial determinations by the police.

But Byer’s warnings were for naught, since it is now law. Hardly a first in Canada, sadly: this comes on the heels of Montreal passing a law last May that banned wearing masks at public protests. But why? What inspired this change so that people wearing masks at protests may serve up to 10 years in prison for… wearing a mask at a protest? Let’s step back three years to revisit the original inspiration or reasoning behind this law: the G20 protests. The bill was sponsored by Conservative MP Blake Richards, and was introduced to Parliament in the wake of the G20 protests in Toronto in 2010, which he describes in detail.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own experiences while in Toronto three years ago, and how the literal policing of what people were wearing overwhelmed me at every turn. From black clothing, to pins with political slogans, to the reporting on “what not to wear” to avoid being “mistaken for a protester” and potentially attacked by police

Ceyda Sungur, a young Turkish woman wearing a bright red dress, holding a tote bag, is pepper sprayed by police in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park. (REUTERS/Osman Orsal)

Ceyda Sungur is pepper sprayed by police in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park. (REUTERS/Osman Orsal)

And it doesn’t just happen here: let’s look briefly to Turkey. The now infamous photograph of a protestor being pepper sprayed by police is best known by what she was wearing: the woman in the red dress. What would the reaction have been had she been wearing a mask, which wouldn’t be unheard of given how much pepper spray is being used at protests in Turkey? Why have some journalists reported her as an “innocent bystander” and not “angry protester”? How much of an impact does what she was wearing at the time have on our perception of what may have happened before or after the photograph was taken? Whether or not the viewer of the photograph assumed she deserved such brutality at the hands of police? 

Lately, I can’t help but remember being followed, harrassed and threatened by police when I was biking on the empty streets of Toronto three years ago. Remembering overthinking about what I had been wearing, why I had been targeted. Wondering if I would have “gotten off easy” had I been wearing black, had a bandana with me/on me, or wearing pins with political slogans. I was wearing a simple red summer dress that day, too.

I cringed when trying to re-read what I wrote about that years ago, but thought some of it was worth re-sharing with my readers, touching on issues that seem to be destined to resurface again and again. Here’s an excerpt from “Violent thugs dressed in black: anarchists or cops? policing protesters clothing at the G20 protests,” (originally published on June 29th, 2010)

Poster of resistance to the G8 and G20 in Toronto, June 2010

Fashion is political. Some other readers might be thinking that it is incredibly frivolous and altogether irrelevant to talk about things like “fashion” when over 900 people were arrested for voicing their opposition to the G8/G20 and all that it represents. These events, and the questions about what people were wearing on the streets of Toronto, are intrisically connected. What I really want to talk about here is the emphasis on the sartorial choices made by protesters, “average citizens,” members of the press and police officers during this weekend’s rampant opposition to the G20 summit in toronto and how it actively held a part in leading to such violation of human rights.

Let’s begin with some of the more obvious questions:

  • How does a protester dress? What does a protester “look like” and who decides what that is?
  • Practicalities: What a protester should wear when participating in peaceful protests and rallies to protect themselves from targeting, harassment, tear gas, pepper spray, etc.
  • On the eve of the G20/G8 summits, with a $1.3 billion dollar security pricetag, what are police told to look for and who are they told to target to “ensure security” and “maintain the peace?”
  • Policing and legislation around what people are legally allowed to wear on the streets of toronto as the G20 approached
  • Massive confiscation of black clothing items: what are the assumptions being made about what black clothing means and represents?
  • How do police present themselves? What are their “costumes” and how to they contribute to political posturing?
  • How to the police present themselves when acting as agent provocateurs and undercover/”plainclothes” officers?

Those are just a few of the ways in which fashion constitutes a very political and important dynamic of what went on in the streets during the G20 protests. The physical appearance of protesters and what they chose to wear was highly emphasized. It was used as a way to target public hatred and to strike fear in the hearts of the consumers of the media. That being said, few people are recognizing this. Hardly a peep has been made about these dynamics. The only things I have found about fashion and the G20 have been fluffy,  problematic articles published by the mainstream media.

Awful parody from The Star, June 2010: “This easy-to-wash cotton/polyester ensemble will definitely be noticed by police. An optional bandana is made with polyester to protect from noxious fumes, but it also pampers the protestor with the luxury of satin.”

If you google “g20 fashion” – surprise surprise – we are once again exposed the sexism inherent in the institutions the G20 system upholds and represents. There are dozens of stories about what the G20 leader’s wives wore on the “red carpet.” Was this a Hollywood premiere, or was it a gathering of world leaders meeting to make important decisions that have a global impact?! You can even vote “hit” or “miss.” Yeah, judge the First Ladies of the 20 wealthiest countries in the world based solely on what they wear. Sounds right to me. To make matters worse, female political leaders like the President of Argentina and the Chancellor of Germany aren’t safe from these insipid judgements either.
How lawyers should dress in order to avoid being attacked by protesters for wearing suits. Because we all know that was the main goal of protesters this weekend; to arbitrarily attack anyone wearing a suit. EDITED TO ADD: Note those two people in masks? Could serve up to 10 years in jail for that now. Doesn't matter if they're lawyers or not.

How lawyers “should dress” in order to avoid being attacked by protesters for wearing suits. Because we all know that was the main goal of protesters this weekend; to arbitrarily attack anyone wearing a suit. EDITED TO ADD: Note those two people in masks? Could serve up to 10 years in jail for that today. Feel safer?

Sifting through all of this garbage – which is very clearly designed to distract people from the reasons why the G20 is happening in the first place and why 25,000 PEOPLE WERE OUT IN THE STREETS VOICING THEIR OPPOSITION - all I could do was laugh. We can’t forget, however, about the ways in which “fashion” at the G20 was occurring in a very legislated and calculated way at the hands of police and the law.

The article in which the photos of lawyers “in disguise” is taken from, many of the quotes illustrate just how pervasive the emphasis on how dangerous clothing can be.

…Mr. Wearing, who is counsel to the law firm Ormston List Frawley, will be dutifully adhering to the “Summit Planning Guide,” a one-page safety tip sheet being circulated by landlords in downtown Toronto.“If you unexpectedly encounter demonstrators, you will be better treated if you are in jeans and a casual shirt than if you are in a business ‘power suit,” the guide advises.

…“Now that we look like demonstrators, how do we convince the police not to pepper spray or tear-gas us?”

These statements perfectly illustrates the ideas propagated by the mainstream media that:

  1. “Protester” might as well equal “violent terrorist”
  2. No protesters are lawyers, or any kind of respectable, powerful, suit-wearing folk
  3. Aaaand last but definitely not least fucked up: if you look like a protester, it’s your own fault for getting tear-gassed or pepper sprayed. As Mr. Wearing ponders, how could you convince police not to pepper spray you simply based on your appearance? There is an inherent assumption that if one looks like a protester, one deserves violence and repression at the hands of the state. This statement inadvertently admits that there is explicit profiling going on on the part of police. This in and of itself is not enough: the police have aditionally been manipulating the media, the citizens of toronto, and protesters to try and excuse their rampant targetting, attempts at repression and brutality.

To prove just how truly backwards these notions are, the article concludes with this wonderful nugget of propaganda:

“You don’t challenge that type of event,” he said. “You use common sense and stay out of the way.”

Unsurprisingly, the article does not discuss any of the hundreds of reasons why people are “challenging this type of event” and why people are refusing to “stay out of the way.” It is serving to explicitly propagate stereotypes not only of what a protester looks like, but that if you “look like that” it is your own fault for being targeted, potentially arrested, and brutalized by police. We see this sort of logic at work in rape culture as well, demanding to know what women were wearing when they were raped and engaging in victim-blaming.

What is important for us to address here is the policing of our bodies based on what clothing we choose to wear when out on the streets during a protest. For me, these negotiations are particularly complicated in addition to being totally fucked up. I don’t change how I dress when deciding to attend a protest from my regular dressing habits. This basically means that i take to the streets in dresses. While I don’t run the risk of, say, being mistaken for an undercover cop, I do encounter other issues. I am often forced to negotiate spaces based on my presentation and appearance. I know some other protesters might read me as a bystander if I am not actively engaged at an event, either leading a chant, holding a placard, or being part of the organizations who organize the rallies/protests. From a logistic perspective, it is often harder for me to approach other more “obvious” looking protesters to ask for information, such as where events are happening if they have changed at the last minute, information about arrests, organizations, etc. At times, I have felt obliged to prove myself as “one of them.”

These costumes and disguises worn by police are used to manipulate anyone who disagrees with the status quo into feeling unsafe if we are out in the streets, and helps those on the “good” side of police (in this case the G20 leaders, government officials, and citizens who have been sucked into the fear machine) to feel protected. In riot gear, police officers are completely stripped of any semblance of humanity. You cannot speak to them. You cannot look at them. You cannot interact with them. You cannot ask questions. All you are supposed to do is be afraid of them. The number of times we were in this crowd and thought we might be tear gassed (for standing there, peacefully protesting) was absurd and terrifying.

When the mainstream media is constantly misinforming people about these “thugs in black clothing reeking havoc on the city of toronto,” I can’t help but think about how much violence i saw go on entirely at the hands of thugs dressed in black clothing… emblazoned with the words “POLICE.”

…It is essential not to lose sight of what triggered these questions in the first place: why were people out in the streets of Toronto this weekend in the first place? What were the images the mainstream media showed us of what a protester looks like and wears? How do police use our physical appearances in an attempt to repress our voices and to manipulate fear in the public eye? and more generally, what does our clothing say about our beliefs? What clothing marks us as politicized, subversive, as challenging authority?

RECOMMENDED READING:

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Material Mayhem

The month of May was one filled with more stories about the fashion industry’s failings than you could shake a stick at. It felt daunting to attempt to keep up with it all. And now that we’ve turned the page on the calendar month, the momentum to keep these important conversations going is dwindling. 

Then, I recognized I had barely made a peep about it here, on what I often refer to as “my real blog.” I’ve written about it a bit all over the place, but without any sort of cohesiveness. I am trying to resist the urge to share thoughts constantly, as they pop into my mind, to share them in the endless streams on Twitter or Facebook. For equal parts archival purposes, I’ll post longer versions of conversations. Let’s begin with something I shared on Facebook on May 24th:

Frustration of the month: the desire to publicly criticize clothing companies whose policies you disagree with – but would never shop at in the first place. I’m very happy to see people think critically about clothing brands, but can’t help but wonder what the end result is. Whether it be American Apparel, Abercrombie & Fitch, Urban Outfitters,  Joe Fresh… I have been seeing this ad nauseum in my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

 

Thing is, the people sharing these links are overwhelming the people who have never/would never shop there in to begin with. The main criticism seems to be about size availability, or explicitly sexist marketing/branding. Are these the most “popular” reasons to criticize a brand? Why aren’t we lauding the companies and brands that we believe do a good job? That design and sell quality products, and respect their workers?

 

Why do we spend so much time and energy in attempts to hold the white male CEOs of shitty brands to account, when they’ve built their empires on these very same toxic attitudes?

 

Wouldn’t you rather laud brands who have challenged those notions?

You can read what my very smart readers had to say by visiting my Facebook page. What do you think? 

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Questioning the Meaning of “Ethical” Fashion

In late April, I received a thoughtful email from a long-time reader, and asked if I could share it and answer it publicly:
Hello Julia,

My name’s Dawn and I’ve been reading à l’allure garçonnière for years as well as following on LiveJournal for some time. I am writing to you today because I’m attempting to practice more of what I preach and end my support of clothing companies that sell pieces made in sweatshops as well as contribute to many societal issues.

My question is: do you just shop thrifted and vintage for everything? When I attempt to do that, I still feel that I struggle with finding non-Gap, H&M, Urban Outfitters, etc. brand clothing that was made in a way that I don’t want to support. Do you ever support some of these brands that you know use unethical business practices if the items are second-hand? Do you also support newer brands, and if so, have you ever shared which you do in a blog post or on a list somewhere? Do you have a knowledge base of brands that treat/compensate their employees ethically/don’t contribute to our mainstream warped views of beauty or do you do research before new purchases? (Sorry, that was a few questions in a row!).

I feel that finding new clothing that is made in a way that I support ethically is sometimes near impossible, and when it is it’s generally well out of my price range. As much as I’d love to deck myself out in sparkly couture that’s not my reality right now.  Also curious about everyday clothing items like bras/underwear, socks, tights, shoes, etc. I imagine finding some of these used might be tough (or weird?) and wonder which brands you feel are okay to support for items like this.

I’m also vegan and don’t wear any products that come from animals at all, so that makes things even a bit harder than they would normally be.

Any resources, thoughts or tips that you have or are willing to share would be appreciated. Thanks so much for your time and for sharing your writing with the world.

A longtime reader/supporter/fellow queer feminist,

-Dawn

A lot to get into here! Let’s break it down:

Do you just shop thrifted and vintage for everything?

Pretty much. Recently, I have stopped purchasing clothes pretty much altogether – new, vintage, thrifted or otherwise. This is due to a combination of factors: having accrued a wardrobe I know and love over the course of ten years (and staying relatively the same size), working full-time, and researching the (Canadian) fashion industry.

When I was younger, though, my initial draw towards thrifting was largely due to the fact that I loved being able to express myself through fashion – without feeling guilty about spending the small amount of money I had, or the guilt of buying new (creating waste, guilt over $$$) and potentially supporting brands that used sweatshops to produce their goods. When I was about 15 or 16, I had a particularly fierce anti-corporate stance, confident brand boycotts were the most effective tactic to employ. Also, I was never particularly enthused about the idea of wearing the same clothes as my peers.

Later in life, when I was underemployed, I had all the time in the world to thrift… but no money for anything other than food and rent. The funny thing about working a 9 to 5 – Monday to Friday schedule is that my free time doesn’t match up with the hours of the thrift stores in my town, and I just don’t have the time to scrounge the way I did five, ten years ago (as much as I love a good hunt). The small amount of new clothing I own falls largely into the category of “new to me” – mostly thrifted, aside from gifts and/or the occassional irresistible deal.

1940s British War Propaganda

1940s British War Propaganda

This year is also the first time I found myself a tailor. I brought a bag of dresses I had been holding on to but hadn’t been wearing for years because of varying small defects – the hem had fallen out, holes along the seams, etc. After swearing I’d find the time to mend them myself, a friend suggested a local tailor. The feeling of having “new” dresses from simply taking them to a local tailor and paying a small fee? Unreal! Highly highly recommended.

Short version to this question: I mostly buy thrifted and/or vintage, except for shoes and underwear.

Do you ever support some of these brands that you know use unethical business practices if the items are second-hand?

First things first: I think it’s a slippery slope to infer that by purchasing a piece of clothing (whether the item be purchased at their store, or second hand) that you are categorically endorsing everything that company does. This is something people of many varying political perspectives often infer, and it always slightly irks me.

“Support” here is the tricky element. Yes, I have purchased items of clothing from brands whose practices/advertising I despise. There’s at least one Urban Outfitters dress in my closet, and I used to love American Apparel’s thigh-high socks (I say “used to” because they changed designs, and also because I no longer live in a city with an AA store). This reminds me of part of a conversation I had with Jes Sasche back in 2010 about American Apparel. This is probably the clearest example of a brand that supports unions, decent wages for its garment workers… but then has questionable ad campaigns at best… while the company’s founder and CEO is known for sexual harrassing and assaulting models and employees at worst. I asked Jes for her thoughts on it, and it comes back to me quite often:

Me boycotting AA is ridiculous. You show me a fashion line that rocks my disability politics. None of ‘em do! I’ll wear what I want to, because my body, like everything else, contradicts itself.

There you have it: how do you define a clothing brand you want to enthusiastically support? You are a fan of the designer behind the brand? Do you buy things that you like, exclusively from companies that represent the same political perspectives as you? These questions are complicated even moreso when we add things like body politics, disability politics, whether you try to buy exclusively vegan, etc.

All of these conversations boil down to the question of how you define “ethical.” The Western conversation is endlessly dominated by “sweatshop = bad” or (often tinged with xenophobia) “jobs overseas = jobs taken away from my country” tone. Let’s dig deeper than that.

Does buying second-hand automatically mean buying “ethically?”

Another conundrum when it comes to second-hand: when you buy from a thrift store, the money does not go to brands or the companies that made the clothing in the first place – it goes to the thrift store or church or organization that is selling it. There are questions there, as a queer woman, about whether or not I want to be “donating” to certain charities that, say, endorse racist, sexist, or homophobic organizations. Those are the bigger questions I ask myself when thinking about where to thrift. But that’s a whole other can of worms…

I should also note: in my case, brand logos are never visible on the clothing I buy (if I were a t-shirts and jeans kind of person, this would be different obviously) so this isn’t really a question I ask myself.

Do you also support newer brands, and if so, have you ever shared which you do in a blog post or on a list somewhere?

Good question. Recently I’ve found myself really interested in Quebec-based brands, and Canadian companies that try to produce clothing – from the designs, to the sewing, to the selling – in Canada. I haven’t done enough research to attempt to compile a list, but that is definitely a project worth embarking on and I’m glad to be asked about this. Do you know of any fashion bloggers that do this? Leave a message in the comments!

Do you have a knowledge base of brands that treat/compensate their employees ethically/don’t contribute to our mainstream warped views of beauty or do you do research before new purchases?

This is another phenomenal question I wish I had the answer to! Generally speaking, I really don’t shop much so this isn’t something I encounter very often. That said, with basic online research skills, this could probably be relatively simple to do. Has anyone come across a resource list like this?

When it comes to vegan items, I’ve gotten most of my tips from friends. I follow some vegan fashion lovers online as well, and keep my eyes peeled. That said, a lot of the things I find in my online hunts are mostly made abroad that are totally out of my price range. Quandries.

You know what helps me though?

Reminding myself I don’t need 99% of this shit.

Untitled, from Everything is Necessary (2012) by Nikita Gale

Untitled, from Everything is Necessary (2012) by Nikita Gale

Capitalism has a way of convincing us our material things are what make us who we are. That the clothing we wear is a reflection of our worth as human beings, especially as young women. I constantly struggle with my affection for fashion and my distaste for the fashion industry. I struggle because of the empowerment I’ve found through expressing myself with my clothing and style, all the while never having the wallet, desire for high-end brands, nor the materialistic drive of someone who would proudly boast the label of clothes horse or “fashion lover.”

At the heart of a lot of these important questions is the challenging the systemic inequities we know exist in the fashion industry. For as long as I’ve loved to get dressed, questions around what impact my consumer choices may have at some point down the line have come up again and again. When I was younger, I was more concerned about the marketing choices and ad campaigns of the companies I bought clothing from. Now, I find myself more concerned about the environmental impact, whether items are vegan or not, whether the person who made the item was paid a living wage.

Capitalism Is The Cri$is

Montreal, 2012

It’s easy to feel like you’re listening to a broken record.

This past month, The Current interviewed a guest who famously made Kathy Lee Gifford cry in 1996. 1996! and he is still involved in trying to find a solution to sweatshop labour!

Worse yet, the situation in some Bangladesh garment factories echoes some of the tragic incidents that took place in North America a century ago. Yes, a century. The importance of labour unions and governments when it comes to corporate accountability cannot be understated. The creation and growth of unions in Canada’s textile factories often meant their closure a decade or two later – namely because companies know they can go elsewhere for cheaper labour. When interviewing countless Canadian fashion industry experts this past November and December, one recurring answer to this question kept coming up: people, especially but not only young women, have become accustomed to owning and wearing more clothing and paying less for it.

Asking questions about which companies pay their workers – along every step of the way – a living wage, and generally operate in an ethical manner is important. Some answers are easier to find than others. In the end, my answers for Dawn aren’t very conclusive. In short, the Internet is a great resource. Thinking critically is important. Check your sources. Ask questions.

La majorité, c’est vous

Keep the pressure on. Contact the companies you do support, recommend them to your friends. Contact the stores you think have the most egregious errors, let them know why you won’t shop there.  Don’t forget to look at the big picture. And keep fighting the good fight.

Recommended Reading:

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Janelle Monáe, Q.U.E.E.N. of my heart

Screen shot of Janelle Monae's QUEEN music video

Janelle Monae silhouetted in black in the final scene of the music video for Q.U.E.E.N.

How many songs have you heard that challenge racism, sexism, slut-shaming, homophobia… and make you want to bust a move? There are only a handful of artists I’ve encountered who wrap up all of those dynamics in a fresh way (M.I.A., Santigold and Ebony Bones! come to mind) but for whatever reason, Janelle Monáe stands out from the pack.

In late April, the great folks at Browntourage posted a link to a song. When I clicked play, I had no way of knowing it would become my new anthem. Q.U.E.E.N. has been playing full blast non-stop: as I make dinner in my kitchen, in my headphones at work, in my living room as I chill out with my cat, over and over. So when I saw there was a music video for the single, released May 1st, I fell even more in love with the song. So much so that it merits its own post:

Janelle Monáe referencing “Qui etes vous, Polly Maggoo?” Yes please! Janelle rocking a 1960s bob? I never thought she could top her badass trademark pompadour.

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 9.09.50 PM

Film still from William Klein's 1966 satirical art film, "Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?"

Film still from William Klein’s 1966 satirical art film, “Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?”

Erykah Badu has an alter ego named Badula Oblongata? Gold!

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 9.13.29 PM

Monáe does with Q.U.E.E.N. what she does best, mixing visually stimulating high art, culture, and her very own brash brand of feminism. This song and its accompanying video marries them with deft skill.  Her lyrics reference everything from black NYC drag ball culture in the 1980s (Walk in the room they throwing shade left to right/They be like ooh, she’s serving face) to Philip K. Dick (Will you be electric sheep?/Electric ladies, will you sleep?/Or will you preach?). Visually, her machismo comes across in her posturing and sartorial adjustments, while lyrically schooling you on the state of racial politics in America today.

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 9.15.27 PM

Anyone else see that final scene lighting set-up as bit of a wink to James Bond?

Not to mention the hard femme rebelles who bring their leaders out of art gallery exile:

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 9.06.10 PM

Now, I shouldn’t be surprised by all the artistic and (sub)cultural references in a Monáe video. First off, I’ve been a fan for years. She consistently prides herself on bring high art – or at least art that is all too often limited to university classrooms – to the masses in her own creative manner. One of her earlier videos, Tightrope, references Maya Deren. Of course, it’s not just her music videos; her concept albums are incisive, subversive, cohesive (not to mention catchy as fuck) – something we see all too rarely in the world of pop music.

What thrills me about a music video like this one, and what sets it apart from the masses, is that although it references these various elements, it remains unique and fresh. For example, as much as I love Beyoncé’s video for Countdown, I was taken aback at how blatantly it ripped off dancer/choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker… without so much as a wink in her direction (let alone questions of financial compensation). There are countless other examples, some of which lead to successful law suits on the part of the lesser known parties who are being “honored” in this fashion. But Monae? No. Her work is thoughtful, intentional, and unique. It just serves as a reminder there is a very fine line between homage and straight up rip-off.

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 9.11.57 PM

Sartorial excellence, bravado, and an impressive catalogue of art/film references are all showcased beautifully in this video, but they would be nothing, of course, without politics. Her commentary of race and class is absolutely essential to her oeuvre, summarized nicely in this quote from April 2011:

Heavily inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 German expressionist film Metropolis, which used an urban dystopia to berate capitalism, she too has invented a not-too-distant future in order to comment on the confines within she is expected to perform and present herself as a black female artist. “As an African-American woman, as an immigrant, wherever I am, I’m always the minority,” she explains.  “So I came up with the concept of the android as the ‘other’ in society.  I’ve been studying the theory of technological singularity, which predicts that as advances in technology become faster, there will come a point when robots will be able to map out the brainpower of humans and recreate our emotions.  I’m posing the question – how are we going to live with the ‘other’?  Are we going to treat them inhumanely, teach our children to fear them?”

Damn. Smart, stylish, talented, critical, gorgeous… you can have it all.

Now go watch the music video. Again.

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Recommended Eye-Candy:

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