Category Archives: fashion

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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Filed under fashion, politics, shopping, Uncategorized

Hands off: Surrealist art and fashion

As of late, I’ve been thinking more and more about 1920s and 1930s design, and about the fact that many of my favourite fashion designers were the ones to blur the lines between art and fashion. Wearable art is a term that is often thrown around when writing about these people, and it’s one of my favourite ways of thinking about well-designed clothing and creative styling.

Elsa Schiaparelli in Elsa Schiaparelli, autumn 1931. Photograph by Man Ray

Elsa Schiaparelli in Elsa Schiaparelli, autumn 1931. Photograph by Man Ray

Elsa Schiaparelli is well known for having been influenced by surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau and Man Ray, among others. But I would take it even further than to simply state influenced or inspired by – the more I read about her, the more I find these so-called inspirations would more aptly be described as collaborations. The reason these aren’t credited as collaborations I suspect in part has to do with gender, but it is most likely largely due to how much respect fashion vs. art is accorded. Fashion then (and now) is still seen as a lesser  form of art, as a capitalist industry as opposed to one interested in symbolism, deconstruction or self-expression. While Man Ray and Dalí are both respected as some of the 20th century’s most important artistes, Schiaparelli remains a name known mostly in the realm of frivolity and fashion, associated with high society and the colour pink.

A perfect illustration of Schiaparelli’s artistic talents are some of the gloves she designed in the mid-1930s. In Schiaparelli’s collection for winter 1936–37, she produced suede gloves in both black and white, with red snakeskin fingernails to replicate human hands. The black gloves were worn with Surrealist suits with pockets that looked like miniature bureau drawers, designed in collaboration with Salvador Dalí (if you come across a photo of those suits, let me know! I’m dying to see what they look like).

Made in Paris, France, Europe. Winter 1936-37 Designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, French (born Italy), 1890 - 1973  Black suede, red snakeskin 9 3/8 x 3 3/8 inches (23.8 x 8.6 cm)

Gloves by Schiaparelli, Winter 1936-37 collection

These playful gloves were created around the same time as Picasso painted hands to look like gloves for a Man Ray photo. Rumour has it Schiaparelli was inspired to flip-flop the concept and create a pair of gloves to look like hands.

Man Ray, Hands painted by Picasso, 1935

Man Ray, Hands painted by Picasso, 1935

Man Ray,  »Study of Hands », (negative solarization) 1930

Man Ray, »Study of Hands », (negative solarization) 1930

gloves by elsa schiaparelli

A lambskin belt next to suede gloves with gold metal talons, both made by Schiaparelli around 1936

There’s something about these gold talon ones though that I love even more – isn’t there something about them that screams hard femme? “Look, admire, but I can fuck you up if you cross my boundaries?” Perhaps over seventy years later, I’m queering this a bit too much to my own fancy, though.

This was hardly the only time Schiaparelli incorporated hands into her designs: I’m absolutely enamored by this belt, from two years earlier.

Evening belt Elsa Schiaparelli  (Italian, 1890–1973)  Date:     fall 1934 Culture:     French Medium:     silk, plastic Dimensions:     Other: 29 in. (73.7 cm)

Evening belt by Schiaparelli, Fall 1934 (silk, plastic)

The Met describes it as follows:

An ultimate expression of Schiaparelli’s interest in Surrealism, this belt was shown in the fall 1934 collection along with other pieces featuring the hand motif, such as a jacket, cape and handbag with hand-shaped fasteners. The hand was seen in many Surrealist artworks, such as those by Man Ray, and Schiaparelli used it in remarkable ways to accent her clothing designs. The wearer is literally embraced around the waist by the belt, an image echoed in the well-known jacket from the fall 1937 collection, featuring a woman with her golden sequined hair draped down one arm and her arm and hand wrapped across the body and waist, again embracing the wearer. The design was inspired by a drawing by Jean Cocteau for Schiaparelli.

Glove Hat      Object:      Hat with gloves     Place of origin:      Paris, France (gloves, made)     Date:      1936 (made)

Glove Hat designed by Schiaparelli, 1936

Another artist who also happened to be photographed by Man Ray (Kiki de Montparnasse, Lee Miller, Schiap – which badass creative women of the 20s and 30s weren’t?) played with gloves around the very same time is Meret Oppenheim.

Meret Oppenheim  "Fur Gloves with Wooden Fingers" 1936

Meret Oppenheim “Fur Gloves with Wooden Fingers” 1936

Meret Oppenheim Glove (1985) Silk-screen and handstitching on goat suede

Meret Oppenheim Glove (1985) Silk-screen and handstitching on goat suede

While these were created much later in her career, I find them no less interesting!

And since I am a fan of Man Ray’s portraits, here are some solarized portraits of Oppenheim for good measure.

Meret Oppenheim Man Ray (American, 1890–1976)  1932. Gelatin silver print (solarized)

Meret Oppenheim by Man Ray (American, 1890–1976) 1932. Gelatin silver print (solarized)

Now I’m off to daydream more about

recommended reading:

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Filed under art, fashion

ottawa’s vintage clothing fair

many people ask me where my love and knowledge of vintage clothes began. for a while, i found it difficult to pinpoint. as long as i can remember, i’ve always been drawn to fashions from bygone eras, poring over the descriptions of decadent garments from the past in my favourite books, or oggling the outfits in old advertisements i found in tattered magazines or black and white films. it wasn’t until i began thrifting on my own as a teenager in small town ontario that i realized vintage clothes belonged in my closet, on my body – not just in storybooks and period pieces. but my knowledge of them? that has a very different starting point; not in books, but in very much in the flesh.

i first found out about ottawa’s vintage clothing fair from a little flyer in an antique shop in peterborough, back in 2005. i had seen a smattering of vintage clothes here and there in antique shops, or had stumbled across the rare find in thrift stores, but had never been to a vintage clothing store, let alone an entire bazaar or fair. i had some cursory knowledge thanks to helpful folks in livejournal communities, namely vintage_look and thriftwhore, where i learned things like how zippers or buttons could tell you what decade your find was most likely from, along with what was valuable and what was a dime a dozen.

but the stories behind the clothes, what decades they are from, the real nitty-gritty? those are the kind of things you learn about from meeting and talking to vintage sellers. and once a year, a great gang of canadian vintage sellers bring their best wares to the ottawa vintage clothing fair, ready for all the grubby hands and curious questions.

photo of the ottawa vintage clothing fair in 2005

now that my closet is pretty much full and my bank account still tight, the appeal of the vintage clothing fair for me now isn’t so much the shopping experience: it’s the people, the stories, and how much you can learn about vintage clothing. as much as i enjoy browsing gorgeous garments on etsy, it’s not quite the same as touching 1930s velvet, as seeing the vibrant colours of the prints, asking the seller the story behind the item.

not to mention the venue! this year i hear it has changed, but in years past it has been at the chateau laurier. absolutely gorgeous.

chateau laurier ottawa 2006

julia at the vintage clothing fair in 2007

this will be my fifth time attending the vintage clothing fair now, and i still vividly remember the stories behind most of the items i’ve purchased there over the years. here are most of them:

vintage clothing in julia's closet

a purse and a set of earrings i nabbed at the vintage clothing fair back in 2006.

a purse and a set of earrings i nabbed at the vintage clothing fair back in 2006.

this dress no longer fits me, but i think it is one of my all-time favourite finds. i think i paid something like 40 or 50 dollars for it, since it wasn’t in the best of condition. the last time i could squeeze into it was shortly after i had been very ill and lost a lot of weight, and luckily holly norris took these beautiful photographs of me in it then.


one of my favourite fall dresses!


the story behind this strange skirt is what really makes it.

the woman who sold it to me told me it belonged to her aunt. (background: usually, when you buy vintage, it is kind of standard to ask if it came from a smoke-free or pet-free home, but you usually don’t get this much detail) she went on to tell me her aunt was a devout jehovah’s witness, who never smoked, drank, or married. this seemed like a bit of a “wink wink nudge she died a virgin” type situation. all of these factors did not make the garment pristine, however. it has little stains around the waist, but that makes me love it even more (and made it affordable; it was originally priced at $40, then marked down to $30, then i snagged it for $15) and the story makes it all the more precious to me. it makes me want to be particularly debaucherous every time i wear it.

most of the other items i’ve purchased were earrings or small pieces of jewelry, some of which i’ve unfortunately lost, like this precious brooch:

another thing i thought about last time i went with annemarie back in 2010 was how the online market for vintage clothing in the last few years (or as i often refer to them, the “post mad men” years) had become slightly oversaturated, especially with lax rules about what constitutes “vintage” over at etsy. it’s not rare to see pieces from the 80s and 90s online listed as vintage, but you don’t really see that at the fair. it is not rare to come across top hats from the 20th century, or halloween costumes from the 30s! and even though that’s not what i go there to buy, it is fascinating to see such quality vintage goods all in one lovely place.

tips if you attend a fair like this one? i’ve told a lot of friends to go, so i’ve given these tips out before:

  • arrive on time, and with cash. there is an ATM on site but who likes to pay those overcharge fees anyway? i tend to be very strict with my budget, and only take out as much cash as i can spend. that way you can’t splurge on a 300$ gown you don’t need and will wear once just because you saw it and it fits you and it is beautiful.
  • dress for the occasion. now this doesn’t mean getting decked out to the nines, trying to impress fellow bargain hunters with your gorgeous duds. if you’re going here to buy things, you will be trying them on. so dress appropriately! wear something that’s easy to slip in and out of. i almost always wear a slip, so i can know how much wiggle room i have.
  • ask questions. as i said, i learned almost everything i know about vintage from asking sellers question after question. it can be short and sweet, just asking what decade a dress is from and how they know that, or you can go into detail.
  • be patient. give yourself a lot of time. in my experience there have always been large crowds, whether you show up at 10 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon. take your time, don’t let people push you, and be polite with others.
  • be gentle with the goods. most sellers will ask you to leave a piece of id behind when you head to the change room, but what they really want from you is to be gentle with their items. try on dresses by putting them over your head, not stepping into them. assess whether the garment has stretch to it or not before jerking at the seams. don’t force it. there are literally thousands of other items for you to try on, you’re sure to find at least something that suits you.
  • don’t take photos of yourself in the change room. or do. whatever. if you’re anything like me, however, these photos will lead to you kicking yourself five years later as to why you didn’t buy that gorgeous dress.

now you’ve got almost a week to prep – november 18th – off you go, and be sure to show me your fantastic finds after you’ve conquered the crowds! see you there.

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Filed under fashion, self-portraits, vintage

SUMMER OUTFITS: june

to say this summer went by quickly would be the understatement of the century. you see, i’m still recovering from my post-student days, where things would slow down in the summer rather than speed up. yes, i’ve been working full-time most summers (with one exception) for nearly a decade now, but never as intensely as this year. in june, it really didn’t look like it would be that way… but hey! a summer election campaign and your colleagues taking their summer vacations will give you a lot more to do!

i know, i know, everyone finds the summer goes by too fast. i just wanted to give you a bit of context for these very belated outfit posts. spending far more time at the office did not mean i toned down my warddrobe or forgot to take outfit photos! it simply meant it wasn’t until now that i found the time to share them with you.

let’s begin with june.

as i mentionned earlier, i started the summer with a haircut and a trip overseas. before hopping on a plane, i checked out the

i had the chance to have a sneak peek back in may, but was so excited to see it when it officially opened in june. in the end i visited the museum three times this summer to try and take it all in, and am very glad i did. you can listen to my radio report on it if you missed it.

wearing: thrifted dress from value village, 10$
sandals: hush puppies on sale

the summer also means high-time for yard sales, flea markets and church basement bargains. while riding my bike one sunday i came across a particularly awesome yard sale and picked up this stunning 1960s wiggle dress for a whopping 6 dollars. it is a wee bit snug for me (but aren’t all wiggle dresses?) but i simply could not resist for that price. one of my smaller-hipped vintage-loving friends might be able to give it a good home if i don’t end up wearing it enough.

dress: vintage, thrifted shoes: thrifted ages ago photobooth bag from meags fitzgerald

dress: vintage, thrifted
shoes: thrifted ages ago
photobooth bag from meags fitzgerald

simon and i in his favourite colours: black and white

simon and i in his favourite colours: black and white

even though we live together, simon and i try to make date nights a priority. not just hanging out, but getting decked out to the nines for no particular reason at all and enjoying the sights and sounds of our gorgeous city. i didn’t get the best photos of my outfit, but believe me we turned heads that night.

dress, vintage 1960s from courage my love in toronto. 1960s handbag thrifted.

so there’s june: i’ll be sharing photos from july and august shortly. thanks for looking!

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Filed under fashion, personal, vintage, what i wore today

currently: the uncompromising eartha kitt

eartha kitt with kittens

eartha kitt with kittens by gordon parks, 1952

a hotly anticipated new batman movie just came out, and everyone is still going on over whether or not anne hathaway was the right casting choice to revisit the role of catwoman. it happens any time a film touches a cult character, especially one that has spanned many decades and mediums… personally, i have yet to see the latest incarnation of catwoman in this film so i can’t judge.

Eartha Kitt as Catwoman c. 1960’s

Eartha Kitt as Catwoman c. 1960’s

in the meantime, however, many people have taken advantage of this batman pop culture moment to reflect on the various women who have been catwomen over the years, such as julie newmar. another one of the very first actresses to be cast as catwoman is the inimmitable eartha kitt. while she only took on the role for three episodes during the batman television series, her performance captivated audiences and remains iconic to this day.

every once in a while, i see a fantastic photo of eartha kitt pop up on tumblr. lately, it’s been a become more of a steady stream… here are just a few of my favourites that really showcase her style in the 1950s and 60s. i hate to be the kind of person who only posts photos of when an actress when she was young, but what can i say, i’m a sucker for 1950s fashion! there are some great ones from later eras you can find yourself, but i simply had to share my favourites.

Eartha Kitt, Amsterdam, Netherlands, c. 1962. by Ben van Meerendonk.

Eartha Kitt, 1952 by Gordon Parks

Eartha Kitt, June 1952, photographed by Gordon Parks for LIFE magazine

Eartha Kitt in New York City, June 1952, photographed by Gordon Parks for LIFE magazine

this entire photoshoot of her by the incredible photographer gordon parks is unbelievably charming!

Eartha Kitt, June 1952, photographed by Gordon Parks

Eartha Kitt, June 1952, photographed by Gordon Parks

Eartha Kitt dances during Dizzy Gillespie’s set at the Newport Jazz Festival (1954)

Eartha Kitt dances during Dizzy Gillespie’s set at the Newport Jazz Festival (1954)

eartha kitt photographed by carl van vechten, 1952

photographed by carl van vechten, 1952

uncredited/date portrait of eartha kitt (1950s?)

Eartha Kitt in Hamburg, 1950. Photo by Susanne Schapowalow.

but you know hear at à l’allure garconnière, i’m not about style over substance – eartha kitt had both in spades.  while i admire what eartha kitt wore, her words and acts speak volumes. she was a fiercely independent strong woman who spoke out against injustice. keep in mind she was all of these things at a time when being an outspoken black woman didn’t help already quite limited career opportunities.

In 1968, during the administration of US President Lyndon B. Johnson, Kitt encountered a substantial professional setback after she made anti-war statements during a White House luncheon. Kitt was invited to the White House luncheon and was asked by Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War. She replied: “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.”

During a question and answer session, Kitt stated:

“The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don’t have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons — and I know what it’s like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson — we raise children and send them to war.”

Her remarks reportedly caused Mrs. Johnson to burst into tears and led to a derailment in Kitt’s career. The public reaction to Kitt’s statements was extreme, both pro and con. She  became publicly ostracized in the US.

she was also one of the earliest public figures to speak out against apartheid in South Africa. in researching her life online, i’ve also learned she faced discrimination for being light-skinned and mixed-race. her mother was african-american and cherokee, and her father was white. there is also a great biography of her over at classic vintage with a twist if you’re interested in finding out more.

Eartha Kitt for the Hill District Renewal Program, May 1966.

Eartha Kitt for the Hill District Renewal Program, May 1966. Photographed by Charles “Teenie” Harris

photographs can’t even begin to capture the energy and vivacity she had. take the time to watch this amazing video of her:

i hope you learned something new about an amazing woman!

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Filed under currently, fashion, pop culture, Uncategorized, vintage

my favourite clothes are free clothes

may 1st julia

me in my neighbourhood on may 1st, 2012

it looks like i unceremoniously ended my commitment to share outfit photos with you guys on a regular basis here… partly because of the massive time commitment and work involved, but because i’ve been rethinking what it means to flood the internet with images of myself… but that’s topic for another post. right now, i feel pretty excited about my warddrobe. the changing of the seasons will do that to someone who lives in a climate of extremes! last week, a big part of my spring cleaning involved taking my summer dresses out of suitcases and putting my winter scarves, coats and woolly garments away. this ironically coincided with a heat wave! it feels like summer in may.

julia wearing her jean jacket

my new (free) jean jacket in my very pink and blue neighbourhood

i wasn’t the only one doing spring cleaning, though. coworkers of mine were clearing out the work closet and there were a few unclaimed stragglers. after a few days/emails, they were deemed officially up for grabs. most weren’t my style, but i tried some on anyway… and found the jean jacket i never knew i lusted for. it fits me like a glove and makes me feel super tough. i seriously own next to no denim (after having spent my teens basically living in jeans) so it’s a really nice change. great for spring evening bike rides!

julia wearing a green 1960s dress with a short beehive.

trying new things with my hair, as i’m way overdue for a trim

following the trend of free garments: i’ve had this dress for about two years, but have never worn it! when i volunteered at le vestiaire, a local thrift store, we were “paid” by basically having first dibs on the clothes we sold. for someone like myself who loves variety, it was ideal. i could take home a dress one day and if i didn’t absolutely love it, i could bring it back my next shift. my closet definitely expanded a bit too much during that time! i put this handmade vintage garment aside at some point, and must have lost sight of it in the shuffle. i don’t know why it took me so long to rock this dress because it’s definitely a new favourite. my necklace was a gift from my friend salima.

green dress and hair down

when i say “next to no demin” i literally mean you see all the denim i own in this post. that black denim pencil skirt was a gift from a friend, and this shirt is what i THOUGHT was denim… that is, until i read the latest issue of WORN, i realized it is in fact chambray. (i’ll be making a post about some of the best magazines i’ve read lately, and WORN is among them!)

blue dress and my little pony graffiti

posing with my favourite my little pony stencil

speaking of worn, this is one of my softest most worn-in dresses… so much so that i wear it quite rarely for fear it will soon end in tatters. i’ve shown it to you guys before, in april 2010! and that my little pony stencil at my feet? one of my favourite things about québec city is the abundant street art. these particular guys have been around for about a year now. i did a short radio piece on them last year, which you can listen to here.

last but not least, one little photo from april when i was visiting one of my best friends, morgan, in kelowna. it did my heart so much good to spend time with some of my favourite people when i had time off in april, and i’m so grateful to have such generous and loving people in my life.

i’m posting this on the train. i’m on my way to visit my sisters in ottawa, go to my younger sister’s bachelorette party and celebrate my older sister’s birthday! so expect a bid of radio silence. june holds many adventures for me, too!

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Filed under fashion, quebec city, self-portraits, what i wore today

knowledge, power and “feminist” fashion blogs

gloria swanson, photographed by edward steichen in 1924

Gloria Swanson photographed by Edward Steichen for Vanity Fair, 1924

these days i’ve been spending a lot of times with books. fiction, non-fiction, zines, and gorgeous picture books. re-reading ones that have been on my shelf for years, and starting ones i’ve been meaning to get to for longer than i’d like to admit. this weekend while visiting my friend marika‘s place, i poured over the copy of Objectif Mode, 1850 a nos jours she had taken out of the library. myself, ainslie, cat and simon turned the pages together, pointing out our favourites. the chapter for the 1920s began with a cropped version of one of my favourite photographs. i gasped, and said, “swanson! steichen! how glorious.” it didn’t have a caption on that page, so my friends were kind of surprised.

“how do you know that?” cat asked.

i laughed it off, mumbled something or other about how it’s just a random bit of knowledge tucked away in my brain somewhere… but how? and why?

i know it because i love it, is the short version.

i know it because i’ll always remember this image. because there’s something about early photography that pairs decadence, decay, the jazz age, art, fashion that will always be compelling to me.

i know it because i’ve seen many other photographers try to emulate what it is about this photograph that draws you in so much. is it steichen’s talent as a photographer? is it swanson’s gaze? is it both?

Gertrud Arndt, « Maskenselbstbildnis Nr. 16 », 1930

Gertrud Arndt, « Maskenselbstbildnis Nr. 16 », 1930

i also know these things because i am smart. because i am not just a passive consumer of photography, art, and fashion – i’m a fan. i take the time to inform myself, to remember details.

after finishing the book, i must admit i felt slightly disappointed. curious choices for images to define over a century of style. in the end, what i personally disliked about it was that it did not present the picture of fashion that i know and love. it presented the typical vision of fashion as one occupied by those who can afford to indulge in high-end couture, with more photos of runway models and movie stars than your average joe. a model can wear a dress, that is their job at the end of the day, but i’ve always been more interested in why someone might choose to wear certain garments, and how they wear them.

this reminded me yet again why i often feel alienated by the “fashion” world.

this leads to other things i’ve been asking myself about these days: what makes a fashion blog feminist. perhaps it’s because someone pointed out to me that when you google “feminist fashion blog,” my blog is on the first page of results. perhaps it’s because i’ve come across more than a few fashion blogs that describe themselves as feminist, yet i see very little/no explicit political content or discussion. or worse, a very second-wave version of what it means to be feminist.

a tweet posted on may 9th by julia that reads "if i could just have a feature that would let me read about fashion online without having to trudge through body hate bullshit, that'd be great."

one of the more specific reasons this question has been on my mind is because of last week’s extravagant fashion event. i wanted to see what people wore to the met ball last week. briefly: the met ball is when the top of the top get decked out to the nines in incredibly lavish clothing. here’s a more detailed description from the Atlantic‘s may 2007 article “Why Fashion Deserves its Place in Art Museums:”

Once inside, the 700 guests—actors and models, designers and socialites—will dine and dance and preview the museum’s newest exhibition. The occasion is the “party of the year,” the Met’s Costume Institute Benefit Gala. Co-chaired annually by Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, the party is not just a chance to wear and admire beautiful clothes; it’s a lavish and efficient fund-raising machine. Tickets start at $6,500 per person, with tables for 10 running as high as $100,000. Last year’s gala raised $4.5 million for the museum’s fashion department.

obviously, it’s one of my few typical “Fashion Elite” moments of awe. i generally click through a handful of fashion week shit, but it’s generally kinda low on my radar. the met ball, on the other hand? pure fantasy through and through, and i shamelessly love gawking at it. this year in particular featured an exhibition that is right up my alley: Schiaparelli & Prada (and wrote a bit about back in march). in my hunt for more photos of the dresses people wore, i visited sites i tend to avoid… and was reminded of why. i found myself rolling my eyes at the comments, and asking myself, really?

the comments on jezebel‘s “good/bad/ugly” met gala review are more about how skinny a model is, how much someone looks like a “drag queen” (as if that’s a bad thing?), and how slutty a woman’s dress is than about, say, whether or not it was an appropriate choice for a gala that lauds designer known for collaborations with surrealist artists, or how the theme of the gala this year was explicitly focused around conversations about feminist women.

the overall tone i got from the four or five websites i visited was one fraught with body policing (variations of the she’s too thin to show that much skin/she’s too fat to wear that dress/that colour/that style, usually coded in words like “flattering”) and left me headdesking. why so much vitriol when there were so many other potential things of substance to discuss? who chose to wear schiaparelli’s signature shocking pink? what worked, the over the top designs or the more demure ones? the hommages: well-done or too hokey?

i took to twitter and of course discovered i’m not alone in wanting to consume fashion (at least visually) without having to confront body hate and mean-spirited comments everywhere i turn. jenny zhang was briefly the fashion commentator at jezebel, and talked about her own struggles with facilitating that environment, as someone who identifies as feminist:

For a while, I was writing red carpet commentary for Jezebel, and I always felt too mean or not mean enough or not quippy enough or not discerning enough or too judgmental. It’s hard to write meaningfully about fashion! At least it is for me.

and i hear her. we fall into the trappings of “oh my god, she wore THAT?!” partly because it’s so effortless, but also because it’s so pervasive. it’s everywhere we turn. not only that, it’s ridiculous gendered, almost always heteronormative, often racist (if not completely whitewashed) – and overall unproductive and boring in my eyes. if you missed it, i wrote an article mapping out my feelings around those issues last year.

it’s so easy for me to feel as though i’m the one in the wrong, because i feel as though i’m in the minority. it’s easy to feel as though i should just accept that catty rude comments about people’s bodies are par for the course when it comes to talking about fashion. that i’ll always have to start conversations about my interest in fashion and art by defending that fashion can be art, since most people’s perception of the word “fashion” is a vacuous and mean-spirited one.

for me, framing my blog as a “critical take on fashion culture” is the most direct way i can challenge these notions. people know if they come to my blog they won’t see me writing about fashion in that way.

self-portrait by mccall johnson

i’m trying to remember why i write here. why i’ve been trying to create this space and foster dialogue around feminism and fashion for years. even though there are more and more of us these days, we still have to defend the very basic premise that you can be interested in fashion AND be a feminist. i’m really looking forward for the day we can put those conversations to bed, and move forward.

i should pride myself on my extensive knowledge of fashion and art, not laugh it off.  if i’m less worried that people will interpret my interest and affection for fashion as frivolous or anti-feminist, than maybe i can finally get to that point. let’s trade in shame for pride, stop being belittled and start being empowered. i’m done with the defenses. let’s keep talking about how to challenge oppressive ideologies we see operating in the fashion world we are already a part of.

recommended reading:

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Filed under fashion, self-portraits, Uncategorized, vintage