Tag Archives: feminism

Bending gender rules with black & white bobs

Bijou Karman

Bijou Karman

I’ve been wearing the bob for almost a decade now (with a handful of interludes and infidelities). Originally, the printed out images I would bring to the hairdresser would be those of flappers and silent film stars I had seen dancing the screen and longed to emulate. Lately, however, I’ve been finding myself captivated by the 1960s bob. Ironic, in a sense, since a large part of the resurgence of women wearing their hair in short, cropped bobs in the 1960s was a new spin inspired by those very same newly liberated young garçonnes of the 1920s, four decades prior.

When it comes to haircuts, I’m not only lazy but a cheapskate. The idea of shelling out 40 or 50 bucks every six-to-eight weeks for “upkeep” is laughable to me and my budget, as much as I enjoy getting my hair cut. When I lived in bigger (read: queer-er) cities, it was also much easier to rope friends into trimming my bangs, or even getting them to cut my hair in exchange for a case of beer. Low-maintenance is the name of the game for me, and I often let my haircuts grow out longer than I like or ever intended to. In 2011, when I donated 12 inches of my hair, so many people asked me how I did it – how I grew my hair out that long. A simple combination of moving to a new city and not having a hairstylist, being broke, and indecisively lazy. Huzzah! Three years later, 12-14 inches of hair to donate.

But I’m not interested in having hair past my shoulders any time again soon. My last haircut was this past December, and as I have for the past few years, I brought in a photo of Louise Brooks to show the hairdresser.

dec2012

December 2012

Fast-forward two months, and we’re here:

self-portrait in the bathroom - mod 1960s black and white dress and earrings

February 2013

A slightly overgrown bob. Now that I’m getting into “bangs over my eyes” territory, and pondering making an appointment with the hairdresser, I can’t help but wonder… is it time for me to go full-on 1960s?

Nancy Kwan with her famous Sassoon haircut. Pic by Terence Donovan

Am I patient enough to let it grow out a bit more, and go for Nancy Kwan’s gorgeous bob circa 1963? Or finally give in to my affection for Mary Quant’s 5-point bob? Or Peggy Moffitt’s iconic close-crop?

Mary Quant, designer, wearing Vidal Sassoon's 5-point bob in the early 1960s

Mary Quant

Sassoon’s 5 Point Bob by Eric Swayne, modeled by Grace Coddington

Grace Coddington

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?”

The films I’ve been watching these days are partly to blame for all of these haircuts dancing in my head. All of these visual references are namely from having recently re-watched Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo ? (1966, William Klein) and a perennial favourite/criminally underrated Québécois film, Le Chat dans le Sac (1964, Gilles Groulx). Both thrilled me, and reminded me why I have such affection for style and art from this period – so much was new, so much was made possible in such a short period of time, the radical potential for renewal was everything.

I also finally bit the bullet this past February and watched the documentary on Vidal Sassoon. Fastforward about 30 minutes in, watch the bit with Mary Quant, and at about 46 minutes listen to this bit by Professor Caroline Cox (one of the very few female voices in the documentary):

When you saw somebody dressed in a Quant outfit with a 5-point Sassoon haircut, you didn’t know if they were a countess, you didn’t know if they were someone who worked in a shop. That really dramatically changed how people thought about Britain. It was no longer this hide-bound, class-oriented society and also it really changed how women thought about themselves, because women weren’t only liberated socially and sexually in the 1960s, they were also liberated through their clothes and very particularly their haircuts. They were no longer having to go to the salons every week to have their hair permed and set, tweaked and backcombed… they could have a haircut that they could go out, wash once or twice a week, do it all at home, and it would look fantastic!

This is the parallel I find striking between the 1920s and 1960s bobs: how something as simple as a haircut can change the way we think about things we often see as set in stone, like class and gender. The immediate post-war years, following both the Great War (1914-1918) and the Second World War (1939-1945), lead to stricter moral gender codes. During the wars, women often had no choice but to find work to support their families, whether they wanted to or not. But when men returned home from the war, women were simply expected to go quietly back to their previous roles as mothers, wives, and sisters. The way that resistance to these ideas presented itself could sometimes be in the subtle form of slowly shortening hemlines, more comfortable clothing (re: clothing one could move, work, and exhert oneself whilst wearing) and simpler hairstyles.

And by “simpler,” I mean hairstyles that did not require the assistance of someone else, with the use of products and tools only in the possession of the live-in hired help or the professional barber. The gender and class dynamics that could change partly as a result of this were astounding.

While researching hairstyles of the mid-1960s, I couldn’t help but be reminded of those from the mid-1920s. The moral outcry about an attack on femininity, the fashion designers who collaborated with hairstylists to push an androgynous agenda forward, is equal parts laughable and terrifying. All because of a snip of the scissors…

But back to the movie the quote came from: I must emphasize – this is pretty much the only part of the Vidal Sassoon documentary I found refreshing or interesting. Watch it at your own peril. I would summarize it succinctly as a myth-making circle jerk of a bunch of old white guys putting Vidal on a pedestal shortly before his death. So many choices struck me as so wrong! Using Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959) to illustrate how modern and cutting edge Peggy Moffitt’s fashion poses in the mid-1960s were? I’m a fan of both, but no. Not to mention my distaste for using faux-vintage footage in something presented as a documentary. Bad. Poor form. And how many times do we have to counter the myth that Sassoon was responsible for Mia Farrow’s pixie cut? Listen to the woman herself!

Glad that’s out of my system.

After looking up all these images of 1960s models, I couldn’t help but give in to the urge to strike a pose of my own.

mod-bw-2

I leave you with some recommended watching:

Recommend Reading:

Wish me luck in my quest for the perfect bob…

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Filed under hair, personal, Uncategorized

black and white beaches

a few weeks ago, i came across natasha khan’s latest video via queersforfeminism. something about it struck me as oddly familiar, giving me a minor case of déjà vu… and recently i realized what it reminds me of.

one of my favourite filmmakers, maya deren. specifically, her 1944 film At Land.


you can watch the full film on youtube if you like (i recommend turning off other things and fullscreen that shit!) but here is a description courtesy of Nichola Deane:

In At Land, the protagonist begins as a body washed up on a beach. Then some simple backwards footage: the reversal of a breaking wave. The woman wakes from where she fell—gravity pulls her upright. We see her hands move with seductive slowness over and around a large piece of driftwood. There is a game of chess at the seashore played by two women. A pawn is knocked off the board into the sea and Deren’s camera follows it as it is pulled over rocks and out into the ocean. Twists of water and rock, the innocuous pawn falling away: everything is seen as though it is floating, as though the mind that made the film is floating in what Merrill calls ‘a calm shining sea.’

you can read more in Three Studies for a Triptych: Elizabeth Bishop, Patti Smith, Maya Deren by Nichola Deane if this tickles your fancy.

1944, USA, 16 mm, b/w, silent, 14 min.

Film still from Maya Deren’s 1944 film, At Land (16 mm, b/w, silent, 14 min.)

Maya Deren by Alexandr Hackenschmied [Alexander Hammid]

Maya Deren by Alexandr Hackenschmied

it’s not exactly the same as the music video for all your gold, but there are some quite similar visual elements. the dancing, the fact that both deren and khan are almost always in the shot, being glued to the beach sand and rocks…. when i think of it, it makes perfect sense that natasha khan (or her music video director would decide) and maya deren might go together nicely. even if the references to at land may be unintentional, the music video puts me in mind of a lot of beautiful black and white beach scenes i’ve seen elsewhere. francesca woodman’s powerful self-portraits also come to mind.

Francesca Woodman, Self-deceit (1978)

Francesca Woodman, Self-deceit (1978)

Photograph by Francesca Woodman holding up a mirror on a beach

i wish i remembered/could find the title for this piece! i was lucky enough to see it in person when it was at the mnbaq this summer as part of In Wonderland: The Surrealist Activities of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States exhibition. it completely captivated me, as most of woodman’s pieces have a tendency to.

happy admiring! you can also stream the new bat for lashes album on NPR before it is released. i’m often discovering great music via first listen and highly recommend checking it out often.

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Filed under currently, self-portraits, Uncategorized

currently: recommended reading on feminism

these days, you are far more likely to find me trawling the internet for incisive articles about feminist issues as opposed to seeing me decked out to the nines and taking photos to share with you. so as i was scratching my head wondering about what i should post next here, it came to me: i write about fashion all the time, mention feminism in passing, but hardly ever talk ABOUT feminism. and today, there is no shortage of things to talk about when it comes to the vibrant movement. i’ve been sharing links left right and centre on social media, but i thought it might be helpful to my readers to share some of the best articles here to tide you over as you patiently await a new post about fashion from a feminist perspective. for the most part, these recommended reads omit the “fashion” and focus on the feminism, but i think they will tickle your fancy.

Fuck Patriarchy by Midge Belickis

Dear Patriarchy, Fuck Off by Midge Belickis

lately i’ve been thinking a lot of some of the conversations i come across online or in real life about their perspectives on the voices or faces of feminism. it almost always makes me feel quite uncomfortable, and always gets me thinking: who are my modern day feminist heroes, who i admire and aspire to be like? why are they never in the limelight the same way the “flavour of the moment” famous feminists are? why do i feel so uncomfortable with the idea of feminist figureheads, instead of a vision of an engaged larger group? why do i feel the need to bite my tongue before criticizing aforementioned feminist figures for fear of feeding into internalized misogyny or girl-hate? and last but not least, how do i find a balance between the urge to reject the “feminist” label, since these mainstream feminist figures do not even come clos to representing my beliefs or the feminists i know, and the empowerment and perspective i often get from the very same movement?

"Viva El Feminismo" circa 1936

“Viva El Feminismo” circa 1936

luckily, i’m not alone in these discomforts. lately, formerly highly-lauded self-identified feminists, such as Naomi Wolf and Caitlin Moran, are finding themselves in hot water over head-scratching comments or publications. instead of steeping in their discomfort, many writers and thinkers have been articulating their frustrations in fantastic ways.

Sheila Sampath over at Shameless wrote this fantastic article entitled “The future of feminism?” (October 7, 2012)

I think there is an important conversation to be had around how patriarchy functions in divisive ways, and how this often results in a culture of competition among women and girls. One of the first things I felt I had to do as a self-identified feminist was acknowledge and challenge this tactic in an attempt to overcome it. But without context and analysis, all a statement like that does is say that Wolf isn’t accountable to her feminist community for the things that she says. It’s insulting to critics like Jacklyn Friedman and Laurie Penny, it perpetuates the very beauty myths Wolf herself once wrote about, and it assumes that all of us want to look like able-bodied, femme-identified, zaftig white women. Trust me: we don’t.

Do yourself a favour and take the time to read the whole thing. If you want to read a real take-down of Wolf’s latest book, I think Zoe Whittall puts it best here:

Zoe Whittall tweeting a link to an article entitled "Naomi Wolf's book Vagina: self-help marketed as feminism" suggesting "Maybe read this, and then let's stop talking about Naomi Wolf, forever."

sad to see what one of the first feminist writers you really connected with has come to producing. but! moving on…

another more recent feminist figurehead is Caitlin Moran. a colleague recommended i read her book “How to be a Woman”, and i’ve been seeing more of her words (and face) these days (like in this article i disliked quite a bit). then, she tweeted some stupid shit. many, many times. over the course of a few hours. i try as hard as i can to stay away from twitter shit shows, primarily because i don’t think it is possible to have civil discussions with strangers in short 140-characters-or-less statements, try as we might. but luckily for people like me, there are fantastic plugged-in writers like Bim Adewunmi who offer us insightful rundowns on the situation. What the Girls spat on Twitter tells us about feminism (October 7th, 2012) is one of the best things i have read about the way white feminists often have their head in the sand (or worse) when it comes to questions from women of colour about which women get represented in pop culture:

When we have “heroes”, we look up to them, and feel it especially keenly when they mess up. But even with all of my affection for the series, the omission of black and brown people in non-stereotypical roles was glaring. Is it unfair to ask Dunham to represent all of womanhood onscreen? Of course it is. But here’s the thing: no one did. We merely asked that she take a step back and question the underlying reason for why Girls looks the way it does.

Read the whole thing! Reni Eddo-Lodge tackles the very same question in her article A problem that stubbornly refuses to budge (October 8th, 2012). This sentence says it all:

When feminists can see the problem with all male panels but can’t see the problem with all white television programmes, it’s worth questioning who they’re really fighting for.

A card of a flapper smoking a cigarette saying "I won't stand up for gossip. I prefer to sit down and make myself comfortable."

I Won’t Stand for Gossip.

last but not least, if reading all these posts is getting you feeling like i’m feeding into negative shit-talking gossip, i recommend one last read: On Shit-Talking Your Way Through Life by Michelle over at The Untitled Teen Mag.

My feminism, believe it or not, is wrapped up in shit-talking. The two are intertwined. In one hand, I carry my ideas and aspirations for me and mine; and in the other, a big-ass stick. While I’m working to create new and better spaces for those who are left behind, I’m making sure that those who opt out of helping me and others in our quest will never live it down. My feminism is vicious for those who cannot be. It is loud and ugly and it will laugh in your face if you give it excuses. It will keep your name in its mouth. It will never have a problem with keeping you on your toes where you belong.

let me know what you think! have you read this articles already? what resonates with you the most?

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Filed under currently, digital/online culture, links, politics

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

great things on the internet these days

sorry for the radio silence ’round these parts these days! it just so happens i’ve been busy elsewhere these days… in the best of ways. more on that later, but in the meantime here are some links to tide you over. i participated in kickaction!’s 2012 blogging carnaval, writing about how fashion can reflect your politics and your identity. it was fantastic to participate in a great canadian (bilingual) project, and kind of cathartic to write about fashion in a kind of basic way again. read it here, and let me know what you think! there are tons of other great posts too if you feel like poking around and doing some reading.

it also gave me an occasion to post some old photos of teenage me thrifting in small town ontario. those were the days …remind me again why i didn’t buy that awesome one piece jumpsuit?

screencap of the cultural cringe by clem bastow

moving on! a few days later, andrea, my best australian internet friend, came across this article… which happens to quote me! clem bastow blasts the mulleavy sisters for yet another misstep in the terrible vogue of cultural appropriation. a great read i am proud to be quoted in.

i love her final point the best:

…that’s the great thing about fashion: those of us who love it know it doesn’t have to be shallow, culturally insensitive or offensive. Involve yourself in cultural appropriation for the sake of being on-trend and you make yourself all of those things.

i’ve been hesitating to write about this topic again, largely because the conversation is so exhausting, but lately it really feels as though people need a reminder as to why it’s a shitty thing to do. if you follow me on tumblr, you know my tone is going to be either irrational rage, or utter dismay and cynicism when talking about interacting with folks who unapologetically culturally appropriate. what bastow hits on that fills me with hope, however, is that basic encouragement: just because something is trendy in fashion does not make it okay. having conversations about privilege and racism are super important, and hopefully the more people talking about these issues online means more people will think critically about these issues when they go shopping.

it’s also interesting to think of the parallels between the way the australian government treated it’s aboriginal people, and how the canadian government treated its first nations people – but that’s a whole blog post in and of itself, isn’t it? if you’re interested in the latest take on cultural appropriation from a canadian context, i highly recommend Icewine, Roquefort Cheese and the Navajo nation by Chelsea Vowel over at apihtawikosisan.

last but not least, i complained about this on tumblr but felt it deserved a better conversation space. the gracious folks over at shameless magazine let me air my greviances on their blog about what feminist messages get shared online, and which don’t:

I’m critical of the fact that this is the kind of pervasive “feminist message” that gets out there – and that sticks. There is so much space for posts like these ones, of relatively little substance with cheerleading slogans, celebrating white, straight, cis-gendered women, and very little space for real conversations about the work that feminists need to do to be inclusive, and intersectional. I’m talking about bell hooks’ definition of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, because from what you see on tumblr, these posters really only seem to be challenging the “patriarchy” part of the formula. Which needs to be challenged, indisputably! But it’s not enough to JUST challenge the patriarchy, over and over and over.

please go read it, and comment over there. i’d love to talk more about my ideas on these issues.

so! in short, as you can see i’ve been writing about a whole range of feminist issues these days, not all pertaining to fashion. i have lots of great posts more centered on specific questions about fashion in the works for the spring, ranging from the standard outfit posts to an update on the two year anniversary of the critical fashion lover’s (basic) guide to cultural appropriation.

thanks for reading!

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