Tag Archives: gender

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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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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working clothes: how your job changes how you dress

earlier, when was at work, i was listening to some tape i gathered earlier this week of some sound art installations. “what is that sound?!” i ask myself as i hear a high pitched squeaking.

my colleague listens back and guesses, “was there a mouse around?”

“no,” i insist. “there weren’t any mice around. it’s a sound art installation! that’s not part of it… it distracts your ear too much though.”

my colleague agrees, “yeah, you can’t use that.”

i know it’s not useable. but if only that squeaking weren’t there it would be great! disappointed, i think back… was i holding my microphone correctly? which one was i using? where was i aiming? what was that squeak?!

then, it hits me.

my shoes.

my awesome black and white dapper shoes i bought in mexico city two years ago.

they are the stylish source of the squeak.

black and white outfit worn by garconnierei’m practically kicking myself listening back to my tape. yes, those shoes looked good. yes, when i got dressed that morning i chose flats instead of heels, because i wouldn’t make too much noise walking around the gallery space. but i forgot that these shoes squeak, and didn’t even begin to think they’d ruin my sound.

it’s alright, though. i found sound from later on where they don’t interfere too much… but it was still a bit more work than it needed to be, simply because what i was wearing interfered with my job (which is often gathering sound and information).

this brings me to my next point: since i started working in radio more frequently, there have been a few very clear changes in what i wear. there are the more explicitly practical changes that have happened; i’m a big jewelry wearer, and i own more pairs of earrings than i can count. i feel like a beautiful locket or necklace can really make a boring outfit really bold, and i love when people ask me about them and i get to share the stories behind them.

when working in my daily life though, i’m often wearing headphones. listening back to tape, cutting it, recording. when i’m not, i’m often on the phone, making calls, trying to find stories or guests.

slowly but surely, earrings have migrated their way out of my daily wardrobe. i tried with all different pairs, studs, dangly ones, light-weight… but every time they interfered and made their way from my earlobes to my desk drawer. now, they feel like a “special occasion” type accessory… which is part of why i wore them everyday! to conquer that silly “daytime/evening” outfit crap! bummer.

necklaces? again, much like the squeaky shoes, they can make too much noise. bangles are out of the question.

nov 20thfunky pins on chunky old man cardigans? hrm. not sure. will people be more distracted by what i’m wearing, than what i’m asking?

this brings me to my next point. it’s not so much just accessories that either prevent me from doing my job comfortably, or effectively… it’s also how my clothing choices have evolved. depending on what story i’m covering, i’m increasingly conscious of how i want to – or should – present myself.

february 24th - detailspress conference at city hall? let’s go for the tied and true black and white. yeah, sure it’s a white dress shirt i’ve worn since 7th grade with stains from high school art classrooms, but i look professional in it. part of this is obviously that i’m still kind of a rookie, and that i’m a young woman who wants to be taken seriously. a fun pair of tights can be my way of putting a little spin on what i would otherwise see as a boring conventional outfit.

reporting on the occupy quebec protest in november? get your slick looking coat out of the closet, some practical gloves, warm clothes. don’t forget, you don’t want to be mistaken for one of the prostestors, you slightly reformed hippie activist! but OH SHIT. but you get assigned randomly very early one morning, because there’s a big change all of the sudden and you need to go RIGHT NOW? forget one glove, wear your ridiculously over the top fur trimmed coat, look kind of ridiculous. get photographed and be in the background of all the newscasts. feel awkward.

overall, it’s nothing to lose sleep over. but i’d be lying if i said it’s not something i think about before i get dressed in the morning to go to work. everyone does it to some extent, but i’m more interested in tackling the shift of someone who plays with fashion and how it relates to their (gender, sexual, class or political) identity, and how they feel they should dress depending on their line of work.

four panels from jenna b.'s interview clothes strip. click the image for the rest.

some of these are ideas that j. bee and i touched on earlier this summer, when talking about why we looked “good,” and the frustrations of dressing for job interviews. dressing “professionally” for the first time can sometimes feel like you’re trying to fool people. if you’ve had a punk phase, or followed any sort of subversive community’s fashion decree, you might feel like you’re selling out to “the man” by dressing like the “suits.” i think i felt that a bit more when i had my very first “professional” job, but there is definitely a balance to be had of still feeling like you’re dressing in a way that is “you” all while still being taken seriously. sometimes, that means keeping my neon 1960s mod dresses, sexy lace shirts, sequined skirts, and funky tights at the back of the closet (or just until friday night).

of course, i’m not the only one who has wondered about these weighty questions. i shared this article on tumblr a while back, but it definitely deserves reposting here. Q & A with dean spade on Queer Couture is mainly a discussion about the ten years since spade’s influential essay “Dressed to Kill, Fight to Win” for an ANTI-FASHION SHOW zine in 2002. what really struck me about spade’s reflections was how his work life affected how he presented himself, and his own struggles with that. it’s something i’ve been increasingly conscious of in the past two years, as i made the shift from student, to unemployed, to working in a somewhat more conventional “career” driven environment. here’s some of what spade had to say:

A big influence on my day-to-day fashion experiences is my job as a law professor.  When I worked at SRLP, I had to go to court and deal with government agencies and officials, and I wore a suit for those things, but my working space at SRLP was an office full of trans and gender non-conforming people.  Even though we all looked different from each other, I still felt affirmed while in the office, like I was among people sharing an oppositional approach to many appearance norms and thinking politically about how we look.  It was a big shift to start working in such a straight, upper-class, gender normative environment. It’s a drag to manage my perceptions of other people’s perceptions of me.  It’s exhausting.   I think that is why reading the tone of this old essay feels good—its affirming and relieving.

Because I spend so much time now in a very professional, gender normative work environment, I have to remind myself that I love weird people, I am weird, I want to be weird, and being normal is truly horrifying.  I’m thinking of that experience of seeing someone on the street or on the bus who is working some kind of weird, non-normative look and feeling some delight and relief, like the person’s existence is making space for you. I have often felt that way when I see other visibly queer or visibly trans people, or other kinds of rule-breakers.  It’s beautiful to see people taking those risks and its wonderful to have those moments of mutual recognition with a stranger in the midst of a hostile world. I think I appreciate those moments now more than ever, as I wander the hallways confronted with the gray business suits of professors and the university sweatshirts and Uggs of students. Sometimes I’m just blown away when I look around a classroom of 80 students and almost all the women have long hair and almost all the men have short hair. The level of norm abiding and of standardization should shock us.  It suggests the significance of the processes people go through to decide to make major departures from those norms.

my relationship to fashion in the workplace is quite different from spade’s for a variety of reasons, but i can relate to the crux of the argument. once a wierdo, always a wierdo. and if fashion was the one way you feel like you can express that wierdness, it can feel wrong to have it taken away from you… even if you’re the person taking it away, to some extent. for the most part, i’m still able to dress however i choose, and have felt lucky enough to have not had any rude comments made about some of my funkier outfits. i’m also thinking back to the first time i had to wear work uniforms in my early, crappier jobs, and how it encouraged me to be more adventurous every hour i didn’t have to spend behind the counter. quit your rambling, julia! you know i could go on and on about this…

i’m curious to know of your own thoughts and feelings about this, and how this varies from field to field. i’m sure the opposite happens, as well – where more straight-laced folks might feel pressure to dress funkier, say, if you work in an organic health foods store but like to wear a suit and tie. what have your experiences been with your sartorial choices and your field of work?

let me know what you think, and thanks for reading.

RECOMMENDED READING:

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