Tag Archives: politics

Material Mayhem

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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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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2011 in review

for those of you who have been following my adventures via livejournal for the past decade, you know i’m quite fond of taking the time to look back and reflect on the last year this time of year. it’s not so much about “the new year” for me, but moreso about taking stock of what i’ve accomplished in my private life in semi-public ways… my birthday is on the 26th of december, and one of the (few) advantages is that i feel more like i’m reflecting on my year than a compulsory calendar year pros/cons list, you know? i usually do that in friends-locked posts on livejournal, but this time around i thought i’d make a more “public” version.

on top of that, i’m also finding that as social media grows and changes, in the era of endless scrolling and constant connectivity, it’s really hard to find links you’ve shared over the year. so this is a combination of a personal archive for me and a best of the year for you! get ready! it’s a doozy. i’ve tried to keep it as fashion focused as possible, but you should know by now how all of my interests run into and over each other. enjoy!

january 2011

january

  • my best femme iris came to visit <3
  • delicious food and fun craft nights with sarah
  • celebrated my belated birthday with some of my all-time favourite people
  • went to visit simon’s aunt and uncle in their beautiful home in the country, walks in the woods

recommended reading:

  1. What is Glitter Politic? by Majestic Legay (january 11th, 2011)

february 2011
february

  • tried lots of winter survival tips, like writing letters and making mulled wine
  • had my fantastic family come visit for carnaval in quebec city
  • participated in fa(t)shion february

recommended reading:

  1. fa(t)shion february and unfashionability by j. bee at sassyfrass circus (February 1st, 2011)
  2. living single at crunk feminist collective (February 7th, 2011)

march 2011
march

  • played with the new 35 mm holga camera karina gave me (as pictured above and in april, may, june, july photos)
  • went to the sugar shack!
  • really really wanted to chop all my hair off
  • read a whole lots of zines

recommended reading:

  1. Helpful tips: How not to be a boorish body-policing jerk by Leslie Kinzel (March 22nd, 2011)

april 2011
april

  • torn between my desire to devote myself entirely to writing and journalism… and being paid a living wage.
  • bike rides and visits to lévis to see sarah
  • thinking a lot about apartment renovations
  • working really hard!

recommended reading:

  1. On Punk Pants: Duration, Devotion and Distinction by mimi thi nguyen at Threadbared (april 4th, 2011)
  2. passive aggressive status updates: a fine example of girl hate by amber forrester at fight boredom! (april 27th, 2011)
  3. I was here then i wasn’t here then i went somewhere then i came back then i went away then i came back and now i’m going again to paris to read books and be alone by Jenny Zhang at Fashion for Writers (April 27th, 2011)

may 2011
may

  • visited my sisters in ottawa
  • saw austra and bumped into an old friend from 8th grade! isabelle!
  • met amber at slutwalk in montreal
  • hahaha “planked”

recommended reading:

  1. The Faux Vintage Photograph by Nathan Jungerson at The Society Pages (May 11th, 2011) *** this may be my favourite piece of non-fiction writing of the year****
  2. Slutwalk March or not march by Harsha Walia at Rabble (May 18th, 2011)
  3. Things to do if you are a hustling class artist or other person with no trust fund or much of an economic safety net by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (May 23rd, 2011)

june 2011
june

  • launched three major projects i had been helping work on since the fall
  • fell in love with biking once again
  • was kind of bummed about sarah leaving, but decided to make the best of it
  • took so many rolls of film!
  • spent a lot of time thinking about and planning a certain incredible event

recommended reading:

  1. Pointing out small-scale problems at better living through beyoncé (June 3rd, 2011)
  2. Understanding Vancouver’s Hockey Riot by Dave Zirin at the Nation (June 16th, 2011)
  3. Communities of care, organizations for liberation by Yashna Maya Padamsee (June 19th, 2011)
  4. wedding day as a celebration of love, not of coupledom by me at simon et julia (June 21st, 2011)

july 2011
july

  • left my job at exmuro feeling satisfied and accomplished
  • chopped off and donated 14 inches of my hair
  • made my very first radio documentary on that very subject
  • had dinner with and was reinspired by neil bissoondath

recommended reading:

  1. Sustainable Style Series via jesse anne o (july 26th, 2011)

august 2011
august

  • had the most incredible party of my life aka got married!
  • saw so many wonderful people, morgan, my sisters, everyone
  • slow danced with nicole brossard
  • went for a roadtrip in the eastern townships

recommended reading:

  1. Moving toward the ugly: a politic beyond desirability by Mia Mingus at Leaving Evidence (August 22nd, 2011)

september 2011
september

  • started working nearly full time in radio + loved it
  • beginning of my weekly writing dates with karina at librarie st-jean
  • biked 60 km with simon!
  • went without power for nearly eleven days (!!!) after post tropical storm irene

recommended reading:

  1. An Open Letter to my local Hipstersby Sarah Hunt at Media Indigena (September 20th, 2011)
  2. Urban Outfitters is obsessed with Navajos by Adrienne Keene at Native Appropriations (September 23rd, 2011)
  3. Unintentionally Eating the Other by Minh-Ha T. Pham at Threadbared (September 12, 2011)
  4. Antifeminist Frills by Eline at A Fluffy Blog (September 22, 2011)
  5. Fashion is a feminist issue by Greta Christina (September 2nd, 2011)

october 2011
october

  • celebrated karina’s birthday
  • first halloween in ages i didn’t dress up (i was sick & busy)

recommended reading:

  1. Occupy Together in the age of conspiracy by Syed Hussan at Rabble (October 13th, 2011)
  2. Fauxgress Watch: “Born this way” by Rachel at Social Justice League (October 10th, 2011)
  3. An Open Letter to Urban Outfitters on Columbus Day by Sasha Houston Brown at Racialicious (October 10th, 2011)
  4. Fat babes illustrated by Natalie at Definatalie (October 23, 2011)

november 2011
november

recommended reading:

  1. Not every girl is a riot grrrl by Lindsay Zoladz (November 16th, 2011)

december 2011
december

  • visited trenton for the first time of the year
  • took a lot of time for myself
  • said goodbye to my best friend karina as she headed off to sudbury
  • celebrated my champagne birthday with lots of sequins and glamour and fun

recommended reading:

  1. Why the “Native” Fashion Trend is pissing off real Native Americans by Lisa Hix at Collector’s Weekly (December 1st, 2011)
  2. Make your own stuff by Maranda Elizabeth (December 3rd, 2011)
  3. “Hello, I Love you” or “Why Fashion Blogging Smells like Raw Fish” by isabel at hipster musings (December 23rd, 2011)

phew! what a year. a new pair of glasses, three haircuts, tons of babes and incredible amounts of personal challenges and accomplishments. it took me way longer than anticipated to put that together. i’ll be sharing my favourite music of the year elsewhere in the next month or so, and best things i’ve read/seen in 2011 but i think those articles should sate your palates for the time being.

what were some of the best things you read or saw this year? i love lists! share yours with me. here’s one of my all-time favourites:

Woody Guthrie’s 1943 “New Years Rulin’s.” Found in one of his journals dated January 31st, 1942.

Woody Guthrie’s 1943 “New Years Rulin’s.” Found in one of his journals dated January 31st, 1942.

goodbye 2011! hello 2012!

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what did kate wear: royally reinforcing gender stereotypes

i expected a lot of things when i moved to québec city. among them included: longer winters, lots and lots of french, gorgeous centuries-old trees in the middle of an historic city, a harsher job climate for a semi-bilingual person such as myself.

québec city in january 2009

two and a half years later, i am now fluent in french (only have a slight accent and make fewer and fewer mistakes) but still forget some québécois cultural standards. around this time of year, i’m reminded of the little things that add up: st-jean baptiste as “la fête nationale” on june 24th, everyone getting a day off. also, that july 1st is moving day in this gorgeous province, not “canada day” as it is known in the rest of the country.

one thing i hadn’t been told about (and hadn’t even thought about) was that québec is a very anti-monarchist/royalist city.

in early june, i was reminded of this fact when i saw these posters popping up around my neighbourhood. the posters read “William dégage!” (William, go away!) and feature an image of a married couple sitting atop a crown. information about where to protest was featured prominently below, and all were welcomed to join.

if you had your television/radio/internet turned off in early july, you may be wondering, william who? but if you’re canadian and consume mainstream media, you’ve most likely been aware that the “royal couple” had a 9-day visit to canada and continued with a short trip to the united states. and if you live in the province of québec, you probably know about that bunch of people weren’t very happy that the royal couple was in their neck of the woods.

when it was announced that the royal couple would not only visit Ottawa, the symbolic nation’s capital on Canada Day, but also Québec, Prince Edward Island, Yellowknife and Calgary, reaction in Québec was swift. a member of the national assembly, Amir Khadir, pointed out the absurdity of paying millions of (tax-payer) dollars for non-elected officials to basically have a fully paid honeymoon across the country. he even went so far as to call them “parasites” and was one of few public figures to publicly question the role that the British royal family plays in Canadian politics. a small group of separatists, the Réseau de Résistance Du Québec planned to protest their visit (but really, kate and will shouldn’t take it personally, as this has happened many times before).

so, what does this have to do with fashion? at first glance it would seem like not a whole lot. but when we scratch the surface, an interesting picture emerges. here’s where “hats for kate” come in:

What does a stylish British princess wear when visiting Canada? It’s been 20 years since the last royal visit to Canada by William’s parents, and while much remains the same, a lot has changed. To help relate to Kate’s first official royal destination, we commissioned hatmakers to design high fashion ‘Canadian’ hats for Kate. Because we all love hats!

sounds innocuous enough, right? let’s take a look at some of their creations:

the "maple beatrice" hat from hats for katehats for kate - road to avonlea

the maple beatrice and the road to avonlea, okay! yeah, those might work…

oh, but wait… what’s this? Tar and Feather? To mark the day Canada achieved infamy when a flock of ducks mistook a massive toxic lake in the tar sands for a good place to land… and Bully the Beaver? Canadians are polite, eh? Well, lately, not so much. In fact, from lobbying against EU fuel standards to hindering international climate talks, Canadians are getting downright nasty defending the oil industry.

okay, so perhaps this isn’t just a genuine bunch of milliners trying to get a famous face to wear their goods… but their convincing kate middleton doppleganger might lead us to believe otherwise. hats for kate is hoping to draw attention to the fact that canada’s environment record has gone drastically downhill in the 20 years since the last royal couple visited. they’re also drawing links between UK companies that drill for oil in the Alberta Tar Sands. but with this witty and subversive activist campaign, not only are they sending up the tradition that british royalty have a fondness for hats, they’re calling attention to the fact that, chances are, the mainstream media would write ad nauseum about what kate middleton decided to wear… without ever actually talking about the relationship the UK has to Canada (historically or today).

you might wonder, what does a fashion lover (albeit a critical one) like myself have against talking about a woman’s fashion choices? as i’ve talked about before in my article about red carpet culture, situations like these fuel the illusion that what a celebrity wears somehow gives you an idea of what kind of person they are, and can serve to render them more accessible (or more elite, depending on the desired result). in this case, we are talking about what a rich privileged woman is encouraged to wear, based on politics, neutrality, and of course a team of stylists. the way the media talks about her “clothing choices” propagates the illusion that everyone can look/dress as nicely as celebrities and royality.

but back to hats for kate: what a campaign like this one does effectively is use the royal couple’s recent wedding and tourism adventures around north america as an opportunity to call into the question the complicated relationship between the UK and Canada. unfortunately, across mainstream media outlets, all we heard about in regards to the royal visit was the rantings of celebrity-style accounts from crowd members. when asked why they waited in the rain for hours, the response was more often than not “i just wanted to see them in real life, i only see them on tv.” when journalists held the microphone themselves, they often referred to the “special” relationship the UK has with Canada – the words “former colony” or “British empire” were completely absent.

but now that the royal couple have left canada and the dust has settled, i feel comfortable enough passing a few judgements. Kai Nagata hits the nail on the head with this commentary on what he calls the “Kate and Will Show”:

Wall-to-wall, breaking-news coverage of a stage-managed, spoon-fed celebrity visit, justified by the couple’s symbolic relationship to a former colony, codified in a document most Canadians have never read (and one province has never signed). On a weekend where there was real news happening in Bangkok, Misrata, Athens, Washington, and around the world, what we saw instead was a breathless gaggle of normally credible journalists, gushing in live hit after live hit about how the prince is young and his wife is pretty.

what did canadians learn during the royal couple’s 9-day, $1.4 million dollar visit? what did we hear, over and over and over? oh, they are young! they are handsome! they are nice to look at! the prince landed a helicopter (which you can see here in this incredibly boring video) and kate wore this, this, and this. we hear what the prince did and said, and we hear about how the princess looked.

as always, we see (hypergendered, heteronormative, active=male, passive=female) stereotypes at play in the coverage of the royal visit. we talk about what prince william has to say and do, and we talk about what kate middleton wore. what i find most amusing is that the people behind Hats for Kate had the foresight to know that this is what the media coverage would look like when they put together their subversive campaign. unfortunately i didn’t see it picked up anywhere other than social media networks like twitter and facebook.

in the end, honestly? part of me feels contradictory in even writing about the royal visit; personally i don’t give a rat’s ass about the monarchy, to the point where i like to pretend they don’t even exist (blissful ignorance?). but perhaps when someone types “kate middleton honeymoon visit fashion” they’ll stumble upon this little piece of critical thought and think a bit differently next time round. or hey, it could inspire future activist campaigns. who knows.

THE ROYAL CANADIAN VISIT

ROYALTY AND FASHION

HATS FOR KATE

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