Category Archives: self-portraits

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

halloween 2012: kiki de montparnasse in emak-bakia

film stills of man ray films
[heads up: there is an animated gif at the end of this post!]

i must admit, i was feeling a bit overworked and uninspired around halloween this year. i realized about a week before halloween i hadn’t really planned anything ahead of time, and was dogged by the fact that so many of my dream costumes reference ridiculously obscure early cinema or 1970s performance artists. this lead to me briefly debating choosing something super recognizeable as a costume instead… but after looking back at my costumes over the past six years, and remembering what it is i truly enjoy about this holiday (instead of focusing on what i hate about it) i settled on something.

in the end, i decided i wanted to have an excuse to cut my bangs (which no one even noticed!) and to once again not give a shit if anyone “got” my costume. i also spent a fair bit of october re-watching some of my favourite silent films. i don’t know what it is about this time of year that just feels perfect to watch the world in black and white.

it was after re-watching Emak-Bakia that it came to me. Emak-Bakia, (basque for Leave me alone) is a 1926 film directed by Man Ray. “Subtitled as a cinépoéme, it features many new and innovative filming techniques used by Man Ray, including Rayographs, double exposures, soft focus and ambiguous features.” one of its stars also happens to be one of my icons.

so a simple but still creepy costume idea popped into my head: it still fell into my category of dressing up as my dream women of the past, all while still being slightly off-kilter, a bit unnerving. without further ado, here is my transformation from julia to kiki de montparnasse in emak-bakia.

on/off

makeup step 2
steph did my awesome eyelid makeup after i botched several attempts… pretty tough to do yourself

emak-bakia
ta-dam! the end result.

03black

black and white witchy women
steph dressed up as a black and white witch, which was incredibly impressive.

silent film stars and witches collide
silent film stars and witches collide!

we were a bit disappointed by some of the halloween parties we checked out, so we just decided to wander around the city a bit. it was a blustery fall night, so perfect for wandering near our favourite cemetary…

cimetière st. matthew

06steph-julia-cute

06steph-julia-cute2

06moon
the moon was almost full, the cemetary gates were locked, so off we headed home.

the original inspiration:

and the result:

julia dressed up as kiki de montparnasse in emak-bakia for halloween 2012

we were a bit underwhelmed by most of the costumes we saw out and about. aside from one particularly well-done “1980s grade school class picture” costume no one really stopped me in my tracks. a lot of people playfully chide me for choosing obscure costume ideas, but it is tough to find something equal parts creepy and crowd pleasing. i’d rather just go for something that tickles my fancy in the end.

also, if you’re new around here and haven’t seen my halloween costumes from the past, they are all up on flickr. check it out!

what did you dress up as? what were the best halloween costumes you saw this year? leave photos and links in the comments!

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Filed under halloween, quebec city, self-portraits

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

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

in my city: naked ladies and student strikes

in mid-april, we had a mini heatwave in québec city and were luckily able to take full advantage of it. simon and i dusted off our bicycles and took a lovely ride around our city. one of our stops was at our favourite québec city art gallery, galerie morgan bridge. their latest expo was in conjunction with festival de la bande dessinée francophone, and featured sketches and drawings by artist jimmy beaulieu.

jimmy beaulieu’s art is right up my alley: his books tend to be filled with colourful pencil crayon sketches…. of lots of gorgeous representations of queer women. i’d browsed some of his books at some of my favourite bookstores, but never had the cash to take them home. this exhibition might be the turning point for me though – there’s something his style and his characters that really draws me in, aesthetically and politically. i was thinking out loud to simon as we admired the art on the walls that even though these were all drawings of naked (mostly lesbian) women, drawn by a straight guy, for some reason it didn’t feel exploitative or lewd. i must admit i don’t have anything to back me up on that other than just my gut feeling, but it’s true. perhaps it’s because, as i’ve been discussing with friends ad nauseum these days, we’re starving for representations of ourselves. perhaps it’s just nice for me to see drawings of people who look like me and my friends. perhaps that’s part of beaulieu’s intentions… perhaps not.

(i’m only posting his slightly less… nsfw sketches here, but check out his website and poke around)

as simon and i enjoyed the exhibition and admired the great fit of pink and black painted on the largest wall space, alex lemay, who runs the galerie morgan bridge, informed us it was a happy accident of sorts: the exhibition beforehand had called for pink walls, and instead of having to paint over it twice, they incorporated it into the expo.

i was tempted to purchase this piece for simon – he kind of has a thing for brunettes with glasses.

but it wasn’t just the framed pieces on the walls that tickled my fancy – it was the whole atmosphere of the space. with so many sexy images on the wall, the cozy cast-iron bed was a wonderful touch.

there was a subtle hint in the expo that beaulieu’s work – although pretty – is not without substance. take a closer look at the bed: a red square pillow placed there hints at political solidarity. you might have no idea what i mean: what the fuck does a red pillow mean, politically? if you haven’t already heard, that red square has become the symbol for support and solidarity with the student strikes in québec. for the past 12 weeks, student unions around the province have been striking in opposition to the provincial government’s proposed university tuition hike of 75% – which works out to 1,625$ – over the next five years. at different points over the last two months, over 300,000 students have been on strike, and hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets. but it’s not just students – as police brutality and arrests has increased, so has support for the movement. most wear a small piece of red fabric pinned to their clothes with a safety pin, and others have taken to spraypainting red squares on sidewalks and buildings.

être contre by jimmy beaulieu

the red pillow in beaulieu’s exhibit was not a mere example of tokenism – he’s been busy these days producing art around and in response to the student strikes since february. he’s among one of the many artists who have been speaking out in support of the students and has been highly critical of the incidents of police brutality – as shown in his piece “hâvre de paix” seen below.

havre de paix by jimmy beaulieu

havre de paix by jimmy beaulieu

as you may have noticed if you follow me on twitter, the student strikes – and debates around them – have really heating up here in recently. it’s kind of astounding how many protests (often 2-3 a day), debates, beatings and arrests have happened over the course of the past two months, and it’s only quite recently that the media outside of the province has been covering it.

+1625?

i must say i’m not the most informed on the events – i’ve been away and unplugged for most of april, taking advantage of not working as a journalist right now – but i’ve had the chance to read a handful of interesting articles on the questions being raised by this movement. check out the zine jimmy beaulieu and many other great québécois artists have contributed to here. and here are some of the best reads i’ve found about the strike. comment and add your own if you’ve seen any great ones!

recommended reading:

in french:

twitter hashtags about student strikes:

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Filed under personal, quebec city, self-portraits

a love letter to internet friends

in an era which increasingly gives the impression of connecting people around the world thanks to social media, i often can’t help but wax poetic of the days before the facebook like button. when i say that, i mean i long for a time when you’d actually have to use words and string together a sentence to express affection for someone, or someone’s ideas, online. or hell, let’s not stop there! i know i’m not alone in finding myself longing for the days before facebook, before 140 character limits… we could go on and on, tracing back to myspace-friendster-livejournal-message boards-chat rooms all the way back to the days of chain letters and pen pals. personally, i like to think i’ve kept a relatively healthy mix over the years, keeping my favourite old fashioned traditions alive alongside the latest, greatest social technology innovation.

we don’t call it “social media” for nothin’. while most would think of twitter and facebook as the first time we began to have online access to people they already knew in “the real world,” more seasoned internauts like myself know that there were online communities long before that. finding that balance between mediating (and valuing) online relationships alongside the ‘real’ ones has sometimes meant breaking “the fourth wall” and shifting some of those internet friendships into face-to-face ones. a little known fact (in our “real life” circles) is that i met one of my dearest friends, iris, via livejournal, and knew each other online for probably a good year before we had the chance to meet. and that’s when we lived in the same town!

there are countless examples of friendships that would have never had the chance to exist had it not been for these newfangled technologies. when i travelled to mexico city in july 2010, i told my friends online and asked for recommendations of what i should see and do. teresa, a livejournal friend who has lived there for the better part of her life, suggested we meet up and warmly welcomed me to the city she calls home. i’m also more than thrilled to be meeting one of my longest online friends, andrea, when she comes to visit canada this fall.

but of course, travel budgets remain limited and the fact that many of my favourite people live all around the world will hinder those ambitions. not to mention that not every online friendship can – or should – become a face to face one.

letter to karina

until there’s teleportation, though, there remains the good old fashioned postal service.

there’s something overwhelmingly wonderful – and slightly surreal – about internet friendships that make jump from digital screens to the more tactile “real” world. when short emails and comments evolve into exchanging bonafide letters in the mail, or even sharing things we’ve made especially for each other. yes, an 8tracks mix can be quite convenient, but i will never be as fond of a playlist on something i have to log into as i will be of a handmade mix cd, with a specially selected cover made just for me, the sharpie ink scrawled in unfamiliar handwriting.

photograph of package from emily

this winter i had more than a few lovely people i affectionately refer to as “internet friends” cross that line, in the best possible of ways.

i can’t recall when emily and i crossed the line from mutual online admiration from afar to full-fledged internet friendship, but it’s been a while. i first came across her music selections shared on tumblr, paired with beautiful found photographs always sourced back to various beautiful flickr accounts.

screen cap of anonymous emily's tumblr featuring a film still of louise brooks

screen cap of anonymous emily's tumblr featuring a film still of louise brooks in diary of a lost girl

i fell in love with some new voices, learned everything i know about gospel hymns, and definitely let my imagination carry me away trying to imagine who was behind the blog. an old grey-haired, spectacled archivist who spends his day pushing paper and longing for the days of the dewey decimal system, but sharing his true love of the music he grew up listening to online? or perhaps someone closer to my age, and more closely resembling me: just sharing what they love online in their spare time.

in the end, it turns out it was closer to the latter. after a while my curiosity got the best of me, and i asked her for her personal tumblr and now we’re friends on facebook, follow each other on twitter & 8tracks. she used to live in ottawa, around the same time i visited often since an old lover’s family lived there. i’m sure we haunted the same vintage shops and bookstores. recently, she opened an etsy store and i fawned over so many of the beautiful dresses. when one showed up in my size, i sent her a message letting her know i wanted to buy it. emily, the thoughtful soul, surprised me with it as a gift! not only a vintage dress, but with a wonderful letter and mix cd.

the dress from emily's etsy shop "the patsy" paired with my spats!

the dress from emily's etsy shop "the patsy" paired with my spats!

a lot of what emily had to say in the letter reminded me of this post, “rescuing garments and the history of clothes,” about an etsy store which placed a fair amount of emphasis on the stories behind the vintage dresses they sold.

receiving emily’s package coincided with another piece of mail i had been waiting for: a package from another precious internet friend, mccall. mccall and i have a very long and storied internet friendship. i vividly remember the start: i shared a polaroid in a livejournal polaroid community, and paired it with lyrics to a cocorosie song. she told me she liked it, and added me as a livejournal friend. we were both active members in fashion, photobooth, and polaroid livejournal communities and actively commented on each other’s posts over the years.

i’ve see her hair long, short, i’ve followed her friendships and loved the way she wrote about sylvan, shares her beautiful stories, photographs, drawings, and collages. any way i try to write about our relationship fails to do it justice, but suffice to say we were long overdue to share tactile things with each other.

untitled by mccall johnson

untitled (mixed media collage) by mccall johnson

the overwhelming sense i got from both of these gifts was the equal parts comforting and unnerving feeling that these people truly knew me. whether that is an illusion or not might never be shattered, and that’s okay. it’s something i’ve been conversing with friends about lately, over the pros and cons of sharing your life with strangers online – most remain strangers, but convince themselves that they do know you based on what you chose to share online. that is a whole other can of worms altogether, but definitely something i’ve been thinking about more and more these days.

livejournal icon for friends-only posts

there are countless people whose blogs i follow who i once shared quite intimate online moments with, largely thanks to more private “locked” options. over the years, i witnessed people thousands of miles away from me change and grow, and i revelled in the privilege of being given permission to come along for part of the ride, albeit in a passive role.

moving from our online journals and diaries to very public blogs has often meant severing a lot of those older internet friendships – intentionally or not. some of us have outgrown the novelty of sharing our lives with strangers online, and disappeared without a trace. but most of us will continue to use the internet in some way, shape, or form to share our lives, our stories, our art and our work.
in my case, i feel like my life is so much richer and fuller because of some of the incredible people i had the chance to get to know online. as grateful i am for my “real life” friendships, some interests that couldn’t really have been fostered otherwise flourished online. wherever i was, as long as i had an internet connection i had a community at my fingertips.

they were some of the people who encouraged me most in all different kinds of my endeavors, both “real life” and online. people who have my blog featured on their blog roll, or who’ll mention me in interviews. i think back to the time a still-unknown stranger sent me many thoughtful gifts when i had been elected editor of my university paper. i’ll always remember the mix cds and postcards people from new york, australia, and portugal sent me when i was lonely and heartbroken in the summer of 2007.

so consider this only part of my love letter to you, the digital part.

olivia, i know i still owe you a decent thank you after that gorgeous letter you sent me last winter.

amber, i’ve got a package and long-overdue letter sitting on my desk begging to be stamped and mailed to you, not to mention hopes of a montreal visit this summer.

meredith, i know upstate new york and quebec city aren’t as far as we make it seem.

and if we haven’t met yet, (i’m looking at you maddie) we both know that an opportunity will present itself sooner or later.

and if it doesn’t?

there’s always the internet.

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Filed under digital/online culture, fashion, personal, self-portraits, vintage