Category Archives: Uncategorized

2014: Year in Review

Phew. This one’s a doozy.

Some standout things from 2014: I travelled more than I ever have before – a trip to Copenhagen in the spring, Gaspé in the summer, and Paris in the fall. I also spent more time alone in my own city, and think I got better at finding the joy in that.

I saw three of my all-time favourite artists – Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Knife, St. Vincent – and enjoyed each performance in different ways. I was reinvigorated by live music in a way I hadn’t been in years. It felt good.

As I noted earlier, I also spent far less time online. I’ve pretty much stopped talking outfit photos altogether – which may not sound like such a big deal, but this is coming from someone who used to faithfully contribute to #ootd groups, almost daily, for months. That takes dedication and diligence! It’s just not my thing anymore.

Now for the nitty gritty. If you’re a longtime reader, you know how this goes. If not, it’s pretty straightforward: scroll to see 12 pictures of my face, accompanied by a brief summary of what went on in my life that month, paired with recommended reading/listening.

If you’re new here, here’s 2013 – 2012 – 2011.

I put three stars next to the pieces I find ***Flawless.

January

A woman wearing glasses looks upwards. A banner painted on the wall reads FEMME, which means woman in French but also femme as in queer as in gay ;)

Recommended Reading

On repeat: Sylvan Esso – Coffee

February

A selfie of the author wearing a Doctorak t-shirt that is a punk design of Deleuze and Guattari

  • Mourned the loss of Stuart Hall, revisited some of my foundational texts/artworks
  • Was pretty shaken up by the murder of Loretta Saunders
  • Was pretty enraged by Woody Allen apologists

Recommended Reading

On repeat: Cloudbusting (Kate Bush cover) by Benoit Pioulard and The Body Electric by Hurray for the Riff Raff

March

A selfie taken in my living room, with the opening credits from Věra Chytilová's 1966 film Sedmikrásky

A selfie taken in my living room, with the opening credits from Věra Chytilová’s 1966 film Sedmikrásky

  • Vera Chitlova died. Rewatched her films.
  • Went to meet up with best friend Morgan in Copenhagen
  • Went to see Angel Olsen together <3
  • Started using Instagram
  • Was pretty overwhelmed by stories of murdered and missing Indigenous women across Canada
  • Loved the resistance online that took shape in the form of #sealfies

Recommended Reading

On repeat: Perfect Pussy (also listen to this interview with the Arcade, so good!)

April

The author posing at Le Knock-Out on Record Store Day 2014 with her copy of Singer Songer by Michael Feuerstack

  • Saw and loved Come Worry With Us!
  • Was completely obsessed with Nathanael’s Sisyphus, Outdone.: Theatres of the Catastrophal like nobody’s business
  • Made a short film
  • Wanted the endless winter to end

Recommended Reading

On Repeat: Babylon by SZA (feat. Kendrick Lamar) – We Fuckin’ Rule by By Divine Right – Real Thing by tUnE-yArDs

May

05-May

Recommended Reading

On repeat: Sharon Van Etten – Are We There (and for most of 2014) – Sylvan Esso – S/T – Downtown Boys

June

  • Fell back in love with my bike. Adventured.
  • Celebrated summer! Swimming! Outside!

Recommended Reading

On repeat: Habit by Ought

July

07-July

  • Biked to Wendake! (which is like 50 km aka impressive for me)
  • Went to see a lot of great live music – namely St. Vincent
  • Wrote this.
  • Thought a lot about this photograph, about violence. Read too much Sontag.

Recommended Reading

On repeat: Shinedoe feat. Karin Dreijer – Discourse My New Romance

August

08-August

  • Took care of myself by taking a summer vacation for the first time in 4 years. Summer! Vacation!
  • My heart broke for Tina Fontaine. Then again for Michael Brown.
  • Thought a lot about smashing the state. Read a lot to keep the bad feelings at bay.

Recommended Reading:

On repeat: Lauryn Hill – Black Rage

September

Julia posing next to her 1963 Mercury Meteor

Recommended Reading

On repeat: Ibeyi – River

Mirel Wagner – No Death

Tanya Tagaq – Animism

Jennifer Castle – Pink City

October

A film photograph taken of the author in CImetière St. Matthews in Quebec City

  • No getting around it, October was a no-good awful month.
  • Only good things I can think of include reading Men Explain Things To Me, loved it, wanted to lend it to everyone right away.
  • Left the country and the dread and joined my love in Paris.

Recommended Reading

On repeat: Grouper – Ruins – Ruth – Polaroid Roman Photo

November

10-November

  • Found the joy in solitude
  • Saw Mike Brodie’s photographs in Paris
  • Thought about Retheah Parsons.
  • Was infuriated by Eric Garner’s murderer going free, listened to the outragerelated to this.
  • Saw Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a band I had wanted to see for over a decade.
  • Felt mostly like there were so many things to be angry about.

Recommended Reading:

On repeat: The Weather Station – What Am I Going to do with Everything I Know

December

12-December

  • Won small successes at work
  • Relished in compliments
  • Started working on some long-term projects I have high hopes for in 2015

Recommended Reading:

On repeat: Seasons Change (Waiting on You) – Future Islands (Badbadnotgood reinterpretation)

Michael Feuerstack – Clackity Clack

julia-sunset summer-meteor-2014

Happy New Year.

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2014: Standing out from the pack

I reminisce that I was once a novelty. A novelty, at least, when it came to the fact that I shared my life on the Internet. I remember, over a decade ago, being the only person with a digital camera at a party in our parent’s basement. I remember the MSN messenger noises that would ping when people asked me when I was going to share the photos they saw me took, the ones they posed for. And I remember Photobucket (or shutterfly, or snapfish, or whatever now defunct photo hosting website I used at the time) crashing from the traffic. The dozen or so teenagers wanting to laugh at the digital photos I had taken only hours earlier, emailing them to the people who weren’t there, look at this, the novelty of the instantaneousness of the thing.

I also remember my sisters asking me after having read my blog, “how can you share so much of yourself with strangers?” The concerned voice of my parents, the emails from strangers about the audaciousness of it all. It felt harmless for the most part, but so good, too.

A screenshot of an old blog description, an awkwardly written teenage biography. The text shows broken links and broken image links.

Re-reading those dead blogs now, I can remember the feelings even more vividly, as the heat of embarrassment fades from my face. Fuck, it felt brash, it felt good, it felt original to a certain extent. And it felt necessary.

Things have shifted since then. For me, and for the Internet. Since 2010, at least, I have been joking about being the last of my friends (my generation? insert relevant emoji here) to not have a smart phone, and this remains true today. In recent years, I decided I didn’t want to swim in The Stream, as it had been dubbed. An apt term in many ways, but I often imagined it more as tsunami than a peaceful babbling brook.

I used to blame these factors – no cell phone, nostalgic almost luddite-leaning tendencies – for the disconnect. How maddening it is for me to try and understand virality as a measure of merit or quality, the thinkpieces… if you could call such thoughtless things something with the word think in the title, the megaphones for the masses which instead of fostering fruitful discussions often felt like a cacophony of idiocy. I would find solace in the idea that maybe I just didn’t “get it” because the Beast of the Internet had grown and evolved so much, and because my online habits, in many ways, hadn’t. I worried that maybe I had become the curmudgeon, shaking his fist at a screen because it didn’t reflect him, his face, his ideas, his values or beliefs.

A bright red megaphone emiting cursors (representing clicks) on a yellow background

Image by Oliver Munday for the New Yorker

Whereas I once felt like I was the first of my IRL friends to be on X platform (myspace, friendster come to mind), now I feel late to the party. Late to a party I wasn’t invited to, yet still I often found myself feeling beholden, obliged.

I didn’t like where I saw the Internet going, how I saw it being transformed as a tool. But I’m hardly above it all, and had grown so dependent.

So I shifted. I put my guard up. I succumbed, in many ways, to what is expected of online behaviour. I resisted in others. I typed out – and swiftly deleted – status updates about food or cats or overly emotional moments (positive and negative). I shared fewer and fewer of the thousands of photographs I take.

Instead, I put on an online game face. A mostly faceless online game face, really.

This is what I read, what I liked.

This is an image that strikes me, that I want to reblog.

This is a song that moves me, here are the lyrics (I needed this, I often say).

Here, here is a like or heart or a favourite to let you know I am reading, I am watching, I am here.

 

2014 is easily the year I shared the least of myself online. The fewest photographs, the lowest word count, the least personal. I measure this idea, this “sharing” of myself online, mostly in the public sense – the things I shared open and accessible to anyone who wants to see them. But the same could be said of the amount of emails sent, photos shared within smaller, more personal networks. (I was shocked to find I had only uploaded 36 photos from the year on Flickr, and those, namely for a dear friend who lives halfway across the country and doesn’t use Facebook.)

A screenshot of open tabs on a Google Chrome browser

This is the one thing that stands out to me, that creates a gulf, a rift, between all the other years I’ve stepped back from and taken the time to reflected on online. The lack. How hard it is to piece it all together, to map it out.

In past years, every December, I would spend hours poring over old livejournal or blogger entries, back when I used to write in my livejournal at least once (ONCE!) a day. It was a simple one stop shop for me. Not today. Today it is five or six tabs open, it is instagram/twitter/tumblr/facebook/soundcloud/etc. It is work email accounts, it is split personalities. Livejournal instead feels like a graveyard now. Mine, filled with the names of friends I no longer know, photographs of old lovers, the corpses of questions I asked myself, I asked out loud that have since been answered. In this, I am not alone. It has felt like a graveyard to many twenty somethings for more than half a decade now, so much so that we often joke about it on newer social media platforms, using hashtags, a tool that did not exist back when we used to email each other invite codes to create our very own novelty livejournal accounts.

These are among the multitude of things that struck me as I tried to map out 2014.

No, these feeling of not being able to/not wanting to keep up are not new.

But the feeling of repetitiveness, of sameness, of lost novelty, is.

A film still from Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936) showing Chaplin's character stuck in the gears of a giant machine

Sometimes I feel complicit. Complicit in the self-serving navel-gazing break-neck speed at which the Internet whirrs these days. The term “digital native” has dropped out of view but I think of how it felt like me, like a key aspect of my identity even though I’m not technically part of that generation. Sometimes I step back and look at the long term impact of the way the Internet has changed the way we communicate, the way we work, and how we are paid for that work. And when I do, I feel like I’m part of the machine, the same machine mocked by these satirical pieces.

I find solace in the way Jes Skolnik puts their finger on it here, articulating some of my apprehensions:

I am exhausted by clickbait media seeking to capitalize on the frustration of the marginalized by churning out thinkpieces (by often-terribly-paid freelancers, the labor exploitation of which is its own thing and has been elegantly written about by many; it is a seriously complicated issue, as any labor issue is, particularly in this economic context) which we are urged to share over and over until the next incident happens and then we share and share until we forget about the last thing and nothing gets solved. It is only reactive, only consumer-based (see: why talking about what cultural product is or isn’t feminist is exhausting too) and very little structural inequity often gets challenged.

Hearing someone else say it feels like a weight off my shoulders.

These reflections were all spurred on by the daunting task that has been looming these past few weeks: tomorrow’s year in review, recommended reading, which songs I was listening to. This ends up being more of a digital version of a diary, a filtered one but very diary-esque in spirit. This is what happened, these were the images and sounds and ideas I consumed, but this is how I felt, this is who I was, as well.

Selectively filtering through, pinpointing the things I want to remember and hold on to. Even though the links will die, the digital platforms they are hosted on will decay. Unendingly nostalgic Julia wants to remember, reminisce, before things have even ended/happened.

A screencap of the author's old livejournal account

What was new about 2014? What did I learn that I didn’t know before? At this distance, my nose still pressed against the glass, my head groggy from lack of sleep, it all feels like a foggy mess. When moments do come into view, when I look at images of police officers wearing shirts that read “I can breathe” – oblivious to the physical and psychological violence they enact – when I read about the most underreported horrors of the year… it all feels the same. Déjà-vu broken record cliché as fuck the same. The propaganda machine, distractify, how the social media sites feel even more effective at the spin of it all than old posters and radio broadcasts. The world is an awful place but a place where I have to live just the same. The sameness.

It makes me angry that the same issues, the same stories, the same dead bodies are the ones that stand out to me about this year. In August, I tweeted that this essay “broke my heart and haunted my dreams.” Sometimes I feel like that’s what the world did to me this year. By the same token, though, I rediscovered rage. The power of it, the empowerment of it. Rage expressed in music with voices like Perfect Pussy, New Fries, Run the Jewels. Rage expressed in art, in a rambling email to your best friend, in an essay you boldly share with millions of strangers on the Internet.

It’s all a balance, right?

Earlier this week, Nathan Jurgenson tweeted this which put some of this mess in perspective:

In my own attempt at slowing the blur, focusing in, some truths have emerged. In 2014, I shared very little of myself online – representations of my visual self. But I did not become cold. I was more frank face to face than I have been in years. I shared, I tried to amplify who was saying it better than I could. I was more intentional. I tried to take more time. I spoke less, I listened more. That’s really not so bad when you look at it.

A self-portrait of the author taken in a mirror. A half-dozen old alarm clocks are in the foreground.

Hopefully reading this, and tomorrow’s year in review, will make you feel like the world has slowed down just a bit.

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Filed under digital/online culture, personal, Uncategorized

2013: year in review

Two weeks into 2014, I’ve still got my neck craned, looking back on the year past. And in my mind, if writers and critics can publish their “best of 2013″ lists in November, I can publish mine a whole 2 weeks into the new year.

It’s times like these when I miss the days of faithfully writing in my (live)journal almost every day. I have definitely fallen out of the habit of dilligently documenting my life, but still relish in reflecting: stepping back at least once a year to take stock of my accomplishments, my failures. On what has changed, and what hasn’t.

2013 was eventful, to say the least.

If you’re a longtime reader, you know how this goes. Scroll down below to see 12 pictures of my face, accompanied by a brief summary of what went on in my life that month, paired with recommended reading/listening.

If you’re new here, here’s 2012 and 2011.

I put three stars next to the pieces I find ***Flawless.
julia-blue

January:

  • My cat Louise moved into my house and my heart
  • Dealt with a lot of stress at work
  • Was frustrated by a lot of political issues, namely media coverage of Idle No More, and you know, the usual I’m always writing about here.
  • Was completely enamored with Caroline Polachek for a hot minute

Recommended Reading:

02-Feb

February:

Recommended Reading:

I was babely in the month of March so you get two photos:

Julia poses in front of old books in Quebec City's historic Morrin Centre

feminist fuck you

March:

  • Said goodbye to a very important mentor in my (radio makin’) life
  • Admired the awesome new graffiti in my neighbourhood
  • Cheered on Simon has he published a phenomenal new book, Mélanie.
  • Cried my heart out when Jason Molina passed
  • Cut my hair real short again and had lots of feelings/questions about gender

Recommended Reading:

S0031986

April:

  • Visited my family in Trenton for the last time before they moved
  • Spent a lot of time thinking about place, home, dis/location
  • Was fascinated and terrified by rape culture, consumed far too much media about it…
  • Listened to excessive amounts of Mykki Blanco
  • Read that piece by Ariana Reines again and again and again
  • Enjoyed freakishly warm temperatures

Recommended Reading:

Such great heights

May:

  • Was really really pissed by tragedy in Bangladesh
  • Enjoyed my partner’s newly acquired 1963 Mercury Meteor a lot
  • Became really interested by sound art

Recommended Reading:

06-June

June:

  • Was pretty sad all the time
  • Thought a lot about this

Recommended Reading:

july 2013

July:

  • Worked a lot, challenged myself
  • Started spending too much time/money at the new record shop
  • Met Nadège
  • Went out lots of amazing little weekend roadtrips in our Meteor
  • Found my dream house for sale
  • Worked too much

Recommended Reading:

August 2013

August:

  • Iris came to visit
  • Went to Sappyfest (after years of saying I would, finally!)
  • Went swimming in the OCEAN
  • Drove more in one day than I ever had before (I learned how to drive in 2013!)
  • Got a flat tire
  • …and then spent the rest of the month working way too much.
  • Oh yeah! Hosted a lovely house show

Recommended Reading:

Septembre - Palais des Papes

September:

  • (proposed) charter charter charter charter (of “Quebec values”)
  • MARSEILLES!
  • Seeing Louise Bourgeois and Kiki Smith pieces in the Palais des Papes, par hazard
  • On my way back from France, a 5-day pit stop in Montreal
  • Going to see the expos at Musée McCord with Karina, loved Wearing our Identity
  • Spent a lot of time thinking about pop culture criticism

Recommended Reading:

trois-rivieres

October:

  • Worked a lot.
  • Saw La Corriveau’s cage
  • Read… a lot.

Recommended Reading:

novembre

November:

Recommended Reading:

dec

December:

  • Went to Toronto for work for the first time ever
  • Met some of my radio heroes
  • Spent (quality) time with great old friends
  • BEYONCÉ
  • Accomplished some major goals
  • The Atlantic called me “an inquisitive Canadian researcher
  • Walked along my favourite beach in Petawawa on a winter’s night with my parents

Recommended Reading:

Happy new year.

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Bad Dancer/Good Living

I’ve been in a rut. A style rut, a blog rut. I feel like everything I have to say has been said by someone else, better, more quickly. Daunted by all of the things that should be written about, that deserve to be written about, yet never finding the (quality) time to actually put pen to paper (but I’ve tried to articulate this dilemma before).

To top that off, my sartorial documentation skills have fallen to the wayside… it is hard to believe there was a time, not so long ago, where I could be bothered to take decent photographs of my outfit for one hundred days straight (!). I still having been able to put my finger on why it feels… almost boring to take photos of myself now.

But messages from long-time readers and friends have reminded me: I didn’t carve out this online space for anyone but myself, and that’s part of what makes it special, and why it keeps drawing new readers month after month. A space to share my ideas, whether they be half-baked or fully sussed out. A place to share photos of myself, my outfits, my ideas about our relationship to fashion. Every post doesn’t need to be me slamming my fist on a pulpit, perfectly articulating complicated debates and issues. Shaking off the feeling of never being quite up to snuff is something I try to do in my day-to-day life, but it’s been challenging in a different way when it comes to applying the same ethic to à l’allure garçonnière.

Accept this post as a long-winded apology for my absence, and take away this token of my own way of motivating myself. Lately I’ve been trying to kick myself in the butt (not literally, because that would be far too complicated) to at least share something in this space.

And who better to inspire than Yoko Ono?

I watched this video probably 10 times the first day it was released.

The same week, on a Friday night, my friend Annemarie and I decided we needed to kick our less than great feelings to the curb, get decked out to the nines, and go out dancing. Can you tell who inspired my outfit?

Julia dancing with Annemarie and Yoko

baddancer

baddancer02

baddancer03

baddancer04

baddancer-timeline

baddancer-annema-01

baddancer-annema

Also, Annemarie wrote a great review of the bands we saw that night. Follow her blog A house down the road for wonderful music reviews.

Oh, and of course, I can’t leave you without a photo of the shoes I topped this outfit off with. What are short shorts without a pair of silver glittery tights and shoes to accompany it?

baddancer05

Treat yourself to a living room dance party, would ya? The world needs all the levity it can get these days.

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Filed under music, personal, quebec city, Uncategorized, what i wore today

Revisiting the politics of protest

Following politics closely has become pretty disheartening as of late. Between spying revelationsfederal mud-slinging campaigns and story after story of political corruption emerging from Quebec, I find my head in my hands on a weekly basis. “What the hell is going on,” I overhear people ask each other at bars, at work, in the streets.

And that’s just locally; staying on top of protests in Turkey, Brazil and Sweden is an even more daunting task. But it’s reminded me of the importance of civil liberties, of the never-ending fight for the right to speak out against governments in power, and how political changes are enacted.

Women Firewatchers’ by Lee Miller for British Vogue, 1940

Women Firewatchers’ by Lee Miller, 1940

One story in particular that made me want to bury my head in the sand (or is that criminalized now, too?) is an amendment to Canada’s criminal code. As of June 19th, the federal government has banned the wearing of masks during a riot or “unlawful assembly.” It’s not so much the ban (and the debateable purposefullness of it) that is shocking, but rather the penalties that may be incurred, and the vague language around what constitutes a “mask” and what constitutes an unlawful assembly.

Check out the discussion that took place re: act to amend the criminal code.  Michael Byers, Professor and Canada Research Chair, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia presented just some of the reasons why this change to the law is potentially dangerous:

Unfortunately, it is relatively easy for a peaceful protester to unintentionally find himself or herself involved in an unlawful assembly. The definition of an unlawful assembly in paragraph 63(1)(b) of the Criminal Code says that it is an assembly that “causes persons in the neighbourhood…to fear, on reasonable grounds that they will by that assembly…provoke other persons to disturb the peace tumultuously.” This is hardly clear and definitive and is therefore open to subjective and controversial determinations by the police.

But Byer’s warnings were for naught, since it is now law. Hardly a first in Canada, sadly: this comes on the heels of Montreal passing a law last May that banned wearing masks at public protests. But why? What inspired this change so that people wearing masks at protests may serve up to 10 years in prison for… wearing a mask at a protest? Let’s step back three years to revisit the original inspiration or reasoning behind this law: the G20 protests. The bill was sponsored by Conservative MP Blake Richards, and was introduced to Parliament in the wake of the G20 protests in Toronto in 2010, which he describes in detail.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own experiences while in Toronto three years ago, and how the literal policing of what people were wearing overwhelmed me at every turn. From black clothing, to pins with political slogans, to the reporting on “what not to wear” to avoid being “mistaken for a protester” and potentially attacked by police

Ceyda Sungur, a young Turkish woman wearing a bright red dress, holding a tote bag, is pepper sprayed by police in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park. (REUTERS/Osman Orsal)

Ceyda Sungur is pepper sprayed by police in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park. (REUTERS/Osman Orsal)

And it doesn’t just happen here: let’s look briefly to Turkey. The now infamous photograph of a protestor being pepper sprayed by police is best known by what she was wearing: the woman in the red dress. What would the reaction have been had she been wearing a mask, which wouldn’t be unheard of given how much pepper spray is being used at protests in Turkey? Why have some journalists reported her as an “innocent bystander” and not “angry protester”? How much of an impact does what she was wearing at the time have on our perception of what may have happened before or after the photograph was taken? Whether or not the viewer of the photograph assumed she deserved such brutality at the hands of police? 

Lately, I can’t help but remember being followed, harrassed and threatened by police when I was biking on the empty streets of Toronto three years ago. Remembering overthinking about what I had been wearing, why I had been targeted. Wondering if I would have “gotten off easy” had I been wearing black, had a bandana with me/on me, or wearing pins with political slogans. I was wearing a simple red summer dress that day, too.

I cringed when trying to re-read what I wrote about that years ago, but thought some of it was worth re-sharing with my readers, touching on issues that seem to be destined to resurface again and again. Here’s an excerpt from “Violent thugs dressed in black: anarchists or cops? policing protesters clothing at the G20 protests,” (originally published on June 29th, 2010)

Poster of resistance to the G8 and G20 in Toronto, June 2010

Fashion is political. Some other readers might be thinking that it is incredibly frivolous and altogether irrelevant to talk about things like “fashion” when over 900 people were arrested for voicing their opposition to the G8/G20 and all that it represents. These events, and the questions about what people were wearing on the streets of Toronto, are intrisically connected. What I really want to talk about here is the emphasis on the sartorial choices made by protesters, “average citizens,” members of the press and police officers during this weekend’s rampant opposition to the G20 summit in toronto and how it actively held a part in leading to such violation of human rights.

Let’s begin with some of the more obvious questions:

  • How does a protester dress? What does a protester “look like” and who decides what that is?
  • Practicalities: What a protester should wear when participating in peaceful protests and rallies to protect themselves from targeting, harassment, tear gas, pepper spray, etc.
  • On the eve of the G20/G8 summits, with a $1.3 billion dollar security pricetag, what are police told to look for and who are they told to target to “ensure security” and “maintain the peace?”
  • Policing and legislation around what people are legally allowed to wear on the streets of toronto as the G20 approached
  • Massive confiscation of black clothing items: what are the assumptions being made about what black clothing means and represents?
  • How do police present themselves? What are their “costumes” and how to they contribute to political posturing?
  • How to the police present themselves when acting as agent provocateurs and undercover/”plainclothes” officers?

Those are just a few of the ways in which fashion constitutes a very political and important dynamic of what went on in the streets during the G20 protests. The physical appearance of protesters and what they chose to wear was highly emphasized. It was used as a way to target public hatred and to strike fear in the hearts of the consumers of the media. That being said, few people are recognizing this. Hardly a peep has been made about these dynamics. The only things I have found about fashion and the G20 have been fluffy,  problematic articles published by the mainstream media.

Awful parody from The Star, June 2010: “This easy-to-wash cotton/polyester ensemble will definitely be noticed by police. An optional bandana is made with polyester to protect from noxious fumes, but it also pampers the protestor with the luxury of satin.”

If you google “g20 fashion” – surprise surprise – we are once again exposed the sexism inherent in the institutions the G20 system upholds and represents. There are dozens of stories about what the G20 leader’s wives wore on the “red carpet.” Was this a Hollywood premiere, or was it a gathering of world leaders meeting to make important decisions that have a global impact?! You can even vote “hit” or “miss.” Yeah, judge the First Ladies of the 20 wealthiest countries in the world based solely on what they wear. Sounds right to me. To make matters worse, female political leaders like the President of Argentina and the Chancellor of Germany aren’t safe from these insipid judgements either.
How lawyers should dress in order to avoid being attacked by protesters for wearing suits. Because we all know that was the main goal of protesters this weekend; to arbitrarily attack anyone wearing a suit. EDITED TO ADD: Note those two people in masks? Could serve up to 10 years in jail for that now. Doesn't matter if they're lawyers or not.

How lawyers “should dress” in order to avoid being attacked by protesters for wearing suits. Because we all know that was the main goal of protesters this weekend; to arbitrarily attack anyone wearing a suit. EDITED TO ADD: Note those two people in masks? Could serve up to 10 years in jail for that today. Feel safer?

Sifting through all of this garbage – which is very clearly designed to distract people from the reasons why the G20 is happening in the first place and why 25,000 PEOPLE WERE OUT IN THE STREETS VOICING THEIR OPPOSITION - all I could do was laugh. We can’t forget, however, about the ways in which “fashion” at the G20 was occurring in a very legislated and calculated way at the hands of police and the law.

The article in which the photos of lawyers “in disguise” is taken from, many of the quotes illustrate just how pervasive the emphasis on how dangerous clothing can be.

…Mr. Wearing, who is counsel to the law firm Ormston List Frawley, will be dutifully adhering to the “Summit Planning Guide,” a one-page safety tip sheet being circulated by landlords in downtown Toronto.“If you unexpectedly encounter demonstrators, you will be better treated if you are in jeans and a casual shirt than if you are in a business ‘power suit,” the guide advises.

…“Now that we look like demonstrators, how do we convince the police not to pepper spray or tear-gas us?”

These statements perfectly illustrates the ideas propagated by the mainstream media that:

  1. “Protester” might as well equal “violent terrorist”
  2. No protesters are lawyers, or any kind of respectable, powerful, suit-wearing folk
  3. Aaaand last but definitely not least fucked up: if you look like a protester, it’s your own fault for getting tear-gassed or pepper sprayed. As Mr. Wearing ponders, how could you convince police not to pepper spray you simply based on your appearance? There is an inherent assumption that if one looks like a protester, one deserves violence and repression at the hands of the state. This statement inadvertently admits that there is explicit profiling going on on the part of police. This in and of itself is not enough: the police have aditionally been manipulating the media, the citizens of toronto, and protesters to try and excuse their rampant targetting, attempts at repression and brutality.

To prove just how truly backwards these notions are, the article concludes with this wonderful nugget of propaganda:

“You don’t challenge that type of event,” he said. “You use common sense and stay out of the way.”

Unsurprisingly, the article does not discuss any of the hundreds of reasons why people are “challenging this type of event” and why people are refusing to “stay out of the way.” It is serving to explicitly propagate stereotypes not only of what a protester looks like, but that if you “look like that” it is your own fault for being targeted, potentially arrested, and brutalized by police. We see this sort of logic at work in rape culture as well, demanding to know what women were wearing when they were raped and engaging in victim-blaming.

What is important for us to address here is the policing of our bodies based on what clothing we choose to wear when out on the streets during a protest. For me, these negotiations are particularly complicated in addition to being totally fucked up. I don’t change how I dress when deciding to attend a protest from my regular dressing habits. This basically means that i take to the streets in dresses. While I don’t run the risk of, say, being mistaken for an undercover cop, I do encounter other issues. I am often forced to negotiate spaces based on my presentation and appearance. I know some other protesters might read me as a bystander if I am not actively engaged at an event, either leading a chant, holding a placard, or being part of the organizations who organize the rallies/protests. From a logistic perspective, it is often harder for me to approach other more “obvious” looking protesters to ask for information, such as where events are happening if they have changed at the last minute, information about arrests, organizations, etc. At times, I have felt obliged to prove myself as “one of them.”

These costumes and disguises worn by police are used to manipulate anyone who disagrees with the status quo into feeling unsafe if we are out in the streets, and helps those on the “good” side of police (in this case the G20 leaders, government officials, and citizens who have been sucked into the fear machine) to feel protected. In riot gear, police officers are completely stripped of any semblance of humanity. You cannot speak to them. You cannot look at them. You cannot interact with them. You cannot ask questions. All you are supposed to do is be afraid of them. The number of times we were in this crowd and thought we might be tear gassed (for standing there, peacefully protesting) was absurd and terrifying.

When the mainstream media is constantly misinforming people about these “thugs in black clothing reeking havoc on the city of toronto,” I can’t help but think about how much violence i saw go on entirely at the hands of thugs dressed in black clothing… emblazoned with the words “POLICE.”

…It is essential not to lose sight of what triggered these questions in the first place: why were people out in the streets of Toronto this weekend in the first place? What were the images the mainstream media showed us of what a protester looks like and wears? How do police use our physical appearances in an attempt to repress our voices and to manipulate fear in the public eye? and more generally, what does our clothing say about our beliefs? What clothing marks us as politicized, subversive, as challenging authority?

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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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Questioning the Meaning of “Ethical” Fashion

In late April, I received a thoughtful email from a long-time reader, and asked if I could share it and answer it publicly:
Hello Julia,

My name’s Dawn and I’ve been reading à l’allure garçonnière for years as well as following on LiveJournal for some time. I am writing to you today because I’m attempting to practice more of what I preach and end my support of clothing companies that sell pieces made in sweatshops as well as contribute to many societal issues.

My question is: do you just shop thrifted and vintage for everything? When I attempt to do that, I still feel that I struggle with finding non-Gap, H&M, Urban Outfitters, etc. brand clothing that was made in a way that I don’t want to support. Do you ever support some of these brands that you know use unethical business practices if the items are second-hand? Do you also support newer brands, and if so, have you ever shared which you do in a blog post or on a list somewhere? Do you have a knowledge base of brands that treat/compensate their employees ethically/don’t contribute to our mainstream warped views of beauty or do you do research before new purchases? (Sorry, that was a few questions in a row!).

I feel that finding new clothing that is made in a way that I support ethically is sometimes near impossible, and when it is it’s generally well out of my price range. As much as I’d love to deck myself out in sparkly couture that’s not my reality right now.  Also curious about everyday clothing items like bras/underwear, socks, tights, shoes, etc. I imagine finding some of these used might be tough (or weird?) and wonder which brands you feel are okay to support for items like this.

I’m also vegan and don’t wear any products that come from animals at all, so that makes things even a bit harder than they would normally be.

Any resources, thoughts or tips that you have or are willing to share would be appreciated. Thanks so much for your time and for sharing your writing with the world.

A longtime reader/supporter/fellow queer feminist,

-Dawn

A lot to get into here! Let’s break it down:

Do you just shop thrifted and vintage for everything?

Pretty much. Recently, I have stopped purchasing clothes pretty much altogether – new, vintage, thrifted or otherwise. This is due to a combination of factors: having accrued a wardrobe I know and love over the course of ten years (and staying relatively the same size), working full-time, and researching the (Canadian) fashion industry.

When I was younger, though, my initial draw towards thrifting was largely due to the fact that I loved being able to express myself through fashion – without feeling guilty about spending the small amount of money I had, or the guilt of buying new (creating waste, guilt over $$$) and potentially supporting brands that used sweatshops to produce their goods. When I was about 15 or 16, I had a particularly fierce anti-corporate stance, confident brand boycotts were the most effective tactic to employ. Also, I was never particularly enthused about the idea of wearing the same clothes as my peers.

Later in life, when I was underemployed, I had all the time in the world to thrift… but no money for anything other than food and rent. The funny thing about working a 9 to 5 – Monday to Friday schedule is that my free time doesn’t match up with the hours of the thrift stores in my town, and I just don’t have the time to scrounge the way I did five, ten years ago (as much as I love a good hunt). The small amount of new clothing I own falls largely into the category of “new to me” – mostly thrifted, aside from gifts and/or the occassional irresistible deal.

1940s British War Propaganda

1940s British War Propaganda

This year is also the first time I found myself a tailor. I brought a bag of dresses I had been holding on to but hadn’t been wearing for years because of varying small defects – the hem had fallen out, holes along the seams, etc. After swearing I’d find the time to mend them myself, a friend suggested a local tailor. The feeling of having “new” dresses from simply taking them to a local tailor and paying a small fee? Unreal! Highly highly recommended.

Short version to this question: I mostly buy thrifted and/or vintage, except for shoes and underwear.

Do you ever support some of these brands that you know use unethical business practices if the items are second-hand?

First things first: I think it’s a slippery slope to infer that by purchasing a piece of clothing (whether the item be purchased at their store, or second hand) that you are categorically endorsing everything that company does. This is something people of many varying political perspectives often infer, and it always slightly irks me.

“Support” here is the tricky element. Yes, I have purchased items of clothing from brands whose practices/advertising I despise. There’s at least one Urban Outfitters dress in my closet, and I used to love American Apparel’s thigh-high socks (I say “used to” because they changed designs, and also because I no longer live in a city with an AA store). This reminds me of part of a conversation I had with Jes Sasche back in 2010 about American Apparel. This is probably the clearest example of a brand that supports unions, decent wages for its garment workers… but then has questionable ad campaigns at best… while the company’s founder and CEO is known for sexual harrassing and assaulting models and employees at worst. I asked Jes for her thoughts on it, and it comes back to me quite often:

Me boycotting AA is ridiculous. You show me a fashion line that rocks my disability politics. None of ‘em do! I’ll wear what I want to, because my body, like everything else, contradicts itself.

There you have it: how do you define a clothing brand you want to enthusiastically support? You are a fan of the designer behind the brand? Do you buy things that you like, exclusively from companies that represent the same political perspectives as you? These questions are complicated even moreso when we add things like body politics, disability politics, whether you try to buy exclusively vegan, etc.

All of these conversations boil down to the question of how you define “ethical.” The Western conversation is endlessly dominated by “sweatshop = bad” or (often tinged with xenophobia) “jobs overseas = jobs taken away from my country” tone. Let’s dig deeper than that.

Does buying second-hand automatically mean buying “ethically?”

Another conundrum when it comes to second-hand: when you buy from a thrift store, the money does not go to brands or the companies that made the clothing in the first place – it goes to the thrift store or church or organization that is selling it. There are questions there, as a queer woman, about whether or not I want to be “donating” to certain charities that, say, endorse racist, sexist, or homophobic organizations. Those are the bigger questions I ask myself when thinking about where to thrift. But that’s a whole other can of worms…

I should also note: in my case, brand logos are never visible on the clothing I buy (if I were a t-shirts and jeans kind of person, this would be different obviously) so this isn’t really a question I ask myself.

Do you also support newer brands, and if so, have you ever shared which you do in a blog post or on a list somewhere?

Good question. Recently I’ve found myself really interested in Quebec-based brands, and Canadian companies that try to produce clothing – from the designs, to the sewing, to the selling – in Canada. I haven’t done enough research to attempt to compile a list, but that is definitely a project worth embarking on and I’m glad to be asked about this. Do you know of any fashion bloggers that do this? Leave a message in the comments!

Do you have a knowledge base of brands that treat/compensate their employees ethically/don’t contribute to our mainstream warped views of beauty or do you do research before new purchases?

This is another phenomenal question I wish I had the answer to! Generally speaking, I really don’t shop much so this isn’t something I encounter very often. That said, with basic online research skills, this could probably be relatively simple to do. Has anyone come across a resource list like this?

When it comes to vegan items, I’ve gotten most of my tips from friends. I follow some vegan fashion lovers online as well, and keep my eyes peeled. That said, a lot of the things I find in my online hunts are mostly made abroad that are totally out of my price range. Quandries.

You know what helps me though?

Reminding myself I don’t need 99% of this shit.

Untitled, from Everything is Necessary (2012) by Nikita Gale

Untitled, from Everything is Necessary (2012) by Nikita Gale

Capitalism has a way of convincing us our material things are what make us who we are. That the clothing we wear is a reflection of our worth as human beings, especially as young women. I constantly struggle with my affection for fashion and my distaste for the fashion industry. I struggle because of the empowerment I’ve found through expressing myself with my clothing and style, all the while never having the wallet, desire for high-end brands, nor the materialistic drive of someone who would proudly boast the label of clothes horse or “fashion lover.”

At the heart of a lot of these important questions is the challenging the systemic inequities we know exist in the fashion industry. For as long as I’ve loved to get dressed, questions around what impact my consumer choices may have at some point down the line have come up again and again. When I was younger, I was more concerned about the marketing choices and ad campaigns of the companies I bought clothing from. Now, I find myself more concerned about the environmental impact, whether items are vegan or not, whether the person who made the item was paid a living wage.

Capitalism Is The Cri$is

Montreal, 2012

It’s easy to feel like you’re listening to a broken record.

This past month, The Current interviewed a guest who famously made Kathy Lee Gifford cry in 1996. 1996! and he is still involved in trying to find a solution to sweatshop labour!

Worse yet, the situation in some Bangladesh garment factories echoes some of the tragic incidents that took place in North America a century ago. Yes, a century. The importance of labour unions and governments when it comes to corporate accountability cannot be understated. The creation and growth of unions in Canada’s textile factories often meant their closure a decade or two later – namely because companies know they can go elsewhere for cheaper labour. When interviewing countless Canadian fashion industry experts this past November and December, one recurring answer to this question kept coming up: people, especially but not only young women, have become accustomed to owning and wearing more clothing and paying less for it.

Asking questions about which companies pay their workers – along every step of the way – a living wage, and generally operate in an ethical manner is important. Some answers are easier to find than others. In the end, my answers for Dawn aren’t very conclusive. In short, the Internet is a great resource. Thinking critically is important. Check your sources. Ask questions.

La majorité, c’est vous

Keep the pressure on. Contact the companies you do support, recommend them to your friends. Contact the stores you think have the most egregious errors, let them know why you won’t shop there.  Don’t forget to look at the big picture. And keep fighting the good fight.

Recommended Reading:

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