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,


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:


Filed under fashion, politics, shopping, Uncategorized

Janelle Monáe, Q.U.E.E.N. of my heart

Screen shot of Janelle Monae's QUEEN music video

Janelle Monae silhouetted in black in the final scene of the music video for Q.U.E.E.N.

How many songs have you heard that challenge racism, sexism, slut-shaming, homophobia… and make you want to bust a move? There are only a handful of artists I’ve encountered who wrap up all of those dynamics in a fresh way (M.I.A., Santigold and Ebony Bones! come to mind) but for whatever reason, Janelle Monáe stands out from the pack.

In late April, the great folks at Browntourage posted a link to a song. When I clicked play, I had no way of knowing it would become my new anthem. Q.U.E.E.N. has been playing full blast non-stop: as I make dinner in my kitchen, in my headphones at work, in my living room as I chill out with my cat, over and over. So when I saw there was a music video for the single, released May 1st, I fell even more in love with the song. So much so that it merits its own post:

Janelle Monáe referencing “Qui etes vous, Polly Maggoo?” Yes please! Janelle rocking a 1960s bob? I never thought she could top her badass trademark pompadour.

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 9.09.50 PM

Film still from William Klein's 1966 satirical art film, "Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?"

Film still from William Klein’s 1966 satirical art film, “Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?”

Erykah Badu has an alter ego named Badula Oblongata? Gold!

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 9.13.29 PM

Monáe does with Q.U.E.E.N. what she does best, mixing visually stimulating high art, culture, and her very own brash brand of feminism. This song and its accompanying video marries them with deft skill.  Her lyrics reference everything from black NYC drag ball culture in the 1980s (Walk in the room they throwing shade left to right/They be like ooh, she’s serving face) to Philip K. Dick (Will you be electric sheep?/Electric ladies, will you sleep?/Or will you preach?). Visually, her machismo comes across in her posturing and sartorial adjustments, while lyrically schooling you on the state of racial politics in America today.

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 9.15.27 PM

Anyone else see that final scene lighting set-up as bit of a wink to James Bond?

Not to mention the hard femme rebelles who bring their leaders out of art gallery exile:

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 9.06.10 PM

Now, I shouldn’t be surprised by all the artistic and (sub)cultural references in a Monáe video. First off, I’ve been a fan for years. She consistently prides herself on bring high art – or at least art that is all too often limited to university classrooms – to the masses in her own creative manner. One of her earlier videos, Tightrope, references Maya Deren. Of course, it’s not just her music videos; her concept albums are incisive, subversive, cohesive (not to mention catchy as fuck) – something we see all too rarely in the world of pop music.

What thrills me about a music video like this one, and what sets it apart from the masses, is that although it references these various elements, it remains unique and fresh. For example, as much as I love Beyoncé’s video for Countdown, I was taken aback at how blatantly it ripped off dancer/choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker… without so much as a wink in her direction (let alone questions of financial compensation). There are countless other examples, some of which lead to successful law suits on the part of the lesser known parties who are being “honored” in this fashion. But Monae? No. Her work is thoughtful, intentional, and unique. It just serves as a reminder there is a very fine line between homage and straight up rip-off.

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 9.11.57 PM

Sartorial excellence, bravado, and an impressive catalogue of art/film references are all showcased beautifully in this video, but they would be nothing, of course, without politics. Her commentary of race and class is absolutely essential to her oeuvre, summarized nicely in this quote from April 2011:

Heavily inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 German expressionist film Metropolis, which used an urban dystopia to berate capitalism, she too has invented a not-too-distant future in order to comment on the confines within she is expected to perform and present herself as a black female artist. “As an African-American woman, as an immigrant, wherever I am, I’m always the minority,” she explains.  “So I came up with the concept of the android as the ‘other’ in society.  I’ve been studying the theory of technological singularity, which predicts that as advances in technology become faster, there will come a point when robots will be able to map out the brainpower of humans and recreate our emotions.  I’m posing the question – how are we going to live with the ‘other’?  Are we going to treat them inhumanely, teach our children to fear them?”

Damn. Smart, stylish, talented, critical, gorgeous… you can have it all.

Now go watch the music video. Again.

Recommended Reading:

Recommended Eye-Candy:


Filed under currently, music, Uncategorized


Recently, I’ve found myself slightly obsessed with fashion’s recurring tendency to reference earlier decades. Different from today’s mishmash of nostalgia, Instead, I’m thinking of those brief moments (in the past) that romanticize and riff off of the idea of a different, slightly older past. What it says about human nature, about creativity, and about how we want to dress. The 1960s returning to the lean boyish dress silhouettes of the 1920s, or the iconic 1980s powersuits – referencing women’s suits of the 1940s. On Pins and Needles published a great series, Uniformed Individuality: Military-Inspired Fashion of the 1980s, which does a phenomenal job highlighting some examples of this.

This doesn’t only happen in fashion, of course. One example in the world of illustration is Guido Crepax’s hommage to Louise Brooks.

From my first encounter with the Italian illustrator’s work nearly a decade ago, I had always been intrigued. But the raw eroticism was a little on the shocking side for me when I was younger, and it wasn’t until I came across one of his books when I worked at a used bookstore in 2010 that I began to seek out his work more actively.

Valentina behind the camera

Tautology, 1967

Soon after, I met his fresh young character, Valentina, and was hooked.

It wasn’t surprising to quickly discover that this modern sixties character, a sexually liberated intellectual fashion photographer, was directly inspired by (my favourite silent film actress) Louise Brooks. Not only that, but Guido Crepax wrote letters to her, and – much to his surprise – she wrote back! They corresponded up until her death, in 1985.

Continue reading


Filed under Uncategorized

Bending gender rules with black & white bobs

Bijou Karman

Bijou Karman

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

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

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


December 2012

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

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

February 2013

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

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

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

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

Mary Quant

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

Grace Coddington

Film still from William Klein's 1966 satirical art film, "Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?"

Film still from William Klein’s 1966 satirical art film, “Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glad that’s out of my system.

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


I leave you with some recommended watching:

Recommend Reading:

Wish me luck in my quest for the perfect bob…


Filed under hair, personal, Uncategorized

Fashion Blogging Culture: Demanding Substance Over Style

Confession: I’ve stopped reading personal style blogs almost entirely. Not as rejection of the individual bloggers I spent years following… rather, more as a rejection of dominant fashion blogging culture, and how I kept seeing it repeated in the same derivative formula, over and over again.

Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking pretty intensely about fashion blogging. I spent a fair bit of the early winter immersed in researching the fashion industry, specifically in a Canadian context, but it lead me in all kinds of directions… questions about consumption, production, ethics, design… none of which I saw explored in the conventional fashion blogging world. I began to wonder: what has made it so that the one most popular kind of fashion blog – the personal style blog – seems to be the only kind (especially with a subject as vast and rich as fashion)? Which fashion blogs get attention, and why? How is a fashion blog/ger deemed successful, and why do countless young people strive towards that singular version of “success?”

These kinds of frustrations came to light in a slightly different incarnation last week, when I came across a few tweets sharing links to Kelly Faircloth‘s article “Fatshion Police: How Plus-Size Blogging Left Its Radical Roots Behind.” The headline itself obviously drew me in, and it is definitely worth reading (RECOMMENDATION: Read the article before you read my disjointed ramblings). Erin over at Zero Style shared it on her Facebook page, leading to thoughtful debate and discussion amongst a few of her followers, including myself. Here’s my take on some of the issues raised in the article:

As someone who spent a fair bit of time lurking on the fatshionista Livejournal communities back in 2005-2007, I think this is an incredibly important conversation to be having. How can your anger and frustrations towards the fashion industry, when you are a fashion lover, be productive? Do the end goals have to be inherently capitalist? It speaks to larger conundrums facing fashion blog culture, which inevitably seems to favour the fluffy over more substantial content. Fatshion culture in particular, as noted in Faircloth’s article, started flourishing in the form of Livejournal communities, fostering discussions and sharing of knowledge and insights and opinions and styles… but now, the vast majority of fashion blogs (fatshion or otherwise) seem to adhere to more of a “LOOK AT THE PRETTY THINGS I WEAR- THE END” like! heart!

Browse the comments on the average popular fashion blog, and no one is surprised to find that a good 75% of the comments are left by new bloggers trying to bring traffic to their (own attempts at) blogs. It’s harsh, but true – it’s even lead to some of the most popular bloggers to close comments altogether. Whatever the reason behind their choice, the overall message is that even the most succesful fashion blogs can be a one-way street: Look at me, enjoy, keep your thoughts to yourself, shop where I shop. The radical potential that the web and social media originally seemed to have opened up now look about as radical as a herd of lemmings throwing themselves off a cliff…

Screencap of comments left on a popular personal style blog. Short repetitive comments are standard, with links to their own blogs becoming the focal point.

Screencap of comments left on a popular personal style blog. Short repetitive compliments are standard, with links to their own blogs becoming the focal point.

Where did the conversations go?

Moving away from discussions and conversations between the real people behind fashion blogs and their readership is just one incarnation of the middle-of-the-road mediocrity facing fashion blogging culture. Focusing on the capitalist-consumer side of fashion – what I often refer to as “shopping blogs,” not fashion blogs –  has brought us to the point where even a passing reference to the word politics seems to strike fear in the heart of bloggers and readers. Certain goals that fatshion lovers were pushing long and hard for have been, to some extent, accomplished: more brands offer clothing in a wider variety of sizes, some designers and magazines feel more comfortable showcasing “plus-size” models, there is more visibility to a certain extent… but where does that leave former followers and members who enjoy fashion from a more political perspective? Where are the dissenting voices, the concerns over the negative impact of fast fashion, the conversations about?

I’m more perturbed by the fact that the success of a fashion blog is deemed by the amount of traffic it gets, by brand sponsorships and affiliations, by numbers of Instagram followers, as opposed to the quality of conversations, the originality and strength of the content shared! This bothers me more than the tendency of being apolitical because you’re either

  1. apathetic or
  2. fearful of ruffling feathers or
  3. not getting brand sponsors.

I understand wanting to make money from your blog. I understand the importance of acknowledging that fashion blogging is work.  I understand some of those bloggers want careers in the fashion industry as it is, unchanged, without a need for upheaval – but that isn’t showcased when you are simply reproducing the status quo in incredible unoriginal ways.

A highly decorated colourful ampersand by Kirsten McCrea (2012) Ink on Paper

& by Kirsten McCrea (2012) Ink on Paper

I also think some of the criticisms and concerns raised by Faircloth could easily overlap with those who call themselves “feminist fashion bloggers” (but maybe that’s just because I call myself one). In reality, it may be more appropriate to describe the aforementioned as “feminists who have fashion blogs” – since they never ever write criticisms of fashion culture from a feminist perspective. Does wearing a barrette with a female power symbol really make you a “feminist fashion blogger” when you don’t care about what kind of labour was involved in making your H&M sweater available for 20 bucks? It’s awesome that you volunteer at a women’s shelter and go to rallies or whatever incarnation your feminism may take, but does that make your “what I wore” personal style blog inherently political? I’m not so sure…

But I digress – there’s nothing inherently wrong with just having a “what I wore” blog, but it is a bummer that some people feel stifled by the format to the point that they feel obliged to simply go with the pack/status quo. Like Erin and many others have stated, it’s fine to be a “fat fashion blogger” and not be a particularly politicized person yourself, but don’t purport to be part of a political movement like fatshion just for the sake of saying it – it takes balls, work, and action to be critical!

Another absolutely essential point raised by Rachel Kacenjar:

I think it’s hard for any intensely personal political movement to see its offspring reap capitalist “rewards.” This is supposed to be ours- we are supposed to harness the power– and then when we hand over that power for free clothing and publicity, we lose the original oomph. We also have lost vast representation. This movement was originally very queer, multi-sized, and from my standpoint, welcoming of POC, and now it seems that the most cherished bloggers are not representative of that. They tend to be on the smaller end of plus, and if not, they are of a mainstream desired shape and size, they tend to be upper middle class, and they tend to be white or light skinned as well as mainstream feminine presenting.

I’m down for all of us getting exposure for all of our passions and I think accepting compensation in all of its forms is a choice. But I totally understand where the vision of our origins and roots are being clouded here, and how that can totally feel disappointing.

After reading that I basically looked like this:

Animated gif of Orson Welles clapping

Animated gif of Orson Welles clapping emphatically

Phew! That covers the basics… and then some.

These aren’t new ideas. These are conversations I’ve been hearing and echoing and sharing for years. In January of last year, Eline shared her thoughts with me about why more radical and critical perspectives will always be pushed to the margins in fashion blogging culture.  Jenny Zhang addressed a lot of these questions in this great interview with Chictopia in April of 2012. Danielle Meder is one of the few bloggers that tackles issues as varied as different illustration styles to insightful analysis of fashion blogging culture without seeming muddled or aimless. Isabel Sloane’s now defunct Hipster Musings struck a nerve back in 2011 with “Why Fashion Blogging smells like raw fish,” the same year as Kat George’s article on the “Un-democracy of fashion blogging.”

These conversations are happening – we just have to look for them. It all comes down to why people started their own fashion blogs in the first place, and what the creators and readers hoped to get out of them. Do we make them because we think we have original ideas and thoughts and style we want to share with people? Or because we want our wardrobes subsidized by brands we couldn’t otherwise afford on our own? Is fashion blogging culture, dominated in large part by straight (in size and sexuality) middle-class females, helping young women develop their writing and photography skills? Are we any better off because of fashion blogs?

Those dissenting voices should show you it’s not hopeless. People like Eline and Natalie who speak not only about the important role fashion plays in their lives, but are open and candid about their struggles with depression and mental illness – not to mention, how that affects their chances to be deemed fashion blog “it girls” and showered with money and career possibilities. We shouldn’t ignore that bloggers with the most press and attention also tend to live in urban centres, in North America, and fit within certain acceptable parameters of what it means to be fashionable and feminine. In the end, the more we look at it, the formula for who is “most likely to succeed” in the fashion blogging world isn’t all that different from any other industry.

2010 Hand-embroidery on cotton by Lauren Dicioccio

50$ (2010) Hand-embroidery on cotton from Lauren Dicioccio’sCurrency” Series

The last elephant in the room I want to tackle is money. “Monetization” has a category all to itself on the Independent Fashion Blogger website. Years back it was, “how do we make money from our blogs?” Today, questions like “Do we disclose?” It seems every blogger either makes money from their hobby, or wants it to seem as though they do.  Do we brag? Do we pretend it’s something we don’t care about to create a nice illusion for our readers? Or do we reject it altogether? and look for alternatives?

In the end it all seems to come down to capitalism – which, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, is a political structure. Whether we be challenging fatshion bloggers, style bloggers, or lifestyle bloggers,  it is an overarching element we can’t take out of the picture. Are we selling ourselves? Are we – dare we even say the word – sell-outs? We want to be paid for our work, but when the only option are brands and companies who pay is in the form of clothes and accessories, it seems we either do it for free or not at all. This isn’t a problem unique to fashion bloggers, though: if you want to work as a freelance blogger, good luck finding regular well-paid work (and I say that from experience).

As I finished writing out these thoughts, I stumbled across this parody of the “carefree white girl” variety of online oversharer. It reads like a comedy skit, but it really is a commercial for a brand of clothing. Even if it’s nice to look at, makes you laugh with its incisive parodying of a pervasive online embodiment of femininity… in the end, it’s selling you something.

What an appropriate note to end on.

FASHION FILM from Matthew Frost on Vimeo.


Filed under digital/online culture, fashion blogs, Uncategorized

mysterious mannequins and abject objects

Leonor Fini by Henri Cartier Bresson,Paris-1933

Leonor Fini by Henri Cartier Bresson, Paris (1933)

Mannequins, E1 by John Claridge, 1968

Mannequins, E1 by John Claridge (1968)

There is something about undressed, outdated mannequins than renders them automatically unsettling. It’s not quite the same feeling as seeing someone undressed you shouldn’t be (and we all know I’m not that much of a prude). Rather, it’s the unnerving sentiment of witnessing an object rendered obsolete. Naked, a mannequin is stripped of its intented purpose – a plastic object whose sole purpose it is to mimic the human body, created for consumers.

Abandoned, unused, immobile – they also happen to make for fabulous photography subjects.

Oct. 16, 1970: The Times chronicled the sale of used display stock at a warehouse on Long Island, an event that the reporter said “would have made a swarm of locusts look like a bunch of lazy butterflies.” The complete dummies cost $10 and $20,  “but the parts were a bargain,” the caption said. “You could get a hand for five cents or buy an arm for a dime.”

José Alemany - Mannequin Head Studies, 1920s -1930s

José Alemany – Mannequin Head Studies, 1920s -1930s

Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Maniquí tapado (Mannequin covered), 1931

Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Maniquí tapado (Mannequin covered), 1931

Don’t these two next photos, by John Vachon and WeeGee respectively, look as though they could be the same mannequins?

Two female mannequins stand undressed in a windowshop front in the 1940s. Photographed by John Vachon

Department Store Models, Chicago, Illinois by John Vachon (July 1940)

Mannequins by Weegee (1942)

Mannequins by Weegee (1942)

Leonor Fini by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Surrealist artist Leonor Fini by Henri Cartier-Bresson (1933)

Last year marked the first time I had the pleasure of seeing some of Leonor Fini’s pieces when the exhibition In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States was in Quebec City. What a fabulous woman, what strange photos. If only I could have been a fly on the wall when Cartier-Bresson and Fini concocted these images…

Some of the more talented photographers took an interesting spin on the idea that mannequins were designed to be looked at. Designed to stand still, in glass in storefronts, to elicit curiosity, excitement, and desire – hopefully, the desire to be wearing the clothes they were modelling. But when these mannequins are in various states of undress, or better yet missing limbs and wigs, the visual impact packs an even bigger punch.

Being watched…

Hans Mauli

Hans Mauli

…or  watching.

Wilmington, North Carolina, 1950 by Elliot Erwitt

Wilmington, North Carolina, 1950 by Elliot Erwitt

Mannequins, Thieves Bazaar, Bombay by Ferenc Berko, 1938-47

Mannequins, Thieves Bazaar, Bombay by Ferenc Berko (1938-47)

As I researched some of these photographs, spanning fifty years and several countries, I wondered why mannequins are such a compelling subject. There is just so much to explore in the idea that an object, designed to mimic the human body, serving consumers. There is also the simple fact that one of the main reasons mannequins have been a popular subject for photographers and artists is that they are motionless, and hold their poses effortlessly – as opposed to their living, breathing counterparts.

We could easily get into some of the more controversial elements – how mannequins present an idealized version of the human body, how female mannequins are often sexualized, how they have evolved over the years, etc. I could also join the crowds of feminists who have ripped into famous fashion photographers, namely Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, for the visual ways in which they objectified women, and often involved pairing live models with dopplegänger plastic mannequins.

There’s also the curious fact that the word for model in French is, in fact, mannequin.

But really the main purpose me sharing these images with you is the fact that I find them beautiful and intriguing.

Recommended Reading:


Filed under art, photography, Uncategorized

Hands off: Surrealist art and fashion

As of late, I’ve been thinking more and more about 1920s and 1930s design, and about the fact that many of my favourite fashion designers were the ones to blur the lines between art and fashion. Wearable art is a term that is often thrown around when writing about these people, and it’s one of my favourite ways of thinking about well-designed clothing and creative styling.

Elsa Schiaparelli in Elsa Schiaparelli, autumn 1931. Photograph by Man Ray

Elsa Schiaparelli in Elsa Schiaparelli, autumn 1931. Photograph by Man Ray

Elsa Schiaparelli is well known for having been influenced by surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau and Man Ray, among others. But I would take it even further than to simply state influenced or inspired by – the more I read about her, the more I find these so-called inspirations would more aptly be described as collaborations. The reason these aren’t credited as collaborations I suspect in part has to do with gender, but it is most likely largely due to how much respect fashion vs. art is accorded. Fashion then (and now) is still seen as a lesser  form of art, as a capitalist industry as opposed to one interested in symbolism, deconstruction or self-expression. While Man Ray and Dalí are both respected as some of the 20th century’s most important artistes, Schiaparelli remains a name known mostly in the realm of frivolity and fashion, associated with high society and the colour pink.

A perfect illustration of Schiaparelli’s artistic talents are some of the gloves she designed in the mid-1930s. In Schiaparelli’s collection for winter 1936–37, she produced suede gloves in both black and white, with red snakeskin fingernails to replicate human hands. The black gloves were worn with Surrealist suits with pockets that looked like miniature bureau drawers, designed in collaboration with Salvador Dalí (if you come across a photo of those suits, let me know! I’m dying to see what they look like).

Made in Paris, France, Europe. Winter 1936-37 Designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, French (born Italy), 1890 - 1973  Black suede, red snakeskin 9 3/8 x 3 3/8 inches (23.8 x 8.6 cm)

Gloves by Schiaparelli, Winter 1936-37 collection

These playful gloves were created around the same time as Picasso painted hands to look like gloves for a Man Ray photo. Rumour has it Schiaparelli was inspired to flip-flop the concept and create a pair of gloves to look like hands.

Man Ray, Hands painted by Picasso, 1935

Man Ray, Hands painted by Picasso, 1935

Man Ray,  »Study of Hands », (negative solarization) 1930

Man Ray, »Study of Hands », (negative solarization) 1930

gloves by elsa schiaparelli

A lambskin belt next to suede gloves with gold metal talons, both made by Schiaparelli around 1936

There’s something about these gold talon ones though that I love even more – isn’t there something about them that screams hard femme? “Look, admire, but I can fuck you up if you cross my boundaries?” Perhaps over seventy years later, I’m queering this a bit too much to my own fancy, though.

This was hardly the only time Schiaparelli incorporated hands into her designs: I’m absolutely enamored by this belt, from two years earlier.

Evening belt Elsa Schiaparelli  (Italian, 1890–1973)  Date:     fall 1934 Culture:     French Medium:     silk, plastic Dimensions:     Other: 29 in. (73.7 cm)

Evening belt by Schiaparelli, Fall 1934 (silk, plastic)

The Met describes it as follows:

An ultimate expression of Schiaparelli’s interest in Surrealism, this belt was shown in the fall 1934 collection along with other pieces featuring the hand motif, such as a jacket, cape and handbag with hand-shaped fasteners. The hand was seen in many Surrealist artworks, such as those by Man Ray, and Schiaparelli used it in remarkable ways to accent her clothing designs. The wearer is literally embraced around the waist by the belt, an image echoed in the well-known jacket from the fall 1937 collection, featuring a woman with her golden sequined hair draped down one arm and her arm and hand wrapped across the body and waist, again embracing the wearer. The design was inspired by a drawing by Jean Cocteau for Schiaparelli.

Glove Hat      Object:      Hat with gloves     Place of origin:      Paris, France (gloves, made)     Date:      1936 (made)

Glove Hat designed by Schiaparelli, 1936

Another artist who also happened to be photographed by Man Ray (Kiki de Montparnasse, Lee Miller, Schiap – which badass creative women of the 20s and 30s weren’t?) played with gloves around the very same time is Meret Oppenheim.

Meret Oppenheim  "Fur Gloves with Wooden Fingers" 1936

Meret Oppenheim “Fur Gloves with Wooden Fingers” 1936

Meret Oppenheim Glove (1985) Silk-screen and handstitching on goat suede

Meret Oppenheim Glove (1985) Silk-screen and handstitching on goat suede

While these were created much later in her career, I find them no less interesting!

And since I am a fan of Man Ray’s portraits, here are some solarized portraits of Oppenheim for good measure.

Meret Oppenheim Man Ray (American, 1890–1976)  1932. Gelatin silver print (solarized)

Meret Oppenheim by Man Ray (American, 1890–1976) 1932. Gelatin silver print (solarized)

Now I’m off to daydream more about

recommended reading:


Filed under art, fashion