Tag Archives: class

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? 

Leave a comment

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

working clothes: how your job changes how you dress

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

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

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

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

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

then, it hits me.

my shoes.

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

they are the stylish source of the squeak.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Filed under fashion, personal

a different kind of closet visit.

closet visit header of a plain wire clotheshanger

disclaimer: i’m hoping this won’t fall into a slightly passive-aggressive girl-hate post (which i feared my rant about the man repeller would fall into) but i wanted to know if any of my readers felt similarly.

closet visit has been around for a year now, and i find myself back there from time to time. it partly reminded me of the selby, which i’ve been a fan of for eye candy for a while now, where we visit creative people’s homes. but closet visit focuses solely on, you guessed it, closets. here is a description of the site from the creator herself: “Artist Jeana Sohn visits creative, inspiring and stylish ladies’ closets.” sounds simple and straight-forward enough, right?

and that it is. a simple formula with beautiful results.

i was really drawn in by the concept, and was happy to virtually meet some of these people via their closets. i was even surprised to find an old livejournal friend and the creator of the popular livejournal fashion community newestwrinkle there, and to see that her style was still captivating, and her advice still sage (Be patient and shop vintage. The quality is great and the pieces will be unique. Invest in great quality shoes).

but overall, i must admit, i felt a bit… frustrated. very quickly, i started noting some overwhelming trends in the kind of woman profiled and was ultimately left desirous for actual depth in digging through these strangers’ closest.

where i feel closet visit is strong in visual content and stimulation, it lacks in storytelling. ultimately, it strikes me as superficial and vapid. yeah, that’s a bit harsh, but of the “creative, inspiring and stylish” women featured, how many of them fall outside the norms of fashion? how many have a body type that is difficult to dress in straight-sized clothes or couture? how many of them struggle to pay the bills, let alone buy the latest prada shoes? i found myself thinking, of course you can have twenty different leather jackets when you have the money for it and are a straight-sized person and have a closet the size of my house. of course you can describe your beauty regimen as “low maintenance” and then list off products i didn’t even know existed just because you can.

part of me can’t decide whether i love or hate the fact that nearly all of them list frida kahlo as a style inspiration (i almost wanted to go through each interview and do a tally, but honestly i don’t think it’s exaggerating to say it’s 80% of them). but even though frida kahlo is an inspiration, not one of them has a hair out of place (facial or otherwise). none of them talk about having a disability, or being queer, or their politics. i think a lot of that is inherent to kahlo’s presence in photographs, in history, in her art. it was radical for kahlo to talk about those things in the 1930s and 40s, yet women who list her as a “style inspiration” or icon don’t touch any of those issues in 2010.

i could go on, but i don’t think it’s productive. i don’t want this to come off as a criticism of the women profiled, their warddrobes or their tastes: rather, i think it is disappointing as a project. disappointing because it seems to me yet another instance of the illusion of the democratization of fashion via the internet. because there are no ad dollars going into this, because there are no space constraints like you would find in print, it is more radical than a magazine feature. to me, this is no different than a vogue profile of affluent people-who-know-the-right-people showing off their warddrobes. perhaps i am being unfair: closet visit never states it sets out to be radical, nor does it express a desire to be different, go against the grain. in fact, all it says is that it seeks out creative, inspiring, and stylish women’s closets. how about i leave it at this: why are all of the creative, inspiring and stylish women also affluent, rich, largely white, thin, mostly designer wearing people?

my closetme showing off my closet to my friend annemarie in january

how many people do i know who fit the criteria of “creative” largely due to the fact that their bodies are not reflected in mainstream fashion, and they have to alter and mess around with clothing that wasn’t designed for them? how many creative, inspiring and stylish women do i know who had to sell their vintage treasures gathered over the years in order to be able to make rent that month (myself included)? how many broke ass crust punks do i know with incredible style because they dumpster dive, because they can’t afford designer clothes, but also because they reject them? and how many stories do their warddrobes tell because of those factors?

maybe this all ties into the fact that personally, i feel like your closet and your clothes can be a huge reflection, or at least a window into the story of yourself, your personality, your life. of the 35 or so interviews and features on closet visit, i don’t feel like i got to know more than two or three of these women on anything other than a superficial level. and perhaps i am to blame for searching for that.

when i dig through your closet, i long for stories of what you were doing the last time you wore it. a memory that bursts forth every time you see that scraggily old t-shirt. a hat you wore when you first met your best friend. a dress you tore because you were having too much fun to be careful with the delicate old lace.

instead of just grumping about it, i thought i’d throw the question to you.

whose closet (or suitcases) would you want to visit and rummage through?

my choices:

phew! okay i’ll leave it at that for now.

what do you think? am i totally out of line with this one? is closet visit great on its own, and doesn’t have to be critical?


Filed under politics, vintage