Monday, December 21, 2009

top ten films of the decade you (probably) haven't seen

okay, so i know this is my feminist fashion blog, but since i put a lot of time and thought into this i thought i'd share it here as well. you can read a bit about each one of them by clicking on the title, and feel free to comment here or on tumblr. this list should not be confused with a "best of!" they are just my personal favourites that i think are criminally underrated. when i started writing my favourites of the decade, i realized they were all already films people knew and loved as well (the royal tenenbaums, amélie, cliché, cliché, cliché) so this one was a bit more fun and creative to make.

julia's top ten films of the decade you (probably) haven't seen

10. battle in heaven (carlos reygadas, 200)
9. the visitor (thomas mccarthy, 2007)
8. polytechnique (denis villeneuve, 2009)
7. house of sand (andrucha waddington, 2005)
6. atarnajuat: the fast runner (zachariah kunik, 2001)
5. the edge of heaven (fatih akin, 2007)
4. wet hot american summer (david wain, 2001)
3. palindromes (todd solondz, 2004)
2. red road (andrea arnold, 2006)
1. xxy (lucia puenzo, 2007)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

the politics of vintage: part one

Photobucket belleville, 2002

the internet is abuzz about discussions about vintage clothing these past few months; with the popularity of mad men, the increasing accessibility of buying vintage with websites like etsy and ebay, topped off with more and more fashion bloggers wearing and sharing their vintage duds, it was only a matter of time before interesting theoretical questions about the intersectionality of feminism and vintage clothing were posited.

threadbared seems to have struck a nerve in the feminist community by posting some excerpts from other like-minded blogs in a post entitled "On the Politics of Vintage, Starting with a Series of Thoughtful Epigraphs Before I Begin My Own Ruminations on the Topic." shared on the popular jezebel blog, people have been pondering the questions blogger Gertie Lang raises, namely her question: "Is wearing a fashion from an oppressive time period indeed a symbol of that oppression?"

when reading the comments on the jezebel post and in the fatshionista community, i have been quite surprised by the number of dismissive responses in regards to the political potential of feminists wearing vintage clothing. the overwhelming response seems to be summed by by a comment made here by cruelladivine: "I think vintage clothing is just that - vintage clothing. I don't feel that wearing it idealizes a certain time period, I think we wear what we think is flattering on ourselves. I most definitely consider myself a feminist but sometimes it is possible to overthink stuff. To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." to my surprise, no one has expressed any sort of disagreement with this commentor, but in fact it really bothers me. i'm not denying that a lot of people who wear vintage clothing do so for many different reasons, but this does not speak to my experience with vintage whatsoever. so i thought i'd talk a bit about that, about how a dress has never really just been a dress to me.

part of my empowerment through fashion and clothing has been largely due to my discovery of vintage clothing. i'd never felt at home in new clothing, never felt like it truly expressed what i wanted to and like most young teenage girls, spent a lot of time and wasted a lot of money trying to figure out what i liked to wear and what i wanted to look like. when i started foraging through the local thrift stores with friends at around fifteen, i finally felt at home in my clothes. i started living in old man's pants, ratty wool cardigans and little kids t-shirts, much to my mother's dismay.

in trenton, ontario at age 16. the patches on my jeans were how i first learned to sew.

the class dynamics operating here are interesting; my friend zach would borrow his parent's van, we'd all chip in for gas money and head down the 401 to belleville to go to a few thrift stores there, since there were slim pickings in our small towns. when most of the other kids our age were going to the mall, the only reason we ever stopped there was to use the photobooth. we would end up across the street, at the goodwill, and forage through the racks to find the most hilarious things possible; obscure 1970s union t-shirts, old vaccuum cleaners, 1960s mod coats, and of course, ridiculous books. living in small towns, it was mostly what we did for fun. instead of dropping 10 bucks on a movie, we'd spend hours in a thrift store, laughing our asses off at things that didn't fit right, things that didn't seem like they should even exist, books with titles like "real men don't each quiche" and buttons of 1970s rock stars. inside jokes would emerge around the clothes we'd come home with, the books we'd never actually read from cover to cover, the argyle socks and ill-fitting plaid pants.

trying on absurd things in the now defunct goodwill store in belleville, ontario

please note that the book in my friend's hand is entitled "real women don't pump gas." i gave it to a women's studies professor a few years later.

it was a truly empowering experience for someone like me whose fashion choices had always been limited by how much money i had in the bank. now, i was finding amazing dresses you couldn't find anywhere else for a mere 5 dollars, as opposed to the beautiful new dresses in the stores in the mall across the street i wanted which cost nearly a hundred. (this is not even addressing on the fact that most of my vintage clothes are either handmade or have union labels on them, as opposed to the questionable "made in thailand" labels on the new clothing in the mall.) i could play dressup. i could buy something for a dollar, and if i didn't wear it, i had only wasted one dollar as opposed to 20, or 30, or 40. one must note that vintage clothing was not nearly as mainstream at the beginning of this decade as it is today; there were much fewer fashion blogs, and most vintage clothing was relegated to being tucked away treasures in thrift stores or expensive in vintage and antique stores, as Footpath Zeitgeist points out. i didn't really have a lot of access to compare myself with others, aside from a few zines which rarely had pictures of what other people wore. i wore vintage because it was used, cheap, and made me feel at home.

okay, so maybe calling too-small kids shirts from the 80s as vintage is not everyone's idea of "vintage," but it was my reality and my introduction. today i feel more at home in dresses and vintage coats, and can tell you how to tell apart a reproduction from a vintage piece, how you can tell which era the garment is from, etc. i still don't like to pay very much for clothing. actually, it's not a matter of "liking" to, it's a matter of not being able to. and it's also something i really love about vintage; i can fool people into thinking i'm someone i'm not, and shock them in certain ways. more on this later...

in my parent's backyard, summer 2004.

the classic value village changeroom photo that has been taken a million times, belleville 2004

so when it comes down to it, i wear vintage because it found me. since it found me eight or so years ago, i've thought about it a lot. which is potentially why i feel the need to chime into the conversation here...

in response to the question of the "oppressive" nature of these clothes, i am interested in why so many people are reacting in a defensive way, saying that a dress is just a dress, not a thesis. if you take a look in my closet or on my flickr when i did wardrobe_remix, you'll see that i own about 70% vintage, 30% new, with a good chunk of the new clothing being second-hand. part of the reason i was drawn to vintage was because it WASN'T something that was shoved down my throat, and felt like a different kind of consumption. because it felt like i wasn't just buying a dress, i was buying the history behind it. the more i learned about vintage clothing (largely through lj communities like thritfwhore, vintagelook and vintagehair, as well as through the sweet old women who would stop me in the street and tell me stories) the more intrigued i was by the political potential that could be unlocked in these garments. fooling people into thinking i went to school for fashion, or could afford to buy the latest magazine and change my closet with the trends and the seasons was fun for a while, and still is sometimes. accumulating my own knowledge with the aid of the internet and of strangers in thrift shops was very empowering and continues to fill me with passion today.

but that's just a small part of my own relationship to vintage; everyone has their own reasons and ways of wearing vintage, and i wouldn't call myself a purist by any means, but i am surprised at the tone a lot of these comments in these online discussions. i think what we need to remember at the heart of this debate is the fact that every person has a different relationship to clothing and fashion (not just vintage), depending on their gender, sex, size, culture, race, ability, sexuality and age, but more often than not that relationship is one that is filled with conundrums and contradictions. one of my favourite things to do is shock people by wearing vintage dresses, but never fussing with my hair, rarely wearing makeup, and flaunting my hairy armpits. fucking up these ideas that i am wearing something that imposes such a specific, rigid, and reductive idea of femininity and challenging that in my own little way. you would not believe how many people have made comments to me like, "you just shouldn't wear a dress like that if you aren't going to shave." i usually just laugh and tell them they're completely missing the point, but it is not surprising.

self-portrait in ste. marie de beauce, québec in july 2007. note clara bow above my bed.

especially among my femme friends, high-femme 50s fashion can be incredible fun to engage with and make our own. it is empowering to share new dresses we found with one another, talk about what an amazing deal we got on them, and how badass we feel pairing a pair of doc marten boots with a frilly crinoline 1950s dress. while other people might feel like a vintage dress is worth less because of stains or tears, i love wondering what kind of wine was spilled, in what circumstances that button fell off (or was torn off?), and being a part of that garment's history myself. part of the reasons i am raising these questions is because this was NOT why i started wearing vintage clothes in the first place, but it is something i have come to love about it through the years.

as i mentioned above, clothing, vintage or otherwise, is wrapped up in a whole number of questions that many of the people discussing these issues are raising: where was it made, who made it, who is it marketed to, how much is it sold for, where is it sold, and the cultural implications of that particular style of garment. there are so many questions we could unpack about clothes, which is namely why i started this blog, and it is really exciting to see them being taken up in such a variety of ways. i'm excited that this post's title ends with "...before i begin my own ruminations on the topic." i'm really looking forward to more discussions on this topic and hope we can move away from a personal defensiveness to a more collective sharing of knowledge, instead. the original threadbared post ends with the question, "how do we make clothing our own?" and i think that this very important question has unfortunately been overshadowed. let's talk about that next!

Monday, December 14, 2009

now and then: fashion nostalgia

today a photo of meryl streep wearing the same dress in 1979 and 2009, i was reminded of this little post i made in blackcigarette a few years ago. originally written january 31st, 2008

nostalgia: noun.
1. a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.
2. the evocation of these feelings or tendencies, esp. in commercialized form.

lately i've been struck with an overwhelming bought of nostalgia; perhaps triggered by seeing one of my favourite artists from when i was sixteen in concert last week, or because i've been re-reading some books that have shaped my youth, or going for a pint with old friends. i started shuffling through old photos and found a picture of me at sixteen in my first great vintage clothing find from goodwill: my "mary tyler moore" coat, as my mother affectionately nicknamed it. five dollars later, it became a silly joke between friends. for her graduating photos, an old friend wore it and got so many laughs. but i never really knew how to wear it seriously, since the colour palette is so odd and the style so 60s.


i feel like now, i've got it figured out a bit.


this is another dress that has a similar story; found at the same goodwill, for the same price. i had no idea how to wear it, and just kind of played around the house in it. that picture of me, young, scrawny-armed naïve me, wearing fake plastic pearls and my mother's old heels, looks like a little girl playing dress-up. i look at myself in the more recent photo and i feel, in some ways, like i've figured it out. even though it's the same person, with the same basic premise (blue and white dress, simple accessories, white heels), it looks so much better to me in the "now" photo.

maybe that's just me.

there are many more outfits/examples i could give, but i don't fit into a lot of the clothes i used to wear ages ago, have given them away, or don't have photos of how i used to dress. digital cameras have changed that for sure!

how does your "fashion past" influence how you dress right now?
do you think you've learned from the fashion faux-pas you have made in the past?
is there one garment you've owned for years that you wear dramatically differently now than you used to?
has your style changed a lot over the course of five years, and do you think it will keep changing?
i'd love to see similar photos if others have some!

late night walks in my city

follow me

i just came home from a long late night walk in le vieux; the city i live in is the oldest one in north america, and sometimes i forget to look around and admire it. but once the snow starts falling, i feel like i live in the world's most beautiful snowglobe and can't help but fawn over everything. this time last week, there was no snow on the ground! right now i am kept awake by the sound of snowplows taking care of the 40 or so centimetres that fell largely on wednesday.

anyway, my friend salima has recently decided to move apartments and i had always said i should bring my tripod over and take pictures in her amazing old building. so now that there is a deadline, i took some. i'm not so satisfied, but i think there are a few worth sharing.





i always wished i was a hitchcock heroine



watching over my city
stop following me

a very rare sight in québec city: a canadian flag

anyone home?



safe and sound, my home.

sorry for the poor quality editing, i don't have photoshop and hope to remedy this over the holidays. but! i hope you understand why i love my city so.

also, coming soon! my top ten thrifts of 2009. there have been some pretty epic ones this year. the coat in the above photos is definitely up there.

re: audrey hepburn complexes

i just wanted to quickly note that i really appreciate all the feedback i got from people on the post i made last week about perfection and blogging; it's something i have a lot of thoughts about and i think that was really just the tip of the iceberg. the fact that i got some much response to it (largely on tumblr) shows me that this is something a lot of people can relate to and that we could learn a lot from each other on this one. unpacking my ideas! this is mostly a note to remind myself to respond to your comments more clearly when i have some time.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

words of wisdom: Objectivity & Authenticity: “(Fe)male bodied” / “(Fe)male identified” (Language Politics)


won't show you, september 2009

here is an excerpt from an article published on a great blog called "taking up too much space," and this post was written by cedar. i wanted to share it because it really hits home about a lot of things i've been thinking about lately, the power we have in our bodies and how we chose to present them, but also how we can be stripped of that power because of assumptions others make or impose on our bodies. this is something i have struggled with ever since becoming interested in fashion as an empowering thing; the way i present my body is my choice, but the way it is read is not always something i can predict. as someone who presents themselves on the femme end of the spectrum, i have often struggled with my privilege and had a hard time articulating these feelings, but i feel like cedar says this a lot better and in a clearer way than i can at the moment. click here to read the entire article:

What [the term] '(fe)male bodied' does is try to avoid the messiness of respecting our identities and categorizing us solely that way and find an 'objective' way of talking about people that you can use just by looking at them or by knowing their histories. But this Cartesian mind-body dualism is bunk–my body is still my body, and defining it as male or female is still defining me as male or female, and my body is not this thing that exists wholly separate from my mind, that cannot know or feel things or from which my sense of self can be divorced. My sex and my body are my self determination, don’t try to pry in with the crowbar of coercive language.

Part two is that not only do some people use the term to classify me as 'male bodied' and others use it to classify me as 'female bodied'–but that there’s a reason for this ambiguity. This 'objective' 'neutral' 'real' body that they want to jump to just isn’t there. Some people mean chromosomes, some mean presence or absence of a penis, some people mean hormone levels and how your body appears socially, some people just aren’t thinking about trans and intersex people’s bodies. But the assumption of using the phrase is that people will have half a clue of who you mean, which positions all bodies as belonging to pre-acknowledged sexed categories unambiguously and objectively. Regardless of what categories persons are placed in and how transphobic that placement is, by 'empowering' the listener to do the placing, the term nullifies self-definition of sex/embodiment, and undermines resistance to the binary medical model for being trans.

So while I fully support all people speaking of their bodies as male and/or female (and/or other possibilities), don’t use '(fe)male bodied' as a category of people (based on body parts) as opposed to an individual’s self definition–even if you’re trans.

My body is my identity, my identity is my body. Don’t try to separate them, I went to a lot of effort to help them learn to play nice with each other.

that last line hits home for me. as someone who operates in this world with a certain amount of privilege, as an able-bodied, tall, conventionally attractive, femme-presenting woman, people often forget that i identify as queer and will often make problematic statements to me assuming/hoping i agree with them. (but anyone who knows me knows that i am opinionated and i can't keep my mouth shut if i disagree with you... hell, even if i agree with you) i have had more than a few conversations with cisgendered people who see someone who presents themselves as androgynous and ask me, without hesitating, "do you think that person is a man or a woman?" my response is almost unfaillingly, "maybe they don't fit into either of those definitions, or maybe they want to you to wonder."


photo from the sartorialist

from the sartorialist, titled "perfect androgyny" yet still tagged as "men"

i think we live in a culture that accepts certain kinds of androgyny in the public sphere (in the glam rock and new wave scenes, thinking of david bowie circa aladdin sane, annie lennox or in the modelling/fashion industry, namely omahyra) but is always confused by it when seen in reality. when someone does not want to go by gendered pronouns. when someone does not want to be read as one or the other. it is all well and good to say "i think it sucks that kids are forced to chose blue or pink" but often those same people are not ready (or willing) to start unlearning the gender dichotomy. that's where the real works needs to be done.

des garçonnes in 1920s europe

my own relationship to gender is a somewhat simple one. for the most part i am happy in my body, and all of my explorations with gender had more to do with a dislike of how i was treated as a girl, not necessarily in relation to my embodied experience. i didn't like getting elbowed in the breasts at punk shows when was sixteen, but who did? i didn't like being disregarded by boys because i was a girl, but who ever does? i became mouthy, loud, opinionated and refused to have my opinions silenced by obnoxious oblivious stupid boys. but this wasn't really manifested in my gender presentation, and i didn't necessarily feel like it needed to be. part of me felt like that was my way of fucking with gender norms; having hair down to my butt, wearing shabby little kid's t-shirts with purple chuck taylors and ugly wool skirts.

the one body i was always drawn to was the androgynous, rowdy flapper. i have always idealized les garçonnes, but my own body does not fit into the spectrum of what a flapper looked like, in that sense, so i try to make up for it in how i act and live. people often say they love flappers for their fashion, the almost parodic halloween costume idea of boas and fringe dresses and cigarette holders, but we often forget that the way the dressed and presented themselves was revolutionary at the time, and was intrinsically connected to fucking up traditional gender roles. many, if not most, were committed to challenging women's traditional societal roles, by doing things that we take for granted today, such as working, drinking in public, choosing not to get married, smoking, etc. it was the first time in modern history that women cut off ridiculous amounts of hair, started doing drag outside of theatres, were open about their sexualities, and threw off the corsets of the past in favour of comfort and freedom... (these are ideas we can talk about in more detail in another post.)

i can idealize flappers all i want, but i will never truly look like one in spite of my haircuts or clothing. i have a tiny waist and big hips, and drop waist dresses look terrible on me. i only bind my breasts when i do drag, because i like the way they feel. i have curves and i've come to accept them and find enjoyment in them. trying to fit into any idealized body definition is not a healthy habit for me and i've been gradually learning to appreciate the one i occupy.

enough about me, back to cedar's points! the other thing i find particularly powerful about this article is that it highlights the fact we embody our identities; that yes, we can accentuate certain things about ourselves with artifice, clothing, decoration, as well as with certain haircuts, piercings, hair or lack of hair, modifications, tattoos, frames/framing, but in the end when you strip it all away, what are our bodies? are they ever truly ours? our own? or will part of our bodies always be public domain? it took me a long time to understand that my relationship to fashion/clothing could not be separated from my relationship to my body/gender. that they fed into one another, that they are interdependent to one another.

i've been working on some stripped-down self-portraits these days as a way of processing a lot of these thoughts, but doubt i will ever feel comfortable enough to show them on the internet. i think there is a lot to be unpacked there (how self-portraits are a powerful way to deal with identity issues, especially in regards to fashion) but that? i will save for another post.


hommage à claude jutra, may 2009

etsy update: now introducing menswear

etsy update! click on the photo to go check out the shop.

here are a few photos. click on any of them to go to the item in the photo:

introducing: andy the reluctant model

1976 olympic sweater! i am thinking about putting this on ebay just to see how much it goes for... i couldn't find any other ones online but most olympic clothing goes for pretty pricey. i priced it still reasonable, though, since it's not perfect, but still AWESOME.

introducing: sam, my co-worker! we teach together on tuesdays. and she just happens to be a total babe who fits into the tons of extra-small/small stuff i've accumulated over the years.

it hurts my heart that this dress doesn't fit me anymore :(:(:(

love this dress SO much.

aaaaand there's tons more medium/large stuff coming before the end of the month! hopefully everything will be up and listed before the 20th. i've got at least 20 more items to list, so check back often.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

of audrey hepburn complexes and (im)perfection.

i finally did it.

i unfollowed audreyhepburncomplex. i’ve thought about doing it a dozen times, but i hesitated because some of the stuff posted is really, really beautiful. i liked looking at it. i always went back and forth about it, but today i realized i needed to. it always feels empty, all style no substance. but it’s not the photos themselves that are the problem; it’s the subject. and the subjects make me feel upset with myself, repulsed by my body. with my ankles, belly, skin, legs. the photos posted aren't simply taken for the way the light was that day, or how wonderful that moment was; they feel contrived and obsessed with a certain reductive idea of beauty.

yes, there is a girl on a bike, but she is not riding it. she is posing in that spot, with that light, because it presents us with this certain idea of perfection, of beauty. she is ready to be consumed. she isn't telling me anything other than "my pretty dress matches my pretty bike and whoever is taking this photo knows what they are doing to make it look even prettier." photos like these only trigger negative thoughts in myself. jealousy, coveting, materialistic unimportant negative thoughts. this photo or any other photo you could find on audreyhepburncomplex, or the thousands of tumblrs or blogs or websites like it. i find myself thinking things like, my legs will never be that skinny, my skin has never and will never be that clear and smooth and pale, my arms will never fit into those sleeves, i will never own immaculate dresses like that, i will never be that person.

i don’t want to be that person. but more importantly, i don’t want to want to be that person. that’s what i like about me. i am a good person, i like to think. i try. i try not to get too caught up in thinking about what i look like, or about judging other based on what they look like. i try to surround myself with people who make me laugh and think and who i love and care about. i try not to be too hard on myself, while trying to keep my privilege in check and accept criticism with rationality, not defensiveness. i try to articulate the injustices i see happening around me and resist in the only ways i know how. does it matter what i look like while doing these things?

will wearing those perfect shoes and having the perfect sunflare coming through my window really make my life that much better? fuck no.

i don’t see myself as perfect, and i never will, and i never want to. perfection does not equal happiness, or vice versa. being happy with who i am and this body i occupy is an ongoing process, one i constantly have to remind myself about. unlearn this, julia, unlearn that. i like my strong legs, big jiggly thighs and all. i like my long fingers, my hands that often end up looking accidentally graceful, with lingering moments of teenage awkwardness. i like that i am tall and big, that my presence commands attention. my stretchmarks remind me that my body grows and changes and that that in itself is beautiful, not sad. i let go of the way my body used to look and try to appreciate it for what it is now, with all of its quirks and imperfections and limitations.

i’ve always liked the grit, the dirt under the fingernails, the beauty in awkward ugliness. i am attracted to the imperfections, the scars, the stories bodies tell us. i like the clothes that are falling apart, with the frayed ends, the stray threads, the holes in the armpits, the stains. memories of wine-soaked nights, who cares if the stain won't go away; it simply means the memory will last longer.

i like my hairy knees, the thick black hair of my armpits juxtaposed with my $5 yellow 1950s cotton day dress, with the hem falling out of course, and my crinoline falling down because the elastic is shot. i like it when my slip is showing. i like my goofy smile, because i am genuinely happy.

i hate the soft focus, the glow, the distractions. the world isn’t full of perfect sunflares, pretty camera lenses, the perfect poses made by the perfect bodies. it is real and it is dirty and digusting and it is fucking beautiful.

edited to add: i just recently realized how apt of a title "audrey hepburn complex" is. these unattainable beauty standards are suffocating us.