Friday, April 30, 2010

clothes with lives of their own

i stumbled upon these photos on flickr the other day and am really quite smitten with them. i thought i'd share them with you here. aside from their obvious aesthetic appeal, i think they really say something about clothing's connection to its wearer... that clothes themselves can be relatively meaningless when stripped of their context and the person who has chosen to adorn themselves with those clothes.

in fact, it quite reminds me of miranda july's now defunct project "learning to love you more," specifically of assignment #55 - photograph a significant outfit. but that's an entire post unto itself!

what do these make you think of? do you find them creepy, interesting, inspiring?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

what i wore: red and black

street lights

on my way home from my friend karina's place a month or so ago, i took a lot of photos in the empty streets late at night (or rather, early in the morning) as i often do. this was after our second dress rehearsal.

for the vagina monologues i helped organize and performed in in early march, we decided everyone would wear red and/or black for our stage performances (it's a pretty easy concept). when we decided this, i thought about what i could potentially wear. a few years back, a simple red and black colour combination was one of my favourites and i always found it was an effortless way to look nicely put together. this time around, though, i found myself either wanting to dress entirely in black or entirely in red. my character in the monologues is angry, and this being one of my first acting experiences, i was very concerned with the whole "getting into character" thing, and clothing would be a very important part of this. i asked myself, should i wear all red, because red is associated with anger? but red is also very sexual and sexy, maybe too sexy for my character...

so in the weeks leading up to our dress rehearsals, hemming and hawing over what i thought my character would wear and trying to find a balance with a) what was in my closet and b) what i would be comfortable performing in, i started wearing more red and black in my every day life. i dug out my red coat, which was perfectly timed since the weather was warming up a bit. i added my very favourite black mourning brooch and went out into the world, postering for our event.


a better picture of my beloved mourning brooch, which i learned about here.

as our debut performance drew nearer, i finally settled on two dresses: both vintage black lace dresses i love and feel comfortable in, paired with red tights with black designs worn over top. and of course, my badass boots. i wore red heels for one practice but everyone told me i simply had to wear the boots. they really went well with my character.

1960s lace dress with a backwards collar. it's been with me for five years now, i think.


the second black dress i wore, which isn't seen very well in this photo! but i added a little heart pin that says "carmen" on it to queer it up a bit. (sadly i do not have a lover named carmen, but i do have a good friend of the same name!) and that lovely person dancing with me is karina, who kicked ass with her ode to cunt.

you can see the dress better in my performance (which i've been so indecisive about posting publicly... but if you guys really want to see it i'll post it).

and to wrap up and celebrate the end of the vagina monologues, we met up at the local gay bar for some karaoke. what a night! it was so much fun. it wasn't until i was on my way out the door that i realized i had unintentionally dressed in red and black again!


red followed me that night; went for dinner at a friend's place, which has a red door. was offered red wine to accompany the food. and as i headed out the door, i noticed red flashing lights, which, in québec city, mean you aren't allowed to park because the snowplows will be out.

snow plow lights


in conclusion: i quite like red and black together.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

life update: april

on friday, my friend anne-marie and i headed to la musée des beaux-arts to check out an exhibit i've been excited about for months now. "Haute couture. Paris, Londres, 1947-1957. L’âge d’or." enough said, right? i decided to get dressed to the nines (i wore this dress, my new pair of heels my mother bought me, backseam stockings, my favourite new pair of gloves and of course my fur trimmed coat) and check it out for myself. but this post isn't about the exhibit! i'm still working on that.

this week is going to be a productive one; i've decided it so. my boss at the used bookstore cut my hours, my student who i normally teach twice a week is out of town, so i decided to figure out a good way to use all that free time in productive ways. this means: wrapping up all the post- vagina monologues business, writing for this blog, working on articles for calls for submissions for zines/blogs/etc, editing photos, responding to all your (amazing!) comments, scanning found photos and other things, as well as, last, but not least, updating my etsy store. phew! it's going to be a good week.

to top it off, this coming saturday my friend anne-marie is giving me and a few of her friends a lift to montreal to go check out our very first real-life roller derby: BEASTS OF THE EAST. we are really excited and there are even rumours of starting a flat-track roller derby here in québec city. we'll see what happens!

here are some projects ideas i am working on that i hope to share with you guys in the near future, just for a little tease.
  • fashion as objet d'art: the place of fashion in museums
  • class, race, gender reflections on the haute couture exhibit
  • in like a lamb, out like a lion: outfits from winter 09-10 (it snowed yesterday)
  • reflections on my tumultuous relationship with my digital camera
  • the story of my hair

Thursday, April 15, 2010

the critical fashion lover's (basic) guide to cultural appropriation

writing about cultural appropriation and racism in fashion is potentially the most controversial topic for fashion writers, with body politics (which isn't completely divorced from these issues) following close behind. those of us who identify as critical, progressive or liberal minded want to think these things will just go away, but cannot ignore all the signs say otherwise; in fact, racism and cultural appropriation seems to be selling more than ever as of late. just look at the fact that white models are still the standard on runways and in magazines, and that outdated, undeniably racist things like blackface will come back and rear their ugly heads in the pages of vogue even in our supposed "post-racial" era.

to be honest, even i have hesistated touching this issue. it is the one that infuriates, perplexes and inspires me most, not only as a fan of fashion but as an activist, ally and writer. in fact, one of the first pieces i ever wrote about fashion was in 2005 about the problematic increasing trend of mocassin or "mocassin inspired" boots for winter. i've tried to write about it since, but there is so much ground to cover that it becomes intimidating (brevity has never been my strong point). with so many visceral and bewildering responses to the issue, it has sadly only lead to a half-dozen unfinished pieces tucked away on my harddrive.

but i can't hold my tongue any longer. i am an avid reader and (generally speaking) fan of jezebel, and with the discussions going on there triggered by adrienne's post at Native Appropriations entitled "Feathers and Fashion: Native Americans Is [sic] In Style" i think it is time for me to put pen to paper and give a sort of "the critical fashion lover's guide to cultural appropriation."

let's begin with the original article in question: while i don't necessarily think Adrienne's article is very clear with its specific criticisms of cultural appropriation, and a lot of her points muddy (i strongly disagree that Outkast is at the very root of this trend, influencing bands like Juliette and the Licks, Bat for Lashes, and Ke$ha, and am prepared to defend that stance) i am excited by the conversations it has triggered. i do think she raises questions that need to be addressed by fans of fashion and participants in hipster culture as of late, questions that i hope to elaborate on here.

what i mainly want to address here are the responses to adrienne's article when it was posted on jezebel, which range from deeply insightful to downright naive and ignorant. instead of taking this opportunity to engage in discussions about the history of colonization in north america, native american resistance/response to these issues, white privilege, or the political power that many different kinds of clothing possess, a lot of people often end up reacting in predictably defensive ways. but don't take my word for it. here are a sampling of comments:

"So... should I not wear minnetonka shoes or feather earrings anymore?" sydbarretsaves
"Am I gonna go to liberal-PC-prison for wearing silver and turquoise jewelry?"

"Really? I'm not allowed to wear a FEATHER IN MY HAIR? Come on" ferociacoutura

"now I feel guilty for loving Adam Ant when I was 12 yo."

as one of my wisest university professors Molly Blyth once said, "guilt is useless unless it leads to action." what does it say about this contentious issue that these are the first questions people are asking themselves, instead of trying to get a more complex understanding of why someone might challenge their choice to wear these things? the fact that these commentors are asking themselves these questions is, yes, a step in the right direction, but the fact that it is happening in a guilt-ridden, dismissive way is pretty disappointing.

unfortunately, for me, they are hardly surprising responses. my very first internet flame-war happened back in 2004 or 2005 on newestwrinkle (for those of you unfamiliar with this community, generally young girls would post pictures of what they wore that week/month and ask for opinions/flattery). a popular (a stylish ((white blonde skinny*)) american girl) and frequent contributor to the community posted pictures from a "cowboys and indians" party she attended. the pictures showed this white-blonde freckled girl with two lines of blue and red smeared across her cheeks, a little headband with a single feather, and of course the (ever popular at the time) mocassins. when commentors like myself and others asked her what the point of this party was and why she thought this was a representation of an "indian," the reaction was astounding. the post ended up generating nearly 200 comments debating issues ranging from racism, stereotypes, cultural appropriation but resoundingly the conclusion was that "fashion is just for fun! you guys take this way too seriously."

the moderators decided to freeze comments on the post, and soon after the original poster deleted the entry altogether. the resounding lesson i, and the handful of other people openly criticizing this costume as (at the very least) problematic and (at the worst) blatantly racist, was that our criticisms were simply not welcome.

in other similar situations, largely framed around "ethnic" or racial stereotype halloween costumes, i have raised these questions to little or no reaction. fashion communities online, and as far as i have seen in real life as well, simply seem to not want to address this important issue at all.

to me, these situations are more than enough reasons for me to try and express why i think cultural appropriation is an important issue for any fashion lover to address, understand, and deconstruct. cultural appropriation can be a very useful tool for critical fashion lovers to navigate these perilous waters of privilege, erasure and ignorance.

my favourite aspect of cultural appropriation is that it can help us begin to deconstruct our sartorial choices and acknowledges the power of clothing as a means of shaping (racial, national, sexual, gender) identity. the exact same piece of clothing can mean very different things to different people (take any politically charged piece of clothing: the hijab, high-heel shoes, doc martens, the keffiyeh, etc) and acknowledging this fact is a very important first step. the very basis of cultural appropriation gets people thinking about questions like, can one piece of clothing "belong" to one culture? what do certain pieces of clothing signify? it moves us away from basic discussions of colour palettes and cuts and styles and trends and moves us towards a more complex theorizing of fashion.

the first time i found cultural appropriation helpful as a framework was deconstructing what makes me uncomfortable in fashion and why. while in my second year of studies at trent university, taking a few native studies classes, i was learning more and more about the long-term effects of colonization on native people in canada. watching documentaries about residential schools, the bureaucratic hurdles communities encounter in struggles for land claims, the third world conditions on reserves in canada, as well as various other institutional forms of racism opened my eyes to the fact that we live in a country that is blind. a country that relegates native people to outdated stereotypes we can tokenize when it suits our government's purposes, but likes to keep its dirty laundry (which in this case could very literally be small-pox ridden hudson's bay blankets) out of sight.

so what does this have to do with the fact that i am uncomfortable when i see a young white girl in a high fashion magazine draped in turquoise jewelry, wearing mocassins and prancing around the desert? because this is the only image we see of native people in north america these days. native american culture is reduced to a trend that can be packaged and sold to profit the fashion industry. native american people are reduced to one dimensional outdated stereotypes, or worse, as an extinct exotic race that once roamed the land, but who no longer live and breathe and resist today.

i have heard a lot of arguments that there are way more important things we could be debating instead of cultural appropriation; that native people themselves don't give a shit if a severely intoxicated white hipster decides to tattoo pocahontas on his leg or if some magazine decides their next nude photoshoot should feature blonde women wearing headdresses. who knows! maybe the jingle dress will be the next hot thing in haute couture, but it doesn't impact the quality of life of the people who make, wear and perform in those dresses.

my response to this is clear and simple; i don't think the issue of institutional racism and discrimination can be completely divorced from the question of cultural appropration. they feed into one another. one would not exist (at least not in the same way) without the other. if we lived in a culture that acknowledged the fact that most of us live on stolen land in north america and that recognized native people as complex, diverse, intelligent people without romanticizing or glamourizing them, i'd like to think that it would put an end to these sorts of reductive stereotypes popping up in fashion, film, music scenes. reducing an entire culture to a simple "inspiration" for your outfit, art project, fashion collection, or photoshoot is disrespectful and unhelpful, especially when we look at the bigger picture.

to keep things brief, i will address two last important issues: context and the fear of the "politically correct" police. in all of the examples given in adrienne's article, they were largely stripped of their context. are all of the examples given equally and explicitly examples of cultural appropriation? in my opinion, not necessarily. many commentors on jezebel pointed out the fact that andre 3000 of outkast is part native and african american, but does this excuse his use of neon-outfitted headdress wearing backup dancers? not really. these are questions i'm still exploring, but it is incredibly important to think about questions of context and intent.

a dangerous thing that can happen in discussions about cultural appropriation is, yes, becoming overly politically correct. when this happens, people end up being silenced and any potential productive discussion ends. everyone ends up getting defensive, but just as bad is becoming righteous. if you identify as an ally, it is fine to give your own personal opinion, but to claim to speak for all native people (as though they compose one homogenous group) is just as problematic as dismissing this as an issue altogether. as with any issue, i highly encourage the critical fashion lover to enter this discussion with an open mind and to be prepared to unlearn a lot of the things you thought you knew.

the biggest problem with the concept of cultural appropriation, in my opinion, is that it doesn't set out any explicit black and white rules for people to follow. as you can see based on the comments on jezebel, people are genuinely confused as to what the "right thing" to do in these situations are, and there's nothing wrong with that. you can't get answers if you aren't asking questions. my advice in these situations is largely about context, intention, and education.

let's say you bought a cute pair of feather earrings and you like how they look. you're white. is this cultural appropriation?

  • are you going to pair them with a pair of mocassins and skimpy dress in an attempt to channel outdated romanticized stereotypes of native women? then yes, i would say that's pretty shitty.
  • are you going to ask who made them and where they come from? are they made in a factory with terrible working conditions? are they synthetic? are they from an endangered bird?
  • how are they marketed/sold to you? are they tagged as "navajo spirit eagle feather" yet made in china and sold by a capitalist chain?
  • you can claim you like them simply for their aesthetic appearance, but why do you like this particular aethestic?

as you can see, there are a lot of questions you can ask yourself about a single pair of earrings, not all of which relate specifically to cultural appropriation. i like to think of myself as a conscious consumer and like to know where my clothes are from, how/when they were made, that sort of thing.

(for the record, i own two pairs of feather earrings; one i received as a gift from six nations while i was in caledonia at a peace and friendship gathering which i unfortunately lost, the other i purchased at a thrift store for 50 cents)

these aforementioned questions can apply to any number of garments for any person who thinks of themselves as a critical consumer of fashion. ask yourself if you're simply wearing it "because you like it" or because it is trendy, and ask if that is enough for you. everyone has different reasons for what they choose to wear and why, and as long as you're prepared to discuss your reasons without engaging in fucked up discussions ignoring your own white privilege, i say go for it.

phew! so, that about covers some of the basics. to end, here are some comments that popped up on jezebel that gave me some hope:
Dressing up as "a Native American" furthers the already popular notion that they aren't real, diverse, complex human beings. There's a reason that dressing up as a white guy isn't nearly as effective on Halloween; there's no homogenous vision of what White Guy looks like. If you've developed a homogenous vision of a particular race, enough that you could conceive of a good costume, then just fucking stay home for the evening. - choppery

if you are a white person who waltzed in here to give your opinion and it was based entirely on how it affects you and your fashion choices, YOUR WHITE PRIVILEGE IS SHOWING. Me, personally, I'm ashamed at how our country was built on the literal and cultural genocide of Native people. It doesn't matter that my ancestors didn't personally do it or that it was like a really long time ago. As an American, I find it shameful. And all I really want to know is, what can I do to show respect to people who are my equals but who are rarely treated that way? Last I checked, appropriating a culture that that has been systematically denigrated is NOT respect. - thesciencegirl wields the

i'm hoping to take some time to speak very specifically about this trend in respect to hipster culture (think roma/"gypsy" people being romanticized in music/fashion) in the last year or two, so this definitely isn't the last you'll hear me talking about this. i look forward to hearing your thoughts! if you're interested in learning more about cultural appropriation from a much more informed source, here are some things you might like to check out.

recommended reading:
black looks: race and representation by bell hooks
national disgrace: canadian government and the residential school system 1879-1986 by john milloy
unpacking the white privilege knapsack by peggy macintosh
me funny and me sexy by drew hayden taylor
"real" indians and others by bonita lawrence
various racialicious posts by jessica yee

recommended viewing:
yellow apparel: when the coolie becomes the cool on vimeo
genocide, assimilation or incorporation: Indigenous Identity and Modes of Resistance lecture by bonita lawrence on vimeo

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

self-portrait: thoughts

lake champlain

lately i've been thinking a lot about how my self portraits fall largely into two precise categories:

1) sartorial (documentation/expression/mirror)
2) emotional (capturing a moment/creating a moment)

of course, these two often intersect, but the more i've been thinking about my own self-portraits the more i feel like that is as concise an evaluation i can sumise.

Monday, April 12, 2010

what i wore last week: easter weekend in trenton


i visited my (birth and chosen) family in ontario last week and had a wonderful time. seeing my sisters always puts me in a good mood. i also finally had the chance to watch an education (which everyone was telling me i had to see) with my mother which i quite enjoyed and found interesting... triggered a lot of thoughts about own feelings about youth, sexuality and clothing as costume/transformative. looking forward to see what carey mulligan will do next.

more generally, i had a lot of time for discussions and reflections on where i'm at in my life right now and where my friends and family are. it was a really good way to put things in perspective, and one of the things that resounded with me the most was my desire to write more. that i can write no matter what is going on in my life, that i never lack inspiration.

i've always been the kind of person who felt like spring was a better time for renewal than the new year, so a lot of changes are in the works for me right now.

without further ado, here are some more pictures of my trenton adventures:

bike rides along lake ontario


this cat hates me. a lot.


shirt: borrowed from my little sister
key necklace: from an antique shop, chain thrifted
skirt: vintage clothing sale in ottawa 2009, $15

i adore this skirt. it is a simple cotton dress with a floral print, which sounds standard enough, but it's all about the little details. the buttons around the waist, the scalloped edges, the colour combinations. i purchased it in november but have had a hard time incorporating it into my wardrobe simply because it is so unique and i wasn't sure which shirts/colours to pair it with. so far black has been simplest, but i also paired it with a pale blue and a bold yellow told and both combinations looked nice as well.

but the story! i haven't even gotten to the story: the woman who sold it to me told me it belonged to her aunt. (background: usually, when you buy vintage, it is standard to ask if it came from a smoke-free or pet-free home, but you usually don't get this much detail) her aunt was a devout jehovah's witness, who never smoked, drank, or married. this does not make the garment pristine, however. it has little stains around the waist but that makes me love it even more (and made it affordable; it was originally priced at $40, then $30, then i snagged it for $15) and the story makes it all the more precious to me. i feel like i want to be particularly debaucherous every single time i wear it. i love having stories like these.

i also did my hair, on a very, very rare occassion. i want to do things more often but the reality is that i own little to no hair products other than shampoo, conditioner and hairspray and i am terribly lazy. i've often said i wish andi could come give me lessons.

my sisters and i headed to the mall in belleville to visit my favourite photobooth and had a mild shock; for a moment it looked as though it had been replaced with one of those newfangled digital contraptions i loathe. but! it was still there. i forgot it i trenton so i can't share the strip with you but here are some pictures from our wanderings:


four inch studded heels. damn they look hot but i could not walk in them. at all. i don't understand how anyone can.

jasmine refusing to pose in her four inch python t-strap heels.

getting engaged to my sister... yeah.

check out that rock.

thanks for reading!

Friday, April 2, 2010

what i wore today: alice or dorothy


when i got dressed this morning, i thought i was channeling dorothy from the wizard of oz: a blue and white gingham print dress, paired with a new pair of lovely little red t-straps my mother bought me (ha! as if any shoes i'd ever wear could be considered "little"). but as the day wore on, however, my sister and mother both said i reminded them of alice. i like to think it's more because alice in wonderland is re-entering popular culture in a fierce way right now thanks to the remake, but either way i think i looked pretty cute.

what do you think?

my wonderful family bought me a plane ticket to come visit for easter weekend, and the past few days have been a whirlwind. i landed in toronto on wednesday morning, leaving the snow covered streets of quebec city for the sunny summer-like warmth of ontario. of course it is above seasonal; we normally don't see this kind of weather for another month or so, but this year it almost feels like summer!

early in the morning i took my big clunky cruiser to the gas station to fill up the tires, and go for a little bike ride. on the way i stopped by some old favourite places i used to walk along all the time when i was a kid, passed streets i used to deliver newspapers on, and of course saw the train go by.



when i got home, it was so hot i ditched the socks, the sweater and even ironed my dress. in april! april!


dress: emmaus, $5
slip + poofy underskirt: thrifted
shoes: naturalizer, gift from my mother! i love them
vintage queen pin: emmaus, $2

my sister's cat, who i briefly lived with when we went to university together, still quite dislikes me, even though i love her fluffy erratic self.

so there you have it! what i wear in trenton so that people look at me like i am an alien.

this happens every time i come back to trenton: i always feel simultaneously at home and completely foreign. for those of you who don't know me, i lived on military bases most of my youth, which meant moving every 3 or 4 years. we mostly lived in ontario, and the longest i lived in one place was trenton, for my entire high school years tied with five years in peterborough for my undergraduate degree.

as i alluded to, every time i am back here i feel out of place. my sisters, parents and friends often make (well-meaning teasing) comments like "you're going to wear that there?" but anyone who knows me knows i don't change what i wear depending on who i'm going to be with or where i'm going to be. yes, i'll wear that 1950s cotton day dress biking around trenton even though i'll get stared at. yes, i'll wear those three inch heels because i feel like it, even though it means i will tower over strangers and get comments telling me that tall women like me don't "need" to wear them.

so clearly, in the little over forty eight hours i've been in trenton, i've been thinking a lot about how our appearances are read by others as well as performed for others, in a sense. in the past two days, i've seen friends from a few years ago, from high school, as well as people who have known me my entire life, people who i haven't seen for a very long time. how much can we tell about each other, how much we've changed, based on what we're wearing? i've been thinking a lot about these things we see as "normal" for the most part and trying to theorize around them... i'll let you know once i've fleshed out these ideas in more substantial ways.

ALSO: thanks for all your comments lately! i love hearing your ideas and thoughts. a few people have asked me where my contact information is and i noticed i don't have it posted anywhere! i will change this. in the meantime you can send me emails with your ideas or comments to JULIACARON at GMAIL dot COM