Broad Ambition

I received an email from Melodie Bryant, the director of a film about the Barbizon hotel in New York City. They are looking for funding and are asking for public support via kickstarter. After viewing the trailer below, I have to say it looks really interesting and there are obviously going to be lots of fashion stories in the film!

Getting the boot in 1787

masculine-gender-1787-219x300feminine-gender-224x300Boots were new to a lady’s wardrobe in the late 18th century. As pedestrianism increased in popularity, boots became practical choices for long walks over soggy fields and dusty roads. However, lurking beneath the sensibility of the fashion was a fear that women were adopting men’s dress. This pair of caricatures from 1787 by Henry Kingsbury illustrates the trend for women in boots, as well as the fashion for men using too much lace and feminine styling in their dress – a trend that would fall from favour, along with the French aristocracy, within a few years. For more information on women in men’s dress, the Georgian Gentleman blog has an interesting snippet on women dressed in men’s attire to go shooting and play cricket in the 1770s.

What’s wrong with this picture?

1965-FrenchSuedeSuitHere’s a clue. This 1965 photograph of two models wearing suede pantsuits by the French firm Mac Douglas was taken in Paris — Give Up?

Until last week, a Paris law dating from the French Revolution made it illegal for a woman to wear trousers. Amendments to the law in 1892 and 1909 allowed a woman to wear trousers as long as she was also holding a bicycle handlebar or the reins of a horse. The restriction was created when Parisian Revolutionary rebels adopted trousers instead of bourgeoisie knee-breeches, in what was coined the ‘sans-culottes’ movement. However, female sans-culottes rebels were forbidden to wear trousers.

Previous attempts to repeal the law were thwarted by officials who said it was an archaic, un-enforced law, and not a priority to retract (even though France does enforce a law that outlaws religious garb in government.) It was decided the symbolic importance of the no-trouser law might offend modern sensibilities because it was “incompatible with the principles of equality between women and men.” Georges Sand would be thrilled.

Buttoning it up right

There are several theories as to why men and women’s clothes are buttoned on opposite sides. I subscribe to the theory that mens’ buttons are on the wearer’s right side because men have tended to dress themselves over the centuries whereas women had help in getting dressed by a maid, mother, husband, or sister, and so the buttons are placed to make it easier for someone else to use. In fact, buttons on women’s outfits were rare until the 1870s, hooks and eyes were more commonly used, and before that, straight pins.

Last weekend I acquired a women’s Royal Canadian Air Force jacket from 1942 for the collection. I don’t normally acquire partial uniforms without provenance, but this piece intrigued me. Founded in July 1941 as the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (CWAAF) their name was changed to the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division in February 1942. Women in this branch were commonly referred to as WDs. They were disbanded in December 1946.

The woman on the far left is the only WD with left hand buttoning and the WD on the far right has fake pockets.

What I thought was  interesting about this jacket was that it buttoned like a man’s, and the pockets are fake. I am by no means a Canadian military uniform historian, but I thought those features made the jacket worthy of acquiring for the collection. In researching this combination of men’s buttoning and fake pockets I came across this image that showed several versions for women’s uniforms, including real and fake pockets, and left and right hand buttoning. All of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) uniforms in the collection have the traditional left hand side buttoning for women, so I don’t know if this is an air force thing or what the explanation is – anybody know?

Urban Fashion Legends – The Burning Bra

Bra burning, Toronto, March 1979

As the feminist movement built momentum towards the end of the 1960s, a story emerged about militant protestors removing their brassieres and burning them in a garbage can in protest of the September 1968 Miss America Beauty contest in Atlantic City. However, no bras were actually burned at that protest. Several trappings of femininity were ceremoniously tossed into a “freedom trash can” including bras, girdles, cosmetics, and high heeled shoes.

The story of the burning bra was the result of a misunderstood metaphor created by a journalist who equated the burning of draft cards in protest of Vietnam to feminists hypothetically “burning the bra of oppression.” The image conjured up from the statement grew into a false memory, good story, and eventually a self-fulfilling prophecy when a bra was set ablaze to garner media attention for a protest about a police rape report in Toronto in March, 1979.

There was also a song by a British group “St. Cecilia”, done in 1972 called “C’Mon Ma Burn Your Bra”:

Ingrid Mida – Constructions in Femininity

We first met Ingrid Mida when she came to use our collection for historical research, but Mida has many interests and talents and is also an artist who currently has an exhibition at the Loop gallery in Toronto.  I had intended to post about her show after we saw it, but time flew, and we won’t be seeing the show until later this week, and the show closes Sunday.

Toronto Life reviewed her show and said: “Constructions in Femininity, sounds dreary and didactic, but Mida’s work expresses a visceral delight in exploring issues of identity through photographs, sculpture and textile works. A hockey uniform gets tarted up with ribbons and sequins, while metal mesh transforms a tutu into something nearly threatening.” Mida is also the author of an excellent blog: Fashion is My Muse.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Fashionality

I am not the sort of person who lives for contemporary art installations… however, I have to praise an exhibition we saw at the McMichael Art Gallery in Kleinburg, Ontario. I am a bit biased because it was curated by Julia Pine – my former assistant at the Bata Shoe Museum who I now have to address as ‘doctor’ because she has since acquired a stack of academic initials.

Julia, I mean Dr. Pine, curated Fashionality: Dress and Identity in Contemporary Canadian Art – an exploration of how apparel and the act of adornment is used by 23 active Canadian artists in their work. The exhibition is divided into four general themes:

The first theme is about the art of creating. My favourite was a wall of clothing made and worn by artist Nathalie Purschwitz who, like the woman who cooked her way through Julia Child’s recipes, blogged about everything she made and wore for one year – nothing she wore was made by anyone but her, from shoes to sunglasses.

95rlcThe second part of the exhibition examines clothing and the life cycle. A stunning wall mural of hundreds of tiny knitted sweaters, entitled Lost Boys, is a poignant tribute to fallen soldiers of the First World War. The artist Michele Karch-Ackerman continues to add to this piece, in fact if you want to help, click on her name to learn how to volunteer to make more of these sweaters.

The third element of the show looks at fashion. This is perhaps the most traditional approach within the exhibition consisting mostly of sketches, paintings and photographs. I was drawn in particular to some eye-catching photographs taken of chiffon and tulle dresses frozen within blocks of ice. Nicole Dextras is the artist who has created these hauntingly beautiful sculptures that she photographs for posterity before they melt.

The finale looks at identity. At one end of the gallery there is a three-story red plaid lumberjack shirt and at the other, a cover of ‘Cosmosquaw’ and in between are some of the works of Kent Monkman. Monkman adeptly uses humour to express his Native and sexual identity through a variety of artistic forms. One of his many genres are paintings done in the style of 19th century artists of Native life, like Kreighoff and Rindisbacher, but when you look closely you realize the ‘noble savages’ are in high heels! Probably my favourite piece was the ‘LV’ quiver, but there was also a dream-catcher bra that ran a close second.

I recommend Fashionality – it’s a great complimentary exhibition to the traditional Canadian school of art that makes up the balance of the McMichael art collection. The exhibition will be on display until September 3.

Guy to Goddess – tips for a Drag Queen…

The Dumbells: WW1 Canadian entertainment troop c. 1917

I came across a leaflet in my ‘gender identity’ file from the 1995 Gay Pride Day in Toronto with tips every drag queen should know. So in honour of Gay Pride 2011, here are the top five tips for drag queens:

Tip 5: Breasts can be constructed from bags filled with bird seed or rice, or balloons filled with a mixture of water and gelatin

Tip 4: Nail glue is also useful for holding clip-on earrings in place, however you may need solvent to remove them and that could make your lobes a little red for a while

Tip 3: To avoid slipping on stage while wearing spikes, make it tacky by spilling coke on it

Tip 2: Never wear a sequinned jacket with a long wig, the wig will get tangled and come off with the jacket. Similarly, never wear rhinestones with satin – they claw and will scar the surface of the fabric

Tip 1: Drink beer through a straw, it’s easier on the lipstick – but remember, the more you drink, the more you’re going to have to untuck and tuck, while wearing nails

Dragging Up the Past…

(Originally blogged June 11, 2010)

I read the following poem a few years ago and thought it very funny and then I ran across this c. 1903 Buster Brown cartoon, so naturally I thought to myself – BLOG ENTRY! From Come Into My Parlour, Cautionary verses and instructive tales for the new millennium by Bill Richardson:

Nothing Like a Dame
The story I’ll tell you is all about Al,
A mountainous man who had mountainous pals,
With gym-sculpted bodies unsullied by toxins;
Their calves hard as granite and necks thick as oxen,
With hillocks for chests and with statuesque shoulders
And biceps the size of conventional boulders,
With tummies that rippled and thighs made of thunder,
And as for the rest — well, I’ll leave you to wonder.
They all had Cameros emblazoned with dragons,
And brows anthropoligists might call Cro-Magnon,
In every way masculine in their deportment;
Oh, never was seen such a macho assortment.
Hallowe’en night was again on the verge
And Al and his pals had the fun-loving urge
To deck themselves out and do something inane.
“I got it,” Al ventured. “Let’s go out as dames!”
“Yeah! Dames!” said his buddies. “Va va va va voom!”
One snickered, “Hooters!” One chuckled, “Bazooms!”
They drove to the thrift store and swiftly took stock,
They bought hideous wigs and rebarbative frocks,
They tried on the shoes and like madmen careened
From pillar to post in their pumps, size 16.
They dashed to the cash and unloaded their carts,
Then went home to practice the womanly arts.
Big Al, on arrival, made haste to put on
His black crepe de Chine and his hot pink chiffon.
He looked in the mirror and liked what he saw:
His nice way with scarves, his complexion sans flaw.
He was big, he was butch, and devotedly hetero…
But still he was thrilled to be sporting stilettos.
He felt like a diva: Tebaldi or Callas.
Thus Al was transformed, and before him stood Alice.
He stood breathing heavily, misting the mirror,
He lurched back a step, teetered nearer and nearer,
And then just as surely as push leads to shove
Allan and Alice fell deeply in love.
Yes, surely as borrowers look for a lender
Al was enmeshed in confusion of gender,
And surely as knickknacks belitter a shelf
Big Al, at a glance, fell in love with himself.
Hallowe’en came, they all had a great time,
And when it was over his buddies consigned
Their dresses and girdles, their borroweds and blues
To attics and basements and Sally Anns, too.
Al though, was different. His buddies were stumped
To see him keep purchasing boas and pumps.
His father was puzzled, his mother depressed,
But Al wanted Alice dependably dressed.
Psychologists doubtless could try to explain,
And give Al’s condition a clinical name.
Reveal how his fondness for ladies’ emporia
Signals some kind of a gender dysphoria,
Call him regressive, or else narcissistic.
Labels, however, are simply simplistic.
Al thinks his life has been latterly great,
He never again needs to look for a date.
A touch of mascara, a girdle and bra,
A dress, matching pumps with a clutch and voila!
In just half an hour he’s changed and he’s ready,
Alice and Al, quite content going steady.
Perhaps you will think this is simply absurd,
Dismiss as apocryphal what you have heard.
All fellows, at some point, on some Hallowe’en
Will smear up their faces with mom’s Maybelline.
Will put on her shoes, even colour their hair
And next day are nothing the worse for the wear.
So why then should Al, quintessentially normal,
Now go out to restaurants bedecked in a formal?
He just knows for certain that self-dating’s fun,
He’s Al and he’s Alice, a couple in one.
The moral is simple. I close with this lone word.
Dateless this weekend? Then Angel, look homeward.