Jesus sneakers

In a few minutes this past Tuesday, Brooklyn sneaker company MSCHF (pronounced Mischief) sold two dozen shoes for U.S. $1,425 each. The customized Nike Air Max 97 sneakers called ‘Jesus Shoes’ were blessed with religious symbols: Holy water from the River Jordan were injected in the sneaker bubbles, the Vatican-red insoles were scented with frankincense, and a steel crucifix dangled from the shoelaces. 

The shoes were made as a parody of the absurdity of collaborative products, although the irony may have been lost on its buyers as many of the shoes have already been resold for more than double their original cost.

Crime and Punishment and Sneakers

22 year old Brit Isaiah Hanson-Frost, is about to have his 55 pairs of designer sneakers, valued at about $30,000 Canadian, sold by the police. Last April, Hanson-Frost was sentenced to six years in jail after admitting to firing a gun at a car in November, 2017 during a gang feud over drugs.  

“We are keen to put a stop to anyone who is living a lavish lifestyle which has been funded through crime” said Detective Inspector Dave Shore-Nye of the Gloucestershire police.

Items seized after a criminal trial are often sold, especially if money raised from the sale can be used to help victims of those crimes. Proceeds from the sale of Hanson-Frost’s sneaker auction will go to the High Sheriff’s Fund, which encourages activities that divert minors from a life of crime.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Lewis Lacey

Lewis Lacey, 1930s

Lewis Lacey was born in Montreal on February 17, 1887. In 1915 Lacey won the Argentine open in polo and became Argentina’s second 10-goal polo player. He then served for England during World War I before returning to Argentina to pursue his polo career.

In 1920, Lacey opened a sports shop in Buenos Aires, and continued to play polo, for both English and Argentinian teams until he retired in 1937. The short sleeved jersey shirts worn in the 1923 season by the Hurlingham Polo Team of Buenos Aires were created by Lacey and featured an emblem of a mounted polo player on the left breast. 

Polo player, c. 1910 (not the insignia used by Lacey)

In a similar manner, French Tennis star Rene Lacoste, known as ‘le Crocodile’ for his snappy style, began producing a polo shirt with a crocodile logo on the left breast in 1933. The shirts were marketed by Izod in the United States beginning in 1951.

In 1967, Ralph Lauren adopted the brand line ‘Polo’ for his men’s collection and first used a polo player motif in advertising in 1972, adding the emblem to all his polo shirts in 1978. However, Alberto Vannucci was selling shirts in Buenos Aires with a similar polo player motif. Lauren sued Vannucci, who proved his version predated Lauren’s because it was created in 1923 for Lewis Lacey. The polo line frequently ends up in court with the United States Polo Association over the right to use a polo player motif in the production of clothing and accessories.

A hat with pithy nuance

Critical tweets and hashtags quickly filled social media this past Friday when Melania Trump wore a pith helmet for a Safari tour in Kenya. The New York Times quoted Kim Yi Donne, a political-science professor who specializes in African politics at the University of California, “When people think of Africa, they have these standard narratives. Her attire is a signal of her understanding of what Africa is in 2018. It’s tired and its old and it’s inaccurate.”

Many feel the pith helmet is a symbol of European colonialism, but it wasn’t created as a means of expressing authority or repression, only as a way for Europeans to survive equatorial heat and tropical humidity. If the pith helmet is a symbol of hot climate imperialism, then a similar argument could be made for parkas and pack boots in former cold climate colonies.

The pith used in the helmet’s construction was acquired from the spongey core of the stem of the shola plant that grows abundantly in marshy areas of East India (West Bengal). The light-weight pith, which absorbs moisture and can be easily carved, was traditionally used for creating Bengali wedding headgear.

Sometime during the 1820s to 1840s, sun helmets (known as shola topee in Hindi) began to be made by Indians for Europeans who found their straw hats became sticky and limp in the high humidity and heat of the tropical Indian climate. Pith sun hats retained their shape while the hygroscopic qualities of the pith wicked sweat away from the head.

1858 design for pith helmet

In the 1850s the British army were still wearing shakos – a tall Napoleonic era hat style that survives today as part of the marching band uniform. To replace the shako, the pith helmet was adapted for military use. The helmet, which was covered in cotton, had a high crown to  prevent sweat buildup, and added ventilation holes on the side and top for air circulation. The helmets could be soaked in water so that on a hot day, the head was cooled as the water evaporated. A wide, sloping brim to keep sun and rain off the wearer’s face and neck also provided a place to fasten a leather or metal chin strap when not in use.

Soldiers in the Middle East quickly learned they were targets in their bright white helmets, so they dyed the cotton coverings with tea and dirtied them with ‘khak’ the Persian word for dirt from which we get the word khaki.

By the late 1860s, the military were making their helmets from cork or metal instead of pith. The Northwest Mounted Police in Canada even adopted the style in the 1870s (pictured right). A British style was standardized and became known as the Wolseley helmet in 1899, named after, but not designed by, Sir Garnet Wolseley. This modified version, had an apex at the front and back and is still worn by many regiments including the Queen’s Life Guards.

By the late 19thcentury, the genderless civilian style of pith helmet had a rounder shape and flatter top and was known as a ‘Bombay bowler’. Made in India for export, the hats were mostly worn by colonials, expats, missionaries and travellers around the equatorial world: Caribbean islands, The Amazon, Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, and Australia.

U.S. postal service helmet

The pith helmet style became a prototype for soldier’s ‘tin hats’ during World War I, workmen’s hard hats, and polo helmets, which in turn influenced the design of today’s bicycle helmets. The U.S. post office even adopted pith helmet styles for mail carriers that are part of the current uniform.

Dressed for Safari, c. 1930

Pith helmets fell from general use for two reasons. Firstly, as colonies gained independence after World War II, indigenous denizens wore their own traditional styles of headwear that predated the use of pith helmets: turbans, thobes, fezzes, kufis… Although, many of the newly independent countries retained pith helmets for their military and police uniforms. Secondly, travel changed in the postwar world. Extended holidays that began with long ocean voyages to exotic tropical locales were displaced by jetting off for short trips to air conditioned resorts.

The pith helmet is still being made and worn. One current manufacturer in Pakistan has been making them since 1928. This is a style that was not appropriated from any indigenous culture. It was gender non-specific, and was the result of scientific design to aid air movement, moisture wicking, and sun protection. It was not produced by slave labour, and it was never restricted to or from anyone who wanted to wear one. The style’s association with colonialism is superficial – based on it being originally made for and worn by primarily white people who did not have suitable headwear from their own wardrobes to wear in hot and humid climates.

Was there ever a summer without a tennis fashion scandal?

When tennis really was a fashionable, social game…

This year the big tennis fashion todo is over Serena Williams’ black catsuit at the French Open. I think she made a mistake by suggesting it was for health reasons since there are plenty of options for loose clothing and compression tights that would have been within tournament rules that were also suitable attire for avoiding blood clots.

Serena and her sister Venus have a history of shocking attire on the courts, wearing outfits of non-traditional colours and patterns. The controversy over the catsuit shouldn’t have come as a surprise since there was already precedence set by Wimbledon when it banned catsuits in 1985 after Anne White wore one, even though it was white, in compliance with Wimbledon’s all-white clothing rule. However, next to shorts and a polo top, Williams’ catsuit was a practical choice and, in black, looked far better on Serena than the long-johns look of the white catsuit worn by Anne White.

This sport has a history of fashion controversy: Baby doll dresses, logos and branding, coloured outfits, lace trimmed panties, nude coloured panties, no bras, flag sweatbands, flashy jackets or bags, jewellery, skirts cut too high, tops cut too low – it’s always something.

With catsuits now banned, Serena opted yesterday to wear a tutu instead…

Messy Nessy had an interesting photo essay about the history of tennis fashions:

From Corsets to Culottes: The Women who Dared to Change Wimbledon


Raccoon Coats – The First Vintage Clothing Hit?

Raccoon coat wearing football fans, c. 1930

The raccoon coat originally grew in popularity in the 1920s, alongside college football. Late fall games were not comfortable for fans sitting in open stadiums, and raccoon coats (a more affordable choice than expensive farm-bred mink or fox) became a fashionable way to stay warm. The popularity for the coats peaked just before the stock market crash of 1929, and as they fell from favour during the early 1930s, supplies surpassed demand. The bulk of the unsold coats went into storage where they languished until the Davy Crocket coonskin cap craze of 1955 resulted in many of the old coats being repurposed.

Coonskin cap, c. 1955

In 1957, New York socialite Sue Salzman was telling a story at a Greenwich Village party about how she had hesitated on buying an old raccoon coat, but that it had sold by the time she had decided she wanted it.  A guest who had heard the story told her that if she wanted a raccoon coat, he could put her in touch with relatives who had a warehouse of jazz-age raccoon coats. Sue promptly went into business acquiring and reselling the coats to retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor. Some were sold as is, some recut and relined. However, like thirty years before, their popularity faded after a few years.

More to the Story…

Battle of the Sexes and Tennis Fashion

The Women’s Tennis Association founding as recreated in c. 1972 in the film

We saw Battle of the Sexes last night – the film about Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King’s 1973 tennis match – an event I remember well the first time around. The film is very entertaining and remains pretty true to the facts, although some liberties are taken with the timeline (Everything is set in 1972-73 rather than the actual September 1970 – September 1973 time frame.)

The costuming by Mary Zophres is good. I have always contended that recreating recent pasts for films is actually harder than distant periods because your audience will know what’s wrong. I remember 1973 well, and Zophres captured the feeling in all its pastel poly pant suit glory. There are a few pieces here and there I didn’t love on extras but you have to look hard.

The Women’s Tennis Association founding in 1970

One of the characters in the film, played by Alan Cummings, is Ted Tinling. He was an interesting character with a lot of influence in the world of tennis fashion. When Tinling was a teenager he spent winters in the French Riviera playing tennis. He learned to become an umpire for tennis matches, and as his status grew, doors opened for him at Wimbledon. Tinling became a tennis historian, consultant, chief of protocol, and also tennis dress fashion designer for the International Tennis Federation. He was responsible for breaking the rules about all-white tennis dresses.

Tinling passed away in 1990 at the age of 80. It was only after his death that it was learned, rather surprisingly, that the 6’7″ effete Tinling, who was known for his extremely fashionable clothes, had also served as a British Intelligence spy during the World War II.