The problem with writing a review of a 12 month period at the 11 month mark is that you have a totally skewed perspective on things. The most recent event seems like the most important and I start to delude myself into thinking that nothing, not a single event in the realm of fashion during the calendar year of 2013, could be as important as Beyoncé wearing a crystal corset in this video.
I guess a common flaw in the human memory is that we give way, way too much importance to the most recent events (particularly when those events involve the surprise release of a new Beyoncé album), and that everything else gets lost in this grey fog at the back of your cerebral cortex. But then someone says something and it triggers one memory which leads to another and another and then all of a sudden you’re frantically texting yourself ridiculous non sequiturs like “t-shirts Wendy Davis criticism street style Janet Malcolm Gucci.” So, without further ado, here’s my 2013/Year of Beyoncé review.
First things first: on December 12, 2013, I went to bed at a reasonable hour to prepare to move into a new apartment on Friday the 13th. I have never made such a stupid decision. At the stroke of midnight, Beyoncé Knowles Carter released Beyoncé, a visual album that came as a surprise to the entire fucking world (up to and including some of the people who worked on it). There’s a lot of reasons this is significant, but mostly I’m stuck on “FORTY FIVE MINUTES TO GET ALL DRESSED UP AND WE AIN’T EVEN GONNA MAKE IT TO THIS CLUB.” “Pretty Hurts,” the incredibly beautiful video featuring Beyoncé as an aspiring beauty queen, is designed to wrench tears from anyone with a beating heart. In “Flawless,” Beyoncé mocks the idea of effortless beauty while sampling Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s TED talk on feminism. Do yourself a favour and set aside some serious time to watch and worship this holiday season; Beyoncé is truly a Christmas miracle.
It’s almost painful to not talk about Beyoncé, but okay, now I’m really moving on.
In 2013, I spent a lot of time thinking about Spring Breakers. This weird, dreamy film was like watching a neon-tinged stream of consciousness; it touched on important issues like race, class, wealth, sex, and dubstep. The image of Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson forcing James Franco to fellate his own gun is indelibly etched on my brain (in a good way). I fought with people about this movie—men, mostly, but also some women—about what it all meant, whether it was feminist, not feminist, all that basic bullshit. But the thing I really couldn’t stop thinking about was the way the girls in the movie were so unclothed—in some of the movie’s most dangerous scenes, it’s like they’re going into battle with nothing but a bikini and a machine gun. There’s a really strange element of power present, like they don’t need anything except their societally-approved beautiful bodies in order to thrive in any situation. The sneakers that they wear for most of the film are bright, with huge loops that looked like they were tied in a hurry; it’s such a small, childish detail that complements their string bikinis, South Beach tourist shop sweatpants, and pink balaclavas perfectly. There’s also James Franco’s Oscar-worthy monologue detailing everything he owns—he deserves every award, ever, just for the way he delivers the line “Calvin Klein’s Escape.” Spring break forever, indeed.
Sofia Coppola released The Bling Ring, a movie I did not like based on a book I really disliked. While both films dealt with really interesting ideas of wealth, consumption, and so-called “luxury” fashion, I really disagreed with the way Coppola portrayed her teenage characters as being a combination of pure evil and epically dumb; I think she was especially patronizing in this interview with Lee Radizwell. I think there are some really intelligent observations to be made on this topic, though, and would instead recommend re-reading Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, or even finding a copy of Lindzine, which I picked up at the 2013 New York Art Book Fair. Or should we just watch Spring Breakers again real quick?
But for better or worse, I did spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship between clothing and consumption in 2013. One article that still haunts me is by Buzz Bissinger, the author of my beloved Friday Night Lights, simply titled “My Gucci Addiction.” In April 2013, GQ published Bissinger’s confession that he was, for lack of a better term, a shopaholic. He is addicted to shopping and specifically to buying Gucci clothing and accessories. By the time he catalogued the cost of everything he had bought in the three years preceding this article, it was $587,412.97.
Here’s what I think is good about this article: I think it’s really, really important that we have more honest dialogues about the really toxic parts of the fashion industry. And shopping is, in a lot of cases, toxic; it’s also entirely impossible to avoid, unless you are raising a flock of sheep and shearing them to knit your own sweaters. The obsession that the mainstream fashion industry has with the new and the now is a trap. It’s designed to keep us in a constant cycle of buying and discarding. But it’s incredibly unnerving to read someone—and, honestly, to read a mostly straight-identified white man, of all people—talk about the death grip his Gucci obsession had on him. I don’t think I’m used to people talking quite so honestly about the destructive belief that you can buy yourself better. Read the whole article here.
If we’re talking about the destructive nature of fashion, then there’s nothing more important than what happened in Bangladesh. Nathalie Atkinson, an honourary Wornette for life, summed it up best: “Today, we wring our hands; tomorrow we will live to shop again. Such brief disposable bursts of moral indignation are as cheap as they are trendy.” As Wornettes, we know that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. In July, several European retailers signed one safety pact while American and Canadian signed a slightly different agreement. I want to be hopeful and trust that big brands can be a force for good in the apparel industry, but before that, I think we all need to think really carefully about how and where we’re spending our money when it comes to clothing.
For more careful explorations of the entire fashion industry, I know Serah-Marie Wornette is a huge fan of NPR’s Planet Money Makes A T-Shirt series. The series is exactly what it sounds like: NPR follows the making of a t-shirt from every stage, cotton to human, to see what it really takes to make a seemingly simple item of clothing. I’m planning on watching, reading, and listening to all five chapters over the holidays, because I know how to party.
This year I read a lot of really wonderful writing about fashion criticism. Fashion Projects devoted an entire issue to the topic, featuring interviews with fashion critics like Robin Givhan, Guy Trebay, Suzy Menkes, and more; it’s impossible to pick a favourite, but I did especially love Francesca Granata’s interview with Judith Thurman, which is online here.
Speaking of Suzy Menkes, in February 2013, she wrote an article entitled “The Circus of Fashion.” In it, Menkes talks about the proliferation of street style blogs and how they’ve changed the industry. I’m inclined to disagree with her, mostly because I’m hard-wired to disagree with anyone who bemoans what kids today are up to in favour of the more “authentic” kids of their own time. She is right that the majority of fashion bloggers have not, unfortunately, used their platform to organize a full-scale revolt around an unjust industry, and instead have chosen to enforce the status quo, but I don’t think it’s fair to blame that on the bloggers—I’d rather focus on the people who are using the freedom the Internet brings to subvert fashion publishing norms. Or the people who are changing the status quo from the inside out! Anything but another round of finger-pointing at a group of people who, honestly, are more a reflection of fashion industry’s core values than anything else. Susie Bubble had a wonderful, heartfelt response to being named by Menkes in this article.
Here’s something that just made me lol a lot, while we’re talking about the fashion establishment: at New York Fashion Week in September, a bunch of fashion editors, stylists, and writers were trapped in a freight elevator on their way out of a show. This is the perfect premise for a horror movie, by the way. That’s a freebie for any big movie executives reading this round-up.
In June, a magazine published a cover story called “A New Golden Age,” about the future of magazine publishing; I’m deliberately not linking to it, because according to them, the future of magazine publishing is exclusively white and male. As a response, Jessica Grose wrote about the prejudices against women’s magazines within the publishing industry here. As well, Longreads published a list of 21 Outstanding Stories from Women’s Magazines and Websites. And all those white male self-congratulatory publications can go fuck themselves.
In the grand tradition of Valentino blazers and rainbow pantsuits, American politics made a contribution to fashion history this year with a simple pair of sneakers. Wendy Davis stood for thirteen hours to stop a list of measures that would have severely restricted abortion regulations in the state of Texas. Her choice of shoes—a pink pair of Mizuno sneakers—inspired a series of truly hilarious Amazon reviews, such as “These are the perfect shoes for standing your ground against misogyny, ignorance, and deliberate stupidity.” Anna Wornette and I talked about the significance of these shoes for The Toast, which you can read here. We also talked about a whole bunch of other stuff for The Toast, including our feelings about museums, horror movies, and skin care; for a complete archive, click here.
At WORN, we’re very against the concept of do’s and don’ts…unless we’re talking about the word “fashionista,” which is banned from our offices and our publication. We were extremely gratified to see that the man who invented the word fashionista apologized.
A book I loved this year was White Girls by Hilton Als. Als is a staff writer for The New Yorker and an absolutely brilliant perfect genius; seriously, I cannot recommend this entire book highly enough. He has one essay in particular that I think all Wornettes should read: “The Only One,” an essay originally published in 1994 about Andre Leon Talley‘s life and work. It’s a perfect profile of a man who has given his life to mainstream fashion, and the last three paragraphs just emotionally devastated me. You can actually read the whole thing online here, but I’d still say you should get a copy of the book, if possible, because every single essay in it is wonderful.
Wornettes live for the style issues of The New Yorker. This September, my favourite article was the Janet Malcolm profile of Eileen Fisher, the piece I didn’t even know I’d been waiting my whole life to read. There’s an excerpt here, but the entire article is unfortunately subscription-only.
The New Inquiry published their first ever fashion issue this September, and I was lucky enough to be one of their contributors. In “Swarovski Kristallnacht,” I wrote about my very conflicted feelings about the Punk: From Chaos to Couture exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as the history of Nazi and fascist imagery within punk fashion. The issue also featured Minh-Ha T. Pham, one of my favourite fashion writers, discussing the future of virtual fashion shows, Fiona Duncan interviewing the man behind Not Vogue, and Ayesha Siddiqi with what is really the only essay you need to read about Miley Cyrus, and so much more. You can download the entire issue here.
More from Minh-Ha: she wrote an incredible response to the Rick Owens’s Spring 2014 runway show, arguing that fashion needs to stop trying to be diverse and instead should “fundamentally alter the structures that enable whites to benefit from racism and people of colour to be exploited by it.” To which I can only add: yes.
I watched a lot of television this year (just like every year) and read a lot of really wonderful fashion-related television criticism. For Mad Men, I loved reading Tom & Lorenzo’s weekly recaps—every single post was an incredibly detailed and insightful look at the fashion that matters in each episode. I think my favourite was the recap for “Favors,” where they talked at length about the hanky code and other ways clothing was used as signifiers in Mad Men-era New York (for more on this topic, you must read Max Wornette’s article in Issue 12 of WORN).
I also became truly obsessed with Robin Wright’s character on the Netflix Original series, House of Cards, and wrote about why I loved her wardrobe for the WORN blog. And thanks to the magic of the internet, the costume designer actually saw my post! As a result I was able to interview Tom Broecker for Issue 17 of WORN, where we talked about his time as the costume designer for shows like Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, and In Treatment, among others. Talking to him about the relationship between clothing and identity on some of my favourite television shows was a dream come true.
Aaaaaand that’s all I’ve got. I’m sure there’s more I missed, but I’m only one person…also, I haven’t watched a Beyoncé video in about an hour and I’m going through serious withdrawal. Happy holidays, Wornettes!
Did I not include your favourite fashion story of the year? Leave it in the comments!