There has been a lot of discussion among WORN staff lately about the issues surrounding diversity of models in the fashion world. It is a loaded topic, encompassing such controversial areas as manufactured diversity, political correctness and the effect of one predominant choice of model on women’s concepts of beauty. Mainstream fashion’s obsession with the skinny white girl has superseded trendiness, and although history is full of a variety of idealized body types, I think many people are beginning to find fashion’s preoccupation with size-zero and blank stares a little stale. Exclusivity is a selling point in fashion, but when intelligent women begin to question themselves for being healthy…well, it gives you some food (no pun intended) for thought. (Please note – I am not claiming all mainstream fashion supports size-zero culture, or that all women even take note of it, I am merely noting its current dominance.) This is why I was so excited to have the opportunity to observe FAT (Toronto Alternative Arts and Fashion Week)’s open-call model casting process, which stipulated that it would be looking for a diverse group of unconventional models.
interview by Esme Hogeveen
Emma Feiler is a first year biology student at the University of Guelph, with an interest in partying like it is Versailles circa 1774. Emma grew up in Toronto, attending various alternative and arts schools and finished high school in Harrow, Ontario. She regularly plans and hosts elaborate dress-up parties for her friends. WORN talks to Emma about her unceasing search for inspiration and the ingredients of a great dress-up party.
What kinds of dress-up parties have you been involved in planning?
Tea parties, a Marie Antoinette themed weekend, a Bennet Sisters (a la Pride and Prejudice) dinner, a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-a-thon… Currently I am planning a Miss Marple inspired event for Midsummer’s Eve, called A Mysterious Affair.
How and when did your interest in themed dress-up parties originate?
I think it’s largely a byproduct of my childhood involvement in dance and performance. I think I am drawn to themed dress-up parties because they are such a heightened form of expression. The idea for hosting one didn’t occur to me until I moved from Toronto to a small town on the shore of Lake Erie. Performing arts were basically nonexistent in my new school and community, so I began to develop an interest in baking. I wanted to incorporate aspects of performance and an interest in historical dress with my new hobby…and costume parties were also a good excuse to get all my friends together. I was never a girly girl, and when I was little I thought dress-up was silly. Now dress-up parties are the most exciting events on my calendar!
What sorts of reactions do you get from invitees when you tell them you‘re hosting a themed party requiring dress-up?
Most of the invitees are close friends, who are already involved in dance or acting and pretty comfortable with dressing up. The parties become a project, in which everyone collects items, some of which are shared in order to create the most accurate and fabulous outfits possible. The group effort aspect also makes people less self-conscious. Reactions from other people are more extreme; either they love it or they are very confused about the “point” of a dress-up party and why we would want to participate.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
From classic novels, films, vintage photographs… usually depictions of events that are more uncommon now. Spending an afternoon in a sunny wheat field with a picnic of tea sandwiches and ginger beer is something that you are more likely to read about in a book than hear about your neighbor doing. The parties aren’t historical reenactments so much as they are taking the essence of a historical period and interpreting it in a fun way.
What did people wear to your Marie Antoinette themed weekend last spring?
People brought lots vintage and contemporary pieces to pick and choose from… flowy cream coloured dresses and lace trimmed shirts, to layer or add tucks and sashes to. Some people went more for the Parisian Ball look, and some for the simpler Petit Trianon styles. Most of the dresses weren’t completely accurate to the period One friend brought a poofy, green eighties dress and made it more demure by adding lace to the bodice and accessorizing with a parasol and lace gloves. Everyone aimed to keep the hair as accurate (and big) as possible, using pop cans, pins, bottles, anything that was available, and we decided to experiment with beauty moles.
What relationship do you see between dress-up clothes and everyday wear?
People’s everyday style does seem to translate into their costumes, and the outfits are often reflective of each person’s individuality. The clothes became a historical reinterpretation of their tastes.
What makes a good dress-up party?
A good dress-up party includes at least one planned event (requiring costume!) that the rest of the weekend unfolds around. That way people can get excited about planning their outfits. A good dress-up party requires: preparation and planning around identifying the theme, enthusiastic guests and good food!
Top Ten Historical fashion inspirations
Versailles: Marie Antoinette
Victorian High Tea: Proper English…tea cakes and cucumber sandwiches!
The Golden Age of Hollywood Old Film Stars: Glamour
The 1920s…think The Great Gatsby!
Edwardian Style: silhouettes
Oriental Silks and Detailing
Ancient Rome & Egypt: Basic linens, sandals
Medieval Royalty: Pearls embellishments, rich fabrics…
Romantic Era: Jane Austen, empire waist dresses
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and 18th Century Style
Bonjou! My name is Esmé and I am one of Worn’s new editorial interns. I graduated from Etobicoke School of the Arts last year, and this is my first experience working at a fashion magazine.
I like to take my fashion cues from looking through trunks at my Grandma’s, watching British TVO and PBS shows (specifically those about small town police stations set in the sixties … Heartbeat anyone?), people watching and FT reruns. I also really enjoy the styling in Sofia Coppola and Wes Anderson (shout-out to Anna!) films. My friend Stef and I are recently began making a line of reconstituted vintage and second hand clothes, and working at Worn has been a constant inspiration. I also enjoy perusing online museum galleries of historical dress.
my current inspirations…
Die Young, Stay Pretty
New York Times writer Guy Trebay
Often intriguing take on contemporary fashion.
18th Century Blog
A great resource for online clothing galleries and a plethora of historical portraits.
Marie Antoinette’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century
An ongoing research project between art historians meant to connections… [between] personalities, rumours, art, fashion, politics, theatre, music, literature, and gossip!
Victoria & Albert Museum
A FINE source of information on historical fashions… including such fascinating articles as “Men in Skirts”.
This phase may have been short-lived – perhaps it was a fleeting fancy resulting from a December Nutcracker overdose – or perhaps like me, it took form in painfully awkward ballet bunnies classes. For a special few however, this passion develops into a career in dance. To all ballerinas: I am feeling especially jealous lately!
Ballet, with its conjured images of grace, tutus and impossibly dainty (and painful!) pointe shoes, represents a sort of understated elegance that has often inspired the fashion world (like Degas’ “Dancer” paintings with creamy peach tones and appliqué flowers). This influence has been distilled into even the most mainstream of trends – ballet flats for example. Without dialogue, ballets rely on communicating characterization through costumes more strongly than in speaking mediums.
This is the kind of grace I am talking about – look at Karen Kain’s leap! (She’s now the Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Canada.)