Book Review: DIY Fashion

Selena Francis-Bryden has distilled her years of designing, customizing, and selling clothing in London’s Portobello Market into 40 ways to revamp your old clothes. In the tradition of DIY craft culture and eco-friendly design, this slim paperback aims to show you how to refashion (in your own fashion) everything you own. Her approach is completely opposite from many “wardrobe” books – no mad dash to the mall for a structured blazer or wide-legged trouser here. Instead, she rouses our creative senses with promises of rejuvenating preexisting closets.

Francis-Bryden opens the book by evoking a tailor’s intuition, presenting fledgling seamstresses with notes to consider on colour and fabric durability. She points out that timeless fabrics like denim and linen are versatile and sturdy, whereas something like lamé will not stand the test of time (for both physical and trend-y reasons.) Of course it’s always awkward to chaperone creativity, but Francis-Bryden does well to remind readers of the importance of imagining the longevity of these projects within their own aesthetic.
Continue reading

Eleven Heavy Things

Posing for photographs is no walk in the park. Even Wornettes get a little camera shy.

On my Labour Day weekend trip to New York, I encountered just that trouble.

“It’s the Brooklyn Bridge! Smile!”

And with all of that pressure, my smile quickly turned into a one-sided upward distortion followed by a single eye closure. Snap!

Lucky for me, Miranda July had it covered when my friend and I stumbled upon Union Square Park on a sunny afternoon. Upon entering, we spied several sculptures scattered about the park. As July explains on her website, “For your convenience, eleven professional props will be installed in Union Square Park in New York, all summer”, and how convenient it was.

There were blocks upon which to stand, eyelets in which to stick a finger, holes with which to frame a face.

There were curious empty spaces which could both surprise and delight.

But let me tell you, there is nothing better to distract from facial distortion caused by camera-anxiety than a giant fiberglass headpiece.

Unfortunately, we could not rely on July’s fantastical fashions to accessorize the rest of our vacation.

Those things are just too darn heavy to take home.

Miranda July’s Eleven Heavy Things will be on display at Union Square Park in New York City until October 3. It is the final public project presented by Deitch Projects.

- Jennifer Carroll

Book Review: Bad Shoes and the Women who Love Them

I have been clogging around in my graceless size 11s since puberty, when my feet reached their decisive magnitude. These babies are too wide, long, flat, and plain ugly to fit into anything revealing, and so began my early distaste for provocative footwear.

Upon spying Bad Shoes and the Women who Love Them, I was hoping to undercover a juicy attack on the shoes that my feet can’t wear.

Leora Tanenbaum delivers an empathetic treatise on alluring footwear and its effects on the foundations of physical health. Don’t be fooled by the pretty, light-hearted book cover; in her evaluation of poor footwear, Tanenbaum delivers seven chapters of raw footage that does not miss a step.

“Beautiful shoes, ugly feet” attempts to ground the reader by pointing to the beautification-mortification paradox of footwear—essentially the act of wearing high fashion footwear to distract from the ugly foot, which in turn results in even greater disfiguration. Several women testify to their love affairs with shoes in “Love stories, horror stories.” Unfortunately, these affairs are not entirely romantic; these stories of deceit and abuse pose certain reevaluations after love’s gone bad.

Establishing the platform that footwear can be hazardous, Tanenbaum then delves into how. “What you should know from heel to toe” highlights common maladies of the foot. Perhaps save it for after dinner though, as reading about corns may not sit well with your corn on the cob. “Toetox: Cosmetic Surgery of the Foot” follows, as an evaluation of surgical solutions that sheds light upon health risks in extreme foot makeovers. Tanenbuam compiles research and interviews with podiatrists of varying surgical bents from across the United States to try to reveal a true cost-benefit analysis of cosmetic foot surgery.

For those of you who dig theory, a thorough analysis of shoe-love is saved for a little bit later in the book. Through written historical accounts and interviews, Tanenbaum explores the roots of the heeled shoe from antiquity and forward in “The History of High Heels.” For centuries, societies have cross-culturally denounced one another’s poor footwear over practical and ideological differences. What is revealed is a long history of hazardous footwear and ideological hypocrisy. In a chapter on “The Sex Life of Women’s Shoes,” Tanenbaum guides the reader through myriad proposed theories on the sexual symbolism of the foot and shoe. It is a careful navigation of varying biblical, folkloric, psychoanalytical, and sociological theorems regarding shoes. The bulk of the history is foot for thought, but it is undeniable that shoes have historically been and remain sexualized objects, and that sexing our feet is in turn vexing our health.

Bad Shoes does not leave the reader hanging with no one to save your sole. The final chapter entitled “Shoes Wisely,” evaluates footwear designs that best and worst fit the foot ergonomically, including lists of manufacturers with the most foot-friendly reputation.

Leora Tanenbaum has taken on a serious feat in crafting this concise evaluation of footwear, one that is both practical and theoretical in approach. Any woman, and even any man (despite its female-oriented marketing), can benefit from this vault of foot-‘n’-shoe information. The conclusive message is clear: when walking greater distances, be sure to wear styles of footwear that support the shape, size, and arch of your foot. Now, perhaps you have already been told this by a parental figure of sorts, but Bad Shoes outlines all of the cringe-worthy reasons to care, so don’t be so callous about it.

Bad Shoes and the Women who Love Them, by Leora Tanenbaum, Seven Stories Press, 2010
Reviewed by Jennifer Carroll

Book Review – …isms: Understanding Fashion

…isms: Understanding Fashion is a guide to Western fashion practices over the past several centuries by Mairi Mackenzie, a specialist in Cultural and Historical Studies at The London College of Fashion. The book envisions fashion through the iconic figures and sociopolitical circumstances that influenced the trends and anti-trends in costume over the years.

Organizationally, it is structured like a travel guide or a text-book. A “How to use this book” section introduces the hokey, yet useful icons in each section to delineate material such as “Introduction,” “Key Words”, “See Also” (related practices), and “Don’t see” (contrary practices). A preference for flowing text led me to regularly skip to the “Main Definition” of every ism. Despite its engagement with the format of a User’s Manual, the main content flows with an engaging readability that is impressive for a reference book.

Mackenzie skillfully distills the several hundred years of fashion into concise descriptions of specific aesthetics and influences. The book is arranged by century starting with the 17th and 18th Centuries. The evolution and decline of Baroque and Rococo fashions are examined as the direct result of a changing socioeconomic climate in 17th Century France. While clothing was once a statement of privilege, the egalitarianism of the French Revolution led to the decline of fanciful fashion by the end of the 18th Century.

In the 19th Century, the technological advancements of the Industrial Revolution enabled a burgeoning middle class that imposed stricter social etiquettes. Mackenzie explores the ways in which codes of class and gender were presented in fashion, focusing in particular upon how women’s clothing became more physically restrictive as a direct reflection of women’s constricted place in society.
Continue reading