Wednesday, October 27, 2010

united colours of...dickies?

by frédérik sisa

A few years ago, I got it in my head to find a pair of red pants. That’s right, RED pants, which isn’t really a violation of my all-black dress code, because the code really is: black, grey, and sanguinary colours, which includes red and purple. In any case, try finding men’s jeans and pants in colours other than the usual indigo, black, or khaki, an atrocious colour that, tellingly, sounds an awful lot like a synonym for poop.

So, Dickies (see previous post here). I don’t remember what prompted me to look them up in the first place, but I did and I found some nice, bright, fire-engine red work pants. Not for the squeamish, I admit, but when worn in the right time and place, it makes for a rather energetic alternative to the everyday. Which gets me thinking about colour. Although I rarely stray away from black – not a colour – I often wonder what men’s fashions would look like if colours were more diverse. Oh sure, there’s Ralph Lauren. But generally consider Lauren’s use of colour in preppy men’s clothes to be an attempt to make circus freaks out of us. And American Apparel? Well, they get points for trying, but their styles and colours have this weird retro vibe – just like their DIY quasi-porn advertising. Still, it’s nice to know there’s life beyond the muted colours typical of men’s fashions. Of course, maybe I’m just not venturing far enough afield. In the meantime, though, Dickies is there to provide a bit of punch to a wardrobe, and you might be surprised how it’s possible to whip up some style with clothes essentially geared towards the workplace.

Case in point: two-tone workshirts, like this one (for about $20), which are signs of design in an otherwise straightforward collection.

Alas, the grey one isn’t available in my size. But I did pick up the black and red version a year or so go, and it still serves me well.

But then something funny happened on the way to checkout. Dickies’ seemed to have discontinued their slim straight jeans in black. Since my existing pair was too short at the hem, I turned them into shorts and looked for a replacement. Instead, I ended getting something I never thought I’d ever get: skinny pants. Oh yes, those form-fitting garments that trend on and off. To be frank, I was a bit surprised at Dickies for the skinny and the fact that my curiosity was piqued. But the surprise beyond the surprise, however, was that not only they did have skinny pants (for $25), they had them in different colours (black, desert sand, deep purple, dark navy, aged brick, and silver). Colours! (You'll have to check out the website for yourself, since I wasn't able to get my hands on pics.) So I took a chance and got myself a pair in a darker, less alarming shade of red. And a pair in black.


I admit that for fashionistas accustomed to shopping with Calvin Klein, Armani, or other common fashion-oriented brands, Dickies isn’t quite walking the same catwalk. But for practical – and sensibly colourful – clothes at really affordable prices (and an easy return policy), Dickies is hard to beat. Better yet, Dickies makes it possible to achieve a sort of proletarian chic, if that’s your thing.

To all you gentlemen out there, a question: how do you fit colour into your wardrobes? What brands or stores do you turn to to inject a bit of pizazz into your wardrobes? I'd love to know!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

spotlight on clogs with Lindsey

by frédérik sisa

I'm on a clog kick these days stemming from yet another exciting game of "what's out there for guys?" in which I pick something and go looking for it. While the pickin's are slim, there actually IS an answer to the question - one that isn't whiny and, for bonus points, ties into last week's post on the dreadful nature of the shoemaking industry. But before I get to that I wanted to take a detour.

Every Clog Has Its Day, as the name suggests, is all about clogs. Lindsey Cochran has devoted herself to finding, discussion, and posting pictures about clogs that come in a surprising variety of shapes and sizes. Before you can hum the Swedish national anthem, however, consider this: Lindsey's perspective on clogs is far more expansive than what you might typically think when you hear the word that sounds like an airhorn. From her interviews with designers that have taken the clog in new directions within women's footwear to finding appealing designs from the major fashion houses and retailers, Lindsey reveals just how much wooden shoes can be the subject of imagination and, perhaps, a little bit of obsession.

Say "clogs" to most people and they'll either think it's time to call the plumber or the fashion police. But we both know there's more to clogs than the stereotype. What have you discovered out there that goes beyond the usual block of wood? Among all those wooden gems, which have made it into your shoe closet?

One of the guiding principles of my life is a quotation I learned about from a lesbian friend who was involved in the leather community. I tell you her background because it makes the quotation all the more remarkable for how apt it turned out to be. It is an observation on life courtesy of the 19th century Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. And far from being an aphorism that was wrested out of context, I believe it is a word of truth that applies to all of us wherever we may find ourselves in our life journeys.

Stevenson wrote, To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.

I believe that every soul on this planet has no higher calling than to fully live out her or his own unique potential. None of us has any real say in choosing what gives us pleasure and what fills us with satisfaction. Many people spend their lives running from truths about themselves that they don't want to admit or refuse to see. But I believe that when we have been blessed to learn where our pleasure and satisfaction may be found, it is imperative that we pursue it and give our souls the chance to sing with delight.

I can't parse for you the mysterious power that elements of fashion can have in our lives. But I can say that among readers of my blog, I've noticed that there is a feeling of empowerment that many of us enjoy when we're wearing the "right" shoes. For others it might be a stiletto heel or a knee high boot. In the clog community, there seems to be a power conferred by the sensation of a block of wood beneath our feet. Some of it may lie with the sensation of being elevated by the pedestal we've placed beneath our soles. Or it may reside with the firm grounding the solid wood provides with each step. For my part, I know there's some pleasure in feeling my feet firmly constrained by the inflexibility of the wooden midsole contrasted with the mobility I can enjoy wearing a pair of good fitting shoes. And let's not forget that any element of fashion is a method of adorning the temple of our bodies. I take pleasure in putting together a look that makes me feel good about myself. Pure and simple, when I think I look good, I feel good.

Having said that, I recognize that each clog fan's experience is her or his own unique expression. One regular reader of my blog Every Clog Has Its Day is a fan of clogs that are either trimmed or liner with shearling. Another reader has had to bid heels goodbye in her wardrobe, and looks to clogs to provide a unique accent to her daily style. Personally, I'm a fan of high chunky heels...preferably in a boot style that firmly embraces my entire foot. So even within this subculture of clog fans, there are even further divisions of taste and desire.

What seems to be paramount is the awareness that in wearing clogs, one is traveling outside the norm and defining one's style on one's own terms. Wood would seem to be the essential material for the construction of a proper clog. But many of us are happy to purchase a pair of manmade clogs if the shoes offer a design that somehow resonate with some inner template of "clogness" that we carry. One does not wear clogs to make one's feet look dainty and delicate, so I think there's some visual appeal in the clunky boxiness a pair of wood soled shoes provide.

As for what wondrous clogs I've been able to make my own, I'm afraid I wear a tall size and am frequently limited by considerations over fit. So when I find something within that smaller universe that speaks to me with its design and style, I am smitten. As I mentioned, this past year has been a boon to a clog fan such as myself. I'm especially enjoying the Bernardo XRAY clogs that came out late this past summer. So much so that I bought the shoe in both blue and burgundy. (I'm wearing the blue pair today, in fact.) I also purchased the Jeffrey Campbell Charli-C clog earlier this year and counted myself fortunate to have nabbed its companion lace up clog boot, the Underground, when a pair was returned in my size to an otherwise sold out online retailer. I've also been quite thrilled with the Vince Camuto Coco clog boot that just came out a couple weeks ago. This maker had released a slip-on clog earlier this year, but the pair I bought sat idle in my closet all summer. As much as I liked the general design, I just never felt moved to put them on. So when the Coco came out in my size, it didn't take anytime for me to return that pair and place an order for the clog boot.

What's interesting is that these wood soled shoes don't necessary obey any of the expected rules. For example, the Bernardo XRAYs are my "go to" clogs right now, but they don't feature any stud accents as part of their design. Usually studs or nail heads are one of the design touches I love in a pair of clogs. Yet this style is able to make me considerably happy without them. It just goes to show that it can be tricky trying to map the desires of the heart.


From's Lindsey's shoe closet -
back row: Jeffrey Campbell, Underground clog boot; Topshop USA, sock lined clogboot; N. Y. L. A., Sully clog bootie; Vince Camuto, Coco clog boot

middle row: Next, tan low clog boot; Zigi Soho, Claudie clog boot

front row: Bernardo, XRAY clog in Beet Root; Bernardo,XRAY clog in Steel Blue

on Lindsey's feet: Jeffrey Campbell, Charli-C clog
It seems to me that while clogs have bobbed in and out of the mainstream over the decades, they have always maintained a dedicated following. That's a lot more than be can said for, say, bell bottoms or other fashion pieces that are tied to particular periods of time and tend to live or die with the cycles of fashion. The enduring appreciation of clogs would seem to make it a footwear icon. Would you agree? What do you think is the lasting appeal of clogs?
I'm only hesitant to confer on clogs the status of icon because the style exists in the fashion repertoire in a variety of forms. You mention that it has a dedicated following, and I think that's true where the basic Swedish low heeled slip-on is concerned. Apparently that style has caught on well with chefs, doctors, nurses, and other professionals who must stay on their feet all day. But the comfort and wearability they enjoy are not the features that a clog fan like myself appreciates in the shoe. Consider, too, the variety of different styles that fall under the loose heading of "clog": traditional Swedish clogs, polyurethane soled versions from Dansko, the latest crop of medium and high heeled styles, the lace up oxfords and boots that are manufactured with features normally associated with clogs, and more. I think clogs can be considered a durable fashion category such as sneakers, but unlike the iconic Chuck Taylor shoe, I don't think there's a single clog design that stands out from the pack as a style that's being embraced as a fashion statement. The clogs that people are currently excited about are not the traditional Swedish style, they're the more fashionable variations. So rather than being an icon, I think the clog that most people think of when they think of clogs (the traditional Swedish clog) is a fashion non-statement. It's something they just throw on when they need to put something on their feet, but they don't give it any thought.
Obviously, for people like me, my relationship to this footwear is different. I'm so accustomed to being outside of the norms with my tastes that I would probably feel a little crushed if clogs became embraced by the world at large. I'd have to transfer my obsession to some new corner of the footwear world. I wonder how I could manage with a passion for tabi shoes? Hmmmm.
You have a wonderful blog, Every Clog Has Its Day, dedicated to wooden shoes. How did your passion for clogs begin, and when did you decide to blog about it?
I discovered clogs years ago when I was in high school. At the time, they were only a peripheral fad in the culture of the time. But they caught my eye, and I made a few tentative forays to incorporate them into my wardrobe. As time passed, they made less sense. And quite honestly, the styles that were available didn't offer a lot of choices that captured my imagination or held my interest. Then about six or seven years ago, I started collecting photos of intriguing shoes I spotted online: boots, platforms, heels, and clogs. (Infinitely less expensive than actually purchasing them!) That led to a friend suggesting that I launch a blog about clogs at the end of the summer of 2009. I hemmed and hawed for a week or two, then took a closer look at what would be involved. When I realized I already had enough photos to manage posting something new every day for three months, I realized I could give it a shot and see where those three months would take me. It wasn't long before I was reveling in a steady stream of clog images that I was collecting by myself and with the help of readers and designers. And the fact that having a "clog blog" gave me an excuse to shop for and purchase some of the newest styles was an extra benefit. It's been a fun journey online.
With many thanks to Lindsey for taking the time to share her perspective and passion on that most misinterpreted shoe, the clog, with us, here's the link again to her blog Every Clog Has Its Day.

As always, I'd love to hear from you. If you're a clog fan, what brands are you wearing? If you're not, are you tempted to reconsider? Comments below!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

shoes and consequence

by frédérik sisa

Shoe lovers understand the compulsion to seek out and acquire new footwear. After all, shoes have personality, with each pair fitting the occasion and situation as well as the mood. But there’s a bad side to what could otherwise be described as a pleasantly harmless folly, and it is that we pay a lot for shoes that don’t cost a lot to make in monetary terms but have a very high social and environmental cost. I was going to write about something else this week, but this article at Alternet got me thinking about what we do for fashion.

A few snippets:
In 2005, the National Labor Committee and China Labor Watch reported that Chinese factory workers making New Balance shoes earned 40 cents an hour, which dropped to 32 cents after mandatory room-and-board deductions.

"I was unprepared for the heat," says Beth Rosenberg, a Tufts University assistant professor of public health and community medicine who toured Chinese shoe factories as part of a project funded by the International Labor Organization. "Air conditioning -- are you kidding? They don't even have fans."

Not permitted to sit, assembly-line laborers stood all day breathing solvent fumes amidst unguarded cutting machines in the factories Rosenberg toured, which produced shoes for Nike, Timberland, Clark, and other brands. The air outside the factories was palpably polluted.
Surprising and disturbing is the existence of an “invisible” network of families making shoes at home:
In the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, millions of shoes destined to be sold overseas are produced in private homes, as piecework, by entire families. By using men, women and children to stitch, glue and polish shoes at home, companies needn't invest in factories, machinery or managers.
Says Pia Markkanen, a professor in the University of Massachusetts' Department of Work Environment:

Home-based shoe production is widespread and "extraordinarily dangerous…Chemical hazards make shoemaking particularly hazardous. Organic solvents -- used in glues, primers, and cleaning and polishing products -- are essentially petrochemicals. The storage of toxic and flammable chemicals constitutes not only a health hazard but a fire and explosion hazard.

What is frightening is that these excerpts just hint at how bad things are in the shoe-manufacturing industry, which makes the article well worth reading in its entirety. The questions raised are straightforward: can we really continue our obsession, filtered through consumer culture, with shoes and fashion?

Consider the question in light of what we pay for shoes and how much foreign labour gets paid for working in dreadful conditions:
To calculate standard shoe markups, "take the retail cost and work backwards through the supply chain. If the shoe retails for $100, it cost the retailer 50 percent or less than that to buy it from the distributor. That same shoe cost the distributor 50 percent or less of that price" to acquire from the manufacturer. Generally, it cost the manufacturer 50 percent less than that to produce -- in other words, $12.50.
So what’s the solution? Buy fewer shoes? Buy shoes made using environmental friendly processes and fair labour practices? Sure, but the question is, how do we continue to use fashion as an expression of identity and enjoyment while not supporting cruel and inhumane manufacturing practices? I have some ideas, of course, beyond looking towards brands like Simple Shoes. I’ll get to them in future posts. For today, I just wanted to throw the question out there and hear from you in the comments below.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

on the radar: dark by fusion

by frédérik sisa

Created by Darius B. Gibbs, Dark by Fusion is a collection of men’s apparel described as a “premium lifestyle brand” with “street credibility and edge that will bring it to the forefront of fashion.” It’s one of three lines by Fusion Apparels, the other two being Light by Fusion (women) and Fusion Executive (professional men). As far as I can tell, Dark is the only one with a web presence at the moment at Fusion Apparels' website.

When I first read the press release for Dark, I was excited. A new men’s line with an eye to the street rather than the catwalk is noteworthy. But how does Dark measure up to marketing? Let’s take a look.

This ensemble doesn’t start on a promising note, seeing as it’s really just another incarnation of the shirt and jeans look. I don’t dig the pants tucked into heavy shoes, which creates a sloppy appearance, and the mixed colour palette contributes to an unfocused look. The shirt, however, does redeem itself. It buttons up yet is collarless, which makes it the interesting and compelling spawn of a polo shirt and a Nehru jacket.


The suspicion that Dark is stronger on details than in gestalts continues with these close-ups. In this image, the contrasting edge colour of the pocket adds interest, while the jacket cuff’s good ol’ industrial ornament, the zipper, proves to be a very robust design choice.



In looking at the embroidered patch above the left breast pocket and printed numbers/letters – all dependable design elements –the military/industrial theme of the collection becomes a bit more insistent…


…as we can see in this ensemble, which looks clean-lined and tailored like a classic army uniform. The combination of tie and shorts creates a fascinating tension between formal and casual within the same outfit, and shows some good design acumen.



Workers of the world unite! It’s the cap and hopeful gazing out into the distance that does clinches it as a poster for the socialist revolution, not to mention the uniform-like nature of the shirt and tie.


Where Dark really starts going beyond conventional good design to the inspired is with this combination of shorts and dip-dyed shirt. The way the colour of the rolled up sleeves matches the lower half of the shirt shows great attention to detail, and the colour gradient as a whole works smoothly to emphasize body form. Again, that same tension between formal and casual, in part from the tie and shorts but also from taking a long-sleeved shirt, rolling up the sleeves, and pairing it with knee-length shorts. They have a few other dip-dyed options in the collection, and I’ll be curious to see how they expand on this in future collections.


Also a good direction for Dark is this v-neck confection with a classic contrast: white lining on black. The patterned fabric at the v-neck adds a touch of surprise, which makes this piece stand out from the ordinary.

While I can’t say that Dark by Fusion captures my imagination or fits with my own personal style or preferences (except in a general sense, as I do like proletarian sensibilities in my choice of fashions) I am intrigued by the line’s potential. I can easily see this collection fitting into a lineup from the style mavens at ASOS or Topman. At the least, this is one to keep on the radar. What do you think?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Superficialicous

By Aqua Catlin

(Fref, where's my pink font?)

I’m addicted to hope. Hope my hair will get some pouf, life, volume, lift, body, action. Its a wild goose chase. Was amazed by raving reviews of the Clairol Herbal Essence hair products. For years I’ve only used professional products. Read: costing between $10 and $28 a bottle each for shamp and condish. Plus the cost of the brand’s “pouf maker” styling product.

With the renewed hopes of a new and fluffier mane, I was able to buy a "Hydralicious (yes they did) FeatherWeight" shampoo and conditioner, a "Body Envy" 2 in 1 shamp/condish (these are actually better for fine hair), and a Body Envy mousse all for less than $15. Wow.

There are trade-offs. At the lower price point you also lose dignity - "Hydralicious" hair. I had to have it.

...And I definitely do feel the difference from a professional product while I rinse, my hair feels somehow, hard and not really as smooth and conditioned. But I wake up the next day and my hair is still there, the world didn’t end and when its styled, it doesn't act that differently from the expensive professional products. (This reminds me when I was at the Chanel counter with my man. After 10 minutes/5 colors, we found the perfect, red gloss for $30 but they were out of stock. He let me know he could take me to .99Cent Store where they were sure to have red gloss in abundance. Now I see his point, in both cases, the price kinda matters, but then again, not so much.)

I don’t think the mousse is right for me. Makes my hair fluffy and piecy without actually being bigger. I do love John Frieda Root lifting product which definitely thickens my hair (!) in combo with the other products. I’ll likely go back and buy it in about 14 months when I finally get through all this Herbal Essence. (Or this weekend). And the shampoo and conditioner too, its not a miracle but works better than anything expensive I've tried.

When they come out with something new promising to give life and volumize, then I'll definitely pay for their whole line as well in the hopes it works. I’m already out of space for all the products in my shower but after discovering the irresistable torture that is this evil and wonderful page, I know I’m bound to buy and try everything till the end.

Wether or not I find something to give me big(ger) hair and while it is superficial to follow every lead on beauty and call it hair "care", if we value appearances and health, then ok. We can at least put our money where our mouth is. I look for perspective and find we're lucky that we have the resources to help others get there too.