Monday, January 30, 2012

Town clothes

This phenomenon is part of life for most, if not all, "country people" especially farm folk. Town clothes are like the modern equivalent of your Sunday best. I mean maybe not Sunday Sunday best, but certainly market day best.

Being a fairly new member of the country/farm folk demographic it's a newer, and therefore, more easily reflected upon part of my life.

So first I am going to talk home clothes or the non-town clothes. Untown clothes as it were. These can range depending upon the time of year and activity, but you can bet these clothes need to be functional and durable. Some aspect of home life, especially on a farm involves getting a little bit grubby whether from mud and dirt in the summer or wet from snow in winter or covered in wood chips, fire ash - whatever! They might be something like your camping/cottage clothes. The clothes for Rural grub. This means durable fabrics and sensible designs. Shit that can take abuse.

Home clothes are pretty self-explanatory because they are like city home clothes except no one can see you - so it doesn't matter if there are weird combos of colors/fabrics/ style. Its kind of like being a kid again, picking out your own outfits that your mum would likely be embarrassed of - It's all about what works in the end though. This makes me think of the external response to our fashion choices yet again. The public perception "what do my clothes say about me to others?" piece is pretty much non existent when it comes to country home clothes.

So now - town clothes. These are the things that you either can't, don't or shouldn't do any of the following in : fry bacon, wash dishes, bring in wood, cut wood, weed, plant, harvest, water or really go anywhere near the barn or garden in, feed animals (chickens etc), hunt, butcher after said hunt, operate tractor, have anything to do with poo in. I mean, we all try to avoid pooing ourselves wherever we are, but you don't want to pick up dog poo, shovel manure or touch anything to do with chickens in them. I think you're getting my point here.
These are the lightly colored, delicate fabrics, with more interesting design involving superfluous pieces that do not serve a functional purpose. Mmmm...superfluous. Adornment folks, adornment for it's own sake. Something we humans have always done. We like to look nice and whatever nice is, it's typically decided by the collective. Unless you're 6 and have a multicolored skirt that you live in because it looks like super kid ice cream!!! (my mum claims she burned it)

So your clothes communicate something about you to others. We all participate in this, knowing our clothing isn't the be all and end all of our "self" and yet we are so easily duped.
I can bet that if you were in a room of farmers (particularly) they would not be the carhart adorned, grubby faced folk you might expect if you went to their farm. This is because town, for farmers, is not the place to show your hardcore farmerness off by wearing your work clothes like some 2nd year university student. It's a place to socialize, go to market, it's an event. And events are things we dress up for!

Here's a story to try and illustrate my point:
Last year at market a friend from town was lamenting to myself and another farmer how it would be great if the market were on grass or in dirt (as opposed to the parking lot where it resides) because it would be way more fun to touch the earth with ones bare feet. I admit, as an avid barefoot-in-summer person, this notion had its appeal, but I felt something else. The other farmer articulated her response quickly.

"are you kidding?! I spend everyday dirty, in mud, dirt, water, shit- you name it! This is my one day to wear nice clean clothes, to see people and to get off the farm!!! look (gesturing) I'm even wearing earrings!!!!"

Where the pastoral becomes romanticized is an entirely impractical space and this farm life has little room for the impractical. I looked down at my town jeans that day and realized I had worn them into the field (bonehead) sloshed into a mud hole dirtying the cuff. As they were my clean town pair, I rolled up the pant leg and they were clean capris. I knew exactly what my farmer friend meant.
Sometimes we want clothing to communicate part of our identity and sometimes we want it to communicate or experience something for ourselves that we don't normally get to - for those of us who spend a lot of time in clothing that can take abuse - a pair of earrings and a nice outfit does the trick.


Last night we attended what many have described as "the event" in our city. Not a gala, not a big fundraiser, none other than the Banff Mountain Film Festival world tour. Every year they come to our local, out-dated Community Auditorium and anyone who is anyone is there. Well anyone who is a anywhere near to being outdoorsy, hippy, yuppie, climber, know the crunchers of granola.
The festival as it were has gotten more commercial over the years, this years sponsor roll - almost 15 minutes long - involved plugs for everyone's favorite performance apparel. Now I've already discussed my own gear, but I'm pretty sure that was a gear-heavy crowd.
We were there amongst the fleece, down vests, wool sweaters and (my least favorite) the overly-sensible shoe or worse yet...hiking boot, blech.
But before I get on my high horse, I looked down. Sporting my sensible black North Face boots (admittedly my mukluks were my first choice) and my down filled North Face parka, I started to think about my place in this crowd.
I'm terribly afraid of heights and don't engage in any kind of climbing off the ground. I've done some recreational water sporting and i really love xc skiing. I spent too many treeplanting months in tents (even those set ups were pretty fancy) for that to have any romance left for me, for more than a few nights anyway. There is always one moment during the films where I think - "I could be hard core like that". This usually subsides on the way to the car, where it's inevitably minus a million outside.
So, does my fashionable performance apparel and attendance at this event launch me straight into poser-land?
I'm not sure, but more importantly I'm not sure it matters. After all, I like going to the posh Auditorium when it's populated by aromatic hippy-folk (and us posers too).
As we pull into our long country driveway, on our 80 acre farm, bring wood into the house to start the fire (our only heat source) and make sure the pipes haven't frozen (like they did last week), I realize everyone's definition of toughness is different.
And I'm really freaking glad I have these warm boots and this warm parka.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The DICK shirt

I've been thinking for the last little while about what it is that people are trying to communicate with their clothing. Or maybe, better put, is what they're are hoping their clothing communicates about them to other people. I mean, we all get up in the morning and put something on our bodies, so why do we choose what we choose and not other things. Why is one person's trash, another's treasure? An extension of this is why do we feel the need to choose items from within a particular "genre" of clothing? We can so quickly identify or make assumptions about a person's hobbies, interests, musical tastes and political views based on their clothing. Or at least we think we can.
I think this has to do with where identity and clothing overlap. We have certain parts of our identity or things we hold dear and so we translate that to the world through our clothing. Its like greeting strangers without having to have a conversation. It can be a way of communicating similarity and belonging, but also a way of not belonging or dissimilarity.
Well, here's one fella I do NOT want to have a conversation with (or maybe I do...). The guy wearing the DICK shirt. This Shirt.

"I have the DICK, so I make the RULES".

In between the two charming lines is the outline of a large man, in white (irony in the colour choice here? is that irony, I don't even know) pointing a finger aggressively outwards toward a woman. As in, I have the dick, so I make the rules you stupid bitch. I can assure you, this shirt is real (see more here) and it is not being worn out of irony by a hipster.

Now, if I wore that shirt (like this one), it would say entirely different things about me and to the world. After I commented on the charming nature of his shirt, dickshirt guy's girlfriend (yes, people like this can actually get others to spend time with them and presumably engage in sexual acts with them), told me proudly that she bought him the shirt with a smile. Though she admitted it may have been a mistake because "he takes it too seriously. It goes to his head". MAY have been a mistake. Gee, I don't know, I'm not sure buying that guy that shirt would be on the top of my list of mistakes. Seriously, whatthefuck?!

I have the dick, so I make the rules. Maybe what offends me so much is that in our society most of the time, this is sadly the case. I mean this guy does not represent the ruling class who are manipulating the patriarchal puppet strings of our society, but he sure is an archetype of aggressive masculinity that makes me want to wear a shirt that says, "I have a VAGINA and your white male privilege is pissing me off!!!!".

I'm pretty sure they wouldn't sell that shirt at Spencer's in the mall! Everyone would be up in arms about its inappropriateness. Cries of "why won't someone think of the children" would ring out as radical [lesbian] feminists must have put those there to corrupt our youth and put ideas in their heads. After all, women can vote now right? Isn't feminism obsolete? I mean, really, women go to University, work out of the home, run for political office, that's enough right? Heck, sometimes we even let them run corporations. Oprah is the world's most powerful woman aside from QEII and even that is arguable, doesn't that mean they should shut up and be happy with what they have?! grrrr....

I tell you what idea I'd like to put in the heads of our youth. Ideas where they question guys like dickshirt guy, where they question why they have to hate their bodies unless they fit the impossible and ever changing ideal. Why they have to look like the it girl or guy and why whatever they do or spend, it will never be enough. I would tell them to never, ever let someone like dickshirt guy make them feel like they weren't strong, powerful and filled with the stuff it takes to dismantle the system. A system and society where so called men like dickshirt guy can walk around PROUD of themselves. I'd also tell them to vote, because dickshirt guy is probably too lazy or too busy being a dick to do so.

* Exhale*, I feel better now.

Monday, January 9, 2012

First ski

Its a fantastic 1•C here today. I decided to mark the occasion with my first xc ski of the year. I like gear, a lot of people do. For me gear, like the right job interview outfit, is a key part of the process. I like and strive to have the appropriate clothing and gear for whatever sport I'm undertaking. Those of you who engage in fairly gear intensive sports (especially in the North) know that this isn't just a vanity thing, it's a requirement. The right gear can make or break your experience (am I over-stating it?).
But there is also the image aspect of gear, what you are trying to communicate. A great compare and contrast exercise is the difference in the color palettes, prints and style of xc ski vs. downhill skiing and snowboarding.. Some of the stylistic differences have a functional purpose and some do not. More often its geared to the consumer (of course) and while more and more teens and kids xc ski many many more prefer the downhill pursuits. I am a perfect example, I grew up downhill skiing, and started pursuing xc in my early 20s.
So here is my gear list at the start of my 7th (wow!) xc season:
Xc skis: 2 sets (1 skate purchased @ ski swap, 1 classic - borrowed)U
Poles: 1 set
Number of bent poles: 1-ish
Boots: 1 pair (also purchased at ski swap)
Long johns: 2 pairs, both polypropylene
Base layer shirts: 3 (polypropylene)
Under the base layer shirt: 1 (polypropylene)
Sports bras: 3 maybe 4 (these serve me in all my athletics)
Ski pants: 3
Ski pants that fit: 2
Jacket: 1
Vest: 1
Gloves/mitts: 3
Socks: 2 pairs (1 paired chewed in places by dog)
Toques: 2
Neck warmer: 1
Bellaclava: 1 aka "the flying nun"
Dog booties for Blue: 3 (of 4) OF COURSE!!!
Kms of trail outside my front door: 2 or 3 :)

I got to thinking about my gear, because this is the time when my favorite skiing/running store (Fresh Air Experience) often has post Xmas sales. And you can't feel badly about buying another jacket, vest, base layer, fancy socks or something when it's for your health and supports a local business...right?
Maybe not bad, but perhaps think twice in my case. After all if one were really to look at what I could use its another set of poles and boots that are actually meant for classic instead of forcing my skate gear to double. But, why would I spend money on that when I could buy a prettier outfit?!? I hope you're sensing the sarcasm here folks.

My skiing adventure today reminded me that sometimes digging through the bottom of the gear bag can reveal treasures you forgot you had and fill that need that is so easy to create particularly as it pertains to "your health". I'm pretty sure I'll burn as many calories, have the same mental and physical benefit in this gear as new stuff I could buy.
Though, some wax may be in order :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The beginning

Every journey has a beginning and its the best place to start most things. This blog will serve as a record of my journey into the most difficult to beat of my consumptive habits: shoes and clothing. Now, before you roll your eyes and move onto another blog that is more...something, hear me out. I am a critical consumer. I do not shop at WalMart, I try to buy local (at least from local stores) and I love to purchase from markets or local stores that sell one of a kind, uniquely designed clothes: "upcycled", is the de rigeur term these days. So, in many ways I have a very solid foundation of criticism within consumer society to be a hemp wearing, patchouli smelling, hippy type. In fact, when I was younger, this was a path I romanced for a time (kind of). Ten years later, I have my reasonably fashionable version of my Birkenstocks alongside my Cavalli boots purchased in Italy. Just the mention of those boots, raises my blood pressure in excitement. Not because of the price as would affect many people, but because they are so beautiful. I can remember what I felt like buying them, where I bought them and how much I enjoy wearing them. So why, on earth am I questioning all of this? If its something I enjoy so much, why not just enjoy it. Because this is what I do. I question. Often out of curiosity and sometimes out of self improvement.

I am certain that my relationship to fashion is much more intimate than a first glance or reductive perspective would render it. After all, fashion for me has been related to (and not limited to) the following: professional life, body image, stage of life, activities, socializing, conformity and comfort (both sit on the couch comfort and have the right thing to wear to the right occasion comfort). Clothing is one of the first ways we perceive, make decisions about and ultimately socialize with people. I have used fashion for acceptance and resistance. Conversely, it is something I have been accepted because of and rejected on the same basis.
For example, if I walk into a room of left wing and/or hippy academic types in some fancy outfit you are immediately met with suspicion. More to the point, my credentials and intelligence are met with suspicion. After all, intelligent well informed people dress badly in mismatched and bizarre outfits, right? On the flip side, when I walked into my first teaching job in a peasant skirt and sandals, half the staff spent the day questioning "which team I played for". You get the idea.Seriously, these are people whose job it is to educate.

So back to why I like fashion. I like nice things, I like to look nice and I like the idea of wearing quality things. This includes athletic apparel and "gear". The question and focus of this blog is "why?". Why do I like these things and more importantly how does it feed consumptive habits (as opposed to conscious choices)?

I've made the decision that I will not purchase any clothing (new or second hand) for 6 months. This is a big deal for people who know me. Here are the reasons why or the things that have brought me to this point:

1) I'm trying to change my lifestyle so I don't fall back into old REALLY consumptive habits that lead to lots of debt and working for the man.
2) My friend is getting married this Friday and instead of buying something new, I'm going into my closet to find one of the many suitable ensembles I have instead of making up the need to purchase something new.
3) I've moved a couple of times in the last 6 to 8 months, in addition to purging 3 full bags of clothing, I've had entire "essential" pieces of my wardrobe packed for months and haven't missed them at all. Leading me to question this so called need to buy new things.
4) I'd like to lead a simpler life.Which is why the alternative name of this blog is "Simpleton", ha.
5) My winter parka zipper recently broke, the perfect opportunity for people who like to shop (like me) to buy an new coat instead of getting last year's coat fied. I've resisted!!!

So here are the rules:
1) I cannot purchase any new or second hand clothing (including shoes *gasp*) for 6 months, that means from January 4, 2012 to July 4 2012.
2) I can purchase underwear, bras and/or hosiery in case of emergency but not to fill the habitual so called need.
3) Clothing can be gifted to me, but I cannot solicit it. I'm thinking of my mom here, who will occasionally buy me a shirt or something.She can do that, but I can't ask or tell her to buy me something to skirt the rules.
4) I can make and or craft my own clothing by knitting, sewing and/or crocheting. As this would be based on actual skill development (I am a knitter, crocheter and very amateur seamstress) instead of habitual consumption I think this is aligned with my overall goals.
5) I cannot purchase clothing for other people to fill the void.

Other musings I'm sure you can look forward to are: gender analysis, social contexts of clothing/fashion, coveting, anecdotes of my many blunders and general hilarity in my adventures in ... not shopping.