the masculine renunciation

Three hundred years ago, the guillotine divided men from fashion. Ever since, the individuality of modern man has become an above-the-collar issue. The Great Masculine Renunciation underscored great modern ideals like equality, social mobility, and the worthiness of work. The sacrifice that the abandonment of fashion symbolizes is less often considered.

Last year, I explored the idea of whether fashion is – or could be – feminist. Reflecting on the problems of reconciling the mixed messages that result from combining gender equality rhetoric with sexually distinctive clothing, I theorized that fashion as a feminine domain might have something to do with the visual nature of male sexuality. Since then my personal point of view has changed. I’ve come to believe that gendered clothing has way more to do with class than sex.

Before the French Revolution, fashion was divided by class, not by gender. Aristocratic men, like King Gustav III of Sweden and his brothers, above, approached fashion and grooming with the same level of expression, indulgence and care that their female counterparts did. Instructions for arranging men’s hairstyles of the time seems excessive and complex even to modern women. The use of fashion highlighted the leisured lifestyle of the nobility, and lower classes had no access to the time and money style demanded.

The political revolutions of the 18th century were reflected vividly in the clothing of men. While the power rested with the nobility, the bourgeois adopted the pretentions of aristocratic fashion. As financial and political power began to shift to the new middle class, any assumptions to aristocratic style became subject to mockery, and the tide turned. Even those to the manor born began to dress in a way that emphasized equality and fraternity.

The renunciation of fashion occurred simultaneously with another renunciation – of emotional expression. As men symbolically abandoned the excesses of physical aesthetics, and their clothing became more rational, practical, and understated, so did acceptable masculine displays of feeling. Male romantic heroes became notoriously inaccessible. Modern men’s clothing is often directly derived from military uniforms – evoking regimental, rigidly ordered ideals of masculinity.

Like women, men also had a small dress reform movement moment, which was similarly mocked and diminished in its time. Men also long to escape from the gendered expectations and demands of society through aesthetic expression. In modern times, women have won the option of adopting masculine attire if they desire without fear of diminishment. Men have not yet achieved that freedom, as this photo project demonstrates.

Fashion dies hard. Even after men attempted to discard fashion, fashion still had a sneaky way of sticking around. The most cited poster boy of masculine renunciation is the prototypical modern dandy, Beau Brummel. Denied the frivolity and artifice of the Macaronis of centuries past, Brummel instead achieved sartorial one-upmanship by applying excessive restraint, thus introducing irony into the world of fashion. The limited scope of acceptable masculine expression has encouraged aesthetically-minded men to develop an unhealthy obsession with extreme minutiae most famously parodied in American Psycho.

Just as middle class men once switched the script by asserting sartorial authority of practicality over courtly indulgence, the achievement of gender equality will be underscored not by women adopting clothing considered masculine, but by men adopting styles currently considered feminine. Because the instigation of all fashion is predicated on changes to power structures, this will happen simultaneously as women achieve greater authority and financial clout. We’re seeing the beginning of this now, as men gain more expressive freedom – at the risk of being judged by the same harsh aesthetic standards as women.


click click – 26-05-12

Welcome to click click, the sporadic review of what I find worth clicking on the internet.

When asked what initially inspired me to draw the way I do, I have to pay a debt to Betty and Veronica. As a child I remember absorbing back issues minutely, less on the stories than the girls and their clothes of course. Sometimes I even used a magnifying glass. These terrific scans from the 1960s are borrowed from the collection of fellow B&V fan club member Oh, for the love of Vintage!

  • Rise of the Anti-Lady Mag – this is the confusing title of an interesting discussion on the intersection of women and modern media. Very smart, articulate panelists.
  • Up From the Streets – the interfashionet’s current must-read is this rambling GQ profile of Scott Schuman. Nothing new is revealed, but it’s worth it for the footnotes.
  • Can using different types of models benefit brands? – boy dynamo Ben Barry has released his research findings, and they’re interesting to consider. I agree that ranking models by size only is silly and simplistic – like any creative field, talent ought to be the real measure of value. Still, I’m not totally convinced that a successful model should attempt to accurately reflect reality. I like it when models deliver beautiful lies.
  • Wise Words for Graduates – or Anybody, Really – comedians delivering convocation addresses – all emphasizing cogent advice on how to follow your dreams… and allowing your dreams to change along the way.
  • The Macroeconomics of Vajazzles – if you thought we could Vajazzle our way out of the economic crisis, think again.

Karma honey!

  • DIY Couture – this is a cute resource for those who would sew their own clothes… I’m going to be helping out at the paper doll station for a while at the book launch party in London on Tuesday – if you’re in town, come and check it out!
  • The Street Idle“A Toronto blog for those who sometimes treat fashion and life as a spectator’s sport”
  • The Perfect Nose“I’m only serious when-umm.. I’ll tell you when it happens.”

drawing – “Pochette” book covers

This was a delightful brief – to create original covers for a series of novels starring a mischievous, feminine, intrepid super-thief named Pochette. Working with the author Lucas Edel, I decided to be inspired – though I hope not slavishly so – by fashion illustration great Rene Gruau, adopting his classic black/white/red palette to evoke a modern minx.


modecast – third edition

Watch live streaming video from modecast at

The third, and perhaps final, Modecast was a bit more freeform… so Barima and I babble on about dressing to kill, the best of the bulge, and problematic rifles… as well as paying homage to our favourite half-Canadian fake cable talk show team.

I’ve treated Modecast like my silly sandbox… usually I’m quite earnest on the blog, but part of what I love about fashion is the unintentionally ludicrous. So I’ve attempted to create the sort of chat show I’d want to watch – fashion media that is intentionally ludicrous. This has confirmed that I have very niche taste in video-blogs, so I’m tremendously grateful to our handful of observers, and especially those who contributed their bit by chat. And of course, big thanks to the inimitable Barima for being my bent man on this trip. It’s been swell.

coming up May 20 – modecast third edition

Modecast, the internet chat show slash fashion media meltdown on which Barima and I wax neurotic on style under the influence,  is coming back for a third edition. If you tune in live, you can participate in this questionable endeavour via chat. RSVP here for your email reminder and go get your refreshments for a silly Sunday night in.

Sunday May 20 2012 – 9pm GMT/5pm EST

See the entire excruciating history of Modecast here.

click click – 14-05-12

Welcome to click click, the sporadic review of what I find worth clicking on the internet.

NY-centric fashion photos from the collection of Fashion Carrousel, a treasure box of themed imagery. Via Lucie.

  • Jessica Stanley – Her collections of wordy, worthy links are wonderfully observant and insightful. She’s also got a way with images.
  • The Secret Sexy Life of Zippers – a bunch of stuff you didn’t have time to wonder about in the fraction of a second it took to zip your fly this morning.
  • Dirty Girls and Bad Feminists –  explains why internet feminism can be so inaccessible for the rest of us. I find the obsession with cultural orthodoxy to be anti-creative. When I see how the gay rights movement embraced and influenced mainstream culture so successfully, it’s frustrating to see feminism waste so much rhetoric fighting useful, sympathetic artifacts. Via Rachel.
  • Clinton addresses ‘au naturale’ moment – it’s such a pleasure to see Hillary Clinton finally relaxing into being strong and attractive on her own merits. She seemed so uncomfortable during the 2008 campaign – she’s not an innate power dresser, and I think the negative blowback regarding her appearance was because she looked disingenuous. Looking back at photos of her youth, her true style is natural and uncontrived, and now that she’s returning to her roots the public reaction is positive.
  • On Scars – on why women get more criticisim on their appearances than their work – and also some cogent advice on dealing with these failures of rational discourse.

Karma for fellow free spirits –

  • village verve“our style selection will appeal to the multifaceted woman with a fashion-forward spirit and varied wardrobe.”
  • NEW YORK YOST“a site about fashion, art and everyday life.”

so far, so london – redux for Ryerson Folio

Ryerson Folio is a student-run magazine published by the university I attended in Toronto. The founder and Editor-in-Chief Trung Ho invited me to revise and update a post I wrote about adapting to life in London. Seeing a blog post make it to print is a special treat. Also, I’m glad to have the opportunity to share an honest take on freelance life with students who are in the same position I once was, considering their next steps after graduation. Read the full text at Ryerson Folio.

our shared sin

You would think that in fashion, vanity would be the deadliest sin. Of course it isn’t – it is the highest virtue in our world. We brag about vanity, we flaunt it, we compliment each other on it. Not greed either, it is not uncommon to hear “excessive” as an effusive, un-ironic compliment. We take pride in taking pride, rewarding big egos. Sloth is enshrined in the cult of “effortlessness“. Lust glosses over every advertisement.

Fashion is not bashful in declaring its unholy adoration of of unwholesome decadence, no wonder these themes are a common indulgence in magazine spreads. While it may pay lipstick-service to it, fashion doesn’t concern itself too much with the stylish possibilities of virtue. Though it is true that fashion deems gluttony abhorrent, it is by no means the worst infraction a stylish citizen can make.

No, the sin that we deny, the one we speak of in furtive, hushed tones, like addicts in denial, is Envy. Every fashion friend that I’ve had the privilege of an honest conversation with has revealed their own battles with jealousy. These rare, candid confessions elicit a kind of catharsis, because envy is the one sin we can’t share on social media. We all have to deal with it alone.

What is it about the fashion/envy axis that causes so much heartache and fear? It is because envy is the mirror image of desire. Desire, in every connotation of the word, is what fashion strives for. Flip the coin, same value: what we envy is what we yearn for.

We’re gluttons for our feeds these days. Observe what internet missives out there irk you have in common. If you’re anything like me, it’s because those updates touch on a tender spot. Almost always, the essence is: I want what she’s got. Why her and not me? We’ve all felt it, alone. It makes us act in peculiar ways. It infiltrates what we say and do. A little, every once in a while, is totally normal. A lot is devastating.

As fashion careerists, we’re in the business of desire, so envy is a recurring professional hazard – both for the envious and the envied. Figuring out how to flip it is valuable for your mental health, and your success. Because our most heartfelt wishes are unique to all of us, everyone’s strategy to deal with desire’s dangerous counterpart should be different. But because it’s a common thing we all share, my own philosophy might be worth sharing too. Here’s what I try to do.

Give yourself a break. We all feel jealous sometimes.

Edit your social media feeds to remove envy-provoking content. There’s no point in punishing yourself, following is always optional. To be honest, there are certain individuals that I enjoy following a lot who occasionally produce green-light updates for me. Depending on how resilient I’m feeling, I’ll un-follow and re-follow them. Since I can’t hide it, I’m pretty sure they know what it’s about – I’ve have some followers who behave like that too.

Achieve your desires. As you begin to gain confidence and accomplishments, you’ll notice that envy begins to fade away. Conquer desire, conquer envy. So always go for what you want. If you don’t know what you want, examine your envy. Is there a theme, a common flashpoint? Take your focus away from the envy, point yourself towards the desire, and go for it.

If you are the object of envy: be humble, be empathetic, and above all carry on doing whatever you’re doing. If you are inciting envy, it is because you are also lighting desire on fire. You’ve struck a vein of fashion gold. Run with it.