Saturday, November 6, 2010

Authenticity, Nostalgia and the Uniform of Labour!

Vintage is my life.  I love vintage leather, and certainly shirts, boots, tees and the myriad of other garments that I own.  I live and breath vintage clothing day in and day out.  I define my day by periods.  I pick vintage eras, and rarely do I ever mix garments up that might not have coexisted with each other in a natural time frame.  You might say that when I dress up, and out I always try and create visual authenticity.  I would say that my favourite era would be the 1970s, that being said the majority of my customers pick truer looks from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.   Classics like the rockabilly style with a McGregor shirt, or Pendleton, and a rolled up pair of selvage jeans, or a 1930s chore jacket, with painter paints and logger boots.  I often ask myself what is driving this desire to dress in the past?

 All these nouveau working class hipsters seem to share some common interests.  Obsessions with the uniforms of the past seem primary.  Whether it is the authentic brand or manufacturer of a tree climbing rated logging boot, or the raw denim or canvass cut of a working miners buckle-back pant with twill drill cloth pockets, the quest for lost authenticity in both manufacturing technique, cut and materials seems to drive the market.  Different brands will achieve different levels of this authenticity.  And generally, the more authentic the materials and production techniques, the purer the aesthetic of the garment the higher the retail price, and often the higher the cost to produce the garment.   As an example from my own experience, when you use cotton thread to sew a leather jacket as they did pre 1950...the thread will often snap as it pulls through the hide.  This makes for a much more difficult and costly task to sew a jacket.  Now why use cotton?  It certainly is not stronger the polyester, it will rot, it snaps and breaks?  But be authentic cotton is the thread that was used.  Not just that, but Coban (poly thread) will saw through the leather over time, and ultimately in the 1940s preserving the leather for long use was far less costly then paying someone to do a quick restitch and voila...authenticity when labour was cheap and available

 So what is this really all about.  I think there is a meta narrative driving this quest for the past and all this authenticity.  I believe that people long for the simple times when the labour market, food, the environment were well defined entities.  There is a sense of complete detachedness and schizophrenia lingering in the air today.  At the pace of knowledge and technology and the progression through which we exist and co mingle, a persons life and job can become obsolete within a few years of learning a new skill.  Software and technology upgrades, cheaper labour markets, and outdated modalities make more and more of us irrelevant, downsized, and obsolete. 

 A horsehide jacket, a pair of raw denim jeans made by a guy on a sewing machine in his own studio, or shoes hand cut and hand sew with waxed linen thread seem to act like anchors to the past...when you knew the historical zeitgeist of right and wrong, morality and sexuality seemed well defined, labour markets were growing and jobs were available, governments looked out for their citizens and food didn't kill you.  I think perhaps their is a generation out there that lives nostalgically for grandpa's day in a seemingly fluid and diminishing present.  That being said, our present is starting to emulate and ooze an eerie simulacrum to the labour and economic conditions of the 1920s perhaps the fashion is an accurate reflection of the times.  The photos are from the Time-Life Google image project. (except the colour one: from the Inspiration Show, Rin age old school cobbler/belt makers doing it oldtimer style)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Keystone Business: Boots, Leather and Heritage Brands

 Every good motorcycle jacket needs a good pair of boots.  Part of the tradition of the working man and the outdoors-man was a good coat and a better pair of boots.  It is a little known fact to the outsider, but the boot industry was tied to the jacket industry intermingled and intertwined like a Navajo rug.  The reason for this is strictly logistical.  Always before the leather jacket became common place the boot and shoe and glove industry was the paramount focus of the tanning business.  The best shoe leather was cordovan, and cordovan came from the butt of the horse. Only the thickest parts of the skin could be used for the soles, and only the butts for cordovan.  This left the front quarters of the horse as a waste product of the shoe industry!  And voila, the value of the jacket industry to use up the remainder of the thinner skins. This explains the prevalence of early rubber manufacturers like ACME Rubber, and American Rubber Co, Firestone and others that manufactured jackets, garments and outerwear.  The zipper was first used commercially successfully in Goodyear Boots, and it must have made the transition to jackets an easier proposition for the shoe    
companies to integrate zips into their garments.There are few of the heritage jacket manufacturers in operation today, however many many of the original shoe companies open since before the turn of the century are still in operation.  Red Wing, Viberg and many others are enjoying a vibrant revival with a new appreciation fuel-ed by the high price of vintage collectibles.In Toronto, my good friend Doug Malcolmson, owner of  Get Outside, is one of the great preponderates of this heritage footwear movement. We Canadians prepare for our harsh winters by going out and buying a new pair of winter boots.  From fashionable to strictly practical Doug carries only heritage brands including some Native produced boots made right here in Canada. 

Get Outside has adopted a philosophy that markets only the classics.  Classic boots have a predominately functional character over frill.  These features are not always simply identified but the brands are readily acknowledged as classic.  Who doesn't know Red Wing, Sperry Top-siders, Hunters, Converse, Doc Martens, Frye, Sorrells and the myriad of other great brands that have carved out their brands with good solid construction and wear, and classic styling.
 Last year Nancy bought a new pair of Sorrels.  This year its a pair of simple black Frye boots.  The beauty of these utility boots besides the tall upper and old school design is the oil tanned leather upper.  That oil tanned upper not only puts up with piles of abuse, but gets better looking with age.  It is easily treated with a mixture of oil and wax.  That combo waterproofs and renews the leather over the lifetime of the boot and allows for the resistance of our major enemy here in Toronto, street salt!

The modern heritage boot looks backwards, today you can find hand stitched welts, linen threads, urethane soles, crepe soles, gum rubber soles,  just about any feature your grandfather might have seen on his old dogs. Doug has gone as far as the Arctic to buy Inuit made boots, and even offers dearskin, beaded Mukluks.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween: Scary Times in Bates Suits!

 Halloween has come again.  There are certain advantages to these celebrations when you are a vintage clothing dealer.  Unlike my friends who hem and haw and stress to find a costume, I have a huge closet archives of well assigned vintage waiting for me to play.

So I love Halloween more then Christmas or any other day.  Its origins are likely Celtic in nature, based on the celebration of Samhain , or Summers End festival.  And truly Halloween marks the end of the long fun lazy days of being outside here in Canada, to the long, cold, inside nights of winter.  It is one of the last few events that thrusts adventurers into the cold night to seek out parties and express their inner selves. The
holiday has become a real North American adventure, combining rituals
and celebrations from Latin American Day of the Dead festivities to
European sacrificial traditions and Gothic Literature!

 For me, and goths, and fetishists, and people who like to be scared, and kids, and theists, and atheists, and others, Halloween has become a time to express outwardly a lot of inward, hidden agendas.  It is one of the few times of the year where some Men will dress as women, where women will dress as "slutty" or where people will characterize themselves in all sorts of renditions of superheros, characters, inanimate objects dárt, bondage, anime, or evil spirits, and they can do this without being judged or scorned.  Inner phantasys come out, and people express secret inner selves.  To me every Halloween is like that Star Trek episode The Return of the Archons  where the Red Hour strikes and people go wild having fun, whilst their regular lives are sedate and tame and living in an authoritarian state under the all watching eye of Landrau!

Good gracious I love Halloween.  This year the wife went as Amy Winehouse, and I pulled out an excellent old school Bates racing suit my size, with classic tricolours styling.  Dead biker is always a favourite theme.

The holiday was celebrated in style and good times were had by all!!!!