Thursday, 21 August 2014

Nothing New Challenge: Party Dressing


And so it begins.

In case you missed it, I've taken up the challenge of not buying any brand-new clothes; as in, I can buy 2nd-hand and vintage, but no designer or High Street. Last Saturday was my first big event to dress for: a friend's birthday party.

This was not however an ordinary party, it was on a docked boat in Southampton, and the dress code was "tropical". Now I love dressing for parties. Whether they have a theme or not, I like hunting down that perfect outfit which I'll always recall as being "what I wore to 'X' event". But of course, my options were restricted this time. Ordinarily my first port of call would probably be ASOS, and indeed their customised adverts have become increasingly enticing now that I know I can't click on them. Instead, however, I headed for the charity shops.

In a branch of Age UK, I stumbled across what may well be one of my favourite second-hand finds ever. It's a floaty maxi dress with an elasticated waist and a cutout section in the back. Originally from Papaya, I don't think this would have been particularly expensive when it was first on sale, but I'm pretty pleased with the price I got it for (£8.99). It's really easy to wear, and is perfect for taking on holiday because it doesn't crease at all!

On board with my friend Livvy 

The dress has this subtle but also quite striking print, somewhat reminiscent of grasslands, which I thought made it fitting for the theme. On its own, however, it didn't look greatly tropical. I added some wedge sandals which I've had for years and originally bought from a British Heart Foundation shop! Then I went in search of some jewellery to brighten things up. After a little bit of rummaging in shops around town, I found a fun necklace with parrots and watermelons on it in the same branch of BHF. It was just £3.99.


After that, things quickly came together. I added a couple of rings and bracelets from my collection, and the flower in my hair was actually cut from a plastic orchid I got from Ikea a while ago! To top it all off, we were presented with Hawaiian-style flower garlands once we got there. Perfect.

So all in all, a grand total of just under £12 went into this outfit. Not bad at all, especially considering that the dress is so versatile I'm definitely going to wear it a lot. This is looking like a pretty auspicious start to the Nothing New Challenge.
With Ed, whose shirt also came from a charity shop!
Stay tuned for more posts about my progress with this challenge, and make sure to follow me on Twitter where I'll be doing brief, instant updates on the hashtag #NothingNewChallenge

Monday, 18 August 2014

Links a la Mode: The Nothing New Challenge

My newest post 'The Nothing New Challenge' has made it into IFB's Links a la Mode! I'm really excited about this challenge now, as the reaction has been very positive; from friends I see most days to other bloggers in the online community, everyone seems very supportive. I'll be posting some updates on how I'm doing, and also putting together the tips I'm gathering along the way, so if you're interested in making a move towards buying more second-hand, stay tuned. Make sure to follow me on Twitter as well, as I'll be tweeting new purchases and shop recommendations under the hashtag #NothingNewChallenge

But for now, enjoy the rest of this week's roundup. As ever, it's a fantastic collection. My particular favourites are Fierce in the City's 'How to wear backless clothes' (useful for me, since one of my new 2nd-hand purchases is a backless maxi dress) and Madame Ostrich's 'Let's Talk About Leather'.

lalam0814

What Really Matters

This week has been rough for a lot of us. The news is full of terrible things. Sometimes it's hard to focus when the world seems to be descending into chaos. But, at the end of the day, we all have to show up to our regular lives. Family, friends, work, creating the best life possible. Sometimes fashion seems, well, not the highest on the list of priorities, so sometimes you just have to return to the basics, the classics to work for you while you get your life on track. It's not all about the clothes.

Links à la Mode: August 14

SPONSOR: East Dane Codes Mackage Bags, Deadly Ponies, Campomaggi, Karla Spetic, Veronica Beard, KG London, Nocturne, Joa, Schnayderman's, Faithful & Demylee

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Saturday, 9 August 2014

The 'Nothing New' Challenge


It's summer, and I'm bored.

Of course, there are productive things I could be doing, like actually reading The Faerie Queene, or getting a paper round, or starting up a small greetings card business. But typically, my mind has been wandering, and I've come up with a little project for myself.

I've decided that I'm going to give up buying brand new clothes. By that, I mean anything straight from the High Street or online, anything newly-made and unworn. Shopping is by no means out though, as I'll be scouring vintage shops, markets, charity stores and several other places whenever I feel my wardrobe needs a refresh.



But why? Well there are a few reasons:
  • Firstly, and most importantly, I am worried about the effect that fast fashion is having on our environment, our culture and our world in general. With the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh just the latest in a series of tragedies, it's getting harder to ignore the conditions in which our clothes are produced. I'm hoping that by stepping back from the temptation of abundant and cheap clothing in the biggest stores, I can re-evaluate the way I shop, and maybe become a better consumer.
  • I've been watching This Old Thing, a new programme on Channel 4 hosted by Dawn O'Porter. It's not really anything groundbreaking, following formulae which were invented by Trinny & Susannah and honed by Gok Wan, but it's really fun and promotes vintage. Unlike Dawn, I don't have a team of expert seamsters at my disposal, but I can take inspiration from the show for my challenge of finding vintage gems and making the best of what I already own.
  • Shopping second-hand is so much more satisfying. The other day I went into town with a goal: to find a dress which I can wear to an upcoming party for under £10. I also decided to start my search in charity shops. It happened that in the first one I looked in, there was an ideal dress for £8.99. Knowing that there was only one dress like this - rather than a whole rack of them - and that I had found it, was just a fab feeling.
  • The Monday afternoon "I know what I'll do - buy a dress from Primark/Topshop/Miss Selfridge!" sessions really need to stop. I'm not sure how this started, but it's definitely a thing.
  • Once upon a time, this blog was very vintage-focused. I'm not sorry that it moved away from that a bit because I think I would have become too bored with just that one area to blog as much. But I'm kind of looking to go back to my roots here. I mean, even the clothes in the header are outside an antique shop in France, plus my first ever published-in-print article was about places to find vintage clothes. It should be fun to keep my readers updated on how the challenge is going.

I'm sure there are some more reasons but those are really the main ones. Anyway, the point is: I'm going to keep going with this for as long as I can. I'm not going to set a particular time-frame because you just don't know when your only good pair of leggings will break, or you'll need a fancy-dress costume, or you'll be invited to meet Prince Harry (it could happen). But let's say, as a vague guide, that I'll be starting pretty much straight away (just as soon as my winter boots from Fat Face arrive...) and trying to stick to this for the next academic year, so until June/July 2015.


Just for clarification, I'm not going to include underwear or hosiery in this (though there do seem to be an odd number of unopened packs of tights in charity shops). Aside from that, I will be trawling vintage & charity shops, eBay, ASOS marketplace, my own wardrobe and, if necessary, the wardrobes of friends (with their permission of course). What's more, I'd really like all of you reading this to help me out if you have any advice. Know a good place to find cool second-hand clothes? Have a trick for revamping old things? Let me know by commenting on this post or getting in touch with me on Twitter: @fashionmoriarty

All images are mine except top one which is from here

Friday, 11 July 2014

The silent protest of apparel

Protest pins by Sedef Isim
Activism comes in many forms. From writing letters to occupying the streets, boycotts to strikes, I'm fascinated by the ways in which people take matters into their own hands to make a change. Some of these can be vocal, but others require no speaking at all. One of these silent methods is that of literally wearing our hearts on our sleeves; t-shirts, badges, ribbons and other pieces of apparel can play a huge part in gaining widespread support for a movement, and I'm going to use this post to explore a few examples of this and what they mean for their causes.



Wearing something which indicates which side you're on is a fairly ancient concept. Think of the Wars of the Roses, or the contrasting dress of the roundheads and cavaliers. As well as being a practical indicator of who to avoid killing in battle, having a symbol of your ideology can be a key part of expressing identity, and goes right up to campaign T-shirts worn today. When I was Fashion Editor of The Oxford Student last term, we had an ethics-themed issue which featured this great piece about Katharine Hamnett, whose political t-shirts played a huge role in popularising slogan-emblazoned clothing. She even wore an anti-nuclear shirt when she met Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.


More recent causes to use this form of getting their point across include the No More Page Three campaign - whose distinctive t-shirt has been worn by Green MP Caroline Lucas in the House of Commons - and No More Fashion Victims, yet another project involving Hamnett, which promotes organic cotton. This second one is particularly important to the fashion industry, which has huge problems with the ethics of clothing production; supporting better methods of creating fashion through fashion itself can get across a vital message. This is also something which Who Made Your Pants? is doing, with the support of big names like Caroline Criado-Perez, Lucy Anne Holmes (of No More Page 3), and my friend Rosalind over at Clothes, Cameras & Coffee. The brand aims to make pretty, high-quality underwear in good working conditions, as well as being an actively pro-women business. What's not to love?

Read more about the brand on The Vagenda
When clothing brands and designers turn their attentions towards good causes, they can make some real constructive change. But what really makes a difference is the number of ordinary people who take up a piece of apparel and wear it proudly, promoting the cause as they go. Some of the most successful charity campaigns are the ones which use a simple badge to raise awareness and sometimes funds, such as the British Legion's poppy appeal. I've had some reservations about this appeal before, in part because I'm not all that comfortable with the way wars are commemorated to the extent that they become glorified in this country. However, the benefits of the appeal are obvious, and it is tremendously successful, raising millions of pounds every year.


Similarly, awareness ribbons are becoming increasingly popular. The most well-known are probably the red ribbon for AIDs awareness and pink ribbon in support of those with breast cancer, but there are all sorts of different ones now. Sometimes these are sold for a small profit which can then go back to relevant charities, but in other cases they are given out for free, as the aim is simply to spread the message as far as possible. This was the case recently in Oxford, when the Women's Campaign began handing out white ribbons to be worn as a pledge never to commit, condone or remains silent about violence against women. This is a movement which originated in the early 90s in response to the École Polytechnique Massacre and has since seen various resurgences around the world, often due to an extreme case of violence against women. It shows solidarity and a willingness to push for change, all without saying a word.

Wearing my white ribbon with a white carnation for first-year exams
This form of activism really interests me, especially when it spreads throughout somewhere like a university campus. A similar statement was made by the No Red Tape campaign at Columbia University when, frustrated with the administration's handling of sexual harassment cases, students wore red tape on their graduation mortarboards. An anonymous email encouraged this and outlined what the message would be: "By placing a piece of red tape on your cap (ideally parallel to the right side), you will demonstrate and signal to the University that you do not accept your degree lightly, that you understand the culture that they have been complicit in perpetuating, and that you will not stand for it, and that you demand justice and support for all survivors, even as a graduate of this institution." The tape was also put up around campus in various places including the iconic Alma Mater statue.

Red tape around campus
Something like this is so simple, and yet it creates striking imagery which shows that the activists are serious about their concerns. It also, perhaps not merely by coincidence, provides the media with a good photograph to accompany a report on the protests; after all, what large institutions fear most is bad press, so what better way to take a stand against them? It's no wonder that the use of red tape soon spread to other universities. Brown graduates used their tape to mark 'IX' on their mortarboards, referencing the federal gender equality law Title IX.


But there are drawbacks to all of this. The first is that, when you start using fashion to fight inequality, you risk turning a cause into a trend. If people end up wearing a campaign's T-shirt simply because it's the cool thing to do, then in all likelihood they'll stop wearing it when it's become passée. It can't be beneficial for a cause to be seen as something which can be cast off when the next big thing comes around. Another problem is that we might be in danger of tokenising a campaign; just because you're wearing your white ribbon or your red tape doesn't mean that the battle is won. Symbolic stands like this are important, but so is further action. In the middle of writing this post, I noticed that Brooke Magnanti had published an article noting that this attitude could well be wrapped up in the Who Made Your Pants campaign. She doesn't say that the idea is necessarily harmful, but criticises "an approach that never moves past symbols to address anything systemic, that retreads the same category errors people make when they congratulate themselves for buying an organic apple from halfway around the world swathed in layers of plastic." I'm not sure how far I agree with relevance to WMYP, but this is definitely something which can happen when we boil a cause down into one particular item; people get hold of the item and then feel no need to do anything more.

Symbols are important, and if you have the chance to wear something which expresses your solidarity or desire for change, definitely do it. Incorporate it with your usual style or let it clash unabashedly with your outfit. Maybe we sometimes attribute too much importance to a piece of symbolism, and end up tokenising a campaign, but these little bits of fabric and plastic and tape can also be the catalyst of wider change. It really is quite remarkable what you can do with just a bit of ribbon.

Let me know what you think about all this in the comments or on Twitter

Monday, 30 June 2014

The Ethics of Excess


Last Thursday, as I emerged from a three-hour exam into the June sunshine, I knew I was about to experience something which pretty much every Oxford student will encounter in their time at the university: trashing.

The idea is fairly simple: when you finish your last exam (not just for your finals, but also for first-year Prelims) your friends come and cover you with everything from silly string and confetti to champagne and chocolate sauce. All the while, you're still wearing the compulsory 'sub-fusc' exam uniform: white shirt, black skirt or trousers, velvet ribbon or white bowtie, and a gown. It's a tradition of revelry which gives you a chance to let your hair down at the end of a stressful period and maybe snap a new cover photo while you're at it.


I think there's a little something in my hair
However, the practice has been criticised by some who see it as wasteful and destructive behaviour. The Mail ran this article which juxtaposed the plans to regulate student union bars with Oxford finalists celebrating - a slightly odd link, considering Oxford has no student union building, let alone a bar. Yet the tone is clear: what on earth are these supposedly intelligent people doing getting drunk and dishevelled in the middle of the afternoon? For many, the ruined formal wear and seemingly copious supply of alcohol is indicative of elitism, arrogance and excess, leading to some of the harsher comments on the article such as "This rubbish should have their degrees (assuming they got them through study and daddy did not buy them one, by giving the university a huge donation) taken away from them. That is the only way this rubbish will learn."


These are understandable grievances, and there are also counter-arguments (namely, the relatively low cost of sub-fusc, cheap prosecco and silly-string, not to mention the need to celebrate and relax after exams) but I won't turn this into a debate about trashing. I actually want to explore something wider: why do we enjoy the aesthetic of expensive things being destroyed?




Think about it. There's a certain cathartic satisfaction to watching a rockstar smash up their state-of-the-art guitar, or in the scene of a film where the heroine dramatically tears a pearl necklace from her neck. It's a dramatic enactment of a destructive drive which we all have in us, but rarely express. Yet it is also, in many cases, a statement of wealth and power; it says "I am rich enough to do this and for it not to bother me much." I think this is very well summed-up in Naomi Alderman's novel The Lessons, when the narrator notes a distinctive feature of those who are born rich: "The key is the possession of objects which are clearly tremendously expensive but are treated with disdain and often held in surroundings of squalor." When you haven't had to work to attain something, you don't feel the need to take care of it.


Mario Testino
So why is this on my fashion blog? Well it's because I think that this aesthetic - one of excess and destruction - is one which runs through all kinds of art and media, including fashion. I think it's at the heart of Fun's We Are Young Video, and in our enduring fascination with the raucous exploits of the Bullingdon Club, continued this summer in the new film The Riot Club, and in the ideal of the fashion lifestyle. Glamourous and destructive parties in which little heed is paid to expense are considered almost as essential as runway shows.



Whether it's trashing or a trendy party, we seem to simultaneously enjoy and revile this imagery of excess and carelessness. The thought of someone throwing champagne everywhere is both attractive and out-of-touch. Where did this come from? I guess it's a product of the way we would all like to be rich, and yet note all the flaws in the way privileged people behave. We want to be them but we hate them. It's a curious paradox and one which I think the fashion industry in particular feeds on, creating luxurious images in which designer clothes are flung about and designer jewellery is treated like it came free with a Happy Meal.

Mario Testino

Essentially, we buy into this because, as with much fashion, it's aspirational. But one can't help but wonder what the implications of this excess might be. In a world where 'fast fashion' and the huge wastefulness (not to mention unethical status) of consumer culture, might we be better off not glamourising this kind of wilful destruction? It's certainly worth contemplating, but on the other hand, fashion is so often about fantasy and escapism. The same is true of trashing; it can certainly be viewed as wasteful, but in truth its essence is merely a celebration of having made it through exams and marks the start of time off.

Let me know what you think about excess and glamourous destruction in the comments section or on Twitter @fashionmoriarty

Monday, 9 June 2014

I Want It! Selected World Sweatshirt In Map Print


Have I ever mentioned before that I adore anything with a map printed on it?

I mean you might have guessed from my collection of travel-themed luggage but I don't think I can have fully impressed on you, dear readers, the extent to which I will pay attention to even the weirdest item if it's got a map on it. I've considered buying a men's cycling jersey before, simply because I liked the San Jose map on its front.

My obsession is, apparently, well-known amongst my friends. It was only logical, therefore, for my friend Amber to message me a link to this divine piece when she saw it on ASOS.

This has a particular air of history about it (something which I think draws me to map prints), since it seems to show Tartary, the Medieval term for an area which now encompasses Siberia and Turkestan among others. Yet this is offset by the very modern sweatshirt cut; the contrast makes this just the right kind of cool.

I like to think that, wearing this, I'd look simultaneously relaxed and (I'm sorry there's just no other word for it) fly. I'm not sure if that's really the case (I certainly wouldn't wear it with white trousers as the model is daringly doing), but I feel like the power of map-print would make me feel like a confident world-traveler anyway.

Monday, 7 April 2014

It costs a lot to look this cheap


When I opened Style.com a few weeks ago to check out what had been going on at Milan fashion week, the last thing I expected to be presented with was a runway model decked out like a McDonalds server. Let's be fair for a moment, what else could we expect from Jeremy Scott, the man who brought us a coathanger dress and Adidas trainers which wouldn't look out of place on a Greek god? Yet it was still a bit of a shock to the fashion world, and instantly divided opinion. And when I say it "divided opinion", I mean that the Vogue review was tentatively appreciative of the collection's humour, whilst seemingly every commenter on their Facebook page thought it was "disgusting", "tacky" and "not something I'd buy at all".

Personally, I like Jeremy Scott's particular brand of humourous design. Not to buy (as if I could afford it) but more in the way I would enjoy looking at a Tracey Emin artwork, with a mix of amusement, bewilderment, and desire to unearth the political message hidden within. Combining the imagery of one of the most recognisable brands in the world with the silhouette of the typical Chanel-wearing high-class woman seemed, to me, a comment on capitalism and its ridiculousness. You may say that McDonalds is a dominating force which impresses its image onto the masses, but could the same not be said about iconic fashion houses?



One thing which does strike me, however, is that somebody must be buying this stuff - stuff which looks rather like it came free with happy meal. Now obviously people who keep up with their fashion will know that you've purchased a new Moschino piece and will be dutifully impressed, but what about everyone else? Surely one is just paying huge sums of money to look like you've paid nothing at all?

Like it or not, fashion is often used as a status symbol. A Chanel purse doesn't just say "I appreciate the history and quality of this brand" or "I like the size and shape of this item for practical purposes", it also says "I SPENT SEVERAL THOUSAND POUNDS ON A HANDBAG!" Perhaps it's a symbol of achievement in that one can afford to buy it, or perhaps it's just a symbol of consumerism. Either way, it's showing that you have money, so what is the point of paying the same amount for something which looks like it costs a fraction of the price?

Many designers have adopted this kitsch style in recent years. Though the items themselves can sell for the usual high prices, they can look like the kind of thing you would buy in Primark. RED Valentino springs to mind, with its Disney-inspired collection. It's not that I dislike the clothes, in fact I think they're pretty cute, but I just don't understand why you'd pay the brand's usual prices (typically in the hundreds) for something you could find a similar version of for a lower price elsewhere.

Etsy (£17.96) 
RED Valentino


Now you'll say it's about quality and longevity, but with items like these, I honestly can't see them being staples which can be worn year-in year-out like a good trenchcoat or well-fitting pair of jeans. In fact, fashion in general, even the expensive stuff, is becoming more and more disposable. I doubt many people will still be wearing their McDonalds-style shirtdresses in years to come.

So what I want to know is, why are rich people spending so much on looking like they haven't spent much at all? Is it for the same reason that middle-class people will fork out for a flat in the Barbican Estate, so as to live a fantasy of the idyllic council flat existence? It has a feel of Marie Antoinette constructing a village to pretend to be a poor woman in. But perhaps it's nothing to do with this, and is in fact more about the humour of kitsch items. I guess it all comes down to exactly how much you're willing to pay in the name of comedy.