Friday, April 18, 2014

Normcore - Rhymes With Bore

So apparently there's this new "Fashion Trend" called Normcore.  Until this week, I had never heard of it, and then a work colleague sent me a link to this article from New York Magazine.  On the same day, Melanie of A Bag and A Beret mentioned it in a comment on one of my posts.  This obviously required further research:

An article in the New York Times defines Normcore as:
Normcore (noun) 1. A fashion movement, c. 2014, in which scruffy young urbanites swear off the tired street-style clich├ęs of the last decade — skinny jeans, wallet chains, flannel shirts — in favor of a less-ironic (but still pretty ironic) embrace of bland, suburban anti-fashion attire. (See Jeans, mom. Sneakers, white.)

Steve Jobs was Normcore before the word even existed     
So, as I understand it:  wear the most boring, bland, clothing you can find, and claim it's anti-fashion, practical, and unpretentious.   Stop spending all that time and effort to broadcast your identity through your clothing and start looking like everyone else.   It's Jerry Seinfeld as Style Icon, and even Newsweek has written about it.   The term originated with New York-based trend forecasting collective K-Hole, who described it more as a theory instead of a look.  Embrace sameness and find the joy that comes with being part of a group;  conformity over asserting your individuality.  Apparently, if you dress like a schlub, it will allow you to blend in and mingle with people from all walks of life, opening you up to all kinds of life experiences you wouldn't get by clinging to your selfish need to "stand out".   Hogwash.

I would like to point out that this "trend" is being embraced by the 20 - 30 something hipster crowd - I doubt very much you will see any of the women in my blogging circle, or the women that appear on Ari Cohen's blog Advanced Style, climbing onto this bandwagon.

I wonder how the folks who've been dressing like this their entire lives feel about this?  There's a world of difference between the carefully styled, perfectly proportioned versions of "normcore" that are all over the internet, and what a mother of five in a small town in Oklahoma wears to go to the supermarket.

I can understand the style fatigue that may have contributed to this movement.  It takes lot of work and a lot of money to keep your wardrobe current with whatever Vogue Magazine has dictated is "IN" this season.    However, for those of us who aren't concerned with being "IN" or "OUT", and  are quite happy to have our personality reflected in our attire, hell can freeze over before we are going to adopt the bland and boring in order to "embrace sameness".  We spend so much of our lives trying to figure out who we are, and how to feel comfortable in our own skin, that if and when we finally, that is worth celebrating - not covering up with boring clothes that render you invisible.   The outfit I am wearing above, is quite "normal" for me, and is no less comfortable or practical for my day's activities than a pair of faded jeans and a t-shirt would be.

The vest may look complicated, but I just undo a couple of the buttons at the front and slip it over my head.
Oddly enough,  those of us who shop secondhand, make stuff, wear our clothes upside down or inside out, mix old with new, and don't concern ourselves with "rules" about age-appropriateness, pattern mixing, or colour-clashing, are, in fact, embracing our "sameness".  It's about a community of creative, intelligent, free-thinking, confident and .......... women wearing what makes us feel good.

Would you be as fascinated, and delighted by, these women in the photos below if they were wearing jeans and sweatshirts? 


 I think not.  
Clockwise from top left:  Sheila and Melanie, Krista, The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, and Vix.  The images are borrowed from their individual blogs (click on their names to see them), except for the one of Jean and Valerie, which came from Advanced Style.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Le Chateau - All Grown Up

One of the last places I want to spend a Saturday afternoon is in a crowded shopping mall, but this past weekend I made an exception when I was invited to attend the grand opening of Le Chateau's newly renovated store at White Oaks Mall here in London.   Had it been a different company that made the invitation, I would have probably declined it,  but I have a nostalgic fondness for the Montreal-based company, which I discovered when I first moved to London in 1980.  At that time, the Canadian retailer was selling fun and inexpensive clothing and accessories, and I would stop by the store in downtown London at least once a week.  It was the store where the "cool" people worked, and by shopping there, one hoped that some of the coolness rubbed off on you.  After the 80's passed, and I acquired a series of office jobs that required me to dress more conservatively, I lost interest in clothes that fell apart after one washing. I probably hadn't been in a Le Chateau store for several years.

When I received the invitation to the opening, I looked at the store website and discovered that their image had changed significantly.  No longer the go-to place for cheap club clothes (H & M and Forever 21 have that market cornered), the Le Chateau of 2014 is a boutique-style store selling medium-priced, stylish clothing targeted to women in their 30's and up.  As Shawn Schmidt, Director of Visual Presentation, explained, the store has grown up along with their customers. 

For the grand opening, the company rolled out the red carpet and handed out gift bags and treats to customers.

 Shawn Schmidt, the host for the event, was as charming as he was impeccably dressed.

I spent quite a bit of time chatting about the evolution of the company with Mr. Schmidt, who has been with Le Chateau for over 20 years.  40% of the merchandise sold by Le Chateau, including dresses and suits, is manufactured in Canada, which allows them to maintain better quality control.  Sizes range from 0 - 15/16, although not in every item, and according to Schmidt, they are "real sizes", not model versions.  I noted that the majority of the store staff were under 30, and asked if a 50-something woman could get a job here, and he assured me they would be happy to hire older sales staff.

The store has moved from their old location in the mall near the food court to a new, redesigned space.  Each collection has its own area to give the feeling of a series of European style boutiques instead of just one large, intimidating space.  

Three dresses from the collection seen in the previous photo 

The store had a large selection of very pretty, figure-flattering dresses and if I had a job that required me to dress more conservatively, I'm sure I could have found something here that would be appropriate, but not boring.  There were lots of bright colours everywhere.

 I thought the two dresses above, although very different in design, were both extremely flattering and very stylish, and would look good on a variety of women.

While there were lots of bright colours available, there were also items in classic monochrome.

One of the things I remember fondly about the Le Chateau of my youth was the fabulous accessories.  Almost all the big and bold earrings worn in my 20's were purchased there.   I was happy to see they still carry a large assortment of bling, ranging in price from $10 to $50.  Their upscale shoe collection, which includes Italian and Brazilian designs, is displayed in streamlined, well-lit wall units.

I ran into Kelly Connor, who blogs as City Mom, who had also been invited to the opening.  Kelly has been blogging for about 4 years and was one of the earliest followers of my blog. 

I had to try this orange faux-leather moto jacket as it coordinated perfectly with my shoes.

There is a large section at the rear of the store devoted to party/evening/cocktail dresses.  I asked a  woman shopping with her teenage daughter if she had shopped in Le Chateau before, and she told me she had found a prom dress for her daughter in the store.  I spoke with another woman shopping with her three daughters, and she said she liked the store because there was something for everyone.

Mid-afternoon, Mr. Schmidt, with the assistance of the store staff, cut the red ribbon to officially open the store.

After paying for their purchases at the cash desk, customers can exit through the men's section of the store.  It was nice to see the all the colours available in men's dress shirts;  I'm all for men wearing bold colours.

Any of the shirts in the carousel display above would look great with a charcoal grey suit

An unexpected bonus was the lesson I received in the science that goes into the design, and outfitting, of a retail space.  Mr. Schmidt explained that everything from the placement of the change rooms (scattered throughout the store instead of grouped in the back), lighting (environmentally friendly LED lighting), and the height of the display racks (low enough so the customer can see the entire item without asking for assistance) contributes to the visual appeal and financial success of a retail business.

In interest of full disclosure, I received a gift card from Le Chateau in return for my promotion of the store opening.  While I won't be making posts like these a regular part of my blog, I have to admit I rather enjoyed my brief visit to the land of retail.  It was good for me to step out of my comfort zone of thrift stores and small indie businesses and remind myself that the majority of women in Canada don't purchase their wardrobes in secondhand stores, and I learned a few things about the psychology of fashion merchandising.  Just because I don't like a particular item, or think it's too conservative for my taste, doesn't mean it's not attractive or flattering to other women.   Women who are looking for stylish, mid-priced clothing they can wear to the office, or to the park, will find something at Le Chateau, a company that, like their customers, is all grown up.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rag Bag Bazaar - Art, Owls, Bow Ties, and Vulvas

I am soooo far behind in everything, including blogging, that I can see my own arse.  I'm writing this post about what I did a week ago, as four days worth of dishes are soaking in the sink (I know, GROSS!).

The Rag Bag Bazaar is a semi-regular event that brings together local artists, crafters and vendors in various downtown venues.  The most recent one, held at Museum London on April 5th, was the first one I had attended, so I have no idea how it compared to previous ones. 

I was surprised and delighted to meet artist Sarah Feehan, who had some of her collages and pins for sale.  I had purchased a small sculpture of hers at the Visual Arts students' end-of-year sale at Western, and it's always a treat to meet the creator of something you fell in love with.  In this case it was.....

....this sculpture, which incorporates a taxidermied bird body.  The moment I saw her (I named her Edwina) I knew I had to have her.  She was on my filing cabinet at work for a few days until I could get her home, inspiring a variety of comments;  now she lives on a shelf in my living room, along with the skeleton hand drawing I purchased from the same sale last year, the Eiffel tower, and some chalkware kitties.

The "Give A Hoot" table had these adorable stuffed owls for sale, along with other owl-themed items.  I purchased a small red stuffed owl barrette which I promptly stuck in my hair.

These charming women selling cute jewellery under the name Catstache had an item that was pretty much guaranteed to be a conversation piece no matter where you wore it...

Yep, that would be Vulva jewellery.  Wear your vulva proudly, on your finger, around your neck, or your wrist.

Wendy Van Der Meer sells her own designs under the name House of Wenday that include accessories made from recycled denim, t-shirts, dresses, and scarves.

The young man in the glasses and bow tie was selling bow ties (I assume of his own design).  The father of the little boy in the lumberjack plaid jacket was interested but the little guy, obviously more into the outdoorsy casual look, not so much.

I had seen Fred & Lila's crocheted creatures at the Car Free Festival last summer.  Creator Allison Gray, seated behind the table makes cuddly stuffed toys that are often inspired by current children's storybook and TV characters.

The blue guy in the foreground is Perry the Platypus.  If I had children, I may have known he is a character from a television show who is a secret spy, as it is, I just thought he was cute.

Eva Przybyla had some beautiful silkscreen prints for sale - I asked her to hold two of my favourites in the photo.

After we had visited all the vendors' tables, Heather and I walked over to Rock Au Taco to grab a bite before parting ways. 

We sat in the window next to this couple.  The decor is very colourful and quirky, and the tacos are yummy, as I mentioned in a previous post.

 ....and that was last Saturday.  Stay tuned as I post about some cool things that happened this week, including receiving unexpected blogger love by mail, and learning about the science of store design.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday - 1980's Le Chateau Leather

Today I received an email invitation to the opening of the newly renovated Le Chateau Store located in one of the major shopping malls here in London.  I haven't been in a Le Chateau store for a very long time, but I have fond memories of discovering the Canadian brand after I moved to London from the very small town where I grew up.  In the 1980's it was the place to go for trendy clothing and accessories that a girl working for minimum wage in retail could afford. Of course the quality was questionable, but these weren't investment pieces, they were things you wore mixed with thrift store finds when you went out to a club to go dancing, or to your job in a record store.  When I received the invitation, I knew I had to track down the above photo, taken in 1985 or 86.  I had seen the black leather skirt I'm wearing in the above photo at Le Chateau, and wanted it desperately.  At the time, it was the most expensive piece of clothing I had ever purchased, but I was in love with it, and wore it as often as I could.  In the photo, I am hanging out with friends, overdressed as usual, and apparently not wearing a bra.  

I  had been generously offered a gift card by the store in exchange for some publicity about the opening, so I looked at Le Chateau's website to see what kinds of things they sell now.  I was rather disappointed when instead of crazy sequins, fringe, bold patterns and leather,  I saw they had changed their focus and were now selling pretty-but-conservative styles targeted towards the young professional. 

If any of you in London are out at White Oaks Mall on Saturday, April 12th, stop by Le Chateau between 1 - 4 pm for some gifts, music, and Spring fashions.  The event will be hosted by Shawn Schmidt, the National Director, Visual Presention, for Le Chateau Inc.  I'm looking forward to asking him about their change in direction for the brand and waxing nostalgic over that leather skirt.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Vintage Show and Sunshine = The Perfect Sunday Afternoon

I made a last minute decision to attend Gadsden's Toronto Vintage Clothing Show on Sunday, March 30th.  This was the third year in a row that I had attended the Spring show - there is a Fall show as well, but I'm usually away when it's scheduled.  The show has an average of 25 - 30 vendors which means you can easily cover everyone in 2  - 3 hours, depending on whether you're the type of person who looks at everything, or are only searching for specific items.  There is a very good range of prices so if you're looking to spend big bucks on a gorgeous bakelite necklace, you can, or if you have a budget of $20, you can also find something fun to take home.

It was a gorgeous, Spring-like day and as I was headed to the show, I spied this woman a half a block away in her brilliant colours.  When we got closer, I said how much I liked her outfit, and she said she was about to say the same thing to me.  She asked if I was a blogger, and when I said yes, she said, "So am I!!"  Of course, this revelation led us to spend the next few minutes shooting photos of each other, because that's what bloggers do.    Her name is Erica Chapman, and you can find her blog here.  The coincidences continued to add up, as she had just been to the Vintage Show!   Alas, I did not get anyone else to take a photo of me that day, so I am hoping Erica can send me one.

The Show is held at Wychwood Barns, a Community Centre and park off St. Clair West in Toronto.  The main building was built in 1913 as a streetcar maintenance facility and on a sunny day the end-to-end glass skylight allows light to pour into the venue.   This is a photo I took of the venue last year.

After being greeted by Jeff and Wendy Gadsden at the door, the next person I saw whom I recognized was Emma Paige, in her lovely lemon-coloured hat.  Emma has a booth for her business, Forget Me Not by Emma Paige, at the show each year.

I found a chunky orange necklace for $10 at the Scandimania booth, where the focus was on the Scandinavian design between the period 1960-1990.  They had beautiful modernist jewellery and bold and bright Marimekko clothing, like the purple flowered kimono jacket in the upper left of the photo.  I asked Katya, one of the owners, if she would hold the leg of the fab gold patterned jumpsuit to show it was not a dress.

I spent quite a while chatting with Eric Rados, owner of LuckyPantina Vintage.  Eric has been an avid thrifter his entire life, and he used to live in St. Thomas, which is very close to London, so he is familiar with the conservative burg I call home.  In addition to having very dapper style (bow tie AND stickpin), he has a good eye for a cool jewellery and his booth featured some great bakelite, lucite and metal pieces. 

Spring was happening inside as well as outside with lots of bright colours everywhere, as in this display at Norma's Vintage Styling and Costuming.

There were lots of cheerful patterns everywhere you looked.  The two piece culotte outfit and orange and white dress and coat set were from Retrouver.

Also at the Retrouver booth were these fab shoes

Even though it's still too cold for flowers to be blooming outside, you could have a whole garden on your head with this hat from Judith Mureika and Julia Wright Antiques.

 Maidene Besson, one of the vendors, and also a stylist and personal shopper, was rocking an 80's dress and leather belt.

I found myself next to this woman while checking out some vintage buttons, and I loved her hair and brightly coloured dress.  The conversations I have with other vintage fans is part of the draw for shows like these - there are few other places where you can bond with someone while oohing and aahhing over a bakelite button.

I ran into this woman a few times over the course of a couple of hours - she was hard to miss with her porcelain skin, red lips and raven hair.  She's a hard core vintage fan with a weakness for shoes and boots and showed me one of her scores of the day - a pair of rubber-soled, fur-trimmed ankle boots from the 1940's.

The majority of people attending the show are women, as there are few vendors that carry men's vintage, aside from accessories such as ties and cuff links.

Clockwise from left:  the strapless tiered dress would be perfect for a spring/summer wedding; these patchwork boots at Gadabout had quite a few admirers, and there was lots of sparkle and shine to be had.

I was mesmerized by Renee Piche's aluminum neckpiece and when I asked to take her photo, she commented that she had her photo taken at the Pier Antiques Show in New York back in November, wearing the same necklace.  Turns out it was my friends, The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, that took her photo for their blog (small world, is it not?).  Renee is from Montreal and specializes in jewellery and accessories, particularly bakelite and plastic pieces.

Some of the amazing pieces at Renee Piche's booth - clockwise from top left:  plastic and frosted lucite necklace, 1980's geometric cuff in frosted lucite and plastic by Isaky Paris; a statement-making set in tropical hues; an unsigned Pierre Cardin plastic choker necklace.  I would have loved to take home either of the plastic necklaces, but they were priced beyond my day's budget.  

I was just about to leave the show when I ran into these two stylish women in their sharp chapeaux and cool coats.

I had a great time at the show browsing and chatting, and took home a couple of things, including the Perry Ellis hot pink jacket seen in my previous post here.  I also found a cute summer blouse that will make an appearance when the weather warms up.   Wendy and Jeff Gadsden are always so welcoming when I come to the show, and I love sharing my enthusiasm for fashion of decades past with other vintage fans.  The next show will be on October 26th, so put it on your calendar!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

These Are A Few of My Favourite Things....

I am working on my blog post about the vintage clothing and textile Show I attended in Toronto on the weekend, but in the meantime, here's an outfit post that includes a few of my favourite things in my wardrobe, and a new addition, purchased at the show...

You know those items we have in our wardrobe that we wear over and over, mixing and matching with other things, and make you feel good when you're wearing them?  This outfit includes some of mine.  The skirt was thrifted and is an excellent basic piece that has made it worth more than the $6 I paid for it.

You may remember the candy coloured Doc Marten brogues I purchased last year - they are my all time favourite feel-good shoes.  Today I wore them with my Pippi Longstocking leggings, another item that brightens my day, and always inspires a comment or two from my colleagues.

My new favourite is this Perry Ellis America jacket, purchased from the Factory Girl Vintage booth at the Gadsden's Toronto Vintage Clothing Show on Sunday.  It was very reasonable priced, and I couldn't resist the retina-burning colour and 80's shape.

Another thing I liked about the jacket was the fabric - it's made from a velvety-soft quilted cotton/poly blend and given that the temperature is still only a few degrees above zero, I appreciated the extra cozy factor.

We have had two, sunny, Spring-like days in a row, and I was swooning from the unexpected brightness.  I don't want to seem too presumptuous, but could the Winter From Hell actually be over?

A special thanks to the ever-patient Heather for taking these photos