May 16, 2013
In modern slang, a “creeper” is that odd, socially awkward guy you know from the office, dorm, neighborhood, local restaurant. You can also call him a creep. A couple of years ago, Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island crew premiered the digital short called “The Creep,” with filmmaker and creeper John Waters, on “Saturday Night Live,” spawning a series of YouTube imitators mimicking the stilted, zombielike dance.
Going back 50 years, another dance spawned a different sort of “creeper.” The dance was done to the 1953 hit ”The Creep,” from big-band leader Ken Mackintosh. A slow shuffle movement, it was embraced by a subculture called the Teddy Boys, who became known as creepers.
The Teddy Boys first appeared after World War II, with roots dating back to the Edwardian era. In addition to distinguishing themselves by their musical preferences, Teddy Boys made themselves known through their dandy-like sartorial choices that referenced the early 20th century. A popular look included drainpipe pants with exposed socks, tailored drapey jackets, button-down shirts, brogues, Oxfords or crepe-soled shoes. Those ridged, thick-crepe-soled shoes with suede or leather uppers became known as “creepers” because of their association with the Creep dance (and maybe because if you misspelled crepe, you got creep?).
When British soldiers returned from World War II battlefields, they were ready to let off a little steam. Still wearing their crepe-soled, military-issued boots, they hit the London nightclubs. The shoe soon gained the moniker “brothel creepers.”
In 1949, when the U.K.-based company George Cox Footwear began designing sturdy, crepe-soled shoes, the style took off, particularly among the Teddy Boy set. With its combination of sturdy construction and “flair for originality,” the creeper became the company’s signature shoe.
In fact, this “Behind the Scenes” blog post about a current collaboration between Cox and the brand Fred Perry describes how making creepers at Cox entails meticulous handiwork that stands out among mass-manufactured goods of today. ”The company, famed for its creeper styles, utilises a production process known as Goodyear welting. The hands-on nature of this construction means that the shoes take much longer to produce than those made using wholly mechanised techniques. Whilst many modern manufactured shoes have their soles simply glued on, the Goodyear welting process involves several stages of sealing with each shoe individually finished by a skilled craftsman,” says the blog post.
After a lull in popularity, creepers re-emerged in the 1970s. We can thank Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood and the punk scene for reviving the distinctively soled style, as well as cyclical fashion trends in general. The Teddy Boy was back in fashion subcultures, although it remained far from the mainstream. McLaren and Westwood’s Let It Rock shop in London, which was renamed Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die, and then renamed Sex, kept the shoes in stock.
In addition to George Cox Footwear, brands like Underground and T.U.K. make creepers. They have been a mainstay in ska, punk, goth and glam for decades.
Just like punk itself, creepers have found their way onto runways, and they’ve gone more mainstream since the days of hunting them down at punk boutiques like Trash and Vaudeville on St. Marks Place in New York’s East Village. Even Rihanna is sporting them, albeit with her own rebellious take.
March 18, 2013
Last month, Chinese school uniforms made the news. Studies had shown that possibly as many as 25,000 children in Shanghai, China, were wearing mandated uniforms that were essentially poisoning them. The fabric contained toxic aromatic amines, thought to be carcinogens and found in plastics, dyes and pesticides. Ingesting, inhaling or absorbing the chemicals is considered hazardous and some countries have banned them. Students were told to stop wearing the outfits made by Shanghai Ouxia Clothing Company until a complete investigation had taken place.
Horrifying, but not particularly surprising, considering how much China appears in the headlines for tainted products, the incident recalled a moment this past November when big, fast fashion chains were in the news for selling toxic clothes. Greenpeace published a report called Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch-Up, in which it uncovered how retailers including Zara, H & M and Nike had been incorporating harmful dyes into fabrics. More specifically:
A total of 141 items of clothing were purchased in April 2012 in 29 countries and regions worldwide from authorised retailers. The chemicals found included high levels of toxic phthalates in four of the garments, and cancer-causing amines from the use of certain azo dyes in two garments. NPEs [nonylphenol ethoxylates] were found in 89 garments (just under two thirds of those tested), showing little difference from the results of the previous investigation into the presence of these substances in sports clothing that was conducted in 2011. In addition, the presence of many other different types of potentially hazardous industrial chemicals was discovered across a number of the products tested.
According to the Huffington Post, just over a week after Greenpeace released the report, the international clothing chain Zara, committed to changing its ways. It will ”eliminate all discharge of hazardous chemicals” by 2020, the company said.
So how far have we really come from the time when ancient Egyptians used copper and lead in their eye makeup? In the 15th to 17th centuries, Romans used variations of lead and mercury to lighten their skin. When “Irish beauty Marie Gunning (a k a the Countess of Coventry) died in 1760, the press called her a ‘victim of cosmetics.’ ”
Style has trumped safety and comfort for centuries. Even though we now know these chemicals and dyes are bad for us, they keep creeping into our clothes and makeup. Sometimes we make decisions about what to wear based on what we think looks good, and in doing so, we do more damage to ourselves than we knew was possible.
For starters, take women’s shoes. High heels may make our legs look slim and elegant, but they are also known to cause ankle and heel pain, plantar fasciitis, painful swelling of the bottom of the foot, bunions and corns. Thick wooden wedges, five-inch stilettos and the heel-less Lady Gaga variety change our posture and how we arch our posteriors.
This performance offers a stark commentary on the subject, with the model assuming egretlike movements in order to walk in a very nontraditional pair of heels.
Historically speaking, one of the best-known examples of harmful body modification is foot binding. The Chinese practice kept a woman’s feet “dainty” and “lady-like” by tightly wrapping them when she was a child to prevent natural growth. The painful process was done to secure her role in the upper echelons of society.
By grossly deforming and disabling their feet and wearing tiny, delicate shoes, women would be more attractive to their mate, they were told, and would not be expected to work. Thankfully the practice was banned in 1912 (although people continued to bind in secret). On occasion, it’s still possible to encounter a woman from an older generation in China hobbling around on bound feet.
Speaking of hobbling, how about the hobble skirt? This form of restrictive, perilous garment was popularized in the 1910s and is generally attributed to French fashion designer Paul Poiret. Skirts were long and full, and they narrowed at the hem, or even at the calf, to provide a ballooning effect.
But there’s another version of the skirt’s origin that suggests a practical side to the style. The story goes that when Mrs. Hart Berg went on a flight with the Wright brothers, the first woman to do so, she tied a rope around the bottom of her long skirt to keep it from billowing in the air. Soon the Wright brothers’ sister, Katherine Wright, did the same. The trend took off and women attempted to wear these hazardous skirts to perform everyday tasks without falling flat on their faces, as depicted in numerous news stories from the time. The style lost its luster with the advent of the car, which certainly makes sense. Imagine trying to climb into a Ford Model T with the equivalent of an unforgiving elastic band wrapped around your calves.
Finally, no overview of clothing hazards would be complete without acknowledging the corset. For hundreds of years, the corset has been worn to mask or accentuate the natural curves of a woman’s, or man’s, body. With whalebone or metal boning and tight-lacing, the body-binders prompted medical professionals, especially in the 1800s, to try to bring an end to their use, explaining that they hindered muscle development, mobility and, well, the ability to breathe. The doctors were on to something, but, as was the case with bound feet, many women weren’t ready to give up the body-shaper because, they, or society, preferred the corseted shape over their natural one.
What are examples of dangerous or precarious clothes, shoes or underwear you’ve worn, purposefully – or unbeknownst to you? (Take the case of Isadora Duncan, who was strangled by her scarf.) Or, what do you try to stay away from?
Thanks, Laura Jane Kenny!
March 6, 2013
At every stump speech, meet and greet, and town hall gathering during the 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry wore a very distinctive bracelet: the bright yellow LiveStrong wristband. He wasn’t the only recognizable figure to embrace the cancer cause through a silicone band. Usher, Lindsay Lohan and Ben Affleck were also some of the 80 million-plus people who made it known they supported a good cause, and felt cool doing it too.
What followed was a charity wristband explosion, a distinctive way to wear your heart on your sleeve, or your cause on your wrist. Silicone gel “awareness bands” were made in all shades of the rainbow to build awareness and foster support for all types of causes: pink for breast cancer, purple for pancreatic cancer, blue for autism, red for AIDS, orange for anti-smoking. For a mere buck, you could slip a piece of rubber on your wrist and be braceleted, give yourself a pat on the back for your contribution to making the world a better place.
Look around. How many people do you see wearing those bands now? Almost none. They’d already lost their luster before the Armstrong doping debacle, disappearing almost as quickly as they emerged (although LiveStrong still sells them). In about 15 years, they’ll make an ironic comeback.
The aughts haven’t yet receded into the distant past, but already we’re thinking about what we’ll look back on and associate with the first decade of the 21st century. Not long ago, the New York Times published, “What Will We Miss When It’s 2033,” a rather broad assessment of the music, culture and style we’ll associate with 1999 to 2009, name-checking everything from Gwyneth Paltrow to the Black Eyed Peas to “Project Runway” to angular haircuts, flared jeans and trucker hats.
Last week, the fashion site Refinery29 ran a piece, “From Uggs to Y2K, What the ’00s Meant to Us,” that examined what cultural events influenced fashion during that decade. (Full disclosure: I was quoted in that article.) The post considered the sobering impact of 9/11 and the technological advances associated with the iPod and social networks. And although we may want to look the other way, it also mentioned a few cringe-worthy trends of the decade (Uggs boots everywhere with everything, low-slung jeans and midriff-bearing tops, tramp stamps, velour sweatsuits and gazillion-dollar “It bags,” just for starters).
Let’s look on the bright side and give the aughts some points for meshing style with intentionality. The popularity of cause-specific wristbands are on example. But there are others.
Simultaneous with – and in response to – fast fashion came a push for more sustainable clothing, reimagined for the aughts. Hemp-y, shapeless, neutral-toned bag dresses were updated with more form-fitting, stylish eco-fashion lines like Loomstate, Edun, Barneys Green Label and Stella McCartney. They found an audience who was willing to listen to why producing clothes in more earth-friendly ways (than, say, using 700-plus gallons of water to make one cotton T-shirt) was vital.
Remember Anya Hindmarch’s “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” tote bag that sold out in a matter of minutes in 2007? Or Lauren Bush’s FEED bag that followed on its heels? Both were green status symbols, especially as plastic bags were spurned and sustainable fashion, and its accompanying accessories, gained cachet.
The credit default swap led to the proliferation of clothing swaps. A desire to work with our hands, along with other responses to fast fashion, resulted in an uptick of DIY, crafting, recycling, upcycling, thrifting, as well as an appreciation for all things handmade, thanks to Etsy, which launched in 2005.
And however you may feel about TOMs shoes, its “one for one” model for giving shoes to needy children, begun in 2006 and now promoted in shoe stores around the globe, mainstreamed the discussion about a consumer’s responsibility to make socially aware clothing choices.
The Refinery29 post concludes by referencing a BBC article about the science of resurfacing trends, addressing the cycle of style. Only time will tell if we’ll look back on these cause-related fashion trends with amusement, befuddlement or gratitude, particularly if – and maybe it’s overly optimistic – in hindsight, we find that one small step for fashion leads to one more substantive step toward building a better world.
December 11, 2012
Spending quality time with family, drinking cider by the fire and playing Secret Santa all encourage getting into the festive holiday mood. So, too, is taking out your ugly Christmas sweaters—and, if you’re really lucky, showing off your tackiest at an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party. In recent years, ugly Christmas sweaters have emerged with newfound public acceptance: They’re no longer creations made by craft store-obsessed grandmas and foisted upon family members only to wind up at a thrift store. Instead, they’ve become a cultural meme, filled to the brim with an egg nog-sized cup of irony. Even celebrities such as Matt Damon are in on the action. To capitalize on the sweaters’ popularity, a market has sprung up around this wintertime phenomenon, with books, a 5K race and trophies celebrating the Santa face plastered across your chest.
Because of their increasing popularity, the brashly festooned sweaters are harder to come by, especially in thrift stores, where it was typically easy to purchase the best (I mean, worst) option. And who really wants to buy a full-priced light-up snowman sweater that’ll be worn only once a year?
One option is to shop eBay’s dedicated ugly Christmas sweater store, where you may find yourself bidding on a pre-worn gaudy pullover.
Another option is to make a sweater from scratch. A labor of love, true, this DIY approach embraces a time when the off-the-rack, last-minute tactic wasn’t an option.
Men, women and children have been channeling the holiday spirit through sweaters adorned with snowflakes, reindeer and Christmas trees for decades. And while the garishness reached new heights in the ’80s and ’90s, even back in the ’40s and ’50s, a touch of graphic flamboyance was essential to a genuine holiday pullover. With these vintage holiday sweater knitting patterns from Etsy, along with an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party invitation on your fridge, now is just the right time to pull out your knitting needles and make something wonderfully ugly.
Any holiday sweaters catch your eye this season? Submit photos or links in the comments. The uglier the better!
Read more articles about the holidays with our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here
December 6, 2012
The Bass Weejun loafer is not named after a Native American tribe.
Suitcases sometimes are time capsules.
And a postal worker can design high-end scarves.
What follows is Threaded’s second blog roundup of sartorial curiosities from around the web, turning on their head assumptions about what we wear and why we hold onto things.
The classic loafer, and various bedazzled iterations of it, have come roaring back into public consciousness since residing on the feet of dressed-down corporates for the past couple decades. How the shoes originated with Norwegian fishermen, when preppy college students’ flocked to them and why they’re called Weejuns is explained by Nancy Macdonnell in her New York Times cultural history of the slip-on, “Loafing Around”:
Despite the Ivy League associations and moccasin construction, the loafer is neither American in origin nor named for a little known Native American tribe. Instead, Weejun is a corruption of “Norwegian.” What does that Scandinavian country have to do with the preppiest of American shoe styles? As it turns out, quite a bit: The loafer as we know it came about thanks to a combination of Lost Generation wanderlust and a growing and more general desire for comfort. Though Paris was the most famous destination for F. Scott Fitzgerald and his lesser-known cohorts, some of his peers journeyed further afield. Those who went to Norway noticed that Norwegian fisherman made themselves comfortable shoes that consisted of leather sides joined by a strip of leather across the instep like moccasins—still the way true loafers are made today.
Last year, photographer Jon Crispin’s Kickstarter campaign to document the neglected but intact suitcases of patients from the Willard Psychiatric Center in Willard, New York, caught my eye. Dating from the 1910s to 1960s, these suitcases were left at the asylum after it closed in 1995. Now, as time capsules, the valises, and the objects within them, tell the eerie and heartbreaking story of each patient’s life, many of whom never left the hospital after they were admitted.
Hunter Oatman-Stanford at Collectors Weekly interviewed Crispin last month about his project and the contents of the suitcases he’s been photographing in “Abandoned Suitcases Reveal Private Lives of Insane Asylum Patients.” The everyday objects Crispin photographed, which patients felt were essential upon entering Willard—green Lucite hairbrushes, a bright yellow alarm clock, a tube of shoe cream, a gold leather belt, a sewing kit, black-and-white photos, silverware—are fascinating bits of cultural ephemera on their own. In each self-contained parcel, the contents come to represent the patient. In the interview, Crispin recalls one particular story that’s stayed with him:
One of the last cases I shot was from a guy named Frank who was in the military. His story was particularly sad. He was a black man, and I later found out he was gay. He was eating in a diner and felt that the waiter or waitress disrespected him, and he just went nuts. He completely melted down, smashed some plates, and got arrested. His objects were particularly touching because he had a lot of photo booth pictures of himself and his friends. Frank looks very dapper, and there are all these beautiful women from the ’30s and ’40s in his little photo booth pictures. That really affected me.
Lastly, did you read the story that’s been circulating on the Internet about the Texas postal worker who moonlights as the only American artist to design Hermès scarves? Kermit Oliver, who’s in his 60s, has contributed 16 paintings to Hermès since the 1980s when Lawrence Marcus, the executive vice president of Neiman Marcus, recommended him. His scarf designs, painted when he’s not working the night shift at the Waco post office, take six months to one year to create and are highly sought after. His enigmatic lifestyle and reclusive art career was documented in “Portrait of the Artist as a Postman” in the October issue of Texas Monthly:
Kermit’s wife met me at the door. She wore dish-washing gloves and an apron decorated with red chile peppers, and her hair was up in a turquoise bandanna. “You know,” she said, “we’re not visiting people.” But she welcomed me in, offered me some orange juice, and led me down the creaky plank floors of a dark, cramped hallway. The walls were covered with art: images of exotic animals, elegant ranch-life pastorals in vibrant colors, biblical allegories. We passed a framed scarf, Kermit’s first for Hermès. Displayed behind dusty glass, it was a portrait of a Pawnee Indian chief on a bright-orange background, surrounded by childlike drawings of galloping horses with flag-toting riders.
Anything that you’ve read recently that you would recommend to Threaded readers?