Paisley: full of possibilities

10 Jul

red paisley

Take a moment to look at this picture. Do you notice the incredible detail? The harmonized colours? The pleasant but erratic pattern? You’re looking at paisley, one of the most gorgeous decorative patterns humans have ever devised.

Paisley is an incredible pattern to work with because it is so full of possibilities: paisley can be done in any scale, it may be multi-coloured or monochrome, simple or intricate, and the pattern may be regular and repeating or varied, irregular, and seemingly random. This wonderful, natural design has deep, rich roots that date back to ancient Mesopotamia, the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers (modern-day Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Syria), where it found its way into building decoration, carpets, fabrics, and the decorative arts of the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Sumerians.

This nature-inspired pattern, originally known as botteh or boteh in its native Persian, means “bush, shrub, a thicket, bramble, [or] herb. Some would even take it to mean a palm leaf, cluster of leaves…and flower bud,” according to the Heritage Institute discussing Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion and philosophy.

The boteh pattern is a much-loved, time-tested pattern that eventually made its way into India where it really dug in its heels. For hundreds of years, beautiful cashmere wool shawls decorated with the boteh pattern were popular, and during the 1700s, boteh shawls cast a spell on European women who fell in love with the soft, warm, patterned fabric. During the colonial period, British men returning home from India brought the shawls as gifts for their women, and the demand for these exotic shawls grew in Europe. Seeing an opportunity, the British East India Company began to export the enormously popular and expensive shawls to Europe during the later 18th century.

As the shawls became more fashionable, the demand for them grew, but the high cost kept many away until European hand weavers began to copy the boteh patterned shawls and produced items at a fraction of the cost of the real thing. In 1805, the weaving mill in Paisley, Scotland became the boteh weaving centre of Europe, and the name Paisley became synonymous with the pattern. As weaving technology evolved in the UK, the original 2-colour paisley shawls turned into 5-colour patterns, though this still paled in comparison to the Indian versions that boasted up to 15 colours.

What is paisley?

The paisley pattern can range from very simple to extremely ornate, sometimes positioned loosely among leaves, or flowers, other times simple in regular and repeating patterns. The common denominator is the tell-tale curved teardrop shapes. It is the shape of the paisleys that I find particularly interesting because no one really knows what it’s supposed to represent, though there are many options and theories.

Paisleys could signify halved fresh figs, mangoes, gourds, licks of flame, or Cypress trees (sacred to the Zoroastrians); kidneys, tadpoles, tear drops, pears, or sperm if you’re Freudian.  (During research, I came across a Jehovah Witness message board that discussed paisley as a representation of sperm and therefore considered “taboo”). In any case, paisley seems to have originated as a fertility symbol and becomes more fantastic as it evolves.

Modernized examples of this racy design seen below by Paul Frederick show the incredible variance in paisley patterns, from bold and multi-coloured paisley to quiet tone-on-tone, and from elaborate designs to simple shapes (photos used with permission):

Blue paisley Paul Frederick tie

Tone-on-tone paisley Paul Frederick tie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Frederick paisley tie

Paul Fredrick blue paisley tie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paisley in menswear

While the paisley motif was woven into fabrics most often worn by women, western men were left out of experiencing this gorgeous pattern until the 1920s-1930s, when paisley was printed on silk and used in men’s ties.

“In response to changing fashion,” says Francois Chaille in  The Book of Ties, “Paisley is constantly being up-dated: hundreds of new paisley motifs make their appearance on ties every year. The motif provides rich opportunities for coloristic nuance and formal invention.”

Of course we in the west remember paisley worn extensively in the 1960s and revived in the 80s, but paisley has never really gone away. In fact, you may find a paisley tie in your collection, or maybe a paisley bandana or neckerchief (Cary Grant liked to wear these under his collars). If you’re lucky, you may have a Ralph Lauren paisley pocket silk for your breast pocket.  Stylish introverts could opt for a pair of low-key paisley socks, and daring darlings may rock paisley Ted Baker shirts or a cool sports jacket with a chic paisley lining.

Paisley isn’t just for clothing. The high-end Italian design house, Etro, likes to incorporate paisley into its collections, and offers paisley luggage, day books, wallets, and manbags in their iconic paisley “comprised of red, turquoise, yellow, olive green and ivory adapted and evolved to become the signature pattern for the brand: an instantly recognisable style which became inevitably synonymous with the luxury world of Etro,” their website says.

If wearing paisley is luxurious, it is also refined. New York image consultant, John Molloy, said paisley ties signify good breeding and education. Alan Flusser, author of Dressing the Man says, “Of all the loud neckties, [Molloy] deemed paisley as the only permissible one because it was the “fun tie” of the upper middle classes.”

I implore you to pull out your whimsical paisley and wear it with confidence; it is so beautiful and varied in pattern, colour, and scale, that everyone will be able to find the right paisley print for them. It is a pattern that speaks of human history, elegance, and refinement; it is a delightful and permanently stylish pattern, and an excellent investment for any gentleman’s image.

 

Through the eyes of Tom Ford: Pride 2014

26 Jun
Tom Ford by Helmut Newton

Photograph by Helmut Newton. Published in Vogue, March 1999.

With Toronto hosting World Pride this year, I feel that much more inspired to celebrate the powerful gay icons that have shaped our world. I spotlighted Freddie Mercury in 2012, Liberace in 2013, and for 2014, the focus is on the clothing, detail, luxury, and the daring of Tom Ford.

Tom Ford is a man who personifies BOLD not only in his clothing designs but in his business dealings. Before launching his own menswear label in 2007, he spent ten years as Creative Director for Gucci and brought them from near bankruptcy to $3 billion a year in sales. He is aligned with Estee Lauder for the Tom Ford Beauty Brand, and he counts 98 retail Tom Ford stores in the world among many other achievements.

American Vogue‘s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, says Ford has an uncanny way of conveying the same three core themes: sex, power, and divine decadence. “I don’t think I have ever worked with anyone with a greater passion for detail or a clearer vision of his aesthetic goals,” she says.

Ford is a powerhouse of talent that goes beyond fashion design. In 2009, he directed and co-wrote the screenplay for  A Single Man, a tale of gay angst in the early 1960s, starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. I recommend it; it’s tasteful and interesting, but tragic.  Ford’s debut film won many awards and Firth received an Oscar nomination for best actor.

He is incredibly talented and successful; a billionaire with enormous power in the fashion industry, and audacious as all hell. Tom Ford does what he wants and he does it well, otherwise he wouldn’t carry clients like Johnny Depp and Daniel Craig. Yet with all that going for him, with all the success and power and wealth, Tom Ford remains human.

Images of beauty 

Ford studied architecture before he turned to fashion and understands how to build things. He uses geometry in his designs and creates sensuous lines and angles in magnificent, often textured, deeply coloured fabrics in his menswear collections.

He seems to have an inborn sense of balance and opulence and learned about fashion through his mother and grandmother. “My mother was very chic, very classic,” he recalls in an interview with Biography. “My paternal grandmother was very stylish in a very Texas way—everything big and flashy, from jewelry to cars.”

Tom Ford jackets

Note the gorgeous geometry of Ford’s jacket lapels and the sumptuous fabrics and colours.

“The images of beauty you get in your childhood stick with you for life,” Ford explains, “So there’s a certain flashiness at Gucci—Texas-inspired—with a certain Western feel.”

When asked if Texas has influenced his designs, Ford tells FDLuxe,  “I have certain notions of glamour that I never lost… I like a heel on a boot. I feel better with a heel. That Texas taste—big hair and a lot of makeup—was my first notion of beauty. And I have to say, to this day, I still have a thing for big hair.”

The big, bold, and flashy was woven into Ford’s designs for Gucci and used in his own menswear line. The casual luxury of his Western-inspired spring/summer 2015 collection is comprised of suede jackets with tasselled sleeves, jeans, denim shirts, and jean jackets–a far cry from his iconic suits and shirts, dapper enough for 007 himself.

“What we wanted to do was to expand sportswear so that our customer has something to wear for every occasion of his life,” he says of the collection.

Ford uses bold and unexpected colour in his menswear collections, and in his current men’s line, pink, lilac, and ocean blue jackets are paired with white shirts and trousers. Coming up for fall/winter 2014, blacks, greys, creams, and earthy colours mixed in with  beautiful violets and royal blues in cotton-silk Jacquard and velvet cocktail jackets.

Tom Ford the human

Despite what we might think a billionaire designer who caters to high-end clients like Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Drake might be like, Tom Ford is a regular person.

I spoke to former model, Patrick Marano, now husband and manager to gay media mogul, Shaun Proulx, who posed for a 2005 Tom Ford sunglasses campaign.

“The shoot was in L.A. Poolside,” Marano recalls, “At the break Tom came and ate with us. He was very down-to-earth and friendly. And of course he looked great, impeccably dressed.”

Ford is a real person; he’s sensitive and romantic, and he loves to be in love and be in a relationship:”I’m someone who likes being part of a couple and always wanted that and always sought that,” he says, “And it would probably be true for me whether I was gay or straight.”

When Ford saw his long-term partner, Richard Buckley, the former Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Hommes International, at a fashion show in 1986, it was love at first sight. More than twenty-five years along, Ford and Buckley married this past spring and welcomed their son, Alexander John Buckley Ford (Jack), into the world in 2012. Ford has proved to be a devoted partner and father.

“I feed Jack, I dress him, I change his diaper, and I have a good two or three hours with him every morning, just me and him.” Ford says, “At night, again, I put him to bed and try to spend as much time with him as possible.”

Though it may be unbelievable, our superstar designer changes diapers, cooks, and unless he’s travelling, gets home each night to feed Jack. Now that he’s raising a child, his perspective of the world has changed. In particular, he no longer receives Botox injections, saying, “A lot of things I cared about before I don’t care as much about anymore.”

It’s refreshing that a superstar like Tom Ford understands his limited relevance and shelf-life. “No matter how hard you try there is a cultural moment, but eventually that window’s gone, your time on Earth is finished, and you might as well leave,” he says, “I could absolutely die tomorrow–I would not care. I feel like I’ve lived, I feel like I’ve had a great life.”

Tom Ford‘s style advice:

  • A man should never wear shorts in the city. Flip-flops and shorts in the city are never appropriate. Shorts should only be worn on the tennis court or on the beach.
  • At home, off-duty, I wear T-shirts from Fruit of the Loom but I have them tailored – if the sleeves are cut over the tricep your arms look much better.
  • Keep your jacket buttoned. Always. It’s just really flattering – it will take pounds off you.

 

Flowers for men? Yes!

12 Jun

bouquet for father's dayWhat do you think about when you choose gifts for people? Do you think about practicality, or are presents meant to be frivolous? When I want to give someone a gift, I think like this: 1) everyone has enough stuff, so there is no need for more, and 2) the environment: what can I give that will biodegrade?

Answer? Flowers! In the past, flowers carried an association with women, but now, flowers are for everyone–yes, even men.

I thanked a reporter for doing a story on me a few years ago with a bouquet of purple irises. “Oh, they’re lovely!” he said. Then I think it dawned on him that I, a woman, was giving him, a man, flowers, and this seemed to shake him as he stammered a bit then turned red.

With women’s independence comes a woman’s choice to send a man flowers, and with it, a man’s opportunity to feel special and happy that he’s worthy to receive them. Flowers are a win-win situation.

Dana William Hamilton at The New Leaf florist in Toronto says that it’s becoming more common for women to send men flowers for any occasion, including Father’s Day.

“People hadn’t been giving flowers for Father’s Day for years,” Dana says, “but then came metrosexual men and there were suddenly more flowers and plants; flowers used in interior decoration, women sending more flowers to men during the year, and plants given as gifts for Father’s Day”.

If mums get flowers on Mother’s Day, why wouldn’t dads get flowers on Father’s Day? I mean, how many golf clubs can a man own? Does he really need a pneumatic nailer? How about something that will make him smile and lift his spirits instead?

Gendered blooms

Before the 90s, men were almost forbidden to go near flowers unless they were getting married or being buried, but gay men have not had the same rules applied to them. In many ways, gays have had more freedom to express themselves than their heterosexual brothers.

roses for men

Shaun Proulx uses flowers in his interior decoration. Used with permission.

In Toronto’s gay village, there are two florists on one street and most groceries and convenience stores sell flowers outside, so the gay ghetto is very colourful and lovely. Shaun Proulx, Canada’s gay Oprah, lives in the neighbourhood and always has fresh flowers in his home.

“I would get rid of almost anything I own except flowers,” he says. “The joy they bring to my life is immeasurable. I’m proud to say I have lost many hours of my life just staring and studying the flowers around me.”

Given the crap we’ve been taught about flowers not being “manly” and associated with beautiful, delicate, weak things like women, gays, and children, heterosexual men have been denied the pleasure of nature’s fragrant gems for a long time, but perhaps thanks to the metrosexuals, the door has opened for all men to appreciate flowers without the fear of gender bullies coming after them to kick their pansy asses for liking something so “feminine”.

I asked some of my heterosexual men friends how they feel about flowers and I’m delighted to tell you that for those who have yards and gardens, the majority like to plant flowers. Many said they either currently have flowers at home or would like to have indoor flowers more often. This is a wonderful indication that flowers are slowly but surely becoming genderless.

Well, that’s what you might think, but gender-dividing media outlets sill exist like Spike. Spike is a US TV network that targets young men between 18-34, and encourages the tough, emotionless male stereotype that from my point of view, is abusive to men.

Gendered bullsh*t

I don’t believe in “feminine” or “masculine” flowers; flowers are flowers, but apparently not to everyone. The following is Spike’s top nine “manly” flowers that smell of imposed gender roles:

9. Snapdragon (“…dragons in any form are badass…”)

8. Hops (used to make beer)

7. Cactus (especially the ones with long stiff flowers growing out of them)

6. Belladonna (poisonous)

5. Tree tobacco (can be smoked like a cigar but can kill you, therefore, “this flower is clearly not fit for girly-men”)

4. Venus flytrap (carnivorous plant)

3. Rafflesia (aka meat plant) “The ultimate man’s flower,” says Spike, “It’s super big and like man, it doesn’t like to be tied down.” This flower emits a rotten meat stench and Spike says, “Any flower that smells like meat (even rotten meat) is pretty ballsy.”

2. Poppy (“No other flower in history has caused as much bloodshed and human destruction as the poppy”–i.e. opium)

1. The Corpse flower, or amorphophallus titanium, means, “giant misshapen penis”. The Corpse flower is the largest flower on earth and like the meat plant, emits a revolting smell of rotting flesh to draw carrion insects that helps it cross-pollinate. Spike calls it the “alpha male of flowers”.

lillies

Lilies are delightfully fragrant flowers, a good alternative to the Corpse flower.

Judging by this list, Spike suggests that the best flowers for men are reeking and dangerous and sometimes resemble a phallus. So if we bought into this way of thinking, fellas, how would feel if you were sent a bouquet of meat-eating plants or huge stinking phallus flowers? Would you feel manly? Nauseous? Or perhaps insulted?

Accepting the stiff, archaic gender stereotype that contributes to the massive emotional abuse that has been thrust upon men and boys for years, strips them of their natural emotions and likens them to a cactus: “tall, prickly on the outside, somewhat unapproachable, sturdy, and tough”.

The alpha male of flowers?

Flowers can self-pollinate and create their own seeds, or cross-pollinate with the help of insects and wind. Flowers, like every other living thing, only exists to reproduce itself and should not fall into human gender classifications, but they have. Spike, for example,  gives the giant misshapen penis flower a male face and considers it the “alpha male of flowers”.

I read an excellent article on The Good Man Project recently called The Myth of the Alpha Male, where author, James Fell, says the alpha male concept is “a bullsh*t title used to sell books and programs.” The author explains that the idea of an alpha male is “toxic and prevents you from focusing on the real path to self-improvement”.

peonies

Shaun Proulx’s gorgeous peonies. Used with permission.

Fell’s definition of alpha maleness is “just a bunch of cock-sure, arrogant and self-entitled assholes. It’s a gentleman. A leader. A strong and worthy man blah, blah, blah. They’re putting lipstick on a pig, trying to convince you that you’re either the leader of the pack, or you’re a beta who won’t get what you deserve in this life”.

As noted by Fell, the notion of the alpha male comes from 1970′s  The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior or an Endangered Species by L. David Mech who explains that the term”Alpha” implies winning a competition or battle with others to become “top dog”, but he says, “most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack”. To the wolf researcher, there is no alpha male as much as there is no alpha female; wolves are simply breeders.

Applying the alpha concept to humans, then, is ridiculous, but applying it to a flower  is absurd. Does Spike think that the Corpse flower is an “alpha” because it’s large? Because it resembles a penis? Or is it because it reeks of rotting tissue?

Humans appreciate nature and beautiful, sweet-smelling flowers will win over anyone at any time and for any reason, so give flowers and give them often. Giving men flowers brightens their day, puts a smile on their face, and sometimes brings a charming blush to their cheeks–the honest and ungendered price of pleasure.

Boutonnieres

29 May
Oscar Wilde wearing a boutonniere

Playwright, Oscar Wilde, wearing a boutonniere.

The boutonniere, French for buttonhole,  is a flower worn in the lapel of  a man’s jacket, commonly considered a formal accessory worn with formal attire. We don’t have many occasions to dress up anymore (unfortunately), but boutonnieres have made a comeback across the pond and have been a part of the British royal/upper class wardrobe since around the mid 18th century.

Having a boutonniere made at a florist ensures a keep-fresh flower that comes with tipped pins to use on the underside of your lapel, but the flower is actually meant to be stuck through the boutonniere hole on the upper lapel of your suit. High-quality suits will have a set of boutonniere loops sewn on the underside of the lapel to thread a short stem through. Read more about boutonniere buttonholes at the Gentlemen’s Gazette, and have a look at their do-it-yourself instructions for boutonniere loops.

Canadians will fondly remember our former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, our most stylish politician to date, who wore a red rose in his lapel. Patrick Gossage, former Press Secretary to Pierre Trudeau describes Trudeau’s “rider” for out-of-Ottawa engagements that included orange juice and cookies in all of his hotel rooms and a daily fresh red rose for his lapel. To me, Trudeau’s boutonniere signifies the last vestige of the political gentleman.

Boutonniere history

The boutonniere is very British. In fact, according to The Rake, the Duke of Windsor brought the boutonniere to North America in the 1930s and influenced many of Hollywood’s top actors of the time; HRH’s signature white lapel carnation was mimicked by Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, and Gary Cooper.  (Cary Grant opted for a red carnation.) Modern British boutonniere-wearers still follow the Duke of Windsor’s lead, but younger royals like Princes William and Harry like to wear blue cornflowers in their lapels.

Though flowers have been associated with men throughout history, proof of the boutonniere itself doesn’t appear until 1769 when Gainsborough painted Captain William Wade in his military dress uniform with a spring of posies worn on the lapel of his cutaway coat.

Though it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when grooms started wearing boutonnieres, the floral tradition at weddings is a long one. According to BrideandGroom, “The bouquet formed part of the wreaths and garlands worn by both the bride and groom. It was considered a symbol of happiness. Originally bridal wreaths and bouquets were made of herbs, which had magical and meaningful definitions for the couple’s future life. Traditional Celtic bouquets included ivy, thistle and heather. Ancient uses included herbs, not flowers, in bouquets because they felt herbs — especially garlic — had the power to cast off evil spirits.”

Modern boutonniere options

When choosing flowers for your boutonniere, consider your lapel width and work with proportion. Since the fashion now is to wear suits with thinner lapels, smaller blooms like carnations, small roses, or thin calla lilies are recommended. Dana William Hamilton at The New Leaf florist in Toronto says many men choose white and red boutonnieres for dark streamlined suits. “They add a little whimsy,” he says.

“Young men going to proms wear them,” Dana explains, “Young people are looking online and training themselves to dress well in the old style.”

Grooms and groomsmen are the most obvious people to wear boutonnieres. Dana stresses the importance of the groom’s boutonniere looking slightly different than the other men in his wedding party–often a flower used in the bride’s bouquet is added to the groom’s boutonniere. People often have boutonnieres made for the deceased, Dana tells me, which shows “a lovely respect”.

Dana calls for hearty flowers for boutonnieres because usually, occasions that ask for a boutonniere are long, and there is a lot of hugging and wear and tear on the flower. Hale flowers like rose, carnation, calla lilies, and stephanotis (clusters of small white fragrant flowers related to jasmine) are recommended. If you’re looking for strongly perfumed blooms, freesia is a delicious choice and the beautiful gardenia, but the latter flower is very fragile and has no stem–gardenias must be wired to create a boutonniere, so take this into consideration before choosing your boutonniere flowers.

Are all boutonnieres made of flowers? No! There is nothing wrong with a flowerless boutonniere–in fact, Dana says, he often finds himself making boutonnieres just out of greenery like Italian Ruscus mixed with Greek myrtle for texture. Boutonnieres could actually be made of fabric flowers (silk is popular) or crafted as statements like these cool ones on Etsy. Like the rock buttons of the 80s, a lapel boutonniere is a good way to express yourself and tell the world a little about you.

I would love to see men making use of their boutonniere buttonhole with a fresh flower especially now that we’re in spring, but as The Rake puts it, “Suffice to say, the language of flowers is well and truly obsolete, and a contemporary gentleman’s only consideration is whether a flower in one’s lapel enhances a suit or proves to be the detail that pushes elegance over the border to ostentation.”

Be bold, but be careful.

 

Flirting: A personal deconstruction

15 May

flirtbroken heart, flirting verb \ˈflərt\

: to behave in a way that shows a sexual attraction for someone but is not meant to be taken seriously

: to think about something or become involved in something in a way that is usually not very serious

: to come close to reaching or experiencing something (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Do you flirt? Maybe you are a flirt. Flirting is fun and not meant to be literal. But sometimes it is. Depending on the flirtee’s emotional state, they may take heavy flirting as “s/he wants me”, but does it mean that person is insecure or needy, or is it that they’re reading heavy messages from you?

Last month, I meet a singer at a show who said, “I noticed you when you came in.” Our conversation continued and he invited me to his next gig the following month. The next day, he contacted me online and we had a sometimes flirty off-and-on conversation over the next few weeks. I was titillated!

When the next gig came along, he talked and hung out with me and my friend a bit, and had a wonderful performance. I remember thinking, “Awesome! I’ve got this one in the bag!” He did nothing that would make me think otherwise. I bought him a drink and he invited me to his next gig. I said we should do something before then, and he said, “I would if I was single.”

I told him to take it as a compliment and then I left.

Lots of things going on here.

1. Ethics: Why would an attached man say he noticed me when I came in?

2. Assumptions: When is it friendly conversation and when is it a come on?

a) I suppose this is where the emotional state of the flirtee comes in: people open to romantic interests may take flirting to heart and will feel like they’ve been drop-kicked across a muddy field when the flirter reveals that they’re not actually available. It’s the price we pay for allowing ourselves to become hopeful and emotionally attached to a person or idea.

b) It could be that I made an assumption about the singer’s level of interest, but  I’m really not sure of another way I could have interpreted “I noticed you when you walked in”. That would prick up any single person’s ears.

c) When do we determine when it’s relevant to mention our emotional status?  At what moment do we decide that this person is chatting us up so we can gently slip “girlfriend/wife-partner-boyfriend/husband” into the conversation to indicate our emotionally UN-availablity? A clear statement up front will set boundaries. However, some instigators of innocent conversations will roll their eyes at your assumption that you think we’re looking for more time with you.

Assuming that everybody wants you reflects the size of your ego or your insecurity, and may cause enough paranoia for you to go on the defensive just because someone speaks to you: “Back off or my boyfriend will kick your ass”. These types you’d want to back away from anyway.

3. Mixed messages: My brother, a musician himself, insists the guy was leading me on. There is a fine line between innocent flirting and leading someone to believe something that isn’t true. I have trouble understanding why anyone would consciously mess with someone emotionally like that; it seems cruel. The singer doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would pull that kind of thing; he seems honest, gentle, and down-to-earth. I’m confused.

4. Rock and roll: My buddy, Stephen, says flirting is the vernacular of the music industry; a language bred into musicians. He says there are three kinds of flirting:

  • Social flirting: In public places like bars or clubs, flirting is “safe”, even for married and otherwise spoken-for men who can engage in this light, fun, social interaction. It’s about showing someone you find them interesting, attractive, and otherwise charming and that’s usually uplifting!
  • Get-down flirting: A heavy, blatant prelude of good things to come.
  • Marketing flirting: I know it’s only rock and roll, but PR is important. If flirting is written into the music schtick, it can certainly grab people’s attention, create a desire, keep people coming out to gigs with their friends. Stephen says the singer is more concerned with success than protecting my feelings. “It’s games people play,” he says.

Another entertainer I know says he leverages flirting for laughs in his act. “I intentionally flirt with very old women in the crowd. Women who I’d never flirt with, so it doesn’t seem too creepy.”

“Flirting makes the older lady feel kinda special but they know it’s not for real,” Matt says, “Everyone knows what’s going on for sure.”

There was a handsome personal trainer at my old gym who mostly worked with women and understood the art of marketing flirting: he held his client’s hands as they walked around the gym, he held women’s upper bodies as they lifted dumbbells, and watched his clients intently in the mirror which always caused a face-busting smile on the women who completely fell under his spell.

This kind of marketing flirting is the carrot dangling before the donkey who can never reach it; it is the kind of flirting I’ve fallen victim to. The price of the transaction was my heart and my hopes, dashed by the rock and roll machine.

This flirty experience has made me feel good, excited, and given me something to look forward to. At the same time, the flirting has made me feel like I’ve been duped, sucked in to believing that the singer was actually interested in me, and this has made me feel not only lousy, but dumb for reading the signs wrong.

Sigh.  What can I do? I’m just a vulnerable human like anyone else, but now I’ll know to wear a thicker skin.

Tips for an awesome spring!

1 May

It’s May Day! That means that spring is here and it’s officially time to welcome the new season. Here are some easy and practical tips for a great spring!

Spring pollenspring apple blossoms

If you suffer from spring pollen allergies and find yourself sneezing and wiping your watering stinging eyes, are you taking the gentlemen’s approach?

Sneezing into your sleeve works if you’re in a cramped public space like a subway, but the best way to reign in your sneezes and pollen-induced tears is of course, the hankie.

Using a cotton or linen handkerchief to wipe your dripping orifices is the better and more elegant way (plus it’s easier on the environment). Find them in department stores or check vintage shops for old and interesting hankies!

Shoes

old shoes

If you’re the type of guy who wears the same shoe all year around, or if you have a spring collection that’s made its way out of storage, sit down and take a good look at them–what kind of condition are they in? Scuffed? Worn? Heels ground down? Spring is a great time to take your shoes to a shoemaker and have them cleaned up, or do it yourself.

I’m always telling men not to toss their old shoes because they are easily restored.  Have a look at this 7-minute video by British bootmaker, John Lobb, who shows the professional way to shine shoes–you’ll be astonished!

Besides shining, a shoemaker can re-heel or re-sole your shoes. Worn heels are unsightly and may put a damper on your confidence. Have your shoes redone to give yourself an instant boost!

Brighten and de-stink!vinegar bottle

After a while, anything made of fabric will absorb the smells around it, and this is not necessarily good news. I am a proponent of natural cleaning products, and gents, nothing beats vinegar for cleaning and removing odours. Using vinegar in your laundry brightens colours, renews drabness, and prevents static cling.

For stuff like socks, gym shirts, stained tea towels, and dish rags, get a stock pot or other large cooking vessel and fill with water. Add a cup of white distilled vinegar and bring to a rolling boil. Add your items, turn of the heat, and let soak overnight. Run through the wash and hang to dry. If you’re lucky enough to have a clothes line, hang outside in the sun to naturally deodourize and mildly bleach.

Other great vinegar tips from 1001 Uses for White Distilled Vinegar:

Remove perspiration odour and stains on clothing, as well as those left by deodorants by spraying full-strength white distilled vinegar on underarm and collar areas before tossing them into the washing machine.

Get cleaner laundry! Add about 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar to the last rinse. The acid in white distilled vinegar is too mild to harm fabrics, yet strong enough to dissolve the alkalies in soaps and detergents. Besides removing soap, white distilled vinegar prevents yellowing, acts as a fabric softener and static cling reducer, and attacks mold and mildew.

Eliminate manufacturing chemicals from new clothes by adding 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar to the water.

In the words of Robin Williams, “Spring is nature’s way of saying “let’s party!”. Preparing for the party takes work and energy, but you’ll feel great about your efforts, so get in there and enjoy!

Thinking outside of the masculine box

17 Apr

Media dictates gender roles.Last fall, I attended SkyWorks’ Real Change Boys Filmmaking Project to watch short documentaries about gender and identity by young men between the ages of 14 and 21. The films depicted issues around masculine identity, stereotypes, expectations, and the images of boys and men in media and popular culture.

One film spoke louder than the rest to me. In his film, Boxed In, Brandyn Pereira describes his realization that media portrays men and boys as one of a few narrow stereotypes. Brandyn was only 14 when he questioned gender portrayal and made his film. This outstanding young mind recognized the unnaturalness of gender stereotypes in media and started a conversation about it. I’m writing to continue that conversation.

Boxed In

Brandyn had a moment of recognition while watching television one day and noticed the stereotypical gender roles presented on TV.

“Almost every guy on these TV shows liked beer and sports, or they were the family man or the hero of the situation. Boys always liked video games, sports, and they rarely showed any emotion with their friends,” he says, “I’m wondering why the media depicts young men or boys like that.”

Media is enormously influential to us whether we like it or not; it tells us what to wear, how to smell, what music to listen to, what lifestyle to lead, and it doubles as an inadvertent guidebook to life. People—especially young people—look to television and the media to try to understand who they’re supposed to be. I remember looking to the TV for cues on how to be when I was a kid and sometimes I took on fabricated affectations because I wasn’t sure what else to do, and hey, if they did it on TV there must be some kind of truth to it, right?

Wrong.

Jeff Perera, Community Engagement Manager at the White Ribbon Campaign says in the film, “To be human is to be yourself; society is about trying to put you in a box.” It’s that gender box that Jeff is referring to and what Brandyn’s film is about.

When I met with Brandyn recently, we talked about the limitations of living in a gender-stereotyped box. “TV shows show only a few specific types of men: a) genius/smart guy, b) dim-witted, c) strong, or d) a wimp,” Brandyn says, “I noticed how the stereotypes don’t allow men and boys to be anything else.”

The men and boys in Brandyn’s film discuss the unreal masculine ideal presented in media, where males are always slim, fit, emotionless, macho, in control, and tough; good-looking, sports-obsessed, beer-drinking, video game-playing slices of the masculine ideal, out of touch with reality and their natural emotions.

These media stereotypes have the power to take us hostage and hold the dagger of social expectation to our throats. For some people like Brandyn, the media-generated masculine stereotype is not only confusing, “it is depressing for young people when they recognize they don’t fit the role and image of what is presented in the media.”

Contradiction, shame, insult

As a young person, Brandyn is quick to call out the media’s mixed messages. “I don’t know how I should act,” he says, “the message aimed at young people is to be yourself, but the next second we’re being told to conform. It’s confusing.”

Not only confusing but potentially damaging. We’ve had gender ideals pushed on us since birth, and some people believe so strongly in prescribed gender roles that they will cause trouble for people who fail to embody these expectations.

Calling someone “gay” as the go-to insult of childhood is sadly still holding its ground and it’s been around for a very long time. Brandyn told me about a time when one of his friends (a girl who has her own suite of gender expectations to deal with) accused him of being gay because he didn’t like all of the stereotypical masculine pastimes she learned about via media.

I’m quite sure that a child calling someone “gay” doesn’t understand what “gay” really means, though they do pick up on the term as an insult. Accusing someone of being “gay” really means that there is something “wrong” with that person because he doesn’t conform to the (white, str8, patriarchal) media-generated and socially sustained gender stereotype.

Brandyn says products “make kids cool” and explained that a few grades ago, he and his friends picked up on and adopted the gender stereotypes and products associated with it out of fear of not fitting in and the shame attached to that. Fear plays a strong role in motivation and retailers and marketers work this to their advantage.

Gender-differentiated products means more profit for retailers. Gendered colour is manufactured and nothing more than manipulation by the retail industry to get you to spend more money. Gender-specific products and marketing drive profits, and sexism in media sustains gendered ideals that are best left in the dark ages.

Deep down we know that no matter how much we shop and try to adopt these perfect lifestyles presented by the media, we never will truly become what we see and so we must settle on being ourselves. Jeff Perera believes that we need examples of diversity in media, to see men from different racial backgrounds, different sizes, shapes, tastes, and talents, to offer people more options to relate to.

Instead of ridiculous and unnatural gender codes, let’s celebrate and appreciate men and boys as wonderful unique creatures who can enjoy sports and video games if they want to, but may also like to sing, cook, and write short stories.

Guys like Brandyn.

 

April showers, rubber boots, and the environment

3 Apr

Leah Morrigan:

New season and new footwear required–from the archives!

Originally posted on In the Key of He:

Period Hessian boots.

It’s April again and if you’re lucky enough to be in a snowless spot, it could be time to get out the umbrellas and rubber boots for a change!

Rubber boots as we know them today didn’t start as rubber boots. The style of boot derives from Hessian boots, a high style from the Regency Period. These 18th century boots were made of leather with a heel and slightly pointed toe, and decorated with a coloured tassel. This is the boot from which rubber and cowboy boots derived. (Click here for further period boot reading.)

Though also worn by Beau Brummel, the most famous of dandies, the Hessian boots were adopted by the military and favoured by officers. One of these officers,  Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, modified the style and changed footwear forever. Wellesley wanted a boot tough enough for the battlefield…

View original 540 more words

Ethical man = sexy man!

20 Mar

By this point, we’re all well aware that we have to manage manufactured goods by recycling, reusing, and repurposing, because the earth won’t get healthier if we continue to create new stuff out of raw materials and toss them into a landfill when we’re done.

The movement to creatively and stylishly reuse existing materials and objects is in full swing and I’ve seen some super cool ways to reuse stuff: got an old ladder? Mount it on a wall to make a book shelf! Make lamps and other cool stuff out of cassette tapes, and for die-hard sports fans in possession of old soccer or basketballs, make a hat! (Check out this blog: 25 Interesting DIY ideas to reuse old things.)

As an image consultant, I like to offer eco-friendly alternatives to my clients and for this post, I’ve found some super stylish accessory pieces for the eco-conscious gent.

Men’s environmentally conscious accessories

Mod wallet by Couch

Couch Mod arrow wallet available at Nice Shoes.ca. Image used with permission.

One of the cooler Canadian eco-conscious and cruelty-free businesses is Nice Shoes, which sells much more than nice shoes. Nice Shoes sells an obvious array of footwear plus great bags, belts, and wallets at their Vancouver shop and online store.

Shown here is the Couch Mod wallet. Couch makes cruelty-free vinyl wallets out of material leftover from their guitar straps (see below). Wallets have lots of room to hold 12 plastic cards and a bill fold for cash.

Repurposed vinyl pieces are strong, durable, easy-to-clean, and vegan/cruelty-free, and I recommend them if you want an inexpensive, ethical long-term investment: I’ve had a vegan bag for several years and it hardly looks worn.

Nice Shoes carries different men’s, women’s, and unisex lines. Below is a fine brown satchel by Matt and Nat, a great overnight bag for the discerning eco-conscious man:

Jack satchel

“Jack” by Matt and Nat, available at niceshoes.ca. Image used with permission.

Vintage car-conscious

Can you think of anything cooler than using the vinyl interior of an early 1970s Volkswagen Beetle to make a guitar strap? Neither can I. Couch, out of Signal Hill, California, does guitar and camera straps from vintage vinyl and repurposed seat belts along with other cool gear.

Couch vintage Volkswagon guitar strap

Couch vintage Volkswagen upholstery guitar strap. Image used with permission.

Being a vegan myself, I like what Couch stands for:

…when it came to making guitar straps, we were not into purchasing the actual hides of leather and then stamping the tabs out of asymmetric sides of beef before sewing them on our straps. The buying and selling of animal skin carcasses was a little too weird for us, thanks.

Couch also makes excellent, hard-wearing, gear for men like wallets, belts, and shaving bags. The toiletry bag below is made of vinyl upholstery originally intended to cover the interior of late 60s/early 70s Pontiac GTOs. This houndstooth model has a metal zipper and is lined with waxed canvas to keep your stuff dry when you splash around the sink.

GTO shaving bag

The houndstooth upholstery of the Pontiac GTO makes for a cool shaving bag. Image used with permission.

In the end, gents, you’re responsible for your actions and the products you use. Like men who volunteer, support animal rights, walk a mile in heels as a gesture to end violence against women, or get involved with anti-bullying campaigns, impassioned, eco-minded men are attractive and in demand. More than that, guys who use repurposed goods out of an eco-conscience are not just good for the future of our planet, dang! they’re downright sexy!

A little gift for the winter blahs

6 Mar

dirty boots

This winter has been horrendous. Gawd, when will it end? Many of us have reached our winter breaking point: it’s friggin’ cold and I’m at my palest; I’ve been wearing the same clothes for months, salt has eaten my footwear alive, and I just want it to be over!

Take a breath and decide to give yourself a gift and clean your winter boots. An odd gift, I know, but you’ve been neglecting them for weeks and the winter has been so cold for so long that you didn’t even notice that their lower third are white with salt. Have a good look at your boots, pick them up, and bring them into the bathroom.

Clean one boot at a time using the instructions below so you can compare the grimy boot to the clean one. I promise that this will give you a feeling of proud accomplishment that will lift your winter spirits:

You’ll need:

  • about 15-20 minutes
  • dirty, salt-stained winter boots
  • damp rag
  • drying rag
  • spent toothbrush
  • cup of warm water
  • shoe polish, leather conditioner, protective spray

Then:

1. Clean your boots:

toothbrush

Toothbrushes are fantastic cleaning tools

For smooth leathers, use a damp rag to wipe off the surface of your boots. You may have to rinse the rag a couple of times before you’re done depending on the filth level your boot finds themselves in.

Elbow grease may be necessary–this is where the toothbrush comes in handy. Short nylon bristles can get into places a cloth can’t, so start scrubbing with your toothbrush and get the dirt and grime out of boot seams, shoelace grommets, the boot tread, and the texture of the sole. Dip the toothbrush in the cup of warm water periodically.

If and only if your boot is waterproof, you can rinse the salt-stained sole under a warm tap, then rub dirt and salt off with a rag and/or a toothbrush. Dry.

2. Clean your laces: 

Do you tie your boots with dirty laces hardened by salt? Fix the problem by unlacing the dirty strings, then submerge them in warm water working the stains away with your fingers. Add a little soap if you like. Push the water out down the length of the lace, then hang to dry (over the shower curtain) or press water out with a towel. Re-lace when dry.

3. Lubricate your zipper:

As you know, fellas, lubrication is important to anything mechanical–and this includes zippers! If your boot has a zipper and that zipper is salt-dried and sticking, it’s time to clean and lubricate the mechanism. If you’ve had the misfortune of having to replace a boot zipper, you’ll know how much it costs, and this will save you some hard-earned dough.

I looked around and found zipper lubricating info on the web. One site suggested using Vaseline or soap (I tried this but it didn’t work well… uh, was the soap supposed to be wet?), but ended up choosing almond oil for the job. I squeezed a few drops onto a Q-Tip and lightly swept it up and down both sides of the zipper, then moved the lube around by zipping and unzipping the boot several times – worked like a charm! Cooking oils like olive oil may work here too, but not sure if any specific types of oil would react to the plastic zipper teeth, so use at your discretion.

4. Polish and protect:

Your boots are now looking a whole lot better than they did 10 minutes ago. To make your leather boots look better for longer, apply a leather conditioner to keep the material supple, allow to dry, then you can go ahead and use polish to cover the scuffs and bring back the colour. Always spray with a protective spray to ward off the next round of winter filth.

5. Shoe repair:

I can’t stress enough how important shoe maintenance is. You’ve invested in your footwear, so take care of it. You can have your boots re-heeled and re-soled; cleaned, stretched, and waterproofed, so you don’t have to throw this winter’s boots away, just get them fixed. Easier on the earth and more money in your account.

Well done! Wearing clean footwear feels civilized and it will give you a lift, no matter what the temperature. Just remember, only a few more weeks of winter 2014 to go, then spring arrives–hooray!

My uncle the Olympian

20 Feb
Jim Trifunov, courtesy of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame

Jim Trifunov, courtesy of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame

If you aren’t old enough or you’re not from the Canadian prairies, you probably haven’t heard of an amazing man who fostered the sport and spirit of wrestling and amateur sport in Canada, a man who competed in three Olympic Games, and a man with a twinkle in his eye and a smile to share, my Great Uncle, James Trifunov.

Uncle Jim was a featherweight and bantamweight self-taught freestyle wrestler who competed in the 1924, 1928, and 1932 Olympic Games, won ten national championships between 1923 and 1933, and was awarded a gold metal in the 1930 British Empire Games (now known as the Commonwealth Games).  According to the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Famehe had only one defeat on Canadian soil. 

I was just a kid when Uncle Jim and Aunt Mary would come to Regina to my Grandmother’s house from Winnipeg for Christmas, Easters, and sometimes Thanksgivings. I remember him fondly; he spoke in a voice tinged with a far-away Slavic accent, always happy, always interested in what my brother and I had to say for ourselves. I was too young to understand his passion for wrestling and his outstanding achievements, and I never knew of the difficulties he went through to make it to world-class competitions (literally).

History

Jim immigrated to Canada from Serbia with his family in 1910 and settled in Regina, Saskatchewan, where, I suspect, his early life must have been difficult. His father died a few years after the family relocated, and his mother had four children to take care of. Then there was the climate. Being from Saskatchewan myself, I cannot imagine what it must have been like trying to survive without central heating on the harsh Saskatchewan prairie in the winter. Hard times.

In 1922, Jim took up wrestling at the Y.M.C.A. despite the Y’s lack of a formal wrestling program. Still, it sent a team to the Canadian championships and the following year, Jim won the Canadian bantamweight championship. In 1924, he was selected for the Olympic wrestling team.

Back in those days, the Canadian government’s athletic funding was rather limited, leaving athletes scrambling to pay their own way to compete in the Games. In 1924, Jim’s colleagues took up a collection to send him to Paris, and in 1928, friends and help from the Saskatchewan government got him to the Amsterdam Games, where he won a bronze medal for Canada.

Jim Trifunov, courtesy of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame

Jim Trifunov, courtesy of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame

“For each of his three Olympic appearances,” says the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame (CSHF), “he had to take his annual two-week holiday plus an additional four weeks leave from [his job at] the Regina Leader Post. In 1936, the Leader Post sent him to Winnipeg for two weeks to help with the administration of the Free Press.”

Those two weeks became 57 years and Uncle Jim became an active leader in Winnipeg’s amateur sport community. He started off with the Winnipeg Y.M.C.A. wrestling club, then coached at the University of Winnipeg. From then on, his list of accomplishments grew out of his love of sport:

  • President of the Manitoba Wrestling Association for 25 years;
  • Director of the Canadian Amateur Wrestling Association;
  • Director of the Winnipeg Y.M.C.A.;
  • President of the Winnipeg Bowling Association (1950-52);
  • Chairman of the boxing and wrestling committee of the Canadian Amateur Athletic Union (1952-1960);
  • Coach for the Canadian wrestling teams at the 1952, 1956, and 1960 Olympic Games;
  • Team Manager for the Canadian wrestling teams at the British Empire Games (1954) and the British Commonwealth Games (1970) where his wrestlers won nine medals in ten weight classes;
  • Inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (1960);
  • Inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame (1966);
  • Chairman of the Manitoba Boxing and Wrestling Commission;
  • Diploma of Honour International Amateur Wrestling Federation (1976);
  • Inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame (1981);
  • Founding Director of the Manitoba Sports Federation;
  • Chairman of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame & Museum Inc.;
  • Member of the Order of Canada (1982).

Respect 

“Jim Trifunov was the President of the Hall of Fame when they hired me as Executive Director back in 1990, so I knew your great-uncle fairly well,” says Rick Brownlee, Sport Heritage Manager at Sport Manitoba“Jim was a role model who taught me what a solid work ethic could accomplish, what a few kind words could do to encourage, and what a firm handshake meant.”

“He just happened to be the most energetic octogenarian I had ever met.”

Uncle Jim was a true gentleman, polite, friendly, and always neat in a jacket and tie. My family remembers him fondly as a kind, happy, generous man, the kind of man who could carry on a conversation with anyone, and a man who loved to be with family. He was an absolute delight.

My brother remembers him as a gentleman of a by-gone era who taught him the difference between Greco-Roman wrestling and the campy 1970s Western Canadian Stampede Wrestling (that bore the Hart brothers).

“When I was seven, we went through the Sears Christmas Wish List catalogue to see what I would buy with one million dollars,” Danny says, “It stopped at about $100.00 when I got bored of it. He thought it was great fun.”

Jim Trifunov, courtesy of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame & Museum Inc.

Jim Trifunov, courtesy of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame & Museum Inc.

Though I didn’t get to see much of Uncle Jim as I got older, he continued to do amazing things for sport, wrestling, and for the people of Manitoba. The CSHF explains that Jim “worked tirelessly to achieve a permanent home for the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, which opened five days before his death.”

When we finally cut the ribbon to open his dream of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame Museum in 1993,” Rick Brownlee recalls, “Jim as wheelchair-bound and a shell of his former self. But he cut the ceremonial ribbon nonetheless and I saw a spark in his eyes that day that I had not seen for quite a while.”

Jim Trifunov changed the face of Canadian amateur sport and built a foundation for future athletes with a passion I had never imagined. I’m fortunate to have known him, if only for a brief time, and the memory of his spark still brings a smile to my face.