Your feet in summer

4 Aug

People seem to think that just because it’s hot outside, they have license to dress like a slob and slack off on grooming. Do you see ratty old t-shirts walking around in public? Have you ever had the misfortune of being downwind from someone who has slacked off on bathing? How about people who interpret “summer business casual” being the same thing as “cottage wear”?

Run on us, jump on us, but don’t forget to clean us!

There are guys out there who wear sandals or flip-flops and whether unconsciously or perhaps out of spite, show off their filthy toes. We don’t want to see this and in fact, it’s a bone of contention with me. There is no reason not to have clean feet and this week, lads, we’ll discuss the state of your feet and how to make them not only nicer to look at, but nicer to live with. Allow me to pass on some easy and practical tips on keeping your feet neat, how to wear summer footwear, and how to tend to summer foot ailments.

Don’t be lazy – pay attention to your feet

I had a boyfriend once who never washed his feet. He insisted that the water and soap lather used to clean the top of his body was enough to clean his feet as it ran over them. The concept of cleaning in between his toes with lather was somehow preposterous, so he never did.

I’m not sure that I ever actually saw his feet; they were in beaten up Blundstones or wool socks most of the time, but if I had seen his feet, or the way I imagined his feet would have looked without cleaning between his toes for an extended period of time, I’m not sure that I could have lived with it – women are more sensitive to things like this, I find.

Anyway, the point is, please make an effort while you’re in the shower to bend over and clean the top and bottom of the whole foot, then clean between your toes, otherwise the infamous toe jam begins to collect. Toe jam, the ” grey-brown shit that accumulates between your toes. Primarily composed of dead skin cells, sock fluff and sweat.” (Urban Dictionary).

Dirty feet and the smell of dirty feet is not welcoming to anyone so please take the time to bathe and groom your feet, using the following tips to get you there:

TIP #1: Go to the drugstore and buy a nail brush or a brush with a handle. Soap it up and give your feet a good going over  – the brush, soap, water, and friction, cleans your feet, cleans under your toenails, sloughs off dead skin cells on the surface of your feet, and it feels good!

TIP #2: Regularly trim your toenails with a toenail clipper – they’re wider than fingernail clippers and easier to handle.

TIP #3: Sand, yes, I said sand your heels to file down your callouses. Soak, smooth down the hard skin, and follow with a moisturizer. You could use a pumice stone or find a paddle with an actual piece of sandpaper on it – check the Body Shop or a drugstore or specialty spas for items mentioned here.

TIP #4: A clean foot will not make a filthy flip-flop look better. Scrub both sides of your foam, rubber, or plastic flip-flops  (with your new nail brush if you want to) and get all of the crap out from the treads and surface texture. Do one at a time and compare – which one would you rather be seen in? Which one makes you feel better?

Summer socks 

Nothing looks more uncomfortable than a guy in shorts with mid-length calf socks on, especially if they’re dress socks. Different socks for different reasons, lads: dress socks (i.e dark socks) are for dress wear (i.e. suits), and for summer, should be made of  cotton to keep the foot cool by wicking away perspiration.

Athletic socks (usually white) are worn at the gym or with sporty clothes and convey a youthful, energetic message, but don’t really work with casual looks if you’re not wearing gym shoes, and this includes shorts.

So what kind of sock to wear with shorts and a casual shoe to avoid looking like a dork? Men’s shorty socks, of course, also known as ankle socks or low-rise socks. They really make a tremendously cool difference. Also, because you’ll only see a whisper of them outside of your shoe, it may not matter what colour they are = less to think about/easy.

Blisters

With heat comes sweat. Each of our feet contain 250,000 sweat glands. Any kind of friction on moist skin will case discomfort, wear at the skin, and maybe cause a blister. These are terrible and painful and can get infected if we don’t keep them clean.

TIP #5: To keep your foot drier and reduce friction on the foot, sprinkle baby, talcum, or Gold Bond powder on your foot after the shower to better absorb moisture.

Be aware of your foot in new seasonal footwear and be mindful of pressure and anything rubbing on your foot – this is where blisters and corns are born. There are lots of ways to remedy chafe, pressure, and blisters (before they start) like adhesive bandages, blister pads, and moleskin.

TIP #6:  Moleskin isn’t the skin of an actual mole – it’s the type of soft, thick material that resembles the mole’s skin. Moleskin is used much like an adhesive bandage roll, cut to the size you need and apply over the blister – good info here on this hiking website about how to prevent foot blisters.

Think of your foot as the state of your shoe – polished and well-kept, it reads respect – self and otherwise. I hope that makes your summer a little more comfortable and a little more stylish, fellas. Best wishes!

Sh*t fit

21 Jul

While waiting for a client in Club Monaco last month, I wandered into the women’s clothing section to kill some time. There was a cute little suit jacket on the rack that, upon further inspection, I deemed too large for me.

“Manity sizing” strokes a fella’s ego by “decreasing” his pant size by name only, which may in fact increase the risk of health problems.

I looked at the tag for the size.

0. Zero. Size Zero.

Were it 1960, I would be considered a size 14, but at Club Monaco in 2011, I would fit a negative size – a minus 1 or minus 2.

A minus size, a minus size; a size of no sum or consequence. How can I be a negative size?

This terrifies me in a way because  I see a negative size as a non-size and as a human, I feel erased; fitting a negative clothing size makes me feel like a non-person. What is this new sizing system and what else are they messing with?

This is a post to explain why your clothes don’t fit you.

Erratic sizing

To keep things efficient, manufacturers use “average” sizes of a cross-section of people to create patterns for different sizes (small, medium, large, etc.), classified by their height and weight. The measurements (neck measurement for men, chest, waist, hip measurement for women, etc.) are added together and divided by the number of people measured, giving “average” measurements.

But there are lots of interpretations of average and so few of us are actually average-sized, that this is just one of the factors working against us when we walk into a clothing store:

  • There is no industry standard for sizing – I have size extra small, small, medium, and an extra-large piece from Chinatown in my closet but my measurements remain static, unchanged;
  • Every designer cuts a little or a lot larger or smaller than the next designer, so each line will fit differently (e.g. Tiger of Sweden is a trim cut but Mark’s Work Warehouse has offerings for more robust fellows);
  • Some but not all manufacturers buy into “vanity sizes”, whereby a piece of clothing that may truly fit you is called something smaller (you could have an actual 34″ waist measurement but you might wear a 32″ or 33″ vanity-sized pant);
  • Each style of garment is going to fit differently on each body – e.g. the rise of the pant will give a larger waist size because it sits at a wider point on the hips.

This causes a great deal of confusion for people who have to wade through an ocean of arbitrary sizing that may or may not hold their own weight. Pun intended.

In the age of political correctness where we’re more sensitive to other’s feelings, business owners and manufacturers have to keep in mind that a compliment in the form of a “smaller (vanity) size” can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Vanity

I’ve been told by women that wearing a “smaller” size makes them feel better about themselves. I understand what it’s like to be heavy and not feel one’s best (I was pushing 150 lbs at age 22 – about 30 lbs more than I weigh now), so I can see why a size 8 would feel better than a size 12.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the vanity sizing practice began in women’s clothing, but it has seeped into menswear, adopting the name “manity sizing”. This rather dishonest sizing system has become totally out of hand, so I looked at some online research to figure out what this silly sizing system is all about. This is what I found:

“Vanity sizing is the practice of using smaller numbered sizes on bigger clothing patterns… to make customers feel better about themselves and become more inclined to buy,” says one blogger who runs a PR and marketing company.  Her opinion has a ring of supply and demand to it.

“It is important for manufacturers to have an idea of what sells because retail sales still have not fully recovered since the recession hit in 2008.”

However, on vanitysizing.com, this suggestion is (rather cuttingly) downplayed. The author of the article has an economics background and suggests that sizing is based on demographics.

“If you sell to lower-income people, your average size is going to be larger than the average size sold to rich people. Boutiques sell pricier clothes that are sized on average, smaller than product in mass merchant stores.”

A very good Esquire style blog describes the confusion with the vanity sizing for men. First, the writer calling the practice

From the Esquire style blog – vanity sizing for men’s pants.

“flattery”, but as we know, flattery can only take you so far. He says he’s got a Russell Crowe build and though he’s enjoyed his manity-sized pants, he’s still perturbed.

“This isn’t the subjective business of mediums, larges and extra-larges — nor is it the murky business of women’s sizes, what with its black-hole size zero. This is science, damnit. Numbers!”

But the numbers don’t add up and because sizing is basically a free-for-all without a standard measurement guide. The illustration below from Esquire shows to what extent we’re being lied to – to the tune of up to 5″.

Erratic sizes

The waist is the most misunderstood part of a man’s body, I think. When I’m taking my client’s measurements, I explain the waist measurement concept/confusion.

I tell them that if I were a doctor and we were doing an annual physical, I would measure his waist just above his hipbone/through the navel. Most people don’t wear their trousers that high anymore (men did in the 40s) and that means that the point at which his waistband sits is not necessarily where we’ve taken the measurement of the waist – different styles of pants with different rise lengths (the distance from the crotch to the top of the waist) will give different waist measurements at different points on the torso.

An article from The Telegraph reports findings of a study they conducted on men’s waist sizes and found that “[o]verall, 28 out of 50 garments checked were found to be larger than on the label.”

“Shoppers quite reasonably expect 32 inches to mean just that,” said Richard Cope, chief trend analyst at Mintel, a London-based market research company. “They are becoming increasingly frustrated to discover their sizes vary from fashion brand to fashion brand and from item to item.”

Confused yet? You should be.

Health problems

If clothing manufacturers began vanity sizing to make larger people feel better about themselves as some people maintain, that’s one thing, but I’m seeing this sizing practice as a dangerous denial and health threat.

Vanity sizing is delusional, offering solace in a lie and erasing any guilt from consuming another baker’s dozen, putting people at greater risk of the health problems associated with obesity.  As the Esquire blog asks, “why should pants make us feel better about badness at health?”

Obesity is an enormous social and economic problem. Pun intended. Men with larger waists face different and more serious health problems than slim guys – a Stats Can study identified type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, some cancers, and gallbladder disease associated with obesity, as well as “psychological problems, functional limitations and disabilities.”

Have a look at these astounding rates from Statistics Canada‘s study of adult obesity in Canada:

In 2004, nearly one-quarter (23.1%) of adult Canadians, 5.5 million people aged 18 or older, were obese. An additional 36.1% (8.6 million) were overweight.

The 2004 obesity figure was up substantially from 1978/79, when Canada’s obesity rate had been 13.8%.

As body mass index (BMI) increases, so does an individual’s likelihood of reporting high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. (Check your own BMI here.)

Canada’s adult obesity rate is significantly lower than that in the United States: 23.1 % compared with 29.7%. The percentage of Canadians who are overweight or obese has risen dramatically in recent years, mirroring a worldwide phenomenon.

I have to wonder if vanity/ manity/ insanity sizing is really making things better by way of our self-esteem, or if it's plunging us deeper into clothing chaos and confusion and denial about our bodies. To my mind, this sizing practice is a psychological experiment that may give extra space for denial; the man with the 41" waist who's wearing a 36" pant from Old Navy may feel a little dietary freedom because he thinks he's got room n0w: Hey, I can fit into a size 36 for the time being, so I've got room for another coupla Krispy Creme KFC Double Downs - bring it on! 

Like a temporary sugar rush before the crash, I think that as a society, we're just asking for trouble lying to people about their sizes. Sometimes I ignore sizes altogether and rely on a tape measure where the numbers are hard and they don't tell me any fibs. The point is to be comfortable in clothing that fits us, regardless of what size the marketing department gives.

Hanging your clothes

23 Jun

If you’ve been with us throughout the laundry series, you understand the environmental mess they call dry cleaning and it’s environmentally friendly alternative, wet cleaning; the self-regulated fragrance industry that adds chemical scents to your laundry products that cause allergic reactions, gendered laundry products (yes, for real), and ecological and economical wash and dry alternatives to cleaning your clothes.

Now that your clothes are clean and fresh, I’d like to offer some tips on clothing storage that will keep your clothes looking good and protect your clothing investments, no matter how much you’ve paid for them.

You might think that a hanger is a hanger, but there are many types of hangers for different types of clothes. Hangers are used for clothing storage but also for clothing support. Like anything else, clothing is subject to gravity; clothing can be heavy, so storing your clothes on hangers substantial enough to support the weight of your garments is key. wooden hanger

1. Shirts: Hang your good shirts on nice hangers – a wider wooden hanger will support the weight of your shirt. Fasten the top button to preserve the shape of the collar. (A covered wire hanger will also do, depending on the weight of your shirt – i.e. t-shirts and other knits. Uncovered wire hangers may leave rust marks on the shoulders of your shirts, so if you’re hanging your shirts to dry – and I hope you are – use a covered wire hanger.)

Wider hangers will take up more room in your closet but allow for air movement so your shirts won’t be crushed = fresher clothing, less ironing (18 wooden hangers for $19.99 at good old Canadian Tire).

suit hanger with pant clips

This wooden suit hanger supports the shoulder and features a pant clip that will keep trousers smooth.

2. This is a suit hanger. The width of the hanger supports and preserves the roundness of the jacket’s hard shoulder and takes the weight of the garment. Lighter summer suits (cotton or seersucker) can take a thinner hanger, but heavier woolen winter suits or linen suits with a bottom weight ask for a substantial hanger like the one at left – note the trouser clip – see #3 below.

A solid wood hanger  could also be used for heavy outdoor coats – this will help to keep the coat in shape.

3.  Trousers should hang straight down, not stored over a hanger – pant hanger this creates a horizontal wrinkle in the trouser leg because the garment is draped over a bar that cannot support the weight of the pant.

To avoid trouser creases, use a pant hanger: turn trousers upside down, hems together, and fold in half at the center leg crease, or match up trouser seams if there is no crease. Clip or sandwich on the hanger, depending on its style.

You went to the trouble of buying your clothing,  so protect and maintain your wardrobe. Take pride in your closet as much as you take pride in your clothes, gents, and do them right with the proper hanger.

PS: It’s summer and In the Key of He will do re-runs of posts past. Enjoy the season!

Hand-washing

9 Jun

washboardProbably the least expensive and most gentle way to clean your clothes is by hand. Hand-washing is the original old school way of cleaning clothes; before washing machines, people washed their clothes on wash boards in a bucket of soapy water, then hung them on a line to dry. To clean a whole family’s clothes must have been a very strenuous and time-consuming job.

Today, we use convenient washing machines to clean our clothes but for some garments, hand-washing is the best way. If you want to clean a fine sweater, for example, if you have delicate clothing that you don’t want to put through the rigors of a wash cycle, or if you need to clean an individual garment instead of washing a whole load, opt for hand-washing. It’s a good way to gently clean your clothes without the risk of damaging your garments with the agitator of the modern machine.

Hand wash laundry symbol

Hand wash laundry symbol

Start with a large bucket. If you don’t have a bucket, you could do the cleaning in your bathtub. Fill with warm, tepid, or cool water and add a liquid laundry soap of your choice (use mild laundry soap for fine things). If you’re cleaning a sweater, let it absorb the water and try not to handle it too much – the trick is to let it soak for a few minutes, then squeeze the suds through the sweater. Rinse by soaking in fresh cool water to release the suds.

Next, lift out the garment and squeeze out the excess water – DO NOT WRING OUT YOUR SWEATERS! Knits are woven on a grid and wringing a sweater will cause the yarns to warp and pull out of shape, perhaps forever!

Once you’ve squeezed out the water, gently shake out your sweater and shape it to lie flat on a large towel. Starting from one end, roll the towel and the sweater away from you and smooth the sweater as you go. Apply gentle pressure to the towel roll; roll all the way up. What you’re doing here is transferring the heavy water from the sweater to the towel. You can leave the roll for an hour or more, then unroll, gently lift out and shake your sweater, then lie flat on a table or other surface to dry.

Almost any piece of clothing can be hand washed: collared shirts, t-shirts, undies, etc. (denim and trousers are best washed in machines then hung to dry). Go through the steps to hand wash a sweater, but swish your non-delicate garments in the bucket to get the soap through the weave of the fabric. Rinse. Men with strong hands will have an easy time squeezing water from their garments, but take care to gently smooth out the wrinkles you’ve created afterward because your clothes will dry this way.

Notes on dryingdenim drying

Drying clothes in an electric dryer not only uses a lot of energy, it slowly but surely eats away at your clothes – check the lint trap if you don’t believe me! The sheets of lint in the lint trap is actually bits of the fibers of your clothes, and it’s a good way to slowly break down your clothes. Better alternatives are to hang wet clothes out on a clothes line if you have access to one, or drape over a drying rack.

To dry shirts, hang them on a wood or plastic hanger – fasten the top button of a collared shirt to retain the shape of the collar, and smooth out the garment (watch that the button placket, cuffs, and sleeves are smooth because they dry in the shape you leave them). Wire hangers are too thin to hold a garment that is heavy with water – the thin wire will cause the wet garment to stretch in the shoulder but a thicker hanger will solve this problem. More on clothing storage and hangers next post.

Taking the time to hand wash clothes is a great way to save on energy and save your clothes from becoming thread bare. If you are environmentally conscious, feel good about your choice to hand wash and even better, seek out a bio-degradable laundry soap to come full circle.

 

PERCs of dry cleaning

12 May

dry cleaningDry cleaning. It’s easy, it’s convenient, and it’s a popular way to save time and get cleaned and pressed clothes. If you dry clean, have you ever thought about dry cleaners and their cleaning process? How about the chemicals they use to clean clothes, or the plastic around each of your individual garments? Dry cleaning may be convenient, but it’s an environmental disaster.

This past February, Ali Eldin, the owner of dry cleaning businesses in Edmonton pleaded guilty ”to offences relating to the improper handling and storage of tetrachloroethylene, commonly known as perchloroethylene, or shortened to PERC – a widely used dry cleaning solvent which poses environmental risks and is toxic to humans. Through periodic inspections over 18 months, it was evident that Eldin’s shops did not use proper safeguards for using PERC, which created hazardous waste and put the dry cleaning staff at risk. (Source.)

PERC

Dry Cleaning Report

From the 2015 Environmental Defense Dry Cleaning Report

According to Canada’s Environmental Defence Dry Cleaning Report, Removing the Stain: Getting Cancer-Causing Chemicals Out of Your Clothes, PERC ”is an organic, colourless, non-flammable liquid widely used for dry cleaning of fabrics. PERC acts as an effective solvent and stain remover for organic materials, making it one of the most popular chemicals used in dry cleaning in North America since the 1950s.”

The Report cites short-term PERC exposure symptoms as dizziness, headaches, nausea, skin, eye, and lung irritation. Long-term exposure has been linked to reproductive health issues, lung and breast cancers, lymphoma, and leukemia. If PERC spills on the ground, it finds its way into our drinking water.

PERC is a terrible choice for getting clothes clean! Yet somehow, the chemical is allowed in Canada – this federal government page on Dry Cleaning Regulations lists PERC ”on the List of Toxic Substances, Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. Exposure commonly happens through contaminated air or water, including groundwater.” Environment Canada developed the following regulations around PERC to reduce its release from dry cleaning facilities:

  1. requiring more efficient dry cleaning machines that recover more PERC from the dry cleaning process;
  2. preventing PERC spills; and
  3. managing the way residues and waste water containing PERC are collected and disposed of.

Unfortunately, Toronto is the only city in Canada that measures and tracks PERC usage and emissions. We require much more protection on the municipal, provincial, and federal levels to protect our health and the environment.

If you’ve been awakened to the perils of dry cleaning, here are some alternatives to dry cleaning and tips to avoid dry cleaning altogether.

Alternatives to PERC

Dry Cleaning Report

From the Environmental Defense Dry Cleaning Report

Wet Cleaning: Instead of having your clothes dry cleaned, ask for wet cleaning, or seek out a specific wet cleaner. There are lots of them popping up – wet cleaning is also known as organic, enviro- or green-cleaning. It is by far the most efficient, non-toxic, non-polluting and least expensive of all PERC alternatives. Wet cleaning uses water and biodegradable detergent in computer-controlled washers and dryers, and specialized finishing equipment for delicates. It also costs less and uses the least amount of energy. Excellent choice!

Carbon Dioxide Cleaning: Another eco-friendly method, low in toxicity but far more expensive than wet cleaning is carbon dioxide cleaning. This method uses non-flammable, non-toxic liquid CO2 as the cleaning agent. According to an assessment by the Toxics Use Reduction Institute of the University of Massachusetts,  “[t]he CO2 used in the process is derived from industrial processes as a by-product; therefore the use of the gas itself in the cleaning process does not actively contribute to global warming.”

Others: Hydrocarbon and silicone cleaning use toxic, polluting, expensive solvents that aren’t really alternatives at all. Environmental Defense says that hydrocarbon cleaning contributes to air pollution, and silicon-based cleaning uses a flammable chemical called siloxane which potentially threatens aquatic ecosystems.

As you can see, the best alternative to toxic, polluting clothes-cleaning is also the least expensive. More wet cleaners, please!

Dry Cleaning Solvents and Textiles

Be aware of what you wear and what you dry clean. According to an article on the Environmental Working Group website, a study by scientists at Georgetown University found that PERC hangs onto different types of textiles. Silk did not appear to retain any of the chemical, but high levels of residual PERC was found on dry-cleaned wool, cotton, and polyester (very common ingredients in your clothes). The study found that further dry cleaning cycles intensified the PERC concentrations in the said textiles.

The study also offered evidence of PERC emitting from wool after it’s dry cleaned. Even if inside of a plastic bag, the PERC concentrations on wool depleted by half in a week. Conclusion? PERC vaporizes from clothing and into your home/car/office – and you breathe it in.

The lesson to take away here is to simply buy clothing that you don’t have to dry clean and can safely wash yourself (suits and sports jackets excepted). Read your washing labels, follow the instructions, Bob’s your uncle.

Plastic Dry Cleaning Bags

Mary Marlowe Leverette is a Laundry Expert. She sees the thin, filmy, plastic bags that protect your newly-cleaned clothes as a long-term hazard for your clothes (not to mention a suffocation hazard if you have children). Ms. Leverette advises to ditch the plastic around your dry cleaned garments.

“Leaving freshly cleaned laundry in the flimsy plastic bag can cause yellowing, staining and weakening of fibers,” she says. “The yellowing and other changes in color is caused by BHT (butylated hydroxyl tolune), an anti-oxidant used in the manufacturing of the plastic bag. When BHT comes in contact with any moisture and impurities in the air it forms a yellow pigment that transfers to the fabric.”

Though technically dry, freshly dry-cleaned clothes are pressed with steam and then bagged – enter the moisture and the pigmentation and kiss goodbye your favourite white shirt.

A piece of advice: if you get your clothes cleaned professionally, take them out of the bag and hang outside to air out when you get them home. Even better: store your clothes in cloth garment bags (unbleached cotton would be best) instead of plastic ones that leach chemicals – the cloth bags breathe and this reduces moisture and the possibility of mold.

If you’re still dry cleaning, try wet cleaning. If you’re not wet cleaning, maybe you should be hand-washing. I’ll fill you in on that next post as the laundry series continues.

He-Wash and other laundry tales

28 Apr

washing machineThere are four things in life that you can always count on: taxes, death, dirty dishes, and laundry.

The latter two items move in an unending cycle. For men, laundry may be somewhat mystifying if they’re not used to doing it – there are more single men and single dads now than ever in history. We all like to wear clean clothes, so it’s in a guy’s best interest to learn how to do a proper job.

Enter the men’s laundry product market. Laundry product companies are now dabbling in gendered laundry products to appeal to men who spend more time around the washing machine than ever before. I think it’s great that men are taking control of their lives and taking care of their dirty clothes, but gendered laundry products? Really?

Gendered Laundry Products

Gender is becoming less and less relevant, unless you’re following the money. Toxic masculinity (i.e. under NO circumstances are you to behave in any way like a female) dictates men to use large, hard-edged, dark-coloured “shower tools”,  shampoo specifically for men (wot?), and now “masculine” laundry products (while at the same time, marketers continue to push insulting, pink-coloured items to women – have a look at this site if you don’t believe me).

A recent Market Watch story, Bizarre new fronts in the battle of the sexes, reported on gendered products and the marketing behind it. In the article, Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst for a market research group says, “It’s all about personalization. These products are speaking directly to you, rather than speaking to the general public. Guys are shopping for their own clothes, they’re cooking more, we’ve entered into a more androgynous society, the most it’s ever been in recorded time.”

So if we’re in an androgynous society, Mr. Cohen, why are you speaking to gendered products that drive the wedge between the sexes and double the waste and chemicals for a two-gender laundry system?

Easy, Androgynous, Eco-Friendly Laundry Soap

After writing a dryer sheet article recently, I was horrified to learn the amount of unregulated chemicals that go into the laundry products commonly found on grocery store shelves. I’d like to help out and offer some smart, biodegradable laundry detergents that work well, won’t harm the earth, and carry my personal seal of approval:

Dizolve laundry stripsDizolve: According to a press release, the Moncton, N.B. company “makes laundry-washing easier, healthier, more economical, and much kinder to our planet. Dizolve combines biodegradable, hypoallergenic cleaning power with the convenience of a tiny, pre-measured solid strip that dissolves in the wash.”

Dizolve reduces laundry product waste by a whopping 94% because the entire strip dissolves into fragrance-free laundry detergent and takes up as much space as a slim book. The small size reduces transport costs which also impact the planet. These strips can be used in regular washers and front-loaders, and for hand-washing, and they do a great job.

Besides being a wonderful eco-conscious laundry alternative, Dizolve is a community-sensitive company which, in 2014, donated a million strips to clean a million loads of laundry to the Food Banks of Canada. On top of this, 20% of Dizolve sales supports projects like Canadian Food Banks and the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, which strives to empower people to “protect, restore, and enjoy a healthy life and a safe planet”.

Dizolve laundry strips are:

  • Paraben-free
  • Phosphate-free
  • Free of added dyes
  • Free of chlorine bleach
  • Free of 1,4-dioxane, as certified by independent laboratory tests
  • Readily biodegradable in accordance with OECD 301D
  • Safe for septics
  • Hypoallergenic, certified by independent dermatologists
  • Vegan: no animal-based ingredients or testing on animals by us or our ingredient suppliers

Eco-Max Laundry Wash: Eco-Max is manufactured in Ontario and made wholly of biodegradable, renewable, sustainable, plant-based ingredients. This company uses essential oils to scent their wonderful laundry products and have fragrance-free options as well – both beneficial to those with sensitivities (I also use their dish washing liquid which is much easier on my skin than harsh, chemically-fragranced commercial dish soap).

Their website lists the following points about their cleaning products:

  • Ingredients: 100% plant-based for a renewable and truly sustainable product;
  • Certified Green: Eco-Max strives to create the Greenest products possible. Certified by EcoLogoTM;
  • Oral Toxicity: Designed with a toxicity level close to that of water. It’s uniquely safe;
  • Aquatic Toxicity: Safe for aquatic species;
  • Biodegradability: A biodegradable product that comes in recyclable packaging;
  • Air Quality: Safe to use and safe to be around when in use. Negligible indoor air pollution.

Natural and bio-degradable soap is the way to go for the never-ending cycle of laundry (and dishes) for lots of reasons. Not only will products like those shown here not cause further harm to the planet, they may also feel better to you, especially if you’re one of many who has developed chemical sensitivities.

That said, some men prefer to avoid laundry altogether and bring their bags of soiled clothes to neighbourhood dry cleaners for what is sometimes called “bachelor service”. With this service, you can drop off your stuff on the way to work and collect your clean and folded laundry on the way home. Easy. And toxic, as we will discover in our next post.

The devil in your dryer sheets

14 Apr

ghost dryer sheetPeople reach for dryer sheets to make their clothes soft, scented, and static-free. When I was in fashion school, we talked about dryer sheets in textiles class and our instructor explained that the coating on dryer sheets was nothing but scented wax that melted and very lightly coated our clothes.

Twenty years later, we know more and we know better.

The David Suzuki Foundation says that the synthetic perfumes used in dryer sheets are derived from petroleum-based ingredients, and they say, “once the scented air leaves your dryer vent and floats into your neighbourhood, it’s increasingly causing allergic reactions in people with chemical sensitivities.” (Chemical sensitivities are on the rise – I notice it, do you?).

Dr. Anne Steinemann, an internationally recognized scientist, Professor of Civil Engineering, and Chair of Sustainable Cities at the University of Melbourne, helps people create healthier living and working environments. In 2011, she published a study about the chemicals in laundry products and discovered an enormous and rather alarming range of chemicals:

  • Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders
  • A-Terpineol: Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema, and central nervous system damage
  • Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list
  • Camphor: Causes central nervous system disorders
  • Chloroform: Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic
  • Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled
  • 1,4-dioxane: A recognized carcinogen
  • Chloromethane: A developmental toxin
  • 2-Butanone: A suspected toxicant
  • O, m, or p-cymene: A suspected toxicant
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS/SLES), and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS)
  • Nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE): Hormone disruptor
  • Phosphates: Major environmental health hazard
  • Optical brighteners

How is it legal to sell toxic concoctions like this, you ask? “Simple,” says Canadians for A Safe Learning Environment (CASLE), “It’s still very much an unregulated market. Manufacturers are not required to disclose any ingredients in cleaning supplies, air fresheners or laundry products. The fragrance industry is actually allowed to regulate itself (italics mine) through a trade association known as the International Fragrance Association.”

For modern readers with an eco-conscience, this should raise alarms. The CASLE article explains that though substances are tested on adults, it is only for skin reactions, not neurotoxicity, immunotoxicity, or anything else. The group says that only 1300 out of more than 5000 ingredients used by the fragrance industry are tested and evaluated for safety.

“If they’re coming out of a smokestack or tail pipe, they’re regulated, but if they’re coming out of a dryer vent, they’re not,” says Dr. Steinemann.

Eco-friendly dryer and dryer sheet alternativesdo not tumble dry

I’m always on about air-drying clothing for environmental reasons and to protect clothing. Dry heat in the dryer causes shrinkage and damages your clothes; it eats away at garment colour and at fabric fibers. The stuff in the lint trap is actually small bits of your clothing that over time will cause your clothes to lose body, develop holes, and become thread-bare.

If you want your clothes to last, try some of these alternatives to electric clothes dryers and dryer sheets:

–> The old-fashioned way is always preferable: line-dry your clothes. Back yards and balconies are great for hanging clothes out on the line. For people who live in smaller spaces, try drying your clothes on a drying rack.

–> For an eco-friendly laundry softener, National Geographic’s Green Guide recommends adding a quarter cup of baking soda to the wash cycle. Add a quarter cup of white vinegar to boost the laundry-softening properties, and reduce static cling.

–> Maddocks Holdings Limited, a Canadian industrial parts supplier makes PurEcosheets, reusable static eliminator sheets. One sheet will last through 500 tumble dries and reduce the amount of laundry waste in landfills. There are no chemicals in these sheets, so this reduces buildup in dryers and keeps them running efficiently.

–> Dryer balls are great to reduce drying time, soften clothes, reduce static, increase fluffiness, and make laundry a little more fun! Dryer balls are simply medium-sized balls of wool that bounce around clothes in the dryer and improve air flow. Order them online or make your own dryer balls for a cool project! Should you want scent to your laundry, simply add drops of essential oil to your dryer balls.

–> Lots of good, green laundry products on the Reuseit website.

So now you have a choice: toxic, wasteful, chemical-laden dryer sheets or reusable, inexpensive, and eco-friendly dryer products? Both options do the same thing, but the latter is non-toxic, leaves virtually no carbon footprint, and has no side effects. How could you not?

Bourbon’s bad rap

31 Mar

My friends treat me well on my birthday and some of them give me gifts of liquid gold. They know I like bourbon and sometimes I’m presented with a bottle of bourbon. Not just any bourbon, good bourbon like Maker’s Mark, one of the best Kentucky bourbons around. It’s strong, no question, but it is lovely with warming caramel notes and a little spice. Makes my chapped winter lips tingle. I’m not a big drinker but I appreciate the complexity of amber liquors and I drink them straight. That’s right, straight.

It’s the sweet sting of an Irish whiskey or a bourbon that does it for me, you see, and when I tell people I like bourbon, even men call me “hard core”. I just like the taste of it. I think people might be scared of bourbon due to a popular misconception that confuses it with another hard and notorious whiskey, Jack Daniel’s, the drink of the rebellious.

Bourbon is an American whiskey that must be made in Kentucky to be considered a true bourbon. It is made of corn and aged in charred, oak barrels. I’m certainly not an expert of bourbon but I know that I like the “straight” bourbons – bourbons of themselves without additional colour or flavours. Higher end bourbons are a pleasure to sip, like a fine scotch which is meant to be savoured. (For those hard-core bourbon fans who are able to travel, there is a bourbon tour called the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with tours of the best straight bourbon distilleries in the state: Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Four Roses, and Heaven Hill.)

Jack Daniel’s is not featured on this fine bourbon distillery tour because it isn’t bourbon and it’s not made in Kentucky. It’s Tennessee sour mash whiskey. I believe that people confuse JD with bourbon (easy enough to do) and because of this, bourbon has taken on the associations of Jack Daniel’s drinkers as hard-drinking, ass-kicking rock & rollers and bikers, but it isn’t necessarily true.

Jack Daniel’s (JD)

American whiskeys are made of basically same stuff but are processed differently and not all are considered true bourbons. Jack Daniels is an example of this. This famous Tennessee whiskey is sugar maple, charcoal-mellowed, relatively cheap, and easily accessible in many parts of the world. Jack Daniel’s is also the signature drink of old school rock & roll, and this 80 proof bad boy booze has been the liquid drug of choice for the world’s heaviest bands.

There is certainly an attitude about Jack. I remember getting two bottles of Jack for my brother and I for a rental viewing of The Doors movie – a stinging drink well-suited to watching a film about Jim Morrison. By the end of the movie, we were messed up on Morrison and the bottles were empty. We went out looking for more. I can’t explain it but I can appreciate that rock & roll and Jack Daniel’s strike a perfect balance.

So what is it about Jack?  It seems like a good drink for a guy, strong and honest. It is the hard-drinking liquor that separates the boys from the men; it’s the type of drink that could grow hair on your chest. Jack Daniel’s is the stuff of legend, like the musicians who favoured it.

Keith Richards, Rolling Stones

I think that Keith  Richards that started it all. Keith made drinking Jack Daniel’s cool among rock & rollers; he guzzled it on stage, in limos, studios, and on planes. As a member of the original bad boy group, Keith Richards had the freedom to do/drink/smoke/snort/inject whatever he wanted. And he did. And he’s still alive to talk about it.

Steven Tyler, Aerosmith

“I kept my medicine cabinet on stage, in a 14-inch drum head, the bottom of which contained… one Dixie cup with a straw and blow [cocaine] in it and the other with Coca-Cola and Jack Daniel’s in it.”

Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin

Rock god Jimmy Page was another heavy JD drinker as seen here in 1975. Again, being in a super group like Led Zeppelin gave Page license to do as he pleased, including getting a good buzz on with his favourite Tennessee whiskey before the show.

Lemmy, Motorhead

“I’m not completely fixated on Jack Daniel’s – it’s just that it’s the one with the best distribution system worldwide.”

When we lost Lemmy at the end of 2015, Jack Daniel’s came out with a selected single barrel whiskey in tribute. “We have selected one that is dark, oaky, but still some corn and sweetness with that signature Jack smooth charcoal smoky finish.”

Bon Scott, AC/DC 

AC/DC’s Vince Lovegrove, in an interview with Adelaide Now, talks about the night when their singer, Bon Scott, got into a horrible road accident where he was “smashed to smithereens”. Guess who else was there?

“About 11pm on May 3, 1974, at the Old Lion Hotel in North Adelaide, during a rehearsal with the Mount Lofty Rangers, a very drunk, distressed and belligerent Bon Scott had a raging argument with a member of the band. Bon stormed out of the venue, threw a bottle of Jack Daniels on to the ground, then screamed off on his Suzuki 550 motorbike.”

This happened before AC/DC became famous. It is likely that JD was present the night of Scott’s death in 1980, caused by pulmonary aspiration of vomit due to acute alcohol poisoning.

Van Halen

Van Halen bassist, Michael Anthony, shamelessly adored JD to the point of having a Jack Daniel’s bass guitar made. Get your replica here.

I found a really weird eight-minute video of Van Halen singer, David Lee Roth, spewing out drunken drivel on stage until the arrival of a little person in a suit who delivers a tray of JD for the singer to pound before the band breaks into Janie’s Crying:

Venom

Here’s a JD endorsement from the heavy-speed-black-thrash metal band from northern England, Venom. If this doesn’t make you want to drink Jack Daniel’s, nothing will.

 

Slash, Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver

Slash is the modern rock god guitarist who favours Jack. Especially in G N’ R’s early days, the band smoked and drank heavily. If you have a copy of Appetite for Destruction, the back cover shows the boys in all of their rock & roll glory, sitting around with guitars, beers, sneers, and the mandatory bottle of Jack.

Charity Jack

Given that Jack Daniel’s compliments the devil-may-care rock & roll lifestyle, would you believe that Jack Daniel’s can do more than get you @$%*!& up? It supports charities too!

Yes indeed, during the 2011 Sunset Strip Music Festival, Motley Crue received an award for contributions to the Sunset Strip music scene, and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey donated a specially-chosen barrel of hooch, bottled it, and made it available for a recommended donation to support the to the Skylar Neil Memorial Foundation, an organization to support the people doing breakthrough work to find cures for cancer, AIDS, and other diseases.

Skylar Neil is the late daughter of Vince Neil, singer from Motley Crue, another band notorious for swilling JD and sucking hard at the rock & roll teat. Shown here is the cover of their 2001 tell-all book, The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band. That bottle looks mighty familiar, doesn’t it?

So ultimately, Jack Daniel’s is a split personality casting a dual image: the kick-ass and the charitable, but mostly the kick-ass. Curiously, or perhaps not, I found no female musicians who were into Jack, which suggests that women either don’t like it or don’t like it’s image (though I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions that we just don’t hear about). JD is a drink that only the strong will survive, and unfortunately, some of them don’t.

As one of the rare women who likes straight bourbon and has had her share of Jack Daniel’s, I take full responsibility for the image this conjures and I’m more than cool with it. Like the clothes I wear or the way I speak, my choice in spirits reflects who I am as a person, but contradicts the image that is associated with these hard liquors. It’s all about ownership, I suppose. Straight up.

Undressing Saint Patrick

17 Mar
Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick wearing the robes of a Catholic cleric, complete with mitre – a headdress that wasn’t invented until almost 200 years after his death.

Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britain in 387 and died on March 17, 461 in County Down, Ireland. He is the man who brought Christianity to Ireland and drove out the “snakes” (likely pagan Druids). March 17 is St. Patrick’s day, celebrated world-wide by Irish and non-Irish alike. (Find more about St. Patrick here.)

We recognize St. Patrick as man with a white beard in clerical robes and a mitre, carrying a crook, sometimes with a shamrock in his other hand. What’s interesting about this common image is that no one really knows what he looked like – there are no visual records of St. Patrick before the 13th century – 800 years after he died.

“The manner in which he has come to be depicted represents the culmination of over a thousand years of art, influenced by various texts and evolving belief systems, both localized and international,” says the Irish Royal Academy. In other words, his image has been appropriated by artists who depicted the saint in familiar and contemporary terms that people could relate to.

Until the 19th century, few Irish could read, unless they were monks and clergy, so people were educated through image and symbolism through the church. People of St. Patrick’s time would have understood the Catholic symbolism associated with St. Patrick’s garb, which was rife with allegory.

Clerical costume of the fifth century

Maewyn Succat – Saint Patrick’s real name, wears liturgical garb that has long, traditional associations with the Catholic Church. 20,000 Years of Fashion by Francois Boucher, says that clothing during the early Christian era was simple, and clothing was not gender-specific. “Originally the only difference between the elements of religious costume and those of lay clothing was the use of more sumptuous materials for the former.”

Clerics adopted fine linens and silks for their liturgical costume, and there was “an ever-increasing fondness for rich-coloured materials, especially among the Angles and Saxons,” according to A History of Costume, “and beautiful trimmings, gay braid, and fringes came into fashion”.

Catholic clerical wear has not evolved much since the early Christian era, so mostly, St. Patrick’s image is correct to period, but there are inauthentic – i.e. appropriated – features in our common understanding of what St. Patrick looks like. Let’s start at the top.

mitre

An Annunciation scene worked on a mitre from about 1400; pearls and silver-gilt motifs on silk.

Mitre

The first and most obvious appropriation of St. Patrick is his headdress. The mitre, the pointed hat split in half that bishops and popes wear, is what we have come to associate with the saint, but mitres didn’t appear until the seventh century (St. Patrick died in the mid-fifth century).

In fact, Boucher says that bishops first wore a gold circlet lined with a crown, and in the 12th century, “the crown split into two lobes, one on either side… by the end of the 12th century, the points had moved around 90 degrees and were now back to front.” It hasn’t changed much since that time, though mitre heights have varied.

Were St. Patrick true to his period of the fifth century, he may have worn a hood or a soft skull cap instead of the mitre, but that St. Patrick is bestowed with this head piece that symbolized power in the church, indicates that the saint was highly regarded.

Pall (or Pallium)

The Y-shaped band of wool worn over the chasuble (below) is the pall, drenched in allegory that features six embroidered crosses to symbolize the nails used in Christ’s crucifixion.

Chasuble

The chasuble is a circular garment with an opening for the head, and adopted by the clergy in the fifth century.  The saint’s chasuble is green, as expected (more on this later), and lined with golden fabric – a visual indication of St. Patrick’s position in the Catholic church.

According to Costume in England by F.W. Fairholt, “The chasuble signifies the robe of Christ, which is the Church. It is ample and closed on all sides, to show forth the unity and fullness of the true faith. The fore-part represents the state of the Church before the Passion of Christ; the back, the Church under the Gospel.”

At the same time, Fairholt suggests that the chasuble is symbolic of the purple garment that was put on Jesus Christ before he was crucified. Either way, the chasuble was heavy with meaning to Catholics of the early Christian era.

Dalmatic (or Dalmatica if you’re Roman)

Under the saint’s chasuble is his gold embroidered dalmatic. According to Fairholt, the dalmatic was associated with an immaculate life, or “of bountifulness towards the poor, because of its large and broad sleeves.” St. Patrick’s dalmatic is blue, the colour of the sky, which, to people of fifth century Britain, indicated divine contemplation.

Stolestole

According to 20.000 Years of Fashion, the pall began life as a large, draped Roman cape and narrowed over time to become the stole. Members of the Catholic clergy still wear long, embroidered stoles, draped around the neck.

Allegorically, the stole symbolizes the cords with which Christ was bound upon his crucifixion.

Alb

Saint Patrick’s base layer looks much like the dalmatic, but the alb is a long robe that reaches the feet. According to Costume in England, the alb was “not invariably made of linen cloth…[and] not necessarily white. It was originally intended to indicate the white garment which Pilate placed upon the Saviour after he had despised and mocked him.”

The alb symbolized purity and innocence. St. Patrick’s alb in the illustration appears to be white linen, but looking closer, it appears to have golden threads woven into the fabric. To Christians of St. Patrick’s era, gold signified purity, dignity, wisdom, and glory.

Buskins

Our saint is probably wearing buskins, soft embroidered leather slippers of the fifth century.

Crook

The bishop’s crook is another ”recent” addition. Bishops carried the crook, a decorated shepherd’s hook, alluding to Christ the shepherd, in the 12th century.

Colour

St. Patrick

St. Patrick in crimson and a short mitre with lappets  – the white flaps on the head piece – worn during the 12th century) from a stained glass window in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

We expect St. Patrick to wear green because he is the patron saint of Ireland and green is synonymous with Ireland. In the top illustration, St. Patrick’s chasuble is green, the colour that symbolized cheerfulness and the goodness of God and of the Resurrection at the time he lived. But this, like the mitre, is something that has more of a modern association.

When clerics decided to dress in fine fabrics, they also dyed their clothing in colours symbolic to the early Christian faith. After an image search for St. Patrick, he can be seen dressed in green, also in blue, crimson, white, and yellow.

The Smithsonian magazine features what they believe to be the earliest depiction of St. Patrick from the thirteenth century: a man who wears not a mitre and cleric’s robes, but a simple, hooded, blue monk’s robe.

According to the Irish Journal, “Ireland’s history with the colour blue is largely related to its colonial history, but there are older associations too – Flaitheas Éireann, the embodiment of Irish sovereignty in mythological times (a sort of Irish answer to Uncle Sam), wore blue.”

When Henry VIII declared himself king of Ireland in 1541, he gave Ireland its own coat of arms:  a golden harp on a blue background, and in 1783, “George III created a new order of chivalry for the Kingdom of Ireland, the Order of St. Patrick, its official color was a sky blue, known as St. Patrick’s Blue,” according to the Smithsonian. (Read more about the blue\green of Ireland.)

The colour green seems to be a differentiating colour linked to more recent Irish politics and independence, which eventually became associated with the Catholic population of southern Ireland. Green appears to be linked to Irish nationalism of the nineteenth century, “when the colour was adopted as a more striking way of separating Ireland from the various reds or blues that were now associated with England, Scotland and Wales,” the Irish Journal says.

So the St. Patrick that we imagine is actually a mixed collection of liturgical garments from different periods, and not based in the reality of his life. However, St. Patrick’s day is about celebration, and the splendor of his green robes, his flowing beard, the tall, fancy hat, and the golden crook gives us a more appealing image to raise our glasses to, rather than toasting a barefoot, blue-robed, tonsured monk with a chin beard.

Happy St. Patrick’s day!

 

Colour name origins, part two

3 Mar

Surnames did not exist before the 11th Century in Britain. At that time, people went about with single names or nicknames until taxes were invented and people required further identifiers. The BBC says that after 1066, Norman barons created surnames in England, and most came from a man’s trade (i.e. Weaver), place of origin (i.e. Woods), from a nickname (i.e. Redhead), or a father’s name (i.e. Richardson or MacDonald in Scotland). The bulk of English families had adopted hereditary surnames by 1400, and several of the most common in the UK are associated with colour.

In part one of our series, we covered the histories of the six colour surnames used in Tarantino’s film, Reservoir Dogs, but there are a handful of other colour surnames, each with their own ancient history, that deserve recognition: Black, Gray/Grey, Green, and Purple.

Black

Lincoln Castle

Lincoln Castle, Lincolnshire, UK, where the surname, Black, is said to originate

It is believed that the Anglo-Saxon name, Black,  originates in Lincolnshire on the mid-east coast of England before 1066, but by 1176, the Blacks moved north to Scotland and some emigrated to Ireland. Scottish Blacks dug in their heels and have a long history, complete with clan tartan: Black Watch.

However, there is much confusion around the meaning of the name. According to the BBC, Black is a form of ”Blake”, which has two derivations: Black as ”a descriptive name for someone of dark appearance, and secondly originating as the Old English word, blac, meaning wan or fair – two completely opposite meanings.” The Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames associates Black with colouring; “from the complexion”,  and Behind the Name suggests that the name Black came from the Old English blœc (meaning the colour black), or blac, meaning pale, or perhaps someone who worked with black dye. Ancestry.ca believes that Black is a variant of the Norman, Blanc, and suggests that English speakers had difficulty with the French pronunciation and often ignored it (blanc in French means white, which could explain the confusion in meaning). Either way, Black (along with Brown, White, and Gray) is one of the most common names in Scotland.

Gray/Grey

Clan Gray

Clan Gray tartan and coat of arms

The first recorded spelling of this family name is shown as Anschitill Grai in 1086 in Oxfordshire during the reign of King William 1, according to the Surname Database. However, the House of Names says that Grey was first recorded in Northumberland and the story of the Greys begins with a family in the Boernician tribe from around the ancient Scottish-English border area. Grays/Greys have  a long and proud history in Scotland and boast their own tartan, coat of arms, and motto: Anchor Fast Anchor.

The meaning of Gray or Grey is believed to have been an Anglo-Saxon nickname for someone with grey hair or a grey beard, derived from the Old English pre-7th Century word “graeg”, or grey. Scottish and Irish Greys were originally the Gaelic “riabhach”, meaning “brindled or grey”, translated to “Grey” or “Gray”. Another possibility is that the name Greye came from Calvados (Normandy) which derived from the Gallo-Roman Gratus, meaning welcome.

Green

green man

The pagan Green Man, associated with the natural world

The first record of the Anglo-Saxon surname Green, is found in Kent in the south-east corner of England. Geoffrey Green was recorded in taxation records in 1188, during King Henry II’s reign.

Ancestry.ca says that Green is one of the most common and widespread English surnames that could have been a nickname for someone fond of dressing in the colour green (from the Old English grene), or who lived near a village green. Green could be associated with the Green Man in May Day celebrations; the man who played the part of the pre-Christian spirit of nature, often was often depicted surrounded by foliage and symbolic of growth and rebirth.

Have a listen to XTC’s  Green Man and watch the Green Man images that accompany the song – he’s more prevalent in mythology, design arts, and architecture than you might think.

Purple

King George VI

King George VI in his royal purple robes

The first time the name Purple appears in surviving registers, it is written as Purpoyle, with William Purpoyle as a witness at St. Giles Cripplegate on October 22, 1597. It originates in Norfolk but the meaning is unclear.

Research suggests that the name Purple could have been given to someone with an aristocratic air, or could be theatrical. Surname Database says that Purple could have been a name given to an actor who played parts associated with the small group of people who might have worn purple: a high noble or clergy. Another suggestion is that Purple was an ironic Medieval nickname for someone who was the opposite of a noble.

Purple dye dates back to about 1900 B.C. and was wildly expensive. Tyrian Purple, the colour mentioned in ancient texts, was painstakingly derived from the mucous of the hypobranchial gland of ocean mollusks (often, snails).  ”It took some 12,000 shellfish to extract 1.5 grams of the pure dye – barely enough for dying a single garment the size of the Roman toga. It’s no wonder then, that this color was used primarily for garments of the emperors or privileged individuals”, says Color Matters.

Onomatology is the study of last name formations and naming practices, and the research into it has been fascinating for this colour surname series. From Greek mythology (Blue) to Dutch royalty (Orange), and from robed monks (Brown) to pagan lore (Green), colour surnames have played an important role in European history.

Reservoir Dogs and colour surnames, part one

18 Feb

Reservioir Dogs

As someone who is very aware of colour and thinks about it a lot, I was struck with a couple of men I recently met whose surnames caught my attention. Mr. Brown and Mr. Gray made me stop to think and I began to wonder about their last names and the concept of colour surnames. This led me to memories of Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 blockbuster film, Reservoir Dogs. Before discussing the movie, let’s find out about European last names and how they came about.

According to the BBC, surnames come from many sources, and prior to the 11th Century in Britain, people were known by single personal names or nicknames. Over time as the population increased, people needed further identifiers, so names like William the short, Henry from Sutton, Edward the butcher,  John son of Richard, or Roger of the wood were adopted, which made trades, nicknames, locations and places of origin, and father’s names the beginnings of surnames.  Last names also became necessary when taxation was introduced to England in the form of Poll Tax.

Colour surnames have a rich and interesting history, but for Tarantino, his Reservoir Dogs characters took the colour surname idea from a 1974 heist movie called, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. In this film, Mr. Blue, Mr. Grey, Mr. Green, and Mr. Brown, take a subway train full of riders hostage in exchange for what was then a large amount of money. Reservoir Dogs featured six characters with colour name aliases: Mr. Blond (played by Michael Masden), Mr. Blue (played by Edward Bunker), Mr. Brown (played by Tarantino), Mr. Orange (played by Tim Roth), Mr. Pink (played by Steve Buscemi), and Mr. White (played by Harvey Keitel). Little did Tarantino know how deep the roots of his character’s colour surnames went.

Mr. Blond/Gold

Ancient gold Anglo-Saxon coin

Ancient gold Anglo-Saxon coin

Our first Reservoir Dog, Mr. Blond, poses something of a problem, since blond isn’t a recognized as a proper colour. Blond is hair colour, but surprisingly, Blond is also a surname. The Blonds, now more well-known as the Blouts or the Blunts, can trace their heritage to the Normans. Sir Robert de Blount and his brother, Sir William de Blount assisted the Duke of Normandy to conquer the Saxons at Hastings in 1066.

According to Ancestry.ca, the name derives from a Jewish nickname for a fair-haired person, which influenced by the German and Yiddish, and there is a French influence: blund from the Old French.  The name was probably given to someone with blond hair.

The equivalent of Blond as a surname on the colour spectrum would be Gold, an Anglo-Saxon family from Suffolk, eastern England, where the family held a seat since early times. Like Blond, the name Gold has English, German, and Yiddish roots. In this case, the name may have been associated with someone’s trade like a goldsmith, or perhaps given to someone with golden hair. Another source suggests that Gold comes from the Old English pre-7th Century Golda (masculine) or Golde (feminine), given to people with bright golden hair.

Mr. Blue

Glaukos Pontios

Blue has origins in ancient Greek mythology. This is Glaukos Pontios, Blue One of the Sea.

The story of the Blue Man reaches back into Greek mythology: Glaukos, a fisherman, was transformed into a sea-god after eating a magical herb. His skin was glossy blue, his face long and grey with curly green hair and a beard; small eyes, flat nose, and large mouth, long arms and fish tails.  The Blue Man, known to the Scots as Gille Gorm (Blue Lad – gorm means blue in Scottish Gaelic) may derive from Mac Gille Ghuirm, “son of the blue lad”.

In the 14th Century in Kintail, a mountainous area of the northwest highlands of Scotland, Kerling, the daughter of Hugh Fraser, the Laird (estate owner) of Lovat, desired a lover. She sang a song to the Blue Man, who walked out of the waves to her. The lovers conceived a child, and it was from this union that the surname Blue originates.  In fact, Glaukos is said to have spawned a race of Glaukidai or Hoi Glaukoi (the Blue Men) who live in underwater caves. Their numbers are largest in the waters around Scotland, where Glaukos went after leaving the Mediterranean. Today, some clan members believe the blood of the Blue Man flows through their veins.

The ancient Scottish kingdom of Dalriada is thought to be the home of the Blue family and the name is first found on the isle of Arran, where a family seat was held since ancient times.

Mr. Brown

The name Brown may have derived from someone who wore brown a lot, like a monk.

The name Brown may have derived from someone who wore brown a lot, like a monk.

The Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames… cites Brun, likely the root of Brown, as a personal name in the 1085 Doomsday book (the Doomsday book is England’s first public record, ordered by King William I). Brun is found in German, Middle English, and Old English; Bruni is from the Old Norse. The name was probably ”a nationalistic or tribal nickname for a person with a brown complexion or hair, although it may have also referred to someone who habitually wore brown clothing, such as a monk or a cleric” (source).

Irish Browns originate from 12th Century Normandy, and western Irish Browns are said to descend from a knight named Hugo le Brun. These Browns formed one of the old merchant Tribes of Galway, but in this instance, the spelling is Browne; Brown is first seen in Northumberland in the north of England in 1169.

Mr. Orange

house of Orange

Dutch House of Orange flag.

If you’ve ever noticed an unusual amount of people wearing orange the same day, chances are, the Dutch football team has a match on. Orange has always been and will always be associated with Holland, and that’s because it is the colour of Dutch royal family, who owned land in Orange, southern France.  The royal family became politically associated with the House of Orange.

The surname Orange was first introduced into England by one of the followers of William, Duke of Normandy, in 1066. This William became the Protestant King, William de Orange (not to be confused with William of Orange, King of England in the 17th Century). In the UK, Orange family roots are in Buckinghamshire, England.

Mr. Pink

pink hammer 9th century

Pink may have originated from the sound of a hammer hitting a nail in the 7th century.

Surname Pink, and its derivatives, Pinch, Pinck, Pincke, Pinks, Penk, and Penke, are English names from the Medieval period, derived from the pre-7th Century Old English word, pinca. This is a nickname surname that is said to have been given to a ”bright, chirpy person, thought to be as active and cheerful as a chaffinch” (source). Another theory is that Pink was a nickname for a small person, or a diminutive of the Sorbian (Slavic) word, pien, meaning log or tree stump, suggesting a short or stout person. Pink may also be a variant spelling for a blacksmith, ”an onomatopoeic word imitating the sound of hammering which was perceived as pink(e) pank.”

The surname Pink was first recorded in Yorkshire, where the Pink family was listed in pipe rolls (financial records of the 12th Century by the English treasury) in 1176.

Mr. White

WAS

The name White may have been used to describe an Anglo-Saxon with white hair.

White is a common name in the UK, derived from the Middle English Whit.  The origin of the name is thought of as way to describe an early family member who had white hair or a very pale complexion, common among the Anglo-Saxon and Nordic peoples of early Britain. Another possible origin of White is the White-smith, or an early form of tinsmith.

The earliest record of the name White in Scotland is Uuiaett Hwite in the late 11th Century, predating the Norman invasion.

And that is the story of Tarantino’s colour surnamed characters. Four more colour surnames with equally rich histories will be discussed in the next post: Black, Grey, Green, and Purple.