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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.

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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?

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.

 

 

Bitch slap: How do you handle conflict?

15 Oct

Good advice from the archives…

Today’s post is born of a real personal experience I had at a friend’s 50th birthday party. It got me thinking about humans, human emotion, and human behaviour.

During Christmas week, I attended a long, lovely Christmas choral concert with a friend. We left feeling uplifted and calm, and walked through the cool, humid night to the condo building where the party was happening.

The party room was large with pockets of people scattered everywhere. I really only knew the birthday boy and his husband, so my friend and I hung around the bar, vainly attempting to catch up to the rest of the party-goers who had a few hours of celebratory drinking on us already.

I found myself next to a very handsome man who I noticed earlier. He was on his own at the time but I had already seen him with his girlfriend and knew that he was not available. Hands off. No problem. We struck up a conversation and chatted for a while until his girlfriend, quite drunk, appeared out of nowhere.

In uncoordinated drunken aggression at the sight of her boyfriend talking to another woman, she lashed out – the palm of her hand connected with my cheek but she wasn’t able to deliver the stinging slap she intended, instead  pushing my face off to the left. I wasn’t hurt but  I was shocked, and so was her fella.

“What is this?!” she wailed.

The boyfriend and I, stunned, looked at each other in gaping confusion. Within seconds, I moved away from them, he hauled her out, and the party resumed. It was surreal.

Conflict management

I shared a radio interview with communications expert, Ric Phillips, of 3V Communications last year and I met with him this week. I always like talking to Ric because his background in social psychology and coaching gives him an interesting perspective.

During our visit, I told him about the intended bitch slap. We discussed what my options could have been, and Ric said that when conflict arises, there are really only four possible choices:

1.  Do nothing – maintain silence and do not react;
2.  Escape the scene or person(s) to avoid further conflict;
3. Change your attitude because you have a minimal chance of changing theirs;
4. Change your behaviour (see #3).
Note that retaliation is not a suggestion in Ric’s list of conflict management options. I responded with a combination of 1 and 2 for a couple of reasons: one of my friends said that he would have hit back, but I believe that violence begets violence and I would never strike anyone, so there’s that, but also, the woman was intoxicated and this made her emotional response a little more uh, “lively”, and I chalked it up to that. That, plus the understanding that the underlying insecurity issues that the booze brought to life have probably been there for a while and are the root of the outburst.
Jealousy

Psychology Today describes jealousy as

…encompassing feelings from fear of abandonment to rage to humiliation. It strikes both men and women when they perceive a third-party threat to a valued relationship… Conventional wisdom holds that jealousy is a necessary emotion because it preserves social bonds, but it more often destroys them. And it can give rise to relationship violence.

Ric says, “Jealousy is directly linked to a lack of self-confidence,” and of course, he’s correct. Confident people don’t fret over whether their mates are being faithful or not because they trust their partner and their partner trusts them. People in unstable relationships would not feel confident due to the instability of the partnership that co-exists with that person’s lacking self-esteem.

Jealousy is a one-sided, ego-based reaction that begins in self-doubt and can eat away at any of us and sabotage our relationships (if we’re the jealous type, that is – I do not believe that all people are). I feel that the woman in question reacted not to me personally, but to me as a threatening figure to her relationship, and she violently protested. If she were not the jealous type and presumably more comfortable with herself and her relationship, she might have come over, introduced herself, chatted with me a bit to get the sense of who I am, and looked clearly into my eyes to see that I wasn’t out to pick up her boyfriend at all, just making conversation with him. Unfortunately, she made a different choice.

Dramatic jealous scenes can wreak havoc. If you’re the type to get jealous, Askmen.com offers five points to counter jealousy and keep it in check before we do anything we’ll regret:

1. Learn from past experiences: look at how your behavior affected past relationships and use that to help you behave better.

2. Deal with reality: focus on what is really happening, not what you perceive to be happening… Don’t let your imagination dictate the kind of person [your partner] really is.

3. Respect yourself: realize that [he/]she chose you for a reason and there is no need for her to be so easily tempted elsewhere.

4. Get a third party’s opinion: ask a friend to take note of your behavior around your [boy/]girlfriend. It may help you to fully understand the extent of your actions (as well as [theirs]) by getting a neutral party’s perspective.

5.  Set some rules early on: try establishing some general guidelines as to what is and isn’t acceptable for you [and your mate].

Empathy

Of course the news of the slap went on Facebook the next day. A friend called me when she heard about it explained that she had a couple of really good-looking boyfriends in her life, and these relationships were difficult – not because of the men in question, but the women who reacted to them. She said that when they were out at bars, women would step in front of her to engage the boyfriend, and other women actually gave the boyfriend their phone numbers right in front of her. How terrible that must have been for my friend!

I don’t know who the woman was who assaulted me but seeing as though her boyfriend was so drop-dead handsome, she may have experienced other women behaving in less-than-respectful ways too, and when I think about the situation this way, I feel empathy toward her (and him –  I can’t help but wonder how this made her boyfriend feel and how the outburst affected their relationship).

“I try my best to empathize with the other person or people, and I give them permission to be a flawed human, just like me. Through empathy I connect with them and calmly work at resolving the issue, one way or another,” Ric says.

“Empathy is the key to communication. We must try to listen, read body language and see the issue from the other person’s perspective. We do not need to fight, or run away, or apologize, or get riled up with defensiveness. We instead should practice self-control and empathy first.”

Empathy is putting ourselves in another person’s shoes in an attempt to understand where they might be coming from and why they react to situations the way they do. She reacted to me the way she did for reasons only she could (or perhaps could not) understand – I don’t know who she is or what she’s been through and I don’t know what it’s like to date a gorgeous younger man, but it mustn’t be easy. In fact, it probably sucks, or she wouldn’t have tried to maim me. I imagine that a lot of energy is wasted fighting to maintain her status as the woman with the handsome beau, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

I think it would be great if this woman gets to the point of accepting and appreciating herself for who she is so she won’t have to get aggressive when she perceives that someone is out to get what she’s got – i.e. changing her attitude, as Ric suggests – changing her attitude about herself.

A change in attitude will bring better relationships with others and with the self, strengthen personal confidence, and ultimately, it will save someone the shock of being on the receiving end of a bitch slap.

Clothing, costume, identity, and lack thereof

19 Mar

Clothing is a wonderful thing. Clothing is a wonderful palette with many options to play with like colour, garment cut, and guardfabric texture. One of my favourite things to do is get dressed and express myself through my clothing. For me, clothing and dressing is a joy.

Clothing is also heavy with significance and symbolism. Sure, we might need clothing to protect us, but as humans, we love to add meaning to things that have no meaning, and so the costume – and the identity wrapped within it, is born.

In The Language of Clothes, Alison Lurie states that through time, humans have silently communicated with one another through the language of their garb: “Long before I am near enough to talk to you on the street, in a meeting, or at a party, you announce your sex, age, and class to me through what you are wearing [including how you style your hair, decorate your body, and accessorize] – and very possibly give me important information (or misinformation) as to your occupation, origin, personality, opinions, tastes, sexual desires, and current mood.” (AKA the unspoken messages of our visual image.)

If clothing is the thing, costume is the meaning of the thing.

According to Francois Boucher in 20,000 Years of Fashion, “clothing has to do with covering one’s body, and costume with the choice of a particular form of garment for a particular use.” Clothing is more of a survival tactic and relies on textile manufacture and the technology of the time period; it is utilitarian, protective, and worn out of necessity.

Clothing protects us from the elements and from injury, and without it, humanity would not have flourished – nude humans could not survive cold climates we would probably all live close to the equator. Without clothing, playing sports would be suicide sans protective cups and shin guards. There is a good chance that we all may live in grass huts for want of steel-toed boots that protect our construction workers during the building process.

Costume, on the other hand, “reflects social factors such as religious beliefs, magic, aesthetics, personal status, the wish to be distinguished from or to emulate one’s fellows,” Boucher says, adding that “costume helps inspire fear or impose authority” – think warrior’s face paint and horned helmets to scare the opposing side in battle.

“In later times,” he continues, “professional or administrative costume has been devised to distinguish the wearer and to express personal or delegated authority” – think lawyer’s robes, a police uniform, a  business suit, or a surgeon’s scrubs.

We rely on visual cues to tell us who (we think) people are and illustrate who we are as individuals, but if those cues are taken away, what are we left with?

Uniforms: the removal of individuality

People looking uniform in their uniforms may be pleasing to the eye, but Lurie says that no matter what sort of uniform is worn, “military, civil or religious; the outfit of a general, a postman, a nun, a butler, a football player or a waitress – to put on such livery is to give up one’s right to act as an individual.”

Let’s take the military as our example. The military strips people of their identity by removing the visual cues that make them up, shaving their heads, and dressing them in identical costumes, to turn them into unquestioning, order-following soldiers. In the military, there are no individuals, only teams of soldiers in crew cuts.

The first thing to go when one enters the military is the hair. Hair, Sampson’s strength and our crowning glory, has a lot of ego and identity wrapped up into it, and it is the first sacrifice of obedience and submission to the armed forces. We are very attached to our hair, and I expect that having one’s head shaved must reduce the sense of self to some degree, though a soldier must feel solace being in the company of others who look just like he does.

Have a look at Elvis Presley preparing for the army – he seems to take it in stride, but then again, no one can deny his identity – he’s Elvis.

Next, your clothing is taken away and replaced with a uniform, identical to the rest in your company. No more cues as to who you are or what you stand for as an individual – you are now in a system that wants you to focus your whole being on your job. Military people do everything together, they live together, eat together, and train together. It seems that the military turns individuals into multi-person machines set on particular orders. Indeed, Lurie writes that the “uniform acts as a sign that we need not and should not treat someone as a human being, and that they need not and should not treat us as one.”

Ooh! I don’t like that much. I know that wearing a uniform is right for some people, but that doesn’t mean that I understand it. I’m very supportive of exploring one’s own identity and individuality – we are all different from each other and anyone who has or will be, so I’m not sure what drives people to sign away their individuality and look like everyone else.

Strip search

Our clothing gives us a sense of modest security and shields our vulnerability; there is confidence in clothing. But what happens when our clothing is forcibly removed? CBC’s The Current reported about strip searches this week, stating the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2001 decision prohibiting strip searches as a routine police practise, and allowing these searches only out of clear necessity or in emergency situations, with the permission of a supervisor, and performed by same-sex officers.

David Tanovich, the lawyer representing Ian Golden, a black man who was striped searched in a downtown Toronto restaurant in 2001, states that strip search practises by Toronto police are a “highly intrusive method of police intimidation.” The African-Canadian legal clinic got involved in the case, identifying Golden’s treatment as a “public lynching”.

Earlier that year, 69 year old Rosie Schwartz attended a peaceful protest in Toronto and was arrested and strip searched by Toronto police after she was told she was trespassing. She describes the strip search experience as a traumatic and demeaning assault, and says “I felt like nothing.” She sued the police in small claims court for unlawful arrest and illegal search and won.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, strip searches are still performed and have come into the spotlight again with the recent trial of the 2008 strip search of Stacy Bonds by Ottawa police. Ms Bonds, arrested without reason, was not only roughed up by four Ottawa police, but her shirt and bra were cut off with scissors by the officers. Bonds described her treatment by police as “verbal and mental rape”. The Ottawa Citizen reports that the case against Bonds was halted by the judge who found the Ottawa police’s arrest of Bonds unlawful and called her subsequent treatment in the cells and the strip search a “travesty” and an “indignity.”

*                              *                                *                              *                                  *

What we wear protects us, keeps our modesty in check, enhances or diminishes body features, operates as our billboard, and is a part of who we are. When it is removed and replaced with a uniform, we become a different person, and when it is removed by force, it can be horribly traumatic and humiliating.

Without clothing, we are physically and emotionally unprotected. Without the identity cues of costume, we have little opportunity to visually express ourselves and show who we are. Without clothing and the meanings we associate with clothing, who would you be?

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.

 

April showers, rubber boots, and the environment

3 Apr

New season and new footwear required–from the archives!

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…

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Why you should avoid hot showers

13 Dec

showerGreetings from a very chilly living space in Toronto! This week has been quite cold – today is minus 10 with a minus 19 degree wind chill, and because we’re right next to a Great Lake, the cold blowing off the water is bone-chilling (though nothing compared to what’s happening in SK, where it’s -31 in Regina today).

My first thought when I walk in is to get the chill out of my bones, and how do I do that? Like a lot of you, I think about having a hot shower. Then I stop and grab another sweater because I know that though hot water may feel good at the time, ultimately, it’s not a good idea.

Hot water does some nasty things to our skin – dries it out, makes it tight, and strips the natural oils from skin, leaving a dry and itchy feeling. If you use commercial soaps that are heavy with synthetic fragrances and colours, this will further rob your skin of its natural oils and keep the skin dry and tight.

Discovery’s Fit and Health offers an excellent information on avoiding hot water in winter, explaining that the heat from a hot shower makes the skin’s oils soften, and when soap is added, the skin’s oil barrier is easily stripped away (at first, this isn’t a bad thing, they say, because that same oil barrier traps dirt and sweat, which leads to body odour). But without those oils, “the moisture in your skin easily escapes, leading to dry and itchy skin. The longer and hotter the shower, the faster this process takes place and the more moisture you’re likely to lose.”

That’s when the discomfort begins – not only is there a lot less moisture in the air in winter, keeping your skin significantly dried out, hot showers make the skin hot, tight, itchy, and if you’re cursed with sensitive skin like me, you’ll step out of the bath covered in red splotches that take hours to calm down.

Cool off!

The Art of Manliness recommends to take a “James Bond shower” – the book version of James Bond explains that every time JB took a shower, he would start with hot water, and then turn it down to cold for the last few minutes. Apparently invigorating with many health benefits, bathing in cold water has been the norm for centuries. The site lists ways in which cold water improves circulation, relieves depression, makes for healthy skin and hair (I notice that when I turn the warm water down and rinse my hair in cool water, it is much shinier), strengthens immunity, and boosts testosterone!

Moisturize!

Dr. Mathew Avram, director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Dermatology, Laser, and Cosmetic Center, talked winter skin care with Boston Magazine, saying that lukewarm showers or baths are best for winter bathing. He recommends that after bathing, “wipe off the excess water on your skin, and then immediately moisturize. Your skin will absorb the moisture better that way.”

For those of you who think, pfft! real men don’t moisturize!, I would like to remind you that your skin is an organ, in fact, the largest organ of your body, so why wouldn’t you take care of it? Moisturized skin feels better, looks better, does not crack, and will not bleed from cracks!

Exfoliate!

On top of moisturizing, exfoliating is a fantastic idea at least once a week to slough off the top layer of dead skin cells that keeps moisture out. Dry skin is one of the worst feelings in the world for me, so I like to use exfoliating gloves (available at the Body Shop, drug stores, or alternative health stores) in the shower. Pull them on, soap them up, then wash your entire body with these scrubbing mitts that leave a soft layer of fresh skin. Apply a natural moisturizer like shea or cocoa butter afterwards to feel smooth and comfortable. Yum!

More winter skin care tips here.

Testosterone spikes this season

26 Sep

From the archives, a word about testosterone. ‘Tis the season.

In the Key of He

Ah, the autumn! Crisp air, glorious colours,  the delicious harvest, and look out – the peak of your annual testosterone levels.

More than any other season, the fall seems to have the most birthdays, doesn’t it? A September-born friend of mine jokes about being a “Christmas Party Baby”, but it turns out that there is more to it than a slap, tickle, and one too many cups of holiday cheer.

“Testosterone levels and sperm counts are highest in late fall and early winter… the peak times for human births in the Northern Hemisphere is around August or September – 9 months after the high testosterone levels of the preceeding fall.” (Heroes, Rogues, and Lovers: Testosterone and Behavior).

According to Jed Diamond in The Irritable Male Syndrome,  testosterone levels cycle throughout the year: “Studies conducted in the US, France, Australia found that men secrete their highest levels of…

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