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Velvet

29 Aug
16th C Italian velvet

16th Century Italian velvet

With lots of clothing choices for this fall, gents, you’ll be happy to see cloth coats in interesting fabrics for sale, among them, velvet, a textile that has influenced world economics and differentiated social classes.

Velvet, a term that comes from the Latin “vellus” – fleece or tufted hair, can be woven from many textiles, but the first was made of silk. “It is now a general belief [that silk velvet] arrived in Italy for the first time from the Far East, transported by Arab merchants, and was then spread throughout Europe… by the merchants from Lucca, Venice, Florence, and Genoa.” (Source)

Wool and linen were the most common fabrics in Europe but the introduction of silk and other fancy stuffs gave more variety to clothing. During the Middle Ages, men’s clothing was fairly uniform across society, but what divided the classes was fabric. Velvet was such a special textile that sometimes the number of velvet garments was limited and regulated by state and church laws. Silk  velvet created enormous fortunes for bankers and merchants of Italian city states, it clothed armies, and drove a wedge between classes. 

“The enormous Italian output of satins, velvets, taffetas and other silk textiles satisfied the taste for luxury in costume of a considerable class, composed at first of patrician and feudal noble society, then all for the wealthy throughout Europe,” wrote Francois Boucher in 20,000 Years of Fashion.

Velvet Usage

Velvet may not hold paint well, but that didn’t stop artists to paint Elvis on starting in the 70s.

Velvet has been worn for centuries by royalty and the nobility, by operatic stars in Verdi and Rossini works, it is the curtain that has risen in every theatre,  it has adorned modern artists like Liberace and even Rod Stewart who said, “Carrying 200 pounds of velvet and satin around a stage for 90 minutes – that’s man’s work, let me tell you.” Velvet can be made into home furnishings like pillows, drapes, upholstery, and rugs, and velvet has even been used as a painting surface.

Velvet became more common place with textile technologies to be consumed by people of good taste in all economic groups. Original velvets were made of silk, but velvet can be made of virtually any textile, including synthetics. Probably the most common velvet found today is cotton, including all of the wonderful velvet jackets available this fall for men.

Velvet Care

If you already own velvet or if you plan to purchase a velvet garment, think of velvet as the suede of textiles – it is something of a challenge to clean and maintain, so handle it gently.

Velvet is velvet not because of its content, but because of its weave. Velvet is considered a pile weave, similar to corduroys or velveteens, and even the terry cloth that your bath towels are made of. All of these fabrics have looped threads – your towel’s threads are uncut loops, but the pile fabrics like velvet are cut.

There are lots of fancy velvets like Cisele velvet, a fabric woven with cut and uncut loops that form a pattern, Faconne  has velvet patterns woven into a flat base, and Panne is a pressed velvet. Plush velvet, used in upholstery, won’t crush as easily under our weight, but velvet typically used for modern clothing is going to be a soft cotton velvet with longer cut loops (known as “transparent” velvet).

Though velvet is a rich, gorgeous fabric, it should be worn with care. In the modern era, we don’t have the luxury of lolling about on thrones and court couches in our velvets, so we generally wear velvet in the evening when there is less wear and tear. The longer the cut loops, the more susceptible the velvet is to crushing – this is the danger of wearing velvet and why it is usually worn at night when things like heavy laptop cases aren’t slung over the shoulder to ruin the shoulder of your jacket – it is very difficult to raise the pile of the velvet once it has been flattened. More expensive velvets will have crush-proof finishes added to them, but generally, the pieces you find in stores will not be made of a high-end finished fabric, so wear with care.

The best way to care for velvet is to not put any pressure on it, but if it has been crushed, there are a couple of ways to try to resurrect the pile (but there are no guarantees):

  • Hang in a steamy bathroom and brush pile with a soft brush (a soft toothbrush may work if you don’t lean into it – brush lightly to raise the pile);
  • For small areas, lay the fabric face down over the bristles of a clean, flat hairbrush or an unused shoe brush and steam (the trick is to keep the pile “suspended” and not pressing into any surface);
  • Lastly, remember that velvet is dry clean only.

Now that I’ve put the fear into you, wear your velvets in high style but keep a bubble of air around you so as not to damage your pile! 

Oh, grow up

1 Aug

boy-wearing-dads-clothesAll, or at least most of us at one point in our life, cross the threshold and enter the House of Adulthood where things are a little quieter and little more refined; when we care more about quality than quantity, and where substance is just as important as style.

It’s a strange time, realizing you’ve outgrown your high volume,  fast cars, and tight trousers. My friend Chris posted a Facebook rant about a place he used to frequent and revisited as an adult: “It used to be a great restaurant. Now its like a god damn club. Super loud crappy music, yelling at bartenders for drinks and young skanks getting picked up by greasy steroid bulked dudes. Terrible, just terrible.”

I suppose that being conscious of moving into the Adult House is quite different than just complaining about things being different that what you’re used to. It is the very act of being aware of our adulthood that enables us to embrace it and own it.

Several men have come to me recently, saying they want to look more grown up; they want to stop dressing like brats, ditch the devil-may-care attitude towards their dress, and embrace their adulthood. (It’s a wonderful gift to be asked to help a guy come of sartorial age.)

Take my friend, Patrick, for example. I saw him last week and he excitedly told me about a jacket that he purchased in Montreal. He thought it would help him look more grown up.

“I’m sick of wearing track pants and hoodies,” he said, “I want to look more mature, more my age. I’m coming up to 35, you know.”

He brought out the natural linen jacket with wooden buttons, explaining that he really liked the jacket and got it on sale, but the sleeves were too short and he wasn’t sure how to wear it.

That he chose a linen sports jacket is unto itself a step toward adulthood – as opposed to stretchy, sporty, youthful fabrics, linen is sturdy and sensible, and even a lightly structured linen jacket gives a squared off shoulder and visual maturity. So there’s that.

Normally, wearing a jacket with too-short sleeves is a sartorial sin and looks visually immature, but there were elements working in Patrick’s favour that helped get him around it (one must be practical in times of seasonal sales!). Though the sleeves are not lined and the seams show on the underside, the jacket did have working surgeon’s cuffs (buttons and buttonholes to open the cuff). To hide the too-short sleeve and add a bit of style to the jacket, I opened the cuffs, folded them back, and pushed them up a little – instant fix.

Patrick wore a t-shirt under the jacket, making it fun (we were going to a party), but he could also have worn a collared shirt and folded the cuffs over the jacket cuffs to cover the seams, add some colour, and give a little more visual refinement.

Details can also speak of maturity: after placing a wonderful folded pocket square (peaks up) in the breast pocket, Patrick decided to lose the brightly-coloured pin stuck in the buttonhole. I couldn’t have agreed more – the handkerchief set off the jacket and spoke of refinement, while the fun pin seemed at odds with the toned-down jacket.

So a simple but versatile linen sports jacket ushered Patrick into the House of Adulthood, and he’s eager to settle in. He’s a guy with a good attitude toward aging, and looks forward to see how he matures so he can reinvent himself, change his closets, and get comfortable in his new digs.

Movember Mustache: The Billy Dee Williams

1 Nov

One of the coolest brothers of all time: Billy Dee Williams.

Welcome to Movember! This year, we’re doing a famous mustache series. To start off the month, Billy Dee Williams, American actor.

You might remember Billy Dee from such roles as Lando Calrissian from Star Wars films, portraying Louis McKay, Billie Holiday’s husband in Lady Sings the Blues, or maybe even from ads for Colt 45 malt liquor beer, but Billy Dee’s career goes all the way back to 1959 (The Last Angry Man), and his career is astonishing. For his talent and his good looks, he was named “the black Clark Gable”.

Billy Dee is known for his signature mustache, smooth hair, and sex appeal. In an 1981 interview with Ebony magazine, he talks about love-making as his ultimate expression:

Ebony: A lot of women …consider you as the epitome of what a man is supposed to be, and most assume that you are a terrific lover. Are you really as good in bed as they think you are?

Williams: Yes! Definitely! I’m even better than that!

Billy Dee is a confident man in a mustache, but his mustache isn’t striking because of the shape – it’s the split down the middle that makes it distinctive. He also keeps his facial hair neat and groomed – a must if a man wears facial hair!

TIP – regular use of a facial exfoliator is a must for black men whose whiskers grow curly – kinky whiskers can grow back into the skin which can develop into ingrown hairs.

Want to know more about Billy Dee? Here’s a great post written in honor of his 75th birthday.

Next Movember Mustache post: a forbidden iconic mustache – can you guess who immortalized it?

Black history month: Motown

9 Feb

It’s February, the month where we celebrate the lives and times of African-Americans that have changed the historical landscape. During February, In the Key of He will recognize some of the greatest and most stylish black musicians of the modern era.

This week, we look at  Motown soul artists of the 60s.

The Isley Brothers

The early 60s in the U.S. were about the uniformity and conformity that carried over from the 50s when the country was rebuilding after WWII. This period shaped the modern social world; it was a time of questioning that generated enormous social change, an era of movements that took shape and demanded equal rights for all. During that time, the United States was steeped in racial segregation. Berry Gordy, a young musical entrepreneur from Detroit “worked to create a sound and image that would appeal to all and encourage integration.” (Mus Ecology)

Arriving at the height of the civil rights movement, Motown was a black-owned, black-centered business that gave white America something they just could not get enough of — joyous, sad, romantic, mad, groovin’, movin’ music.

Time

My favourite music of all is soul music. Soul is a deep down groove that makes me move; it’s very happy, fun, and uplifting (I defy the pharma companies and suggest a daily dose of soul instead of Prozac!). I like to watch old clips of the Motown groups to see the sharp, skinny shapes of the period in glorious colour moving to tight, groovy choreography.

Take the Isley Brothers for example – a goofy looking bunch of guys from Cincinnati who produced some of the best soul of the 60s. In the early days, Kelly, Rudy, and Ronnie wore the flashy, colourful matching suits very common to this period, and sang deeply impassioned songs (their roots are in gospel choirs). The Isleys are delightful to watch because they look like they’re having so much fun! Check it out.

Trivia: The Isley Brothers recorded Twist & Shout (1962) before the Beatles did (1963).

The Miracles

The Miracles were another of the wonderful uniformed 60s groups that wove choreography into their harmonies and came out with countless hits for the Motown label.

The Miracles original line up consisted of Smokey Robinson, Ronald White, Pete Moore, Bobby Rogers, and one woman – how many of you knew this? Claudette Rogers was actually Smokey Robinson’s wife until they split in the mid-80s. Claudette performed with the Miracles between 1957 and 1964, though she continued to record with them until the early 70s. According to the Classic Motown site, Claudette was the inspiration for Robinson’s “My Girl”, made famous by The Temptations, and Berry Gordy named Claudette the “First Lady of Motown”.

Among the research I looked at for this post, I came across the story about how William “Smokey” Robinson got his nick name: “When he was 6 or 7, his Uncle Claude christened him “Smokey Joe,” which the young William, a Western-movie enthusiast, at first assumed to be “his cowboy name for me.” Some time later, he learned the deeper significance of his nickname: It derived from smokey, a pejorative term for dark-skinned blacks. “I’m doing this,” his uncle told light-skinned boy, “so you won’t ever forget that you’re black.” (Entertainment Weekly)

Smokey was a prolific songwriter, penning more songs for the Temptations (“The Way You Do The Things You Do”, for example), and a few for Marvin Gaye, ultimately helping to shape the Motown sound. Sweet Smokey has been an enormous inspiration and influence to Motown Records as a song writer, recording artist, and vice-president of Motown Records.

The Temptations

The Temptations, one of the best acts to record on the Motown label are absolutely sensational – look at the gorgeous uniformity of these fabulous skinny teal suits with white trim – they look fantastic! Their choreography added to their cool, highly polished act – Motown’s true gentlemen entertainers.

The Temptations line up changed a lot over the years but consistently produced excellent music for the Motown label. Some Tempations singers “spun off” into successful solo careers. David Ruffin, for example, went on to a record some great songs like “My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)”.  Martha Reeves of Vandellas fame said “Nobody could sing like David Ruffin,” and Marvin Gaye greatly admired him: “[listening to David Ruffin] made me remember that when a lot of women listen to music, they want to feel the power of a real man.” David Ruffin is the bespectacled Temptation who I think made heavy-rimmed eye glasses cool – real men wear specs!

All of the men in these Motown groups wore neat suits, showed a little cuff under their jacket sleeves (with cuff links of course), and punctuated their jackets with colourful pocket squares, sending a message of stylish respect for themselves and their audience.

Another cool thing about these groups is that they wore colour. This was a decade of enormous change on every front and society was in the process of morphing into something that had never been before and as usual, design reflected these changes. Though still restricted to the uniform look of suits in the early 60s, musical groups of the period exploded in brilliant colour. (I’m reading Keith Richard’s autobiography and he says the Rolling Stones are responsible for musical groups ditching the pretty-boy matching suit schtick – more on that next week.) Today, everyone is in black or some other minimal colour like grey. I suppose that’s its own uniform – what a sad comment about modern humanity!

The Motown groups of the 60s bridged the social divide between black and white, bringing everyone together with solid grooves, gorgeous harmonies, and wonderful visuals. I’m going to leave you with a short video of the Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” (David Ruffin on lead vocal). Like all of the Motown brothers, The Temptations are neat, sharp, and detailed – note the pocket squares, oh, and dig the fantastic yellow suits and kooky shirt collars – outta sight!

Unconscious behavior: using iPods

26 Jan

I’ve written a couple of times about unconscious behaviour – actions done without thinking, especially without thinking about how our actions will affect other people – and I’d like to offer a tip for those who use iPods or other portable music systems.

Be aware - ear buds easily leak sound.

If you’re like me and you take public transit, you’ll know how irritating it can be when someone nearby is listening to music at a high volume through headphones that leak sound (ear buds, especially). An example to illustrate: one time not long ago, I was riding a bus. A guy sat down beside me wearing old-style over-the-head headphones with speakers that sat outside his ears, BLARING what sounded like 80s metal. I asked him to please turn down the volume. Instead of turning it down, he got up, moved to a seat a couple of rows behind me and turned it up, an action equivalent to giving me the finger, I figured. (As you may guess, I did not take too kindly to that.)

Honestly, I like loud music as much as the next person (really, it’s true)  but I’m very aware of how the sound escaping from my ear buds can irritate people around me. Because I’m aware of this, I turn down the volume when I’m in closed public spaces so that I don’t annoy anyone who might be trying to concentrate on a book or a newspaper, or someone just chilling in the quiet.

If this means anything to you, and I hope it does, here is a trick that I devised to check how loud my headphones are to other people:

Keeping the volume at the same level it would be if you were outside, take the headphones out and hold the little speakers in your fists (don’t squeeze too tight – we’re only trying to emulate buds that sit in your ears). Hold your arms out away from you – this is what everyone around you can hear. How loud is it? What do you think of this idea?

Remember that the music you’re playing on your portable device is for you and only you, so please do us all a favour and turn down the volume while you’re in an enclosed public space, then when you’re back outside, turn it back up and keep on grooving – an easy action that makes the world a better place for us all – thank you!

For 2012

29 Dec

Listen to young people.

They are closer to the truth than adults are.

 

For the love of politicians, part 2

28 Apr

Here's to finding common ground, not battle ground.

When it comes to party leaders, people tend to see them as figures who represent party ideology that may agree or disagree with them and will treat the party figure accordingly. We judge politicians very harshly according to what they stand for, for the agendas we think they carry, and the assumption that we make of them all being crooks, and non-human ones at that.

This week, I’d like to offer an alternate view, a social and neuro-biological point of view, an angle that sees Stephen Harper, Jack Layton, Michael Ignatieff, and Gilles Duceppe not only as humans, but as men, men enslaved to tightly-bound atoms that carry messages from one part of their bodies to another in the form of hormones, and also by the profound social structure that is born of seeing the world through googily testosterone goggles.

Politics as science

The Oxford English Language Dictionary (Oxford) defines politics as the art and science of government. Last week, I discussed politics as art and imagined the complexity of a political image and how important it is to a leader and the party “brand”. This week, if science is “a branch of knowledge involving the systematized observation of and experiment with phenomena”(Oxford), allow me to explain my objective observations about this beast.

Through science, we have insight into the conduct of people, in this case, male politicians, via brain structure which is influenced by testosterone. Six weeks after their conception, males are already under the heavy influence of this hormone that goes so far as to affect the formation of their brains. All humans have lots of testosterone in their bodies, but for those of you with the XY chromosome combination, testosterone has given you more brain space than females for aggression, sex, and power. But testosterone giveth and testosterone taketh away – your brain space for communication, emotional processing, and observation has been compromised and is smaller than in females. With a brain like this making decisions for the last six thousand years, it explains a whole lot about who we are as a species and what kind of world we live in.

Hierarchical Systems 

You may not have thought of this before, but any structure, system, or institution in our world has been born of the male mind. Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, categorizes the male brain as “predominantly hard-wired for systemizing… Systemizing is the drive to analyze, explore, and construct a system.” Systems that make things work like engines or paddle boats, or systems that influence ways of thinking and behaving like academia, law, or government are all very much products of the male mind.

Dr. James M. Dabbs, who spent his professional life researching the relationship between testosterone and human social behaviour says that “boys play war games and sort themselves into hierarchies. They compete to see who will be the leader, the quarterback, the top dog.” In the political system, it’s the Prime Minister at the top of the heap  (but in a different system could be the king or the admiral or the manager), in control and lapping up the power of the position of authority.

To me, the hierarchical system, generated by the male brain and under the spell of a very powerful hormone, pits people against each other where one figure dominates and controls power, giving us one “winner” and one “loser” in male language. Translated through the filters of my empathetic female brain, this means “someone who reached their goal” and “someone who felt bad”. Indeed, in The Male Brain, Dr. Louann Brizendine explains that “pecking order and hierarchy matter more deeply in men than most women realize.”  You said it, sister.

 Domination

Within a hierarchical system, one person, or one group of people with the same understanding, dominate and control others – and guess why? Yes, it’s testosterone again, driving men to fight for power in some way  (arguing or arm wrestling, for example) to win dominance over other people.

If the male brain wants to dominate and have more power, it will drive a man to attempt to out-do other figures that threaten him, so there is a need to prove oneself, to be correct, and to impress oneself on other people. Dabbs says that dominant people need “panache”: “the male animal equivalent of puffing themselves up, bristling, strutting, preening, spreading their tail feathers, and controlling space to intimidate their [perceived] opponents.” Our politicians compete with loud election promises, and they argue and finger point and call each other names in the name of dominance, it seems to me.

In the case of politics, competition, aggression, and the drive to dominate turns the goings-on in the House of Commons to the equivalent of an intellectual street brawl; the boxing ring for policy geeks. Stephen, Michael, Jack, and Gilles may not physically dominate each other by being big and burly, but they are out to dominate with their minds and their points, just like the Classical Greek men did, sans toga this time.

Extreme thinking

Testosterone likes to see in extremes and this is very evident in our society. Thinking in extremes forces wedges between people, suggesting or imposing a view that allows only one way or another to see an issue, instead of the sea of grey in between both points of view. Think about it, our culture forces a very black and white view (oh! there’s another one), specifically because the dominant culture sees through testosterone goggles and takes this way of thinking very seriously. Examples of extreme thinking:

  • right – wrong
  • whig – tory
  • guilty – innocent
  • win – lose
  • to be or not to be

In politics, the “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” way of thinking breaks into very strict ideologies that forces wedges between people with only slight differences of opinion. Though I’m applying this idea to political parties, I could just as well apply it to any other testosterone-born organization: religion, sports teams, or court rooms, where you’re a believer or a heathen, a Rider fan or a Stampeders fan, guilty or not guilty.

Somehow, seeing things this way asks for a judgement as in, one thing is good or bad (another!), and I suppose this harkens back to the hierarchy and the dominance of the testosterone-laden mind, one that yearns for the position of being “better” than someone else. This, as far as I can make out, can only breed bad behaviour.

Politics breeds bad behaviour

You have all the characteristics of a popular politician: a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner.Aristophanes, Greek comic dramatist, 424 B.C.E

Testosterone pushes for competition and the one-upmanship of competition creates unnecessary adversity as far as I’m concerned. In a political realm, bad behaviour in the form of insults, shouting, or smear tactics are used to compete with the intent to dominate. Ipolitics.ca recently reported on the recent electoral-related vandalism, from “slashed tires and harassing phone calls to sign vandalism and flyer-swapping skullduggery, citizen tacticians have taken the race into their own hands — often at the expense of their preferred party’s reputation.” It is amazing to me that within our society, people have been so profoundly influenced by testosterone that they will turn against each other merely for differences of opinion.

As per the ipolitics article, bad behaviour equates to people being “left with a bad taste in their mouths (a new Angus Reid survey shows 80 per cent of Canadians are politically “scattered between mistrust, cynicism and alienation”), despite the best efforts of most candidates to run clean campaigns.” Bad behaviour has a huge bearing on the candidate and the parties they represent, casting both in a less than palatable light. I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think Canadians are into adversity like this, and I certainly do not feel properly represented by people who use intimidation to do their job, and act in a less-than-gentlemanly manner.

Action

I see politics, in structure and operation, as the product of testosterone. However, despite the enormous links between the two, I also see irony. Testosterone is all about movement, exploration, and action, but for some reason, our politicos are not taking any. It seems that instead, they’re busy trying to out-do each other and dominate for power, just like their hormones dictate (I know it’s not the salary or the sex, drugs, or rock and roll on Parliament Hill).

Our four leaders in question, like all other males in the world, are under the chemical influence of testosterone which drives them to dominate, intimidate, and think in extremes in their support of a hierarchical structure that to my mind, breeds automatic hostility and a constant state of tension. Though I too have been conditioned to operate under such a structure, I wouldn’t want to be a male under what I observe to be a life of testosterone-laden strife (it must be exhausting!).

If we don’t like what politicians are doing or saying, remember this: men are not necessarily conscious of their behaviours and what drives them; they may simply be operating under the influence of the molecules that make up testosterone in a society that testosterone created. In other words, cut them some slack, they’re not as fully in control of themselves as we might think.

Vote

During the debates this month, the candidates stated that they wanted to work together to come to some agreement to get some things done. I think we’d all like that. And so I would like to challenge all candidates to really embrace their words and try to put differences aside to be able to come to the agreements imperative to making a country work, and look for common ground, not battle ground.

So on May 2, even if you’re a long-time party supporter, even if you can’t decide, even if you’re apathetic, just remember that, with all due respect to Ms May, who I greatly admire for having sensible estrogen and not swimming in the pool of political rhetoric, one of these men will be running our country and you have a say in which one does.

My only regret is that Steve Paikin is not in the race… 

For 2011

6 Jan

This year, I have three suggestions to make the world a better place:

1. choose to make friends instead of enemies

2. understand not argue

3. look for common ground, not battle ground

Best wishes for a successful and happy new year.