Monday, January 25, 2010

Male Corsetry: a Contemporary Introduction

In searching for new site content, two pieces of media attracted my attention on the same day. The theme of the media is not totally new, but still disputable, and is especially of interest within the realm of fashion and gender. I'm talking about male corsets, folks. My colleagues have probably stopped reading this post by now (I practically jammed its history and theories down their throats last semester) but perhaps this topic is of interest to others, specifically those who didn't even know male corsets existed.

Male corsetry is actually more of a common practice than many believe. I'm always met with shock and disbelief when the subject arises. "Men never wore corsets!" people vehemently declare. "I've never seen a male corset before, and I don't believe any exist." I first tell the non-believers to check the trunks of their grandfathers and/or ask them personally. Because well up until the 1950s, many men wore girdles, wide belts and other waist-restricting devices. They may not have called them corsets (due to the association with the feminine garment) but they performed the same function. People may say "panties" versus "boxers" but both are essentially "underwear" - just because they are gendered does not mean their purposes are vastly different.

I hope to develop the history of male corsets in future posts. But I think it is interesting to work backwards and focus on contemporary sightings for now.

John Galliano's Fall 2010 collection is definitely inspired by the past. Tailored suits, bowler hats, hounds tooth fabrics, canes and vests all made an appearance at some point during the show. And then came the corsets, bending the gender lines and exposing the world of undress in a very effective manner. What was Galliano's ultimate goal in doing so? Perhaps he is trying to make a statement about how fashion is not always as it seems... (Click to read more)

Corsets and girdles create a false illusion for many, squeezing in undesirable spots, tightening "loose ends", forcing erect posture. People go to great lengths by which to hide their enhancements, especially when it comes to sexual encounters (how many of us have undressed in the dark or popped into the restroom, so that our significant other is not privy to silicon breast inserts or "stuffed sock" codpieces? This is a topic in need of analysis in and of itself). Perhaps Galliano wanted to play with the idea of fashion as camouflage, literally exposing the truth behind our bodies and emphasizing the idea that natural, bodily perfection is not an option for even the most attractive of people.

Another theory is that Galliano has really done his homework with this collection. Noted by viewers as his "tamest collection", his runway is an ode to the past. To be true, many of the historically-based outfits would have been worn with waist-restricting devices which match exactly those that Galliano designed. The model on the right exudes this theory; socks held up with garters, a girdle worn as a bottom, a button-down shirt tucked into the girdle and an overcoat being the only semblance of a normal outfit. Did Galliano know - and try to explain to his audience - that these garments actually existed for men as they did for women?

The other piece of media that caught my eye was a video of a famous male ice skater, Johnny Weir. At the US Nationals 2010, he performed to Lady GaGa's hit, "Poker Face", with an outfit to match her unusual, thought-provoking style (click above to view his performance). His suit is designed with a corset in mind - doubtful that he actually wears one, given the activity, but it makes you wonder about the costume designer's choice.

Weir's sexuality has been on the minds of the media and remains cloudy; his penchant for high fashion has caused many to label him, despite his protestations and ability to shrug off the accusations. He may be toying with GaGa's cross-dressing themes, how they radiate in society, may want to cause controversy about the role fashion plays when dealing with sexuality. His choice of clothing sends the message he has touted for so long - it should be about the sport, and nothing else.

Or maybe, he had an "in" on Galliano's collection and is merely projecting a hopeful trend.

Further reading on contemporary male corsetry:

"John Galliano Delivers Man Corsets" - The Cut, fashion blog for New York Magazine

John Galliano Fall 2010 Menswear runway photos

Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power - Valerie Steele

Fashion and Fetishism: a Social History of the Corset, Tight-Lacing, and Other Forms of Body-Sculpture in the West - David Kunzle

Male Corsetry - blog dedicated to male tight lacing

Friday, January 22, 2010

Design ReVamp! and Design Blok Praha c.2008

After viewing my site from different computers, I realized my desktop publishing skills were quite rusty and that my blog looked really unprofessional, so I switched things up a bit. I wanted to put a photo of a dressform in the background, but I couldn't bear with the fact that nothing I'd find would be my own. So I searched through my photo collections, and found the background you see now. I think it works quite nicely, don't you? Things are more clearer to comprehend.

The photo is not photoshopped to look as such; yes, I enjoy photography but I don't have the proper equipment (sadly) and this was taken on a simple point-and-shoot. It's from a collection shown during Prague Fashion Week 2008, by a designer named Jaroslava, for whom I wasn't a huge fan of. I like the way the photo came out, there are a couple more like this as well. It's very Fashion, Culture and Identity-esque, which was what I was going for - simple silhouettes that capture the essence of fashion, which is truly undefinable.

On a separate note, fashion shows are of a particular interest of mine because they are breeding grounds for fashion culture field research. There is so much to be learned from attendees, designers, producers and stagehands. What kinds of people attend certain collections? How do they react to what is displayed before them? Do designers create their performance themes based on what best expresses the collection's image, or based on what they believe their viewers will enjoy?

I've included a few more of my favorite pictures from that event. All in all, Design Blok is a very interpretive event. I like the different ways in which the designers choose to display their collections. Many of them bridge the gap between performance and fashion very well.

Zuzana Sedmidubská created a beautiful white and green collection. I wish I could own her stuff but she wasn't selling at the designer's market that night.

333 Fashion Studio. They had a live beatboxer and covered the catwalk with astroturf.

Navarila created beautiful knits based on her time spent in the Middle East. She was also a personal friend of my classmate's host mother, who used to be a designer herself.

Modrá's collection was very unique. Every piece was sewn for versatility; dresses, like the one shown here, tied up together at the shoulders for a dramatic block effect, or could be tied into pants, etc.

Chi-Chi. The models were actually dancers, who performed lyrical dances on the catwalk to emphasize the flow of the clothing. This was my favorite show.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Forward: This post has been edited slightly based on any drowsy accusations I may have made over the course of its editings. It is important to keep in mind that my successes as a graduate student are because of my independent endeavors which, as someone very wise reminded me, are based on the fact that graduate students should possess maturity, not entitlement. I by no means support opportunities being "handed" to me - I suppose what I ask is that they be mentioned at all, so that people like my peers realize they even exist and can take the necessary steps to their own successes. I am very lucky to have been admitted to such a reputable Masters program; I guess, I always feel the need to prove my point in being there when compared to others with far more experience. It's hard. Life's hard.

But if it were easy, it wouldn't be this rewarding.

At approximately 4:32pm, I emailed my final abstract to the organizers of the CSA symposium happening in May. Writing is my strength but I felt extremely stressed concerning this project. I know it's my first time running with the Big Leagues, yet I can't help but feel absolutely alone on this one.

I don't have a mentor, as of yet. There are a few people who have provided excellent guidance, but some of them don't really specialize in what I want to do. I mean, I know that there is not an expert on Czech fashion, well, anywhere, but the people I would hope to follow in-step with - fashion theorists, historians, sociologists - are hard to approach. I had so many questions that I've never had to address before this, and I tried my hardest to find the answers to them on my own. But where do you go when you need information on copyright permissions? Or who can you turn to when it comes to proofing an abstract?

I feel like the resources I thought I'd obtain by going to grad school aren't panning out as well as I hoped.

My professors aren't very approachable. I understand that they have lives outside of the classroom, that they have their own projects to work on and their own knowledge to build upon. Even so, I feel that part of their job is to ensure the enrichment of their student's minds, and this means supporting their academic endeavors. Not providing the opportunities, not taking us by the hand and writing out the details, but encouraging us to push the envelope as far as we can. Maybe I'm just naiive, spoiled by the overwhelming support I received at my undergrad university, but I thoroughly enjoy the teacher-student partnerships that develop based on mutual interests and further exploration garnered from them.

But grad school, it's truly a dog-eat-dog world. Professors are meant to provide you with book smarts and that's it.

All right, I can take that. It sucks, but what else can I do? I can't feel defeated if a professor is not interested in my work or care that I am involved outside of the classroom.

So maybe I should create a repertoire of resources for students like us to turn to in a bind. What kinds of things do you think I should include?

If there are websites that have helped you in the past, send them this way. They can be anything - academic resources, crib sheets, policies that come in handy for field work or publishing, journals of interest, memberships and societies, etc. Anything to build up a virtual resource center for those interested in fashion studies.

EDIT: I picked up my bootstraps and decided to make the website. Google's site templates are so easy to use! Will keep you posted with previews and such, it's going very well so far.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Question of Student Publishing

The past five or so months can be summed up by one word - editing. Writing is both a pleasure and a strong point of mine, but this does not mean it comes flawlessly. I was unfortunate not to have been exposed to copious amounts of research and paper writing as an undergraduate, seeking out these opportunities on my own. This has since increased during graduate school, and I'm luckily keeping afloat despite my lack of experience. I have again sought out independent opportunities for getting my research and my words out there, and am fortunately realizing early on that getting published is a long, hard road to traverse.

Publications based on fashion and dress culture are few and far between. The only reason I even know they exist is from working at FIT's library in the periodicals section. Dress, Fashion Theory, Costume and Textile: Journal of Cloth and Culture are the big four, followed by some up-and-coming publications such as Fashion Projects. Fashion Theory especially publishes works by leading fashion historians and theorists, mostly in connection to Dr. Valerie Steele. Although this is hopeful for the future, it is a bit discouraging to know that elements of my work may not be exposed until a much further time in the future.

I wonder if there are any student-based publications out there relating to this field? It seems like every other section of the Social Sciences has a student publication dedicated to nurturing pre-doctoral research, why shouldn't we? I know my fellow FIT students have found some amazing things over the course of their studies, and although their academic merit can be questioned (ie, do we really know anything as a Master's student?), I still believe there should be a collective forum out there for us to test the waters, at least.

So are there any relevant publications? If so, please let me know! If not, how difficult is it to start one? Surely FIT, NYU, Pratt and the CUNY graduate center could collaborate enough to begin such an endeavor.

Here are my thoughts:

-To be published bi-annually, once for each semester.

-Highlight four articles (perhaps a contribution from each school, to begin?) based on original student research. Can be thesis tidbits, class-specific papers, conservation projects, etc.

-Have an "alumni spotlight" where a significant alumnus is showcased, describing their academic contributions and the path they took to achieve their current occupational goals.

-An annotated "book review" section could be helpful, documenting the kinds of things fashion culture students are reading, whether or not they are conducive to our overall field of study, etc.

-And perhaps, most importantly, a resource list at the back of ever publication, listing things like graduate universities, internships, scholarships, societies, etc.

That's all I've been thinking about for now, comments appreciated!