Sunday, 16 September 2012

Ballet/Ballerina Flats: Gender-less

Choices: Non-Gender Specific

Closet Content Analysis: Ballet Flats
Tory Burch Ballet Flats. Photo Credit: Brian Davis, Calgary, Alberta
The other day I was shopping at Galleries LaFayette department store in Bordeaux, France and was overwhelmed by the preponderance of ballet flats. I've wanted to write a post about these particular flats for awhile now but it wasn't until I met Brian that I knew I had to post his preferences.

In the 16th century the ballet flat was a popular form of footwear for both men and women and so we can assume they started as non-gender specific footwear in fashion evolution. Historically, heels interrupted that development and progression. Ballet flats came into fashion again after Marie Antoinette wore heels on her way to the guillotine and they disappeared and reappeared over the next two centuries with a predominant focus for children. Then in the 1950s Audrey Hepburn wore them with skinny jeans and capris thereby popularizing them in the 20th century, albeit amongst women for the most part.

Ballet/ballerina flats have been around long enough that they should be considered traditional for both men and women. Although, in a contemporary setting they are marketed for women; in a dance setting, but of course, ballet flats are worn by both men and women. So where am I going with this?  It is with pleasure that I introduce you to Brian Davis from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, a man who has included the ballet flat in his wardrobe and has been fortunate enough to have a shoe size that he can accommodate what he desires within a woman’s market. 

I interviewed Brian about his collection and his passion for the ballet flat. The following are the fascinating details of his footwear choices.

JoyD: From the photos I have seen, your ballet flats collection is amazing. How many pairs do you own? 

Brian Davis: How many pairs of ballet flats do I own? My immediate answer should be, too many and way too many for a guy. I have hundreds of pairs of "female" shoes, boots, sneakers, loafers and ballet flats. If I count just the shoes I consider to be ballet flats I'd say 45 pairs. My classification of ballet flats includes the following:
- Shoes that are completely flat or less than 1/4" of a heel.
- Shoes that expose the top of the foot basically down to the toes. Some show toe cleavage and some don't.
I've often heard women ask this question, "How many pairs of black ballet flats do you need?" My answer to this is, "one more pair than I have now"

JoyD: I like that response - "one more pair than I have now" - I think I'm going to borrow that one. So then, when and where did you buy your first pair?

Brian Davis: I've loved women's shoes for years and years so I've had lots of shoes that were like ballet flats but none that would be considered ballet flats today - shoes like loafers or loafers with a bit of a stacked heel (about an 1" high) or athletic type shoes like Keds with a "ballet flats" look to them. So my first real pair of ballet flats were bought in Spring 2005 at the Nine West store in South Centre Mall in Calgary, Alberta. I entered the store and looked around. I spotted a pair I liked and approached the sales girl to see if she had them in a size 10. A few minutes later she had a box in her hand and said they were a size 10. I calmly asked if I could try them on. Nikki, the sales girl was fine with that and even said how nice they looked on me. Besides loving my first real pair of flats, I appreciated the great service. I learned some valuable lessons that day. It's better to try them on in the store to make sure you get the correct size. As well, be up front and honest with the sales people, stay calm and don't act weird. If you treat them nicely they will treat you nicely too. Since that day, anytime I'm thinking about buying a pair of flats I always try them on in the store. Almost all of the sales people are OK with it. In fact, I've become really good friends with 5 of the sales girls I've met over the years.

JoyD: What a difference an attentive and respectful sales associate makes! . . . What attributes did that first pair have?

Brian Davis:
My first real pair of ballet flats were made by Nine West, the style name is Dickert. There were 3 colours on display in the store. I chose the all black ones. One thing I liked about them right away was they were slightly curled up because of the elastic  around the foot opening. They were all black but there was a black patent strip on the heel and a black patent toe cap. So yes they were all black but they were made up of 3 different black materials: the elastic, the leather and the patent. Another thing I liked about them was when I was walking around in the store the very thin plastic heel piece made a clicking sound on the tile floor. The only part I'm not fond of is the thin Mary Jane strap on them.

JoyD: Actually my first and only pair of ballet flats had that elastic Mary Jane strap and I cut it off. On this blog, in another post on jackets, I received a comment telling me it was just plain wrong for a woman to wear a man's jacket. With that in mind, have you ever felt self-conscious about wearing ballet flats just because they are predominantly considered part of a woman’s wardrobe?

Brian Davis: I'd be lying if I said no I don't feel self-conscious about wearing them. If I'm just wearing plain black leather or tan flats I don't think much about it and most people don't notice. Slip on a pair of brightly coloured flats or flats that are sparkling in any way and people seem to notice right away and comment about them. Most men's shoes have a similar looking women's version and vise-versa; such as men's dress shoes, loafers, sandals, work boots, etc. They can be made to look gender neutral or unisex. Ballet flats are very feminine looking shoes and there's no real way to make them look more "manly". I guess that's why there is no men's version or even similar looking shoe to a ballet flat for men. So every time I'm buying myself a pair of flats I am in the women' side of the store or a store that only sell women's shoes.

Back in 2005 when I made the conscious decision to start buying and wearing ballet flats I also realized that I should expect different reactions and comments to my choice of footwear and accept both the positive and negative comments directed my way. I could write a small book with all the comments I've received over the years. Most people casually stare, some look shocked, some giggle and others outright laugh. others make a big deal of it and I've noticed that some will try to get a picture with a camera phone. Sadly there are some people who comment about a possible sexual orientation because of the shoes I'm wearing. This to me means they are uneducated. Although, my shoes are the cause of these reactions, I don't feel the need to try control them, but rather just accept them. The few positive reactions outweigh the abundance of negative for me.

My day to day life doesn't change much week in and week out,  I go to the same grocery stores, bank, gas stations and coffee shops all the time and see the same people. After they've seen you wearing them several times they couldn't care less.

Thanks to the internet I do know there are thousands and thousands of guys that have bought themselves ballet flats. I think most only wish they could take those first few steps out in public. A large number of these "ballet flats" guys do go out in public as cross-dressers.  Then an even smaller portion go out in public as regular guys that happen to be wearing ballet flats. That's me!

JoyD: Of course you shouldn't have to rationalize your choice to wear ballet flats to me or to anyone else but I appreciate that you have taken the time to share your preference as a guy who simply likes the look. Historically ballet flats were worn by men therefore it shouldn't be considered as odd. After all, women wear brogues.

But back to your collection of ballet flats; which are your favourite pair?

Brian Davis: I'd have to say my favorite pair is my next pair. There is some truth to that. Years ago if I saw a women wearing a pair of flats I liked I'd try to find myself the same pair. Many years ago I saw a women wearing a pair of Tory Burch Reva flats. Again thanks to the internet I was able to determine the designer but sadly no one sold them in Canada. For years and years all I could do is dream about getting a pair. In 2008 one of the local shoe store sales girls and I really hit it off and became great friends. She moved me from the Nine West, Anne Klein brands to the more upscale Michael Kors brand. After trying on her Michael Kors flats on she insisted I get a pair for myself. We now have matching flats. Again like the other designers I bought several more pairs in different colours. She and I were talking about flats one day and I mentioned the Tory Burch flats. On my next trip to Arizona she suggested  I go to the Scottsdale Fashion Plaza - a quick internet search led me to several department stores and boutiques that sold Tory Burch products. I nervously stopped by the Tory Burch boutique there and looked around. Did I say I was nervous?! Here I am in a high end boutique looking at flats and wearing a pair of MK flats. A sales girl asked if I needed any help and to let her know if I wanted to try something on. "Try something on"! WHEW! I could breathe again. I picked a pair of Tory's Reva and after an hour of trying flats I finally bought my first pair of Tory Burch Reva flats. I made several more trips down last winter and in 5 months had 7 pairs of Tory Burch flats and loafers.

NICE                   NO THANKS         NOTE-WORTHY            NEED          NEW  
Tory Burch Ballet Flats. Photo Credit: Brian Davis, Calgary, Alberta.
NICE: Nice for me are my Tory Burch Eddies. They are everyday flats with a memory foam foot bed for comfort and a patent finish for a bit of zing but not like  the" in your face" look that the Reva flats have. Some people think they look like cheap $15. Payless flats because of the patent finish but what they may not know is these are high quality nappa leather patent flats from Tory Burch.  What can I say . . . these are NICE and considered my everyday flats.

NO THANKS: NO THANKS is a real love/hate relationship I have and it's with pink flats. I LOVE pink flats but as a guy I just can get through what it takes to wear them out in public. Maybe some guys can pull them off but I'm not one of them (yet!). I've bought lots over the years only to return them later on. Don't get me wrong they are high quality flats but not quite right for me, so - NO THANKS.
Puma Rhythm ballet Flats. Photo Credit: Brian Davis, Calgary, Alberta.
NOTE-WORTHY:  I would have to consider my Puma Rhythm ballet flats to be noteworthy. Yes, Puma make flats - great ones. They are super comfy and cute and once you find the right size I'm sure most people will love the way they hug your foot and the way they feel. I bought them in every colour I could find in my size and I have 7 colours total.

Tory Burch Reva Flats. Photo Credit: Brian Davis, Calgary, Alberta
NEW: And the flats that are my personal pride are my Tory Burch Revas. For me they are iconic. They are the Holy Grail of ballet flats. I've searched for a pair of these for 3 years and now they are in my grip, or should I say on my feet. Women "ohhh" over these, they crave them and I'm lucky enough to have some for myself. The Revas are flats named after Tory's mother and this is my Reva collection. These were bought from the Tory Burch boutique, Nordstroms and Holt Renfrew. 

NEED:  #1 on my need list is the ultramarine blue Tory Burch water snakeskin Eddies.  If I can't have them I'll take them in any other colour available.  They are the same Eddies comfort without the Reva medallion but what I love is the snakeskin material and look and the amazing colour.

I admire Brian for manifesting his desire to wear what he likes irrespective of the label imposed upon the item. The ballet flats look much better on his feet than sitting in a closet. Thank you for your example Brian; we should all be so adventuresome!

Update: November 24, 2012

While the temperatures plummet and the snow falls, Brian is enjoying his new magenta ballet flats in more agreeable weather down south.

Tory Burch Ballet Flats. Photo Credit: Brian Davis, Calgary, Alberta

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

What is it to be chic?

On May 19th, 2012 I posed the question about what it is that makes one chic. I ended that post with the question, So is chic simply to be well-dressed? In attempting to rationalize my answer, it became clear that the question can instigate more discussion.

So is it simply to be well-dressed? The single word response is no.

1. To be well-dressed is certainly a predominate part of chic-ness. It would seem that you cannot be chic if you are not well-dressed. Can you be well-dressed and eccentric . . . well-dressed and athletic . . . well-dressed and economically-stressed? I would say "yes" to all those since well-dressed does not mean dressed in conservative clothing or in expensive clothing; therefore, you can be chic and eccentric, chic and athletic and chic and economically-stressed.

2. So if well-dressed is not completely necessary to be chic, should the question read that to be chic is to be impeccably dressed? "Impeccably" to me, suggests the condition of the clothing, which then contributes to the chic look; perfectly pressed seams as opposed to puckered stitches, well-attached buttons rather than buttons hanging a tad too loosely or missing entirely, hemmed edges rather than frayed and perfectly stitched seams instead of ones that have come apart and are pinned from underneath, or beautifully buffed leather not scuffed shoes with worn down heels. The clothing can be inexpensive and plain, a t-shirt and blue jeans, but if the t-shirt and jeans look shabby, one could no longer be considered chic. Shabby chic is an interior decorating term but I do not know if the term can exist in clothing or in the descriptors for people.

3. A simple t-shirt and jeans can be chic but if the fit is not perfect, or the shoulders are hanging a bit off and the jeans are "bagging" in the wrong places, the t-shirt and jeans become "comfortable casual" rather than chic. After writing that, I am asking myself, "But why can't you be comfortable casual and chic?" Still I believe that to be chic, the fit of the clothing is more important than the cost of the clothing.

4. Perhaps being well-dressed is the base upon which chic-ness manifests itself. However, you can be well-dressed and have a posture and mannerisms that preclude all attempts at being chic. For example: If you are well-dressed but slump at the shoulders and have both elbows on the table while you are chewing and talking simultaneously, it doesn't matter what you are wearing, you will not be considered chic.

5. It appears that clothing is the base, but if your hygiene is lacking and you are biting your nails, nervously twisting your hair or scratching and adjusting body parts, hygeine and personal body attentiveness supercedes the clothing.

6. Or is it just natural - a question of either you have it or you don't? And do women who have "it", know that they are chic? Clothing and hygiene are controllable factors but another consideration that makes the blue jeans and black t-shirt look chic is the personality type of the wearer.  Different personality types choose different clothing, therefore one could surmise that not everyone has the predisposition to look "chic" based on the contemporary parameters that have developed around that concept. So are those who are considered chic, introverts or extraverts?

7. For some reason or other, there is this notion that there is a universal desire by all women to look chic. I am sure there are many who say, "No thanks", to that. But it does make sense that the motivation to want to look a particular way has to be the driving force behind looking a certain way.

8. Does education play a role in being chic?

9. Do etiquette and social graces play roles in being chic?

10. So why did I even attempt to elaborate on the topic of being chic?

 Is chic simply to be well-dressed? No.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Second-Guessing Trends

The Fall/Winter magazines are on the newsstands and it seems that we're not quite finished with our flip flops and bathing suits. It's time to assess what trends will be holdovers from the previous season, what will re-surface after being buried for a long while and what will be new. Although the saying, "nothing new under the sun" applies to clothing since there are particular limitations that we impose upon ourselves.

Whenever I assess or try to predict trends, I think opposite of whatever the trend was during the prior season. So if neon brights are in during the spring of one year, then look for an introduction of pastels the following spring. There will always be a stable transition group of colours and those are known as basics - black, white, light and dark caramels and taupes, and dark blues.

As far as jewellery goes, just think back to feathers which were all the rage in the early spring of 2011 but by the spring of 2012 they were being phased out, although you did occasionally see some feathery accessory but certainly you knew they were on their way out. Chandelier earrings have been around for several seasons now with only slight changes in the colour of the gems or glass. So when buying chandelier earrings, the longest lasting ones will be clear glass, opaque whites, black semi-precious gems, metallics - those tones will take you through the cycle of chandelier earrings which just may be a 3 to 5 year period from beginning to end. Feathered jewelry recently has only managed a year long stay, even though one online source is predicting more elaborate feather creations for the fall of 2012.

Spring and fall are the best time to incorporate faddish colour elements like fuschia, turquoise or orange. These will stay around for a short time and then the basics will kick in and be your reliable base choices. That is why it is a good idea to copy men's fashion by buying several tops, shirts and blouses and scarves (equivalent to the shirt and tie) in the faddish colours and keep the major clothing item purchases in the basic colours.

If we analyze what has been, we can predict what will be. And so from what is, here's a closet analysis and five trendy consequences for the winter of 2012:

1 Orange was hot for Spring 2012, so I think we can safely predict that we will see orange for the fall with infiltration to winter and then a phasing out. It is often a fall colour anyway because of changing leaf colour, pumpkins and Hallowe'en, which predominate October and November, at least in North America.

2 Studded shoes, purses belts, jewellery, especially bangles and cuffs, gloves, and the occasional jacket will also continue for the fall of 2012 (as illustrated in the French Marie Claire, September, 2012 issue) and the heaviness of the metal studding is conducive to winter.

3 Colour blocking will evolve into tonal blocking of a colour. Evidence for this comes from the blocking of blues by Lacoste.

4 Animal motifs will continue their popularity in both fabric and jewellery design. Just remember not to wear too much of the print or mix them up too much. It seems you can only get away with that if you are a celebrity.

5 After over twenty years of de-emphasizing the shoulders, shoulders will be larger again but softer and rounder, not in the angular way of the 1980s. This will be particularly easy to accommodate in winter outerwear.