Friday, June 23, 2017

Pith Helmets, Khaki, and some Implications to Consider When Wearing Adventure Ready Styles

Reading Wikipedia's article for Pith Helmet, it says:

"The pith helmet (also known as the safari helmet, sun helmet, topee, sola topee, salacot or topi[a]) is a lightweight cloth-covered helmet made of pith material. Pith helmets were often worn by European travelers and explorers, in the varying climates found in Africa, Southeast Asia, as well as the tropics, but have also been used in many other contexts. They were routinely issued to European military personnel serving overseas "in hot climates" from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.

The pith helmet became associated strongly with the British Empire. However, the pith helmet was used by all European colonial powers, and for some time even by the United States. It was commonly worn by non-indigenous officers commanding locally recruited troops in the colonial armies of France, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Imperial Germany and the Netherlands, as well as civilian officials in their territories. As such it became something of a symbol of colonial rule. Helmets of a similar style (but without true pith construction) continued to be used, as late as World War II, by European and American military personnel.

Such was the popularity of the pith helmet, that it became a common civilian headgear for Westerners in the tropics from the end of the 19th century. The civilian pith helmet was typically less decorative and more practical, not as tall as the military counterpart, and with a wide brim all round. It was worn by men and women, old and young, both in formal and casual occasions, until the Second World War. "
hmm, to read the full article click here

It is really easy to spot the inherent racism in Urban Outfitters naming products Navajo, in Valentino calling their "African" (as if it is a monolith) inspired collection both "tribal" and "primitive" (they actually used these words...yikes), and the hundreds of other blatant examples of cultural appropriating in the fashion industry. But what about explorer/safari style?

Just as I don't agree with the politics associated with a polka dot 50's "housewife" dress, I also think the ideas behind colonialism/imperialism and the horrors which accompanied such campaigns are truly disgusting. So why do I think its okay to wear a pith helmet? Do I actually think it's okay to wear a pith helmet? it rather cringe actually? Why had I never considered the cultural implications of such a storied accessory before just recently?

I love the Indiana Jones films, and Adele Blac Sec, and the adventurer/explorer style I wear often here on the blog. I would like to think of such individuals, civilian adventurers and archaeologists as different from the colonizers and the khaki clad western armies of say the British Raj for example. However, seeing as most 20th century archaeologists "discovered" things only to take them back to the British Museum, and plundered the places they explored for notoriety and profit at home...the differences between civilians and occupiers seems to blur. The only bastion of hope I have for finding an example of safari style worn without implications of terror and occupation would be that of tourists. Still, now when people go on safari they go to see the animals, in the past they went to shoot them, which is yet again another practice I think is horrid and honestly, immoral. So why should I wish to wear the styles from that time? When going on a shooting party and killing gorgeous animals was thought a delightful vacation? Why do I still think safari suits are super endlessly stylish even while these realizations are rolling through my mind? Urhhhg.

I wore my straw pith helmet in the ruins of Tulum in Mexico, a country which my own home country continues to disrespect on the daily. Why couldn't I see the implications of colonialism in doing so, how on earth could I have been so blind until this moment? This was just a few months ago, dear past me--- think before you wear! In my bubble of white privilege, I had never thought of adventurer styles in this way, and now that I think about it, I wonder; when does saying "oh I just love the aesthetics" start to sound too similar to the absurd "heritage not hate" that racists spout about their horrific confederate flags? In wearing safari fashions, or as they are called in interior design quite blatantly-- colonial styles, its true I am not appropriating other cultures. No indeed instead I am wearing the styles of my own ancestors, often horrible and very misguided ancestors.

But like, I also do that all the time? All of the retro styles I wear, no matter what era they come from, it was no doubt an era when I (being a modern and biased total liberal) didn't agree with the majority of what was going on politically/culturally. We retro style devotees love vintage style, not vintage views on morality, or social justice, or colonialism. That 1950's "housewife" dress represents a lot instantly visually for many people. It represents a time when women were less free, to be outside the home, or even just to be themselves. All vintage style hearkens back to a time less equal. Have modern day vintage wearers, pin-ups, and burlesque stars fully shattered the old implications of vintage style? When I wear a 1950's outfit, I am certainly not trying to imply I want to be treated like women were in the 1950s. When I wear a pith helmet, I am certainly not implying I agree with the 19th century imperialism in various tropical climates worldwide. Are pith helmets and other "colonial" inspired styles actually really offensive? Maybe?

The men in khaki uniforms and pith helmets who came to conquer, to plunder, and sometimes just to fight someone else's wars on very foreign soil also have something that should perhaps be considered in all this musing, and that is their overwhelming maleness. I don't think there were many ladies rolling up and colonizing places, so does khaki and a pith helmet mean something different when worn by different genders? Then again, Queen Victoria was "empress" of India??? Yikes. Is it just a bit off when white people wear such styles? Am I overthinking all of this, or have I been incredibly insensitive promoting adventure/safari style all week long?

Are all so called "colonial" style things, clothing, furniture, architecture, the Disneyland Jungle Cruise ride, so inseparable from their history as to be only offensive? Can one ever truly enjoy the aesthetics of something wholly independent of its historical implications (and in the case of imperialism, continued legacy)? I like to think so, but my opinion isn't really valid because of course these things don't offend me, I am descended from the colonizers (not literally, most of my actual ancestors got to the US from Italy in like 1901, but still just a white girl so...) not the colonized.

I would love to hear opinions (especially opinions from people who say aren't, you know, white. but also everyone) on this, because I truly don't know. It seems like something that should at least be considered before delving into such styles, styles I love mind you, and have been wearing here on the blog just this week. Please consider the comments below to be an open discussion on this topic, and also, please be civil in doing so.

Some links to other discussions of this topic or things relating to it:

British Colonial Co: Outrage in Australia over theme restaurant

Open Thread: Is Taylor Swift’s Video Really A Racist Nod To Colonial Africa?

NPR's article about the same video


Valentino show inspired by ‘wild Africa’ sparks controversy


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Long Way Down

Have any of you seen Long Way Down? It's a documentary series with Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman where they drive motorcycles from the top of Scotland down to the southern tip of Africa, and like their other similar series/trip Long Way Round (London to New York, the long way round through all of Europe/Russia/Canada), I really loved watching the journey. It really isn't something I would have guessed I would like, silly men on bikes traversing various issues and terrain doesn't sound like something I'd be into normally, but damn do I love that series. Something about the in your face long haul travel with humorous adventurers was really inspiring to me to watch when I discovered it a few years back. Sometimes you need something to remind you that there is this whole wide world out there, and that you must continue, must reach out and try your best to get to see as much of it as you possibly can.

So one day I will go on a real African safari, but I can't say the views here in Colorado are so bad can I? This is one of my favorites around, and the land to city/humans ratio in this vista is highly tilted in  nature's favor, giving one the sensation that they are experiencing a view not so different than someone may have had a hundred years ago. In adventure/safari films either made or set in the 1930s and 40s it seems female characters usually fall into one of two stereotypes, either the "one of the boys" but not particularly feminine lived in adventurer who doesn't mind bug bites or heat stroke while transcribing cuneiform or stalking lions (yet of course still does indeed look glamorous the whole time because Hollywood), or the pretty delicate flower who complains the whole time and keeps everyone from having the rough and tumble good time they should be having. I would like to think I'd be the calm and cool badass lady adventurer, but I know full well I would fall into the second omg-why-am-i-outside and where-is-the-wifi-and-clean-water camp. It's not really my fault mosquitoes think I am delicious!

I only just recently finished sewing up this new linen suit so that I could at least play at looking the part of an adventurer. Like my last bolero set (this one that I wore to the anatomy museum) this new one is in a favorite fabric of mine, a linen/rayon blend from Joanns that I use all the time. I added a little box pleat in the center front of the skirt, a collar and puff sleeves to the bolero, and some tonal top stitching on this suit for a bit of variety. I told myself I wouldn't use this pith helmet as a prop anymore because I can't decide if pith helmets are inherently problematic or not (more on that in tomorrows post), but here it is anyway because it just gave off the exact safari vibe I was going for! I also love elephant themed jewelry, but detest elephant mascotted political parties, so wearing my elephant jewelry seems a bit soured now. If I could find a cute safari style brooch featuring donkeys, suffice to say I would switch to those for a while. Ahem...anyways, lets talk about the glorious shoes instead shall we?

Yes indeed I have got more Deco Darlings to show you today! These are the second of the two pairs I pre-ordered, and can you blame me-- look at these! As an avid lover of all things safari/adventure style, how in the world could I pass these up?! Even over craggy rocks and sandy terrain the sturdy curvy heels were stable, and I managed not to scuff them up, which as we now know about me, is a miracle really. I know I sound like a broken record, or an overly optimistic sales person (which again, #not spon, I do just love to support repro brands I think are fricken awesome), but Royal Vintage Shoes are really just that wonderful and this second new style are again super great! Very comfortable, the fit is spot on for my size 10 medium/regular width feet (why, why did I end up with such giant feet when I am only 5 foot 5" tall?!), and the styling is perfect. What more can an aspiring adventuress want than light khaki canvas and warm brown leather?

I could really use an adventure right about now too, I even had one of those "I'll dye my hair and be a new woman and it will change everything for the better!" moments earlier this week and ended up giving myself grey purple hair for a day before deciding that was actually not the adventure I had been looking for... other people have those moments too right? I suppose wanting to be at one stage in your life, and feeling like you are stuck deep in some sinking sand in another just gets grating after several months *cough* years, but the only way out is hard work so I better put on my big girl jodhpurs and get to business.

Suit: Made by me
Blouse: Banana Republic
Clutch. Brooch, & Belt: Vintage
Shoes: Royal Vintage Shoes
Fishnets & Hat: Amazon

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Outfit Inspiration for Summer Travels, Adventures, and Safaris

Her name was Janet Blagg, click here

It's officially adventure style week here on The Closet Historian, Monday's outfit was sorta expat inspired, tomorrows outfit is safari inspired, and on Friday I have a potentially controversial topic to cover involving both silly hats and questioning the morality of khaki. Today however, I just wanted to give you all a glimpse into adventures of the past large and small, be they golfing in view of the pyramids, posing in front of a painted tropical backdrop, or flying planes high in the clouds long before fancy additions like cabin pressurization. Linen, canvas, leather, rolled up sleeves, straw hats, jodhpurs, buckles, and superfluous pockets, it's style for travel, it's style for adventure! The only good thing about summer heat don't you know? ;)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Vintage Voyager

When unable to travel by land, by sea, or even the air above, a vintage voyager can still do their best to at least travel through time. Sometimes I like to dress in a more modern mixed with vintage way, and sometimes I want to dress within one decade in mind as much as possible. So for this outfit, knowing I wanted to wear my new-ish ivory 30's hat, I wanted to put together an even more authentic look than perhaps is usual for me.

Though wrap dresses seemed to be a style used most often for house dresses in the 1930s, hopefully my linen/rayon blend dress would have counted as a day dress. This hat, which is one of my best finds ever, and my current one true love, called for some matching ivory colored accessories, and so I pulled out some ivory crochet gloves, a new-to-me ivory cord crochet handbag, some trusty celluloid jewelry, and my strappy bait heels. These shoes are a summer staple of mine, I have them in two colors even! I find them to be quite comfortable, must be that lovely curved but thicker heel shape.

I was really quite pleased with how these photos came out, the resulting vibe feels a bit Indian Summers or The Painted Veil to me. I never watched the second season of Indian Summers, should I? I loved the costumes but nearly everyone was so vile!

Dress: Made by me
Hat, Gloves, Handbag, & Jewelry: Vintage
Shoes: Bait footwear (Modcloth)
Fishnets: Amazon

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