Fashion Revolution No. 5 // The Karate Jacket

 Photos from  here  and  here .

Photos from here and here.

A few weeks ago I spotted the Rudy Jude Karate Jacket in my stories and it stuck with me. Sometimes that happens with an article of clothing- you see it and it calls to you (I remember you, burnt orange wool skirt on Etsy from 7 years ago that sold before I could scrape together $40). Often it's out of reach. At $295 the Rudy Jude jacket certainly is for me. A lot of companies I admire are cost prohibitive for me and many others and that is part of what is tricky about ethical fashion. Anyway- the jacket. After a few days with it hovering in the back of my mind I found a child-size, well worn, cross front martial arts jacket at the thrift for $4. Now- it's not the same thing. It's a poly-cotton blend rather than organic cotton. But the tag says "Made in the USA" and a little digging has revealed that it was actually made in Chicago. And it's black!

Thrift success! A $291 savings!

I've been wearing the jacket almost everyday. It replaced my old black canvas jacket from high school which has finally bitten the dust. It fits over a sweater. It fits over a dress. It nips in at the waist. When I wear it with a long black linen dress and my black sandals I feel like Georgia O'Keeffe heading out to paint in the desert. But if I am honest, I have been waiting for someone to call me out on it, and yesterday a friend did and now I have to reckon with the other half of this jacket, which is its cultural significance. (Yes, I should have done this before I even bought it, but the path to virtuous consumption is fraught and sometimes tempting to ignore, especially when you are broke and just need a damn jacket).

Step one is always a quick google. A visit to the manufacturers didn't offer up much information. I found a chat room where I learned that traditional Karate Gi are white, not black, but in these mixed up times it depends on the school where you practice and on your instructor and also on whether you prefer to bleach out dirt stains or have them not show up in the first place. I also learned that Karate came to Japan from China a long long time ago, and became popular in the US after US soldiers were stationed on a base in Japan after WWII. Karate practice in the US differs as much as yoga- ranging from a full on lifestyle to a straight up workout. 

When I think about cultural appropriation I always think about these leggings I've seen at Target that are printed with traditional Navajo blanket patterns. Now- those patterns have incredible cultural significance and they were not created to encase white-girl-buns. The fact that they now do is incredibly offensive and rude. That's a cut and dry example, but where does the issue lie here?

Is it me, a white, American woman of European descent, wearing a bastardized American version of a Japanese garment that was manufactured for American children practicing Japanese martial arts? 

Is it the garment makers, who altered the traditional Gi by adding poly to the fiber blend? And manufacturing/selling it in the United States?

Is it the American kids practicing a traditional Japanese form of combat as an after school activity?

Is it Rudy Jude, for creating a fashion-only version of Gi and selling it? (note: they don't call it a Gi, they call it a Karate jacket, which to me seems like a nod to their inspiration without claiming to be making the same thing)

And while Georgia O'Keeffe is on my mind- what about the tradition of women artists adopting clothing from other cultures? O'Keeffe and her kimonos are not alone. Frida Kahlo donned many traditional costumes that were not of her tradition, and Ray Eames lived day in and out in a dirndl inspired getup. The ability to admire and be inspired by many many cultures is important, if not formative in making art. 

My biggest question is how to live in the gray space between America's tradition of bulldozing other cultures and emblazoning them on our sneakers and the scathing judgement that hisses "that was not made for you"?



On June 26, 2015 I was working on the farm all day, out of radio reach. I came in from the field to 40 messages on my phone and NPR blaring in the greenhouse about Gay Marriage. I hadn't been the biggest proponent of Gay Marriage- feeling as I did (and do) that there were other, larger, survival issues at stake (for example, this is something that still exists). But in that moment I felt waves and waves of emotion that I have never felt before. I remember dumping dirt into seed trays and crying. I remember driving home and crying. I remember calling Tavi and crying. At that point my sweetheart was living 250 miles away, so I went to the one gay bar in town alone and got overwhelmed. I ended up in the upstairs bar across the courtyard, where the bartender gave me a free cocktail and a nod, and I watched couples, old and young, get married downstairs under a makeshift chuppah. That evening my friends and I celebrated and hugged and toasted and cried together. I felt a kind of teary elation that I didn't feel again until I got married this year. 

The next day I visited my parents. As I pulled up I noticed that the yard flamingoes had been rearranged so they were kissing and I thought wow, everything really is different now! Tears welled up again and I went inside ready to be congratulated on my new rights. I said to my mom "I saw the flamingoes!" and she said "Oh yes! Did you hear? The man who invented them died! He and his wife wore matching clothes!" 

Dry those tears, life goes on.

June is a funny month for me. I'm proud to be gay every day of the year. I identify as a lesbian, I'm married to a woman, these are things I love. It's also hard. And that makes June weird. It makes Pride (as in, the parades) weird. Because as proud as I am, I feel uncomfortable being surrounded by straight drunk people waving our  flag and yelling "kiss! kiss!" (true story). Maybe the acceptance and co-opting of Pride is a sign of progress. Progress sometimes takes big missteps. Still- try to remember that this month is a celebration of survival for us, that being alive in our community is no small thing. 

Here are some things to immerse yourself (straight friends and allies) in before you don your pride outfit and get sloshed on frozen margaritas on the sidewalk (and then maybe don't, and spend that liquor money on an LGBQT organization instead- my biased favorite is Howard Brown):

Making Gay History Podcast

When We Rise


How To Survive a Plague and And The Band Played On because we still need to be talking about AIDS

Paris is Burning (this one is harder to find, but just do it, especially if you enjoy Madonna or RuPaul's Drag Race)

I'll leave you with this poem, which I feel. I feel. I feel. But feel the tiniest bit less since June 26, 2015.




Fashion Revolution No. 4 // SWAP


One of the most under-rated clothing resources that I know of is the almighty swap. Clothing swaps are something I feel strongly about because I love them and I have always done well by them. Just last week our local ladies pinball league hosted a swap and it was a real bonanza. I got rid of a ton of stuff and came home with all of those lüks above (plus a vintage swimsuit and some leggings with fish skeletons on them). Swaps are great because they are free, they are social, and if you get enough people together you'll wind up with a real range of clothing (I came home with all high quality, much needed staples, and Tavi came home with one vintage pinball t-shirt, her own personal jackpot). I am by no means an expert, but here are some tips:

1. Join your local ladies pinball league. Just kidding, but only sort of. 

If you are hosting:

  • Clear out some space. The best swaps I've been to have been sort of massive and it helps to have several tables or designated floor space for stuff so that people can meander. 
  • Organize. Make spots for pants, spots for sweaters, etc. Put out baskets for accessories and little things. Rig up a clothing rack for hanging things. Consider this a good excuse to dust the corners and wash the floor and vacuum the couch and then let everyone get up into all of it. 
  • Provide and encourage snacks and make it BYOB. It can be a little intimidating to dig through other people's stuff in close proximity to them, much less try it on. Cheese puffs (and booze) can go a long way.
  • Set up a try on space- in a bathroom or hallway away from the fun. In my experience everyone ends up trying things on together after a while, but not everyone will be comfortable with that openness and that's okay. 
  • Resist the urge to make rules outside of a start/stop time. Don't limit the amount of things that people can bring- encourage them to hit up friends or bring things for folks who can't come. Encourage friends to bring other friends and get the word out beyond your own circle. Don't make bringing something a requirement- not everyone has extra. The more the better because you'll have variety in size, quality and style.
  • Organize a local charity to come and pick up the leftovers the next day. Find out who will do a pick-up, and if you have local shelters with need lists you can set aside things for them as well. 

If you are attending:

  • Use this opportunity to sort your closet. Maybe there are things that you haven't gotten rid of because the thought of anonymously donating them is heart wrenching, but you actually do not wear them and the thought of a friend delighting in them makes parting easier on the stomach.
  • Bring a friend, bring a friend's stuff, bring a snack, bring a beer.
  • Before you go, make a list, even if it's just a mental one. What holes are there in your closet? Are you bringing something that will need to be replaced? I brought a few beloved short-short dresses that I don't wear anymore, and replaced them with two dresses that fit my current preferences much better.
  • Don't let the lack of price tags trick you into bringing home piles and piles of clothing. Limit yourself to what you need and really want. Try it on.
  • Bring a bag, find a place to stash it. As the get-together progresses it will become harder to tell what's up for grabs and what has been claimed.
  • Be respectful. You won't know who brought what and the shirt you're making fun of might have a wholly different meaning to the person next to you. Fold things and put them back if you don't want them. Everything will become a heap eventually, but everyone can do their small part to keep manageable.