Every so often a company reaches out to me for a product review and it’s usually not a good fit for my blog, but when I saw JJ Suspenders pop up in my inbox I was intrigued. Then I went to the website and there were loads of lovely braces and I thought, “Is this a mistake? Or is this marketing?”
As a lurker in several menswear groups on Facebook, the distinction between braces and suspenders was a critical one, it meant needing buttons sewn in your trousers versus simply clipping them on; it also meant a level are sartorial in-the-know-ness (you may call it snobbery) about the type of person who wears one over the other. While I prefer a set of braces because I’ve watched my husband struggle with his clip-ons for tuxedo gigs (both to put them on and have them stay on) and I’m particular enough to want that added level of security/not wanting a hassle, I know that the thought of sewing buttons into one’s trousers (or paying someone to do it), for some, is like that extra thing that’s not worth someone’s time, effort, and resources. I understand that not everyone shares my priority for absolute security in trousers being held up by elastic straps. I’m not at the level of wearing both braces and a belt, though, so I’m still within reason.
BUT I DIGRESS, back to the lovely package that arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago. JJ Suspenders was very patient with me, because I already owned most of the colors I wanted and they were out of the burgundy, they waited until they got some more burgundy pairs in stock, notified me, and shipped me the pair. As I opened the box, I was confused again – there were both clips AND leather attachments on the ends of the straps. First thought, surely no one is THIS paranoid (takes a breath, looks closer); second thought, this is genius, they are delivering both so that you can choose and simply remove the type of trouser attachment you don’t want at the moment, with the option to reattach if/when you do, via a sturdy snap. This means they can be worn with all of your trousers, at any time.
The packaging and extras are all so thoughtful – a small sewing kit with buttons (perhaps to immediately encourage non-sewers to pull up a YouTube video on how to accomplish the sewing of braces buttons onto trousers – the question of where do the buttons come from seems to be novel to my husband, so I’m glad they’ve eliminated this hurdle); two extra sets of suspender clips; and a lovely canvas bag to put it all in.
While I usually prefer a wider elastic, I opted for the narrower braces this go around and was pleasantly surprised at their sturdiness and quality. The attachments are leather and the snaps sturdy. I wore these all day with great comfort and would say these are a win for me. I look forward to wearing them more this fall when I have more fall colored clothing items to coordinate.
The website has a large selection – from leather in seven colors to solids, stripes, tweeds, and a few patterns, I believe this to be a great resource for people who may be embarking on their first pair of suspenders/braces and for seasoned braces veterans. The prices are on par with quality braces makers, like Trafalgar. Now that I think about it, I’m not even sure I know of another quality brand of braces maker – and the lack of quality options was the impetus for JJ Suspenders coming into existence. From their website:
“It started in 2014 when founders Jackson and Josh were shopping for suspenders to wear at a friend’s wedding and after visiting dozens of shops all they could find were a handful of generic, outdated and overpriced suspenders. When looking for alternatives online, they quickly found that about 90% of the suspenders on the market were low quality and mass-produced by the same factory. The only suspenders that met Jackson and Josh’s quality standards were from a very old company in England. But with this came high shipping costs, outdated designs, and poor customer service.”
My communications with JJ Suspenders have been exemplary – my contact, Misha Inglis, has been professional, courteous, and friendly and I am delighted that they found me and reached out to me out of the blue. It is clear they are striving for quality and I appreciate and applaud their mission to provide quality braces and suspenders – both, actually, at the same time.
P.S. Yes, that is my 1964 Vespa 90 kitted to a 129 cc engine. I’ve enjoyed riding it more during the pandemic, since other hobbies have been on the back burner.
I remember in 2015 hearing about a book called Fashion and Jazz and thinking, “Obviously, I am the target audience for this book,” and purchased it immediately. However, I don’t know that you particularly need a deep knowledge of fashion to appreciate what the author has to say and the stories he conveys in this book. Alphonso McClendon‘s “Fashion and Jazz: Dress, Identity and Subcultural Improvisation” is a deeper look into the social and political implications of dress and jazz, including race, class, and gender. These performers were jazz innovators, pop stars, and style icons who continue to inspire people (like me) even today and it’s worth taking a look at why and how they got there through the lens of fashion.
McClendon is a professor at Drexel University, with extensive experience in what I would call the nuts and bolts of the fashion industry, but it is clear from his bio, even beyond this book, that the intersection of fashion and jazz (and topics emanating from that intersection) are a passion outside of his work in today’s fashion industry. Of personal interest to me, he has an undergraduate degree from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, so now I’m curious as to any other ties he may have to my home state.
And, yes, you get an entire chapter on Billie Holiday (“Beyond the Gardenia”), one of jazz’s penultimate style icons, as well as coverage of Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter, and he touches on so many others. The entire book is 150 pages long, so one could devour it in a single afternoon and I would say that’s an afternoon well spent.
We are living in historic times and I want to make it clear that black lives matter – I have been posting on my other platforms, but then I remembered that I also have this blog, so I would be remiss if I did not make it abundantly clear that I support racial justice and dismantling systematic racism, across all of my platforms of speech. A blog about swing dance clothing, shoes, and other things swing dancers may be interested in purchasing doesn’t seem like a likely candidate for addressing any sort of critical issues, but many people have written about how important what we wear is (historically and now) and how we spend our money affects perceptions and economics.
I was reminded this week of the Harlem Candle Company by dancer Lindsay Kelly, who posted her cocktail in a glass imprinted with E. Simms Campbell’s iconic 1932 nightclub map of Harlem (as some of you may know about #quarantini consumption throughout the pandemic). I thought, how lovely, because you can enjoy the candle, then you can enjoy the glass, so you’ve doubled your enjoyment of this lovely gold embossed vessel featuring the Home of Happy Feet and so many other iconic locations within this map that were integral to this dance and this music that we love.
The company, owned by Teri Johnson, a woman with a resume that makes you want to pack your bags and go on a travel adventure with her, is based in New York and the candles are “inspired by the richness of Harlem…like music, the top, middle, and base notes of each Harlem candle tells a story while taking you on an olfactory journey through time and place. Drawing on inspiration from legends like Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday, the subtle scents and soft glows from Harlem candles instantly enhance your space while creating a sense of comfort and luxury.” I love that Teri draws inspiration for the scents from the very things that inspire us to dance.
I can’t help but think of one of Dawn Hampton’s signatures quotes – “the light is on” – and all sorts of things that came to mind when writing about candles involving light, the black lives matter movement, and supporting black artists and businesses. I’ll spare you my soup of thoughts at the moment, but take inspiration where you may right now – we have a lot of work to do.
I got a gut punch the other day when someone posted online about Loco Lindo’s collaboration with someone/something named Scout (feel free to explain this to me, I couldn’t locate info on the website), everything in seersucker and 40’s inspired. I was looking at a vintage romper I owned – same pattern, same material, only the romper in my closet was starting to get snug and uncomfortable for dancing. THIS WAS MY CHANCE AT REDEMPTION. I didn’t hesitate to place an order for the Carolina Romper (they are coming for me, DIRECTLY). It arrived and has all the bells and whistles of my vintage romper, only the new one is green (old one was red) and it fits me so comfortably. Check out this collection on the Loco Lindo website – the romper comes in green and blue and the collection features other pieces, like a 40’s dress, 40’s skirt, and tie top, all of which look really comfy and come in green, blue, red, and yellow.
We’re back to the written posts, because – even as the pandemic rolls on – clothing companies who have been planning for months, perhaps even years, on certain garments can continue to release those garments for consumption. While we may not return to dancing for a while, summer approaches, style beckons as the world slowly begins to open up, and there’s no reason to know throw on something easy AND stylish. I’m still investing in quality pieces made by small companies producing clothing I want to wear for dancing that I also can wear to work – dancing may be a further down the road dream, but my essential job is now. I am also feeling less sad when I dress up, even a little.
I’ve written about Vecona Vintage before and I’m happy to see them continuing to produce lovely reproduction garments, particularly in the menswear department. Their 1940’s Loop Collar Shirt caught my eye because it’s one of those pieces that works for so many occasions – translates well to vintage and modern casual, can be worn alone with trousers or with a suit to dress it up, and the vintage shirts are usually made in wonderful, buttery materials.
Vecona knows its audience and has designed this shirt with heat in mind. Their description cites racing in Utah and recommends pairing with linen trousers, then they start describing the fabric: “Made from botanic cellulose Tencel is a sustainable and breathable material. It provides a very good moisture transport and thermal regulation. The material has a smooth hand with a nice drape. The fabric is crease resistant and soft to the skin, it prevents bacteria growth and thus offers a completely natural and anti-allergenic hygiene. A life cycle analysis proves Tencel’s environmental friendliness compared to cotton. Learn more about the material at https://www.tencel.com/sustainability.”
These are more than just words – Vecona has put together a dream of a shirt, designed with sweat (re: dancers) in mind. Crease resistant, even! Available in green, blue, and sand, I’m loving this new shirt.
Lindy Shopper’s Closet Episode 6 is up and I’m talking about the Art Deco Ocean Queen ensemble I wore for NYE 2017 at Lindy Focus. This is probably the last episode for the foreseeable future – I am an essential employee and have been working mostly from home, but on top of my city re-opening in two weeks (and going back to my office full-time), I find that I am way more busy than I anticipated. Family law is booming (my day job) and I have enough engagement with music-related projects that producing these videos is no longer in the cards. I hope you enjoyed these, I have enjoyed making them, if only to be able to talk to myself in my guest room about clothing and shoes that I love.
Lindy Shopper’s Closet Episode 5 is up – this week I’m talking about swing dance undergarments, everything from briefs to full slips, what to wear under your skirts and dresses. Tune in, subscribe, let me know if you have requests for future topics, and stay healthy, y’all!
Lindy Shopper’s Closet Episode 3 is up, where I talk about the methods I use for moth prevention and how to address a moth infestation – a topic near and dear to me! Please subscribe, watch, and learn how to save your clothing from attack – I’ve included many links to my main resource and helpful products that I talk about in the video. Cheers and best of luck in keeping your clothing safe from chews…
Lindy Shopper’s Closet Episode 2 is up and I talk about the pandemic’s effects on the swing dance community and what I would have worn to canceled events for which I had already planned outfits. We’ll call this the learning curve episode, I talk too much, I tried to wear too many outfits, and there are some things I would change and realized I forgot to do, but if you want to hang out with me and talk about clothes and how the pandemic has impacted life and the life of your music/dancer friends, you’re probably going to appreciate it. I’ve also posted a ton of links to things I mention in the episode – pandemic relief resources, events and musicians affected by the pandemic, and resources for the clothing and accessories I talk about in the episode.
Time often gets away from me, so I must apologize for not writing about Saf Shoes when I first heard about them a while ago. However, I see that their reputation grew and there’s a shiny new website now where you can view and purchase these dance shoes, so the order in the universe remains such that a good dance shoe is a good dance shoe and news of it will travel fast.
Vancouver dancer Jacky Li is the mastermind behind Saf Shoes, who shares his journey to shoes as follows: “As a long time dancers – we are talking over 10 years partner dancing, here – Jacky has put his time in on the dance floor. He knows how dancing affects the body and selfishly wanted to design a shoe that could let him dance all night without pain. It’s a crazy idea, especially because we know how hard ya’ll dance. The thing is, at saf shoes, we want to dance well into our 90s, and that means taking care of our bodies. Part of taking care of your body is finding a dance shoe that supports it.”
Right now Saf Shoes offers three styles of oxfords in 2-3 colorways, all with varitions on oxford detailing and Saf’s signature diagonal cap toe. The Shadow and Light collection plays with tone on tone textures in white and black (currently out of stock due to pandemic-related leather shortage); the Made to Measure collection plays with multiple colors and the shoes are customized to your feet (available in leather sole and tap shoe options); and the Intelligence is Sexy collection takes the classic oxford for a spin into easy-to-work-with colors with a fun twist and standardized sizing. Check out their Facebook page for more photos and celebrity endorsement by the Arntzen brothers.
If you’ve ever been to I Heart Bal or if you know Richmond-based instructor Erica Vess, you know what an incredible artist she is and how she is able to hone in on the most adorable and instantly relatable ideas and translate them into marketing and merchandise for her event. I have only been to half of the I Heart Bal events, but I buy merchandise every year because I want it, it’s so good. I was delighted to see a one-off design this morning from Erica in my Facebook feed, featuring a punk rock kitty with punk rock font saying SWING MEOWT. This appeals to every fiber of my being.
From Erica on Facebook: “You can support our studio during the shutdown with this sweet merch I just dropped into our fundraising store. Bonus: you’ll also be supporting another local small business, Itty Bitty Press, who has lost tons of orders during this time.”
HERE FOR THIS SWEET MERCH, ERICA. TAKE MY WALLET. 😉
With the pandemic in full effect along with the accompanying isolation and cancellation of all activities, I was thinking of ways to use my time away from dancing and singing and stay connected. Thinking about how we are all essentially broadcasting communications via the Internet from our homes – our personal and intimate spaces – and how these are our reference and existence points for the time being, I thought about sharing more of my personal space with all of you. I am often asked by visitors to my home to see my closet, so it seemed that was the natural place to go for a first episode and for the title of this web series.
I have other ideas for episodes, but I want to see how this first episode is received, so we shall see. I am also open to suggestions for episode topics and garments/shoes you might like to discuss, feel free to post them in the video comments on YouTube.
Also, please click SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel for episode updates and to help with monetization of my YouTube account – please and thank you!
“I dress for the image. Not for myself, not for the public, not for fashion, not for men.” Marlene Dietrich
This quote from Marlene Dietrich is, to me, somehow both complicated and empowering. Is image the vision she has for herself? The version of herself she believes is best for her? The public persona she wants to portray? The intrinsic version of herself? An image to inspire others? Perhaps all of these things. Grace Foster posits in a Smithsonian article that “Dietrich fastidiously fashioned and controlled her own image,” much in the way that an Instagram celeb might cultivate an image over time.
Dietrich is perhaps most known for her iconic appearance in white tie and top hat in the film Morocco, is perhaps secondarily known for donning traditional menswear off-screen, as well. As part of that carefully cultivated image, Dietrich inspires in both silk and and in tweed, presenting an image that is glamorous and distinctly Dietrich in any garment she chose to wear.
My favorite brand of the moment, the UK-based House of Foxy, has released three sets of trousers and waistcoat pairings inspired by Dietrich, complete with men’s style tailored trousers, in navy chalk stripe, charcoal chalk stripe, and brown herringbone. Women’s trousers, still rare during the 1930’s, would likely have had a side opening instead of a front opening, but Dietrich was known for having men’s pieces tailored for her, so the House of Foxy trousers follow suit. I’m so very excited about these pieces, primarily because I’ve had women approach me about how to get this look or ask where to find menswear to fit women’s bodies, and, short of replicating Dietrich’s strategy of paying a tailor to modify menswear, my recommendations often fell short. Baby steps…also, the charcoal stripe vest (as of my writing this) is still not posted on the website and I’ve been hitting refresh for two weeks eagerly waiting for its release to purchase along with the trousers – I have ties, braces, a cap, and cap-toe boots ready to go! *REFRESH*
In one of the House of Foxy’s Facebook posts, someone noted that this was an outfit of their dreams and HOF responded something to the effect that they themselves were just following their dreams. Here’s to dreams of Dietrich and defining your own image. Cheers!
I attended my very first California Balboa Classic – aka Cal Bal – last month and I’d say I don’t know what took me so long, but I have another hobby that managed to conflict with this event year after year. I made the decision to choose Cal Bal this year and Cal Bal did such a great job welcoming me with open arms that I didn’t want to leave. It’s also the first event I’ve attended in several years that I was not hired as a musician, so there was ample time for dancing between DJ shifts, which I have sorely missed and desperately needed.
To set the vendor scene, you need to understand the layout of the hotel – this is a hotel event, but this is not your typical hotel. The Hyatt Regency Newport Beach is more of a complex, with lovely outdoor spaces connecting separate buildings, taking advantage of what are usually mild temperatures in southern California. The ballroom was a separate building within the hotel complex and to enter the ballroom, one had to walk down a little path and through a large covered-but-open-to-the-air space. It was a bit chilly at night, so the covered outdoor space had some temporary walls and heaters, as well as couches for sitting (basking) under said heaters, a snack station, a cash bar, and all the vendors for the event. Had the temps at night been a little warmer, the vendor location would have been truly ideal – during the day it was lovely.
Cal Bal had some great merch this year – you’ve already seen my post about the Kendra Dandy designed scarves and pocket squares, and there were also pins, bags, and tee shirt designs (one even featuring the Rendezvous Ballroom). I was elated to see a green tee shirt with musicians on it, so that came home with me! If you aren’t sure how to style your large Kendra Dandy Cal Bal scarf, Cleveland dancer and instructor Alexis Davila posted an awesome/adorable/creative video on Facebook of several different ways to wear it on your head – I believe you can still order one, it looks they are up on the Cal Bal web store.
At this point, I’m blessed that Re-mix Vintage Shoes owner Philip Heath knows me by sight and always gives me a little tidbit to keep me coming back for more. This year, the buzz was the production of a gold Opera model, which had previously been relegated to suede (which I don’t prefer to try to maintain) – since metallics are my go-to neutral, this was a delightful new development and I was excited that this particular model fit my particular feet, having never previously tried on any Opera model.
I didn’t notice the new addition to the men’s shoes (maybe a Fairway or a variation thereof? I’m not seeing it on the website) until Nicholas Centino posted the photo below of their gloriousness, but there’s a new two tone brown oxford with perforations that is so subtle and lovely. I’m also not seeing them on the Re-mix website, so pick up that phone…
Next stop in the circle of vendors was the new-to-me Swankys Vintage, who appeared to have mostly menswear and some women’s items, with a mix of Swankys reproductions and vintage clothing, with a very 1940’s/50’s California aesthetic in terms of styling and color palette. The reproductions were almost seamless with the vintage at first glance, the textures, fabrics, and colors were so spot on. Lots of clothing that evoked comfort, ease, and fun, as well as some really nice looking classics, like tweed trousers with a buckle back. It was so nice to see more of a focus on menswear, which tends to be minimal to non-existent in terms of vending at events.
I’ll also give an honorable mention to the gent who set up a mostly vintage men’s shop for Saturday night, who I asked for a business card and he said this was his last vending spot ever and that he was liquidating his collection and selling it to another vintage seller. It is hard work running these vendor spots/booths at events, carting around inventory, being present to run the shop, paying vendor fees and for hotel rooms, so my hat’s off to all the vendors – whether you’re still in the game or getting out, this is an important part of events and I’m appreciative of everyone who shows up.
I’m always excited to see Jenna Applegarth‘s Applejacks shoes at events, as I’ve probably learned more from her than anyone about the extensive and often frustrating process of designing, producing, and shipping dance shoes – I’m completely invested in this storyline and here for all subsequent chapters. Remember that this is a labor of love each time you buy a dance shoe made by swing dancers for swing dancers! I know several of us are eagerly anticipating the new models (I swear I saw green on Instagram), but the models out right now are particularly well-suited to Balboa. One of my friends noted that she didn’t necessarily know what she’d wear with the rose gold shoes, but that they felt so good on her feet that it didn’t matter. Good thing metallics are neutrals!
Next up in our tour of vendors was Swingbird Fashions, who I have previously blogged about in terms of an Etsy shop, but since that post this brand has expanded greatly and wonderfully. I am terribly sad that I was not able to meet the creator of these garments, Leea Kuronen from Denver, Colorado (it’s hard to be at your booth at every minute of the day, I completely understand) because I was smitten with everything – the colors, the fabric selection, and all the lovely details. There’s this one green dress with white soutache detail that is absolutely to-die-for – I saw both Teni Lopez-Cardenas and Heather Ballew had purchased one of these dresses and wore them in competitions that very weekend. It’s an I NEED TO WEAR THIS NOW kind of dress! Lovely trousers, skirts, blouses, and dresses all around – this corner of the room made me smile.
Across the room Loco Lindo represented with their line of crepe printed dresses, blouses, skirts, pants, and, of utmost importance, their Venice Beach clip dress, recreated from the one worn by Genevieve Grazis in said clip, she of the many gored twirly skirt. It’s honestly super gratifying to see a whole line of them on a rack, knowing the history behind the dress and the process of getting this dress reproduced – get your twirl on and your shuffle on, let’s do this! On a related note, I’m sad I missed the crunchy sound of shuffling on sand the Monday of Cal Bal where everyone met on the beach near the site of the former Rendezvous Ballroom – living that beach clip dream…
Sharing the space with Loco Lindo was Jen Gomez of Bandini St., who typically also shares a space at Camp Hollywood. It’s a great idea, to share space, share labor, and have that symbiotic relationship of pairing dresses with hair accoutrements immediately. This is probably going to be super personal to my preferences, but I was particularly happy to see pairs of hair flowers that were an ideal size (Goldilocks here, not too big, not too small…), flat – but with enough texture to be interesting, and a color gradient so that it goes with various shades of whatever color it represents. VERY SPECIFIC. I need to go through my closet to see what I might need, as these are available on the Bandini St. Etsy shop in several colors.
Finally, we’ve reached the lovely Saint Savoy booth at Cal Bal, with a candy colored array of heels and flats. While their Riviera model remains the most popular and is available in a wide array of colors, I heard lots of talk about their oxfords for women being particularly comfortable. A few other notes: 1) I’m pretty sure their Grace shoe in Neptune is one of the most beautiful dance shoes ever made. I own a pair and I only wear them for singing because I would Gollum-style freak out if anything ever happened to them; 2) I’m having feelings about their The Whip oxford in Mulled Wine because I had a pair of Doc Martens in high school with a similar color gradient and broguing (a whole different level of nostalgia); and 3) it was nice to see their Grand Prix t-strap dance flat in person – loving all the variety in heel heights, thank you, more of this from dance shoe makers, please. 🙂
And that’s a wrap – I hope I haven’t missed anyone! I loved all the vendors, thank you again for your time and energies in attending Cal Bal and creating products with the swing dance community in mind.