Anti V-day ’04

[Originally written on this date in 2004]

One week ago was the day that people celebrate their love, .and all that other sentimental bullshit.  Flowers die, and there seemed to be a lot that went to waste this year due to lack of purchase.  Balloons deflate and then are tossed in the garbage.  Stuffed animals lose their cuteness and wind up as a play toy for a pet.  Chocolate gets eaten and then complains about being fat are made.  Jewelry is just an excuse to say “I spent [insert monetary amount here], and that means I love you”.  All of these are cheap ploys for sex or whatever it is people get in return, because I honestly refuse to equate love with materialistic things.

Then again, I never expect anything on V-day because I feel it is ridiculous that we have to feel pressured to express our love for someone thru ridiculous merchandise.  However, Jon did present me with a box of chocolate and a funny card filled with money.  We dressed in our Carny best, both decked out in black from head to toe with our clothing carrying and overall vintage flair.  My hair was tamed into tiny, shallow finger waves, and Jon sculpted his own locks into a heavy parting that was then slicked down.  There was also an extra treat that we shared before our lips met briefly and we climbed into the Chevy.

Then commenced the lengthy drive up to the City for the Shocked & Amazed event at the Palace.  The video was really good, and of course I would like to get a copy at some point in the future.  There were some performances by the Coney Island sideshow crew, followed by James Taylor and other signing copies of his book.

Then came the fun task of gettin’ to Brooklyn, which was a pretty bad idea on a Saturday nite.  There was an insane amount traffic everywhere, and when we got to La Casa Bella every table was full.  It also happened to be the peak time for outgoing orders, as there were people constantly coming in and out.  We entertained the idea of leaving, but were too damn hungry to go anywhere else.  Luckily, a few minutes later a table suddenly opened up. The food was fantastic, as always, and it the second time I actually cleaned my plate.

We tried to make it back for the Bindlestiff’s performance at the Palace, but traffic continued to plague us and there was no way we could get back to the City.  Instead we returned to South Jersey for coffe and massive joints.

All in all it was a good day, and I am really glad that we had the chance to go out.  While I do not talk about Jon to people at work, I thought it would have been nice to meet Keith and Stephanie, since he did kind of help me get the volunteer position.  He still has anxiety about being in public places, and with the amount of people that would have been crammed into the Palace, I know it would have been an uncomfortable situation.  Which is funny considering he can get up stage in front of a bunch of strangers and deliver flawless pitches for sideshow acts.  That’s just Jon tho, and I stopped trying to figure him out because things like that don’t matter.

The real excitement of the day came while we were a few blocks from Jon’s house, just talking while he waited for the light to change.  A car starts backing up into traffic, and I thought that maybe whomever was driving wanted to pull out of the parking lot to merge into the flow of traffic.  That is, until the car slowly crossed over to the next lane and we realized something was very wrong.

Suddenly Jon cries out “Jesus, there’s a fuckin’ kid in there!” while quickly throwing the Chevy into park.  He jumps out, runs across the street and stops the car as it bumped into the sidewalk.  Everyone else was just standing there watching in awe.  If the flow of traffic had been heavier, that car would have gotten totaled.  Jon pulled the boy out of the car, then took the vehicle into a parking lot.  Since I knew that  it would be a bad idea to leave the Chevy parked in the middle of the road, I got behind the wheel and moved it.

Seems the father of the boy had left him in the car momentarily while he went into a store. Not sure if he didn’t leave the car in park or put the parking brake was  on, as Jon said the car was in neutral.  The father has no clue how close he came to losing his son that day.

This is certainly something you will never seen on the news or read in the papers.  Of course I am extremely proud of what Jon did, as no one else even bothered to make a move.  There wasn’t even a hair out of place.

It took quite some time for the adrenaline from the event to die down, tho we did try our hardest to relax while watching some classic horror movies.  One of the scenes startled me enough that I jumped into Jon’s arms.  He laughed heartily and held me close, joking that he would not let the Wolf Man come and grab me in the middle of the nite.  The teasing somehow turned into something more serious, which I am not going into detail about.  However, I will say that we put all that built up energy to good use and I slept quite well.

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Style Spotlight : Swing Kids

When I began writing this particular article, the intention was to honor specific performers who have inspired or otherwise influenced me.  The criteria applied to potential candidates is certainly strict, because I am not one who touts false support since I see no point in it.  Perhaps others get something out of name-dropping, and I will not deny the fact I mention certain things because that is just the way business works.  However, I have always held pride in my honesty, which has gained me some seriously awesome allies who understand my passion and appreciate the skills I have to offer.  To write about performers I may admire but do not fully believe in would result in a document that was informational, with very little character or personality I feel I do my best to include.  It is that experience which has shaped me into the individual I am, and so offering thanks in the form of a heart-felt homage is something done out of respect.  Choosing the subject was difficult enough that I decided to present this article on a less frequent basis to preserve the integrity of its exclusivity towards prominent figures that are not restricted to circus and related cultures.

There are plenty of fashion revolutions which have appeared throughout history, and for me one of the most daring was the German Swing Youth, more commonly known as Swing Kids.  During the 1930s and 40s Germany suffered under the fascist rule of the Nazis, where Adolf Hitler attempted to compel the people to follow his ideals which would prevent them from becoming influenced by international movements.  Even something as harmless as dancing was considered a menace by Nazi authorities, viewed as a perilous foreign import with roots in “immoral jungle music” and a commodity calculated by the Jewish media in America.  They believed that it could corrupt the youth who would be caught up in certain behaviors that yielded offspring of uncertain parentage as a result of having sex with multiple partners.  Hitler decided to use the National Socialist Party to physically prevent Germany’s youngsters from straying off the Nazi path.

Swing Kids desired a connection to the swing scene, which manifested in having the correct clothing, listening to the right music, understanding slang and being able to dance.  They aspired for a life that was carefree and laid-back like those in America, even though that contradicted the militarized state of Nazi Germany.  A deliberate swagger was adopted in direct defiance of the approved straight marching stride, and their attitude was blamed on Jewish Hollywood movies.  Swing Kids also hated the Hitler Youth, due to the fact that many used their authority to become Little Dictators, and were fully justified in their low opinion of the HJ.  The Nazi solution to what it viewed as an inflated Jewish America forcing decadence upon an otherwise obedient German youth, was to ferociously block American music and culture.

The rebellion against the National Socialist Party began when the Swing Kids adopted liberated ways.  They did not have an intention of effecting others politically, and they admired Western Democracies because they saw America and England as places where swing-loving individuals had the freedom to do whatever they wanted.  Idle conversations with friends, developing new relationships and generally immersing oneself in the swing culture were how Swing Kids escaped from the reality of death camps and military forces that disappeared into Russia and France.  Fearing the prospect of having their good lives cut short, they avoided service.  Instead, they gathered around a portable gramophone and its companion set of must-have swing records, in public places or while out on a picnic.  A police ordinance was put into effect during 1940 that prohibited anyone under the age of 18 to be on the street after sunset.  This did not prevent determined Swing Kids, as they had counterfeit identity cards with falsified ages and dressed in an attire that made them look older.  Due to a police crackdown following the Hamburg Swing Gathering, large groups were highly discouraged, and so Swing Kids took advantage of air-raid duty by utilizing the various buildings to host parties.

The lifestyle of Swing Kids was in absolute aversion to the anticipated National Socialist concept of youth, to the extent that they adopted American ideals of personal freedom, relaxed living and appreciation of the “lower races”.  They were viewed as a serious threat to the Nazi philosophy which sought to isolate Germany, and their reinforced repression caused them to exhibit anti-Nazi behavior which went beyond simply provoking the Authorities.  Street gangs were composed of working class youths who acquired aspects of socialist and communist traditions to construct their own character, though there were also groups such as the Edelweiss Pirates who persistently disregarded Hitler Youth norms.

In 1942, Heinrich Himmler wrote a letter suggesting that the ringleaders of the swing movement should be subjected to beatings and forced labor in concentration camps:

My judgment is that the whole evil must be radically exterminated now. I cannot but see that we have taken only half measures. All ringleaders (…) are into a concentration camp to be re-educated (…) detention in concentration camp for these youths must be longer, 2-3 years (…) it is only through the utmost brutality that we will be able to avert the dangerous spread of Anglophile tendencies, in these times where Germany fights for its survival.

The bold opposition to all things expected of them easily makes the Swing Kids a movement that I can identify with, though there was certainly severe punishment that awaited those who refused to fall in line with the Hitler Youth.  Everything from their clothes and hair to the music they listened to and the words they spoke were done in defiance of the Nazis, to a point where Swing Kids openly mocked them.  While the 1993 film captured the aesthetics of their lifestyle, it is seen as a typical sensationalized version loosely based on facts, with dance scenes that were certainly spectacular but not an accurate representation of moves the Swing Kids actually knew.  However, I find that there are some redeeming qualities such as the soundtrack and a few very poignant scenes which are responsible for motivating me to write this article.  One of them is when Christian Bale’s character is suiting up in his swing clothes, knowing full well he could be heading into potential danger.  The following guide is my interpretation of this classy appearance,  slightly modernized with heavy tones of decadence and an overall air of dandyism.

SWING STYLE

Swing Kids were effortlessly distinguished due to their prominent demeanor and eccentric clothing, which included one of the flashier traits in the form of an ostentatious haircut, considered to be a signature characteristic mandatory among their members.  The hair was copied from styles seen on favorite movie idols and made Swing Kids very contemporary in the trends of that time.  Males grew “whips” of long locks in rebellion of the standard short military cuts seen among their peers.  These pieces sometimes reached a foot in length and were combed back using sugar water.  Females directly disobeyed the universal braided hairstyle deemed acceptable by allowing their tresses to grow long and loose.

Selecting the appropriate clothing to correlate with foreign swing trends was complicated for the Swing Kids, as their muse was scarce American and English film clips or magazines.  The film stars were decked out in the latest fashions with mannerisms which coordinated with their idol status, and Swing Kids imitated them.  [German movies portrayed an atmosphere of peacetime and luxurious living – audiences disliked films with propaganda so the industry avoided them, instead providing an appealing escape from the war.]  Clothing and accessories that Swing Kids felt were essential in creating suitable wardrobes were difficult to find, so cheap quality and second-hand items became alternatives.  However, many Swing Kids also implemented their talent of creativity, and some even resorted to theft in order to obtain whatever could not be purchased.  This criminal activity certainly pales in comparison to the fact that Nazis were busy slaughtering millions of people, but should not be overlooked in examining the actions of Swing Kids as a resistance to the Nazi regime.  These rebels flagrantly celebrated their differences from mainstream society, and within the movement itself, individual clubs were distinguished by wearing handmade identity badges.

Recreating the swing style for men begins with an elegant purple pinstripe double-breasted suit jacket reminiscent of the 1930s zoot suit, which Swing Kids often had altered to tuck in at the waist for that Hollywood “tough guy” look, and it is coordinated with a pair of deep rise trousers worn baggy and with the cuffs turned up.  Layering a soft yellow-and-white striped cotton dress shirt with white collar and cuffs is a nice way of adding contrast to the ensemble.  The light grey vest is optional as it is likely to be tossed aside when the urge to hit the  dance floor.  A sleek black tie with diagonal white stripes captures the pattern of the suit while a boldly printed handkerchief should find its way folded into the suit pocket.  Vintage styled suspenders and ostentatious shoes with crepe soles are essential for comfort, especially while dancing.

Accessories are just as crucial to the Swing Kids aesthetic, as they  truly capture the personalities of the individual wearing them and varied depending on the cities in which they lived.  The 1930s style Trilby is a toned down version of the fedora and makes a wonderful all-purpose hat, while carrying an umbrella was almost obligatory and added to the Anglophile favoritism.  A traditional English bent Apple shaped pipe and light grey wool trench coat are excellent ways of finishing off this look – tucking a foreign newspaper into the pocket is an extra bonus for authenticity.  This vintage maroon and gold paisley print scarf with fringed edge and a pair of purple diamond patterned trouser socks ensure that the ensemble is loaded with flamboyance.  If one finds a tie to border on the side of boring, a brilliantly hued striped silk Ascot is considered to be fashion forward and brings a hint of aristocratic flavor.  Speaking of which, a set of Cuba Black cufflinks, mother of pearl vintage sword tie pin and the Frederique Constant Art Deco mens wristwatch are an easy means of giving the outfit a personal touch.

As mentioned earlier in this article, women were also quite active on their stance against the stereotypes of traditional beauty, mainly by wearing excessive makeup and leaving their hair loose rather than braiding it.  However, I feel many of the things covered in a previous guide could also be applied to Swing Kids style for women.  Overall, the ostentatious attitude may have been based on fantasy and coveted care-free lifestyles, but considering the circumstances that surrounded the movement, one can understand how it was far more appealing than the alternatives.  For all these reasons and more, the Swing Kids aesthetic is one that I feel can be incorporated into Carny Style while paying homage to those who were persecuted for their love of swing.

Photo credit: 1 – tommcmahon.net, 2 – portalleganyhs.wikispaces.com, 3 – questgarden.com

4 – queensofvintage.com, 5 – swingkidsproject.weebly.com, 6 – return2style.de

Resources: German Swing Youth, Swing Kids

Anti-V’Day Sentiments ’12

It is no secret that I am a huge Anti-Valentine’s Day advocate and have been since I was in high school for a variety of reasons.  There is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion about something I feel is silly and ridiculous.  This can be evidenced by my archive of Anti-V’day Sentiments and is something that will likely never change.  Having an opinion and freely expressing it is not what I would consider “hate”, especially since that is a very strong emotion which I generally have no time to waste on.  What I feel is contempt for the pressure that society puts on individuals to utilize merchandise in showcasing feelings and emotions towards another.  The fact that this invasion happened while discounted Christmas items were still sitting on the shelves and egg-shaped candies that are marketed for another ‘holiday’ are also on display, serves as a shining example of why it is so hard for me to place any sort of value on such things.

The concept of Valentine’s Day as a holiday to celebrate love leaves out all of the people who are not in relationships or might not have ‘that someone special’ in their life.  It causes them to feel like they are not loved or cared about; that they do not matter to anyone because they did not receive a card or gift or whatever.  This is a group of people I can fully empathize with and are certainly not the same as those who cry because they expected something of someone without communicating such desires and thus got nothing.  It is heartbreaking to read confessions of strangers who honestly just want to share in the rituals they see other engaging in, and I want all of them to know that there are plenty of alternatives which are just as fulfilling and do not require much more than a little bit of effort.

Speaking only for myself, the things I did in protest of Valentine’s Day were always in good fun, and I honestly do not care if if those antics or my opinions are seen as obnoxious.  That just means I am doing my job, and I find it hilarious when others are too entrenched with ignorance to see how harmless it all is.  Certainly being an Anti-V’Day advocate does not mean I am bitter, jealous or swimming in a pool of self-hatred.  In fact, I see through the bullshit and refuse to buy into it, which I have always felt makes me an informed consumer who is unwilling to purchase meaningless crap just because a ‘holiday’ encourages me to do so.  My relationship status should not make these things any more or less valid, but for the record, I am most certainly not alone.  My future husband not only understands my position, he fully supports it, and that just adds to the numerous reasons of why I am in love him.  Being knee-deep in wedding planning, an event that will shamelessly celebrate and symbolize many things, I understand why individuals are compelled to make public declarations in order to share intense feelings and I fully endorse that.  Of course I still want said wedding to be a representation of our personalities and mostly non-traditional, because I never was one for the big white poofy dress and coordinating cake with tons of people in attendance.  That is just not my style, and everyone is certainly entitled to have the wedding of their dreams, no matter what that might consist of.

The same can be said of those who like to buy boxes of chocolate, sparkly cards and goofy-looking animals for a significant other.  If that is how someone chooses to express their love, I have no authority to say what they can and cannot do, but I will reserve my right to giggle without being judged for it.  Just because I have no desire to embrace the tropes associated with Valentine’s Day does not mean the traditions I have observed since I was half the age I am now have no meaning.  Everyone has the freedom to observe the ‘holiday’ in their own way, and to me that is what the original intent of celebrating love had been.  While I might find couples who are oozing excessive displays of public affection and girls who make obligatory mention of what their boyfriend bought them incredibly annoying and shallow, it is also noted that taking Anti-V’Day notions to an extreme could be interpreted negatively.  However, I would never go out of my way to impose my choices on anyone else, nor would I ever physically attack people in public – though I cannot deny having laughed and pointed when it may not have been entirely appropriate.

It is impossible to write my annual Anti-Valentine’s Day Sentiments™ without mentioning Jon, because he was such a significant part of my life and always deserves credit for imparting his unique brand of wisdom on me.  Then again, knowing that someone has strong feelings of love for you without needing them to say so is not exactly something which happens often in life.  Love was in the things he did for me and not expecting anything in return; it was evident in his expression every time he looked at me and coursed through his veins every second we spent in each other’s arms.  Once I realized just how much our relationship meant to both of us, there was never any question or doubt because everything felt so right.  There are many reason that I appreciated having Jon in my life, and there was no need for mass-produced bullshit to let him know this.  Our Ant-V’Day celebrations rank among the last moments I saw him alive, and something like that tends to stick with you even six years later.  Wearing black took on a whole new meaning and while the obvious symbolism of mourning may seem inappropriate on a day that is supposed to be filled with love, it is not something I feel needs to be justified.

There is no wrong or right way to observe any holiday, and at this age I feel that accepting the fact everyone has a different way of doing things is far more productive than telling them what they should be doing.  Tearing others down because you assume they are ‘jealous haters’ is just as ridiculous as me stating everyone who buys into V’Day is a mindless drone – it places real feelings into general categories and makes it seem as though people are not entitled to them.  Whether you find joy in coordinating the perfect red outfit for a romantic evening or ignoring the stereotypical behaviors expected on V’Day, no one should be judged for their choices because we all have the right to express love in ways that make us feel happy.  Even thought I may not understand why people want to do this with gifts and may think it to be silly, I want the right to observe my own traditions that others could view in a similar way.  The point in these Ant-V’Day articles has always been to embrace things because you want to, and not because you feel pressure from society, peers or others who say that you should.