Beach Blanket Bibliography: Blogging from Athens and Crete

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This week and next I am on vacation in Greece, but the reading material I have brought along in my carry-on luggage and the sites I have flagged up to visit while I am here will ensure that this is an educational holiday for the fashion brain, and inevitably an opportunity to observe what people are wearing away from home.

Having arrived in Athens on a Monday, the day most museums worldwide seem to be closed, I will wait until next week to serve up some snapshots and thoughts on fashion history in Greek museums. Disappointingly, I have missed out on an exhibition on Monsters in Fashion at the Benaki Museum which closed last month, but I am hoping to be able to pick up an exhibition catalog while I am here.

This week I offer my beach blanket bibliography, which also extends to reading material earmarked for plane journeys, ferry rides and cafe visits. If you have read any of these while home or away, or want to know which I recommend wholeheartedly upon my return to London, send your comments. For the moment, the paperbacks here listed are fresh and still smell of the Amazon.com cardboard packing they came in, but are soon to be marred by suntan lotion fingerprints and encrusted with sand.

For this reason, I had opted to splurge on only one e-book to read on my iPad while in transit or indoors. According to the Kindle app, I am only 23% finished with this title, but I want to go ahead and recommend it with nearly fanatical enthusiasm. You might not want to read this book while vacationing in your hastily purchased holiday frocks, footwear and bikinis – but Lucy Siegle’s ‘To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?’ is a searing, timely and info-taining examination of the principles, practices and consequences of fast fashion. Dismiss it as an eco-rant if you fear the changes it may inspire in your consumer habits, or be bold and responsible and read it. I haven’t gotten to the part where she advises readers on how to redeem their addiction to fast, cheap and unethical fashion, in favor of the ‘curated wardrobe,’ (which I am already seduced by in name alone) but I am hoping I get to that part before I decide to buy any cheap flip-flops, sun hats or bogus hand-crafted traditional textile products. Bad enough, I spent five euros on phony designer sunglasses this morning in order to be be able to read from my iPad in the sun. I am ashamed, but was unable to find any eyewear that wasn’t pretending to be Rayban, Prada, Dior or Versace in my price range…

Hopefully the rest of the books in my tote bag won’t rile me up into a fashion ethics crisis frenzy or I may just have to seek out decaf caffe frappes for the rest of the trip. But I will be resolving to explore the topic of fashion and sustainability with more attention and to put my money where my mouth is when shopping – whether at home or abroad.

Until then I’ll be indulging in reading up on youth subcultural fashion in London, starting with:

The Way We Wore: A Life in Threads by Robert Elms, which is a fashion memoir written by one of the UK’s most well-known style journalists, who lived every style you ever wished you had been there to witness from Mod to Punk to New Romantic and beyond. I reckon that this book will inspire a playlist, and a visit to the library to pore over copies of The FACE, which Robert Elms was a founding contributor to.

Then carrying on with the theme of youth and subcultural fashion in Britain, I will take it back to 1958, with Neil McInnes’ cult classic novel Absolute Beginners. This title made it to the top of my shame-on-self-for-not-having-already-read list after a lecture I attended on alternative fashion of 1950s London given by Beatrice Behlen, Senior Curator of Dress and Decorative Arts at the Museum of London. Her peek into the forgotten fashion alleyways of late 1950s Soho was inspired by passages taken from McInnes’ novel, which described the dress of the young and restless postwar generation which would come to be mythologized, copied and endlessly sited as inspiration for anyone who ever sat in a smoky cafe and fancied themselves a mod, rocker, beatnik, or later punk – in short anyone who ever was a teenager who wore clothes to express themself from 1959 onwards.

Just in case any of the references to people, places, trends and garments elude me, I tacked Paolo Hewitt’s The Soul Stylists: Six Decades of Modernism – From Mods to Casuals to my shopping basket. It promises to explore the ‘enduring relationship that exists between American black music and British working class style, tracing a Mod tradition that began in Soho just after the second world war and continues to this day.’ With the recent riots in London bringing media attention to youth subcultures and providing opportunity for the continued demonisation of the hooded sweatshirt and the desire for designer sportswear among economically disadvantaged youth, I thought this book would provide background information that no one seemed to be reference when discussing the causes of the unrest or photographing burning shops in London and other affected cities in the UK.

Although it may seem that this reading list is far from light-hearted and a wholly inappropriate travel companion, the last book on my list is really and truly just there for kicks. Fashion Babylon, by Imogen Edwards-Jones and Anonymous has been coming up as an automated suggestion to me on Amazon for nearly 5 years now. Although I have been warned by friends I trust that it is far from enlightening and certainly not a “well written fashion text,” I decided that spending .01 pence plus shipping might be justifiable in this case. I am resolving to read it slathered in suntan lotion, in those phony Ray-Bans and mass market swimsuit, with my tongue firmly in my cheek, if only to prevent the compulsive cringing it may inspire. And if that’s not a good enough antidote for a far too serious holiday reading list, there will hopefully be a newsstand nearby where I can pick up European fashion monthlies at their real cover price – always a guilty pleasure worth indulging!

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