Friday, May 30, 2014

Philadelphia Street Style: Shannah of BLCKBTS, Arch St

Shannah is the designer behind BLCKBTS, a local clothing label specializing in hand dyed silk and wool. The scarf is her own work. Check out more of her stuff at

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Feeling a Bit Less Bored of Models, Buyers,and Editors

Yeah, so around a month after last New York Fashion Week, I got painfully bored of posting my pictures of models, buyers, and editors outside runway shows on the blog. I left them instead to sit and age (or whatever digital images do) in the vaults of my Lightroom 4. The blog, I decided, would be devoted primarily to "real people" on the streets of Philadelphia (and wherever else I happen to be). I'm moving towards more in-depth coverage of daily Philly fashion, the trends on the street, the personal meanings behind clothes. But that leaves me with an awful lot of good Fashion Week images that are likely to remain unseen. So, I've started posting them on my Instagram. You won't be seeing Fashion Week photos here until next September. But if you are interested in seeing glamour shots of Angelo Flaccavento, Miroslava Duma, and the whole street style gang, follow me on Instagram at @urbanfieldnotes. Up today: Rumi Neely of Fashion Toast.   

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Eric in a Striped Bow Tie and a White Suit, Chestnut St

Brent: What you got on today, Eric?

Eric: Today I’m wearing a very affordable outfit. The suit is actually from H&M.

Brent: No kidding!

Eric: The shirt is from Calvin Klein, and the bowtie, I want to say, is Versace.

Brent: The one element that’s not quite as affordable as the others.

Eric: Well, you know what, it’s called getting them on sale. And then my shoes I got from Europe. From Russia. I don’t know what the brand is, but that’s where they come from.

Brent: Was that from some small boutique or something?

Eric: A small boutique on South Street, called Dudes, D-U-D-E-S, and they have exclusive shoes and clothing that comes straight from Europe.

Brent: Is this how you dress most of the time, Eric?

Eric: It is.

Brent: Is it part of work, or is it just…

Eric: Part of work.

Brent: Do you mind saying where you work?

Eric:  No, it’s cool. I sing professionally. I’m classically trained. I went to school in Princeton at West Minster Choir College, but here I serve at the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, which is the largest black Baptist church here in Philadelphia. It’s got about 20,000 members.

Brent: I’ll bet it’s got an incredible choir.

Eric: Incredible. So I had to sing there for something today. So that’s why I’m…

Brent: Well you look sharp.

Eric: Thank you.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Philadelphia Street Style: Shabré, Market St

Shabré is a fashion student who was about to head to class when I stopped her. This is the second time I've shot her for the blog. The first time was in April of last year. Today, she's wearing a plain H&M top, H&M pants, and leather jacket, and a pair of high platform Doc Martens.
When I asked Shabré how she would describe her style, she told me, "I don't really want to say 'grunge,' but towards grunge and towards rock."

"Is the way that you dress related to the music you listen to?" I asked as a follow up.

"Yeah," she said, "and also it just has to do with my attitude."
"And what’s your attitude?" I asked.

"Like, I don’t care," she said. "I wear what I want. I don’t tend to follow trends, ‘cause I think it’s annoying. But, for the most part, I just do whatever feels right."
Shabré picked up most of these rings from a flea market over the weekend. One (second from the left) she made herself. She's planning on getting into silkscreening and is hoping to start her own line.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Richie in Loose-Laced Docs and a Jimi Hendrix Tank

tattoos tank top Jimi Hendrix Doc Martens
This is the second time I've photographed Richie. The first was in April of 2013. His style is simple streetwear, enhanced by tattoos. I think he wears it well. I'm digging the Jimi Hendrix tank top, and I have a long time weakness for Doc Martens. I've been wearing them since I was a teenager. But can someone please tell me, when did people stop tying them? In my day, we laced them tight. Nowadays, shoes in general, at least among the urban fashion crowd, are worn as the shoe equivalent of saggy pants. Loose laces are everywhere. For sneakers, I totally get it. It undermines their functionality. It makes them into display objects rather than sportswear. It implies a cool, easy-going attitude. But when I see them on Docs and other hard leather boots, I just think "blisters." Just watch, though. 6 months from now I won't be tying mine either. It'll be so normal to see shoes go untied that I'll start to think it's the only way they look right.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Seen on the Street: Chris, Nik, and Wappy, Rittenhouse

Alright, so Chris is the second dude I've photographed with a beard and a chihuahua these last two weeks. Does that make it a trend? Nik does some modeling work. Check out some of his photos on his Tumblr here.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Philadelphia Street Style: Javar, 5th St

I ran into Javar on 5th St, as he was was feeding a PPA meter. I try not to approach people when they have their credit or bank cards out. It tends to put them on the defensive. So I moseyed down the block and waited for him to finish. He suggested we shoot in front of this t-rex mural.  
Javar is wearing a shirt from Pac Sun, Forever 21 for Men pants, Kobe sneakers, and an H&M hat. "Kinda feeling like a celebrity," he told me, as I crouched on the pavement, snapping off shots of him at 5 frames per second.  

Friday, May 16, 2014

Philadelphia Street Style: Eric, outside Armour, 4th St

Eric Hatcher is Creative Director of Armour, Philadelphia, a menswear boutique on S. 4th St. I attended their Cyber Saturday event last week. Eric described his style to me as "quirky at times, colorful at best, and anything but conservative," then added, "mildly understated, never over-rated.” His cargo pants are vintage Ralph Lauren, the shoes he described as "just some Jack Purcell kick-abouts... sneakers that I have had for many many years.”

The denim blazer he's wearing is by Prospective Flow out of Los Angeles. He is wearing a pocket square as a scarf. It's from Philly's own Ikiré Jones. The wooden lapel pin is by Two Guys Bowties. Each of those items are available at his store, Armour, as is his belt. The shirt he's had for years. It's probably the Gap or Banana Republic, he said.

The tiger-lilly bracelet is Eric's "own find." The double-twisted bracelet is Ralph Lauren. The double-sided, reversible ring is from Philly designer Danny Fox, and the belt, which features an American Buffalo Nickel buckle, is by Leather Island Belts by Bill Lanvin. The belt and ring are also available at Armour.

Eric, and Armour, have a menswear blog. It's called Fabric of a Man.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

WARNING: This Post Contains Gifted Content (and Several Unsolicited Images of the Blogger). Proceed with Caution.

This post manages to do two things at once that I have steadfastly avoided doing since I started this blog and which both make me very uncomfortable: 1) it uses pictures of myself; and 2) it features gifted content. Yes, that's me, for better or for worse, looking like an extra in a Blues Brothers' movie, and wearing a Members Only "iconic racer jacket" sent to me by the company. They contacted me a couple of months back, saying that they "like my blog" (I'm sure they say that to all the bloggers), and would be happy to send me a free jacket if I would feature it in one of my posts. Now, I don't do that. I come across people on the streets by accident. I don't know what they'll be wearing in advance. I don't "feature" content at all. It sort of features itself. But for some reason I was tempted to take Members Only up on their offer, if only because I wanted to write a post about how, and why, other bloggers feature gifted content. 
Simply put, gifted content establishes a relationship between a blogger and a brand, and it creates the possibilities of future relationships with other brands, ones that might actually pay someday. Gifted content also has the advantage of potentially being "liked" or featured in some way on the website or branding materials of the company in question, which could drive traffic back to one's blog. And traffic is the currency of the international blogosphere. In many bloggers' minds, it's a win win. Plus, you get free stuff out of the deal, and for most bloggers, struggling to get by as an aspiring creative, that's no small thing.

The drawback is that featuring gifted content also potentially weakens the credibility and perceived "authenticity" of a blogger in the eyes of their readers. Bloggers face accusations of compromising their integrity or watering down their personal style, or, to use an apparently now outdated expression, "selling out" their readership. To put it in the sometimes crass, neoliberal language of Web 2.0, it could damage a blogger's brand. But there are at least two ways to reduce the possibility of this happening: 1) By making it very explicit that the content featured on the blog was gifted. This is now standard blogging etiquette. Anything less is a breech of protocol and ethics, and arguably, disclosure laws. And 2) by only featuring gifted content that one "actually likes." To "like" something in the fashion blogosphere erases all moral ambiguity. It is to assert an alignment between an object and an identity. To depict it is to depict you. And as a fashion blogger, especially a personal style blogger, you are your primary subject and medium. If your like something, then, it cannot, by definition, compromise your integrity to feature it. Featuring it becomes an authentic representation of yourself. 

That's all fine and good. But one question has haunted me since I started this blog: How do you know if you like something in the first place? How can you disentangle liking something from the incentives — whether social or financial — that you receive from doing so?

My first thought, after receiving the request from Members Only to feature their gifted product was this: "I'm not above featuring gifted content on my blog in principle, so long as it's clearly marked as such, I actually "like it" (whatever that means), and I have a research justification for doing so. But if I'm going to feature gifted content, I would prefer it to be a pretty good gift. If I'm going to risk selling out my integrity, I want to get something decent for it." So I went to the Members Only website and looked through their catalogue. In short, I liked the black leather jackets best, but they cost upwards of $400. Would they give that to me? I wondered. Was my post worth that much to them? Or would I have to settle for their classic $49 jacket. Aha! Now I had a research question! How much is a street style post on a third-tier blog like mine worth? So I responded to the email, saying that I had had my eye on their leather jackets for some time... and what did they think of passing one on to me? And I told them what they would get in return: a street style feature on my site with a link or two back to their site and some commentary on their product. I wanted to know how much power I had in this situation. I wanted to test the limits of what I could demand. And well, it turns out that I can't demand that much. Their spokesperson said she would talk to her superiors and get back to me. Their response, a week or two later: we'll send you a racer jacket (retailing at $79). No leather. Not exactly what I was after, but by that point, I'd already begun to imagine the post I would construct out of the experience. I was going to take a leap, staging my own sell out for the sake of science. And I would do it by taking up to the part of fashion blogging that makes me the most uncomfortable: turning the lens back on myself.

So one of the arguments I've been making in my book manuscript (Street Style Anthropology - coming out from Bloomsbury Publishing in about a year and a half, and featuring lots of my own, and other peoples' street style photographs) is that street style photography is a popular, amateur form of ethnography, the primary methodology of anthropologists like me. Are selfies, then, an auto-ethnographic mode of practice? Do they use the self as a method of critical inquiry? Or are they just another emblem of the age of narcissism? I guess, I'm more inclined to believe the latter, as much as the populist in me would like to believe the former. Still, I live by a certain anthropological credo that if something makes you uncomfortable, it's probably worth doing.

So, do I like Members Only jackets? I guess I have to confess that I do. I kind of wish I didn't. They are rife with the symbolism of tacky 1980s self-indulgence. They make me think of Rob Lowe cocaine parties in the Hollywood Hills. But I do like them, in that my own sense of identity is wrapped up in them in some small way. In fact, I've liked them for a long time, ever since they were popular the first time around, when I was like 9 years old. They were some other world that fascinated me, even if I wasn't sure I wanted to live there. I have never, however, owned a Members Only jacket until now. I could never quite commit to it. I was afraid it would make me look like a douche bag. I'll let you be the judge of whether I was right about that.

So, should you go out and buy one? I really don't care. My links to Members Only's website are not affiliated links. I do not stand to benefit from you buying anything from them. My agreement with Members Only was only to feature them. I've done that. I have no further obligation to them.
My wife, Jessica Curtaz, assisted me in taking these shots. She's an artist. See her mind-blowingly detailed drawings here. Make sure you zoom in when you do. From a distance they look abstract. They are not.

By the way, in case you wanted to know, in addition to a Members Only jacket, I'm wearing a shirt by Ben Sherman, a cheap skinny tie from Urban Outfitters, a tie clip from the Tie Bar, a hat from Christys, Skargorn jeans, and, of course, a pair of Doc Martens ten-eyes. The beaded bracelets were made for me by my wife and daughter.