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'Worn' To Be Wild: A Visual Feast Of Fashion

Quick! What do you want in your fashion magazine? A) Taxidermy B) Tutus C) Advice on repairing your favorite Italian leather boots D) Gandhi E) All of the above.

If you chose E — or, heck, any of the other letters — you're probably a Wornette. That's a fan of Worn, the small, Toronto-based fashion magazine now curated in one hefty volume. A Wornette is a certain kind of girl: a retro girl, a DIY girl or simply someone who loves fashion but hates the fashion industry. Led by editor Serah-Marie McMahon, Wornettes defy trends, dress for maximum impact and — perhaps most remarkably — come in all sizes. Wornettes love to shop but are skeptical about labels, and they love clothes with a past.

That lust for history runs all through Worn. It's in Casie Brown's account of the romantic triumphs and tragedies associated with a particular beaded dress. (Another Wornette tendency is to attach talismanic value to certain beloved pieces. Or is that just a human tendency?) Then there's Sonya Abrego's dissection of the iconic 1930s motorcycle jacket. Hillary Brenhouse manages to bring the aforementioned Mahatma into the mix with her piece on khadi, the hand-woven fabric Gandhi believed could be a tool of revolution.

Worn is also a friend to the amateur fashion student. There are histories of home economics and Frederick's of Hollywood; investigations into buttons, safety pins, underwear and clotheslines; features on Marie Antoinette, shoe king John Fluevog and Gilded Age performance artist Marchesa Luisa Casati (a standout).

Considering Worn's interest in the past, it's ironic that the magazine often feels like a relic of the '90s. It's actually only been publishing since 2005. But while it's undeniably cutting-edge, especially when compared to mainstream fashion mags, it betrays the extent to which today's "edgy" styles are pretty much the same as they've been for 20 years. Worn's pages brim with mix-and-match thrift-shop outfits, and there's even an article about why the '40s pump is perfectly proportioned. A few more features on up-and-coming designers would have scrubbed away some of the sepia.

Still, Worn makes the past seem like an awfully fun place to be. Its photo shoots are reminiscent of those in the feminist magazine Bust or the late, lamented Jane (publisher Jane Pratt even wrote the forward to this volume.) In these pictures, tough-girl models — some svelte, some zaftig — pose in offbeat ensembles in unconventional locales. This type of fashion photography, surely, is where street style originated.

Other, more carefully constructed images are fun too. Danijela Pruginic snapped a sexy babe getting her legs shaved in a barber shop. (Let's hope that catches on.) But the most arresting images in the book are Alyssa K. Faoro's portraits of men in women's hairstyles: She somehow manages to make what could be a laughable spectacle into pure eye candy.

Posed photos aside, The Worn Archive is a visual feast worthy of its subject. Art director Alexandra Niit incorporates every medium and graphical style imaginable. The result is like a candy box: Each new page is both surprising and delicious. All the photography is top-notch, not just the model shoots; even pictures of old shoes and rows of ties seduce the eye.

The ear, alas, is another matter. Like a lot of zines, Worn weighs down its lovely design with writing that's merely serviceable. McMahon may adore style, but when it comes to words she's far more interested in content than form. The bland writing does its job, at least, and doesn't get in the way of all that juicy content. Confronted with an intoxicating jumble of peignoirs, Bakelite, polyester prom dresses, gold-mesh purses, Elvis and a zebra, you can only ponder the question: What do you want in your fashion magazine?

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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