Sunday, December 30, 2012

On Badges (and Badgers)

I have an awesome brother. Proof? Here he is cheering for me at the 2010 Cincinnati NAC.

Note the abstract simplicity of his badger poster. (Why "badger"? I didn't choose the nickname--it was bestowed by a teammate, and the only explanation he would offer is "it describes your fencing." This comment, after much mulling, resulted in my tag line, "Badgers: small, fierce, stubborn. Not too bright.") 

In any case, this year my bro continued his awesome streak with an Xmas present that consisted of--Badger Patches!

This gift also gave me the impetus I needed to post about badges in general--one of the most ubiquitous ways to liven up a uniform. 

There is a stunning array of badges at the average competition, and I've only begun to scratch the surface. Borges-like, I'm working on a benevolent taxonomy to organize this huge array. For example, badges can be:

A way to show identification and solidarity, uniting you to your teammates in the vast sea of competitors. This sleeve sports both country and club affiliations. (Hi, Three Rivers! You rock.)
While many club badges are minor variants on the theme of club name/weapon, some make epic leaps of creativity. Isn't the Savannah Fencing Club's patch GREAT?

And this SFC club member also sports a patch from my second category: badges as a way of expressing individuality. Smokey the Bear? Fencing? Why not. 

Smokey also demonstrates the power of badges to function as social objects--"engines of socially networked experiences, the content around which conversation happens." In other words, giving a shy person like myself the opening to meet someone by asking "hey, what's with the bear?" 

Last, and most poignantly, badges can memorialize, like this arm band worn by the New Mexico Fencing Club in memory of a lost teammate--Connor Porter


What a wonderful way to honor a young man's memory and celebrate his love of fencing. 


I am faced with the much less solemn task of deploying the badges my bro hunted down for me. One went straight onto the removable foil case from my Leon Paul equipment bag.
Others are going on my sleeve (I'm experimenting with placement. The lead patch will still be my club affiliation, Rockville Fencing Academy.)

Not even all these badgers can complete my badge ambitions, however. I still hope to find a copy of this patch to add to my collection: 

It celebrates a project that aspired to put a Linux-powered robotic marsupial on the moon. I think this is a suitable analogy for my fencing aspirations.

Do send me or Allison photos of your fencing patches--we would love to share them in a future post. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Referee Runway Style

The December NAC in Milwaukee was fertile fashion ground. On my off day (and in moments snatched before and after competition) I cruised the venue, looking for innovation, humor and inspiration. I found plenty, which Allison and I will expand on in coming weeks.

First, referee fashion. Come to think of it, referees have almost as little scope for fashion flair as the fencers. The referee's handbook stipulates: 

"The uniform for men is a navy blue blazer, gray trousers, shirt and tie. The uniform for women is a navy blue blazer, gray skirt or slacks, and a blouse... It is requested that all referees wear appropriate shoes and leave athletic shoes to the athletes."

Bleah. No wonder a typical gathering of referees has all the visual interest of a flock of penguins

 But clearly some referees bring sartorial pride to the strip.

For example, the regs don't specify what KIND of tie

Bow ties are classy

Apparently there is also some leeway in interpreting "appropriate shoes"

 Well, these certainly aren't athletic shoes. Nice nail polish.(Did I feel stalkerish trying to photograph a referee's toes? Yes, yes I did.)

Pins also have great scope for spiffing up a drab blue blazer


(I particularly appreciated the addition of a little non-fencing related bling to the venue.)

But my vote for "Best Dressed Referee" for the December NAC goes to this gentleman

Can you tell me his name? I only wish I'd thought to ask him if his shirt had French cuffs. I suspect it did. 

Your pictures of referees' sartorial splendor most welcome. Post a link in comments, if your pic is up on Flickr, Instagram, etc. Or email me and I will include it in a future post. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Fancy Footwork

Given how much we abuse our feet, it's no wonder fencers spend so much time obsessing over shoes--trying out the latest styles, comparing notes, tinkering with inserts. My coach seems to always have at least three pairs in play at any given time--and is never entirely happy with any of them.

So I love it when fencing shoes are as much about aesthetics as function. 

For example, here is a survey from just one Wednesday night at my salle, Rockville Fencing Academy:


I think Joe started the trend 

Thank you, Joe. Let's have a closer look at those flaming beauties

Yes. Very nice. 

But I submit we've only begun to scratch the surface of the possibilities, especially if you expand into the realm of off-strip footwear, especially podium possibilities. For example

Oh well. Until I save up for some of these more flamboyant options (not to mention making it onto the podium), I will go back to packing for my next competition.

See you there?

(And if you care to send pics of your fencing fashion footwear, we would love to feature them on the blog.)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Vet Fencing Fashion

Vet fencing fashion is all too often characterized by the accessories add to hold ourselves together.
See, for example, the competitors yesterday at Dark Horse Fencing in Fredericksburg, Virginia
I wish I had taken sound recordings, as well as pictures. I think we produced as many groans, grunts and "ouches" as "Opah!"s or other collegiate cries of success.
I saw braces and tape on ankles, shins, knees, elbows, wrists and fingers. Oh, and orthotic inserts. Feet are v. important.

You know you are in trouble when you have to apply bandages BEFORE you are wounded

Drugs are best administered proactively as well. 

Some people brought an assortment of extra reinforcements, just in case. The wisdom of age.

I had the biggest brace!
Does that mean I win?

Um, no. But I look at it this way: it's a pretty good day when all the pieces work.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reuse, Recycle

There is one thing I like about the new conducting bib—it gives me something to do with my old lamés.

You probably have one (or more) old ones hanging around, don’t you?
Steve Gross, Rockville Fencing Academy.
Photo by Badger Merritt
And what are they good for? Well, patching each other up, which does offer some interesting possibilities, as demonstrated here:

[Picture by Earl Theisen.]
I love what Steve did with his practice lamé—it reminds me of the “potato sack dress,” most famously modeled by Marilyn Monroe in 1952 

And it inspired me to do this

I rather like the effect! It almost makes up for extra 18 square inches or so of valid target area.


(Please email me with pictures of what you've done with your old lamés or other recycled bits of uniform. We would love to feature them in future posts.)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hubcaps or plate?

Two words that make no sense together? Not if you're a fencer.

The chest protector is seldom seen and so perhaps it's an odd place to think about fashion, but the plain white surface begs for embellishment, even if it's only visible for a moment while suiting up.

Custom painting could be fun. Make it look like a superhero uniform, or use a daring trompe d'oeil effect to startle opponents.

Anna Piaggi in sweater with breasts woven into the pattern
(Credit: The New York Times)

You could even go whole hog and make it up like a Viking metal brassiere - because that is, after all, what it feels like!

Obviously, I find the full plate too uncomfortable and stick to hubcaps, even though they provide less coverage.

Perhaps a compromise between comfort and coverage could be found by putting the hubcaps in a modified pair of early nineteenth century "short stays":

Or, for maximum style AND safety, why not try fencing in a full corset?

Stay with me here. One of my historic costuming email lists started a long thread on the feasibility of fencing in corsets when "The Mask of Zorro" came out in 1998. The conclusion: not only would it be possible, but a well fitted corset could also potentially provide back support.

I'd give this a whirl. For science.

- Allison

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Your Company's Name Here

In 1986 the distinctions between “amateur” and “professional” status were deleted from the Olympic charter. Where once the debate was over the purity of amateur sport, now the fracas over money centers on who will profit, the “partners —who pay huge amounts for exclusive advertising rights--or the athletes, many of whom struggle to support themselves during their training. Guess who the current system favors? You guessed right—Coca-cola, Panasonic, Adidas and their kin. “Rule 40” prohibits athletes from engaging in “advertising activities” during and just before the games. This means, for example, that Nick Symmonds has to tape over his Hanson Dodge Tattoo while he competes. 
photo by Donald Gruener 
The rule is piously worded to suggest it exists to protect athletes from being exploited by “ambush marketers.” In fact, it originally existed to protect the amateur status of sport, and (when the Russians demonstrated how hard that is to define) it was co-opted to protect the profits of the partners. 

Why am I commenting on this on a fencing blog? After all, even if Tim Morehouse did make the list of “7 Creative Ways Pro Athletes Fund Their Way to the Olympics,” his most notorious strategy (that of building a personal brand) sometimes did not involve any clothing at all. 

I'm commenting because, despite the abolition of the “amateur status” requirement, some people still act as if individual athlete accepting sponsorships, and crediting these supporters visibly and publicly (on their clothing or their skin), is inappropriate. 

Personally, I think that position is B.S. Increasingly, so do Olympic athletes, who are mounting a social media campaign to protest the rigidity of the rule. (The swimmers are brilliantly managing to evade the rule, and the design firm Rizon is wittily rallying popular support for the protest, inviting the public to download and personalize “unofficial Olympic Supporter” posters.) 

Working in the museum field, I am very familiar, and comfortable, with the tradition of “naming rights” for donors. You can’t keep art, or sport, “pure” by creating an artificial separation between money and the artist or athlete. Someone is going to profit, and some of that funding should go to the people with the talent doing all the hard work. I say celebrate the individuals and companies generous or canny enough to back our competitors. 
Photo of Tim Mueller, '85, left, with "sponsorship patches" at the 2009 Yale Fencing Association Dernell Every Competition. On the right, Andrew Holbrook, '10. 

It is both appropriate and, potentially, visually interesting. The fencer as NASCAR car. I like it. 

And tell Badger Balm that if they are willing to sponsor my way to a NAC, I’ll happily wear a temporary tattoo in their honor. If their spokesanimal were a proper British badger rather than the American variety, I’d even consider making it permanent ☺.