Russian bast shoes (лапти)

So the Eurovision Song Contest is over for another year. This year, the contest was held in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Who knew that Azerbaijan, which is north of Iran, is part of Europe.

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest seems to have attracted more… shall we say… senior contestants, with 76 year-old Engelbert Humperdinck representing the United Kingdom. He finished second from last place. In contrast, a group of grannies called Buranovskiye Babushki representing Russia, came in second place in the Eurovision Song Contest. The name of their group literally means ‘grannies from Buranovo’. Buranovo is a village in Udmurtia, over 1000km east of Moscow. The average age of the grannies is 75 and at Eurovision, they sang while baking bread in an oven on stage.

The Russian grannies wore traditional costumes of homespun fabric with necklaces made of silver coins. Did anyone notice their footwear? They wore handmade socks made by one of their group and bast shoes. Bast shoes are traditional Russian peasant shoes made of birchbark. Bast shoes are also called lapti. These shoes are made by weaving fibre of the birch tree. The shoes are held onto the foot by string. Bast shoes have an ancient origin and have been worn for centuries in Europe, with evidence of them dating from prehistoric times. Bast shoes are found in Northern and Eastern Europe and are worn in Russia, Finland, Poland and former countries of the Soviet Union.

Members of Branovskiye Babushki putting on their bast shoes before rehearsals. Photo from http://m.sknvibes.com/news/newsdetails.cfm/55761

In the past, bast shoes were common footwear in Russian villages. Bast shoes don’t last long; they wear out quickly and are not waterproof, but they are cheap to make. So in the past, they were worn by peasants and the poorest people who could not afford other footwear. Nowadays, similar to other traditional footwear like Chinese clogs, bast shoes are mostly just tourist souvenirs and are not common footwear. They are now more commonly worn by folk performers or folk dancers, like the Buranovskiye Babushki.

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How to wear legwarmers

I was a bit too young to remember the times in the 1980s when exercise-wear was ‘in’, when headbands, leotards, legwarmers and tights in fluorescent colours were the height of fashion.

Legwarmers are like foot-less socks. They were originally used by dancers to keep their muscles warm. It’s easier for a dancer to injure themselves dancing with cold muscles. Legwarmers were a big craze in the 1980s, but they may be making a small comeback. Legwarmers have been seen on the runway recently at Dunedin iD Fashion Week, showcasing winter 2012 collections in New Zealand. Legwarmers also seem to be trending in Japan and Korea.

Shih Yen recreates a look from the 1980s with LA Gear sneakers and legwarmers. Legwarmers by Golf Punk

So here are some tips for how to wear legwarmers. Wear your legwarmers just below the knee. You can push them down a bit to create some folds in the legwarmers, but you don’t want them to sit too much below the knee. Personally, I think that legwarmers are paired best with ballet flats and a short skirt or dress. But you could also wear them with sneakers, reminiscent of the 1980s. If you want to wear them with jeans, they work best worn over skinny jeans. Have fun!

LA Gear sneakers

Last month I wrote about ballet shoes, which are shoes from my childhood. This month, I thought I would write about LA Gear sneakers, another shoe that had a big impact on me as a child (well, more accurately I was a tween at that time).

I recently bought a few pairs of LA Gear shoes. Yes, they still make them! It reminded me of the first pair of LA Gear sneakers I ever owned. I believe the year was 1990 and I got the sneakers while on holiday in Hong Kong. My first pair of LA Gear sneakers came with 3 pairs of different coloured shoelaces – pale pink, light green and white. In the shoe box, there were also instructions with diagrams on how to lace up the sneakers with two pairs of shoelaces. I spent the plane ride home from Hong Kong puzzling over the diagrams, trying to figure out how to lace up my shoes. Back then, each pair of LA Gear sneakers also came with a plastic tag, similar to a dogtag. The tag was white with pink edges and had the LA Gear logo on it. I kept the tag from my shoes long after I had outgrown the shoes.

Shih Yen’s recently purchased LA Gear Efecta skate shoes

LA Gear is an American shoe company founded by Robert Greenberg, who later founded Skechers. As the name suggests, LA Gear started in Los Angeles, California, specifically in Venice Beach. LA Gear’s signature style were white high top sneakers tied with two pairs of shoelaces in different colours. LA Gear appealed a lot to women and LA Gear had great succes with women’s aerobic shoes. As a brand, LA Gear was huge in the late 1980s to early 1990s. At one time, it was the top sneaker company behind only Nike and Reebok. Celebrities like Paula Abdul and Michael Jackson endorsed LA Gear shoes.

After its heyday, LA Gear sneakers seemed to fade into obscurity from the mid 1990s. LA Gear filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1998. Its journey since then has been long and complex. For over a decade, I never saw any LA Gear shoes, and I had almost forgotten about them until I saw them for sale a few years ago. In some ways, I almost think it would have been better if LA Gear had folded as a company. Then, its fans could keep the memories of its glorydays alive, instead of seeing it now – a shadow of its former self. For the past 14 years, LA Gear has just been limping along trying to avoid bankruptcy. From one of the top sneaker brands that made exclusive, expensive and fun shoes that people wanted, the current LA Gear shoes are just average, and it makes me sad.