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Welcome to the website of JJ Lee, host of CBC Radio One's Head To Toe, style columnist & author of The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, & a Suit.

He is prone to losing hats. If you see any of them, let him know.



READ JJ'S ACCLAIMED MEMOIR OF FASHION AND MANHOOD



“A personal yet universal story about a son’s quest to understand his father. This beautiful, cleverly executed story gets to the very heart of the most basic masculine bond, and how even through disappointment, abandonment, anger, confusion and pain, a son can love, honour and protect his father.”
—Globe and Mail

JJ Lee

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JJ explores the world of shoes on CBC Radio One

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The latest episode of Head To Toe on CBC Radio One, hosted by JJ Lee, has aired.

It will air again on Thursday night at 11 PM.

And you can listen online.

Of course, I have lots of opinions on shoes:

1. Socklessness

2. My insistence about the virtue of brown shoes in 2011

3. How to polish shoes (obviously not me, but I love this video so much, I pretend it’s me) …


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Fashion on the radio???

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This morning I am heading into the CBC Studios in Vancouver with great anticipation.

Today will air the first official episode of a show I host, Head to Toe on CBC Radio One (Tuesday, 11:30 AM; Thursday, 11 AM).

As one of the new summer programs, it will run until the first week of September.

One of the most common questions I’m asked is “How do you do a ‘fashion’ show on the radio?”

Of course, when we dress we are primarily participating in a visual culture. Fashion or at least clothes are non-verbal. Even so, the way discourse around fashion and style manifests in the media, with those glossy magazines and runway programs that I love so much, well, they only tell half the story.

On book tour, people have worn or carried into my book readings clothes they love and can’t let go of. When the reading is done, we gather together within spitting distance of the podium and they ask me if I am wearing my father’s suit (it is a principal subject of my memoir).

Then, they tell me the story of their clothes. Hand-me-downs that have spanned continents and generations. Kimonos and sportscoats. And sometimes it’s a blur. But the stories, speculations, and wonder about the garments are present. It’s everywhere.

I think Head to Toe gives voice to all those stories and the thoughts we have about the clothes but never quite articulate.

Articulation. That’s the secret of good radio. Finding the words and the way to tell the story of our life.

I suppose it’s not a fashion, rather, it’s MORE than a fashion show. But it also pays attention to the details of certain garments and accessories. In future episodes I’ll be looking at high heels, flip flops, lingerie…it goes on.

And we do have to develop a language or way of talking about these items without leaving the LISTENER behind. We will have to paint pictures.

But it’s not an insurmountable problem. Baseball, one of the most visual-spatial sports out there, thrives on the radio because early sportscasters found a way to capture and give voice to the game. The trick is to do the same on this show.

The effort is worth it because clothes matter. It’s only a tch below food, shelter, water and fire. Clothes is the first wearable technology.

We need to dress and when we do it takes us everywhere. 

It protects. It comforts. It helps us communicate…and we are finally LISTENING on Head to Toe, with the help of producers Andrew Friesen and Kaj (Kai) Hasselriis.

What are you wearing?

Let us know AFTER you tune in today.

Email headtotoe@cbc.ca

And thanks for listening.

On CBC Radio One, Tuesday at 11:30 am, Thursday at 11 pm.


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Listen to JJ’s new CBC Radio program about fashion, well, style, no clothes…

I am happy to announce I’ll be hosting a weekly CBC Radio One summer program: Head To Toe.

It debuts on Tuesday, June 24 at 11:30 AM and repeats on Thursday night.at 11 PM. New episodes will air weekly until the first week of September.

In each show, I present the stories, ideas, and sociology behind the clothes we wear everyday.

On the show we ask, why do we wear what we wear?

The first show tackles what makes dressing up for special occasions so special. It’s going to a great episode with the smartest talk about fashion you’ll find on any dial. It’s going to be a great program.

Would love you to join me and producers Andrew Friesen and Kaj Hasselriis, as we explore the world of fashion, style, and clothes from Head to Toe.


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When I was 12

The Norton Critical Edition of Oedipus Tyrannus by Sophocles makes for an odd source from which literary aspirations spring. I found the book when I was 12. I came across it in our bungalow’s basement den. The den had been haphazardly located by the previous owner. You had to pass through the furnace room to get there. My mother and sisters rarely entered the room and so naturally it became a refuge and keeping place for the lurid, pathetic, braised concoction that is frustrated male fantasy.

The den would fail to meet the standard of the contemporary man-cave. Faux wood lined the walls and a ratty pea green wall-to-wall covered the floor. It had no TV or bar. Opposite the door, under a small high window, sat a dark, heavy desk bracketed by crudely constructed bookshelves. There my father kept a small selection of military books. My father was a wily man and he believed he would have made a brilliant strategist.

One of the more scandalous books he owned, in my mind, was Walter Goerlitz’s History of the German General Staff, 1657-1945. It boasted an iron cross on its cover, and stumbling across it would be like finding a well-thumbed copy of Mein Kampf on a friend’s coffee table or a set of antique SS cufflinks on the night stand. It made you wonder.

My father before parenthood aspired to be a photograper. And so on the shelves sat a 26-volume encyclopedia on photography. In the N book, there were exceptional examples of nude female torsos, which I studied with precocious onanistic attention (Volume 15).

My father also held on to his books from his truncated college career. Among them I found Oedipus Tyrannus. I had no interest in Greek tragedy but I often scanned books for any morsel of smut. The front of the book had the play, so I flipped through it without titillation. But then I found two essays in the middle: “Taboo and Neurotic Guilt in Oedipus Theme” by Thalia Phillies Feldman; and “The Oedipus Complex” by Sigmund Freud. They discussed the delicate matter of having SEX with your MOTHER.

Hooked, I read most of the essays in the book. And now, looking back, they were brilliant ones. They were erudite. They drew upon literature, philosophy, and personal experience to make their points. I was fascinated by the passages of quoted text. I had never seen that before. And here was the thing that floored me most: many of the essayists used the pronoun I. The essayists expressed opinions and conjectured. They talked about school stuff as if it were stuff in their back pocket. They name-dropped Aristotle and Shakespeare, and trash-talked other academics. They argued and preened. And for me, they opened the world of canonical literature, classicism, and, ultimately, interesting nonfiction. Not boring school textbooks but vital vibrant writing about the world. In the end, the essays in Oedipus Tyrannus weren’t about sex, but I found them sexy.

From then on, in school and then later as a journalist, whether it was an illustrated essay on Jacques Cartier or lit-crit work on J.D. Salinger or Michel Foucault, or a documentary on military simulation or three-piece suits, I always affected an air of erudition.

When I wrote, I acted like culture—all of it, high and low, from Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes to Sumerian steles to saddle shoes—was simply in my back pocket. It was a strange book for a 12-year-old, but in its way, it made me fall in love with smart people, smart writing, and, to a limited degree, being smart.