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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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An open letter to the local library

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Dear Library,

I have noticed fewer books in your collection. Not missing or stolen but culled. Not by the forgetful or the larcenous but by librarians.

I inquired. I was told you’ve adopted a new philosophy of collection management. Now it’s “just in time” instead of “just in case.” The difference being you will bring in books readers are wanting now and reading now, instead of holding onto books that at some point in the future a curious library user may want to borrow or peruse, a user like me.

I first noted the change when I sought out the novels of John Bellairs. He’s a children’s author who wrote slightly spooky New England tales of young lads and lasses who live in houses with clocks inside the walls. With the help a good witch and wizard, they usually root out the evil or, at least, stop the paranormal weirdness. They’re kind of like The Call of Cthulhu meets Harry Potter. Wonderful, Gothic stuff.

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I originally found them with among your shelves. The gorgeous covers by Edward Gorey in hardcover first editions caught my eye. I read most of them and one day, I had hoped to share those stories with my sons. They’re obscure, I’ll admit. I also harboured a hope that a movie producer would buy the rights and bring Bellairs, now deceased, back into the light of broad readership. So far, no one has rediscovered them except me. But they’re awesome. You should look them up. But you can’t because they’ve been withdrawn from the collection.

I was told if no one has taken out a book in two years, there’s a good chance they will be cut from the shelves.

Where do they go? Do you have a book dungeon? Do you sell them? Or do you burn them? That would be quite an efficient way to get rid of them and you could generate electricity for reading tablets.

Look, I know you’re not getting any younger. And you’re not getting any bigger. And it’s unlikely that you will lose your youthful figure anytime soon.

Space costs money and right now there’s only so many books you can hold. I get that.

Plus, it must be no fun being a repository of a bunch of dusty old books when running a media centre and community engagement space would be much more hip and cool. No one wants to be considered irrelevant.

But you can’t build a real library on a bunch of best-sellers and fad topics (remember all those marzipan cookbooks?) or no books at all.

Please, be careful. Some of the books you’ve taken away will never come back again.

For example, you used to have a Fred Astaire book filled with pictures of him dancing. No heavy-duty text, just photographs. Astaire, dancing, lighter than air. In a top hat, in a fedora, with an umbrella, or a mop, or a coat stand. Brilliant, frozen, nearly forgotten moments. Again, I wish you could see it but it’s no longer in the collection. I can’t find it online.

I can imagine a young man or woman — who has never heard of Fred Astaire but is mad for the dance of Michael Jackson — wandering through the stacks (in the 792 section, correct?). By accident, for some synchronistic reason, he or she opens that Astaire book and is inspired. Maybe that young person takes up tap. Or he or she will borrow moves from Astaire. Just like Michael Jackson did. Wouldn’t that have been grand? Maybe you would want to keep that book, for that very slim, impossibly unpredictable, beautiful reason. Just in case.

I owe you late fees.

I still love you and everybody who works there.

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.