My little description on the right of the page mentions that I may blog about fashion, but I don’t find myself actually doing that so often. Well today may be that rare exception.
I recently came-across a guest post on Kill Your Darlings by fashion blogger and PhD student Rosie Findlay, who runs the aptly-named Fashademic. Findlay made her point very eloquently, so I will quote two paragraphs in full with some lines bolded and then comment after:
When we dress, we dress for pleasure, work, warmth, need or, as in my case today, because we feel a certain need to mirror our sensibility, and we reach for the garments that best encourage these aspects of our selves. Even those who reject fashion take part in its system. Fashion is a mode of visual communication that ‘speaks the self’ both externally, as it presents you as clothed and appropriate, and internally, as it resonates with you in the feel of fabric on your limbs, the pinching of shoes on toes, the rough itch of wool on skin, the desperate sweating underneath denim on an unexpectedly warm day. At an everyday level, clothing speaks to us, and helps us make sense of one another and of ourselves. In other words, what is superficial is not only superficial.
So here I am to state that it is not trivial to take an interest in clothing – to do so is to accept that there is pleasure to be found in dressing, in wearing, and in finding another way to express something of who you feel you are. I reject the notion that to do so is to imply that you are a superficial person or, in the words of English professor Emily Toth, that ‘if you look like you spend too much time on your clothes, there are people who will assume that you haven’t put enough energy into your mind’. I pitch my tent instead with Virginia Postrel, whose book The Substance of Style makes a compelling argument for the importance of aesthetics, writing that they are of fundamental value to human beings and a source of deep pleasure – not the most important thing, but still important. I find this stance incredibly liberating: it acknowledges that there is room to enjoy dressing and being dressed, while not elevating that practice to utmost importance. It means I can enjoy the interplay of these jeans, this shirt and these heavenly boots with my self, and appreciate how this process colours my day as I go forth into other considerations.
Most people with the same general interests as me would not care about fashion – in fact, I know more than one person who say they actively avoid it, generally accompanied with the sentiment that they “just wear whatever”.
This perspective saddens me. I feel it is based largely in the ideas that Findlay identified, that caring about our physical appearance is “superficial” and that it is a waste of time to worry about such superficial matters when there are more important issues out there. I also suspect that the attitude develops as a reaction to the types of people who become involved in fashion on the highschool playground; as any nerdy teenager would know, no one who wants to be seen as intelligent would associate with a culture dominated by air-headed Hollywood actors, vapid trust fund babies and ignorant musicians who just do what their management tells them.
The operative word in that sentence? They want to be seen as intelligent. The corrollary is that there is a way to look intelligent. If Emily Toth (above) thinks that spending too much time on clothes implies not spending enough time on mind, then she is clearly showing a value judgment based on appearance: fashionable means vacuous, those of us with substance are unfashionable. She is looking at the conscious choice that a person has made of how to dress and drawing conclusions from it. The “intelligent look” is one that does not require much time.
Ms Toth must spend some time on her clothes, but obviously minimises this to some extent in order to spend more time on her “mind”. She sees the amount of time she takes as sufficient to look acceptable and then any better than acceptable, she deems unnecessary. She is making a choice about how she looks. As she well knows, when we meet someone, their appearance is the first impression that we get. Other than their body language, everything that we notice is in their choice of fashion – what clothes they wear, how their hair is done, any makeup etc. By choosing to rush her wardrobe she is consciously projecting an image to the world, saying: “I am intelligent, I am a woman of substance, I don’t care about fashion.”
Her reasoning is flawed. She clearly cares about fashion, enough to let it influence her perspective of others and to at least be conscious of how it affects her image. In reality, fashion is not something that can be avoided. You care about fashion, everybody cares about fashion. If you choose to cover yourself with fading polyester shirts and shapeless jeans made from paper-thin denim fom KMart, you are revealing just as much about yourself as someone wearing a hand-tailored bespoke Italian suit. The difference is that the person in the Italian suit is conscious of this and has spent time thinking about what message they want to convey; I know which of these seems more intelligent to me.
When you get up in the morning and look through your clothes, the question you should ask yourself is not “how should I dress today?” but “what will I look like today?”. Why would anyone want to answer that with “cheap, lazy and uncoordinated” when they could choose “damn fine”?