Thursday, August 8, 2013

He really does wear Prada though.

Or Chloe. Collage? Mine.

I've always been smitten with fashion. As a kid, I didn't need to justify it; I sported hot pink corduroy slacks because they channeled Lizzie McGuire, and that was that. As my frontal lobe developed, however, so did my sense that I couldn't entertain a lifelong love affair with couture unless I could attach it to something substantial. I thought, if, when I die, God asks me why I chose to invest so much time in the study of clothing, I want to have a better answer than "because it's purdy." So I resolved to find one.

As an artist, I initially turned to exterior. Fashion is, after all, immediately visual. I likened the composition of an outfit, which requires sensitivity to basic aesthetic principles, to that of a painting, and I found some validity in the idea of fashion as an art, as a self-justifying articulation of beauty. I continued combing The Sartorialist archives and various online retail sites, feeling safe in the notion that, like writing and drawing, I loved fashion simply as a medium of human expression.

Now, though, I think this explanation is inadequate. My fashion-as-art model fails to account for every aspect of fashion that allures me; it fails to account, in particular, for what often feels like the most influential force behind my fetish: the awareness of an audience. I mean, yes, in composing figure-flattering, color-conscious ensembles to wear on my daily excursions, I derive a creative release comparable to what I feel when sketching or crafting an essay; fashion puts me in my element. This is true. At the same time, though, I devise each outfit with the knowledge that other people will be observing me and making assumptions about me based on what I'm wearing, and I admittedly thrive off the opportunity to lie. So, where art typically uses aesthetic value to induce meaningful human introspection, fashion uses it to induce shallow judgements based on an exterior. This fundamental difference is the reason I can't let myself off the hook by declaring, "oh, well fashion is an art!" I can't ignore the fact that I dress to impress.

Sometimes I think personal style can't really be considered self-expression at all, since some part of it will always be about other people. Even the renegades who claim to not give a shit about style norms are still making an argument to the public at large when they don fugly chic; it's just that instead of showcasing their fashion savvy, they're showcasing their superiority to fashion savvy.

But back to my question--what to tell the good Lord when he asks about my Frye fetish? In truth, I'll have to 'fess up to my own vanity; I'm attracted to clothing partially because it allows me to make a very distinct, very attractive argument about myself without words. When I wear my favorite ballet flats, for example, I do so intentionally, wanting people to think, "wow, that girl can afford high-quality footwear but has the propriety not to flaunt it." I ADMIT IT OKAY.

If I thought my attraction to fashion was purely narcissistic, though, I'd delete this blog. Which I'm not going to do. The fact remains that the way people wear clothing excites me in a way that feels transcendent. While there may always be a part of me that exploits designer labels for social gain, I'll forever appreciate folds of chiffon, supple leather paneling, destructed denim, and the works for their intrinsic beauty, the beauty they lend to the human form, and the creativity they manifest in combination.

Because dialogue > monologue, I'll go out on a well-worn limb here: why do you love fashion? What do you see as its redeeming qualities, and how do you justify its ugly side? Share.


  1. I am on a similar rabbit trail - and fumbling a bit to answer it earnestly. I guess fashion is a way to quickly assimilate certain tribes and philosophies without an awful lot of effort, when I really admit it. The price of entry to whatever exclusive club, or poignant self-declaration of point of view, that a brand or style may suggest is as simple as forking over the money - and then you get to parade it around and look pretty, or intellectual, or grungy, or deliberately... whatever you choose. Then there's the whole having a collection to curate and edit, with souvenirs of travels and memories to wear as you'd like - it's all so appealing, isn't it? Excited to see where your blog goes!

    1. Both of these points are so true for me, too. I often wonder to what extent true "tribes" even exist anymore (i.e. the hipster tribe, the gangster tribe), considering the fact that their signature apparel is available for purchase to the public at large. I myself don't identify with one in particular, but love experimenting with the boundaries between different groups through the way I dress. And I like "curating" and "editing" as words to describe the upkeep of a wardrobe! Genius. The control freak in me approves this terminology and totally agrees.