Jul 7, 2011
Readers, do you know the couples counseling truism that goes (and I'm paraphrasing), that choosing to say nothing at all (i.e. remaining silent, shutting down) is still a form of communication?
I've been thinking a lot lately about the meaning of how we dress each day, and if our clothing choices are always expressing something whether or not we're trying to communicate anything consciously.
Even though I love to sew my own clothes, clothing (or fashion) is not the primary way I express myself. I mean, I like to look nice and all -- clean (or cleanish), poised, gentlemanly (remember those Allen Edmonds shoes?). But I'm not trying to make a strong statement through the way I look.
A long time ago, I wrote a post called "Are you a Sticker-Outer or a Blender-Inner?" I'm happy to be a blender inner, albeit in shoes so good that someone else who appreciates good shoes might notice, like a secret signifier of good taste -- the worst kind of elitism, right?
Anyway, I think our choice of clothes -- even the most ill-fitting, lounge-around-the-house-or-drive-to-Walmart clothes -- is a form of self-expression, conscious or not. The slob is saying, I am someone who doesn't define myself by my appearance. Or perhaps, I look offensive to you and I know it and I'm not going to do anything about it, so there!
The world is full of fashion rebels eager to stick it to the establishment.
In days gone by, when fashion was dictated by a few powerful designers, fashion magazines, and (for men) traditions, it was easier to rebel against the status quo. Anything outside the narrow scope of acceptable fashion would be considered rebellious. Today, on the other hand, when anything goes, it's harder to express a rebellious, or anti-establishment position through one's clothing choice.
If anyone isn't sure what I mean by "establishment" -- it's not a term in wide use anymore -- see the definition here.
I've been spending a lot of time lately trying to make sense of the return of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit look. This was the somber uniform men rebelled against for decades -- from greasers to hippies to punk rockers and beyond. And yet in a perverse form of poetic justice, the staid establishment look has, in the first decades of the new century, come to represent hip rebellion.
Friends, I speak of the Mad Men look, coming soon to a Banana Republic near you!
Wise readers, help me here. Is this ironic dressing? I'm not so sure. At a time when America is experiencing a steep economic decline, is this a form of nostalgia for an era of unchallenged American supremacy?
Or is it just, ho hum, another swing of the pendulum between more formal dressing and more casual (the last swing being the 1980s)?
Or, simply due to the popularity of a television show?
When we put on clothes we're making a statement about who we are. It's a statement we make not only to others, but also (and maybe most importantly) to ourselves.
If we dress like our favorite rock star, the Japanese kids on Harajuku street, or the CEO of Goldman Sachs, we're expressing our allegiance to an attitude, a set of values, a belief system.
Do you agree or disagree?
And if the former, what does the way you choose to dress say about you? (Be honest, it won't go beyond these four walls.)
Labels: clothing and culture