When my husband and I were still dating, he introduced me to his uncle, Gary, a former professor of literature and an amazing writer. I have gotten to know Gary very well over the years and just think he is an overall awesome and super cool person. We have had debates and discussions on all kinds of topics, and he is always open to new ideas and ways of looking at things. He is more well read than anyone I have ever met, and he continues to strive to educate himself about the world that is around him. He always introduces the husband and I to the most interesting, creative people. And, Gary and I have done everything from working on minor home repairs to celebrating Endymion with the best sangria ever made. When I got the idea to start a blog, I thought back to conversations he and I had about fashion and style. Gary is a fashion anarchist, in his own words. I asked him last week if might consider writing something for the blog about his views on fashion, and of course, he obliged my whim and wrote something that we should all think over. Tomorrow, I will put up a post in response to what Gary has written.
photo courtesy of Gary
Letter from a Fashion Anarchist
I am not a good dresser. I sometimes wear black shoes with a brown belt. I sometimes wear socks with sandals. I sometimes do this carelessly. I sometimes do this deliberately. I am a fashion anarchist.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against fashion. The people I supervise at my office are welcome to dress up or dress down, as their fancy suits them on any given day. Occasionally things in the “up” style catch my eye as aesthetically pleasing; occasionally things in the “down” style catch my eye as aesthetically pleasing. Often, I’m just plain oblivious. My only rule is this: Dress however you like and give others the same respect.
The most common objection to fashion anarchy stems from the misconception that it is “anti-fashion.” People who know me know that I love art museums, that I love to garnish my plates at dinner. And I am sometimes asked: Why are you so against devoting the same attention to fashion? The answer, of course, is that I am not against it. Everyone should pursue their interest in fashion or art or garnishing down to whatever level of detail pleases them. I’m all for freedom of expression and freedom to be as creative or conventional as you like. Just let me dress as differently or as carelessly as I choose. Otherwise, you undermine the very integrity of fashion. You have turned it from a liberating, expressive act into something restrictive and socially deadening. So match your socks and your belts and shoes if you like, but don’t forget to celebrate those who mismatch.
A second objection to fashion anarchy is that clothing should suit the venue. In this case, there is no misconception, merely an outright disagreement. The fashion anarchist does not believe in venue-driven restrictions. These sorts of restrictions are generally a residue of class hierarchy. The wealthier class does not want to see underdressed people in their buildings or clubs or social locales. In another context, I may argue that this need to segregate one’s “people” from lower orders occurs only where you have collective material power combined with collective low self-esteem, or that it is a residue of pre-Renaissance social needs which will wither away in some forthcoming Age of Aquarius. For now let us just say that the comfort taken in maintaining one’s hierarchical status is probably not going away any time soon. Fair enough, but when class exclusivity uses fashion as its weapon, it may serve some purpose for the exclusionary class, but it certainly does no service to fashion. The “dress code” mentality is, in fact, the direct or indirect source of all hostility to the world of fashion. When fashion becomes a tool for exclusion, the excluded come to associate fashion with oppression, and some measure of hostility will follow. But where fashion is a conduit of free expression, stripped of all restrictive functions, it becomes purely liberatory for all classes. This is the final irony: that only through the prism of fashion anarchy can fashion emerge in its full liberatory mode.
So next time you see me with the mismatched socks and sandals, you might want to buy me a beer. For I am your reminder: fashion anarchists are not the enemy of fashion; fashion police are the enemy of fashion.
Here is my response to yesterday's post from Gary. Sorry it took so long but gosh was there a lot of ground to cover:
I like to think that I am a pretty good dresser--who would put up their photos for the world to see if they didn't, right. I have worn a brown belt and black shoes and thought it looked really cute. I have also seen lots of pictures recently of girls who wear sandals with socks and totally rock it out. I put effort into my look on days when I can, and I don't when I can't. I am not a fashion anarchist; I am a style blogger.
After having this blog a few months, I would say that I am also not necessarily a die hard, fashion follower but more of a personal style enthusiast. I enjoy watching the latest fashion show recaps and sometimes drool while other times laughing at the latest and greatest creations. I love to see different ideas on the web and in person from Japanese street style to guys and girls who work magic with a thrift store only closet. Fashion to me is a context of a sort of elite society, like the cool kids in high school. I am not sure I could belong in that group or that I really want to. I do not jet aroud the world or have millions of dollars in my bank account to allow me the luxury of wearing sometimes over the top and ridiculous trends. I am a person who works a 9 to 5 job in a creative industry who enjoys the creative outlet that trying to style my own look affords me. I see people like Garance Dore and drool a little at the life that she has with the constant trips and the amazing fashion icons in her address book. But, I feel like knowing myself, I wouldn't be comfortable there because it's not who I am. I think I am a little more down to earth than that, grounded by the life I live and the people who love me.
It's easy to say that fashion isn't as important as lots of other things in the world (think depressing global problems), but I think it's still valid because it's a form of art. Clothing has always been a way of expressing what you feel or think. Even in uniforms or within dress codes, people find ways to broadcast a little about themselves. Women, in particular, have experienced some of the most restrictive bans on clothing and lifestyle from the medieval times to the burqa, and we still find ways to try and feel like we are individuals. I just think of the women who live in the different, conservative countries of the middle east who let the tiniest section of their hairline show or who sport a touch of red lipstick. They are defying the uniform imposed on them and helping break down labels of what should and shouldn't be. Restrictions can in turn actually be motivational because you have to be creative within a specific construct.
Alternatively, creativity is very individual, and I really don't think it's fair to tell someone how they should dress or criticize someone openly for an unusual ensemble. Things do sometimes look funny--which I have learned posting photos online. Fashion and style are forms of art, and it's understandable that they won't always be transparent. Sometimes I think people look completely whackadoodle, but I don't go around pointing them out or pulling them aside. It's a personal opinion I try to keep to myself because I'd be horrified if someone did that to me (even if I deserved it). I think what makes the difference to a lot of people who dress up or put effort into their clothing is that the mere effort makes you feel better, more confident. And people who realize that the confidence from feeling good about your appearance can trickle down into other aspects of your self esteem and life want other people to feel that, too. In that vein, I admit to watching hours of What Not to Wear and taking away from it lots of tips and trends, but more importantly, how great the makeover subjects feel at the end of the process. When the participants have to invest time in themselves, they realize what a different place they start from emotionally and begin to recognize themselves as worthwhile individuals. So much of life in this modern world beats us down and taking back a little bit of self worth and personal importance is extremely empowering. That's one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place.
Of course, fashion still makes an appearance in my personal style because it trickles down from the huge design houses into popular colors, shapes, and designs in knock off stores like Forever 21 and big department stores like Dillards. I feel like I can accept that certain clothing options are available to me because of someone else's creativity without feeling completely restricted by fashion as an industry. I can still choose to buy something unique and vintage or even learn to make my own clothes. I don't have to go along with a trend to achieve a certain line of form on my body. Blogging has really helped me to realize this because of all of the women that I follow online. I can be totally interested in a look and love it on someone else but not personally try to wear it. The blogging community is full of people who gain inspiration and fellowship by sharing part of their lives and interests online. It's like we each publish a little magazine a few times a week, and I love reading the latest issues.
Bloggers really are the best example of inclusionary fashion and style. People who join this community aren't out there to bash anyone else, make fun of them, or keep them to the side. They are people who may not like what someone else is wearing but just keep moving onto other bloggers who they identify with for some reason. Gary wrote that he sees a lot of people using dress codes and money as a way to be seperatist and I agree with that. Trends in fashion often involve buying the newest or complicated or expensive item to stay on trend. I hope that fashion and style blogging continue to be an antidote to that message in the popular media. Everyone needs to be do their own thing and worry a little bit less about someone else.
The last thing I wanted to write about before this becomes a novel is dressing for occasions. Gary and I have discussed this in person before and I think that a lot of what he says is spot on. But, of course, I have a different take on getting dressed up. Dressing for the occasion is a lot like planning a vacation to me when you get to enjoy the trip while planning it. I like that I might have to put a little extra spit and polish into my look for somebody's wedding or party. I don't mind forgoing jeans most days at work and avoiding cutoff jorts. It's nice to have an occasion to get all dresed up for sometimes because it's the excuse to pull out something special you might not feel comfortable wearing any other time. That's just my opinion (well all of it really) which you can also feel free to buy me a drink for expressing. I have plenty more of them that you will get to read about in the coming months. I am pretty sure I now owe Gary a beer.