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On dressing and being dressed

by Rosie Findlay , February 20, 20121 Comment

I would not be a true style blogger if I did not commence this post without some description of what I wore today. If I wasn’t awkward as all get out in front of a camera, I might even provide a photograph, as is customary in the outfit posts of style bloggers – including two of my favourites, Susie of Style Bubble and Rosalind of Clothes, Cameras and Coffee.

As it is, let me describe to you the perfectly dull sheen of the leather of my new boots, with their slightly almond toe and their wide elastic panels cupping the bobbles of my ankles. Let me render for your imagination the clotted-cream colour of my linen shirt, currently working its tails out of the very low waistband of these second-hand black jeans, so old that they were Tsubis before Tsubis became Ksubis, worn to the colour of ash by a friend who passed them along in a box of other clothes. The shirt cost me five dollars at the Camberwell Market in Melbourne, bought in a hurry before the clouds became a deluge. The jeans cost me the effort of swapping some of my own unwanted clothes. The boots … perhaps you can allow me to save face by withholding the cost of these. Let’s just say they were half-price and I will wear them forever. And probably even into the grave, and beyond, into paradise.

Why am I describing my clothes to you? Because when I wear them, I feel. They have a way of speaking to me, their communion on my skin translating into a quietude and sense of ease. The jeans grip my legs and transform my walk into a stride. The boots have a pleasant weight to them, which when combined with the aforementioned stride, lends my motion momentum, purpose. There is nothing extraneous in this ensemble, and by virtue, I feel myself absorb this streamlined quality. This is what I wear when I feel single-minded and calm.

Where does this corporeal sentience come from? Can we attribute it to fashion? Often, fashion seems to polarise people: there are those who are devoted to it (often to the point of caricature) and those who loathe it. Fashion is an exaggeration of itself, the narcissistic venture of people who prefer feathers to substance – or it is life, death, art. Yet despite being produced by an industry that has found a way to categorise virtually everything that falls under its purview – consider as proof the pre-fall and resort (pre-summer) collections, themselves separate from the Fall/Winter, Spring/Summer and Haute Couture collections; or the trouser, which is distinct from the pant, and not to be confused with the pyjama, track, harem, parachute, khaki or capri pant – fashion itself defies definition. It is both a multi-billion dollar commercial industry and a functional system of expression that is intimately enfolded into the everyday practices of its customers – for what could be more quotidian than getting dressed? Fashion transforms this, the getting dressed, to an art and makes being clothed an act of self-expression.

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.

Rosie Findlay is a PhD student researching style blogs at the University of Sydney. She blogs at www.fashademic.blogspot.com.




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