February 3, 2013

Here's To Those Who Dress Left Of Center


There are still people for which everything is in its place. My sister is one of them. At a company holiday party, she wore a black and gold one-shoulder dress that hugged her fit frame and flattered accordingly. She always looks good and just right. Nothing — including the clothing on her body — is out of place. There are still people like her out there, many in fact. But, if you are like me and find yourself with folks who self-identify as left of center, the proportions begin to take on a life of their own, lengthening downwards and expanding outwards. Our clothing is a manifestation of an interiority that aims to grasp, to touch as much of the world around us and experience it first hand. It is an acknowledgement of a hunger for more.

A month or two ago, I attended an overstuffed party consumed with young adults, probably a year or two younger than me, but demonstrably different in terms of manner and goals. My sweaters drip around my limbs, a lifeless excess of cloth. But these partygoers were dressed to increasingly stardardized extremes: glasses oversized to the point of satire, t-shirts that skim the ground and collect bundles of lint. None of it was practical, but it made for a dramatic presentation.

Fashion is boldness, and to wear something specific and extreme is an active statement of one’s boldness. At least, this is my interpretation. I often find it is most difficult to expound at length about any one subject — whether it be art or music or current events — with the people I find most experimental, most misfit, in their fashion choices. This is not a criticism of their personal aesthetic but an indictment of stereotypes and first impressions.

A misfit is something of the wrong size or shape for its purpose. The idea of the misfit has been used, abused, and transformed into a visual and fashionable form of rebellion, a potent symbolism for an increasingly maladjusted and communication-deficient generation. The easiest way someone can show the world that they are rebellious, or at least just a little bit different, is to appropriate anti-choices in clothing. If first impressions are everything, then a misshapen clothing item or accessory is now the quickest way of letting the world know that “something” about you (political views, musical tastes, life goals) is left of center. By wearing high water pants, one is telling the world around them that their interiority, the aspect of the individual that can only be truly communicated from the individual in question, is far more nuanced than the average person on the street.

My life as a black woman is an understated rebellion of stereotypes. What I pursue is a selfhood not readily available based on my physicality. But I am also human, a visual creature. Although I aim for independence from the rules and rituals of my appearance, I still look at the people and the world around me with 23 years of truths, half-truths, and downright lies. I still see a man in a business suit and assume that he is successful and accomplished. I still see a preppy young woman and view her as childish and spoiled. They don’t need to tell me who they are. I have relied too much on my frequently incorrect beliefs to abandon them when faced with a world unlike me.

And it is this practice, of seeing and then knowing, that helps strengthen the connection between the misfit and the individual. By wearing mens’ loafers, I am participating in the game and following the rules of who I want people to think I am. They don’t need to truly know me. They know enough. TC mark