On my personal blog, amongst the chatter and occasional rant, I sometimes post pictures of myself before I go out — for errands, for a nice dinner, just sitting around. I enjoy sharing with my readers the different things I wear, and I love seeing pictures of the bloggers I follow. It may be vain, sure, but I certainly don’t think it’s hurting anybody. And last night, before a dinner with friends, I posted a picture of myself wearing a skirt, a light sweater, and an Italian-scarf-and-brooch combination that once belonged to my grandmother. Amongst all of the things I wear, my grandmother’s clothes and jewelry are the most important, the most treasured. I wear them with pride because I love her, I miss her, and she was a beautiful, elegant woman who cared for all of her lovely belongings and passed them down to me. As the oldest of many cousins, and the daughter of her oldest child, some of her most prized possessions went to my family. When I wear them, I feel more beautiful than I do in anything else.
And with the photo, like with any other, came the usual little smattering of comments and questions. Sometimes I ask for an opinion on things, and my readers are honest enough to give me constructive criticism — which I wholly appreciate. But this time, there was no survey, I was simply showing off the scarf and brooch that I was proud and happy to be wearing. I felt beautiful and elegant and like my grandmother would have called me a “young lady.” I shared simply to share. And amongst the responses I got came one that really stopped me in my tracks:
“Please spare us your “#what i wore” posts. Yours are some of the least interesting clothes. They can’t even be justified as retro or conservative, because that can be done without inducing yawns (see Derek Lam Fall 2012, among others). Not saying you need to abide by any sense of trendiness, but just develop some sense of style or quit it with those posts.”
There is something about this seemingly innocuous comment that, to me, represents all that is truly wrong and awful about the concept of “fashion” itself. This comment isn’t outright “mean,” and it’s not insulting me personally or calling me ugly names, but it is undermining any attempt I made to feel beautiful by reminding me — with a succinct dropping of a fashion name I surely can’t relate to — that I am not “stylish.” Even if I look “acceptable” or “good,” I am not “fashionable” by any means. There was some invisible test going on, and I failed it. And this attitude is so pervasive in our culture, especially amongst young people and in big cities. There is this idea that having “taste” and being “stylish” are far, far removed from wearing things that look good on you, or that make you feel good. The competition arises not from making yourself look the best you can, but from having the most knowledgeable and interesting combination of labels and trends possible.
I have made fun of things like The Sartorialist and super-high-end boutiques before here, and I usually do it with a sense of humor and not too much seriousness, but I feel truly hurt by it quite often. When I look at things like street fashion photography, and see the way they consistently eschew the the opportunity to present real people in all shapes and sizes looking beautiful in things that weren’t necessarily expensive or hard-to-find to just show the same thin, beautiful people in designer clothes — I feel even worse about the way we are looking at each other. It is yet another reminder — couched in a genre that tries to present itself as featuring “real” people–that there is pretty, but then there is fashionable, and you should never pretend you are the latter if you are just the former.
Pictures people post of themselves on blogs and personal sites are often in a similar vein. People who take pride in capturing what they wear are often the same kind who abide by “style books,” and Coco Chanel’s rules, and what came down the runway at Paris Fashion Week. They’re beautiful, and always wearing such interesting and fresh clothes–but let’s not forget that that is their interest. It’s their hobby. It’s what they like to do. Just as some of us may like sports or art or movies, they are interested in fashion. In this way, it’s not just an average person demonstrating what they put on in the morning, it’s someone who cultivated and worked on a “look” and are now putting it out there in hopes of approval. It’s wonderful in its own way, but it doesn’t mean that people who aren’t necessarily “into fashion” can’t do the same. And appreciating a girl in a nice new dress she found at H&M is just as simple as appreciating a girl showing off her new Celine bag with a vintage Chanel dress, in perfectly coiffed hair and bold red lipstick. It’s just not the same thing.
When I get dressed in the morning, I do so with the intention of feeling as beautiful as possible. I almost never wear pants, for example, because I feel much more myself and happy in skirts and dresses. Some people might find it strange, or tell me about all the beautiful outfits I am missing out on — and I do love the looks other women put together in pants, don’t get me wrong–but I don’t care. I like looking the way I feel comfortable. Most of my clothes were inexpensive, but I care for the nice things I have and maintain them well — especially the things I’ve inherited. Some days I might go out looking less-than-perfect, but it’s not the end of the world. There is pressure in cities to look good at all times, but I try my best to fight it and remember that I am beautiful as I am. And there is nothing more sad than having an entire industry — and the people who “live by it” — tell me that I am not good enough, that I just missed the mark. I don’t want my life dictated by what is “in season,” and I don’t need to spend half of my monthly disposable income on a new bag. I just want to wear clothes that flatter me, feel beautiful in my own skin, and enjoy my own style.
Fashionable people do wear some incredible, beautiful things, but they shouldn’t have a monopoly on what it means to look good.