[Guess what, dudes and ladies? It is still The Week of Brackets That Will Not End: Or, our monthly Tiger Beatdown Pledge Drive, for those familiar with the process. Hey: Have I mentioned that Pledge Driving is how we pay our fine bloggers, around here? Yep! Value for labor! This is how we roll! And since today is Wednesday, it is time for the exciting contributions of Silvana. Enjoy clicking on the Donate button, shortly before being en-wowed by her words!]
I am getting married in 10 days. I am not freaking out! Although, there has been some drama, related to the officiating of the wedding. I have religion problems, people. I have big religion problems. But I don’t want to talk about them today, and I don’t even want to talk about all the Really Serious Things that are going on in my life, including a wonderful and exciting new job that is so good I may want to stay in DC forever just so I can keep working here, or my freaking out about money, or my wedding, or the fact that really, things are changing for me.
Today, I gotta get something off my chest that I’ve been thinking about for days, on a rather frivolous-seeming subject. But it’s not really frivolous at all. Last Friday night I was out with some good friends, and we were talking about clothes, and I can’t remember who, but someone, expressed the common opinion that tights are not pants. This may seem pretty uncontroversial. There are leagues of commentators willing to deride the scourge of tights-as-pants, and they get resounding Amens.
I don’t care about tights. Not really. Even though I think it’s perfectly fine to wear tights as pants, it would take a lot of mental work for me to do it. I say, more power to the people who feel confident enough to have it all hangin’ out.
No, my problem is more structural. See, I like fashion. I like it a lot. I’m not a clothes horse by any means, but I do have a well-defined personal style and I enjoy admiring clothes, shoes, accessories, and jewelry. I wish I had way more money and time to spend on my wardrobe. Someday I’d love to make my own stuff. Fashion is a huge part of my personal aesthetic expression and engagement with the world. But. Always the but. I am a fat woman. And thus, fashion is Fraught for me. Capital-Fraught. Because for a huge portion of my life, shopping was hell. Shopping was always worrying what the largest size in stock was going to be, and wondering if I would be able to squeeze into it. Shopping was shame. Shopping was wishing my body was different. Shopping was wanting someone with me to tell me I looked alright, but wanting to be alone so no one could share in my private shame of feeling like my body was irreparably broken.
For fat women, clothes are supposed to be about making people forget that you’re fat. “Hiding” “flaws.” “Smoothing out” your “shape” (i.e. your fat). “Emphasizing” your “assets” (at least you have big boobs, fatty). “Defining” your waist (because, hey, at least you can make one part of you look smaller than the other parts). It’s all code for: Don’t look fat. The advice isn’t too different for thin or average women. You also want — surprise, surprise! — to not look fat. And for a long, long time, I bought into that. I bought the idea that my body wasn’t acceptable and I had to use clothing as best I could to try to make it acceptable.
You know what that’s not? Fun.
But fashion is fun. Color, style, pattern, playing around with era, with anachronism, being creative, re-purposing items, layering, doing things for shock value, using your attire as a costume, psyching yourself up using clothes, and the power of surprise. I struggle with the enterprise of fashion. What is it? Is it art? Or is the purpose of fashion to make you look good? And by what standards do we determine whether or not you have, in fact, succeeded in looking good?
I used to watch What not to Wear. At first, I loved it. People were made so happy by new clothes. Some of the pieces featured were truly great. But slowly, I started to hate it. It was always the same. You are a woman, you need to look more feminine. This defines your waist. This makes you look taller, thinner. This makes your neck look good (i.e. thin). You are an adult now. You need to grow up and stop wearing weird overalls/checkered pants/gross ugly hightops/hawaiian shirts/baggy things. You need to buy a few dresses and skirts. Here are some heels that are wearable.
Fashion is, at its core, about Rules. A complex, random, dynamic, unpredictable set of rules that are always established by someone other than you. Whether its fashion magazines, fashion designers, newspapers, movies, music videos, the popular girls at school, or your boss. There are rules. Part of the fun is trying to figure out how to do what you want and still abide by the rules. Or decide when to break them. But they’re almost always arbitrary and the strong social prescription to follow them is about falling in line, and about warning you that you better not stand out too much. There’s a reason that dress code violations are considered disrespectful: Modern Fashion is based on respect. You are supposed to respect all those powerful people, living and dead, who have made these fashion rules about the propriety of open-toed shoes or how tight is too tight.
And so when I hear, tights are not pants, or you should wear pantyhose to court, or I wouldn’t wear X cut of a shirt because it doesn’t look good on me, I think, who made these rules? Why are we following them? Why do we passively subscribe to an aesthetic system that requires us to daily fulfill the twin obligations of being “respectful” by not doing anything out of the ordinary and looking as thin and “feminine” as we can muster? I want fashion to be less about making other people comfortable, and more about personal expression and art. There is too much hierarchy. It is too top-down, from a murky top with too many leaders with too many conflicting messages.
The more I throw off my fat-girl hatred of fashion and realize that I love adorning my body in interesting and artistic ways, the more I get into a world of rules. This goes with that. This kind of garment only for this body shape. This is in this season, that is not hot right now.
Can we have a new fashion? A new theory? A new regime?
[In the new regime, you should still pay Silvana, for she is amazing. Enjoy this handsome donate button, for the purpose!]