Defining ‘Fashion’

If I had my way, I would just get a numb cream for tattoo and get my arms completedly tattooed, taking the stories of my life and writing them on my body.  I would wear sunglasses in and out of buildings.   I would wear black t-shirts that cost $200, and I would speak French.  I would do exactly what I wanted, whenever.

So why, then, do I not?  Why do I not have ‘my way?’  (Sounds like a Burger King commercial, no?)  Is it not the American way to do what we want?  Of course it is, but do we value it outside a dream?  Mostly, no.  We watch it on television, we enjoy it in rock stars, but we do not accept it when a co-worker dyes his/her hair, drops a few pant sizes, and starts wearing red cowboy boots everyday to work.  Why not?  Why are we so skeptical of others’ views on fashion?  Why do we not enjoy the same vulnerability in our familiars as we do Sting?  Why do we mock it?

Simple.  We think we know who they are as people, and we cannot believe otherwise.  It’s very easy to take a stranger at face value.  It’s much harder to believe someone you know, when he/she changes into someone you “know” they aren’t (or don’t want to believe they are). Let’s experiment.

  • A man sits alone in a park.  He wears quietly tailored pants.  You notice his socks, his shoes. Your eyes walk slowly up his body, past his mid-length trench coat, which is casually open, exposing his shirt — although, it isn’t just a shirt; it’s a shirt with a complimenting layer beneath. Everything he wears is somehow connected by color, device — complete, effortless.  All of him seamlessly coexists with everything surrounding.  A big bang, a greater deity at work?  No one knows.
  • A man pulls up next to you at a red-light. He drives a vintage motorcycle.  His white t-shirt is tight and pressed.  His jeans – slightly worn, ripped in all the right places – drape his boots.  His tattoos extend down both arms to the handlebars, and his glasses reflect your face staring, longing.  He smiles and drives off, leaving you to gift him with a name and a history.
  • A woman gathers her mail from a row of gold-plated boxes in your apartment building.  She wears black jeans; or, the black jeans wear her.  It’s hard to tell.  Her top is patterned, and layers of clothing, scarves, a side bag intertwine beneath her neck, around her shoulders.  It’s hard to know where her body begins and where it ends; you cannot take your eyes off her.

Take these three people I just described to you.  I have no doubt that everyone who read those descriptions built a mental picture of each individual, and I bet that none of them were ugly.

The woman at the bank of mailboxes has a name: Karen Snodgrass.  Yesterday, she packed up all of her Lee Jeans, gathered up her oversize sweatshirts, and took it all, including 40 pairs of colored Ked’s, to Goodwill.  Then, she maxed out her credit cards on the outfit you saw her standing in this morning.  How did she pick it out? What decisions did she make?  The truth: she saw a copy of Vogue at the dentist’s office and decided that today was the day it was all changing.  Every article of clothing she purchased, she copied from a magazine picture she so coveted. Does this change the way you think of her?  Does it now change your opinion on how she thinks, or who she is?  It shouldn’t, but it does.  Why?  Because now you don’t believe her.  Now you know her.  You see that her decisions aren’t real, or true, but based on someone else’s art, ideas, fashion.  Maybe everyone has to start somewhere.  Maybe she just enrolled as a freshman in the college of making definitive personal choices.  But for now, the future isn’t looking good.

Let’s talk about the gentleman on the motorcycle.  His name is Antonia Maximus.  His friends call him ‘Ant.’  Pretty badass, right?  If you asked him why he wears what he does, he’d shrug and take a drag on a dark Israeli cigarette. “Because I like it.”  He believes it, so you do, too.  He sells it; you buy it.  Or, maybe it’s the truth, and to you it’s an easy one to swallow, unlike Ms. Snodgrass.

This is fashion to me — being truthful.  It’s about being honest.  It’s not about saying ‘fuck you’ to everything; it’s about saying ‘fuck you’ to everything EXCEPT the things that matter to you.  It’s about making clearly defined decisions in your life, regardless of what anyone else says.  It can be disguised for a while, but at some point, someone’s going to figure you out.  And there’s nothing fashionable about being a fraud.

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