Saturday, September 4, 2010

Do Clothes Make the Woman?

Recently my spouse asked me "why didn't you ever get into the fashion industry?" I answered her with a fairly well thought out argument about how I knew my style was not quite a match 10 or 20 years ago with what was then considered fashionable and therefore felt myself apart from that world. But there is more to the story.

As a young girl I had Madonna as my primary role model for a more outlandish image aesthetic. She wore white lace dresses with giant Catholic crosses and dozens of bracelets at a time. Madonna let her bra strap show in the most playful way but would also rock a men's style suit with a pointed bra. Madonna gave someone of my generation a catalogue of looks that conveyed a sense of ebullient addition. That we could add onto ourselves ad infinitum to express ourselves.

As Madonna began to get older and became more wanna be than be, someone like me looked to other celebrities to navigate among the clothing trends. Fashion magazines served me well but looking to the red carpet and even gossip mags served as a tutor for where to direct my affinities and pocket book. At the same time celebrities became the cover models and models themselves served only to validate popular performers, rather than inspire them.

Soon there was a big fashion wedding around 2002. I missed it of course as I love to be fashionably late but at that point fashion as an integration of the look and the self was beginning to take hold of our collective consciousness. In a few more years the stage was being set for going beyond a look, an expression or an aesthetic. Soon to come was what had already been achieved before in the 1970's but was now to be reborn in a cogent congress of the many generations of expression through clothing. We were to have something beyond fashion. We finally got to have style.

On a recent episode of Project Runway Tim Gunn said a particular outfit a contestant designed looked like clothes rather than fashion. What I liked about that statement is the idea that human beings today tend to have a need to go beyond simply wearing clothes. Today we don't just want to add onto ourselves, we want our selves to be fully present. We desire to do more than express or represent. Our clothes and our style are us. Our dress and accouterments are even greater to who we are than the skin that covers our bones. Personal display is personal ceremony. Pageantry is person hood.

Nona Hendricks, Prince, Grace Jones, David Bowie, Cher, Elton John, and even early hair hands like Twisted Sister all brought pageantry to their performance both on and off stage. Now we have the likes of Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Kelis & Rihanna who are doing their thing but before them was Andre 3000, Erykah Badu, Gwen Stefani and even Lil' Kim who used their style to convey the "I'm gonna be who I am" ethos.

Had the fashion industry been more like it is now or was in the 70's I may have tried to get into the business somehow. Not as a designer (I leave that up to my BFF Heather) but maybe as some type of professional connoisseur. The long and short of it is I love to wear what I am on any given day. Call it costuming or style or silliness but my "look" is my lens. What one sees on me is what I feel I am on that day in that way. The preppy blazers and hammer pants of the later 1980's combined with the plaid shirts and short jackets of the early 1990's did nothing to inspire my desire to connect style to my self. Had I been more creative and inventive and self assured, things may have been different.

Today I am so grateful to be in a time period where runway fashion and street style are no longer separate. We can wear six inch heels with socks or try to look like a human lollipop. We can be electric, daring, feminine and downright sleazy. We can be who we are and dress the way we are. It is indeed a great time to be a woman!

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