Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Fashion and Perception

As promised, I am catching up on my reading.  Yesterday I finished the last 2015 edition of Laphams Quarterly, entitled Fashion.  Going into it, I thought Fashion to be an odd topic.  As a closet nudist, and a firm believer in the premise that money spent on clothes is largely a wasteful pursuit, I half expected to struggle through this edition.  Of course, as always, the essays, articles and viewpoints expressed within the magazine, opened my eyes.

First, it reminded me that not dressing up is in itself a fashion statement.  The magazine was replete with articles about anti-fashion trends, and fashion trends that emphasized casual, even slovenly look through out history.  Also, they reminded me that the jeans and affinity T-shirts that I generally wear identify me, categorize me, just as much as wearing a top coat and hat.  Our clothes say much about us whether we like to admit it or not.

And, if I were to be honest with myself, I would realize that the viewpoint that I am more than what I wear, hence I will wear what I want and expect everyone else to judge me for myself, not what I wear, is extremely hypocritical in light of the frequent judgments I render when I encounter a person with accoutrements that lead me to perceive them harshly.  We want others to judge us based on the purity of our hearts and the integrity of our spirit, yet all too often judge others as they look, whether that look includes a skin color, gender identity, or economic level that makes us uncomfortable, or even simply due to their hair length, tattooed ness, piercing or other such expression of individuality.

Oddly, I was reminded of this very observation during a partial viewing of Titanic yesterday.  You may recall the scene where Jack is put in a tuxedo by Molly Brown so he can attend dinner to which he was invited after saving Rose from jumping off the back of the ship.  As he waits for Rose near the entrance to the dining hall, he receives a number of nods and hellos in greeting by the other well dressed diners, and is accepted into the hall by the porters at the door as he escorts Rose and Molly in the exact way that all the other "gentlemen" escort their dates.  He is one of them, simply because he wears the same clothes. 

But the next day, when Jack attempts to enter that same room, guarded by those same porters, he is not allowed to pass because he is dressed in the clothes befitting of his station.  And, is reminded all too clearly that he is not to attempt future contact with Rose, but must stay in the area of the boat designated for those of his station. 

Later, in the most revealing scene of the attitude endemic in the minds of the first class passengers, when Rose points out to her mother that half the people on the Titanic will die as there are not enough life boats for all, her soon to be ex-fiancé says, to paraphrase, "not the better half".

Fashion, the concept and the magazine, help us identify those with whom we should idolize and emulate.  Fashion is the most obvious way to display ones accomplishments.  It identifies through fabric, color and style those who are successful in business, industry, entertainment, culture, religion, government, military.  As more than one writer expresses, how else could we identify who is who if not for what they wear?

Yet there are two seemingly opposite desires at work driving the multi billion dollar industries which comprise fashion.  The desire to stand out, and the desire to blend in.  We all wish to be both at once, part of the whole, accepted as a member of whatever thread of society we identify with, yet individual as well, more than just the clothes on our back.  It is this delicate balancing act that sends us online, or to the malls, and in front of the mirror before we go out. 

Still, I am drawn to a quote which is found towards the end of Fashion.  It is attributed to John Ruskin from 1862:

"As long as there are cold and nakedness in the land around you, so long there can be no question at all but that splendor of dress is a crime".

To me it suggests that dressing flamboyantly, spending large sums of money and resources, is a crime against nature, perhaps even God, when one considers how many plain clothes could have been created for that same amount of money and given to those with no clothes at all.

Imagine if we were to then expound that thought to include other indicators of excess wealth, owning dozens of cars or homes for instance, or even excess wealth itself when hundreds of millions of people on Earth today live in poverty.

They say that everything comes back in fashion eventually.  I am sure that there are many clothes hanging in closets just waiting for the day they can be worn again.  Perhaps we can all start by donating those clothes now to those who have nothing and take our chances with the next fashion trend.  And if there is an upside to climate change, maybe a little less clothing, a little more emphasis on the person might result. 


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