Sadly, operating as a functional human being means that we have to decide what to wear every day, and regardless of our intentions, the clothes we choose communicate volumes about who we are and what we do. A rumpled middle-aged man wearing a tucked in button down shirt and slacks, briefcase in hand, could make us think he’s a professor who was running late and threw on the first items he found in his closet. A teenager dressed in all black with piercings and orange hair could potentially be a middle schooler in her rebellious phase. A young man wearing a hoodie walking down the street could make us knee jerk suspicious, before we stop to think that just maybe, he enjoys wearing comfortable, affordable clothing, and that maybe, we should ponder whether we have problematic underlying biases? When we see these people in our daily lives, all of us make snap judgements about their socioeconomic status, personality, even political views. We don’t take the time to think deeply about the basis of our assumptions. Clothing becomes a label to slap onto those around us, a convenient way to box people into social categories, and it takes getting to know the person to no longer depend on stereotypes.
Which is partly why I feel conflicted about fashion as a hobby. When I was a kid, I didn’t care about clothes. It’s embarrassing to admit this, but my mother picked out my outfits my first years of high school because I was too lazy to spend energy thinking of what to wear. What I wore had nothing to do with how I viewed myself. I didn’t fall in love with high-end clothing until last year, when I took a year off from school. During that time I interned in Chicago, a place where I knew almost no one, living with roommates who I couldn’t connect with. I felt lost, alone and invisible, and my online fashion friends were an oasis in that sea of uncertainty. I saw the cool outfits they wore, and I felt inspired and wanted jump into their world. Developing my own style was part of that process. Initially, it felt like I was wearing a costume, an identity that wasn’t mine. As proof, people were making half-true assumptions when they met me. They’d assume that I was an arts or architecture student (I’m a CS major), or that I was standoffish and cold. Some made the mistake of thinking I was a Cool Person. (These illusions were quickly dispelled once I started cracking jokes.) Internally I was still the same, I had just swapped some of the plain fabric covering my skin for fancier, more expensive fabric. I felt like a fraud – was I falsely advertising myself?
Yet I began to change as well. As my clothing became more avant-garde, my interests became more niche. The stuff I liked to wear, like Pleats Please, was almost sculptural, and as I discovered the amazing shapes and volumes that clothes could take, I became interested in how form could shape other disciplines. I started learning about design and architectural shapes in my free time, and when I learned about something cool, it would influence what clothes I bought. Thus, fashion created a feedback loop with my other interests until some of the stereotypes I had previously rejected became unwittingly, part of my identity. I had done it – I was artsy fartsy.
I’m uncomfortable with that realization, because is it really a form of self expression if you have to drop money in the process? The expense of designer clothing means that you have to pay to play, and most people don’t have the spare income for the entrance ticket. Whether fashion with all its capitalistic trappings is a valid art form is a problem I wrestle with constantly. It’s one of the main reasons why I don’t post on this blog as much, as I try to find a way to produce content without falling for the falsehood that creativity depends on buying cooler items. One of the ways I’ve addressed this is by venturing into making my own clothes – stay tuned for updates on this process.
Thus, there are two sides to clothes – a fun way to express yourself, but also a socioeconomic signifier that only a few people have the money to manipulate the way they want. It’s a hell of a complicated issue and one that I’d argue all fans need to think about when we coo over the latest Dries Van Noten collection or judge someone for wearing sweatpants in public. Enjoy dressing up, but always remember the privilege that comes with being fashionable.