Visions of Style: How Fashion Works

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JiaXin Gao here, more here. Interesting commentary here.

Style, fashion, clothing, culture, identity, memory, vision.

What place do those words hold or demarcate in your head? When you think of fashion do you think of a catwalk in Milan, or the rig you wore last Tuesday? When you say style do you picture the latest feature in Vogue, or that crazy gothic teenager next door? When you talk identity, do you feel as though your clothing says something about you? Anything?

When you tap memory do you have a moment in time that is frozen as if it were yesterday and that image includes your garb? When you approach culture, norms, aberrance, dominant tropes of dress, and subtexts, how does fashion fit in? Does fashion fit you?

So many fascinating questions, so little time! (Cause I guess I could stretch this page out as long as I want to go, no?)

I heard an intriguing broadcast on Radio West a few weeks ago about How Fashion Works. Doug Fabrizo, personal hero of mine, interviewed Jackie Lyden and Simon Doonan. Jackie is a longtime NPR correspondent whose broadcast The SEAMS is branching out into a podcast via Kickstarter here. Simon is a fashion maven, personal stylist, global ambassador for Barney’s department store, and blogger at Slate.com. He has a new book out titled The Asylum: True Tales of Madness from a Life in Fashion

I have received so many kind comments, encouraging feedback, and thoughtful compliments from my friends and readers regarding my style posts. Even friends who have offered to let me dress them! Honestly, I’d love to!

I’ve also had some friends make remarks like, “Wow, you look great, I could never pull that off.” Or, “do you have any tips for a frumpy mom?” While there’s nothing wrong with either of those statements, it has caused me to think about my personal style. What is my personal style? How did I come into it? What is the difference between style and fashion? Can high fashion find its way into the every day?

So here’s my schpiel about finding YOUR style in the WORLD of fashion. Yes, fashion is couture, fashion is catwalk, fashion is broader culture, or at least one way to imagine or pick up culture’s pulse. Those visions are the big picture. The arc that connects you to those concepts is YOUR own style. Style is where fasion becomes unique, individual, dynamic. You own style.

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This is what Simon Doonan says about personal style, “It’s all non-verbal communication. For me, it’s sort of a kind of whacky anthropology. When I get on those shows like Fashion Police I’m terrible because I don’t have the disdain thing that you were talking about where people sneer. I was once auditioning for that show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. They showed me a picture of a dude wearing a Metalica T-shirt with a mullet and I said, ‘He looks GREAT!’ Cause my thing is I think there is room for everything on this vast chaotic landscape.”

Style isn’t simply regurgitation of designer expression, at least I don’t think it is. Style is part imagination, part necessary obligation to wear clothing put on us by society. Style might be one of the first places where your vision of self meets the broader culture. Sometimes utility has a lot to do with it and sometimes, as in the case of haute couture, art and expression are the driving forces.

Take what you are wearing RIGHT NOW for example. You might be hunkered down in bed, in your pajamas reading this post on your iPhone before bed. You might be geared up in your grubbies (like a crappy pair of jeans and a grass-stained shirt) to head outside for some yard work. You might be making that final adjustment to your tie at your cubicle desk in the financial district in city X. You might be headed to brunch with friends. What are you wearing? Why are you wearing it? This is how fashion works for the every person.

Right now I’m wearing a light pair of cotton shants (Short pants), a sweater, a wool zip jacket, and a down puffer. We’re camping and it’s a little cooler than I expected in Southern Utah. So where’s my style? At this moment, for me, it’s in the color combinations– the deep aubergine of the sweater, the burnt pumpkin of the jacket, the pomegranate nylon of my puffer. It’s in the cut of these items, too. But the expression of personal fashion in daily life more often involves those precursors– this moment, for me.

I believe the intersection between fashion, style, AND utility is also one we approach daily. And even if you purport to ABHOR fashion altogether, and shun the latest trends with a passion there is still the reality that most of us have to get up and get dressed every. single. day. And there’s probay some method, formula, or process you go through. Style.

When I think back about how my own personal style has been shaped or how it has morphed and evolved I think back to the story of my five-year-old self on my about page. You can read it here. But for me, style has been important for a long time and I find the expressive ability of dress to be engaging, creative, mood changing, and fun!

To those of you who struggle to find your personal style, fear not! In fact, I encourage you to let loose a little. Try to release the restrictions you’ve tied yourself to. “I can’t wear that, try that, do that because…” Play creatively with your dress. It doesn’t have to take a ton of money, either.

Jackie Lyden explains, “We certainly didn’t have any money. My mother was affectively a single mom. She was divorced when I was six. The idea that you’re inventing your life, and you’re doing it as you go along and the possibilities being endless. Not expensive. Endless. I just find that very liberating.”

When Doug Fabrizo asks, “What does your wardrobe say about you? What do you notice about other people’s clothes? Was there a moment when fashion clicked for you?” Where does that locate you in the landscape of style and fashion, at the intersection of imagination and vision?

Perhaps it’s with the likes of Phylis Diller. Says Simon Doonan, “It’s not a race. It’s not a contest. I feel like at this point in life, you’re growing old. You’re nearing death. Why not just go out with a BANG! Like Phylis Diller!”

You may not be “nearing death”, but why not take a page from Ms. Diller!?!

XX, Megan

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