Identifying fashion


clothing sounds far too mundane, and fashion sounds too...fluffy, unsubstantial. each piece that i buy, i see some beauty in it, something i can reflect on, even if it's just a well-placed pleat. when it's done well, it's art to me. my own personal collection. i generally gravitate towards pieces that reveal a person behind the design. i don't mean the seamstress (or machine) who produces it, but the individual who designed it, who thought to pile on asymmetrical ruffles around the neckline of my new dress, for example.

mass american retailers like j.crew produce some very useful, efficient fashion, but i don't usually see the soul in it. but then there is another kind of fashion art that the us excels at: the blank canvas. american apparel t-shirts, though ephemeral, are as basic as can be (i know, the guy was technically canadian). the basic men's 501 levis jeans are the ultimate blank canvas when you get them shrink-to-fit.


i think growing up as an american helped inform my interest in personalizing that blank canvas. but now, ironically, the results are not always well-received here. i wonder if iris apfel was as applauded for her style on a day to day basis when she lived in her now-celebrated ensembles as she is today, post museum exhibit. despite not having a fashion tradition, like france, there are, nevertheless, standards of style here, and the majority dictate that we should happily buy the mass looks and consume the trends. hasn't been a hard-sell from what i can see.

i felt a jolting difference in amsterdam. i sensed utter fashion freedom. more important than not observing any particular popular "looks" i didn't receive any "looks" for my own. i didn't sense the herd-mentality that seems so pervasive in the us. even "alternative" nooks and crannies, like williamsburg, brooklyn, are filled with replicas of one "alternative" identity. clothing here quite often seems to represent what group you belong to. do you belong in williamsburg? do you belong in the hamptons? do you belong in chickasaw, alabama? growing up, i was told i didn't look like i was from l.a. - since i did in fact grow up there, i should be the perfect example of whatever one who is from l.a. ought to look like, but that was apparently decided by a herd, and i did not match that. i think one reason i felt so wonderfully content in amsterdam was because there did not seem to be any expectation for anyone to match anything. i had never realized that i found the attitudes toward my fashion choices that i encounter here to be oppressive, until i went to a place where they did not exist. (ps that top pic is the flag of amsterdam.)

if you had to choose a place to identify with, fashion-wise, where would it be?

what elevates a piece in your eyes? what makes it art and/or worthy of coming home with you? what makes it click for you?

10 comments:

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anais said...

i think the u.s. is much more of a polyglot society than many other countries. it's very much in the lifeblood of the u.s., with its histories of immigrations and such. the country is just ever so much more vast, and the stratification between groups - whether between class, race, region, etc., and all these things overlap, of course. so it seems somehow logical that fashion would be so "tribal," and a signifier of the wearer's aspirations and histories.

in terms of your questions: it's hard for me to choose a place to identify with. when i was younger, i dressed to signal my allegiance to the music i was into, but now that style has been totally commodified. now i think i dress more in terms of whatever's going on in my imagination, whether it's like a character out of a bob dylan song or something out of a dark fairy tale.

i think what elevates a piece for me is a total subjective thing. i have to have an emotional response evoked. sometimes it's because something is ravishingly gorgeous, but sometimes it's often something as ineffable as how it reminds me of how my mother dressed when she was my age...

Carlene said...

In answer to the first question (the 2nd one will require more thought, and time, to answer):

Wherever I have lived, people have always told me I look like a "city girl." I've never actually lived in "the city." (I did commute to Chicago for much of my adult life, though.) Ever since I can remember I've been a crunchy granola yoga type person, but I always get the city girl thing. So, if there's a big city with a crunchy yoga aesthetic going on, that must be it. I've never been there, though, but Chicago definitely isn't it.

editor said...

anais, thank you for so intelligently explaining what i was observing/experiencing! that's it in a nutshell and you gave an explanation for it.

carlene, cambridge maybe? not big by any means...santa monica (CA)? i'll have to give this some thought...

Candid Cool said...

I've commonly get asked if I'm from New York because the way I dress is not characteristic of South FL. (I don't own flip flops or a swimsuit & I'm always in long sleeves) I love winter clothes but I know I can't do a real winter, so I don’t know where I belong…

I recently realized I'm a sucker for any shirt with pintucks/tuxedo pleats, how I amassed so many before realizing it is beyond me.

Lately I've also been a sucker for a realllly high heel. The best pieces are the ones that are BAM! you know it right when you see it, even if you weren't looking for it. I have a pair of vintage revolver cuff links, the furthest thing from my mind @ the time, but I saw them & it was BAM! that's it!

Carlene said...

Okay, "what elevates a piece in your eyes? etc?"

The first thing I think of is craftsmanship and incredible, unusual, beautiful fabrics and colors. I've never seen it up close and personal, and it isn't coming home with me any time soon, but the spring Bottega Veneta rtw collection to me is art.

editor said...

carlene - and off i go to look at the bv show.

editor said...

gorgeous! it felt very independent and beautiful.

Iheartfashion said...

Interesting question about which city you relate to fashion-wise. I'd like to say Paris, but that may just be wishful thinking on my part.
I've also felt very at home in parts of Italy, although not Milan; I felt like an absolute slob there. Everyone was SO dressed up, with the bag, the shoes, the hair and makeup...it was fun to observe, but too much work for everyday.

editor said...

good point about dressing levels (milan). yes, in amsterdam it was a combination of the basic freedom that everyone was going to do their own thing, so i was free from expectations and, i think you're right, their general level of effort, in whatever form, matched my own.
i always thought i would have said paris simply because i like a few french labels, but it turns out i like to buy and wear those french labels in amsterdam best. :)