Thursday, March 10, 2011

The fashion police open up a whole new can of worms.

 (This is not a post about fashion.  This is a post about wearing clothes that fit you; physically, personally and mentally)
"Don't be judgemental"
"There are all kinds of beauty"
"Don't feign to be so superior"!
How DARE I judge on appearance?!

I am a sartorial sociologist. All day, on most days, I observe people and think about what they are wearing, why they are wearing it, what they look like in it, how they might feel wearing it, how long they've had it, where they might have obtained it.   I consider the fashion trends and designers that came together in one look, or perhaps the methods of construction, draping, aging... the cultural background of the person, aesthetics, color choices... That's right, you feel like you're being watched?  It's me. (I am Jacques Cousteau and you are all beautiful little fishes)

I do not make these observations out of a catty need to criticize.  It is a main reason that I am a costume designer and not a fashion designer. I am interested in variety, tatters, textures, odd choices. I like mud and grit and the bizarre turns of human experience. If I were a fashion designer I would be more interested in form than in context.  If you know me, you know I am no fashionista.

In my profession I interact with people on a rather intimate level. My first encounter with an actor will usually begin with me and a tape measure. It is the truth teller. It is the enemy. Everyone has some preconceived idea of what they should be or what they were and it seldom is the same as reality. People also have horrible preconceived ideas of what "size X" should look like (so wrong!). My first interactions involve collecting information, reassuring egos and discussing or dodging deep insecurities.

Consequent interactions are a negotiation of my vision of the play and the actor's bravery to go along with it and trust me (or not). I will make them look as much like their character as possible, sometimes that means making them more beautiful, and sometimes it means making them look old, sick, slovenly... purposefully so.

Throughout this process I learn about everyone's body issues. Everyone has them. Most people (women more often than men) think that "Nobody makes jeans for me". You would not believe how many times in a week I can hear "I just have a weird body". Maybe 5% of the time I meet someone who truly has a "weird body" with such odd proportions I double check measurements.  (Not just actors either, I do alterations for every day people who may not be scrutinized as often as actors are but still carry around the same insecurities.)

Fun Fact I learned in fashion school; Every fashion brand hires "fit models" of a variety of sizes in what that brand deems to be 'ideal proportions'. These are the people that are used to check how a clothing line will look on 'real people', not just runway models.  Only 8% of the population qualifies to be a fit model. That is why Nothing fits you off the rack, that's why tailoring is your friend. It also accounts for the popularity of stretchy clothes, because they have a lot more forgiveness in fit.

The trouble with the standardization of beauty is that most people are walking around feeling like they are the weird one. They do not see the great variety of people because they never have to shop for other bodies. No it's "just me". Worse yet are the people who think that they are nothing special, that they shouldn't care about their appearance because they can never look like what 'beauty' is supposed to be.

There are many things that are more important than appearance but from what I have observed in both others and in myself; when we say that appearance does not matter at all, it is giving up on the possibility of being beautiful. It is throwing your hands in the air and saying "eh F** it!"

(hang on I'm coming to my point )

My glib denouncement of stretch pants was the tip of the iceberg in what is a somewhat shallow blog (Postcards isn't a forum, it's a quick hello/goodbye... usually).

Rejecting fashion and the current mode of beauty is fine. That is not a problem. That is having an aesthetic and a will. The problem is accepting fashion and beauty as it is fed to you and letting its unattainable nature wound your self worth.

Why wear clothes that don't fit? From my experience it is from a sense of 'should-be's. You think you should be a size 8, but can't handle the scrutiny of the fitting room mirror and the truth that you are a size 12... this is how muffin-top happens. This is when the shopper falls in love with a pair of pants that will fit "if I just lose 5 pounds"
(because I can't have beautiful things until I look the way I imagine I should)
--I'm sorry I keep using examples of fat, there are also people in denial of breast size, belly size, lack of hips, excess butt, flabby arms, long torso, short arms, age issues... such a kaleidoscope of human variety... I just relate to the weight issue first so that is what I am using--

What I am Offended by are the people (and yes, mostly women) who live in denial. I want to scream at the women who look at the magazine and shop for what they want to look like rather than what they do look like. I want to hold an intervention for the women who leave the house without looking in the mirror, because it's too painful, because it's too much work, because "I'm not worth it, don't look at me"
... because I have been guilty of All of these sins.

Why should you not wear these fashions that do not look good on you? Because you can look good, you can do better. If you think you look good in fat rolls and see-through pant/tights, we have a difference of opinion.  From my experience such fashion mishaps are not because the wearer thinks they actually look good in these clothes, rather because they think the clothes look good and that they themselves are therefore inconsequential.

Is that judgmental?  Probably.

--I'd like to thank Lizz for the provocative link that prompted this post.


Anonymous said...

I cannot believe I am your first comment! Are all the people whom I would expect to agree with you working somewhere? Anyway, I see this as a carefully thought out continuation of many conversations we have had. The character in the play has to fit the character on the street or the audience will feel cheated. "There's something 'off' about that secretary, street person, officer..." You've always been a watcher and now you get to apply your observations and get paid for them (maybe not as well as we would like sometimes, but still!) and how wonderful is that!?

al'xae said...

Thanks I guess, but I was trying to explain how my work in costumes has influenced how I feel about the need to face the reality of the mirror and for everyone to really think about what makes them look and feel good... Perhaps I should just refer y'all to every episode of "What not To Wear" ever made.

Anonymous said...

OK, I missed part of the point. I guess, like many, I prefer not to face the reality of the mirror, but do often think about what makes one look and feel good. That 360 mirror almost equals what I face in reflections of school windows. I can feel really good and then catch a reflection and say something similar to 'hoo boy, what was I thinking'. Sigh.

sharon said...

I really like this post. Probably one of my favorites. Good work!