Today i'm bringing up a sensitive topic. It's sensitive in our culture generally, and even more so in the style blogging community. Recently i've been noticing a number of conversations about our society's ideas of 'dressing in proportion', or more precisely how to dress so that your figure more closely resembles 'the ideal'. I surprised even myself by how strongly i reacted against this enterprise.
I do realize that bucking the norms we've been raised with is so much easier said than done. And i do appreciate that canny deployment of clothing can lessen the appearance of saddlebags, floppy arms, a flat yet saggy butt. In fact, i use many of these 'proportion tricks' myself, and have no qualms about it. I'll happily share and explain these principles with friends and on my blog.
But i do have qualms about how this approach to dressing can dominate all other concerns. It so easily becomes another way to criticize, to measure ourselves and find we are lacking. How quickly this approach metamophoses into, "We know you're just this side of deformed, everyone is noticing it, but use these techniques and you may succeed in masking your ghastliness..." We're presented with ways to find out exactly where and how we don't match what is normal or pleasing, and fix-it tricks so that we can 'pass' (as long as we keep our clothes on).
I concede that here i'm taking the concept to an intellectual extreme. But, because these techniques are so powerful, because the social pressures for women to be pleasing and to fit in are also so powerful, this approach to dressing is not an extreme in real life, in conversations between friends, between women and their mirrors. And i hate that anyone would think and feel about a person this way - that people should be measured and judged by how they contrast with some vitiated ideal. Doing this to yourself isn't any nicer than doing it to someone else. You're a person, too.
So how can we use these techniques, these magic tools of proportion and color and texture, without being caught in a horrible machine, stripping us of all that makes us beautiful and unique?
Remember What You Love
That's it - remember what you love and concentrate on that, first and foremost, while you dress. I love to wear flower prints and pins because i love flowers of all types: cherry and plum blossoms with petals scattered by a spring rain, huge clumps of fairy lanterns cascading down a meadowed hill, mimosa blossoms which start out perfectly symmetrical being mussed by a busy honeybee. My rugged boots and cargo pants recall my family's long history of wild and wooly exploits in the Californian countryside. Combining these rugged pieces with feminine, womanly skirts and blouses reflects my obsession with finding the middle ground between extremes, a trend made that much more emphatic by my history with Buddhism.
I loved the way this look echoed a tree in bloom - dark, sturdy trunk (shoes and stockings); branches and twigs up higher (sakura knit top); flowers and leaves at the top and at the 'ends' of the branches (Pleione blouse). It was so fun to be showing the world a pattern-mixing fashion fiend, while inside i knew my arboreal secret.
Using style to tip your public to these inner parts of yourself, your personality and passions, can be incredibly creative and engaging - for you and for the people around you. What's more fun than spying a friend's love of gardening in her rain boots colored to match her trademark tulips, or asking a friend to tell you about the fly he tied and is wearing on his lapel? Happily this type of play with clothing is well tolerated in our society.
But i am going to come out of the closet, right here and now, and confess to a taboo practice. I also dress to deliberately play up my favorite physical features. I love the blue of my eyes, the curve of my brows and hair. I get a kick out of the straight and strong lines of my shoulders, the ways they play off the curves of my legs. I will tell you from experience that it is so much more fun and inspiring to dress to perfectly frame my favorite features than to hide the bits labelled "not up to snuff", worrying all day that someone will guess the horror underneath it all (gasp!).
I firmly believe that these attitudes come through in the final outfit. The thoughts and feeling with which you start your day will certainly color your mood throughout that day. Honestly, do you think Anna Piaggi worries about the size of her butt when she's dressing? It sure doesn't look like it - i dare say Ms. Piaggi has a lot more interesting things on her mind!
Which brings me to a final observation about the 'fix it' approach to dressing yourself. It's boring. You risk coming across as thinking that you're not good enough, you have nothing to really say, you don't find anything in the outside world all that exciting........You Have No Passion. What a sad and colorless place to live! The shame of it is that it's not even true.
All of us inhabit amazing and beautiful bodies, creative and unpredictable minds. I am surrounded by luminous complexions, lyrical coloring, hair with a complex life of it's own, startlingly unique proportions. You have gorgeous parts as well. What are they? How would you dress if your only goal was to show off that rambunctious hair, those golden-green sloe eyes, your delicate long boned fingers. Not if you suddenly had 'the perfect body'. No one knows what that may be, and even if you lived in one, your same brain and habits would get down to their project of formulating new flaws. Go to your closet and pick out the pieces that really spark your coloring, that get you glowing incandescently, that call to mind your favorite things to do. What happens when your clothes tell you "Remember that time we spent in Venice, the glow of the setting sun on the buildings...." "Cannot wait to get out in the garden later today...." "heehee, my hair goes it's own way - just like my cousin's....."
These ways of dressing yourself are two extremes. Dressing strictly to hide or compensate "flaws" vs. dressing to celebrate your body, your life, your passions. The tricky thing is that dropping a curtsy towards 'figure flattery' can open the door for wilder exploration of your loves. But i find myself more and more on the side of celebration and passion, caring less and less for common 'shoulds'.
My question today - if you had to choose between the two extremes: Who would you want to strike up a friendship with? Who's head would you want to live in? Who do you want to be?