Fashion is often shrouded with negative or ambivalent images of mindless consumption, elitist ideology, and an obsession with image. For years I tried to deny the fact that fashion endlessly fascinated me, out of a fear that loving runway shows and glossy magazines would brand me as one of the “stupid girls.” While I have now embraced this aspect of my personality, as with all other elements of culture, I am very picky about what aspects of fashion I integrate into my life. As a fat girl, I’m not particularly obsessed with unrepresentative models. As a closet hippie, I am uncomfortable with disposable “fast fashion.” But the overlapping shades of femininity and masculinity, tradition and exoticism, practicality and fantasy that are present in the fashion world have never ceased to spark my curiosity. Also, I really, really love shoes.
I recently posted a RuPaul quote that says, “You’re born naked and the rest is drag.” This at least partially describes the reasons for my interest in the world of fashion. If you believe, as I do, that gender is constructed by one’s actions supporting or subverting cultural assumptions, then fashion becomes one way to play with your own personal definitions of gender and self. I admire individuals like Dita Von Teese who purposefully and specifically construct a gender paradigm that is entirely personal. I applaud carefully considered artifice and creative rebellions. I love Jean Paul Gaultier’s lavish menswear and redefined corsets. By mediating between the unprotected self and the gaze of the other, clothes do indeed seem to make the man. Or woman, as the case may be. After all, Mark Twain was at least partly correct when he joked that “…Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
My dream is that people all over the world will learn to enjoy and play with fashion, not just as a sign of status or means of consumption, but as a vital and living technique for exploring and redefining their own identities in a world that is largely governed by visual considerations. As the philosopher Epictetus once said, “Know first who you are; then adorn yourself accordingly.” While adornment is neither an essential or serious matter, it is one way to know yourself, and to communicate that self to those around you. So enjoy it. Mess around with it. Unlike the animals who are born with the only coats they will ever wear, humanity is blessed with the ability to construct their own bright and changing feathers. You are free to create yourself every day, in the endless game that is a culture’s visual dialogue. And in this act of intentional creation, hopefully you will be brought ever closer to your truest self.