“So this chick was interviewing me about you yesterday.” He hadn’t actually said “chick,” and he hadn’t actually said “interviewing.” He hadn’t actually said any of it. He’d said something else in German and my brain saved it directly to the English-language database for further study. If he had said it in English he might have said “chick.” There are very few English words between “girl” and “woman” that feel good between the teeth.
“What? What does that even mean?” I asked as I walked between trailer and table with accouterments for breakfast.
“I was bartending at this party, and when the girl I was working with realized we were in a band together, she started asking me about you.”
I snorted. “What did she want to know?”
“What you look like, if you’re good looking.”
“Uh-huh. That’s ridiculous.”
“And then she asked me what kind of style you have.”
“What kind of style? Are you serious? What did you say?”
“Well…none. I told her you find a lot of things in the trash, including your clothing, and that you didn’t really have a ‘style’.”
I laughed, an outlandish chortle straight from the gut. I am never quite sure how others perceive me, but hearing that I have no identifiable style released a feeling something like relief. My relationship to clothing is tenuous. I enjoy the identity play inherit in costume, but loath the fact that fashion advertisements and magazines have turned donning a costume into a daily necessity and identity play into a consumer product. I like to look “good,” but I almost always favor practicality. I own more than my fair share of clothing, but when it comes down to it, I usually don’t care enough to bother. Who exactly is it that I need to impress? Generally, no one. And so on many a day you’ll find me in sweatpants and rubber boots with messy hair and the same shirt I’ve worn (and probably slept in) for the last three days. On those days, I like to think of myself as a champion of the bag lady aesthetic.
I find clothing in the dumpster across the street all the time. Not icky hole-ridden clothing, but neatly folded items still smelling of detergent. And while some of them may have gotten the boot because they’ve become too small or too big, the majority are being tossed because they’ve gone out of style. (Did you know that charitable organizations like Goodwill played a huge role in conditioning people to find throwing out clothes socially acceptable? More on that if I ever finish the damn trash book.) I see people wearing the same couple of H&M outfits in every city in the country. I’ve watched friends do absurd things to their bodies and their wallets in order to look like the ladies in the fashion magazines. And I can’t say that I like what I see.
I am a firm believer in the idea that everyone should do just what they want, so long as what they want does not hurt or encroach on the freedom of others. So if you want to buy a new wardrobe every season, then by all means, please do (forgetting, for a moment, the dubious environmental and labor practices in the textile industry). I too have been plagued by the siren call of the new. I too have bought an expensive pair of shoes out of sudden and unexplainable desire. But I question whether these desires are our own and whether we would still feel them if we lived in a world devoid of magazines, advertisements, or the concept of seasonal fashion.
And so it was with great interest that I read about Kristy Powell’s One Dress Protest. Here was a woman so fed up with fashion that she was going to wear just one dress for an entire year. Why? “…to protest the ideas and motivations behind how and why I wear my clothes” she explains on her blog. “Over the year I aim to challenge the ways identity is constructed through clothing, what sustainability means for consumption, how our perception of others is so often based on external presentation, and what ‘fashion’ ultimately means for me going forward.”
While the concept of wearing the same item of clothing for extended periods of time is normal in my community (I have a friend who has had on the same pair of pants for the last two and a half years—interestingly enough it’s a pair I got out of the trash across the street, wore briefly, and tossed in our free box), in the wider world, the idea of wearing one outfit for an entire year is radical to the point of near insanity. And yet think of the benefits! No worries about what to wear tomorrow, no huge piles of laundry, no clothing expenses, and all that extra closet space. Unfortunately you’ll also be forced to notice (whether you wear just one or several outfits intensely and often) just how craptasticly made most modern clothing is.
“ODP is not about re-defining myself in the dress I’ve decided to wear for an extended period of time. It’s about learning to define myself outside of it, outside of my clothes,” explains Powell. In German the saying goes: Kleider machen Leute (clothes make people), a saying that tends to be true, but whose inherit truth is bullshit. Clothing doesn’t make people. Cultural mores valuing clothing the way our culture values clothing make large groups of people act as if clothing makes people. The difference may be subtle, but its implications are enormous. “You are not your fucking khakis.”
Do you have a love/hate relationship with fashion? Can you imagine wearing one dress (or pair of pants or shirt) for an entire year?