The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Monday, August 28, 2006

What you want to wear. . .

I had to laugh when I read this comic. You see, it says about 88.56% of what I wanted to write a blog post about, only it uses just 4 panels (instead of what might wind up being 4 pages).

There is an overwhelming large amount of sources telling people what the ought to wear, or ought not to wear. This always bemuses me.

As the comic above so sucintly put it, clothing talks. It may say "I'm rich," or "I do what everyone else does," or "I'm an old codger who doesn't care how I look or what people think of me," or "You didn't expect me to be awake when I got dressed this morning, did you?" or countless other things. But regardless of whether or not one puts thought into their clothing, the clothes that they choose to wear do speak. A conscious dresser may choose to refine that message, or to even send a false message. But even if one does not use one's conscious dress, one's subconscious is still involved, and a message is being sent.

So if someone tells you what to wear, or what not to wear, do you think that all they are trying to change is an outward appearance that has no meaning at all? Or do you think they are telling you that they don't like what you're saying and, here, say this instead? One who proclaims the "right way to dress" is also proclaiming "the right things to say".

There are those that would protest that not all "appearance advice" is like that; it's merely advice on how to look aesthetically pleasing. It educates people on things like proportion and colors, and the like. This is true, to a degree, but I often find it very unhelpful. After all, 88.56% of their advice boils down to: You will naturally be drawn to what is most flattering to you. Pay attention to what you most like to wear and what you get the most compliments wearing. There. I summed it all up for you, and I didn't even make you pay money to find out.

There is, though, the other 11.44%, which we mustn't forget. This goes back to what I was saying above, about making a conscious effort to refine the message we display. One can learn to better communicate with clothing; an eloquent speech with clothes will usually be recognized as such, even when the philistines can't quite discern all the subtleties that you put into it. But, just as one might take English courses to improve one's writing ability, the point is still not so much the writing as much as what is written. That is to say, although speaking clearly and powerfully will help, it is the thoughts and ideas that are expressed that are important.

People who work with costumes are working with the language of the clothing to it's fullness (which is one reason, I think, why I'm always drawn to costumes). People working with their every day wardrobe may not be working with such extremes, but there is a language and a message nonetheless. The first thing that a costume technician needs to figure out is what, exactly, needs to be conveyed by the costume. If you wanted to refine your wardrobe, you would also start here. What, exactly, do you want your clothes to be saying about you?

This post has been banging around in my head for quite some time, but I particularly wanted to post it now, because school is starting soon. With school comes the endless debates about mandatory school uniforms. (The ideas behind voluntary uniforms [e.g. for certain teams, sports, or jobs] are also be very interesting, but are, alas, beyond the scope of this post.)

People against mandatory uniforms (usually students) often complain that it denies them their creativity. No, it does not. Your creativity is not bound to your clothing. Does it deny you freedom to express what you wished to express, in the way you want to express it? Yes. It does not effect the inside of you, it merely effects your ability to communicate as you wish.

Do you think the people enforcing these uniforms think that they will change the insides of people? I hope not, because I think that's very foolish. What they are doing is, in effect, putting their hands over their ears and singing "La la la! I can't heeeaaarr you!" You must show up, we don't like what you are saying, you will stop saying it. It doesn't matter whether it changes what you believe or think. What matters is whether or not they can hear you saying it.

In the end, they really have very little choice. If someone is standing next to you spewing words you find offensive, you can usually leave. Or turn up your ipod. Or put your hands over your ears. But in the situation of compulsory attendance, the teachers can't simply decide to stop associating with the students, and hang out with a different group of people. Or choose which people they allow in the class. They can't even put their hands over their ears; the only equivalent of that is walking around with their eyes closed, and you have to admit, that isn't very practical.

So they make mandatory uniforms. Now they aren't hearing (or rather, seeing) whatever it is they don't want to hear (or see). But it doesn't change the students, or what they think, or believe. Some students might complain that someone else's ideals are being forced upon them, but they must remember that what is being repressed is merely their communication--not who they are. A fine line, yes, but an important distinction. I find the idea of someone's inner self being so weak that it is could be changed by outward appearances to be far more disturbing than the idea that someone might force me to wear a uniform. The important part is on the inside, not the outside.

Even if one is not being compelled to wear a uniform, this is still an important thing to remember. Taking someone else's advice on what to wear and how to appear is about as effective as wearing a uniform. It is a very weak effort indeed, unless you already agree with the one giving the advice. You will appear awkward in these "assigned" clothes, and out of place. Your words and your actions will give you away for what you are, even if your clothes do not.

People often dress to "fit in", but this means that all the compliments go to the clothing. As it has been said before, the point is not to have clothes that get the compliments, but clothes that compliment you. That is to say, when people see you, they shouldn't be inclined to say "Your dress looks great!", but rather "You look great!" This is why so much advice on appearance boils down to "Wear what you want to wear." Any thing less, and the rest of your self rebels against what is worn, and it is apparent to those who see you.

Endless advice might get you great clothes. But if you want to look great, someone else's opinion won't help you very much. What is mostly required is self-examination--what you like, what you do, what you want, what you want to convey, how you want to appear. This, more than any one else's opinion, is what really matters.


Anonymous bluecatahoula said...

I just wanted to say that I really like your take on uniforms. I wore uniforms until I graduated high school, and people constantly react as if it was some horrible burden when they find out. I never complained. If anything, it forced us to be more creative, since we all dressed the same, and thus coudn't express ourselves that way. Things like shoes, hair, and jewelry became more important, since they were variable to a certain point, but we also decorated lockers, bags and books to show our individuality. It also meant (or at least it seemed) that there was less judging and (somewhat) fewer cliques, since people had to be judged on personality and accomplishments, rather than how fashionable they were. I liked it because it was one less thing I had to worry about when school got too stressful or if I was running late in the morning. Now that I'm in the "real world," I still have days where I wish I could just go to class without having to worry if my socks match or if something coordinates. Sorry for the ramble, but I just wanted to leave my two cents!

10:14 PM  
Blogger Tatterdemalion said...

How can you apologize for a ramble on my rambling blog? ;) Thanks for your two cents.

8:32 AM  
Blogger abigail said...

that's a great comic!

john always cuts these out and puts them on our refrigerator. i think he gets a kick out of imagining us acting like this as old codgers.

8:15 AM  

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