(oh, Christ, James is talking about fashion again)
Clothes confuse me. I’ve not harped on about this on this blog for a while now, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less opposed to the jeans-wearing, implausably-shaped footwear-buying, Vietnamese child labour-reliant industry of clothes and fashion and general shit-giving about one’s appearance. But am I? There must be a decision making-process behind even my most fashionably anarchic opinions – I have to decide which of my black shirts with slogans written on them to wear each day, for instance.
Furthermore, I make decisions about the clothes I buy, selecting this Bad Brains shirt from that one, when they serve the same practical purpose – clothing my torso in a comfortable and flexible way – and the same opinion-giving purpose – both are shirts from the same band – if you want to try to stretch that into a form of justification with any depth. In ordering a Bad Religion shirt, one emblazoned with the group’s logo, the crossbuster, my sister commented that I was being particularly in-your-face with my shirt choice; even though neither the band nor I are as anti-Christianity as the shirt suggests, it’s still a provocative, and maybe even offensive, thing, that I have decided to wear because it looks nice. And now I think all fashion is similarly obtrusive, if not as edgy and upsetting.
For instance, choosing to wear piece of clothing x over piece of clothing y says something about your opinions on that particular day, namely the relatively tame choice that you preferred to wear the first piece of clothing, which for all intents and purposes could be a shirt in a slightly darker shade of neutral, boring blue than the other option. But when items of clothing are worn together, creating whole outfits rather than individual pieces, surely that’s four or five times as opinionated as choosing to wear an individual garment, maybe even more so because the opinions involved in creating an outfit increase exponentially with each new item of clothing, because that item’s relationship to all the other items must be considered, rather than being taken as an individual.
Beyond this rather tedious belittling of the notion of a public image into little more than me flaunting my cobweb-gummed GCSE maths muscles, these outfits are then classified into subcultures, and movements of people that wear similar things, and make similar decisions about their clothes, so the initial decision to wear shirt x over shirt y has rather quickly snowballed into one placing oneself into a larger group of people, and then, often without meaning to, making a statement about one’s identity or something else profound like that.
I reckon this infinite categorisation of everything in society – God, it’s not progressive death metal, it’s melodic death metal! – makes the decisions we make about ourselves more obtrusive and divisive than we would want them to; sure, some people want to dress to offend, or to make themselves stand out from other people, in both negative and positive ways, but I’m sure there are a lot of people (me included) who wear whatever is cheap, comfortable, and easily available as often as they can, and are then put into the ‘boring’ subcategory of people, or the ‘lazy’ group who are obviously such terrible people because they don’t care what brand of jeans they’re wearing on any particular day. (as a side-note this is also bad for the, often older, people who actively want to dress uninterestingly, who are suddenly hipsters for shunning mainstream fashion whereas that plain black coat was picked precisely because of its blandness)
This is particularly relevant to fashion as well, because we all have to participate in the great social charade that is wearing clothes; you can avoid things like sports team affiliations, favourite books and, if you give it a proper go, probably music genres and bands too, but clothes are a form of identity-giving, and identity-misinterpreting and identity-judging, we all have to participate in. Even us weird, short-haired beings known as ‘men’; our appearance isn’t scrutinised as ridiculously as women’s, but I’ve been called out for wearing inappropriate shoes to an interview before, and have been refused entry to places because trackies are apparently the work of Satan if you want to go anywhere other than a frakking job centre.
And if all aspects of one’s appearance count as ‘fashion’, and all fashion is placed in the public eye for judgement, does that not mean fashion is, inherently, intended to be judged, and intended to produce a reaction from people? Whether you’re wearing an Anti-Flag ‘F*CK POLICE BRUTALITY’ shirt, or a Skrewdriver top with some racist slogan on it, or have chosen a black M&S v-neck over a black M&S crew neck, that’s still a decision you’ve made, and a decision that society has been conditioned to feel in a position to comment on, presumably because humanity’s been going for about 5,000 years now so we’ve done a fair bit of looking at other human beings, which gets a bit dull when they’re not covered in designed boots and garishly-coloured tops.
So I’m sorry if I don’t play your game, and I don’t dress to have my clothes judged by you; I look like a twelve-year-old because the clothes are cheap and comfortable, and my hair is short enough that I can forget about its existence as I go about my day without having to tie it up or anything. And I know you’ll judge me for it, but judge away; our clothes make statements that anyone can read into, but our thoughts are thankfully far more private.