I’ll Never Compliment Your Looks, So Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

(me versus fashion, round three?)

Okay. This isn’t personal. That title is just a fact. If you’re fishing for compliments on your new top by telling me you like how my hoodie matches my trainers, piss off and lurk around Primark, waiting to be told by employees that the jeans you just picked out look so good on you, then revel in your apparent validity as a fashionista like their kind word wasn’t a contractual obligation.

But there’s a more serious point here, a discussion about to what extent fashion is a thing. Bear with me on this.

Take a particularly detailed blog post of mine; it’s not unreasonable to assume that I have put a lot of work into it, and would like people to read it and tell me what’s good and what’s not. It’s not narcissism, nor fishing for compliments, it’s just a pretty average response for a creator who has just created something. But it’s harder to impose that model onto fashion. While not everyone writes blog posts, and so those that do and would like to discuss them are obvious, everyone has to engage with fashion on some level. Even I must pick out one black t-shirt with things written on it instead of another black t-shirt with things written on it. But I don’t engage with fashion as much as I engage with posts I write, so I’ll always be more comfortable talking about things I’ve written, not things I’m wearing; it’s just a personal preference.

And because we all have to engage with fashion, it’s hard to see where a lot of people fall on this divide that separates people who care about it and want to be engaged in a discussion on it, from people who are wearing a shirt because otherwise they’d get chilly nipples and an ASBO.

Because all of us have things we’d like to talk about, and not like to talk about; and I don’t want to assume that a person wants to talk about their outfit, even in an entirely positive manner, just because they happen to not be naked. I’m uncomfortable complimenting people on things that they might not themselves have paid attention to.

As far as I can tell, assuming in this way opens all kinds of cans of worms in your relationship with that person: in discussing a thing they might not care about, but that you assume they have, has emphasised your role in your relationship, and that what you want to discuss is the thing that will be discussed. There’s also the ever-annoying existence of gender here, where our idiotic and generalised to the point of obsoletion idea that women care more about their appearance than men has led to awkward situations: I’ve seen women be innocently complimented on their looks, only to be told that actually they didn’t care what they wore that morning, and men who did make an effort totally ignored, the world unappreciative of their matching jean hems and shoelaces.

I like talking to people about things they like; normally this criteria is filled, but if it’s not, then by extension I’m abjectly ignoring one of their interests in favour of my assumption of those interests. As far as I can tell, talking to a person about their hair means not talking to them about their favourite TV show, or their stance in the Mass Effect 2 vs Last Of Us debate, or whether they remember any of the songs from Charlie McDonnell’s album This Is Me. Making this mistake is already a bad thing, but when it comes to clothes, and bringing with them all their connotations of superficiality and, especially, gender roles, I worry that every time I say ‘your outfit is nice’ I’m judging them as a human mannequin and not as the collection of ideas and mannerisms they are.

Equally, I’m not part of the ‘shut up and take a compliment’ hoard of folks over on Men’s Rights sites; I don’t want an oppressive, simple solution to my own insecurities, confusion and awkwardness in conversation, I want those problems to be thought about, and discussed.

The best part of coming to uni has been that I’m interacting with people I genuinely care about on a near-daily basis, so I’m less arrogant than I was back in the ‘I’ll say what I like and if you get offended it’s your fault’ days of a few years ago. I like my friends because they’re smart, and have interesting ideas and the ability to discuss them, and a few of them even get the references on my t-shirts; I don’t want to discredit that personal connection we have by introducing superficial pleasantries to our discussions, that are boring and generic at best, and presumptuous and offensive at worst.

So I won’t tell you that you look nice today, even if you do and you put loads of effort into your outfit and such a compliment would literally make your day. It’s hard to tell whether someone cares and wants to talk about their looks, but we can’t deny that we all want to talk about the thoughts we have, and the words we say; so I’ll play it safe and talk to you about those things.

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