I think the fashion world is irreparably fucked.
Actually, I think it always has been. Sure there have been periods of respite where comfortable, reasonably flattering clothing were in fashion (most of the 1940s & 1960s, in recent history) but those times have been short lived and scattered. There have been more, and more-lengthy eras of uncomfortable, impractical, and just plain unreasonable clothing, from the farthingales of Elizabethan times, to the tightlaced corsets of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, to the pointy-toed stiletto heels and skintight skinny jeans of late.
What fired up the train of thought behind this post was finding Kate Harding’s post about the upcoming season of America’s Top Model. Apparently there’s an e-furor brewing about this show because of their chosen “plus size” model, who is hardly plus-sized. She wears a size 8, and has a BMI of 21, which is smack in the middle of the healthy range. She’s also 5’10 and 150lb, therefore well taller than the average American woman (I think we generally measure around 5’4″–5’6″). The general conclusion is that the Fashion Industry has a warped sense of weight and size. NO DUUUUUH! I mean…water…is wet? The fashion industry has had its own bizarre sense of what a woman’s body should look like since FOREVER. This ain’t new news people.
Do you think she would have looked like that without the prodding of Dame Fashion?
I’m 5’6″, weigh 135lbs, and generally wear clothing in the 4-6 range (10 to 12, if we’re talking sewing patterns or British sizing). I’m muscular and athletic. Compared to the 5’10″ 110lb models in Vogue, I look stubby, stout, and graceless. So you know what? I stopped looking at the models in Vogue and thinking that they bore any relevance to my life and looks. I gave the finger to mainstream fashion, and stopped comparing myself with the Industry Standard of beauty. You don’t have to get your fashion news from the glossies. Hell, you don’t have to get fashion news at all. I prefer to just look around on my own recognizance, see what’s out there, what suits me, and what makes me puke.
I gave the following advice to a younger girl on a fashion-discussion forum who is looking to develop a more personalized style, and I think it could be adopted by any of us who wish to blow off the mainstream fashion malaise and do our own thing:
Stay very far away from magazines right now. There’s too much trendiness, not to mention the dreaded impossible beauty standards. Most of the clothes portrayed in fashion spreads in the glossies are so impractical, expensive, and extreme anyhow that they just aren’t reality; they’re nothing you could wear to school, or to a dance, or out with your friends.
I’d take a few preliminary scouting trips to shops and thrift stores, and go to look, not buy. Take a notebook with you (and maybe a digital camera) and record everything you like. Do this on several trips, so you get a pretty good survey of the things that strike your fancy. Then go over your list and look for “trends” (when I say “trend” here, I don’t mean things which are “trendy” but rather if there is a theme to your tastes, like floral prints, denim, dark colors, tailored shapes, etc.). This will help you get an idea of the “type” of your style, e.g. preppy, girly, rocker, athletic, etc. While you shouldn’t reduce yourself to a stereotype or persona, knowing your usual “look” is useful. Make a list of clothing types, and try to ensure that the list is complete and balanced (i.e., you don’t have a list of nothing but party dresses or nothing but workout clothes).
If you have a pretty limited budget (actually I advise this for anyone) try to buy pieces you can swap around to make several different outfits. Try to buy things within a certain color family, and things which will tone or contrast pleasingly. It’s a good idea to get a few basic pieces in solids (a brown pair of pants, a black pair, and then one pair in a more “wild” color. I have an orange pair) Then get pieces that work with your solids. If you buy a print skirt, look for tops and jackets that look good with it. The way I shop has ensured that I can grab almost anything from my closet and the pieces will go together to make a good outfit.
At this point, I think fashion industry (its press included) completely sucks. I don’t think it is at all helpful, useful, or even valuable. There are a few designers who truly create things of beauty and showcases of skill. There are many more who churn out the same boring crap year after year after year, or invent outrageous, butt-ugly runway monstrosities to vie for attention and bolster their warped egos. I think the glossies do a terrible job of conveying the styles and trends. Most of the photos are ridiculous, with the girls posed in such contortions you can’t really tell what the dress looks like, how it would hang, or even what the general cut and proportions of the thing might be. Moreover, the models are so far removed from what most bodies are like that what looks fabulous in the pages of W or Vogue would look nothing like that on a woman who was 5’2″/120lb, as opposed to 5’9″/105. The clothing they illustrate tends to be extremely expensive, impractical, and unforgiving to all but the most slender of figures.
While I am a big fan of clothing, I don’t feel the need to be up-to-the-minute in my dress. In fact, I certain that I am happier not being part of the whole fashion rat-race. I’d rather make some of my clothes after whatever fancy strikes me, and roust up the rest of my wardrobe from the pick of the thrift shops. I try never to wear outfits which can immediately be identified to a particular era, shop, or subculture. I prefer to mix-and-match, wearing a blouse from the 1950s, for example, new pants I made, and a blazer from the 1970s. I generally prefer a fairly tailored, classic silhouette, with occasional forays into absurdity or obnoxious colors or patterns. I’ve found it to be easier to feel well-dressed and confident without the interference of the fashion press.
I still have my moments of feeling frumpy, or being dissatisfied with my body. I’m an American woman; it’s pretty deeply culturally ingrained. I’ve been getting better, though, and I attribute a lot of that to my rejection of the purveyors of mainstream fashion and beauty.