Sunday, May 27, 2007

Fashionosophy(?): "one man's trash is another man's treasure."

THIS PIECE SHOULD BE SUBTITLED, 'It is Possible to Look Cool in London for 1£ or Less.' I am packing, and therefore recounting the many gifts that londontown has bestowed upon me, with her bounty of fashionistas and never-ending pine for the dapper, drag, hipster, goth, punk, hippie, intellectual-blase, femme-fatal....and every other fashion-defined character known to the wider world. There is kente cloth here, and a never-ending rainbow of saris, monk's habits, the clergyman's somber black, children's uniforms... London is a town of trends, and virtually invented the notion of "insta-fashion" with stores like Topshop, which are designed to deliver a new range of trends every couple of weeks, restarting a feeding frenzy for whatever colored skinny pant, day-glow accessory, or strange set of glasses is the MUST-HAVE of this moment. The trend-chasers inhabit just one of the fashion bubbles of this city. They are not the majority, but more-so than in other European cities, give 13-22 year-old Londoners a homogeny, even if their sameness is defined by chameleon-like changeability.

I remember posting early in my 5months something entitled "has anyone seen my ability to communicate?" about the disorienting affect of this multiplicity of fashion signals. The artsy niche exists, just above the poverty line, and in some sort-of dance with the insta-fashioners, characterized by open condescension and veiled influence on the part of both groups. An article just last week in The London Paper, hailed this season's concert-going chic with the mantra "wear it like you just don't care." So the point is, then, to spend more time, money, & energy on your clothing than most of the free world, and yet look as if you simply wake up in the morning and put on whatever pants happened to be draped over the love seat on your way out the door?

This raises ethical questions for me...I think. Are we all fakes? Is London a city of people in which complete embrace of materialism has taken place. And materialism, a vice which every major religion warns against, is rife--but why? and to what end?

A sort of philosophy of fashion is something I circle often. I wish Susan Sontag had just written a book called "Regarding the Fashion of Others" because then someone could tell me what the hell is going on...and what it means. Instead, I just participate. And while I participate I struggle. I try to make what I know is a social convention (that of wearing clothes) into a vent for personal expression. Which is trite. And not exactly what I mean. Damn. I will try again. Why do I put on clothes that are a bit 'strange' and often provoke comments leading to conversations with perfect strangers on trains of in coffee shops. I am not talking about the usual "Oh, I love your handbag! Where did you get it?" of my mother's generation. Rather, people like to enlighten me about their interpretation of my dress, and pry until they loose an answer to why I think I wear it. Hence, I feel constantly conflicted in my search for this philosophical summation.

(Just last week a man came and sat at the table I was using in a coffee shop. He asked me why I wear so many representations of the color-spectrum, and whether or not my beads mean I am Buddhist, and why do I alter the clothes I wear?...My standard answer of "because birds, trees, colors, and Buddhas resonate with me..." did not satisfy him in the least. The conversation stretched for an hour, while he told me what he thought it meant...)

What I find interesting about dabbling in being an AMATEUR clothing designer, or even just a seamstress, is that persons demand that you take a greater responsibility for what you wear, if you had some hand in creating it. Some level of skill and what might be called "taste" is certainly involved in selecting and purchasing clothes. This process is something which teeters between a belief in cosmic rendezvous between a person and a garment, and some kind of sophisticated method for sifting through the infinite options for what one wears. And then there are those people who profess to not care at all about choosing their clothes: a) I find it nearly impossible to adopt their mindset, if only for a moment b) I don't think it is true. We are visual creatures. Quoting Walter Lippmann in the year 1922, "Photographs have the kind of authority over imagination today, which the printed word had yesterday, and the spoken word before that. They seem utterly real." I propose that in the 85 years since Lippmann made that statement, we might substitute "the visual" for "photographs"--the visual orientation of our present culture is ubiquitous and moves at the speed of immediacy.

So, fashion, as perhaps one of the earliest forms of visual communication, predating photography, cinematography, and certainly the capacity of sights such as to make a movie "viral" instantly. Fashion is secondary in the visual communicative arts only to the human body itself, and the gestures which it is capable of exercising. In other words, fashion is extraordinarily important. And while I may still find myself a bit overwhelmed about the infinitesimal niches of London's fashion world, at least I know that they matter. The matter a lot.

I intended this post as a kind of brief showcase of the items which I have "thrifted" (bought at second-hand stores, charity shops, and markets) for the equivalent of 2-3 US dollars, in order to prove that cheap fashion can be pursued in this town, and to illustrate the creative, challenging and perhaps primal hunt for the fashion that resonates with you, after it has been discarded by some other human being. Those clothes follow, along with a few which I "crafted" and altered significantly...

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