The Embroidery of Life

I just finished reading Justine Picardie’s book My Mother’s Wedding Dress: The Life and Afterlife of Clothes today. Its a good book to read if you’re interested in autobiography and clothes or fashion. For a while now, I’ve been thinking about how clothes, whether they matter to you personally or not, can be many different things to different people. It seems that we need to wear clothing, particularly since we have no extra protection from the elements, and it is also considered improper to go out unadorned with garments of some sort (!). Unless, of course, you live in a nudist colony…

I feel that clothes take on a life of their own – they often retain memories, or are reminscent of a certain era. They can also be a battleground or a site of celebration. Clothes mean nothing and everything, can make a statement or fade into the background. I’ve always been enthused about clothes in some way – even though I’ve never been concerned with ‘high fashion’ or imitating the catwalk, I like the theatricality of certain styles and fashion moments.

Most of all, I’m fascinated by how clothes are often the site of identity, and when I was doing Sociology, self identity was a topic I found engrossing. That’s not to say that I haven’t thought about the reality of the fashion industry and how it can be misogynistic and warped, but if we didn’t have trends or style, then we wouldn’t have the backbone of everyone’s wardrobes today.

Nobody would be wearing all those different varieties of jeans or trousers, or even a regular everyday shirt or t-shirt. Black would be just for funerals, not for everyday wear. Women wouldn’t be wearing trousers or jeans, even (although we can thank our feminist forebears for championing the wearage of trews, also I think maybe Coco Chanel wore trousers?). It’s fascinating because we can see how history has shifted along and changed, how people have put their identity into their clothes, whether they live the life their clothes say they do or not (such as people dressing like bikers, but not actually living the biker life).

Every time you walk down a street and see someone’s clothes, you immediately read something from what they’re wearing, even if it’s as simple as ‘oh, they’re dressed for the weather’ or something. There is so much choice available now, that people can pick and choose what they want to wear, the only constraint being money (or, maybe not even that so much now, since the advent of Primark and H&M).

I’ve had lots of different metamorphoses over the years, even though I’m only 25. When I was a teenager, inevitably because I lived in the 90’s, my style wasn’t all that great. I cringe alot at the stuff I wore – I believe I wore a lot of trainers and baggy pants, imitating that All Saints style (they were a short lived girl group). Unfortunately, cooler music trends bypassed me, as at the time, I wasn’t into Grunge or alternative music. When I was doing my A Levels, I think things improved a little bit, but I really started experimenting a lot when I was at University, sometimes getting things wrong and other times getting things right. I sort of got into alternative styles like big baggy black skater jeans, although I don’t wear them now, I prefer slouch jeans. 

In my last year at University and when I was doing my MA, I feel that I started to find my own style, stuff that made me comfortable and feel more confident. I tend to pick and choose from trends – I don’t feel like I need to be dictated to or have to follow anything. I tend to live in jeans for the most part, but also love dresses and occasionally dressing up. I’ve always thought that experimenting and having fun is what it’s all about.

In recent years, I’ve been thinking about the way that bodies can be subversive by dressing in a way different to what people expect. For example, I’m interested in the Size Acceptance community and Fatshion blogs (links on the sidebar under HAES and Size Acceptance), because more and more its becoming difficult to be a big person in the western world. I’ve never had someone say to me ‘you look really fat’ in a nasty way or anything, maybe because I am now much more confident and secure in my own body, so it shows through.

I love clothes, but that wouldn’t be possible if all clothes retailers stopped at size 16. Internet shopping has, in a way, liberated me clothes wise. High street brands do run my sizes for the most part, but I am not sure that they used to. When I was a teenager, shopping on the high street was upsetting for some reason, even though I was only a size 14 or 16. I remember a feeling of shame or a lump in my throat, and I’m not really sure why, maybe just the insecurity of teenagehood.

It’s when you’re a teen that you become insecure about your body. It carried beyond age 18, even though I didn’t need to feel insecure, as people always complimented me on my clothes or hair. I would never say ‘thank you’, but sort of blush and stutter a bit, rather than accepting their compliments. I’m now much more accepting of compliments because I’m happy with myself. I do have moments of insecurity, but I think that’s a human thing.

Anyway, so I’ve read somewhere that the more we see bodies that aren’t what we expect to see, the more we become accustomed to them, and that is what has happened to me with Fatshion blogs and large women. It’s helped me to see that people come in all these different shapes and sizes and that everyone is different. I’m less worried about the size on the tag and more interested in beautiful clothes, in wearing things that fit and make me feel a certain way. It’s taken a long time to get where I am, and to be confident about myself. If you feel comfortable then it shows and makes you feel good. No point tottering about in heels if it makes you feel self conscious and in pain (I tend to wear heels when I know I won’t be standing up all the time…). 

I think clothes can affect how someone feels about themselves. Then again, you might be saying no, that’s not necessarily true. Again, I think it depends, but clothes can have an affect on us that might even be subconscious – why do we choose what we wear? Is it comfort, practicality or expressive of some part of your identity? Is it because you have always worn something or because you want a change? Maybe it’s because someone you know has worn something similar and you liked the style. Whatever the reason, we still have a reason for choosing the clothes that we do.

P.s. I also blog about fashion on http://polkadotrainbows.wordpress.com 🙂

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Daniel says:

    I don’t care for fashion at all really, but I guess I could say I have my own style. For the most part I non-branded clothes because I prefer subtle colours, without having a great bloody white tick slapped across my chest. Although I have to admit a weakness for the Converse basketball trainers. Wearing them with jeans makes me feel happy.

    Oh, and i’ve deliberately started wearing odd socks because some neuron in my brain has fired and now I think it looks cool. My parents would not approve…

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  2. Liz says:

    I agree – non branded clothes have much more of an impact than branded clothes, in my opinion. Even if what you’re wearing is some major design label, having it slapped on your chest or your back or even your bag just looks sort of like you’re trying to fit in.

    I think being different and having your own style is more interesting than following the fashion pack. Particularly as over the years you sort of figure out what you like and don’t like and what you think suits you. The classics stick around and they’re classic for a reason – converse look good on everyone, not just young teenagers 🙂

    Odd socks – very commendable 😉

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  3. LonerGrrrl says:

    You know, a few years ago, I would have said I didn’t care about clothes & what I wore… but I think we all do to an extent, and I know over the past couple of years I’ve found clothes shopping more ‘fun’ as I’ve grown more confident in my personality & identity & therefore want to find clothes to reflect that.

    For example, I bought some brilliant biker boots last autumn and team them with some black jeggings, & I immediately feel more confident and assured when I’m out & about stompin’ around in them. So I agree that what we wear can affect how we feel.

    I think this is a really interesting topic from a feminist pov too, seeing as most discussion around clothes & body image generally is about the negative effect spending too much worrying about your appearance can have on women. This is undoubtedly the case, but like you say, we all choose to wear certain clothes for certain reasons, and there should be no shame in enjoying dressing up every now & again or wanting to make the best of yourself via your appearance if it makes you happy.

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  4. Liz says:

    I love biker boots – they lend some toughness and attitude to every outfit! 🙂

    I know, I find it somewhat weird that a lot of feminist discussions are mostly about the negativity surrounding clothes and not what the positive things are. Yeah, there are things far more important than clothes and makeup or whatever, but I kind of feel that you can express a lot with your clothes if you want to.

    I mean, the choice is that you don’t have to – and I think that’s what feminism should be about in some ways. You shouldn’t define anyone by what they wear or not (here being about being covered from head to toe or wearing short skirts), but at the same time we should also recognise the possibilities of showing our identities with clothes, just enjoying having some fun with them!

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