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28 June, 2007

The Clothes Make The Er Um What

I've been thinking a good bit about clothes lately. (Not just because I'm helping my liege work out what he's going to wear for his wedding, but not not because of that, either.)

I've been exploring, mentally, what it means to dress like me.

This doesn't have, necessarily, that good an intersection with the clothes that I have. But, y'know, not having won the lottery recently or anything, I don't have the resources to go out and transmogrify my wardrobe, so I mostly pick things up slowly over time that feel more like me than what I've got.

Or rather ... more like the rest of me. The part of me that doesn't have anything in particular to say with clothing other than 'I am not exposing my nipples and genitalia' is well-supplied with t-shirts. And really, being too damn lazy to bother thinking about clothing and thus putting on a t-shirt and some pants as necessary is a part of me that is legitimately expressible.

As I was reminded recently, one of the early manifestations of the 'I want to dress more like me' thought was picking up a couple of pairs of slacks. It used to be jeans-and-t-shirt, but I got to a point where it mattered to me to be able to move more freely -- coincidentally, opening myself to the possibility of an office job by expanding my office-appropriate apparel options -- but mostly just not liking the feel of the weight of the jeans.

The house we moved into last fall has a gifuckinggantic closet. So I've been unpacking and hanging things, like my collection of vests, and thinking about how to coordinate that into what I wear on a regular basis. Shirt, pants (or long skirt), vest is dressing more like me than just the shirt-and-pants does, but it also requires more conscious effort (the only skirt I have clean and put away at the moment is a broomstick skirt with paisley patterning; this does not go with more than one of my vests).

I look at this, and I have no idea what's being communicated there. I mean, I'm aware that there are signalling cultures which convey all sorts of information with their clothing, and those which don't, but I can't say I speak any of the codes. I just wind up feeling that falling back on the unmarked clothing is a habit I got into as part of my depression coping mechanism, something I didn't have to think about at all, and thus thinking about how and whether I want to differ from the default there is something that I want to do. I don't know what I'm saying, beyond "I like these clothes" or whatever, but it's ... an interesting bit of thing to think about.

And when I start trying to synthesise things and work out what the whole shape of the message is -- okay, I'm pretty sure I can work out the slinky blue dress, I can get somewhere with the velvet bellydance-style shirt with the fantastic lace sleeves, and I'm also pretty sure I can work out the burgundy swallowtail coat and the snazzy grey top hat, too. Living in the space that encompasses these (and the other things that living in my head encompasses) is interesting to imagine, as if from the outside.

(On a note of petulant acquisitiveness, he's been looking at a lot of nice waistcoats ....)


Anonymous said...

One other interesting angle to add: The question of what you wear when you're too lazy to think about what to wear is also a choice, just a choice made back when you were filling your wardrobe (though that may have been a "more of the same" choice and go even farther back).

For me, my default clothing is a pair of jeans and a plain knit polo shirt with a collar. Most days, I spend ten seconds thinking about which color of shirt to wear from the two or three on top of the stack, and that's it.

So, one effect of having that established as a default is that I tend to look a bit "better dressed" (I think) than a lot of college students, for the same amount of actual day-to-day caring about my wardrobe.

(And I imagine, for many a stereotypical 1960s IBM employee, it was very much the same sort of thing, except the ten-second question was which tie to wear.)

Another interesting effect, though, is that a t-shirt is not an unmarked case of "clothing" for me; it's something that I specifically choose, which is less formal than my default lazy no-thinking clothes. And so I find myself aware of wearing a t-shirt, and usually a little uncomfortable about my level of clothing as a result.

Heh -- even the signals we send ourselves with clothing can be complex, without considering other people!

Unknown said...

Fascinating stuff - as usual, of course. I've been thinking about this one a lot the last few months too.

My default, as you know, is plain-colored top, and a long skirt. Adjust weight for weather. Add sweater if it is below freezing outside.

But in the last few months, I've been getting strong encouragement from friends to try a few more things out. Deeper v-necks, I discovered, I like. The lovely gauze and elastic thing Elise gave me that is oh-so-much "Yes, I have breasts" is so not anything I thought I'd like - and then I saw it on me, and it worked. The gorgeous teal velvet jacket, that I'm looking forward to wearing more.

Moving into a place where I have very limited closet space places additional complications: almost everything I own is also work clothing, for example, but also needs to do double duty with general wear. I have ideas for what I want to do when I get the budget to add specific pieces.

But I do also find myself dressing very specifically for things. Jewelry, too, though the ever-increasing Elise necklace collection does sort of help with that.

erm. I'm rambling. But mostly, I get where you're going with this, and please talk about it more, because it's similar to my own wandering.

WordK said...

I tend to appear considerably sloppier than most the other students in my college classes. But then, most of them look like they stepped out of a Vogue spread. I made a short-lived attempt at trying to dress up a bit during freshman and the beginning of sophmore year, but eventually I quite, mostly because I just didn't feel right wearing the two or three pretty, flouncy, flowing shirts I had picked up. I was more comfortable, and ultimately more confident even, in my T-shirt or my favorite tank top and button-up. Maybe they didn't actually look ridiculous on me, but I felt ridiculous wearing them. This summer's been great -- I wasn't going to be doing anything formal so I've just been wearing a lot of tie-dye, which I adore. And I love wearing my hair tied up in scarves and bandanas -- I have fun with the colors.

I have made an effort at finding clothes that are more appropriate to a formal setting but don't make me feel awkward -- a nicer button-up with some simple detailing or emboirdery to go over a good tank top feels natural to me and looks good. And I've never felt odd in a business style oxford with either a scarf or a tie, so when I need to be formal I can be.

I think, for me, I like my clothes to feel sturdy, like even if they weren't intended for fence-climbing I could hop a few fences without ruining them. That's one of the main reasons I normally wear jeans. Finding dress slacks as always been torture for me because the fabrics are thinner, and I feel exposed in them. I own one "nice" dress that I think is pretty on me, but I hate wearing it because it's a gauzy material.

So, I thought I had the clothes situation worked out. Then, the other day it occured to me that I don't own a single garment that could be considered sexy, and I sort of want to own something sexy. Thus, there have been recent ponderings of clothing in my head as well, just thought I'd share.