Fashion = good, complex, interesting

Lauren McLaughlin in praise of fashion. Sing it, Lauren!

Regarding fashion being shallow. This is a prejudice I find maddeningly overrepresented in the spec fic community. Fashion is an art form and the wearing of fashion is something everyone does every day (unless you’re a nudist). Even people who think they don’t care about fashion make choices about what they wear. Fashionistas (a term often used derogatorily) are merely people who take pleasure in the clothing choices that others skim over, much as foodies take a greater interest in what they eat.

This reminds me of a friend of mine being (verbally) attacked by an earnest young man (e.y.m.) at a party. She was (and is) gorgeous and has always enjoyed playing with fashion, is always well attired, with fabulous make-up and hair. He accused her of dressing to please men. How long, he wanted to know did she spend on such a high-maintenance look? Shouldn’t she be doing better things with her time? Why was it so important to her to have men admire her? Weren’t there more important things in life?

Reader, my friend demolished him. She smiled and pointed out to the e.y.m. that his look wasn’t exactly low maintenance. How long did it take him to shave his head? He opened his mouth, goggled, closed it again. If he cared so little about fashion, she continued, why was he wearing fashionable jeans and a black T-shirt? And trendy workman’s boots? Clearly he was dressing to pick up inner-city chicks. He stammered some more, claimed he chose them because they were comfortable. She countered that if he truly gave no thought to clothes or his appearance he would simply buy whatever was closest and cheapest. She happened to know the jeans he was wearing were only availlable at two different shops and were not exactly cheap. Why not wear no-name brand jeans?

As Lauren says most everyone thinks about clothes and what they’re wearing and what other people will think of them because of their choices. Fashion is a very big deal. Often people can tell how rich or poor you are from what you wear, they form an opinion of your education and politics (though they can be very very wrong), they can decide not to let you into a club, or talk to you, or give you a job because of what you’re wearing. Fashion is a deadly serious (and excellently entertaining) and far-reaching part of all our lives. It is definitely not a trivial matter to write or think about.


  1. claire on #

    right on, both of you!

    and can i just add that even women who *think* they’re dressing up for men are really dressing up more for themselves?

    plus, it sounds like the e.y.m. was awkwardly trying to pick up your beautiful friend — who intimidated him with her fashion-togetherness, beauty and confidence — by breaking down said confidence with a nasty critique. why he gotta play like that?

  2. Justine on #

    Thanks, Claire!

    It’s usually a mixture of the two, don’t you think? Dressing up to please others as well as yourself. There are times when I dress to be as dowdy and invisible as possible and that’s definitely about how others see me as well as how I see myself.

    Oh, the e.y.m. was totally drooling over her. It was the graduate student equivalent of dunking her pigtails in the inkwell. The adversarial pick up attempt has been with us since forever. Don’t see it disappearing any time soon . . .

  3. Ben Payne on #

    I dunno… I’m still skeptical about fashion… I agree that few people really don’t care… but still… maybe this is just some clothing-luddite-throwback-switch in my mind that I haven’t yet overcome, or maybe on the other hand I have good reasons I haven’t found a way to elucidate yet…

    I don’t know…

    Besides, I’m scared I wouldn’t be any good at it.

  4. Justine on #

    Ben: Do you wear clothes? Right, then.

    It’s not whether you’re good at it or not. Very few people are totally confident about their fashion choices—presuming they’re in a position to make choices—It’s that what you wear speaks volumes about you, that people are judging you based on it. And that that is not a trivial issue.

  5. chris barzak on #

    I love clothes. Not for what anyone else cares about them or how it places me socially (though these things are just there and you should be aware of them, as you should everything about yourself as much as possible) but I love them really for their physicality. I’m stimulated by colors, sensual and visual fabrics, patterns and shapes. And aren’t we all engaged with our senses at some level? Well clothes are part of that, I think. So even if you find the social class or gender politics of clothes beneath you or loathesome, there’s still reason to be interested in them on at least a really physical/aesthetic/sense based level. My mood can be changed by what I wear, to a degree. And people do all sorts of things to stimulate various states of mind and mood. Eating, sleeping, taking drugs, exercising, having sex, etc. I think clothes have the potential to do this too, as we spend a third or more of our lives wearing them, they have to affect us on some level psychologically too, not just socially.

  6. Justine on #

    Chris: I totally agree. Colour! Texture! Smell!

    You must be having a ball in Japan surrounded by so many cool clothes. I’m a huge sucker for Issey Miyake. Such beautiful shiny, crinkly, swishy fabrics. Sigh.

  7. Lauren McLaughlin on #

    Gosh darn it, all this talk makes me want to go shopping (she types while wearing a pair of tattered cargo pants and a decrepit grey sweatshirt).

  8. andrew on #

    When people think of fashion they often think of it as being something that posh ladies and hipsters concern themselves with, however the truth is that everytime a say, plumber gets ready for work he is making a statement through what he wears. To take it to an extreme, when did you last see a plumber walking down the street wearing pink overalls? By wearing brown or blue or whatever he is making a statement about, at the very least, his sexuality. Fashion is like food. Everyone does it. Some just open a can of soup but they still have to choose the can.

  9. Justine on #

    Lauren: I’m in crappy old pyjamas with missing buttons . . .

  10. andrew on #

    well I’ve worn this jumper for a week now and that includes sleeping in it and wearing it under another jumper last night to go out to dinner, it has at least 2 stains on it.

  11. chris barzak on #

    I’m wearing green and navy blue plaid pajama bottoms from America and an old red t-shirt, getting ready for bed, says texture boy. And yes, Justine, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the clothes here in Japan. There are actually days I have, now that the date for returning to America is on the horizon, that I am shopping, surrounded by these clothes, and tears well. Will I ever be so surrounded by beautiful, interesting clothes again??? Will I ever get to talk to shopkeepers in Japanese and discuss the material and colors and how to properly take care of them, as they are certainly not just for throwing in a machine (the good stuff, that is). I am a sucker for Takeo Kikuchi’s clothes, but if I were a girl I’d be all over Issey Miyake’s stuff for sure. Kikuchi has a line of stores named after himself here, and it’s like this little treat for me to visit them when I’m in a different city because each store has different clothes in them! He doesn’t just stock them with the same items! Can you believe that?? I mean, now that’s a store! (he says, throwing his hands up in the air like a devoted Christian.)

  12. Diana Peterfreund on #

    I adore clothes, but I don’t think I could tell you about different fashion designers. I wouldn’t wear something just becuase this designer or that made it. I would wear it because it was beautiful, looks nice, and feels good.

    I was at a restaurant once with a woman who pointed out all the other patrons’ handbags and talked about who made them and how much they were worth. That disturbed me deeply. Not just because that’s how she was entertaining herself but more because she wasn’t saying “this purse is pretty” but rather “this one is by this designer, so it’s cool.”

    I think people look more fashionable NOT when they appear to have stepped from the pages of any given designer’s catalog, everything matched and one-note, but when they are able to put together a gorgeous outfit whether or not they are using pieces from “named” designers, or stuff from their closet, or bargain finds, or whatever. The old “wow, that’s gorgeous, where did you get it?” “Target” kind of thing.

  13. Richard on #

    Complex and interesting, I agree. Like so many games in life, this is one you can’t not play (even the nudists are playing). It’s just that some folks are more conscious of it than others. Are there shallow fashionistas out there? Sure, but it’s tarring with a extreeeeeeemely broad brush to equate fashion/style with shallowness. Although sometimes that simple semantic distinction between fashion (in the sense of, mindlessly following trends) and style (having a conscious personal aesthetic and executing it with whatever means available) is a useful one, even though those aren’t the senses of those words we’re using here.

  14. Meghan on #

    I love clothes. Even when I can only buy them in thrift stores. West LA has some FANCY cast-offs. If you can write a great book about food, you can write a great book about fashion.

  15. Cheryl on #

    Yay! Well said!

    And by missing World Fantasy you missed seeing my utterly speccy hussar jacket.

    This rather reminds me of the time I was told I wasn’t welcome in SF fandom if I watched sport. Very much the same sort of attitude.

  16. Ben Payne on #

    Justine: I agree it’s not trivial to think or talk about fashion. And I have no problem with people enjoying clothes the way we enjoy food or art… the only problem I have is that I think at times the more fashion-savvy people become the more inclined they are to judge other people based on that criteria… but I guess that’s something that’s down to the individual.

  17. Justine on #

    Barzak: I’m so jealous, but I’ll be in Japan in 2007. Though I doubt any of the Japanese women’s clothes will fit me, have to wear the men’s.

    Diana: Sure there are people like the handbag lady and it’s annoying that having an interest in who designed the clothes you wear (or wanna wear) means people think you’re like that. Imagine for a moment that the fashion industry is the publishing industry. You like to know who the author of the books you’re reading are, right? You have favourite authors, don’t you? Well that’s how I am with fashion. I care about particular designers (authors) because I find their choice of fabrics, shapes, texture intriguing and beautiful. I love discovering new designers/authors. Right now I’m loving Sydney designer, Lisa Stack’s work. Her clothes are gorgeous and she hasn’t been discovered by too many people, so right now I can afford her.

    Your handbag lady, on the other hand, is identifying labels owned by multinational corporations: Gucci, Chanel, Prada etc. etc. When it comes to fashion I’m much more interested in the independent presses of the world.

    The kind of fashion follower you described is not someone who cares about the aesthetics, but only about the economic cachet. No one seeing me wear something by Lisa Stack is going to be able to say “Lisa Stack” and how much it costs. Your handbag lady is like someone reading Proust just to say they have.

  18. Justine on #

    Andrew: For Elvis’ sake, man, wash your jumper!

    Richard: agreed on the fashion/style distinction. Though, of course, everyone has at least one style in their repertoire, even if it’s slobby, which is often my favourite way to dress.

    Meghan: yup, money’s the thing. Thank Elvis for op shops (thrift shops) and for seasonal sales. I have a friend who makes all her own clothes and has occasionally made me some (not no more that she has kids) her clothes are way better than most of the stuff you see in shops. I tried to learn to sew in my teen years and was unco and useless. Sigh.

    Food and clothes now those are the only things worth writing about. You may have noticed that secretly that’s what Magic or Madness is about.

    Cheryl: Sorry to have missed your jacket. That was all Scott’s fault.

    Don’t get me going on people who think you’re a loser or just deeply weird for loving sport, and for loving cricket in particular. Their loss!

    Ben: I won’t lie, the first time I see someone I’m making assumptions based on what they’re wearing, how their hair is cut, their looks etc. But you know what I think everyone is. Even if the assumptions are as basic as: white, boy, possibly in their thirties, seems clean. People are also judging us for what we say and do. Not much you can do about it.

  19. janet on #

    I think I’m getting thrown here by the word “fashion,” which has a particular meaning independent of clothes and clothing. There can be fashions in literature, in food, etc. To me, the word “fashion” specifically means attention to the trends of the moment. Caring about and paying attention to clothing doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as caring about fashion.

    Clothing and adornment are a language. If there’s any human cultural universal, it’s the practice of adorning, decorating, and altering our bodies. What you wear and how you arrange your body is a fundamental way of establishing identity.

    Speaking of which, I went to a big company Xmas party last week and noticed that a number of clearly non-South-Asian women were wearing saris and other festive outfits from the Indian subcontinent. I’m wondering whether this is now part of the accepted repertoire for female semi-formal wear (at least in San Francisco), or whether it’s just that the invitation specifically mentioned saris when discussing what would be appropriate to wear. (This was a party for a large Sili Valley company with a lot of South Asian employees.)

  20. janet on #

    p.s.: I also meant to mention that of the many south asian women at the party, some were wearing western and some asian dress. also, I am used to south asian men who live in the states almost uniformly wearing western dress (typical scene in Sili Valley: Indian man in buttondown shirt and khaki pants, accompanied by wife in a sari), but at the party I saw a number wearing what I suppose was Indian men’s formal or semi-formal wear.

  21. Cheryl on #

    I have several saris. Business trip to India – couldn’t resist a little shopping. But actually a salwar kameez is much more practical and easy to wear. I wore mine to the World Fantasy Awards banquet.

    Sue Mason wore a sari to the Hugo ceremony at ConJose, which was three years ago. See picture. Several other British friends have them too.

  22. chris barzak on #

    Justine: It’s okay if you have to wear the men’s clothes here. You’ll find just as many feminine styles for men as you would in the women’s clothes anyway. 😉

  23. Justine on #

    Janet: Sure, fashion—like many words in this confusing language of ours—get used in a myriad of ways. I was just tired of the whole fashion industry being slammed as frivolous, and writing about it as girlie and lame, when in so many ways it’s deadly serious.

    Janet and Cheryl: Saris are pretty. Comfortable, too.

    Chris: Feminine scheminine! I pretty much wear a tonne of men’s clothes anyways. Specially right now when most of the women’s clothes in the stores are truly disgusting: Hippy dippy crap and pastels. Pastels! Oh, how I hates them. And the jeans are still stupidly low riders. When is that look going to go away? Plumber’s crack, for some strange reason is not my favourite look. I stick to men’s jeans.

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