Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Certain Style

I will admit it does take a certain amount of energy and restraint to keep in a positive frame of mind, and this investment on the whole pays great dividends. But in a departure from that I'm just going to use this space to rant and gripe for a while, here in the safety of the 'blogosphere' where 'never before has so much been said, by so many and read by so few'.

My sister is into fashion, I think apart from IT types resigned to the safety of jeans and white sneakers, everybody is but admits it to lesser or greater degrees.

For years I have felt the victim of a kind of societal 'informed ability' regarding high fashion and the vaguelly defined 'style'.

The ones that were hard to ignore unless you live under a rock are hopefully obvious - like SJP from sex and the city being regarded as 'sexy' and often making it into best dressed lists. More recently there is the phenomena of Ann Hathaway, being thrown in my face constantly as somebody who is meant to be sexually appealing, but to me seems badly out of place. This is not to discredit her as an actress, just as a sex symbol. Casting her as Catwoman is to me, somebody emotionally invested in Batman and thus holding Selina Kyle up as a lofty ideal of sexiness, is frankly a slap in the face.

The same goes for my inability to pick which aspiring 'models' will do well/win shows like America's Next Top Model, Britain's Next Top Model etc. I sit there and say 'well that girls the most attractive by far, she's a shoe in.' then a bunch of judges I can't understand at all will tell somebody who is otherwordly beautiful that they are dissappointed, and that they just don't have it. Only to then have a girl who is anemic and translucent and with the posture and grace of sesame street's Big Bird how much they love their picture and they cruise through.

And through the everyday exposure to style and fashion that one cannot avoid in this society, I just was afraid to admit that for a long time, long beyond reckoning, I just haven't understood women's fashion at all.

Then this week I stumbled via my sisters open webbrowsing session the Man Repeller and to me, a man, a straight man, her style is by-and-large repulsive. Light travels faster than sound, and she wears the kind of outfits that could kill a conversation between us just by observing each other across a room.

But refreshingly, liberatingly she admits this limitation of 'style', she owns it. The clothes she loves to adorn herself in, buy, design, research and read about have little to no appeal, nay are actually offensive to myself, to mankind.

I feel calmer and more relaxed, having had somebody finally acknowledge this. I don't hold a double standard as such, there are thing I and other men wear that are chosen purely to impress other men. I think this is good and healthy, what I always resented was having women in repulsive outfits (to me) pointed out to me and told 'isn't she gorgeous' expecting me to acquiesce.

What is troubling is that this admission isn't more embraced and more widespread. The 'informed attractiveness' of so many style icons doesn't do favors to people who are trying to attract and believe purchasing those items is the way to go. I know of few men, if any that truly care or appreciate how 'well' a girl dresses. It is if mentioned at all, a bi-product of their attraction, not even the icing on the cake, more like the dusting of cinnamon. A 'oh yeah and she knows how to dress' after all the other desirable qualities sought for by straight men - physical attraction, confidence, intelligence, kindness, humor etc.

The problem being that there are no hard and fast rules, no objectively clear path, no verticle heirarchy to attractiveness... YET there is a pervasive desire innate in most (if not all people) to be accepted and validated by membership to something large. A primal 'safety in numbers' attitude many rely on. They try to express themselves by signalling most loudly through their clothing membership to a particular group. (This phenomena is beautifully documented on Exactitudes)

High fashion, following the 'trends' out of Paris, Milan, London and New York, reading Vogue and following the Sartorialist is simply a form of expertise in a language of clothes thats utility is self contained. That is, not everyone speaks or appreciates the language.

The most obvious reason being that not everybody (and most of anybody) puts 'sophistication' and 'stylishness' high on their list of desirable qualities when looking for a partner. Fashion is a world that feeds and sustains itself. It is a complex artform, and fashion designers are some of the rare artists that will make most of their money while still alive. But it isn't attractive and can quite often be repulsive.

Few would equate a keen interest in World of Warcraft and Fashion, but I guess this is the point I am trying to make. Imagine talking to somebody at a party and you ask them what they are passionate about and they begin a long monologue about World of Warcraft, the limitations and advances it has made as the game evolved, the various expansion packs and the qualities of each and what exciting new developments Blizzard promise to keep the game fresh and new and worth the subscription.

If you have no interest in World of Warcraft, they have conveyed a sense to you that they spend a lot of time and energy on something you don't appreciate and don't understand, and furthermore think its important. Fashion is exactly the same, except with the downside of while Computer Game enthusiasts are unlikely to A) be at a party and B) speculate and evaluate other people's gaming ability, fashion enthusiasts will hold everyone who wears clothes to their standard.

If you love fashion, this is something to keep in mind.

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