Currently reading Appearance and Identity Fashioning the Body in Postmodernity, by Llewellyn Negrin. I love non-fiction at the moment! It’s an interesting read because it goes beyond the denunciation of cosmetics and fashion of earlier (i.e. turn of the century and the 70s, mostly) feminisms and claims dress and body are (somewhat?) intertwined; there is not a natural and thus no neutral body, there are only the never-ending masks we wear. There is the western-centric idea of the natural (even the nude body is political) and ephemeral masks of dress and cosmetics that are linked to who we are (i.e. virtuous/slutty, kooky/weird and so on) as a person, morally, psychologically, and all of that. Negrin critiques those who’ve interpreted fashion in such a way, and among other things also critiques those who see fashion completely apart of anything social or cultural movements.
It sounds like a promising book yet Negrin hardly ever mentions race (which feels to have crossed her mind far too late (last sentence, last paragraph); And, so far, has never mentioned disabilities (please kindly (re)visit the amazing Cat Smith’s article on Normcore and disability). All of which seem like a great topic of interest and study when writing on fashion and identity, no?! But… I’m patient (sort of) and these are just mild irritations building up. Let’s see how the rest of the book goes and then judge.
Anyways, Dress and Self never align; they are not one and the same; contrary to what most of us seem to like to believe (well, it is easy ). To quote Llewellyn: “As the cultivation of one’s looks assumes ever greater importance, aesthetic criteria come to substitute for ethical ones in the conduct of one’s life so that the basis of decision making is no longer “Is this a good thing to do?” but “Does it look good?” […] As long as it is assumed that there is no self apart from that which is constructed through the molding of one’s appearance, fashion comes to be seen simply as a random play with signs, unrelated to anything outside itself.”
Dress, Self and the relation between them is something that obviously interests me. Because, honestly, what am I wearing? Who am I? (Comment below with a thorough psychoanalysis please.) And who doesn’t feel this conflict?
But, what struck me personally, and this is why I am writing this, is that in some part of the book it is proposed that highly ornamental dress in the past (in the past alone?) was (or is) one of the main, or only, avenue of self-expression for women. This bit was, though I don’t remember it well I’m also sure I’m not off the mark, specifically about white middle class women mostly in the 19th century. Yet I felt very connected to this idea; fashion as being my main self-expression because I can’t express myself very well, I’m often afraid to, or I am simply not given the chance; and this I’m sure many women still feel. Though some women (rich/middle class, mostly) can now have the freedom of fulfilling their own potential (i.e. go to school, and definitely not be an ornamental wife, as earlier (white and middle class) feminist waves argued), have we (in my feminism my we and women includes more than normative women) been given the right to talk, philosophise freely, and so on? Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t feel like I have that freedom. And I also wonder, is it a freedom I long after? In the sense of men continually talking over me and so on, and so on, perhaps maybe (why waste energy on heteronormative men?). But either way I have definitely found my freedom, respect, love, potential, and so much more in my ornamental self. (Of course there is the dangerous thin line of fashioning one’s identity and only purely defining one’s self by the commodities one buys in our state of late capitalism as well as falling into the trap of oppressive beauty standards.)
So but hey, if it is so, then what do I express with my outfits? Please let me know because I have no clue, thank you.
Now… Did this post have a point? I don’t know, probably not. But I want to muse with you on fashion and identity and their many links.