Title mined from Cliff Pervocracy.
I was watching What Not to Wear this afternoon. The American version, with Stacy and Clinton. I rarely watch TV, but I really used to love WNtW, and the big screen at the gym happened to be turned to it.
Today’s episode featured a vaguely steampunk woman (I think her name was Leah) whose aesthetic revolved around kinky boots, romantic skirts, and some truly spectacular Victorian hats. She was the “before”, of course, held up as titular affirmation, but I would shamelessly don every damn thing in that woman’s wardrobe. Some of it could’ve used a good tailoring and perhaps a better sense of color coordination, but overall it was a style I could take a lot of cues from.
Enter Stacy and Clinton. Spoiler alert: five minutes in I was wondering why I used to love this show so much. “It’s so…costumey,” sniffed Stacy, at the sight of Leah’s vinyl-corset-and-fascinator ensemble. Yeah, your point is? “Women have the right to vote, you know. None of this stuff has any place in a modern woman’s wardrobe.”
They left the dressing room and proceeded to dissect the contents of Leah’s closet. I was drooling, but they were sneering. Clinton held up a drapey jacket patterned with peacock feathers. “Ooh, fortune teller.” He didn’t say it kindly. “Listen, I know these clothes make you feel comfortable. But have you considered how they might make others feel uncomfortable?”
“We’re not trying to take away your style!” Stacy interjected. “We’re just going to find a version of your style that isn’t so…costumey.”
I’m irritated, frankly, by the assumption that that’s even possible. Maybe “costumey” is the essence of Leah’s style. Maybe other permutations just don’t do it for her. I’m sick to death of the notion that all styles can be boiled down to a few variations on one hideously boring theme. I’ve seen enough WNtW to understand their codes. “Edgy” means a blouse in leopard instead of cream. “Flirty” means floral pumps instead of basic black. “Sexy” is a heel half an inch higher than average. No matter how she looked before, no matter how unique or variable her style, every woman walks off that set with a closetful of wrap dresses, figure-flattering pencil skirts, and dark-wash mid-rise jeans. I can practically hear the snores.
I am all for style guidelines. I am all for cohesion and coordination and general internal consistency to outfits. I’m the first one to nix an outfit when the colors and textures fail to blend properly. WNtW and its ilk are valuable in that they provide a baseline to the hapless. To women slobbing around in faded “mom jeans” for failure to realize what else is out there. I appreciate those kinds of transformations. What I don’t appreciate is obliteration of well-defined, internally consistent styles that Stacy and Clinton personally find unattractive. Leah must be transformed not because her clothes are damaged or unprofessional or otherwise inappropriate, but because they fit an aesthetic that happens not to match the prevailing one. You hear it all in the way Stacey says “costumey”: with a kind of wink to the audience, as though it’s universally and instinctively understood that looking costumey is a bad thing. It is a bad thing if your taste challenges other people, or, gods forbid, “makes them uncomfortable.” Don’t insult these women by even pretending you want to preserve their personal styles. Some personal styles are inherently more challenging than others. You cannot squeeze them down to a happy medium and pretend nothing has been lost.
Big breasts need to be strapped down, small ones need to be propped up. If your ass is round draw attention upward, if your ass is flat draw attention downward. Short women need to look taller and tall women need to look shorter. Dammit, ladies, you’ve got to be average!
I refuse to be average. I’m well aware that a pencil skirt would probably flatter my ass better than my draping, swirling, thoroughly witchified ones. I understand that a wrap dress is an easy go-to outfit that requires minimal ornamentation. So fucking what? There’s no drama in those things. Fashion is not just function for me. Fashion is my art of choice. I create my outfits, mine them from thrift stores and kink shops and friends’ dressers. And maybe I look like an acidhead/streetwalker/Voltaire groupie, maybe I’ve made some bluestockings (GODS FORBID) uncomfortable, but at the end of the day I have created something. Who gives an ever-loving fuck what makes me look taller or slimmer? Fact is, I’m not taller or slimmer. I’m me – thick hips, skull jewelry, overprocessed hair and all – and I might as well dress the person I actually am. I’ve designed my own freak flag, and it’s flying high.
I am wearing a t-shirt with a squid on it and I think I look awesome and I don’t give a fuck otherwise.