slowing it down

First of all, let me announce far and wide that I haven’t forgotten about y’all, or this blog, or even (perish the thought) Halloween itself. I lost my $%&*$#& tripod, probably thanks to seasonal gremlins. Although I could probably wheedle some photos out of my loved ones, it’s just not the same as manning the shutter myself. Prepare, though, for a massive backlog of posts (including my excruciatingly belated Halloween costume) when I either find it or suck it up and shell out for a new one. In the meantime, I’ll be filling this blog with writing, non-fashion photography, and maybe a few pretty pictures from elsewhere on the web.  And today I’m unveiling something I’ve been pondering for a while now.

thrifted

You’ve seen this picture before, but look – it’s an entirely vintage/thrifted outfit!

Starting on January 1st, I will no longer be participating in fast fashion. I’ve been disappointed for some time with fashion blogging’s emphasis on consumption over creativity. I’m tired of same-old-same-old editorials with brand names in full, obnoxious view, as though the price tag were the end-all of a garment.  I’m tired of uninspired outfit posts with no story to tell, just a label to flaunt. The way I see it, fashion blogging is supposed to be about bringing the art of clothing to a wider audience. Taking it into our own hands and pioneering new styles. I’m all about the democratization of high fashion (and high art in general). There are so many talents out there whose work might never see the light of day were it not for the internet and blogging culture. So it kinda bums me out when I see post after post about endless acquisition of off-the-rack basics. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the creation of something the world has never seen before?

On its face, I don’t really have a problem with this. Hell, I’m not immune to attention-whoring when I find a really excellent vintage hat. But I’m tired of pretending that the glorification of status and materialism has no cost. I want to acknowledge that much of American culture’s pursuit of beauty ascends at the expense of human rights and environmental preservation. Yes, I know that Forever 21 dress is cute. But what’s that cuteness worth? Exploited children, shoddy factories, erasure of real craftsmanship? Not to mention that it’ll fall apart after three or four washings, and you’ll be left browsing the racks once again, perpetuating the cycle. I’m done with it.

Starting on January 1st, I will be buying exclusively vintage, thrifted, and handmade clothing. Admittedly, that isn’t much of a statement, coming from me. The clear majority of my clothes already fall into at least one of those categories. But I do occasionally cave in and go nuts at Charlotte Russe or Urban Outfitters. In two months, it stops. As a fashion blogger, I sit in a uniquely advantageous position: I can prove, with visual evidence, how awesome secondhand clothes can look. There’s so much clothing in the world. Why should it fall to ruin because predominant mores decided it’s no longer relevant?

So much of the activism in the fashion world is ultimately superficial. Yes, it’s great that so many people are pushing for a more inclusive perspective of beauty. It’s great that more companies are expanding their audience by marketing to different sizes and economic brackets. But if your definition of “inclusive” includes only those who have the privilege of contemplating fashion in the first place, it’s fundamentally flawed. Compared to the other flaws in the fashion industry, it’s one big ol’ first-world problem. How about including the often indigent workers, the local communities displaced by factories and urban sprawl, the children asthmatic from pollution, in the global discourse on fashion? How about finding balance between luxury and sustainability?

Beauty is tainted when its production is ugly. I am not okay with seeing my art propped up by corrupt, ozone-frying industries. I’m not going to pretend the gobbling of shoddy resources isn’t just another tick of the metaphorical time bomb. And on a more personal level, I care about the fashion world. I love its glitz and grotesquerie, and I damn well want its art to last. It’s the very least I can do to support ethical production and earth-safe materials. We have to lift this metaphorical house from the sand and plant it firmly on solid ground.

Starting January 1st…

  • I will buy primarily from local secondhand/vintage stores. Not only does that recycle the old, it supports the local economy.
  • I will also buy handmade artisanal garments when I can. Etsy is my friend here.
  • No more box stores or fast fashion franchises. No Urban Outfitters, Charlotte Russe, etc. I will, however, keep doing my research, and if certain box stores are particularly ethical, I will continue to patronize them.
  • I will begin making my own clothes more often. I’d like to find sustainably produced fabrics, too, but that will be a later project. I’m easing in.
  • I will keep what I already own. Poorly produced though some of it may be, I find it ultimately disrespectful to throw it out for some grand ideological reason. It was made, I’ve bought it, and I might as well get all the use from it that I can.
  • I will consult Annika’s ethical clothing directory as often as I can. That girl is doing great work.
  • I’m undecided about what to do if someone gifts me a fast-fashion item. Family and friends know about my pledge, and I have no qualms about reminding them of it when holidays and birthdays roll around, but what about acquaintances? Distant relatives? Family friends? Handing it back or asking for the receipt seems like such a cringingly awkward thing to do. Has anyone else who’s made a similar pledge figured out a good system for this?

on femininity as liberation

Sometimes, like I did back in August, I write about the sociopolitical elements of fashion. Bear with me: it’s the price y’all pay for getting pretty pictures all the time. 😉

~

Feminism has done some pretty sweet things for the female-identified. I’m writing this in an armchair I bought with my own money ($15 at ReSource, not bad), in an apartment I share with four other single women, on a campus I have as much right to as any male student. Earlier today, I went to a doctor’s appointment I didn’t need my father’s or boyfriend’s permission to make. Last month I voted in my first federal election. Considering the state of things a few generations ago, all of that is pretty staggering.

That said, though, I think many of these gains have come at the expense of traditional femininity. Now, hear me out: I’m not going to yell at you to get back in the kitchen or suggest that I don’t have the right to be paid as much as a man. But my idea of feminism isn’t forcing women into masculine roles and doing away entirely with feminine ones. It’s un-gendering roles, period, and leaving everyone to pursue whichever ones they want. Call me naive, but I don’t politicize happiness. I don’t think it’s my feminist duty to avoid traditionally feminine things I happen to enjoy, just to make a statement. Go there, and you’re right back to women subordinating their desires to societal norms, which was the whole problem with the old patriarchal system. (I swear, this point will arrive at fashion eventually. I’m getting there.)

A lot of guys (particularly late teens/early 20s guys – the demographic I date) seem to want girls they can “relate to”. I’m not trying to deride this universally human desire, but rather to examine what “a girl I can relate to” often means. It means more than just a girl whose mind and values and personality align with yours – in my experience, it connotes a girl who’s interested in traditionally masculine things. Gamer girls. Geeky girls. Or, my personal favorite, “natural girls”. “Don’t worry, ladies! You can wipe off that makeup. We prefer you without it, anyway.” It’s an ostensibly sweet message, but it boils down to two flawed tenets: 1) that women should dress for men and not for themselves and 2) that the masculine gender role is the arbiter of all that is “natural” in the world.

Fashion is art. Makeup is art. It’s more than just a petty distraction for girls too insecure to let their natural – i.e. masculine – selves be known. There’s this absurd notion in our culture that there are Issues and there are Women’s Issues. Women who confine themselves to Women’s Issues like fashion and makeup and childcare – don’t they realize how sad and silly they are? They’re merely segregating themselves from the world of Real Issues like hunting and guitar and science fiction. “Real women”, “natural women”, women who can knock back a beer with the best of ’em, are somehow more liberated for having shed the artifice. Femininity is necessarily piddling, artificial, and materialistic, while masculinity is strong and lasting. Women’s interests are for Women, but men’s interests are for People.

A commenter on one of my favorite blogs summed it up really well:

Feminism means valuing the (current culturally-defined) feminine equal to the (currently culturally-defined) masculine. … It means valuing women, it means valuing _feminine_ women, it means valuing the abstract feminine, it means men wearing nifty colored nail polish because the feminine isn’t ‘lesser’.

The last bit of that is especially important to me. Because when certain guys say they want girls they can relate to, they mean girls who will do traditionally masculine things with them. Gods forbid they partake in something feminine, because femininity, after all, is gross and outdated and soon everyone will default to their true state of playing video games and reading science fiction. I happen to be dating a guy with a legitimate interest in costumery. I love that I can discuss the finer points of corset construction with him, but in my experience, he’s kind of an anomaly.

Fashion and costumes bring me more joy than just about anything else in life (save for perhaps ghost stories, classical music, and big cities at night). And in my lifetime, I’d like to see the discipline bridge the social no-man’s-land between Women’s Art and Actual Art. (Maybe shortly thereafter I’ll stop seeing “women’s interest” sections in newspapers and “women’s health” brochures in clinics. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Right now, I’d settle for artistic legitimacy.)