Identities shaped by clothes
Summer has come but exams have not come to an end for me yet, as I think for many of you too. But, no matter what, I always try to think outside of the box, and this time I’ve decided to take advance of a book I’m reading for my contemporary philosophy class to reflect on fashion once again.
The book in question is “You be my body” by Judith Butler and Catherine Malabou. Both authors confront their idea with the Hegelian image of the slave and the master. But what I think is really interesting is what they say about bodies. Out of the philosophical discussion about what Hegel was supposed to mean, they talk about everyday bodies. The central ideas is that they are given to us by nature, at birth, without any possibility to choose, unlike when we build an avatar on the Instagram metaverse; but they further argue that we are never satisfied about those bodies and so we try, during our lifetime, to make that body personal, unique, something that will show on the outside exactly the same person we feel to be inside.
Is this easy? What can help us in the process of such shaping?
The first thing that came to my mind are clothes. Sure we change our hair a lot too: everybody says that when we go through some important life moments or we need a change of perspective, we book an appointment at the salon. Same thing goes for piercing and tattoos. But clothes, they are such a daily, different, must thing we take care of.
One of the most searched questions on Google, or even in Q&A boxes of Instagram influencers, is: How do I find my personal style?. But why? Why do we feel the urge to dress in a “personal” way, in a way that expresses who we are? Do we all just want to be cool and trendy or maybe there’s something more meaningful if we dig deeper?
My answer, like Butler’s is, is more on the latter side. We like clothes, we like to choose them, to experiment with them, as a way to create an attire that makes us feel ourselves, at ease, in the right shoes. As stressful as it may be to go shopping, to spend times over times trying outfits that never seem to be exactly how we wanted them to turn out, we are beyond happy when we find the perfect one.
Think about movie characters, celebrities or just people you know personally: do you ever notice how some clothes seem to be made just for them? Just like social subcultures, as hippies, or punks, or grunge ‘90s kids, the way they dress matches perfectly who they are, what they do and believe in. It is not just an impression: there’s a big work and research, done personally or by experts, that tries to find the best attires to express emotions, character evolution and so on.
Years pass, and a lot of different, sometimes even embarrassing, fashion phases follow too. Yes, I’m talking about skirts over jeans, the indie phase, or the super heavy makeups done not so well…but don’t worry, I’m not gonna judge you, been there, done that!
But everyday, we get closer and closer to the style that we think perfectly reflects our taste, our lifestyle and our beliefs. We may stop buying huge amounts of clothes that the next season we will already not like anymore, we’ll have found the pair of jeans, or skirt, blouse, white tee maybe, that fits us well and are super comfortable for day and night, even our statement coat that belonged to our moms and dads. Oh, how I love some good digging in my mom’s closet, looking for some vintage 90’s pieces!
Today things are easier than they were not so long ago. Raise your hand (the writer proceeds to raise both her hands and wiggles them) if you have loved Bridgerton on Netflix, or maybe you are a big fan of Japanese kimonos, so you know that both Eastern and Western cultures have a history of strict rules about dress code. Different types of clothes had to be worn depending on the social class, social status, job, age and gender, as we still today hear that “Old ladies should wear modest clothes and neutral colors!”.
Nowadays we still have to fight with some of these rules: agreeing with them or not, we still, for example, dress in a certain way when we go to school that is different from when we go to party, in terms of modesty, decency and comfortableness, and we still dress differently depending on our gender. Still, thanks to todays and yesterday battles, like the liberating movements that from the ‘60s have kept going on, we are now freer to choose what to wear.
Think about the new Gen-Z trends that are spreading these days: fashion has started to know no gender, as boys and girls switch pieces from their classic, girly and boyish, wardrobes. This allows all of us, who are daring to try something new, to experiment, to mix and match clothes that a few decades ago would have been off limits, like skirts and makeup for boys and cargo pants and chucky sneakers for girls.
This, for me, is a super important change in fashion: with the gender fluid mindset that new generations have brought to life, there are now way more chances to find a style that is really coherent with our personality without being afraid to dare too much, to look out of place, to be labeled by society as a freak. There’s still a lot to be done, but I’m optimistic that we’ll succeed in making the world more and more open minded about these issues!
Last but not least, it is not just us who shape clothes but also clothes that shape us. It might not seem like so, but the way we dress reflects on our personality more that we think it does. Think about the times when you wear an outfit that makes you feel good, comfortable both in fabrics but most of all in the way it seems to be the perfect match for who you think you are as an individual: doesn’t it make you feel more confident? For me, but I’m sure I’m not the only one, it does. It just feels so right to be wearing those pieces, perfectly fitting like Cinderella’s crystal shoe. We are more radiant, more daring, happier when we feel that everything is connecting. It can be a shirt, our favorite color, something that belonged to a loved one and makes us stronger just by the thought of it. It is not just an opinion, but quite a fact: as Molly Bingaman said, in a Ted Talk that you can find on YouTube, psychological and sociological studies have demonstrated that things we wear can help us bring out or strengthen our personality, as every type of person has a match in terms of clothing.
So, from now on, my dears, let’s make a little daily exercise: even in those mornings when we are in a total rush, let’s try, when we look in the mirror, to notice the width of our smile, how much radiance and joy we emanate, and with the pieces that feel special, we’ll build our new, perfect, personality matching wardrobe!