Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Clothes Aren't Superficial

“What I often see is that people are frightened about fashion. Because it scares them or makes them feel insecure, they just put it down … Just because you like to put on a beautiful Carolina Herrera dress or a pair of J Brand blue jeans instead of something basic from K-Mart, it doesn't mean that you’re a dumb person … There is something about fashion that can make people really nervous.”

-- Anna Wintour, from The September Issue*

I’ve always loved clothes, but felt badly about it.

There are more important things to take an interest in. But I like the way that clothes make me feel. I’ve used clothes to cope beautifully with changes. I’ve used clothes to remember things—my first date with Nekos (Abercrombie & Fitch tunic), our New York City honeymoon (beaded H&M dress), a job interview I aced (purple J. Crew frock), a magical vacation in Key West (turquoise and leopard bikini), the birth of our first child (embroidered Anthropologie robe).

My clothes have always been symptomatic of my confidence. When I was in junior high, I wore baggy men’s clothes from the thrift store—pants whose hems I let out so that they drug the hallways at school. When I was heavier, after college, I used pretty dresses and skirts to skim over my lumpy waistline. When I was thinner, pre-baby, I tucked my new hipbones proudly into a pair of Calvin Klein blue jeans. Now that I’m somewhere in between my heaviest and my thinnest — and a new mom who works from home — I use clothes as reassurance. These days, my clothes say: There is life beyond yoga pants.

My closet is stuffed to the gills, but there aren’t many designer items in there. I have a beloved Louis Vuitton handbag and a pair of Louis Vuitton sunglasses—both gifts from my husband—and one strapless Diane von Furstenberg dress that I bought off eBay but never got to wear. (I got pregnant.) My point is: “Fashion” doesn’t seem an apt word to apply to my wardrobe, but I pine after it anyway. I hope one day to be the owner of a pair of Christian Louboutins and a Burberry trench coat. I hope especially for a black, quilted Chanel purse with a shiny gold chain.

I’m not a superficial person. If you had a traumatic childhood or a fight with your husband, then I’m a good person to talk to about those sorts of things. I know that life can be ugly. I just happen to like pretty things, especially clothes. I like to read fashion magazines and go shopping and put outfits together. I like to talk about clothes with my girlfriends. And now I like to get my daughter dressed in the morning.

Lately, I’ve been thinking I ought to feel less guilty about my love affair with clothes.

I picked up a copy of The Thoughtful Dresser a couple weeks ago. It’s smart, and enviably written, and more interesting than I anticipated. In one chapter, the author, Linda Grant, interviews a Holocaust survivor who went on to make a high-profile living in fashion. She talks about the transformative, healing power of clothes. How, after the war was over and as the concentration camps were being emptied, a truck of crimson lipstick arrived at Bergen-Belsen. How these lipsticks did more to restore humanity to these emaciated, tortured women than anything else.

Grant says lots of great things in her book.

Here’s one:

“Out of suffering comes the demand for pleasure. When we have suffered we do not care less about clothes but more. To love clothes is to embrace life in all its joyous variety, even if all you ever do is turn the pages of a magazine and long for fairyland, crave couture ballgowns you will never own. We all need daydreams.”

I will continue to dream of my Chanel purse. And I won’t feel bad about it.

Sigh ... the Chanel 2.55 Quilted Bag circa 1980

* Really good documentary about Vogue and the “ice queen” at its helm.


Urban Mummy said...

The bright green H&M blazer I wore when my boss Congressman Cohen was sworn in four years ago today.

This was an amazing read. Thanks!

Paige said...

Agreed! Thanks to my mom, who has always been a creative but not lavish dresser, I think of clothes and outfits as a kind of creative expression. All the better if you get a great deal and/or lots of compliments! I recently found a green wool AH Collectibles blazer from the '80s at Goodwill for $5 that has inspired new outfits out of last winter's separates. And in my (ahem) mid-30s, I'm learning that classic styles are more important (and generally more flattering) than trendy ones.

Joy of Cooking said...

I loved this post! I, too, have always loved clothes and gone through many periods when it made me feel guilty and frivolous. It's funny how now that we have little girls, dressing them up fulfills some kind of deep-seated desire to be 'girly' and cute again, at a time when we probably are more inclined to get frumpy. I think finding more reasons to dress up ourselves is going to be one of my new year's resolutions. Just add it to the list!

a case of the mundays said...

love this! life on a budget has filled my closet with lots & lots of sale rack & garage sale finds. but there's a story to each of them. like paige - i LOVE a great deal.

might i add - though you don't have a closet full of designer, i absolutely love everything i ever see you in.

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