This has been a week of interesting synergy for me.
I’ve been watching commercials for the new season of Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style during my weekly Project Runway fix, the other day I was in my friendly local bookstore when I spotted a copy of Nina Garcia’s new book, The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own, and I keep running across references to What Not to Wear, How Do I Look? and all those other makeover shows.
I do consider Tim Gunn’s show (call me, Tim! I’ll bake scones!) several cuts above most makeover shows in that the person being made over is the one who makes the call, rather than being ambushed by her nearest and dearest, and is mostly given the tools to figure out how to choose clothes that will show her off to her best advantage. It does, however, have something in common with most of the others that I really dislike: the assumption that there are certain clothing pieces that every single woman must own, no matter what. Even if I were willing to allow someone to root through my underwear drawer, I’d still never call Tim for this purpose because I absolutely refuse to own a ‘little black dress’ or a trench coat, and those are the pieces the show will pay for me to have.
The concept behind the little black dress is actually fine. A relatively simple dress in a neutral color that can be worn in a pinch at a wide variety of functions is a nice thing to have. The problem is that everybody has concentrated so hard on little and black. I’m in no way a minimalist, and that includes with clothing. Black is…okay on me, but not particularly flattering. I don’t feel happy in little or in black, so if you combine them I’m going to disappear into a fashion funk that will suck the joy right out of me, and can easily take the room with it.
As for trench coats, well, put me in one and I’m a walking bad Humphrey Bogart joke.
Luckily, Tim has only ten things he requires of all women, most of which aren’t too bad once you look at the reasons behind and choose your own way to fill that need. Nina Garcia insists on a hundred! A quick flip through her book showed me that many of those one hundred things will never find closet or drawer space in my home. In all my life I’ve never been drawn to animal prints, and I didn’t care for bikinis when I was thin. Now that I have quite a prominent belly, I see no reason to suddenly take up a clothing style I’ve never been a fan of that will emphasize something I’d rather not make the Most Important Thing about me. Again, the little black dress (this time required to be an A-line, no less!) appears and insists on my owning it.
Even as a small child I never took well to being bullied about what I wear. By the time I was able to talk, my mother was consulting me on my wardrobe because she’d already figured out that if I didn’t like a piece of clothing, I’d darn well figure out how to get it off me in record time. By the time I was four, Mom and I were basically collaborating on creating a spring/summer and a fall/winter line for me. By the time I was ten, I could identify most fibers – both natural and synthetic – by feel.
Yes, I made some goofs in those early days. It took me a little while to figure out that while I thought that rose pink was a pretty color, it made me look like I was in the final stages of terminal jaundice. There was my spaghetti strap period, before I completely accepted that someone with shoulders as narrow as mine would be doomed to a life of constant strap-pulling and wardrobe malfunctions if I kept that up.
I got teased a lot by the other kids at school over my clothes, too. The thing is, that didn’t bother me because I was wearing what I truly wanted to wear. If they didn’t like it, that was their problem, not mine. It gave me the sense of self that made it no struggle at all not to be wearing the current fashionable thing, because there were so few cases where I wanted the thing that was trendy while I was in school. In short, I developed my own sense of style independant of what others chose to wear or not to wear. The few trendy things I craved, I usually got, because my parents knew I wanted them because I genuinely liked them and not just because ‘everyone’ was wearing them.
So just as I was grumbling to myself about lists of ‘must haves’ and magazine articles that tell you ‘you must be this tall and thin to wear this style,’ I was delighted to run across two breaths of fresh air from The Rotund.
This bit in particular struck me as a particularly eloquent way of putting my jumbled thoughts on the subject:
We don’t need to be locked into little style boxes where we never consider that someone else has a different style that works perfectly well for them. There is no need for us to try to shape those other styles to more closely resemble our own.
And so I want you all to go out ASAP and try something on just because you love it, without regard to whether an ‘expert’ has deemed it glorious or ghastly. Really look at yourself in it. Bring your critical eye to determine whether it fits, whether the color flatters, whether it’s as comfortable as you’d like. Just be sure to also bring along the eye of the child inside who wanted to grow up to be a ballerina or an astrophysicist or a great crusader for truth and justice or a rock star, too. Clothes are not just about trends and fitting in. They are also all about dreams and self-image and personal expression. Let your inner Janis Joplin lead you to feathers and fringe, or let your inner Katherine Hepburn lead you to fabulous menswear-style jackets.
The big thing about getting dressed in the morning is that you need to dress you. Don’t let anyone else – even Francesca, Plumcake, or me – tell you who that person is. Find her for yourself.
Then dress her to the nines and enjoy!