Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Suffer for fashion

Often, when a new look becomes popular - either in theory (runways, fashion blogs) or in practice (seen on every last female with disposable income aged 12-22) - it gets thoroughly denounced. Who would wear that outside? The most vitriol seems to be directed at trends that allow the wearer to be especially comfortable: consider leggings*, harem pants, sweatpants, and now, clogs. (North Face fleeces, Uggs, and Crocs fall into a different category: trends that pretty much bypassed Fashion, with the possible exception of Uggs.) The less you have to suffer to wear a given look, the more the hordes of fashion critics denounce the look in question as something ridiculous that will be worn for five minutes than tossed. Stiletto pumps are a 'classic,' as are skinny jeans in a size that requires maintaining a particular weight give or take one pound. But anything that allows for size fluctuations, that doesn't cut off circulation or have a heel with the potential to get caught in a grate and snap off, these are all fashion don'ts.

Let me be clear. I'm not in favor of the George Costanza, I've-given-up approach to dress, or the sheep-like, brand-conscious, fleece-and-snow-boots year-round combo. Nor do I think we all need to blindly follow what designers are doing, or that sweatpants can be chic if they cost $300 but not $10. What I do endorse is finding ways to look stylish that do not involve a) hobbling around, or b) being forced to ponder your waistline on a micro level.** If high fashion provides the inspiration, so be it, but by all means, find a way on your own to make non-painful attire look amazing. You certainly can dress as though you're about to go buy sprouts in Park Slope and then attend a consciousness-raising women's meeting on the Upper West Side, but it's not as though comfort and chic are even close to zero-sum. Lots of perfectly stylish outfits are, when you think about it, as cozy as George's sweatpants. (Any variation of the t-shirt dress. Etc.)

I've tagged this post "gender studies" because, as I've expressed before on multiple occasions, I think the (hetero) world would be a better place if men cared more about their looks (and if women were more open about the fact that physical attraction matters), on the one hand, and on the other, if women were less concerned about their looks (and if men felt less of an obligation to date only women society deems hot). One step in this direction is embracing - rather than mocking - women's fashion that requires thought and effort but not agony.

*Yes, I see that I'm contradicting myself. But perhaps I've just matured since May 2008.
**At some point, I'll have a post called "Against Jeans."


Matt said...

Though it's hardly my hobby to criticize fashion (maybe my naivete is a plus? but I have to say I find the color coordination between starbucks and the recycling sign more intriguing), my objection to the Hillary Duff photo in the first footnote has to do with proportions. The leggings cut her legs in half, while the oversized sweater elongates her upper half and denies her hips. It makes her look like she has exceptionaly short legs (especially with the flats). She looks like someone trying to hide from the papparazi, which I can't remotely blame. But if many women who sought to be noticed or admired for fashion sense (and your comments seem to argue against this) were dressed this way, then it's awkward.

Phoebe said...


Naivete might be a plus in some respects (that is to say, you're unlikely to make unfortunate fashion-victim clothing choices) but it's caused you not to notice that the Duff outfit is (or was at the time) so-very-now. She may have hoped to avoid being hounded, but she'd have in all likelihood dressed exactly the same if she were less famous but looking for attention. This is not 'look away!' dress.

Basically, I had this footnote because I remembered I'd railed on against leggings-as-pants, but I stand by this not looking good terribly often. There's a fine line between slob-as-trend and chic-yet-comfortable. I may not have articulated clearly enough where I'd draw that line, but I think even people not terribly interested in fashion or dress would see a difference. (An outfit like this, versus an Uggs-leggings combo.)

What I'm arguing against is faulting the Duff look, or the fleece-and-Uggs look, for being comfortable. Fault these looks for being predictable, played-out, or insufficiently chic, but not for their failure to induce suffering on the wearer.

PG said...

I think your stand against leggings-as-pants should remain regardless of how much you mature.

Phoebe said...


It stands on a personal level, as in, unless running was involved or a very long shirt covers the backside, I don't wear 'em.