“What happens when women start dressing in ways that are less than conventionally flattering?” haha…I know what happens, you get lots of head-shaking weird looks, and nasty blog comments. And sometimes you second-guess yourself. Been there, done that.
I’ve been challenging “conventionally flattering” for years (It might have all started with harem pants).
To the uninitiated or uninterested, it may seem like we (who don’t dress in traditionally “feminine” ways) are “activists,” and dressing this way on purpose – to make a statement against the idea that women must flaunt their bodies and dress them in ways that are “conventionally appealing.”
Maybe some of us are? More than likely it’s the 20 and 30-somethings still trying to “find” themselves who lean towards activism. I am not that deliberate. I simply like to play with silhouettes, and lately, there are a lot of interesting shapes and styles to play with: long and flowy with big pockets (ES Harper!!) over wide and short linen pants (Florence!), or jumpsuits that look like painter’s coveralls, with sneakers, high-waisted mom-jeans with crewneck sweaters tucked in…I wear all of that happily, and then the next day don a curve-hugging James Perse dress. Why not?
It’s natural to want to deconstruct this “movement,” which is what the NYT article “Modest Dressing, as a virtue” attempts to do. Again, I don’t think most of it is so deliberate, it’s’ just a pendulum swing away from flash, and logos, and skinny jeans (sorry!), towards comfort and utility. We want to wear clothes we can work and play in, walk in, stand in.
Modest though? I guess? But I don’t consider my way of dressing modest, per se. Not conventionally flattering, absolutely. I know how to dress in a “flattering” way – I did it most of my life: the object is to look as tall and as thin as possible. I certainly tried. But now, I couldn’t give AF.
But, of course, it’s not that simple. And I agree with the author’s point that
Modest fashion might come across as a humblebrag: You have to be a pretty stylish, pretty good-looking woman to claim ownership of such radical dowdiness
Not that I consider myself stylish, or good-looking. But I can see the point. Chloe Sevigny can wear anything and look amazing, even in costume for Big Love.
It can also sometimes seem like an elitist project of sociocultural self-positioning: By embracing the covered-up look, you declare yourself part of a particular psychographic tribe, one whose members don’t just dress for other women, but for a particular subset of other women — those who get it, who are sophisticated enough to understand that opting out of conventional beauty standards makes for its own kind of conceptual, better-than-thou fashion
Again, I take issue with “radical” and “better-than-thou” because I myself, am not so deliberate, but I absolutely find myself tending to dress for that particular subset of other women, either online or off. The women who will recognize Elizabeth Suzann, or James Perse and who will appreciate it. And understand it.
I crave that sartorial connection, I’ll be honest. I love to watch people and see if I can recognize an “obscure” designer. And if I EVER see anyone wearing Rachel Comey, No6 clogs, or Elizabeth Suzann out in the wild, I happily stop them and take notice. (not that it ever happens…), and I secretly hope someone would do that for me as well. It’s a wonderful thing to find a kindred spirit. And why not enable that with our clothing?
It is messaging after all.
And what message am I trying to send? It’s hard to articulate, really, but I guess I want to look approachable and welcoming – not hard, open and creative – but grounded, strong and self-aware – but still (just a little) playful. I strive to dress in a “modern” way without being trendy, and I try to choose clothing that has a story.
Positioning is important too, though, as the author illustrated with Tavi’s story:
As the 21-year-old actress, writer and editor Tavi Gevinson told me, the relative modesty — or lack thereof — of her clothing choices reflects more than her own individual preferences. If she’s going on an audition, she won’t dress in what she called “a frumpy art teacher look” (a look, as she joked during our conversation, that could also be called “Brooklyn mom” or “European baby”). Rather, “I would dress in something that makes my figure look nice, because people are stupid, and most of the time when they say, ‘We want her to come in again,’ what they really mean is ‘Wear something more conventionally attractive.’?” In the publishing world, however, when Gevinson wants to be taken more seriously, as a thinker rather than a body, a dowdier look is helpful, so she can seem, she said, “as if I’ve somehow matured past a quote unquote juvenile desire to be perceived as a woman.” The formula, then, is flipped, but not in a way that’s necessarily more freeing.
We have to take into account our audiences. But I actually think this can be somehow MORE freeing rather than less. More powerful, at least. We can manipulate first impressions depending on how we choose to outfit ourselves for a particular event. Perhaps it’s not ideal that we HAVE to do that, but c’est la vie, at least let us have fun with it and enjoy the results.
It’s complicated, as everything is nowadays. But perhaps what we who dress “modestly” are trying to ultimately convey is that we just want to be. I don’t mean, we want to blend in, or disappear, I mean that we want to just be ourselves. As we are. Take us this way, or that, but accept us, as humans, looking for happiness and contentment, no matter how we look on the outside.