Fashion choices don’t equate to individuality

Image: AAP

If you reckon that individuality is defined by fashion, Polly Chester thinks perhaps it’s you who needs to take a good hard look in the mirror.

 

In a moment of self-admitted poor judgment, one of my dearest, smartest and (usually) wisest pals re-posted this “article”, or as I like refer to it, “this useless pile of shite”: 15 Fashion Trends That Just Need To Die Already. The great thing about her post, however, was that it sparked a thought-provoking debate about individuality, and as a result, here I am, taking it a few steps further in writing.

Virtually as well as literally, I am a massive, card-carrying nerdburgler, so I guess the social media elves have learned to refrain from putting anything intellectually impotent in my line of vision. I suspect that my friend who posted this article experiences a similar relationship with them.

However, just like one is inexplicably yet magnetically drawn to New Idea or Woman’s Day magazines in a doctor’s surgery waiting room, I was drawn to this article. My excuse was the long weekend – I was still in my pyjamas at around midday after getting straight out of bed and onto the couch, where I then sat for most of the day eating various manifestations of processed food (my favourite oxymoron). So by reading a trashy article, I was simply maintaining the status quo.

So, I clicked on the article and read it, probably because a) I was feeling lazy and b) for a flicker of an instant, the person inside me who used to care about what other people wore – the person who compared my style with that of others – really wanted to see it.

My initial reaction was smirking with a side of snickering. I did feel critical of some of the people in the pictures, but only until I realised how misaligned those thoughts were with my own values: respecting freedom of choice and expression, and the development of identity.

There is an underlying assumption that the people in the photographs lack the ability to make their own, or make “good” fashion choices. So it’s not really the fashion that we’re judging, is it? It’s the people wearing the clothes. And that’s a really horrible thing to do to another person.

We spend far too much time thinking about what each others’ bodies are like and about what we cover them in. What we really should be critiquing in this instance is not the people in the pictures and their fashion choices – but the judgmental person who put this piece together and the idiots who thought it was worth publishing – because they in fact, are the superficial ones who delight in unabashedly criticising people’s appearances.

I am absolutely sure that creating an identity out of belittling or judging other people’s fashion choices is astronomically worse than creating an identity out of wearing platform sneakers because you like how they look on someone else.

I used to care heaps about fads. I still feel ashamed about all the thousands of dollars my parents spent on my wardrobe as a teenager. I am even more sorry that my confidence was hinged upon designer labels; I cringe at that now. Despite not having ever touched a surfboard, my girlfriends and I were partial to the “surfer chick” look, meaning that everything we wore bore a surf brand label. The clothing was exorbitantly priced, especially considering what it lacked in style if one were to strip the items back to their bare bones, sans labels.

Nowadays, my favourite pieces of clothing are secondhand. I particularly love op-shopping, because we should recycle everything that we can. The last dress I bought for a formal occasion was a secondhand Laura Ashley gown that I found on eBay. It came from the UK. It smelled intriguing; of an unknown washing detergent and cigarette smoke – the previous owner definitely smoked inside her house – and I delighted in wondering about the good times that had previously been had in this dress since its creation during the last century.

I wore my Laura Ashley dress to my university graduation last year, and got loads of compliments on it. And while it’s all very lovely to get compliments on what you wear, I could have done without them. I was a lot more interested in what people thought of my valedictory speech on the value of education than what they thought about my dress…and therein lies my main issues with this stupid article.

If people want to define themselves through commercial fashion, just fucking let them, because it’s none of your business.

and

Do not assume that there is any kind of relationship between fashion choices and individuality.

Like, seriously. Just leave people alone!

We all express individuality in different ways. Many people are of the opinion that those of us who dress in line with current fashion trends lack the imagination and creativity to dress in our own style; that donning a mullet-skirt automatically makes you a “fashion victim” because obviously you feel like you need to conform to society’s current standards in order to feel attractive.

Having previously been a person who once lacked the confidence to dress in whatever I felt like, I can absolutely understand how sometimes it’s easier to fit and blend in. For some, making those choices may represent a kind of freedom that you have no idea about – perhaps they were always made to wear ill-fitting hand-me-downs as a kid, or were once mandated to dress in a certain way for cultural reasons. Because we don’t know the back stories, our assumptions are irrelevant.

You and I could buy identical wardrobes from Kmart and wear the exact same things on the same days for the rest of our lives, yet it would not affect our individuality, because individuality is about so much more than what you wear.

If you’re the kind of person who proselytises the importance of expressing individuality through dress because that’s how you choose to measure that concept, perhaps what you’re really doing is encouraging other people to be more like you. And I’m not sure that fulfils the definition of individuality.

 

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