As an eighth grader, I drew cartoon figures wearing garish outfits, caricatures that wore what they wanted when they wanted, while I was relegated to a Catholic school uniform—white button up with a peter pan collar, and a maroon plaid and pleated skirt. After school, I pored over issues of Seventeen magazine, which, in hindsight, seems wholly inappropriate and damaging to the psyche of a thirteen year-old. Though my best friend and I swore we’d design our own line some day, my preoccupation with fashion always struck me as a guilty pleasure, something to be ashamed of, something I’d grow out of eventually.
There were external factors that motivated this belief, like how the public high school only offered one sewing course, and it wasn’t treated like a fine art so much as it was “home ec” and a kind of domestic duty.
I struggle with the deeply ingrained notion that fashion and style are inherently superficial, shallow, vain, or vapid. When really, there are few things more integral to daily life than textiles: we get dressed every morning, we sleep between sheets each night, we sit on upholstered couches and chairs, drape ourselves in blankets—woven, knitted, stitched. What could be more important and worthy of our consideration?
I always waited for the day when I’d be old enough to not care about what I wore, as if it were a kind of vanity that vanished with age and the onset of a certain wisdom. Now in my late twenties, I’m more interested in fashion than ever, but it’s still a kind of guilty pleasure—something I don’t dare speak of, for fear of not being taken seriously. And yet I take it so seriously, almost too seriously—I can’t shop without checking the fabric content or origin of manufacturing.
The problem lies not in clothing or textiles themselves but in where we choose to focus our attention. Instead of considering style and fashion as a matter for intellectual and ethical consideration, we consider it as little more than ornamentation—draped over gaunt figures in magazines, dripping down red carpets, depicted as “flat lays” and outfits of the day. Instead of raising pertinent questions to pressing issues, we cloak articles in snark. Instead of expressing vulnerabilities or where we are lacking or missing the mark or acting like a hypocrite, we police other people’s pieces of clothing. There are websites and journals that seem to start out well, full of promise, yet fall down the rabbit hole of sponsorship and advertisement, and their intentions become unclear or smack of inauthenticity.
It’s not that style or fashion are unserious or trivial pursuits, but that we portray them that way. Without understanding how to sew or make our own clothes, we lose sight of how much time and energy it takes to make a garment, and that disconnection from the process leads us to view clothes as disposable. It’s time we all pause, take a deep breath, consider the originations and implications of what we’re wearing, and refuse to move blindly into the future.