Fashion: Come, in the name of your love for the seven deadly sins, stop a moment and look at me.
Death: I'm looking.
Fashion: Don't you recognize me?
Death: You should know that I don't see very well and that I can't wear glasses because the English don't make any that fit me, and even if they did, I wouldn't know how to keep them on.
Fashion: I'm Fashion, your sister.
Death: My sister?
Fashion: Yes. Don't you remember that we are both Caducity's daughters?
Death: What can I remember, I who am memory's greatest enemy?
Fashion: But I remember well; and I know that you and I together keep undoing and changing things down here on earth although you go about it one way and I another.
Giacomo Leopardi, Dialogue Between Fashion And Death (1824)
Over the past several months I have lost more family members and attended more funerals than I have ever before in my life. In those moments I found myself functioning in something close to an auto-pilot mode, where everything was broken down into a series of steps. All that mattered was the task at hand, and life was reduced into nothing but a series of these small tasks. There was no time to think, no time to feel, just the task at hand. You have to step up and do what needs to be done. I found myself focusing on the mundane details of a task more so than ever before because there were no distractions. I am standing there buttering toast, and all I am doing and thinking about is buttering the toast. I feel the drag of the knife, I feel the texture of the handle, I experience the process like never before. In a way it was the experience of perfect mindfulness, were it not for the fact that I was not really aware of anything at the time.
Awareness is wisdom, but as usually tends to be the case, awareness comes after the fact. I did not think about clothing, I did not think about dressing, it simply became another task. My wardrobe is almost exclusively black, so in a way it already fulfilled part of the function required. My cultural background is such that funerals tend to be conducted within a day or two of the person having passed, at a time when the loss is still very raw. There is no concept of dressing up for a funeral – of attending in a suit or the like. People will turn up directly from work or from home, and although most will be in dark clothing, it is not unusual for people to be in a work uniform with a coat on top or whatever the case may happen to be. In that moment of grief, function is what matters most.
I have been looking back and considering my dress precisely because I was not thinking about it at the time. But it is ever possible to make any decision or choice without some form of conscious thought? And, as I thought about it, I came to the startling awareness that in each case I had worn exactly the same outfit. I had not planned to, I had not consciously thought to do so, it had just happened. I have a notably small wardrobe, so overlap is inevitable, but the fact that it is almost all black would ostensibly lower the chances of wearing the same thing each time, yet that is exactly what happened. I made a decision on some level to wear the same outfit, but it is only recently that I have become aware of that fact. I thought it would be interesting to explore my choices and consider why I made those decisions and what implications they hold for how I think about and relate to my wardrobe.
What I reached for was a functional uniform, one that I have worn before, and one that I feel provided me with some sense of confidence and reassurance. I wore a black long sleeve Muji heat control top, which has a beautiful long and slim cut that works well with my body. I found it a few years back in Muji, but have yet to come across it again, so I regret not picking up more than just the one. I dislike Uniqlo's version because the fabric composition does not wash or wear well, it is far too shiny; the sleeves come up too short for me and I dislike the cuffs; and the bottom hem has a label sewn in which is a small detail but annoys me to no end. The Muji top has sleeves long enough to cover my wrists, has a long and slim body, has a far nicer neckline, and has no tags or labels sewn on or in the garment (it merely has a printed label below the neckline with no noticeable tactile feel).
The sweater and trousers in question.
As for the lower half of my body, for anyone who has read my previous post (click here), it will come as no surprise that I opted for something baggy. In this instance it was my favourite pair of Yohji trousers, a wide cut black woollen pair in a size LL (they have a 36 inch waist). I wear them belted at my natural waistline and with the hems rolled up. Underneath these I wore black knitted long johns as my knees tend to hurt in the cold, however all my pairs are sized up so that the fabric is supportive without being restrictive. The sensation of the trousers in movement is one of my favourite things about them – there is an organic swing of fabric in time with the flow of movement, so that your legs come into contact with the fabric at a reassuring interval; couple this with the additional weight provided by the rolled hems at the bottom of the trousers and the flow is improved. Again it is all about the movement and that feeling of freedom within a supportive structure.
I have not worn these trousers with braces frequently enough to comment, however I would be interested to see how my experience of the mind-body-dress interface changes when compared to the belted natural waistline I currently employ. The sensation of trousers hanging from the shoulders is entirely different, especially in movement, to a belted waist or belted hip, which no doubt changes the emotional/psychic quality of the experience. What I will say however is that the feeling of a belted waistline, especially at the natural waist level, does for me have a certain determinedness attached to it. You feel prepared and you feel ready. Of course at the extreme this can be detrimental, for example anxiety often presents with a tightened stomach. But then the anxiety bell curve would suggest that this is the body being over-prepared, so scaling that feeling back from the extreme would suggest it is that nervous anticipation of action and movement that allows you to feel confident. I do not happen to wear any of my woollen trousers lower down at my hip level, as one would do jeans or other trousers with a lower rise, however that is something I would like to investigate.
For footwear I went with my deadstock 1980s Dr Martens shoes. They are sturdy, smart and have a wide enough foot bed to help me feel secure and grounded when moving or standing. The traction on the sole was also important for attending the graveyard. For outerwear I wore my black woollen winter coat and wrapped a six foot black cashmere shawl around me. Six foot of cashmere sounds rather luxurious, but, oddly enough, for me it is wearing a regular patterned men's scarf that seems luxurious in comparison. I grew up seeing my mother wearing Kashmiri pashminas and shawls, so wrapping myself up in cashmere has a certain childlike security to it. I do not tend to wear hats, and my coat has no hood, so the closest I get to blocking out some part of the world is wrapping the shawl around me. I now have a five foot black Kashmiri pashmina to add to my scarf line up, which is incredibly soft and delicate, and I am interested to see how it feels when wearing in comparison to the thicker cashmere of the six foot shawl.
I wore the exact same outfit each time without even thinking about it. Function ruled supreme, but function in service of an emotional, as well as a physical, need. The outfit was about allowing me to feel like I had maximum freedom of natural movement whilst simultaneously feeling supported and comforted. I find it interesting to consider the contrast between the slimmer top half and baggier bottom half, but I think it relates to the movement and emotional potential of both (free arms and chest for hugging, or conversely for fighting I suppose, etc.). It is a fascinating process for me to break down outfits in this way, especially when considering them in movement, because it helps reveal some of those hidden thought processes that go into dressing and brings me closer to understanding why I choose to wear what I wear.
As we can see the feeling of the garment is arguably the primary concern in this instance, and I would argue that it informs the majority of my dressing process. That is not to say that how a garment looks is not important, but rather that the work that goes into finding garments that suit my body happens long before the garments actually enter my wardrobe. All choices also have to made with consideration of the rest of my wardrobe, especially given how small it is, which means multiple pieces have to work together. Having such a coherent wardrobe provides you with a safety net, in that you do not have to think so much in the moment of whether pieces work with each other, which I find helps in opening you up to a more emotive process in dressing.
For me it is about feeling and function. Then it is about how it looks. Of course how the garment looks will inform how the garment feels to an extent that must not be understated, but I am interested in the order of primary drives when choosing and wearing clothing. As for how I think this relates to the process of building my wardrobe...I always talk of 'building' my wardrobe, but the only time it will ever be 'built' is when I stop adding to it, which is to say when I stop wearing clothes. A finished wardrobe is a dead wardrobe, which given the topic at hand is perhaps fitting. But yes, I think going ahead I want to focus more on exploring the feeling of garments in movement and documenting those experiences, especially when it comes to trying on new clothing (and of course, potential future purchases).
I am the observer and the observed, and dress provides the avenue for insight.