5 June 2009

Creating A Meaning

I have always admired those people, for whom clothing is not used to create their identity, but rather their clothing is used to display it as a true extension of their self. We are encouraged to buy into the latest trend in an attempt to create the comforting yet fleeting sense of belonging and conforming to the fickle general ideals of mainstream fashion aesthetic. However, at the same time, there are some people, who stand out, for they seem to really own those trends and make it a reflection of themselves, rather than simply a reflection of the catwalk.

I believe that clothing only ever gains a real meaning once it is worn, otherwise it is merely a piece of potentially functional art. Given the advancements of mass production, it would be an understandable situation, were two different people to wear exactly the same garment at the same time. However just because they may wear the same garment, or to take the example the full way, the exact same outfit, it does not mean that we perceive the two people as having the same identity in that look. They give the clothing a unique meaning, not simply through the individuality of their bodies, but also through their experiences, lives and indeed, most importantly, through what the clothing means to them and what they make it to mean.

I may give an outfit a specific meaning when I wear it, but more important is what meaning that clothing has to me. I make the garment what it is not simply by virtue of wearing it, but rather the garment comes to reflect me as an individual. I think the easiest way of explaining what I mean is through the example idea of being sexy.

Wearing an outfit that is sexy, is not the same as wearing an outfit that makes one feel sexy. It is how one relates to the clothing that is important. If a woman wears revealing clothing that is deemed sexy, but is not comfortable within it, she will not come across as confident and sexy. However if a woman feels confident and feels sexy in an outfit, whether it be a figure hugging red dress or a burlap rag, that outfit will become sexy by virtue it being a reflection of her.

I often look towards the elderly as a way of learning what true style is. It may be a cliched phrase, however in this case it is wholly appropriate - they wear their clothing, their clothing does not wear them. I find that the fact that their garments are almost dichotomously opposed to the cheap throwaway trend pieces we of the younger generation are encouraged to buy, allows their clothing to have far more character, yet also reflect their identity. They truly make their clothing their own. Whilst some may attribute this through the simple process of wearing clothing for so long it becomes almost another layer of skin, I would be inclined to say that it is because they truly understand their own identity, find the true meaning in their clothing, and allow it to reflect who they are as a person.

I thought I would post a few images from the LIFE archive in order to help illustrate the rather elusive concept I am hopefully describing. Although I do not believe that one merely needs to have well worn clothing, with holes and patches, in order to have an outfit that reflects oneself, I believe it is the confidence and understanding of self that allows those in the photographs to appear as stylish as they do.

The majority of us are fortunately in a position where we are able to buy clothing, not as a rare luxury, but as a relatively frequent indulgence. I think that one of the most important things to learn, is how not to let those pieces define us or create an illusion around us, but rather to truly make our clothing a reflection of ourselves.

Of course, clothing that has a story to tell will always have an appeal to me regardless of whether it is my own or another's, and indeed I find that to be one of the major allures of vintage clothing to the younger generation. There is a sense of history, identity and meaning to the clothing, that oddly lingers on regardless of the fact that the pieces no longer have an owner to claim them. I feel that identity and clothing, when removed from having someone to wear it, is an interesting topic also, unfortunately it is tangent for another day and another post.

via The Cobra Snake

I was recently browsing The Cobra Snake, when I came across photographs of this young gentleman. I feel that this may help to explain the point I have been trying to make somewhat more easily. Whilst I do not know whether the clothing and accessories the gent is wearing are his own, or second hand pieces, I do not believe it really matters. What matters is that he appears comfortable within it, and it feels to be a true reflection of himself. I feel that were his pieces to have a personal story attached to their development it would help in creating a more truer reflection of himself. Whilst his outfit may not be fashionable, I find it to be stylish.

The two elements which I were particularly drawn to were his accessories and his jeans. Lately I have begun to wear more wristwear than I used to, of which all the pieces have a specific meaning and significance to me. Although I dislike the idea of men wearing a large number of wristwear pieces on certain outfits, I do find that if they truly have meaning, it becomes more than a fashion based decision, but rather a personal one.

I have been on the hunt for two things when it comes to denim jeans. The first is that I wish to invest in a pair of high quality raw denim jeans. I already own a pair of raw jeans which I have broken in, faded, and patched when torn, however I would love to make another addition. There is something magical in the process of evolving a pair of raw denim jeans that are truly unique to you - they reflect your life and your body, for they are essentially a blank canvas for the painting of yourself.

The second is that I wish to find a pair of well worn vintage jeans. I am rather specific in the type of fading and fit I would like, but I would be happy to find a pair of jeans which seem to have a powerful story to tell. The jeans pictured below are actually over nine years old. My cousin bought them in a raw state, and wore and frequently washed them over the years. He then passed them down to my brother, who passed them to me. They have been worn hard and they have now reached the colour and condition that they are today. Those jeans have a story to tell, and indeed a different one for the each of us. They also have a separate meaning to each of us, and indeed we gave them a separate meaning.

The power of clothing lies not in they way it makes us look, but rather in the way it makes us feel.

Currently playing: Return The Favor ft. Timbaland - Keri Hilson



  1. I love the idea of power clothing. I have a few pieces here and there that act as that - the high waisted bandage mini; an obnoxious cocktail ring; formfitting LBDS, platform sandals.

    Love this article!

    La C.

  2. you're a great writer . i agree that clothing only gains meaning when we wear it .We Were Damsels
    thanks for visiting our blog we really appreciate it

    love the chains at the end too ;)

  3. I am in awe of your eloquence and deep understanding of 'fashion'. I resent this 'disposable' clothing trend, and since moving to florida it hasn't helped my fashion one bit. I feel as though I've regressed into flip flops and almost wanting to fit in with those around me, otherwise there are the stares lol. The networking of bloggers is awesome and inspiring, and you are among those.

    Thanks for this well written post. I enjoyed reading it!

  4. Haha I hope that bought of them look good on my arm=) haha

  5. Hi darling,
    WOW, your understanding of true fashion is so incredible...not only do I love how you write, but I always leave feeling I've learned something.

    I so agree with your point about wearing something that on the hanger look sexy vs wearing something that feels sexy. Sometimes I feel my most confident in my fav jeans and the perfect boyfriend t-shirt.

    I love the pieces I own that do tell a story, but like you I'm picky when it comes to my vintage!

    I hope you have a great weekend D.K!

  6. You are so right with the you wearing the clothes things and the example of something "sexy" illustrates it perfectly - It's something that so many people get wrong (mostly up here in Liverpool where everything is cut down to the belly button and then just about long enough to cover the bum).. But I'm afraid I have to disagree with the jeans remark - I HATE jeans so much, any trousers in fact they make me feel so uncomfortable! But it is probably different for boys :) x

  7. Again a great post!
    First of all, I adore all those LIFE pictures, they truly ispire me.
    Also, I love all your well.. man bracelets and pocket watch!

    I think you wrote an amazing piece yet again, true and right from your heart! You're a true writer!

  8. Beautifully written post, as always. A lot of astute points throughout, but one I have been ruminating on recently is how fast fashion, like junk food, has been ruining our appetite for unique and well-made items. Yes, it's far less expensive to buy some fast fashion find, but the fact that it falls apart after one or two washes is appalling to me. Whereas I have designer items that have lasted me many many years and seem to have many more seasons of life left in them. The second point about fast fashion is that the democratization of fashion options and our sudden creation of wealth has created too many options. Yes it's a great thing that more people can afford designed items, but you have to remember that this wasn't always the case; it's sort of like the idea of travel and how travel wasn't always commonplace either, but now we feel we have a right to travel. What I'm trying to say is that the creation of these luxuries are privileges, not exactly rights. I think we are taking them for granted.

  9. Very true words and I quite agree with you. I think sometimes though it's a strong personality that makes a person so memorable in their clothes than just comfort/self...like Katherine Hepburn. She was a firecracker and her clothes only seemed to contain/cover that verve of personality.

  10. wow you have great blog<3
    i looked your earlier posts and looks like you really have sense of style:) cool

  11. really well written, and Keri Hilson completes the post!

  12. Amazing article! I so agree with everything you've written. I love reading your texts:)

  13. yo i like your blog. do you know any other good menswear blogs? too many girl blogs

  14. I know, soo nice, I can just chill when they're playing by themselves :D
    Love this post, it's so true, what you're saying here. intersesting.

  15. Thank you for another great post Dapper. I couldn't agree more on this. Clothing should not be worn to create one's identity, but to reflect it. And to reflect your identity you must know what that identity is, who you are. Obviously, the older you get, the more you learn about who you are, and perhaps that's why the style of the elderly often reflects their identity rather than creating it...
    Also..I love love love your wristwear! The ones with the egyptian evil eyes are so pretty..


  16. You got to have substance to have style, so d wearer gives d clothes d meaning.....

  17. I'm about to just start out every comment with the words "fashion" and "journalism", for it completely baffles me how you come up with this stuff. You're beyond brilliant, love!

    I see what you mean about the two people wearing the same thing, yet not wearing the same thing. They would be seeing it from a different perspective.

    Hahahah that's how I got all of my clothes always! They started with my cousin, Sarah, who is about five years older than me, then go to my sister, Maggie, who is 2 years older than me, and then go to me :P
    By the time they got to me they would be worn and torn, yet I was too young to really care. Hahah

    I absolutely love the wristwear and the ring! :D


    PS. Thank you, love :)

  18. Great post. It seems that every piece of clothing is like a book with a story of its own. It's amazing how we can grow attached to certain items of clothing while others may rarely ever leave our closets. LIFE's photos always seem to be worth a thousand words.

  19. as always an immaculately written post. older people are my favorites to take pictures of because they completely own their look.
    and that pocket watch is absolutely exquisite, definitely a heirloom piece.

  20. I so love the bead bracelets!

    Well, I like to wear knee socks to work..and I have a golden brown pair I wear with my skirts. And I saw an elderly woman with the same pair on. And wondered if I'd still be wearing these socks when I was her age.

    great post!

  21. Love the pics you found. & I do so like for fashion to have meaning.

    Very informative post. You've got some cool stuff too.

  22. love, you are one smart fella!
    there is not a day that i don't enjoy reading your

    i am glad to see that you got a pair of jeans that have been handed down for quite some time!
    finding pieces with history such as these jeans is
    very precious and meaningful.

    and i can't stop staring at the pocket watch!
    it is too beautiful!


    it's too weird that we both posted the same song on our posts! (:

  23. i wish someone can do a DIY power jeans, i love it

  24. WOW. I love thinking about it clothing that way, and you put it so poetically- it being a "true extension of their self." Those men in the black and white pictures at the beginning are so sweet! I automatically want to know each one. It's amazing how a photograph can convince me to think something like that and evoke feelings toward the subjects that were so foreign before I looked at the picture.

    and thank you times infinity million for giving me the inside scoop about art in London (: quite, quite nice of you.

  25. it's really hard to have substance and fashion all in one and this is beautifully harmonized. love this post.

  26. wow, you're a great writer.. and even though it took me a while to read through this all, i enjoyed it very much. Its good to hear grounded words like this when, not only in a " credit crunch" but also, when you are surrounded by fashion, you forget that your identity is not the fashion trends out there, but you as a person. I loved this post, and that pocketwhatch..mm..absoloutly jadore

    thankyou for posting this :)

  27. *pocket watch
    silly me making spelling mistakes :P

  28. Love x 3 this article, hun!!!
    So well writen, with such a deep view of social and phicological issues about clothes and their meanings.
    I must say I admire you a lot DK!

    Also love all those accessories in the end.

    Have a gorgeous weekend.


  29. I really love how the clothes people choose to wear convey so much about their personalities. They certainly can be described as an extention of themselves. Seeing elderly people with scarves and bags that they've had for years makes me smile.

  30. Fascinating post and lovely photos, DK! It makes me recall my mom's uniform during the Vietnam War when she was a Donut Dolly for the Red Cross!


  31. amazing amazing post honey.i agree that clothes should be an extension of who we are,and when it is apparent.
    I love those images from time,the images from cobra snake and those amazing jeans of yours.
    They all tell a distinct story.
    muah x

  32. a great piece and i especially love the accessory shots at the bottom

  33. Great post! I love the points you made about the elderly and how they wear their clothing. This might be a little cheesy, but this post reminds me of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. The characters all made the same pair of pants work for them, so they could feel great in the pants. Also, if you aren't comfortable with your clothing, then it isn't fun to wear.

  34. Clothing does a lot to your identity. It makes you complete. It shows to other people and yourself who you are.
    Nice post:) I had fun reading it

  35. Sorry I've been so flaky about reading your posts, lately. I just want to give them the time they deserve. ;)

    But while everyone has opted to go for the high street v. designer originals debate, I've always been interested in this argument of people using photos from the Life archive as fashion inspiration (and this just doesn't apply to bloggers but magazine editors and fashion designers themselves as well). I find a huge issue with people using photos of homeless people for inspiration. Erin Wasson came under fire for her comments regarding that, and I think she really needed the backlash. We too often forget that our fashion choices are exactly that, CHOICES. The people on the street aren't necessarily choosing to heap together rags from found clothing to create a barrier of warmth for them. But on the other hand, I don't find issue with people using photos of lifestyles, occupations, etc. for their inspiration (e.g. '80s punk, railroad workers from the 1880s, Las Vegas showgirls). I can't decide if it's a contradiction on my part.

    Also, there was this one time when Jane from Seaofshoes posted a National Geographic editorial from the '80s that featured the nomads of Tibet/Mongolia where she harped about how they had such an innate sense of layering different fabric textures (probably wool, various furs from animals they've killed, etc). I remember having a problem with it because I felt it was an objectification of a culture as well as a degree of insensitivity that these people probably didn't have access to a lot of things that we would consider a basic necessity. I don't want you to think that I'm embarking on a lecture here, but it's definitely a debate that I've wanted to see happen. Maybe it could be your next blog post? hahaha

  36. Beautifully expressed, and a refreshing assessment of clothing to begin with. I have found that I can't bear to part with certain pieces of clothing that my daughter has outgrown; they are not necessarily the most beautiful or the most expensive of the bunch but they remind me so much of her because of how she loved them or what stage in her life they represent. I'll keep them for her daughter, should that day come.

  37. i agree, no matter how beautiful the dress you're wearing but have no confidence is not sexy!

  38. Oh, how I agree with you!! I will notice a person mainly for their style is---not necessarily what designers, etc. they have on. Thats why I love people that mix fashion to create their OWN style.

    And when they are confident with it, they look amazing!

  39. This really spoke to me so much! I love the idea of the wearer giving meaning to the clothes--a lot of other people seem to see it the other way around. I totally agree, though. It explains all the times that I have been completely struck by something I saw someone wearing only to realize that when I analyzed the outfit, it wasn't really something I would wear. It's the meaning that the wearer gave to the clothes that made it striking to me.

    Great post! So thoughtful.

  40. U'RE really opened my eyes brother! (may i call u brother? hoho =p)
    keep writin'..

    love, v

  41. Some argue meanings to be abstract logical objects but some philosophers, including Plato, Augustine, Peter Abelard, Gottlob Frege, Ludwig Wittgenstein, J. L. Austin, John Searle, Jacques Derrida, and W.V. Quine, have offered alternative views.

  42. Thank you so much :)

    This post made me think a lot! I definitely find myself agreeing with you. Lately as a photographer, I've been considering the different directions I could go, and fashion photography has always seemed like an option. The one thing holding me back though is that most of it seems so material and superficial to me. That being said, after reading your post I realize there are many different ways to go beyond that and be truly expressive. Thanks for the insightfulness!

  43. Thank you so much :)

    This post made me think a lot! I definitely find myself agreeing with you. Lately as a photographer, I've been considering the different directions I could go, and fashion photography has always seemed like an option. The one thing holding me back though is that most of it seems so material and superficial to me. That being said, after reading your post I realize there are many different ways to go beyond that and be truly expressive. Thanks for the insightfulness!

  44. I love the photos that you posted from Life magazine - they definitely illustrate your point so well, my dear.
    I'm such a firm believer in wearing clothes and not letting clothes wear you. It's so important to be comfortable and confident in what you're wearing, and not simply buying something that looks silly because it's trendy. By buying pieces that you actually love, it will come across so much more beautifully than if you go into something half heartedly. I always make sure to fall in love with a piece before purchasing it.

    Also, I am lovinggg all your accessories! Your bracelets are just fabulous :)

  45. I think we should all have more thoughts of this when we wear things. Great post!

  46. love the photos on cobrasnake!
    xx-LJ from SOS!

  47. Your blog is always so insightful. I feel a little more enriched every time I click on it.

    That pocket watch is stunning. I have a Soviet one..

  48. Another amazing post. Seriously, you open my eyes and look at things in a different light than I normally would. Regarding meaningful wristwear, I have a brown leather bracelet that says 'Live with Passion' which is my life mantra. In an odd way, whenever I wear it and look down at it, I smile because this is how I strive to live. Hope you find the jeans you want!

    xo, Becs

  49. I totally agree with you! I think this article should be posted in a fashion magazine. Many people would open their eyes!
    I love your blog.
    hugs ^^

  50. I was going to comment on this yesterday, but ended up forgetting to...thank you once again for yet another though-provoking post. I have been doing a lot of people-watching lately and just started wondering why people dress the way they do. For most teenagers, who tend to dress the same, it is as you said more a matter of not truly knowing your own identity yet, so they tend to dress like their peers or copy looks from magazines and ads. It's also a way for them to belong to a group whether it's a goth crowd or a sporty clique... the clothing symbolises who they think they are and gives them a certain comfort in knowing that.

    However I've noticed this among adults as well and it's always surprised me how many people will sacrifice their individuality in order to adapt a look that isn't 'them'. Their choices lie mostly in trying to belong to a type of fashion-crowd - they want to be considered hip or trendy and are seeking acceptance from the general public, workplace, the opposite sex or friends. Rather than risk dressing the way they really want to dress, it's easier to adapt a look that will give them the admiration they are looking for. I've always had a great respect for those who wore what they felt like wearing and who did it so naturally. I'd like to think I don't pay attention to trends as I tend to buy a maximum of one item a month, solely based on what I like, not what the media tells me to like. I wish more people would have the confidence in themselves to let their clothes reflect their inner self, instead of letting the clothes wear them. Hopefully your post will have inspired some to do so :)

  51. You have the best posts & you write so damn well.