20 August 2011

A Work In Progress

(Comme vs. Chai) 

(These outfit shots are admittedly rather unrelated to this post.  They were actually originally only going to appear as one of my daily photograph posts.  However seeing as we were both in similar basics interpreted in different ways, I thought it an interesting notion to work upon.  Plus most people unfortunately seem to look at and comment on photographs alone.)

In building a wardrobe the first thing I have to consider is function.  The function required must necessarily dictate need.  It can otherwise be quite easy to end up with a disconnect and fall into the well-versed trap of owning lots of clothing but having 'nothing to wear'.  Unless you need to wear something specific to pay the bills and do not yet own it (say you are a City worker without a suit), everything else is to be worked upon at your leisure.  The fashion industry is geared towards creating a sense of anxiety and constant desire in the consumer, however if one can work to restrain those quite natural urges, it creates a rather odd sense of freedom.  Removed from the mindless consumerism of the industry that surrounds it, fashion itself becomes all the more individual and expressive.

Assessing need is something to be done before applying aesthetic and preferences.  Within the realm of that which answers your need there is invariably a whole array of options, and in that you have the freedom to choose according to your desires.  By first enabling a boundary, of needing a garment to meet a specific need, you are already able to cut down much of that which is unnecessary.  However the majority of your wardrobe will fall outside the realms of pure function, so you have to consider function and need in more abstract terms.  Dress fulfils the function of visually defining the self, although it is usually also a way of aligning oneself to a particular group - take for example the rather simplistic groupings of 'in' and 'out' of fashion, so that pertinent function is perhaps what one needs to answer.

But how does one go about visually defining the self?  Or to put it another way, how does one go about building a wardrobe?  Whilst womenswear is often thought of as based upon surface display (and here I am thinking of Flügel's concept of vicarious display and Berger), menswear is comparatively more subtle in its approach and execution.  It is naïve to talk simply of frivolous womenswear accompanied by sober menswear, but if one avoids such extremes there are certainly historical differences to be discerned.  Menswear is traditionally about the details.  A grey flannel lounge suit is a grey flannel lounge suit, true, but it is the details that differentiate them - fabric weight, colour, cut, construction, buttons etc.  That sounds obvious, but then when one considers why you buy what you buy, it is because of the details.  I am willing to pay more for the details I want. 

Take something as simple as a white shirt (although given the accompanying photographs, 'cropped trousers' would perhaps be more to the point).  Within that notion, 'white shirt' (which I think of in the Barthesian format of an iconic structure), one can find an infinite amount of interpretations.  So what is needed is finding an interpretation that speaks to you.  It is a highly individual process for dress is a highly individual process, even though the selection and purchase of it can often become anything but.  Of course one can choose several interpretations of the structure, but for the building blocks of a wardrobe, one will usually suffice.  Later on one may then find multiple categories within that ostensibly singular structure upon which to expand and explore e.g. 'club collar white shirt', 'formal white shirt', 'short sleeve white shirt'. 

Ignore brand names, gender divides and price (yes, even price), and find something that works with your body and what it is that that abstract notion ('white shirt' or its relevant structure) means to you.  I say to ignore price because the process needs to be fully inclusive, otherwise you risk limiting your horizons in terms of design.  Then consider your wardrobe as it stands, the direction it is heading in, and think of how your chosen interpretation of that garment will fit in.  This step is vital - at its most basic it is assessing whether you will actually wear what it is you intend to buy.  If you can become more aware and thoughtful of how you engage with dress you have infinitely more confidence in yourself where dress is concerned. 

Once you know what it is you need, and what it is you desire, it becomes far easier to move forward.  You get a better sense of your wardrobe as it stands and where it is lacking (of course to go back a step further, I would argue that a purging of the wardrobe is perhaps required so that you are starting from the foundations, however it can always be a work in progress).  This knowledge and focus helps to cut down those ill-advised impulse purchases.  Rather you are working towards a far more defined goal, even though it may change along the way and you may never reach the endpoint - the beauty, and curse, of fashion is after all its ever-changing nature.  I dislike the idea of owning a piece but barely ever wearing it.  Clothing is there to be worn, and if I am not wearing it enough, regardless of how much I love it, it has to go.  There are lots of garments I find beautiful, and that I would quite happily wear, however if they are not right for me, they are not right for me.



  1. Your written posts keep knocking it out of the park. Brilliantly written! All the little nuances are what makes one's own style personal.

  2. Such great writing. Love the pants.

  3. Really, I liked the way you put this together. Cool pants too.

  4. Thanks again for the well thought out post. I have been putting a lot of thought into my dressing process and the way in which I relate to and buy garments and it's very nice to see someone with many of the same views as me. I feel we are approaching many of the same questions in different ways and it's great to see your interpretation. Keep up the fantastic work!!

  5. Regarding the extended cuffs, it's just a french cuff shirt with the cuffs open and I put the link through the top hole. Very easy. :)

  6. Particularly love the top outfit. Simple. I like.

  7. For a long time, I had a few shoes that were clearly show pieces. They weren't functional for my life nor were they truly compatible with my wardrobe. Purged them last week, and I'm feeling like it's one of the best decisions I've made this year. Like you said, what's the point of owning it if you're never going to wear it?

  8. you have more willpower that the majority that is for sure. i understand everything you have said actually but for me at this present time i cannot be done. working at a high street store demands the opposite. great post though