13 January 2017

Dressing For The World

Autumn/Winter 2017

Why do we wear clothes? The simplest answer is that we wear clothing for protection from the outside world. More people live in areas of the world without a climate temperate enough to live fully nude throughout the year than those that do. But even in those areas where it is warm enough to dispense with clothing altogether, we still find a rich and varied history of dress and adornment. No matter how far back we go into human history we find evidence of adornment. Indeed we could say that it is human nature to dress ourselves, in whichever form that may happen to take - piercing, scarification, painting, jewellery, tattooing, coverings, clothing. And, as far back as we go to find evidence of this adornment, we actually find that these pieces have, from the very beginning, been invested with psychological meaning. At a basic level, clothing has protected us from the elements, but in truth it has meant so much more.

Clothing has been imbued with spiritual, religious, social and, of course, personal significance. It has been used to honour our ancestors or attract a mate or mark our place in society or, as is often the case today, ostensibly reflect some sense of our personal identity. Indeed there has always been more to it than meets the eye lurking right there beneath the surface, often close enough to be rippling if one cares to look. To varying extents we still have clothing that marks religious affiliation (head coverings are found in a number of religions) and social affiliation (everything from a suit and tie for an office worker to a goth uniform for a subculture), alongside a number of other affiliations, but I think that what is championed most in society today is the idea of personal expression. Advertising suggests that we buy things that will accurately express our sense of self and lifestyle, whether that be through clothing, cars, sofas, breakfast bowls or toothbrushes. Everything you buy and use and consume and wear would seem to be fraught with the question - what does this object say about me?

Personal identity and lifestyle are supposedly packaged into neat little segments for us to purchase and experience. We are told that dress is an avenue for expressing our authentic selves, but who is this self that I dress for? Surely I am me no matter what I wear? What if I am dressing for who I want to be, rather than who I am, and how would I even know the difference? Can anybody tell who I am without actually getting to know me? Are the sweats I wear at home on the weekend the real me, or the shirt and trousers I wear to dinner the real me? If there is a real me deep down somewhere, does that mean that the rest of me is fake? Why can't I just follow the philosophy of choosing to wear what I think look fly as f***? If we have to buy something to tell us who we are, or tell others who we think we are, then perhaps we might want to rethink that concept of self we are holding onto and be more mindful of how we actually feel in the moment.

A helpful analogy I have heard for identity is that of the watch. We call a watch a watch. If I show you a cog from that watch, it is a cog. If I show you the strap from that watch, it is a strap. If I show you the dial from that watch, it is a dial. It is not until we put all the pieces together that we have the watch. In much the same way, there is no singular fixed sense of self to dress for, because our sense of self is made up of all those pieces. All the pieces go together to create my identity, but unlike the watch, they are constantly evolving and developing. I can choose to dress for whichever of those parts of my identity I wish to, or I can dress for none at all. Clothes make the social identity of the man, not the man himself. If I wear a police uniform, then chances are people on the street will assume I am a policeman. But that is a very specific set of clothes that have a long vested history of social meaning and significance. In some places that uniform might be welcomed, in others I might find myself faced with abuse. The clothes we wear for ourselves, for the most parts, do not have such an entrenched set of meanings and codes. We are free to dress as we wish, although we will invariably follow some basic social codes and laws.

So why do we wear the clothes that we wear? Of course there is no simple answer, but I think that one could be found in exploring what we prioritise in the moment when we are dressing ourselves. I am fascinated by that moment because I think, ultimately, that it provides an insight into our perception of self. To speak of my own experience, and to go back to the original question, I would say that these days that I do mostly dress to protect myself from the outside world. I mean that literally and metaphorically, because while clothing obviously serves that functional purpose, I tend to prioritise a sense of psychological and physical comfort. Yohji talks about clothing that protects you like an armour from unwanted eyes, and I would say that is something that I can most certainly recognise. It is not about pushing the world away, but rather, dressing with a confidence that you can tackle anything that comes your way.

For me this encompasses dressing in a way that makes me feel comfortable in myself mentally and physically. While dressing is technically a bodily activity (in that we clothe ourselves to protect our physical well-being), I would say that above all it is a cerebral process enacted through a bodily activity. Just the act of choosing what to wear is proof of that, because we are actively making choices beyond function, and always have. For me that means looking for clothing that makes me feel comfortable, and in that I think that I find beauty through function. If my self is made up of a million different parts, then I would rather dress in such a way as to support those parts rather than single any one out. That is perhaps why I am so attracted to the idea of uniform, because it allows me to express myself through word and action, and enjoy the clothes on a personal level. Anyhow, I suppose that is why I found this collection by Mihara Yasuhiro so interesting, because he sought an answer to how we dress in a time where there is so much uncertainty. How do we feel confident and comfortable? His is but one interpretation, but it is one that I really enjoy, and ultimately that is what I am drawn to with fashion.

Why did you choose to wear what you are wearing today?


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