24 January 2018

Clothing As Protection

Autumn/Winter 2018

What does it mean to feel protected by your clothing? 

At a basic level dress serves to protect our bodies from the outside world. In Winter we wear thick jumpers to keep us warm and jackets to protect us from the wind and rain; while in Summer we may wear a hat and sunglasses to protect us from the sun. But then one need only look to the streets on a Friday night in the dead of Winter to see that sometimes practicality goes straight out of the window. We often choose to wear clothes that seemingly do the very opposite of protect us, because we think that it looks good, and often simply because we can. Whether it be shoes that are impractical for the amount of walking we intend to do (say dress shoes with leather soles over a more casual rubber-soled pair), or leaving behind that warmer top because it does not quite go with our outfit (a thinner wool versus a fleece, for example), we make compromises without thinking about it.

But then when I think of protection, I do not particularly think of it in terms of technical function, but rather in psychological and emotional terms. You might feel protected in a sharp suit, you might feel protected in any clothing as long as it is red, you might feel protected wearing silk. Here I think that ideas of protection and confidence most certainly overlap, and even have something of a symbiotic relationship. I think that ultimately is about feeling a sense of security and stability in our dressed identity. It is not only what you are wearing, but also perhaps what you think that wearing those clothes says about you. The way in which we choose to present ourselves forms the visual component of our social identity. And at a cursory glance, it is the way in which others perceive and catalogue us.

But, more importantly, I think that it is about how we perceive and conceive of ourselves. In a way I think that dress is about the narratives we tell ourselves, and those we hope we convey to others. Through these constantly shifting narratives we form and reform our sense of identity through dress. Think of the wardrobe as a container of possible meanings, of the vocabulary if you will, where dress is the expression. In such a way I think that most of us are drawn to what we believe to be a stable display of our self in that moment, even if it changes from day to day. Whether it be a matter of fitting in at work but still choosing a colourful accessory to stand out, to looking like we are fashionable and knowledgeable of current trends, or to simply wanting to be comfortable and not being seen as "trying too hard" when hanging out with friends. The sense of unease arises when we feel the expression is not secure, and thus our sense of self is unstable. For example, turning up to a black tie event in smart casual dress because you did not realise the dress code.

For me the feeling of protection comes out of a sense of confidence in what you are wearing. It is an embodied experience made manifest through the interaction of body and dress. In a very practical way, for me it is about comfort and cover. I am a fan of long sleeves and covering up in general. It is not an explicit attempt to obscure or hide the body. Rather I think that there is a certain elegance to the play of fabric and small reveal of skin or muscle. I have never been the type to go out wearing shorts and a tank top in the height of Summer. I would rather wear some baggy trousers with rolled hems, and a long sleeve with the sleeves folded up. I like that little flash of skin, whether it be an exposed ankle or the forearm (not to mention the issue of sun damage).

I enjoy seeing the movement of the body through the fabric, because it is a reminder of what is unseen. There is a mystery to it. We all have bodies, but our nakedness is ordinarily hidden in day-to-day life, and so there is something about seeing the outline of the body in movement that is fascinating. But then to take it a completely different direction, I do wonder whether that preference where my own dressing habits are concerned stem from the fact that I felt ashamed of my body for so many years. And yet, even as my body has grown stronger, I still find that small reveal more interesting than anything else. As always I find myself continually re-examining my relationship with dress, trying to understand why it is that we wear what we wear, and collections like the one above are the springboard.


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