23 July 2019

Self-Transformations

Autumn/Winter 2019









I seem forever drawn to oversize silhouettes and extended sleeves, not only because I enjoy the way they visually change the shape of the body, but because of how they look and feel against the body when moving. There is something oddly luxurious to me about an artful excess of fabric. Perhaps it is the way in which it helps to create a far more fluid dynamic between skin and clothing than the immediate intimacy of a closer cut. I do however usually wonder the extent to which that attraction is a reaction, and perhaps even a subconscious answer, to personal insecurities I have surrounding my body. I have had a difficult relationship with my body image over the years thanks to inflammatory bowel disease, which obviously has a very direct influence on my weight and overall sense of confidence in my own body. But then I have never really thought of oversize or drapey looks as necessarily negating the body, which I suppose one could easily levy as an accusation against oversize clothing. Indeed I find that when properly employed it is actually a style that allows us to truly appreciate the body. It teases us with the reveal of the body beneath without even having to show the skin, allowing us to imagine the whole while only ever suggesting a part. I especially enjoy seeing the body pressing against the fabric in movement (think of knees pushing against the fabric of loose trousers when walking). Yes, the body is covered, but I think that there is a distinct difference between a covered body and a hidden body.

Clothes are by definition items used to cover the body. A fact that has always tickled me is that the collective noun for tailors is a “disguisery”. Tailors work to enhance our strengths and hide our imperfections, making us seem far more symmetrical and sleek than nature may have allowed. My health has not been great this Summer, meaning that I have lost rather a lot of weight rather rapidly. It has naturally been exhausting, both physically and mentally. My clothes get looser, my belt has to be drawn in tighter, but oddly the thing that makes it feel most real to me is when my rings are loose on my fingers, and I find myself spinning them around with my thumb as I walk (side note: I really do want to sit down and write about jewelry properly in the near future, just because of how integral it is to my dressing process and allowing me to feel like me - I have mentioned this previously, but the moment I feel truly vulnerable in hospital is not when I remove my clothes to put on a gown, but when I have to take off my jewelry). I think I am more so aware of the changes in my body right now because I am in the process of getting outfits ready for an upcoming family wedding. I have been suit shopping for the first time in about eight years, which is longer than I had even realised until I tried to remember the last time I bought a suit. I have owned Yohji and Comme separates in the intervening years, but I believe that the last formal suit I actually bought was a Uniqlo x Jil Sander collaboration (still one of the greatest high street collaborations ever in my opinion).

I have a naturally narrow frame, which makes suit shopping difficult at the best of times, but combined with the fact that I am tall does complicate things further. I either find shoulders that fit well, which are however coupled with sleeves short enough to expose the entirety of my shirt cuff, or I end up looking like a child trying on their father’s suit, drowning in fabric and looking even thinner as a result. In trying on so many different styles and cuts of suits I become hyper-aware of my body shape and how it has changed in the past few months. It is a very stark realization, reminding me of how unwell I have actually been. I have also noticed how unnatural these suits feel on me, not to mention how odd they feel in movement. Rather than finding clothes that compliment my body, it has felt like a battle, with a readily apparent friction between fabric and skin. Umberto Ecco once wrote about "epidermic self-awareness", using the example of jeans that are slightly too tight, and how we register that discomfort at a barely conscious level throughout the duration of the day. But in this instance, that self-awareness might as well be accompanied by a fog horn. To be honest, I am not even sure whether it is simply down to the fact that I have had difficult in finding a suit that fits. There was a time when I felt more comfortable in a suit than any other type of clothing, but that time apparently slipped away without me realizing.

My natural inclination is to move towards the oversize and more forgiving cuts that a fashion-forward choice might allow, but in this instance that actually does feel like hiding, because that would be avoidance. If I would like to accept my body the way it is right now, even though it is not how I would like it to be, then I want to continue on in my mission to find a traditionally cut suit that feels right and feels comfortable for me right now. You see, the power of dressing for me is not about the end product, it is not about how I look. Rather it lies in the fact that it provides me with a choice in how I look, and just as importantly for me, a choice in how I feel. It is that freedom to choose that I am fascinated by, because of the myriad of driving forces behind our clothing choices at any moment in time. For me right now, that choice is about putting on a sharply cut suit and the confidence that comes with it. It is the choice to accept my body as it is and dress my body as well as I possibly can exactly as it happens to be right now. It is a feeling that I have not experienced in a while, but a feeling that is for me incredibly empowering and forever worth pursuing.

xxxx

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