At 28, my investment in fashion is deep-seated and emotional, far surpassing the dollars I’ve burned at checkout counters since I was 15. I work in and around it; I observe it on the street; I study it in photos; I appreciate it, everywhere, without consciously doing so. I don’t consider myself a serious fashion buff, and yet I start and end each day with my clothes in my hands, and my mood can hinge completely on how carefully they were chosen. I can’t deny the significance of that, and I’ve become less certain that’s a good thing.
Fashion is a tentpole in my life; criticizing it requires I dismantle whole swaths of me. But I return often to the idea that my relationship with clothing might somehow be unhealthy — a conduit for a sort of self-objectification that’s setting me back. It’s one of my rife internal debates.
At first blush, the answer to the question of why I enjoy a great outfit seems simple: Putting it together is fun and creative and wearing it makes me feel wonderful. It’s more fraught, though, when I factor in all the times the process has frustrated and defeated me, which are too plentiful to ignore. It gets even sketchier when I consider all the times I’ve felt excluded from some invisible fashion club, or worried I was the one doing the excluding. Could something so tied to social status ever be considered purely self-expressive? And on a more private, emotional level, the answer as to why shaping my outward appearance brings me so much pleasure seems, in a word, ominous. Through that lens, I have to ask myself: Is my relationship with fashion actually serving me, or does my interest in it feed a self-worth issue that needs another kind of nurturing?
These questions often play bumper cars in my head, and when I set out earlier this month to document my outfits over the course of four weekends, I hoped I might answer at least one of them. Self-documentation, I admit, seems a slightly backwards way of examining my relationship with my appearance, but the way I dress on the weekend has always felt distinctly carefree compared to how I dress during the week. I wondered if there was some gravity to that.
Since I work in a casual office that celebrates style in all its forms, the duality of how I dress for work versus how I dress for the weekend is less about dress codes and more about who I’m dressing for. At work, I dress for myself, for my colleagues, for my industry, for Soho. I try much harder. On the weekends, I scarcely leave Brooklyn, and I’m rarely “seen” at all, in the New York fashion sense. It follows, then, that how I dress on the weekends is a closer approximation of my true personal style — the way I might dress if I lived on Earth by myself. And that, I decided at the outset of all this, was the mark of “purity” — as if my relationship with fashion could only be healthy if it could thrive in a void.
After a month of documentation, I’m not so sure that logic is sound. All of my outfits, which you can see above in their plain and uninteresting glory, may have been easy enough to throw together, but I still wanted them to hit a certain note of unidentifiable “rightness” in the eyes of an imaginary onlooker. Some of them even required multiple tries, if you can believe it. And when I look back on them now, I can’t help but wonder why. None of them seem to communicate all that much about me. Putting them together didn’t light me up the way dressing for a more specific context sometimes does. They don’t read as “pure self-expression”; they read like a much-needed break from the effort dressing during the week requires of me. They are comfortable.
I wish I could say this little endeavor answered any of my questions, but it mostly taught me that my personal style is not one thing, nor can it exist in a vacuum, as I theorized. Covering my body will always entail nurturing some version of myself, whether that version is feeling creative, attention-starved, defiant or just tired. I’m still parsing whether that makes fashion a powerful tool, an inevitable reality, or a bit of a trap, for me personally. Maybe it’s all three.
While I continue to ponder these questions, I’d like to ask you some as well: Have you ever questioned your relationship with fashion in this way? Does your sense of style intersect with your self-worth? Do you think the consideration of what other people think cheapens fashion as an art form, or is that actually a cornerstone of self-expression? How do you dress on the weekends?