A Response to Kafka's Clothes

A Response to Kafka's Clothes

Yesterday, I shared a piece from Franz Kafka on clothes. In it, I understood him to suggest that despite the inevitability of clothes fading over time, we continue to invest attention and effort in our appearance. I'm wondering if his criticism is valid and how we can best respond to it in order to get to place of understanding more clearly why we care so much about what we wear. Here is the piece again for context: 

 
 

It's hard to argue that Mr. Kafka's observations are incorrect. Clothes do fade, their very fibers break down, their colors dim, they become covered in dust, and the prey of moths. Clothes are impermanent. But in their impermanence, they are not alone.

Part of living wholly is recognizing that ultimately, life is impermanent. While at times scary and often difficult to reconcile with the struggles of living, that fact doesn't make how we live our lives, getting dressed included, any less consequential. Actually, while we can't control life's impermanence, or its length, or the fact that time passes and things fade, it is how we live that is the only piece of our existence we actually have choice in.

Kafka's piece, rather than a criticism of fashion, can actually be seen as a reason to care all the more about making the most of life's fleeting experiences. Because life will pass, whether we choose to acknowledge its transience or not, whether we learn to invest in the small activities that make it meaningful despite its momentary nature. If fashion is one of the things that helps us do that, one of the ways in which we can savor the beauty of living, then the reality that clothes fade shouldn't discourage us from caring about fashion nonetheless. The caveat likely being that it's also important to invest in those things which do not fade: who we are, what we believe, what we think, and how we act, in short, the spirit underneath those clothes. If we're able to strike a balance between style and spirit—if we're committed to tending to what's underneath our clothes as well as investing in our appearance—there's a beauty in that which, far from ephemeral, feels timeless. Besides, if loving fashion nurtures us on a deeper level than the surface, can't we argue that in this way, it never really fades at all?

 
 

Images Kristen McMenamy by Paolo Roversi in "The Grand Couture." Vogue Italia, October 2010. 

On Rushing

On Rushing

Clothes by Franz Kafka

Clothes by Franz Kafka