Style as A Healthy Retreat from Fashion

Style as A Healthy Retreat from Fashion

As women, even our most intimate notions of getting dressed have been imprinted with the marks of the society in which we live. We spend our first years, the delicate years of our teens, consumed by the idea that there is an ideal standard of beauty, one to which we should conform. There's a look, a body, a life- none of which is our own, against which we learn to measure our worth. Our young adulthood gives us our first tastes of fashion as a consumer construct. If we can't be that ideal standard of beauty, at least we can buy it. Along the way, we learn to dress for everyone but ourselves: for men, for women, for attention, for status, for strangers on the street we'll never see again. By the time we reach the phase in our adulthood in which we're getting clearer on who we are and what is worth our time and energy (and what isn't), our conception of fashion is conflicted and we are left confused. Is fashion empowering or enervating? Does fashion help make us whole or leave us feeling perpetually incomplete? Out of the conflict and the confusion, and the feelings of disempowerment and inadequacy they give rise to, can we get to a healthy relationship with fashion?

Ouled-Naïl young woman in Tunisia by Lehnert & Landrock, 1905.

Ouled-Naïl young woman in Tunisia by Lehnert & Landrock, 1905.

 
 
Young woman by Kurt Hielscher in Old Romania, ca. 1930

Young woman by Kurt Hielscher in Old Romania, ca. 1930

 
 
A woman from Katkop Mountains, South Africa by Samuel Baylis Barnard ca. 1870

A woman from Katkop Mountains, South Africa by Samuel Baylis Barnard ca. 1870

 
 
A Berber woman in Tangier, Morocco by David G. Fairchild/National Geographic Archive, date unknown

A Berber woman in Tangier, Morocco by David G. Fairchild/National Geographic Archive, date unknown

I believe we can. We must.

The question becomes not whether but how to arrive at a conception of fashion that's healthy. What would it mean to go to our closet or add the item to our cart or put an outfit together for the sole purpose of our personal well-being, enjoyment, satisfaction, and self-love? Conditioned as we are, what does getting dressed in this paradigm of radiant self even look like?

I'm slowly learning.

Really, I'm slowly unlearning. Unlearning to judge myself, to dress for others, to see style as something that can be bought, to see myself as anything other than fundamentally complete. Essentially, I am unlearning the rules and constrictions of fashion, the falsehoods of it, and learning instead the freedom and empowerment and truth of style. Fashion has a reference point outside of us- a trend, a model, a brand name. Style is referent to only us. Style is it. Style is where the struggles that fashion brings out come to rest. Style is self-acceptance, worn on the outside, for all to see. I'm still far from figuring it out, but something has shifted. And even these very first steps feel so good. 

 

Feature image: Woman in Senegal circa 1910, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, photographer unknown

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