Change Style, Change Identity

Change Style, Change Identity

We are the only animal that changes its skin everyday.
— Paul Hawken
David Bowie photographed by Gavin Evans.

David Bowie photographed by Gavin Evans.

The relationship between our style and our identity is something that fascinates me. In the foreword to Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change, Paul Hawken writes of the deep human attachment to clothing, “…we are the only animal that changes its skin everyday.” I think about this statement a lot, as I navigate my own relationship with style and deepen my understanding of it.

A recent article in the New York Times brought this style-identity question front of mind. The piece explored David Bowie’s ability to maintain the identity of an “invisible New Yorker” by essentially manipulating his style, and our perception of it. He knew that when we thought of David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane came to mind. Just his name calls forth images of an entertainer in full costume on whom the spotlight, even walking down the street, would undoubtedly shine. Instead, Bowie ventured out looking like a regular guy, with his regular outfits preventing us from connecting the man on the street with the legend. This disconnect, resulting from a conscious decision about the clothes he chose to wear, gave a very public man the ability to lead a fairly private life, even in the midst of millions. Change clothes, change skin.

Photographed by Jason Winslow/Splash News via DailyMail.

Photographed by Jason Winslow/Splash News via DailyMail.

It’s true that Bowie is in a class of his own when it comes to using style to reinvent oneself and to give birth to unimaginably creative new identities. But do we all possess the same ability?

Of course we do. 

Photograph: Sunshine/Rex/Shutterstock for Dutch TV Performance, 1974 via The Guardian. 

Photograph: Sunshine/Rex/Shutterstock for Dutch TV Performance, 1974 via The Guardian

At any given time, our human organism represents the sum of many different identities. We carry around traces of ourselves from different stages of our life. We may rebel against what we believed in earlier stages, or we may embrace it more wholeheartedly. We grow up, take on new responsibilities, and establish a certain way of interacting with the world around us. We wish to be a particular way in the future. Along the way, we morph, we transform, and hopefully, we inch closer to whole. Throughout this journey, there are very few things we do every single day, and getting dressed is one of them. Each day that we dress this complicated amalgam of our self, with the bits and pieces of our past, present, and future all in some form alive, we access a gateway to self-discovery. So, while we don’t have to assume an alter ego, and we don’t need to be avant-garde rock stars (although that can’t hurt), we do require consciousness to help us become aware about how and why we use our clothes along the path to finding ourselves.

What do you think? When we pick a piece of clothing from our closet, are we changing our skin? Trying our hand at a new identity? Or are we just pulling something clean that won’t make us freeze in the three minutes we have to get ready before we're late?

 

Feature image: David Bowie Photographed by Masayoshi Sukita for the Aladdin Sane Tour, 1973 via the ArtsBeat Blog at The New York Times

Thoughts from the Fashion Industry

Thoughts from the Fashion Industry

Margaret Thatcher's Style Got Dissed

Margaret Thatcher's Style Got Dissed