Is Getting Dressed An Art Form?
Clothes can be considered many, often dichotomous things- necessities and luxuries, personal effects and commercial goods, what we wear to belong and what we wear to stand out, what we do for vanity and for authenticity. There is such richness here alone that exploring where we stand on the spectrum that lies between these polarities seems a lifetime worth of work. But we're not ones to shy away from a challenge so let's also consider whether, when we pull out a pair of jeans and a shirt from our closet, do we consider it art? If so, is getting dressed an art form? Is personal style Art?
Well, what is art?
art /ärt/ noun: the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
Because art is created to invoke a response in us, it is accordingly highly subjective. Van Gogh's Irises is art, and so is Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans. Which of these is better art is moot- the point is that art allows us to assign value based on our own emotional response, preferences, taste, etc. We become the reference point.
So coming now to what we wear, perhaps the difference is that not all of us wake up to a blank canvas each morning to paint. But we do wake up to a blank canvas that we can dress. Maybe our thoughts don't go to that; maybe instead we think about what is appropriate for work, what will make us feel comfortable, what is clean, what is trendy, and so on. So what happens when we consider our body a blank canvas and our clothes an expression of artistic creation?
Let's consider a few women from different eras who have made dressing a form of art.
Marchesa Luisa Casati (1881-1957)
American women dress as well as the women of Paris, but then the women of the world today all dress alike. They are like so many loaves of bread. To be beautiful one must be unhurried. Personality is needed. There is too much sameness. To be different is to be alone. I do not like what is average. So I am alone.
- via Scot D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino's The Marchesa Casati: Portraits of a Muse
Isabella Blow (1958-2007)
I don't use a hat as a prop. I use it as a part of me.
Daphne Guinness (b. 1967)
The thing about clothes is that it is a fact that everybody’s got to wear clothes. Otherwise we’d be naked, probably in breach of the law and probably cold. So you might as well wear what you want, inhabit what you want, whatever your budget is, and not be dictated to by other people. It doesn’t invalidate you as a human being to be dressed in which ever way you see fit.
- via Interview Magazine
I used to come across images of these women (Isabella and Daphne) amongst the carefully polished celebrities and models that dominate the bandwidth in fashion, and, I'm the first to admit, I didn't get it. It was so much easier to take one quick look, dismiss either as an eccentric, even crazy socialite with excessive resources and an endless list of fabulous places to go that would permit such attire. But the more I thought about it, plenty of actresses and socialites and monarchs have stylists and resources and access to great clothes as well as fancy places to wear things to, but no one looks like Luisa Casati or Isabella Blow or Daphne Guinness. So not only is that conclusion easy, it's also (I think) wrong.
What's more difficult, and a lot more interesting, is to approach one of these images without the impulse to judge it according to some standard definition of what we have been told is beautiful or fashionable. To take it in without expecting it to conform to our conditioned desire for sameness. If we can do that, if we can remain objective long enough, I think what we'll see staring back at us is art.
We'll see a woman making a statement; pushing back against social convention, against trends and fashion marketing and standard norms of beauty to express her individuality. We'll see a woman wearing her clothing in only the way she can, in much the way that Monet's brush stroke was only his own. It might be a van Gogh to you, or a Warhol, you might love it or you might hate it. But it's hard to deny it's value as a unique artistic expression.
If getting dressed is art, I think about all of the fashion images I have seen over the years hanging in a museum. All of the ones I once might have admired for fitting in to a neatly packaged definition of style have no chance at holding my imagination next the sight of such an original. Which makes me think maybe the crazy thing isn't wearing futuristic platform heels to walk around New York City or an extraordinary hat to play with your dogs in the back yard. Maybe instead it is being afraid to do so if you genuinely want to.
I'm so curious to hear what you think.