In Search of Individuality in Dress

In Search of Individuality in Dress

Intellectually and emotionally, I believe this: that fashion exists to help us come into the full expression of our being. It is as much through fashion as through any of our belief systems, values, work, and pursuits, that we come to understand and articulate the many complex levels of our individuality. 

Practically though, try as I might, I still struggle, in some form or another, with the desire to look like others. That might mean wanting a shoe that's of-the-moment, or feeling like a trend is speaking (loudly, I might add) to exactly what I want to be wearing right now, or wanting to dress altogether like someone else. For me, the most challenging of these feelings to experience is the desire to imitate someone's dress. That pull, the draw away from fashion as an individual construct towards the lure of the tribe, is one of the things about fashion that gives me most pause. If it feels legitimately desirable to dress like someone else, am I really being me? 

 
 Here's a pair of on-trend shoes that I adore. Tortoise flats by Maryam Nassir Zadeh  via  Mr. Larkin.

Here's a pair of on-trend shoes that I adore. Tortoise flats by Maryam Nassir Zadeh via Mr. Larkin.

 

I'm tempted to say consumerism plays a role in this, but I suspect that far before fashion was as commercialized and branded and instant as it is today, we still possessed the desire to imitate each other. We still looked around to see what we should wear, and we still, in some capacity, wanted to wear versions of the same thing. Otherwise, how can we explain era-specific fashion and the widespread resonance of a particular fashion at a particular moment in time (for example, the salience of Dior's New Look in the Western world)? There is something deeply tribal about fashion across time and place, perhaps there's just no escaping that.

Still, I am in search of genuine individuality in fashion. I'm inspired by women like Marchesa Luisa Casati, Grace Jones, Georgie O'Keefe and Isabella Blow–women who look like only they can. Maybe I'm seeking a myth. Maybe there can't be true individuality in fashion, just like there's no true individuality in the context of the human species, which is by definition a social one. Maybe we're just wired to imitate each other, and dress is simply one facet of this broader human behavior. In this case, perhaps we use our clothes to articulate our individuality not within a tribe but between tribes–a kind of relative individuality rather than an absolute one. Then again, perhaps we take refuge from the task of deeply exploring our individuality in the safety and comfort of our neatly selected tribes. Whatever the case, it seems to me we gain so much insight about who we are from asking the questions and inching closer to what's true for each of us as we answer them.

 
 Isabella Blow, photographer and date unknown

Isabella Blow, photographer and date unknown

 Georgia O'Keeffe by  George F. Mobley for National Geographic, 1980

Georgia O'Keeffe by  George F. Mobley for National Geographic, 1980

 Grace Jones by Ron Galella/WireImage via Getty

Grace Jones by Ron Galella/WireImage via Getty

Feature image the Marchesa Luisa Casati by Adolf de Meyer, 1911.

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