Tuesday, August 26, 2008

And third thoughts, with your help

When I finally tried to articulate, the other day, some misgivings I've increasingly been having when I occasionally write about fashion/style, I had even more misgivings about putting these thoughts into black marks on a page. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to express my concerns without appearing to criticize others whose writing about personal style and changing fashion I enjoy very much. But for me, that process of putting my ideas out there, hearing (or seeing) them responded to either in affirmation or in challenge, and then formulating a response to those comments, has always been the way I finally come to know what I think. Was it James Baldwin who said, "I write to find out what I think"? I'd amend this to say that I write and then see what others say about it to find out what I think. Not ideal, perhaps. Perhaps I should do all the thinking on my own before committing, but there you have it. My process.

And once again it's worked for me. Just this morning, as I responded to Duchesse's comment -- she suggests that I'm setting up "a polarity (If I care about style THEN I wont' care about comfort, or If I have an opinion about how I or others are dressed THEN I can't be fair and kind) paints me into a corner." Trying to explain that I didn't want to do that at all, I had that click of clarity: what I was worried about was that while fashion blogs appeared not to allow for the different (and, I would argue) equally valid priorities and choices of those who don't care about fashion and style, in fact they simply make the assumption that if you've come to their site, you do care (and if you don't just leave).

This might sound foolishly obvious but it's at the heart of my discomfort because I don't think my readers are quite the same, and I know my blog isn't. While I often write about my own experiments with style and fashion, Materfamilias Writes is not primarily about those elements. I'm fairly sure that I have a solid component of readers who are entertained or amused by, or curious about, my engagement with my wardrobe but don't give their own too much thought for a variety of reasons. They might be here because they're knitters or gardeners or family members or friends or readers or . . . you get the idea. Thus I never want to imply that I'm superior to them because I have an opinion on what kind of shoe looks better with what kind of skirt this fall.

On a blog dedicated to fashion, however, clear direction about which shoe, which skirt, where to go buy the perfect earring, and where never to be caught shopping is what readers want, and since we're all like-minded, the sarcasm, the shared horror at the sheer ugliness of Crocs, the chuckle at the expense of the latest celebrity over-bling is all fair game. It's not really any different from my daughters and I re-doing a random passer-by when we're shopping on Robson Street -- which, truly, we do discreetly so no one is hurt or embarrassed. And especially, there's no need to rehearse the greater context in which fashion is not necessarily the top priority. That's taken for granted. Of course we all have lives outside where we recognize problems such as homelessness, lack of day care, unemployment, and the whole dreary list. On blogs like Une Femme's though, we get to put those aside for a while and play with the serious business of style and fashion and if she gives us a daily dose of snark, well, we asked for it!

There. I feel better now. What about you?


  1. Mater - For me the whole discussion about 'style' really is a surrogate for a discussion about physical appearance. I see fashion as those items which we can choose and manipulate - because let's face it; from a practical standpoint, even with unlimited funds for cosmetic surgery at one's disposal, there IS a limit to what one can do to one's appearance(yes, I know there are orthopedic surgeons who are supposedly doing amazing things with lengthening peoples' leg bones, but let's not go there). And although there is a lot of snarking at people who seem to invest 'too much'(whatever that might be)in terms of attention, time, etc. in fashion, I think what those critics might be saying is "I don't trust people who look as if they devote what I consider a lot of time or money to changing how I perceive their appearance." Why people are upset about this is beyond me; human beings have been doing things to themselves to change their appearance since probably the dawn of time. That is what people DO, whether it is tattoos, piercings, hair braiding, daubing one's body with red mud, choosing a red dress or whatever. It is a way to send a message to viewers who perhaps might not speak your spoken language, but who you know understand the communication. For those of us who are, ahem, 'of a certain age', that communication gets much more complex than it is for females who ...are not. Our message, especially in 2008, has to carry so many nuances(sexy but comfortable; knowledgeable and experienced but energetic and creative)that it is pretty challenging. But it is always worthwhile discussing and it certainly is worthwhile being invested in the discussion and participating in the whole thing. Why? Because older women who do NOT - who take the position that appearance somehow does 'not count', or that they don't have to worry about it any more, or that they don't have anything to contribute to the discussion or the industry or whatever, are basically fooling themselves. In certain countries, still, women at those ages basically wear black, don't go out, and are basically waiting to die. That reinforces the position that they are old, infertile and have nothing to contribute. That is not true, hasn't been for a long time, and is certainly not an appropriate position to take now. My two cents.

  2. Hi Toby, and thanks for a really thoughtful, clearly expressed response in favour of talking about style. To clarify, I make no apology for my own participation in fashion, my own attempts to think through my development of a personal style. What I was concerned about was any suggestion that I thought less of those people who don't concern themselves with such matters. I have numerous friends who might have an interest in style but very little in fashion for any number of reasons that I respect. Have to run to catch my ferry -- thanks for keeping me thinking about this and forcing me to clarify further.

  3. As I see it, it breaks down into two questions - the question of whether or not one should have an opinion of good style, and the question of whether or not one should voice it.

    I believe that, for better or for worse, we all have opinions on style. Even the decision to have no opinion is an opinion. If someone says I shouldn't care how people dress that is an opinion about dress.

    Should I care? No. I mean that. And by and large I don't. People can dress any way they like and it's no skin off my nose. I believe your discomfort, and I must admit mine too, comes from the pedantic tone of telling someone - your style is no good and should change.

    However, if we accept that everyone does have an opinion about style, we can move onto a discussion of whether that opinion should be expressed. I for one quite enjoy people's views about style, hence my lengthy blog roll and daily readings of such sites. But I must also admit that there are times when it cuts too close to what feels like persecution and anger, and even in my own tone I found this problem cropping up.

    Which brings us to Alex Rodriguez. What I want to do with that whole "Men Dressing Manly" section is look at how popular figures dress and ask why. My tone is still in its infancy, and perhaps I have tried too hard to hit on a tone I think people want to read (snark! venom! outrage!) rather than the tone I want to convey. Which is inquisitiveness, questioning, and alternatives. Perhaps I will hit this tone eventually.

    So, given that I believe everyone has an opinion about style and that I enjoy, by and large, reading those opinions, we reach the question of how that opinion should be expressed. Here I agree with you - a woman or man should never, ever be devalued for her or his style choices. Those are personal choices. They are choices at the core of one's being. To humiliate even from a distance a person for what they wear is tantamount to mocking someone for their hair, or their height, or weight. Of course, this happens all the time, but do we all need to be a part of it?

    You have given me a lot to think about.

  4. Thomas: I think you're probably right, that even the position of not caring about style is itself caring and it does result in a style. I also think you're right that it's tone, more than anything else, that I occasionally feel uncomfortable with. Indeed as I re-read what you've said and think about how I respond, I realize that altho' a sarcastic and/or mocking tone sometimes bothers me, I'm probably more bugged by the pedantic or the absolutist, the tone that suggests that there's really only one right way.

    Thanks for the time you've taken to help me think about this -- for me, at least, my misgivings about my own involvement with, and approach to, style and fashion, are part and parcel of that involvement, and I'm pleased to see blogging friends responding helpfully -- I worried I'd risk making people feel defensive, but instead I'm getting a chance to explore some ideas among a community that's come to mean quite a bit to me. I truly appreciate this.

  5. materfamilias - these last two posts of yours, and the one from Duchesse require some thoughtful responses. I'll be coming late to the party, once I'm back home and not pulled in nine different family directions. I will say though, that once again we are all on the same wavelength, as I've been working up one of those "why do we care about this stuff at our age" manifestos in my head. ;-)

  6. Pseu: I'll be glad to hear your response as your "manifestos" always help me clarify my own thinking. Hope your time away is going well.

  7. I'm not lucky enough to be friends with La Atwood (my Canadian mentor was), but I see the resemblance!

  8. Miss C: You must have stopped by after visiting The Thoughtful Dresser -- I'm tickled to have you here as I enjoy your blog very much.
    As for Ms. A., don't you love that Al Purdy poem about her iconic status, especially hearing him read it -- so droll!

  9. I am away for two weeks and I miss all this! I will catch up properly later, as I am still jet lagged!! seriously one hour has thrown me right off kilter.
    I agree that by writing we clarify what we want to say, if there is a message it will alaways be a personel one. My blog is not an industry, I have opinions on everything and enjoy reading yours for the same reason.
    I found that being away from both blogging and my clothes gave me a great deal of perspective on why both matter.
    The former because blogs give me a much greater variety of grist to chew than most dalies.
    The latter because I DO enjoy thinking about and shopping for clothes.More especially, I enjoy wearing them. they have a profound effect on how I feel and how productive I am.
    I will now have to read my back log entries to catch up on what started this post..

  10. Yay! You're back. (although I'm sorry your holiday has to be over for that to be the case! -- I'm being selfish)
    I'll look forward to hearing what you have to say about this -- it's so good to have a community that cares about these issues and puts up with my pondering them.

  11. I'm back, and still noodling this around in my head, but I too agree with the "write to find out what I think" sentiment.

    I don't think it's possible to express our likes and dislikes entirely without judgement. That said, I think it's possible to dislike a garment or a style without disliking or looking down on the person wearing it, or liking it on someone else while recognizing it would be a disaster on me. I have a lovely 60'ish co-worker who wears Crocs to the office, but they fit who she is, a person who doesn't take dressing herself seriously, and isn't afraid to wear one or two goofy elements in an otherwise straightforward ensemble.

    The internals vs. externals of style sometimes can feel like a tug-of-war, but I love what you said here in your earlier post, "Fashion and style can't always be seen from the outside, if that makes any sense, and while you can't have depths without surfaces, neither should you get stuck at the superficial, right?" Style as self-expression works best when we manage to harmonize the interior and exterior components. Far better to wear what makes you feel joyous than what some fashion editor has declared is "right" for the age/season/figure.

  12. Pseu: Thanks for this -- I'm getting closer and closer to being able to recognize and articulate what I feel about this and to own my own judgements (acknowledging what you say straight out: how can likes and dislikes be expressed otherwise?) Stepping into this public forum is still a bit unnerving for me -- commenting on other's style or enjoying reading those comments reminds me that mine can be judged as well and that triggers vulnerabilities from way back. It helps to have such a thoughtful and understanding community to test ideas out on and to share the fun as well.

  13. hmmmm. let's see.
    i do not write about style on retail recovery. i'm not sure what category it fits into, blog-wise. i offer thoughts, observations, questions, ideas to readers, but i definitely feel that style is not something one should ever lecture about. style is achieved on an individual level. it's personal. things that look good to me, do so because of my style. there is no universal 'good' though there is a prevalent idea of 'good' that is marketed and dictated. that isn't relevant to me. plenty of people, however, would rather buy pre-approved style than work on their own. that's okay too. some people don't mind eating junky food or watching bad movies (actually, A LOT of people don't mind either, or both at once). so not everyone has to care deeply about what they wear. i do. part of me would have such fun doing a style blog, but then another part of me would disapprove, because i would rather people spend time enjoying, shaping, pursuing their own style than have them study or follow or question my own. so my up and down town blog is a different type of style/fashion outlet for me.
    i visit very few strictly "style" blogs though, because i've got my own (style, i mean).

  14. Editor: No, but you write about the "backstory to style," if I might call it that. It's why I like your blog so much, because you work at the issues and questions that a person might consider in order to arrive at a sense of personal style -- or, like myself, to attempt to articulate a personal style which might (I hope) already be manifest.

  15. i just want to be sure people are thinking. i don't like "victim" and "fashion" used at the same time.
    backstory of style, i like that.


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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