Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Importance of Clothes

"I leaned back and closed my eyes - and instantly the whole day danced before me. I wasn't merely remembering, it seemed to be trapped inside my eyelids; the City, the traffic, the shops were all there, shimmering, merging. Then my brain began to pick out the bits it wanted to think about and I realized how the day made a pattern of clothes - first our white dresses in the early morning, then the consciousness of what people were wearing in London, then Aunt Millicent's poor dead clothes, then all of the exquisite things in the shop, then our furs. And I thought of how important clothes were to women and always had been. I thought of Norman ladies in Belmotte Tower-keep, and Plantagenet ladies living in Godsend Castle, and Stuart ladies when our house was built on the ruins - and hoops and Jane Austin dresses and crinolines and bustles, and Rose longing for a little black suit."

I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith, page 84, 1948

Poor Rose! She and her sister Cassandra went to London and when they got there, they realized that they were dressed all wrong! We all know how awkward that feels. Ever show up for a party all dressed in party wear to disover that everyone else was dressed casually? Or worse, the opposite? We all hate that feeling - like saying the wrong thing. Oh wait - you are saying the wrong thing - but with your clothes.

Clothes have their own language, and we can all read it and speak it. We know someone's socio-economic status, their job, their social standing, their role in life itself by reading what they are wearing. Like any language, context is everything. Ripped jeans and shredded finery are a statement about fashion's fleeting nature, or they are worn by a homeless person making an even larger unspoken statement about the strange heartlessness of fate.
I always feel frustrated by people who say, (always with that tone of smug superiority) that they don't follow fashion. Everybody follows fashion. Whether or not you actively participate in either setting or following fashion, you have an influence every day on everyone you come in contact with. We all see your clothes and make judgements about you based on what you are wearing. Wouldn't it be in your best interests to influence those judgements in a positive way?
My grandmother used to joke when we were kids that she was going to dress us in pillowcases with a ribbon tied around us. Some people do make clothes out of pillowcases. But they are recognizably clothes. And they do speak a language.
Translate this - black boots, wool pencil skirt, cashmere sweater, pearl necklace. It says city woman, probably working in an office. Now take that same woman, but dress her in overalls. If clothes didn't matter, she'd get the same treament wherever she went. But they do matter, and she probably won't.
Now I work at home. I could wear anything. But I have noticed that I feel better and work better if I am wearing nicer clothes. I don't wear pajamas, although I have some co-workers who do; (they call them work pajamas.) If I have new clothes to wear I feel happier.(It's important to me that I look nice, even if no one sees me. I feel more in control.) I read one essay where the author worked at home in pajamas every day, but one day she was dressed to go out, and the UPS man said, "It's nice to see you finally dressed!' See? People notice what you wear.
My sister in law says that she loves new tshirts so much that she is tempted to just wear them once and then give them away. I'm not that extreme, but I won't apologize for taking an interest in sewing or fashion, because no matter what anyone says, it is important, and looking nice makes me happier. I've been going through my closet and getting rid of everything that doesn't work for me, and that made me happier too.
So when people give you humbug (as we used to say when I lived in Hawaii) about clothes or fashion, tell them they just don't get it. I give you permission to use a tone of smug superiority.


KID, MD said...

So true!! I've been working on convincing my hubby of this for years...

beangirl said...

Well... if you replace "clothes" with "shoes".... then I ditto what Kid,MD said. I've beeing working on convincing my hubby of this for years.

Other than that, I agree with everything you just said.

(I'm also completely jealous of people who manage to work from their homes. Utterly green. Do you think my red shirt would clash with that?)

Venus de Hilo said...

It's noon here, I'm taking a break from working at home and yikes: still in the ratty old yoga pants and T I slept in last night. My work-at-home clothes are nuthin' fancy, but some days, like today, that switchover from sleep to work wardrobe gets overlooked. Excuse me while I go change into 'real' clothes...

The Slapdash Sewist said...

Amen! Everyone has to get dressed in the morning, with the rare nudist exception. Whatever your clothes, they say something.

Nancy K said...

I too work at home and I always get dressed nicely, put on make up even and 'do' my hair, though these days that takes about 2 minutes. I feel better about myself, eat less and I'm not embarrassed if the UPS guy shows up at the door! My dh also always remarks on how chic I look and let me tell you what an ego boost it is for a 60 year old woman to get regular compliments.