Victims of the Dressing Up Box

Victims of the Dressing Up Box

A little while ago I found myself hovering in American Apparel and contemplating something insane – very shiny, very gold, lame leggings. The two sides of my brain were having a little argument “Oh, that’s ridiculous! When in the hell are you ever going to wear those?” said one, very grown up voice. To which another quickly retorted “Get with the NOW! You’ll be wearing them when you’re out in some hip club and everyone will want to be your friend. You’ll be an uber modern Edie Sedgwick and have the time of your life”. As I stood at the counter paying for my new identity, the now defeated voice of reason grumbled “But you don’t even go out clubbing”.

Why is it that articles of clothing seem to possess the power to transform us? As I look to my wardrobe and see the never worn leggings gathering dust at the back I am reminded of the dressing up box I owned as a little girl. Whereas the identities within that box were much more imaginative (a princess, a pirate, a rabbit…), nowadays my dressing up box represents all those different familiar things the fashion industry suggests I might like to be; a flirty summer girl, a no nonsense school marm pin up, an irresponsible club kid.

I read recently, in the Evening Standard Fashion magazine (14th Sept 07), an article by Susie Boyt where she waxed lyrical about all the many ‘faultless looks’ she longed to have at her disposal “Jaunty outfits for the races, sober but elegant funeral attire, a costume for jury duty if I were ever called, discreet running away clothes, and intriguing semi boudoir apparel for answering the door” and these were just a fraction of the looks Boyt aspired to. It seems that many women find they ‘need’ a giant dressing up box full of different identities. But why? And at what cost?

Why would any bereaved persons thoughts turn to a ‘sober and elegant’ funeral outfit when in reality it would be grief, rather than fashion that would be the thing consuming you. Why does the Daisy character in Spaced, when presented with an incredibly important job interview, spend seconds on her preparation (“What do I think of current affairs? Well, I like them… I think they’re good”) before quickly moving on to the question of what to wear? It was John Berger in ‘Ways of Seeing’ that said “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” It seems that women believe that the image they present can sometimes be as important, if not more so, than their own personality.

That image that pops into your head as you are deliberating in the dressing room, doesn’t it look familiar? It’s the image of yourself in the garment, a perfect version of yourself, surrounded by admirers as you quite literally glow with confidence and beauty. And at this moment in time, it is only this particular garment that can offer this scenario. Look in any women’s magazine and you’ll find pages and pages of fashion shoots and advertisements that mirror your imaginings, and in fact the models looks are so vacant that they almost invite you to imagine your own face where theirs is. In each scenario the message from these gorgeous creatures is “You too can be as sexy, stylish and liberated as us. All you need to do is buy our product and all this will be yours”

And therein lies the rub. Women are becoming fashion victims in an increasingly dangerous way. Research, from the accountants Wilkins Kennedy, show that the number of women declaring themselves bankrupt has soared over the last few years, with figures rising from 32 per cent in 2002 to 44 per cent in 2006. By 2009, it predicts women will account for more than half of all bankruptcies for the first time since records began.

In response to these revelations over women’s spending habits, The Sun has coined the term ‘WAG-ruptcy’, saying that it was the un-affordable lifestyle of footballers Wives-And-Girlfriends that modern women were aspiring to. In fact, looking at the October 2007 issue of Company magazine there is a 3 page long beauty article entitled ‘Look Like a WAG’. Whilst the article does stress that ‘all that extra effort doesn’t have to mean extra cash’, it does still suggest several lipglosses at around eight pounds a pop, plus it encourages all sorts of other beauty rituals that go above and beyond regular beauty maintenance, such as false eyelashes and nails. The same magazine may have an article of similar length on managing your finances, but when the rest of the magazine is taken up with fashion spreads, the message is clear.

It’s scary that whilst it seems that women are in financial dire straits, they are still being targeted by the fashion industry and coaxed in to parting with their hard earned cash. Fashion is constantly in flux; one season women are told they should be girly and virginal in smock dresses and florals, the next season the hour glass dominatrix is the only look to be seen in. Women who try and keep up will find their ‘dressing up box’ full of contradictory styles with nothing truly expressing their own personality. The only expression they have done is pumping more and more money into an economy that gives little back in return. After all, women may be working in record numbers, but they still earn less than men on average.

So what can style conscious women do to make sure they don’t become victims of fashion? Well, the old adage ‘Style never goes out of fashion’ is a good mantra. Finding your own personal style means that you won’t be the fickle and financially unstable woman who turns up at the party wearing the same try-hard bubble skirt as everyone else. It will also give you the confidence in knowing that you are expressing your true self, not the version of your self as seen through the eyes of Marc Jacobs. And at the very least, it’ll ensure that you don’t end with some ‘trendy for a nano-second’ lame leggings festering at the back of your wardrobe. The most important thing to remember is that when you are expressing yourself you needn’t do it through clothes, you should be doing it through words, actions, and through simply being. Only little girls are seen and not heard. Real women don’t rely on clothing to make their statements for them.

The other day I was out shopping with a girl friend when we both had a Carrie Bradshaw ‘Come to Mamma!’ moment as we gazed in through the window of an upmarket shoe shop. ‘They’re gorgeous!’ exclaimed the friend, as we both stared in at some completely impractical black velvet and shiny gold striped platform wedges. They were the kind of shoe Leigh Bowery might have swooned over. ‘Yes,’ I agreed ‘But they’re also the kind of shoes that you’d think would instantly turn you into the most interesting person at the party, but you’d only ever wear them once and spend the whole time worrying that everyone was just judging your feet’ It seems my ever-so-sensible internal voice had manifested itself as my own, and so we moved on from the window…

By: Sarah Barnes, 20.10.2007 | Comments (1)
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  • Uplift Magazine » The Jolly Green Feminist
    September 1st, 2008
    1:45 am

    [...] is that I have never thought to bring these two stances together. Sure, I’ve written about how harmful, in so many ways, it can be to constantly consume fashion. But Iwould never have thought to admit [...]

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