A Treatise: I Beg of You

I really loved Michael’s poetic post on seasonal considerations and our New England life, and I too have been having DEEP THOUGHTS about identity and how the way it interfaces with the realities of life is a potentially powerful crucible for style. She tackled the way re-entering capital-W Weather reminds her that the elements provide a profound comment on morality (DAMN) and I’ve been thinking, with all the fall style previews, about the way we externalize who we want to be, seeking (hopefully) to get ever closer to that delicate balance between our best self and our truest self until they are one and the same.

I’m always troubled by how people choose to adorn ourselves is often categorized as  frivolous or unnecessary, creating a weird dynamic where popular salt-of-the-earth wisdom suggests that the best way to “be yourself” is to not care how you look. Sure, vapidity can result from following “trends” blindly:

ORANGE YOU GLAD YOU HAVE A SICKLY PALLOR?

According to GQ, This is always a color that percolates to the top. It’s been red, it’s been cobalt blue, but now it’s orange. It’s one of those colors that looks really good with a fall palette. It looks really good with olive and chocolate and dark grey. This is an accent color, don’t go buy an orange suit, but as an accent color. I think guys are fine with color as long as it’s a sweater or a pair of pants or a sweater, in each one of these cases, it’s a neutral color it’s paired with.”

If you need GQ to tell you what color to wear, you are missing the point. Especially if you cannot tell that orange is a controversial color that looks like poop on most people. Yours truly clearly included.

But on a larger scale, it hurts me to see people move like cattle from handkerchiefs to work boots to varsity jackets to double breasted suits without any seeming interest in what it means to put on a piece of clothing and present themselves to the world. I’ll say it: style is a spiritual opportunity. As artists, transsexuals, bohemians, teenagers, dandies, Italian gentlemen, and Katharine Hepburn know, how we present ourselves to the world can run very deep, much deeper than a zombified series of societal expectations, then death.

Scott Schuman’s Satorialist blog addresses this concept beautifully. Schuman travels the world photographing people whose style catches his eye: not for its adherence to of-the-moment trends (though sometimes he finds the way people add flair to trendiness fascinating), but with transcendence in mind. He loves, as I do, the way details assert themselves like character traits in a novel to show you who a person really is beneath the uniform of pants/shirt/shoes.

He found us this guy:

From the Satorialist

And this one:

From the Satorialist

These men are not husks of clothing. They are inspirations–considered down to the detail.

And check out this lady!

From the Satorialist

Feeling that who you are and how you look are in tandem is an incredible thing. Three months into a lifelong journey, where my body is suddenly filling out and angling in the way I’d always imagined it could, I come back again and again to clothes. Even when I’ve felt aligned with “femininity”  culturally and socially, I would feel a literal pain when my clothes fit my body in odd and awkward ways. It continues to be the only time I routinely and deeply experienced the much-discussed, likely over-simplified transgender “trapped in the wrong body” feeling. And, when I’d see myself in the world, a totally different manifestation of who I felt I was, it was as dissonant and disturbing as overlapping minor keys.

So, no, clothes aren’t frivolous and meaningless. Style can be so much more than fall fashion previews and recycled decades in hyperspeed. It’s me communicating with you, telling you who I am.  It’s an expression, like words and art and love are, an imperfect prism in which to reflect yourself outward, vulnerable and powerful as you are. It’s me trying to get to know you, to really see you, and to be seen by you.

If you’d only let it be.

About Thomas Page McBee

Gentleman first, always. James Dean is my patron saint, poet is my gender. More about me here: www.thomaspagemcbee.com

5 comments

  1. beautiful post! damn good writing and damn good thinking. i’m always struggling with the “vapidity” of caring about clothes, and you articulate so much more clearly than i could WHY style is important and legitimate and powerful and real.

    carrie

  2. this is a point of view i struggle with. there’s a sense in which i agree without qualification. as with any other form expression can take, what we wear can be more or less a true expression of who we are and what we value– or, at least, what we prefer. and then it can be more or less the mere expression of certain local or global societal / familial standards, real or perceived, that we’ve adopted out of fear or habit or without really thinking about it much one way or the other. and, of course, when it’s the latter we’re likely to chafe or feel dissatisfied on some level, as the shape of our own (more) authentic values and preferences and character will almost certainly deviate in a million ways from the standard. and even those who don’t chafe will have missed the opportunity to express themselves, along the dimension of fashion, more truly or honestly. it’s obviously better– truer and more empowering– to dress in a way that expresses one’s authentic preferences and sense of self than to dress in a way that painfully obscures those things.

    where i harbor reservations is over the question of how to understand the importance of (authentic expression via) fashion as compared to the importance of other forms of expressions.
    once we agree that it’s better to know ourselves truly– to understand who we are (by which i primarily mean what we most deeply value)– and to express ourselves in a way that is true to that self-knowledge, i think a couple of questions come up. first, the question of how, among all of the avenues we have for self-expression, our energies are best spent. this, in turn, will probably hinge on what it is that we (in coming to know ourselves) discover. my reservations, i guess, go something like this: of all the ways i have to sing my truth, how important is fashion, really? as an investment of my time and money?

    i don’t ask the question lightly. i DO spend time and money on fashion, and this is the question i wrestle with myself. there is, of course, the pure pleasure/value of beauty and novelty in the visual landscape (probably you’ve seen the bill cunningham documentary– BC express this idea more convincingly than anyone else i’ve ever heard). but beauty just isn’t at the top of the list of what, upon reflection, i value (though i respect that it may be for others). and it does seem self-evident that society as a whole drastically over-values beauty (in some form or another). and, you know, i follow scott schuman’s blog religiously. i love his photographs. but i seriously cannot bear to hear the man speak. listening to his thoughts on just about any subject– even hearing him talk about what he finds beautiful– is painful to me. it often betrays what, to me, seems like precisely the kind of shallowness of value and thought and experience that i don’t believe are necessarily associated with fashion, but which are too often correlated with it.

    i’m a philosophy student, myself, so i’m always coming back to (plato’s) socrates– the original proponent of self-knowledge above all. though he held that there was some world of ideas realer than the world we know, he was no ascetic rejector of the worldly. he spent his life at parties– often parties of the wealthy and beautiful, whose beauty he could appreciate– drinking, in endless conversation. he loved the city. but he didn’t think twice about what he was wearing, ever. his eyes were on something else.

    i seriously cannot believe how long this comment is– sorry! but what i wonder (usually in private) is whether or not, as i come to live (i hope!) what i value most truly, questions of fashion won’t fall away entirely. while many of the people i admire most lived very fashionable lives, it’s hard to imagine some apotheosis of authenticity and right-thinking valuation (socrates, the buddha) caring much about it.

    • LC! This is the winner for longest IBC comment ever! I really like your depth of thought around this. I guess, though, for me, it kind of assumes on a base level that aesthetics and “truth” are at odds. Personally, I think I am a very deep-thought/spiritual kind of guy, and aesthetics are very meaningful to me. Not in a base, shallow way but–as I hope I’ve shown–as expressions of what I most value. And I don’t make a big denotation between the beauty fo the Redwoods, the beauty of a person who has a genius for authentic style, the beauty of a kindness, or the beauty of a turn of phrase. I think it’s easy for people to be vain, and that’s why depth isn’t associated with how one looks, but it seems shortsighted to me. You don’t need to be beautiful or to dress beautifully to express yourself aesthetically–and I think that’s the point that’s often lost. Though, truth be told, I think if you care about how you look, you come to appreciate more dynamically whatever it is that you personally find beautiful.

  3. the length and depth of my blog post comments is, as a rule, in perfect inverse proportion to the amount of time left before my next paper deadline. tick tick tick.

IBC LOVES your brain, and we encourage thoughtful, lively discussion. We will, however, moderate comments that are abusive or disrespectful. Stay classy!

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