It’s October again and that means Slow Fashion October, a very inspiring initiative by Karen Templer of Fringe Association that I’ve been following and joined for the last two years. This year Karen has taken a more action-oriented approach. Instead of mostly reflecting on what slow fashion is, focus is also on doing. Week 1 is about getting clear about what one’s look or style is. Knowing your style helps you acquire only clothes that you want to wear and care for a really long time.
Being an academic, of course I start to wonder what we really mean with style. And do we really need to know this style to want to wear and care for our wardrobe?
As for the first question, I would distinguish between the style I aspire too, that I love as an idea, and the style that I practice. Is my style the stylish outfits I picture myself in (that I might never achieve but always strive for) or how I dress in practice most of the days?
According to this distinction, my style-in-practice is what I end up wearing most days. My style-in-practice is really created when I try on my own clothes in different combinations, faced with the weather conditions and what feels comfortable on my body that day. Sometimes I end up looking less than I aimed for and other times I look like I overdid it. Me Made May is probably a good display of one’s style-in-practice. Just as a sweater I knitted might not end up the way I aimed for but I still somehow like and wear it. Is this still my style?
Or is my style the stylish ideals I wish I looked like. This style ambition is displayed in the pictures I save on Instagram for example. This style ambition changes in a faster and more unpredictable pace than my style-in-practice. The ambition can shift slightly from a day to another based on what some stylish girl wore on the street or what’s displayed in the very convincingly styled fashion shoots and on celebrities. And most of it is never realized as these ideas float by faster than I manage do something with them and there are so many of them. Many times I simply move on to new ideas before I realize anything.
Is there a connection between the style ambition and the style practice? I say yes, there can be, I believe, a connection. But it is difficult to maintain a close connection because these pictures are not necessarily adapted to my body type or the weather outside my door, realities that I cannot avoid when getting dressed. Another reason a close connection between ambition and practice is difficult is because the ambition sways slightly from a day to another, the wardrobe, alas, stays robustly the same. This creates dissatisfaction- the wardrobe doesn’t allow me to embrace the style ambition wholeheartedly. I’m stuck with lots of clothes that doesn’t fit the (new) inspiration. But it is also practically a good thing. There are, after all, mostly tried and tested foot soldiers in the wardrobe.
Should there be a close connection between the style ambition and practice? During my shopping days the style ambition sometimes guided new purchases. This might sound strategic, like what the fashion magazines tell you to do- write a list of the new items you need for the season. But that autumn Hedi Slimane did grunge. No, those purchases and not my best ones. Luckily those grungy boots survived bad weather really well and were thus found useful even when the grunge ambition had vanished.
So, for me, the style ambition is a whimsical friend that cannot be fully trusted. Moreover, even when I do follow the ambition, the end result rarely looks as planned. So because the style ambition is so very sensitive to outside influences and is so good at creating ‘wants’, I find it useful to limit these outside influences that might induce the ambition to shout for new colors and shapes that are not found in my current wardrobe. Instead of this way searching for ‘me’ among other peoples’ images, I wish to dig deeper into my style-in-practice and the everyday creativity that this constitutes. Would knowing this style-in-practice better help? Maybe. But many of the good outfits are happy accidents that had no stylish idea behind it or conscious motive*. This style is also a result of the many happy accidents that occur when mending, refashioning, sewing and knitting.
So while I’m not convinced by the design your wardrobe strategy, from style idea to practice, I do believe in the hands-on approach of needles and threads and trying on lots of combinations. But maybe there’s a better way to create style? Please tell me.
* A fellow academic blog reader may trace some inspiration for this blog post to Nils Brunsson’s “Ideas and actions” paper from 1992 where he criticizes the assumption that ideas must be expressed before they can be transformed into action.