Thursday, 23 February 2017

Throw out the fashion rule book! (Here's my step-by-step, how-to guide!)

One evening last June, scrolling through social media on my way home from work, I noticed several of my friends were (unsurprisingly) annoyed about a clickbait-y article listing items and styles of clothing women shouldn't wear past the age of 30. Against my better judgement, I looked, and by the time I got home I was determined to push back against depressingly petty and mean-spirited online content in a positive and funny way, so I gathered together all my age-inappropriate items (there were rather a lot of them), took some selfies and posted them on Facebook. The response from my friends was overwhelming, and a couple of people even reached out in personal messages to say how much it cheered them to see someone pointing out how silly fashion 'rules' are.

I am Too Old for leopard print and graphic tees, apparently!

It's easy for me to make fun of someone else's arbitrary ideas of what is "right" or "wrong" for a woman my age to wear, because my body (through no great effort of my own) conforms to "acceptable" beauty standards. I am unlikely to be ridiculed or insulted because of my appearance, and I haven't had to fight against society's expectations and prejudices to feel happy about the way I look. I am aware that many people don't have the luxury of saying "just wear what you want, who cares?", because they will be judged, harshly and publicly. 

I think it was this realisation that made me uncomfortably aware of an unpleasant side of fashion that I'd always chosen to ignore. For a creative industry, fashion can be extremely conservative and short-sighted. For an industry that pretends to make us feel good about ourselves, the only way it seems to think it can generate repeat business is to make us feel inadequate.

This saddens me, because many fashion houses are full of creative talent, but as the same styles re-emerge on the Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter catwalks each year, worn by an identikit array of similar shaped people, I can't help feeling that everyone is stuck in a rut.

So, because lists of fashion rules on the internet still seem to be a thing, here's my version. Don't worry, it's very short, and they're more like... guidelines. 
  • If this nonsense isn't going anywhere, get comfortable. Unless you run away to live in the woods, we are all going to need to keep wearing clothes, and you need to attend to your own levels of comfort before those of the fashion rule-makers. If you have many more hours in the day than I do, by all means feel free to perform complicated fashion calculus about the exact percentage of bare skin we should be showing. As for the rest of us, as long as you aren't wearing a t shirt emblazoned with swear words in front of a room full of small children, your outfit is probably appropriate. As a bare minimum, your day-to-day wardrobe should not make you suffer physical discomfort. 
  • Embrace individuality and difference. That means other people's, as well as your own. We could probably all stand to be a little less judgemental of everyone else's fashion choices.  Take a moment to remember that other people's bodies, lifestyles and finances are varied and subject to change. 
  • Wear what you love, sincerely. Can we please abandon the concept of wearing (or doing) things we don't like, in an 'ironic' way? The more I think about this, the more uncomfortable it makes me. If the clothes you love aren't ever in the pages of glossy magazines, or are sneered at for being "so last season", ask yourself why the industry is so desperate for you to feel like your wardrobe isn't up to scratch. If your answer is "because capitalism", congratulations! You are correct! If you have spent years collecting unfashionable clothes that make you feel like your best self, you are setting a great example (and you look amazing!). Keep up the good work! 
  • Solidarity with your comrades. Support businesses who are doing good - brands who are transparent about their supply chain, pay workers a fair wage, and are passionate about their designs, thoughtful in their choice of fabrics. The fashion industry as a whole might just view you as a generic consumer, but plenty of small brands are looking to cultivate customer loyalty by appealing to you as a conscientious citizen as well as to your sense of aesthetics. 

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