Thursday, 11 May 2017

"Dress for the job you want": how Cosplay can improve the way you view your wardrobe and your life!

One of the biggest issues when it comes to making the most of your wardrobe is wearing what is considered 'appropriate' for the occasion. This is a notion I have problems with, particularly as 'appropriate' seems to mean different things for different bodies, with some given the benefit of the doubt, while for others almost every possible outfit is liable to come in for criticism.  Having a strict workplace dress code can mean you have to buy clothes that aren't really to your taste, resulting in unwanted purchases languishing in your wardrobe, alongside the clothes you really want to wear but don't get the opportunity to. I'm lucky that my workplace has a relaxed attitude and no specific dress code rules; I've established a personal style that is both comfortable and presentable and, most importantly, is 'me'. 

So, what if you don't feel like you can be 'you' at work? I doubt you'd ever assume cosplay was the answer. But a couple of silly things I saw got me thinking, and perhaps it's not the daftest idea in the world after all. 

I first saw this cartoon by extra fabulous comics on Tumblr and loved everything about it; from the woman dressed identically to her (male) boss, to the fact that everyone else in the office seemed to be cosplaying. And of course, there's this someecards meme: "My Boss told me: Dress for the job you WANT, not the job you HAVE; now I'm in a disciplinary meeting in my Wonder Woman costume" so I'm clearly not the first person to entertain the idea of cosplaying at work. For those who haven't heard the term, 'cosplay' is a hobby that involves dressing up as your favourite tv, film or book characters (in made, found or bought costumes), and perhaps taking on a bit of that character's personality too. Some people spend a fortune making painstakingly accurate costumes, others simply re-purpose things from their wardrobes. 

For example, I love mid-20th century fashion, but I find some modern interpretations that focus purely on full-on pin-up glamour too much of A Look for work, so I've often based outfits around styles worn by Peggy Carter in Marvel's Agent Carter, or Peggy Olsen in Mad Men; both characters wear outfits featuring bold prints or colourblocking, which adds a modern twist to vintage styling, and I like the cut and structure of outfits that let both characters take up space when they are at work, rather than being made to look small compared to the men around them. I also love characters whose wardrobe has a real sense of drama; while the McQueen-inspired dresses worn by Effie Trinkett in the Hunger Games definitely aren't suitable for work, her more subdued outfits from the later films are a great style reference for a stylish spin on utilitarian workwear.

You don't just have to copy period or fantasy dramas either, there is some amazing contemporary costuming on TV at the moment. My dream work wardrobe is currently being worn by Lucy Liu as Joan Watson in Elementary (although I'd struggle to do anything, let alone some serious sleuthing, in her towering high heels), while Gillian Anderson and Caroline Dhavernas in Hannibal (a show so immaculately styled it makes cannibalism look disturbingly like it could be an Instagram-worthy lifestyle choice) both wear a series of outfits that walk a fine line between carefully studied elegance and pure melodrama. 

Trying out an outfit based on a costume design can be a great way of trying out different ways to wear our existing clothes, rather than feeling compelled to buy new clothes to keep up with trends, and it can also work as a little psychological boost. 

In difficult or trying times, I seek solace in a well-loved novel, or find comfort in the virtual blanket-nest of a favourite film or TV series. Immersing ourselves in fictional worlds isn't a pointless form of escapism, they can help us learn more about ourselves, give us hope and, most importantly, teach us empathy for people whose lives and experiences differ from our own. I wrote this article about how Star Trek's utopian vision of the future made it my go-to, feel-good show in the wake of the Brexit vote, but dystopias have their appeal too: relief that things aren't that bad, or an opportunity to reflect on how we can avoid ending up in the same situation (hint: right now, the answer is voting! We don't need to arm ourselves to the teeth or head to higher ground just yet). 

A friend from my beginners pointe ballet class suggested that we should all dress as Wonder Woman for a class, using whatever suitable clothes we had to hand. I can't speak for everyone, but I definitely felt an improvement in my posture from dressing as someone so confident and self-assured, and doing something fun that distracted me from being self-critical of my painfully slow progress on pointe probably made me dance better that day.

So if dressing like your favourite fictional character could make you feel more confident, more capable or just help you to enjoy your day, embrace the things you love and the creativity they inspire in you and go for it!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

"Nice things for everyone!" - the positive message of Fashion Revolution Week

Most of us are familiar with the ways fast fashion can make us feel bad about ourselves, from unforgiving changing room lighting and mirrors, to confusing sizing or unflattering trends. Fashion Revolution Week sought to expose other unattractive aspects of this global and complex industry, and some of their statistics were pretty alarming. For example, did you know that the clothes thrown away over the course of one year in the UK would fill Wembley Stadium? Faced with sobering facts and figures, it's easy to become despondent, assuming that as individual consumers we have no power; and defensive, when our own choices are often limited by cost, size or availability. However, Fashion Revolution Week sought to convey a positive message of consumer-led change for good, promoting transparency within the industry and encouraging us to value and care for our clothes. 

I went to a couple of talks during Fashion Revolution Week and participated in several online discussions. The focus was really positive and everyone seemed engaged and well informed, but I realised there was an element of 'preaching to the choir' when I took part in a chat set up by an organisation that didn't have sustainability as its focus, and realised I'd been in a bit of an echo chamber. My (hastily tweeted) statement: “I'm not buying new clothes, I'm buying second-hand and will thoughtfully replace when clothes wear out", was questioned, with other participants making the argument that the fashion industry provides employment and that a boycott could hurt workers (I'm not criticising the question, it's a valid point and one I had thought about a lot). I was struggling with Twitter as a medium for nuanced discussion of a complicated subject during this chat; If I had more than 140 characters to express myself, I might have been able to emphasise that I meant impulse purchases rather than clothes in general, or that I already had a vast wardrobe that really didn't need that one extra blouse or dress. I wasn't suggesting a boycott, merely a reduction in overconsumption. 

Until a global basic income becomes a reality (I see nothing wrong with the occasional utopian fantasy) jobs are vital for people the world over to meet their basic needs in a capitalist system, but these jobs should not come at the expense of health or dignity. The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 caused over 1000 completely preventable deaths, not to mention countless injuries and traumas. Factory workers in Cambodia are killed by their government for trying to form trades unions. Fast fashion has resulted in a race to the bottom when it comes to wages and workers rights, and people (overwhelmingly women) in poor countries are paying the price. The environmental consequences of overproduction and overconsumption of fast fashion cannot be overstated either; when so many clothes are destined for landfill after only being worn once or twice, how can we claim that a job making these clothes is meaningful when we disrespect both the workers themselves and the work they produce? 

I was concerned that trying to express this in only 140 characters made me sound negative, judgemental and antagonistic, and I genuinely don't want to be any of these things. I understand that low wages are an issue here in the UK, not just in the global south; not everyone can afford the premium prices of slow fashion brands. At the Fashion Debates panel discussion I went to on Thursday, Tansy Hoskins spoke on the importance of not disengaging from the industry, but imagining a brighter future for everyone involved. If workers were paid fairly for producing quality garments, rather than racing to produce huge quantities of cheap clothing, we could work on the issues of overproduction and overconsumption  at the same time. Labour behind the Label's research suggests that for many workers, the national minimum wage as set by their government does not equal a living wage in the cities where jobs are available (this should ring bells for anyone living and working in London), but because living costs are still not comparable with those in the west, a decent standard of living would not contribute to a significant rise in the cost of clothing if a living wage was paid. It’s worth bearing in mind that, according to the Forbes Rich List, four of the one hundred richest people in the world own high street fashion brands; their combined wealth is estimated at £133bn. Something is incredibly wrong here, and we can all work together to make it right. 

If I've learned anything from Fashion Revolution week, it's that the organisers, as well as sustainable fashion brands and bloggers, really love fashion and want it to be a force for good. Designers and makers are striving to create clothes that will feel and look amazing as well as trying to reduce fashion's impact on people and the environment. We don't want to live in the woods and wear burlap sacks; burlap would be so itchy, and we'd have to ask #whomademysack and probably wouldn't be happy with the answer to that question either.

At the Fashion Debates panel, Ayesha Mustafa spoke eloquently and passionately about the importance of valuing artisan skills in the same way we value academic education, as changing our mindsets about the value we place on certain types of work can have positive effects on families and whole communities, not just on the workers themselves.

Fashion Revolution Week's motto was "Be Curious. Find Out. Do Something", and I think this is a great starting point. All of us, or at least the majority of us, can afford a few minutes to ask questions of the brands we rely on for our basic wardrobe staples. Fast fashion brands aren't going to radically change unless we demand it, and at the moment sustainable fashion brands only account for a tiny fraction of the market share. We need to re-engage with the idea of solidarity, and recognise that we are not so very different from the people we expect to work for a pittance to make cheap goods for us. They probably long for holiday days too, and a chance to spend quality time with their families. Tansy Hoskins finished off the Fashion Debates panel with a radical but feel-good statement that seems like a great way to sum up my reflections on Fashion Revolution Week: Proper distribution of wealth would mean nice things for everyone!