Archive for the 'Dress' Category

My “Fashion”, or Lack Thereof: Some Thoughts on Plainness and Simplicity

So, I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about the way I dress.  Sorry this is so long, but I couldn’t think of an effective way to split it.

Here in Korea, the colors are very bright (as those of you who read my Korea blog may have noticed).  The traditional culture is generally very colorful, and people’s everyday clothes are also quite bright by comparison to the US, especially New England (where the general palette is slightly duller than the rest of the country, in general).  By comparison, I might as well be monotone.

I wear mostly black, grey, brown and blue (as a glimpse at my laundry line will tell you).  I have a few “desaturated” green and red clothes, but that’s about it.  Here in Korea, I have bought a few brighter shirts (I have a vibrant teal one, and an orange one, now) just to help me fit in a bit better, but wearing them feels a little unnatural.  On an average day, while I do not immediately stand out, clothes-wise, from Koreans, I do stand out a decent bit, when you compare me to an average Korean.  Even in the US, I have gotten many a remark on the small range of my color palette, and while I do not necessarily stand out in the US (especially in New England), those who know me over a period of time do tend to notice.

I also have never paid attention to fashion.  Not when I was a kid, not in high school, not in college.  There was a year between high school and college when I went a bit punk/goth, but it was a short-lived phase, and was a response to high school more than anything else.  For the vast majority of my life, I have generally only paid attention to function, in my clothes.  Starting in middle school, I decided that shorts that were more than about 3-4 inches above my knee felt immodest to me, and made me uncomfortable.  Since the mid-90s was a time of ever increasingly short (and tight) shorts and skirts for girls, I found that the easiest option was to start wearing boys/mens shorts.  Once I started doing so, I found them vastly more comfortable and practical, and I have never really gone back.  Sure, I have one or two pair of women’s shorts, but they only really get worn when I need the practicality of shorts, but need to look a little less like a grown-up tomboy.  As a whole, I focus almost entirely on functionality in my wardrobe.  I like garments that can serve more than one purpose, and they tend to be somewhat out of fashion (my wearing of knickers, for example), but not conspicuously so.  Marc once made the accurate observation that both of us, while we are not intentionally “retro”, do tend to dress in a bit of an older style in general (see: me, Marc, and the both of us).  I also tend to wear my clothes until they are unwearable.  I wear them until they have holes, and then I often will patch the holes and continue to wear the garment until it really is too ratty to wear outside (and even then, I often turn them into heavy-work garments).  I have yet to be able to bring myself to stop wearing my current winter coat, despite the fact that the cuffs are very frayed and there are small holes in the elbows, for instance.

I wear mostly loose clothing (not baggy, but not body-hugging either), as tight clothing, in general, makes me self-conscious.  When I wear skirts, they are generally relatively full, almost always of solid color, and are universally at least to my knee, if not longer.  Until recently, I rarely wore skirts, as I found them inconvenient and impractical.  I wore pants, shorts, or breeches (my name for shorts like these, which I wear quite often) all but one or two days a month, at best.  However, here in Korea most women don’t wear pants at work, and I have found myself slowly converting to skirts.  I wear them most of the workweek (sometimes every day, actually), and occasionally on weekends as well.  As with my everyday clothing, when I dress for work, I dress for functionality.  I wear mostly either plain trousers or solid color skirts that come to a couple inches below my knee, and either a solid color polo shirt or button down shirt.  If I wear a button down shirt, I invariably wear a vest or sweatervest, as a shirt like that worn by itself feels a bit like “undress” to me without something over it.

My clothing is also rather informal by most of society’s standards.  I do have “dress up” clothes, but I have only a few outfits of them, and they are very versatile garments.  In general, my “nice clothes” are still rather informal – for instance, for college graduation I wore a button down shirt, a tweed vest, and a grey wool skirt, with some casual oxford-type shoes (you can see the outfit here).  To me, that was “dressed up”.  I just simply do not see the purpose behind getting “dressed up”.  To me, a major reason for wearing fancy clothes seems to be trying to either A. attract the attention of the opposite sex or B. look better than others in the room.  Neither of those things matter to me.  Regardless of the fact that I already have a significant other, “A” does not matter to me because I am not a flirting type, and “B” does not matter to me either, as I have never particularly cared about seeming better or worse than my fellow man.  I am what I am, and that is enough for me.  I am secure in my place in life, and do not feel the need to appear as anything different.

Along these lines, I also do not wear jewelry.  For a few years, I wore a simple silver disc on a rubber cord (so that it would not be cold on my neck in the frigid Massachusetts winters) that I had made with the help of my father (who used to be a jeweler, ironically) and engraved with a design that was meaningful to me and served the purpose of reminding myself of who I am.  However, in the last year I even stopped wearing that, and now wear nothing.  With the exception of rings, jewelry generally makes me feel self-conscious, and it feels like I’m somehow “decorating” myself.  I don’t like the concept that I should have to decorate myself to make myself presentable to someone, so I tend to avoid jewelry in general.  That said, sometime in the next year I hope to acquire a simple, small pearl necklace, for situations where I do need to fit in a bit more with an upper class crowd.  I also do not wear, or even own, makeup.

I am also generally relatively modest.  It’s not that I have any issue with being sexy; on the contrary – I enjoy my body, and have my fair share of pretty undergarments.  But, showing large amounts of skin in public makes me uncomfortable.  Shorts more than a few inches above my knees make me feel like I’m wearing daisy-dukes, and spaghetti strap shirts make me feel like I’m wearing nothing at all on my shoulders.  I do often wear v-neck shirts, but any cleavage that results is purely coincidental, unless I’m out with my partner. 😉   There’s no religious reason behind this or anything, but I have just never really felt the need to show myself off to the general populace, and am generally vaguely uncomfortable when I end up doing so (such as wearing a bikini at the beach, which I do).

I have sometimes heard this general fashion philosophy/style of dress referred to as “Plain Modern” (generally in a Quaker context).  Most of the time, that term is used in a religious context, but for me, it’s just personal.  I don’t dress the way I do because I feel that it’s “wrong” to show more skin than I do, or to wear fancier clothing, etc, it’s just not something I particularly enjoy.  I enjoy dressing this way, always have, and I doubt that that will change.  Call it what you will, be that Plain Modern or nothing at all, it’s just the way I dress.

What this has all resulted in is that I have sometimes been mistaken for someone conservative.  Especially here in Korea.  I have now been asked by 4 separate people here if I am conservative, and my dress/fashion has universally been stated as the reason for asking.  Being a relatively far-left liberal, I am always struck broadside by this question.  There seems to be an attitude in our culture that focusing on function rather than fashion is a negative thing, and is seen as a focus generally only undertaken by very conservative groups (like the Amish, etc) because of something they read in the bible.  I have given this negative view a reasonable amount of thought, and the only cause I can really think of is that functional clothing is associated with lower (often farming) classes, and fashionable clothing with the middle and upper classes.  Thus, the idea that someone of the upper or middle class would willingly choose to dress more like the lower classes is mystifying to them.  I don’t dress the way I do to try and deny my class, or to correspond with a religious belief; I dress the way I do because it makes me comfortable and keeps me from being self-conscious, and keeps me focused on other, more important parts of my life.  Well, until someone asks me if I’m conservative, that is.

 

So, yeah.  Commentary?

By the way, for those interested, I have put together a set on flickr that shows a decent depiction of what I wore on a daily basis back in the US.  Many of these were before I got rid of most of my clothes, and so I have picked those which I feel are most representative:  My “Fashion”

Advertisements