Mrs.M in MI asked:
I was recently sent through the intellectual looking glass, and when I was reflecting on it, I thought that I would be interested in hearing what you might have to say. It’s a long story, so here goes…
I recently suggested the book The Thoughtful Dresser, by Linda Grant, to my book club. We did not end up reading it as a group, but one of the more prolific readers read it on her own and she and I discussed it casually.
Her main comment about the book was that the author made her feel bad for NOT caring about what she wore or what she looked like, and NOT spending scads of time and money on her clothes, or thinking about them much at all.
This threw me for a total loop. I’ve spent most of my intellectual life defending my love of style and caring about the way I look. I was raised by people who put great stock in how they presented themselves. I’ve surrounded myself with books, magazines, blogs, friends, and a husband who feel the same way. I even recently read a Biblical justification for caring about your appearance!
So here is the question to ponder: If you don’t care about the way you look, if you don’t put a lot of thought and effort into the way you dress, should you feel bad about it? We style-lovers spend a lot of effort defending ourselves. Should non-style-lovers also have to defend themselves?
My answer: No.
Oh wait, did you want me to elaborate?
In my ideal world, no person would be ruthlessly criticized for style choices. There would be no fashion police, no television shows making light of regular peoples’ clothing choices, no magazine features highlighting celebrity style gaffes, no nasty cracks from coworkers about being “too dressed up.”
I know that I don’t get to live in my ideal world, and that here in our shared reality, people – ESPECIALLY women – are constantly scrutinized for how much or little effort they put into their appearances. I also know that constructive feedback on matters of style can prove very valuable, and that I write a blog offering style advice. So today’s mini-rant may seem a bit wack-o. I just feel like the current norm is so nitpicky, so over-sensitive, so openly hostile toward variations from the stylistic norm that just about EVERYBODY feels like she’s doing it wrong. Care too much about your appearance and you’re vain, materialistic, and self-absorbed. Care too little about your appearance and you’re lazy, unkempt, and behind-the-times. It’s a losing battle, I tell ya.
That said, I found MrsM’s question fascinating. I know that many clotheshorse types get picked on for their sartorial preferences, but I’ve always been under the impression that women who were indifferent to style had it way worse. That opting for comfort and ease 100% of the time without paying any heed to figure flattery, current trends, or other aesthetic matters was a formula for peer ridicule and disdain.
I believe that style can be a fabulous form of self-expression, that wearing clothing that works with your body can help you learn to love and accept that body, and that dressing well broadcasts self-respect. But I don’t believe that taking an interest in fashion is required, that dressing impeccably is the ONLY route to self-love, or that women who loathe fashion and shopping should feel left out, shameful, or badly in any way. Now, before you jump to any conclusions, I do not see personal grooming as optional, I do not believe that jeans are appropriate for every social occasion, and I do not approve of visibly ill-fitting clothing. But my guess? The vast majority of women who are indifferent toward matters of style share those views. Just because someone doesn’t care about style doesn’t mean she’s completely ignorant of all social and aesthetic guidelines.
Image courtesy Caro Spark