Unwearables

Something’s been bothering me. Why are there are so very many lovely people who believe that they cannot or should not wear things like shorts or leggings? That sleeveless shirts or non-maxi skirts aren’t for them, even if they love them?

Hogwash. (Respectfully.)

Whatever your body’s shape in this moment, there is no aesthetically unwearable garment. If you love a style and you don’t have a physical condition that makes wearing it painful or dangerous, then there is a way, and a place*, to wear it.

I don’t have a lethal allergy to gathered or pleated skirts, for example. Or above-the-knee shorts. I love them. They’re awesome and comfortable and practical. But I’ve spent years of my life believing that wearing them was just not for me, because they didn’t “work” on my shape. But … hang on. What does that mean, that it “works”? For what? For whom? 

“No one wants to see that.” That’s what I’d say about myself wearing shorts. Without a second thought. For years. (And I even call myself a feminist. For shame.)

But — seriously, why’s it always all about the hypothetical viewers, hm? Why is most fashion advice so very others-centric? Why is the baseline assumption that we dress to impress, protect, entice, or influence?

Blech. In my opinion, clothing “works” when it meets the needs and promotes the goals of the person wearing it. Yes, sometimes those goals do involve other people’s choices and opinions. And sometimes they don’t. Both are fine. Regardless, I should start with myself — with what I want. Because fashion — besides being a collection of things to want in themselves — is more importantly a tool to help you get what you want, and if you don’t know what that is it’s highly unlikely you’ll get it.

I think that what we want from others, if anything, comes from what we want for ourselves. But that is a surprisingly difficult — but important — thing to unearth, at least for me, because the desires we’re taught by our culture are okay to have are usually (like the advice we’re force-fed) totally others-centric.

When digging through the strata of my own wants, for example, I first come up with things like these: I want to matter, I want to be admired, heard, appreciated, respected … and every last one depends on the reactions or opinions of other people. So if these are really my goals, their accomplishment is actually out of my hands, because others’ choices belong to them, not to me. And a culture that coerces me to pin my hopes on such things removes the actual power I have over my own emotional (and physical, and social) wellbeing — while smarmily pretending to be useful or virtuous.

So that’s no good. Instead, I must delve further into those ideas and risk wanting wants that are not “okay” — wants for which I will be, inevitably, judged by someone. Am I willing to risk it?

I am. Yes. The only way not to be judged is not to exist. Some folks aren’t — willing to risk it, I mean. That’s okay, too. But I am. I want to be heard, because I want to speak. I want to be appreciated and admired … because I want to do, make, and say valuable things. Meaningful things.

I believe that what we each want matters — what we want for, and from, ourselves. What we want to do and say. The people we want to be. What we want from our life and experiences. It’s okay to want what we want — and to pursue it, as healthily and ethically as possible.

What does this have to do with unwearable things, though? Rather a lot, really.

I think those of us who care about what we wear can — should, must — trust our own taste. We should invest time and work into exploring and refining it. It’s okay to like, and follow, trends. When neon brights became the thing a little while ago, I discovered that I love the way chartreuse looks on me; I would never have tried it had it not been ubiquitous. It’s also okay not to care about, even to actively avoid, trends.

… It’s probably not the healthiest thing to stop liking things that you do like just because they become popular, but if that’s what gives you pleasure, awesome sauce.

I think we should do ourselves the favor of not appending every sentence that that begins “I like …” with “… but maybe …”

I like these moto leggings! … but maybe they’re just the thing right now.
What a great print! … but maybe it’d be too busy, all over like that. (Does it remind anyone else of the Eye of Sauron?)
I love that sweater dress! … but maybe (definitely!) it’d look better once I lost those last twenty pounds.

Puh-leez. Why do I feel like I have to qualify or equivocate so much? To get my self-doubt on record before someone else says it first? If I’m hanging out with people who pounce on everything I say I like with reasons I shouldn’t, maybe I’m hanging out with the wrong people. If I’m not hanging out with people like that (I’m not; life’s too short), whom am I trying to defend myself against with such things?

I think we should remember that of all the people who have designs on — er, who voice opinions on and have a stake in — what we wear and buy, we ourselves are the only ones inextricably involved in our own happiness. Our fashion choices should be driven by what we want from our lives, not by the whims and blather of opinionated strangers.

*A word about modesty. Lots of communities and organizations — and individuals — regard clothes as having moral value, usually based on how tightly it fits and how much of the (usually female) wearer’s skin it covers. Pffft. I mean, fine, if that’s your thing. Because there is value in understanding the expectations of communities to which you do or would like to belong (or visit). But there is nothing wrong with, or frightening about, your body. Everybody has one — that’s why we use the word.

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