Clothing as works of art

When I was a teenager, my mother would bring me on an occasional weekend shopping spree to New York City. I loved those trips for so many reasons including getting some mother-daughter bonding time. My mother is a fabulously stylish woman and both of us have always thoroughly enjoyed shopping together. 

 

Two distinct memories of those experiences stand out in my mind. We spent hours digging through selections in vintage shops and finding amazing treasures from eras long gone. I’m sure that it is where I learned to shop skillfully, even in a store that is a disorganized mess.

The other memory etched in my brain is a place that was completely magical in my adolescent mind. A store (now disappeared) in Soho called La Rue des Reves. Inside those mystical walls, there was not only an entire menagerie but a collection of clothing that was aptly described as 'wearable art'. It may have been in that store and indeed on those trips that I began my love of "otherness" in style. The concept of clothing not merely as a necessity but as a form of personal expression, of creativity, of limited edition works of art.

Jumping into the present, I now reside in NYC. The same streets of Soho are lined with fast fashion retailers who have extra-large square footage and an incredible volume in sales each day. I have wandered through them and I'll admit that I have experienced that moment of joy when I found a steal in the discount section. But the older I get, the more I find myself resenting what I feel are edicts coming down to me from the fashion deities upon high; telling me what colours I should be wearing in a given season, how padded my shoulders should be. After completing image consulting training and learning even more about what truly suits me, I realize that my desire to look stylish in no way is related to my non-existent desire to be on-trend or 'fashionable'.

My particular mix of style encompasses vintage looks, even when they are not the current trend. Every few seasons a colour or silhouette is pronounced as "it" that I already love and when that happens, I get to be fashionable. But on the flip side, more seasons than not, the current colours don't work for my skin tone, or the cuts that are being shoved at us just aren't flattering or comfortable for me. Then I have no choice but to ignore what is fashionable, in favor of actually looking good (i.e. stylish) and feeling comfortable in what I am wearing.

Since making that realization in my early 20's, I've began to look at my collection of clothing, shoes, and accessories in a different way. I've learned to see them as a large body of art I have been gathering from all corners of the earth. I am fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how you see it) to have amassed a rather large collection of wearable art. At this point it is even more important than ever for me to curate that collection carefully, the same way that one would with a visual art collection. A true collector would not buy a piece of art simply because they found it in a basement at a discount sale. It would have to be from an artist they were familiar with, an era they appreciated, and would need to be able to fit seamlessly into their current collection. If it met all of those requirements and was also deeply discounted, then that would be a true bargain. But investing any amount of money on a piece that is damaged, doesn't fit into the available space, or that you knew that you would get tired of looking at in a short period of time is just a waste. So why then do so many of us treat our wardrobes that way? We buy things we don't love, will only wear a few times, and then discard them. Meanwhile both our wallets and the earth are paying the price for our need to constantly change for fashion, instead of embracing our unique personal style. 

I've purged my closet of items bought in haste and I've embraced the slow fashion challenge of making sure that I only add pieces I will be sure to love well into the future and will last the test of time because they are made to last. I take the time to repair and refresh items when they need it. And I have never found it easier to get dressed because everything I have goes together and is something I am always happy to put on.