Category Archives: dress

In Defense of Ugly

The first week of spring term when students and professors alike blearily stumble back to campus disoriented from the sheer quantity of food and booze they’ve consumed over winter break.  Personally, I’ve always felt that it’s a cruel joke to refer to something that begins in January as “spring” anything, particularly in the midwest, where nothing resembles spring until about May.

However, being back on campus means that I’ve had the pleasure of hearing many an undergrad conversation on a smattering of topics.  A topic recently topping the conversation charts has been the Golden Globe Awards, specifically, what everyone WORE to the Globes.  My interest in award shows is minimal at best, I’ll watch the Oscars for the gowns and the Tonys because duh, but that’s generally all the enthusiasm I can muster.  I only took notice of the Globes discussions because almost everyone had something to say about the awful appearance of Jennifer Lawrence.  This peaked my interest for two reasons: I have a soft spot for J. Law and my litmus test for good fashion is how poorly a garment is received by the masses.  After referencing my googlemachine for images of this “awful” dress I discovered that a lot of the internet had very strong feelings about this dress (they even compared it to the sheet and rope dress from The Little Mermaid).

This may come as no surprise to you, dear reader, but I loved the dress.

The point of this blog post is not to defend J. Law and her dress (I would like that job though) but rather to offer my comments on a larger cultural trend.  One of the words most frequently used in reference to the offending garment is “ugly” as in, “that was such an ugly dress.”  This, then, is the real point of my blog, to provide a brief (and very biased) defense of “ugly.”

Quick etymology lesson: Ugly is a rather unusual word because it’s formed from Norse root words meaning “fear” or “dread.”  I’m also rather partial to the softened 14th century definition of “ugly” as, “very unpleasant to look at.”  More often than not, it seems to me (and people far smarter than I articulate this in greater detail) that fear is deeply connected to uncertainty or the unknown; I believe it was Andrew Smith who said “People fear what they do not understand.”

Stay with me here, so when something is deemed “ugly” it really means that the looker does not understand what it is they are looking at.  “Ugly” then becomes a fascinating space to occupy particularly in contrast to its antonym; beauty.  “Beauty” refers to “physical attractiveness” and also “goodness and courtesy” and, more importantly, “beauty” is easily understood.  “Beauty” is a socially agreed upon status conferred on bodies etc that are both easily legible and palatable.  For me, “ugly” is much more interesting because it is so hard to pin down.  It comes from a place of illegibility that makes us culturally uncomfortable and so we reach for somewhere to put it.  I’m a proponent of what is commonly referred to as “man repellent fashion” or “ugly fashion” which is so called because of its bawdy, ostentatious style that is somehow unattractive to men?  I mean, my fiance digs it so joke’s on you.  It’s difficult to fully summarize this aesthetic, think: loud prints, non-normative lines and shapes, some of it could even be considered “unflattering” but it is certainly never boring or safe.  As a bonus, if you do it right, people will be talking about how “ugly” your outfit was years after they’ve forgotten about the millionth beautiful little black dress.

So come on, be ugly with me.

 

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Why “this stuff” matters to me

**note: this blog is from a series written for a graduate class at Roosevelt University**

The title of this blog references one of my favorite scenes from the 2006 fashion film The Devil Wears Prada. In this scene Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) fails to see the difference between similar looking belts and remarks, “You know, I’m still learning about all this stuff” which elicits a choice monologue from  Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) about the importance of “this stuff”.  As someone who is very interested in fashion and has a keen sense of personal style I have often been asked why this stuff matters. What’s the point of the dog-and-pony-show we call fashion?  While I certainly can’t speak for every fashionista in the history of time, I can lay out my perspective.  And it goes something like this:

My connection to style and dress transcends what is trending at American Apparel or Forever 21, it’s much bigger than looking “hip”.

My dress says what my words can’t.

You see, I’m not exactly the most expressive person in the world.  I don’t have a lot of “feelings” persay, and I’m terribly awkward at being a person.  So my dress compensates for all the things I lack.  For example, a close friend lost her father a few months ago and I didn’t know what to say.  Instead of struggling to come up with some cliche’ about it getting better or him looking down on her, I dressed for her.  I wore a black Kennar pencil skirt, black VeraWang sweater, nylons, sleek black pumps, and a mourning broach from my collection of Victorian hair jewelry.  It was a very respectable, put-together look, designed to expresses all the condolences, and love, and things I couldn’t say.

Dressing for someone is not only reserved for somber occasions, but for joyous ones too.  A close friend of mine got married last fall and because I’m terrible at wedding toasts, and don’t feel like I should be imparting words of relationship wisdom, I dressed for her and her new husband.

I wore that dress with black tights and leopard print Steve Madden slingbacks.  Where many people I know dread weddings because they have to dress up and wear uncomfortable shoes, I enjoyed searching for this dress and designing just the right look.  It said all the things I didn’t know how to say.

I do not mean to suggest that I have a deep spiritual relationship with each item of clothing in my wardrobe. I own a bunch of ratty t-shirts and workout gear that is purely there for utility.  But the pieces that matter: the skirt I wore in my first derby bout, the stockings that made me invincible, the sweater that met Michael Kimmel.  Wearing those pieces provides me with a silent reminder of all the things I felt, and wished I could have said at a specific time or event.  To some extent I feel that my memoirs are in my clothes, written in threads and buttons and clasps and heels.

I know many people will be rolling their eyes and exasperatedly remarking “come on!” when they read this explanation and that’s okay.  I’m not naive enough to believe that everyone is as connected to their wardrobe as I am.  But in a society that values disposable fashion, where staying “stylish” can mean becoming a fashion lemming, I think it is important to communicate that not all fashionistas are blind followers.  My only regret is that I seem to be running out of closet space…

 

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They’re My Heels, and I’m Not Sorry

I love to wear high heels. Pumps, boots, spikes, stacked, platforms, I love them all.  I remember the first pair of heels my mother bought me: little white ones (barely able to qualify as heels) for Easter, and when I put them on I felt like I owned the freakin’ world.  Ever since that day I have had a deep spiritual love affair with my footwear.

And then I got tall, and then I got very tall.  When all was said and done I measured in at 5ft 11inches, great for basketball not so great for 7th grade boy-girl dances.  I have always been, and continue to be, proud of my height.  I have very good posture and carry myself with my shoulders back and eyes up, I am not sorry for the space I occupy as many tall women are.

For those of you who are not tall women let me give you a crash course on growing up tall:

In American society women are “supposed” to occupy less physical space than men.  We are supposed to be shorter, slighter, cross our legs and fold our hands in our laps, and generally be less present than we actually are.  Having a body that transgresses the acceptable norm (ie: the body of a tall woman) ensures that your body is a constantly visible one.  Some girls grow up ashamed and or embarrassed of their tallness, they develop what I call the tall-girl-slouch.  You’ve all seen it, that weird sort of rounded back, hunched shoulders, rumpled posture that begs to disappear.  It is a silent apology for a deviant body.

I have always embraced my height, and have never been afraid to wear my high heels.  Though I am constantly surprised by the number of people who comment on my heels and my height.  I invariably get people who ask “aren’t you tall enough?”,  “Why are you wearing those?”, and there have even been a few instances where I’ve been confused for a drag queen (note: I love drag queens and really wish I was one).

So what’s all the tall girl heel hate about?

To be honest, I wish I knew where it was coming from.  It could be intimidation, it could be abjection, it could be that you’re jealous of my stunning shoe collection, which is quite impressive.  What I do know is that I am not now, nor will I ever be shamed into taking off my heels.  I relish being the tallest girl at the party, and remind other tall women that flat footwear does not have to be your fashion lot.

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Respect yourself, re-dress yourself.

Well here we are, at the close of another successful conference, and as I sit here in my hotel room(with my over priced Chinese food) I reflect on the last two days.  I’ve heard some very interesting papers, and some not so well researched ones, had the immense pleasure of hearing Gail Dines address technologies of misogyny, and had a successful presentation of my own.  But more than all those things, my mind keeps returning to one thing: the clothing.

I’d guess around 50 to 70 people attended one or both of the conference days, which means I’ve viewed well over 100 outfits.  And I can count the number of well dressed people on 1 hand.  Much more difficult to count, and to witness, was the proliferation of flip-flops, jeans, and general unkempt disheveled-ness.  Now I know some of you will say, Liz let it go, not everyone can dress as well as you.  True, but I am not asking them to.  And let me be clear, I am not opposed to personal style-in fact I laud it, what’s life without it- but venues should factor into stylistic choices.  Which is a long winded way of saying, conferences are events where you should be well dressed.  Once again, I can hear you bemoaning my institutionalized thinking, especially at women’s studies conferences.  But I am not prescribing only one course of dress, I appreciate a variety of styles, so long as they are appropriate to the event.

Why do I care so much about what other people are wearing?  Shouldn’t I keep my style politics to myself?

Maybe. but this is my blog, so I get to say what I want.

But seriously, before you disregard me as another “slave to fashion”, hear me out.

I am a firm believer in the idea that clothing is a non-verbal communicator.  Consciously or not, the clothes chosen each morning construct who you are, what you want to say, and to whom you want it said.  From a sweatshirt and jeans to multi-layered couture, the things with which we adorn our bodies are the textiled road maps to our inner cores.  And while I would like to redress between 60 and 75 percent of the people I see on a daily basis, I normally do not trouble myself with the poor style choices made in day to day life.

But I cannot help but be bothered when I see my peers so grossly under-dressed for an event that their school, their department is hosting.  I will admit that perhaps I dress a little severely for Florida(as most of my conference wardrobe consists of black and architectural pieces), but in no way do I think jeans, t-shirts, cut off shirts that show your bra straps, flip flops, sunglasses, or shorts are conference worthy.  Seeing my fellow graduate students dressed in such a manner communicates the following messages:

I do not respect my work enough to dress for it.  I do not respect your work enough to dress for it. I do not take this event seriously enough to dress for it.

To clarify again, I am not asking that everyone don peep toe heels and matching business suits, I am saying that I would hope there would be enough internal sentiment as to warrant exterior manifestations of respect.

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