I’m a girly-girl. Okay, a reluctant girly-girl. Actually, there are probably ten or twenty other labels that I would prefer before that even. I even find the term 'girly-girl' somewhat vexing, as if I'm a child wearing ruffles and bows, which I am not. I would rather spend an hour at Lowe’s than the mall, yet I’ve been known to get up at 3am because there’s a sale on Vera Wang shoes. I say I’m a reluctant girly-girl because the concept is so loaded with preconceptions. Think of Paris Hilton; all glamour, no brains. Fashion is the considered the intellectual equivalent of donuts; delicious but completely lacking in nutritious value. If you care about fashion, then you must be an airhead, right? And it’s certainly not the realm of Feminists. Or is it? Is dressing like a man really a feminist gesture?
For years I battled this lust, exclusively preferring intellectual pursuits until I decided to come out of the closet, so to speak.
Months ago, I saw a PBS special called The Secret World of Haute Couture. It changed my life. Not because I was impressed by the unimaginable wealth of women who sit in the front row at fashion shows in Paris and habitually buy haute couture, but I was impressed by the reverence these women had for designers like Karl Lagerfeld for his genius and artistry. Isn’t this the same reverence late Victorians had for Monet? And if you care about esthetics, then inevitably you have to turn an eye to the art you wear on a daily basis. The shapes, colors and textures begin to tell a story about who you are. Not only are we following the basic rules of decency in covering ourselves, as well as protecting the skin from the harmful effects of UV rays, our clothes are a form of self-expression. The clothes you wear, sometimes in spite of yourself, send a message to the world. If you choose a pair of pink sweat pants with the word “Juicy” on your butt to go to the store, your message is one of woeful ignorance. But far more important than the impression you make on others is the impression you make on yourself. There is a kind of art and ritual involved in putting on fancy shoes and a spritz of fine perfume; and if you don’t believe me, ask a little girl playing dress-up.
If you think, as I once did, that you can somehow remain outside of the fashion conversation, I have to disagree. Clothing is a socioeconomic and heavily politicized industry. Universities have devoted entire quarters to this topic. If you live in the Western World and wear clothes, then you are a part of the conversation. Since you are, why not be deliberate about what you say in this conversation?
My childhood aside when my mother made clothes for us, I have had one garment made expressly for me and that was my wedding dress. Based on a design by Reva Mivasagar called ‘Belle Epoque,’ the dress perfectly epitomized the Edwardian era. Finished with a cloche hat covered in silk tulle and embroidered, satin Mary Janes with kitten heels, I felt like a princess for one day. A remarkable garment indeed, as Colonel Peacock on Are You Being Served? once ironically observed.
But I work for a living and every day can’t be your wedding day. I’ve discovered that in corporate America, I need people to take me seriously and believe me capable. Cargo pants or the latest frock from Forever 21 cannot communicate that point. As a creative member of the team, my range is broader than in, say, Accounting, but the lines become blurred when you consider the fading of Casual Friday and this new trend towards more formal business attire in response to the downturn in the economy. (It’s often been said that the length of skirts on the runway are a good gauge of the economy.)
I say all this with a big BUT, and this is about scale. I’m a reluctant girly-girl, but I’m so much more. But: substance matters. But: how well you do your job matters. But: how kind you are to strangers and whether you recycle matters. But: how patient and nurturing you are towards your children matters. But: how meaningful your life is with a loving spouse, an aging cat and young plants matters because at the end of your life, they’re not going to talk about how great you looked in that Armani suit or who gets those Vera Wang shoes.
But who wants to live every day as if tomorrow is their funeral?