Dispatch #3: Thoughts on Fashion
Future Peasant is the New Grunge
Things are…intense right now. For a moment (just one!), let’s turn toward the frivolous, shall we?
I must be feeling hopeful about a post-quarantine world because I have found one particular Desire Machine rumbling back to life. The Clothing-and-Fashion one.
During this pandemic, I never succumbed to the sweatpant life. I still wear what people online call “hard pants” and every morning I put on earrings and rings. It’s how I feel sane and not-hideous. Despite these daily efforts, I haven’t felt much passion for fashion. Until now. Suddenly, I’m ordering clothes and drooling over others, and I’m thinking about trends and clothing as signals of the self.
I’ve always been curious about why we wear what we wear, and why we want to wear what we wear. It’s the same with words; I like to ponder the mysteries of slang. Who was the first to say, “Those sneakers look tight,” or, “I’m totally blotto right now,” and how did those sayings proliferate? Nowadays, with the internet, phrase usage is a little less interesting to me, perhaps because it’s more traceable.
It’s the same with fashion. When Pandemic Life was at its height, I really didn’t get to see what people were wearing…except through my little magical rectangle. On Instagram, everyone was suddenly into tie dye. Tie dye everywhere! Why? Because it can be made at home, like sourdough? Because it echoed those Grateful Dead shirts popular in the 1990s? The trend felt organic and yet, also, probably, led by algorithms. It’s one thing to be in junior high and feel an urge to wear boy boxers from the Gap because so many around you are doing so, which renders the look both cool and essential. It’s another thing to be middle aged and suddenly desire an expensive tie dyed sweatshirt after seeing so many people—your friends and famous people alike—wearing something similar online. And then you’ve got on your tie dye sweatshirt but nowhere to go except inside your magical rectangle…it’s a fashion experience that’s both private and public, since it’s only on display online.
Trends are a kind of gossip, and fashion is a visual way to communicate identity…but the internet plus pandemic meant less regional difference and fewer moments of spontaneity. To be frank: I’m over it. I've been mostly offline this month, and fully vaccinated, and I’ve been enjoying looking outward, seeing what strangers in person are wearing.
Let me say, it’s looking pretty weird and fun in my corner of the world! There are gonzo highwater pants, and horrible bike shorts where their horribleness is maybe the point, and high-waisted jeans with a retro stiff feel, and Western-inspired wear. There is lots of color, including periwinkle. My friend Christiaan, who is very stylish, said people in NYC look even more wonderfully deranged. He believes fashion brands and rich influencers are becoming increasingly irrelevant and that streetwear is in ascendancy once more. He said he’s noticing a “post-apocalyptic peasant look.” He wrote, “Wear what your creative self wants to wear! Future peasant is the new grunge!” Amen!
So what do I want to wear? I’ve struggled with this question the past few years. It used to feel more intuitive. In high school I had a faux-fur coat, carried a metal Partridge Family lunchbox, and wore a lot of X-Girl pieces. In college, I used to order (over the phone!) tank-tops in sherbet-adjacent colors from J. Crew, and I wore those previously written about red clogs. I loved tight jeans and my blue Pumas with the hot pink soles. I was more flamboyant in my looks. My twenties, including graduate school, were hamstrung by finances, or lack thereof. Maybe that era was just…boring? Christiaan, who is also a hair stylist, told me that after September 11th, so many women came in asking for the same conservative, no frills, longish haircut. As in: “Help me blend in, life is crazy enough.” Maybe I was responding to and participating in that vibe?
I love how fashion is yet another reminder that I cannot escape culture, that I’m in fact swimming in it, even when I don’t realize it. Some of this is because the powers-that-be are deciding what’s trendy (never forget Miranda Priestly on cerulean blue!) Some of it, though, is some other weird humanity osmosis/alchemy.
(In 2011, I went to a baby shower and a nice woman without children was telling us her favorite girls’ names…and she listed the Social Security Agency’s top 10 names. She had no idea they were popular; she just liked them. See? Shit just gets in the water. Suddenly we love the name Juniper and pants that stop above the ankle and we can’t figure out why.)
I predict that the pandemic might make us turn a bit wackadoo in our clothing—everything we expected was upended, so why not our clothes, too?
The last few years I’ve liked wearing uniforms with a splashy jumpsuit thrown in for occasional excitement. I have a few different pairs of these Everlane pants, these Levi’s, and I wear them with either a button-down Madewell blouse (in this vein) or a nice Everlane T-shirt. I’ve also got a couple of dresses. I require color on my body, that’s always been the case. I dress similarly to a lot of people in my milieu. I like clothes, but I doubt anyone would say I’m especially fashionable, or that clothes are my thing. Another of my very stylish friends, Julia—now there is someone I would call fashionable. She wears…poetry, really. She hunts for clothes secondhand, follows designers’ work, and her outfits are a mode of creativity for her. She’s also smaller and quieter than I am, and I feel like her wardrobe does a lot of the talking for her. Me, on the other hand? My personality is already…overly accessorized.
Since moving back to LA four years ago, I’ve felt a different tension with clothes. A lot of women in my socioeconomic world prefer to wear small makers that specialize in what I used to call, on my podcast, Death Cult Sacks. The clothes are often shapeless, or their shapes are exaggerated. They’re made of beautiful fabrics with few embellisments. They are pricey. I don’t like these clothes: to me, it’s all pretty unflattering. More than anything, they signify wealth, and I’m not comfortable signifying wealth on my body. Also, these clothes are recognizable to a select few by brand. As in, “Is that an ____ dress?” I want more anonymity than that, and if I can’t have it, then I want the blandness of a larger company, like Madewell.
Well, sometimes. I have this bright pink jumpsuit and people often say, “I love yor Nooworks jumpsuit.” For the summer, I’ve committed to two Nooworks dresses (this is one of them). My breasts look so good in this dress, I joke that if I were single I wouldn’t wear it until after a lover had seen my boobs—I am not about false advertising! I’ve also got a new pair of Wofoshers, which I first wore back in 2003 after a trip to Brooklyn. Those were black, and these are gold.
What else will I wear this summer? I think I’m leaning toward color and joy. I’m not sure that’s anything new, though, and I wonder if I need to dig deeper and be more intentional in what I wear. Three years ago, I wanted a lot of 1950s silhouettes; the feminine looks felt like a fun counterbalance to my short hair. But now what?
The question, really, is: Who am I now, and how will my clothes reflect—or subvert!— this identity? Covid rendered the days uniform…so do I still desire uniformity in my wardrobe? Or do I want to go post-apocalyptic peasant? (Or will all that drapey layering just make me look like a tenured Women’s History professor?)
I’m interested in how fashion telegraphs so much without language. After over a year inside, I’m just not sure what I want to telegraph.
So, tell me: What are you wearing, and why are you wearing it?
PS I’m baring my soul in my subscribers-only newsletter, just FYI. ;) Up next there: more food/recipe, wine, music, and book recommendations. And maybe…way too many personal thoughts on…my body. Dear lord. Click on the link (whereever it is) to subscribe if you’ve got $5/month to spare. Thanks.
PPS I finished re-watching Sex and the City, thank goddess.
PPPS Next time, I’ll send a dispatch about writing.