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010: In With The New
Recently I've found myself turning on clothing I never thought I'd tire of: a red and white geometric-print 1940's silhouette Miu Miu dress from the spring 2017 collection I diligently monitored on Poshmark for a full year until the price was right; a coat of wool and silk, charcoal gray and bulbous, nuclear, reptilian green – a secondhand treasure – from Prada's Fall 2007 collection. "The cheap coat. The vulgar color," said Cathy Horyn in her review of the collection for the New York Times. "I must say it wasn't one of my favorite Prada shows." "Something simple but strange," offered Miuccia Prada. Pieces that could do no wrong, pieces so quintessentially me as I finally began to feel ownership over my personal style, putting in time to deliberate what it was I actually desired. And yet here I am, bored (a vulgar word) of pieces I'd put so much consideration into, pieces I hadn't merely purchased but took pride in, and attempting to reinvent them not in order to enhance but rather to disguise their original form, so as not to appear to be wearing the same thing twice.
Second in line to the American Dream is the idea of Reinvention. More tangible than the Dream, reinvention allows for an escape, or an exploration of one's true self, or second chances. Good can come of reinvention, an opportunity to retire the tired or contrived. But the problem arises when it is no longer a personal journey, but becomes confused and conflated with a way of life, a way of being and seeing and doing and consuming. Entire careers have been forged from the act but not the principle of reinvention, and private evaluation and intervention is trumped by performing to and for consumer demands.
I have lately been thinking a lot about the pitfalls of reinvention with regard to clothing and self-image, of what is required and what is superfluous. In the nearly two years that have followed since I have permitted myself to dress without fear and begin to liberate myself from judgment, I have undergone a reinvention of sorts, not a total overhaul of myself and my armor, but certainly shedding layers both internalized and from my closet with the intention of releasing that which no longer served me. And oddly enough, it is the latter I am struggling most with.
When I entered my thirties, I made a commitment to myself to purchase pieces with intention, which is to say I paid due attention to quality and craftsmanship. Much of what I bought was (and still is) second-hand because I no longer wanted my closet to resemble a concert of cheap thrills, but rather have it be a space within my own life and choices of resonance and meaning, seeking instead pieces I had been daydreaming about since early adolescence or had altered my worldview along the way, the hunt of it making it only more special. Giving something pre-loved, something I adored, a new life as an act of reinvention, yet somewhere along the way I lost sight of this intentionality and began looking at my treasured pieces with less than rose-tinted glasses.
What was once vintage was now to me "old", pre-loved had become "used". Everything I owned was "boring", I always looked "the same", and I craved to look and own things that were new and fresh. Wearing a dress that I once felt beautiful in now made me feel ashamed to be wearing on and offline, and frustrated, I sought to reinvent it to satisfy the buzzwords in my mind: new, fresh, refresh. I resisted wearing my beloved coat not because I didn't adore it but because it somehow felt dull, having worn it when I needed a boost or felt empowered, as if clothes aren't meant to be worn, projecting onto my clothing what I internalized. Dressing up became devoid of joy and provoked within me panic, dissatisfaction, and anxiety. All this surrounded by beautiful pieces I'd thoughtfully chosen...the delusion!
Online spaces, once a site of reinvention and creation, have increasingly become reinforced by ill-begotten economic value systems, where newness and accumulation signal exceptionalism and progress. Online, and thus in real life, we are more likely to be lauded and rewarded for rarely wearing the same thing twice, than to wear something over and over again. I use the internet as an example not to demonize it, but because it serves as a mirror of our value systems offline. We live in an environment that champions constant change, turnover as a measure of success or growth. Stillness, sameness symbolizes stagnancy, but what it really does is affording us a moment to reflect and contemplate, to take stock and to check in. In stillness we learn to honor what came yesterday, what came before our time, without which the future could not hold. And what do socially constructed indicators of success even mean if we aren't fulfilled within ourselves?
In attempting to mimic social patterns, to go along the grains of relevancy and trends, I was returning to where I had signed off: dressing and consuming for validation and acceptance, abandoning my sense of self. The fashion industry and social media fosters the myth of "investment' and "forever" pieces while perpetuating an insatiable need for more and for nothing ever being quite enough. Here there is more literature on what we allegedly need but not so much on how to appreciate what we have. It is true that clothing can serve as armor, but we can also imbue our clothing with power based on how we wear it, how we care for it, and the pride we take in it, rather than how frequently or infrequently we wear it.
There is such an insistence of reinvention and newness, as though anyone or thing could surely never be enough as it is, the impossibility of acceptance otherwise. Media messaging can muddle up how we value, making us less appreciative of what we have, how it comes into our lives, and how we should care for it. This isn't just true of our clothes, but of our relationships with ourselves and with those around us. As much as we are deserving of new things that bring us joy, there is beauty in respecting and appreciating not only what we have, but also who we are, exactly as we are.
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