Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Ramblings of a Woman in Pyjamas

I’m having a higher number of crash days lately and while that shouldn’t really surprise me, I tend to imagine I have superpowers.  Along with the fatigue and a body that feels like lead trying to move in air as thick as molasses, come physical symptoms that are somewhat like a virus.  Swollen glands, aching body, headaches of varying types constantly, inability to maintain a comfortable body temperature though no actual fever.   I probably make the headaches worse because I insist on reading and writing while in bed, but if I don’t I will surely go crazy with boredom.  So I lie in or on my bed telling myself that tomorrow I will be back to 'normal'.

From where I am lying I can see into my closet since I never close the door.  It’s a walk-through closet so more of an open clothes hanging space within a small passageway and it’s not overstuffed.  Currently there are a couple of surplus baskets of clothing awaiting trips to the consignment shop in the appropriate season.  Glancing at my clothing one gets the predominant sense of cream, denim and camel colours.  There is nothing fancy or elaborate, fabrics are simple cotton and wool.  I wonder what my clothing says about me and what it does not say and I think that it doesn’t matter much what I want it to say because how other people read it will be beyond my control.  Just as with art, whatever the artist intended is only part of the picture. 

While it’s tempting to imagine that an outfit can be a direct representation of a person, I don’t think it usually works like that.   What I might be communicating to others is probably a mixture of what I would want to communicate and what I would not, what is accurate about me and what is not.  We don’t know how viewers will interpret it and I think that most of the time we shouldn’t care.  We should all wear what we like, feel comfortable in physically and emotionally.

From my perspective it seems that men more frequently live and work in a uniform as they typically have fewer clothing options than women do, but also fewer expectations of pleasing onlookers with their outfits.  Men are not very likely to be thought boring or uncreative if they dress in a uniform or in uninspired outfits but where they are likely to encounter prejudice is if they do wish to express themselves through dressing.  The stereotypes we live with are that women should care and men should not and while surely most of us know this is nonsense, the man who expresses himself through clothing might be viewed as a bit of a dandy and the woman who doesn’t as a bit less feminine.  Fortunately we can sometimes choose not to care about such views.   

I let my imagination wander, creating a list of what people might see when they encounter my simple outfit formula, depending on their own tastes and biases.

boring
cheap
unconcerned with fashion
uncreative
busy with things other than clothing
lazy
casual
uncomplicated/unfussy
classic
elegant
chic
plain
simple
outdated
timeless

Do any or all of these approach the truth?  The truth is that I mostly don’t care.  Sure my feathers might be slightly ruffled if I were aware that someone had judged me as boring and simple but it hardly matters.   Most impressions can be given a positive or negative spin and the general purpose of those spins is to either push people away or to feel closer to people.   Our initial impression is based on our own ways of thinking and not necessarily the truth about the intentions or character of the person we perceive.

How I dress doesn't tell a viewer everything about me and I don't want it to.  What I see in the personal style of others doesn't tell me everything about them either.  It may not tell me anything about them at all and I cannot even assume that they like or chose the clothing I see them wearing.

I know what my own biases are and because I know I have biases I know that other people do too.  Because dressing elabourately feels like a costume to me, people who choose to do so appear to me to be in costume.  By dressing simply I think that I am presenting my raw, true self to the world but that may not be what others see.  They will see me through their own biased lens and it takes practice and effort to overcome our biases.


My practice looks something like this.... 


If I see a woman dressed in something I would not wear, my thoughts range from admiration to puzzlement.  If the outfit is unusual, bold, vividly colourful, highly ornamented, or pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in that environment, my first thought is that the woman wants to be noticed.  My next thought is that I can’t relate to that.  My upbringing then kicks in and I have to fight it.  I was raised to view attention seeking as regrettable if not pitiful and putting oneself on display as a sign of poor self esteem and great neediness.

 So, time to check my bias....
 I could also view it as confidence, exuberance for life, a desire to live at least for a moment at some sort of higher vibration.  It is exactly what I am doing when I paint in vivid colours in an expressionist style. Many people react emotionally to colour and for some people dressing brightly gives them an emotional lift.  It's wrong to assume they are just attention seekers and it's wrong to always view attention seeking as a negative.  

Sometimes I feel irritation at the biases I was taught but then I realise that is yet another thing to let go of.  Learn and move forward.

It is normal to make judgements and quick assessments because we don't have all day to analyse everything.  We need to act, move on, avoid analysis paralysis.  Making a quick judgement sometimes keeps us safe. A quick judgement can lead us to avoid a perceived danger that in actuality would be perfectly safe but the cautious person lives to make judgements tomorrow.  So, this judgemental instinct isn't all bad.  But...

I know many people who seem to believe that their feelings are some sort of truth and their opinions are facts.  It's good to be aware of our biases, of the very human tendency to judge and make quick assessments, and of the fact that in some cases what is right for one person is not right for another.  I want to live in a world where people wear whatever they choose to and sometimes that might even make me uncomfortable.  It's good to be uncomfortable.  It's good to be forced to think about our perceptions and biases and see them for what they are.  I don't have any control over what people think about my clothes and what conclusions they make about who I am because of them.  If they make the mistake of thinking that I am boring, that's their loss.  I'm more interested in people who are smart enough to know better, to know that what someone is wearing is only the beginning of the story.  I won't approach the woman wearing the pink faux fur pants but then I won't approach the one wearing  yoga pants and a tee shirt either.  I'm not an extrovert so I just won't.  But I am smart enough to know that they both could have interesting stories to tell about who they are and I am friendly enough that if they approach me I will readily reciprocate the friendliness.  Does my outfit say these things about me?  I don't know.  I doubt it.  I'm not sure it says much of anything true about me so if you want to know you will have to ask.

4 comments:

  1. I'm trying to teach Miles how to start conversations at the moment. He is fine once he starts, but the starting is an issue. We are role playing.
    We are not distinguishing who is a potential conversationalist by their clothing. I wonder if we could? Hmmm...
    xo Jazzy Jack

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    1. LOL well maybe I will drop by for some conversation lessons too. I don't do very well at starting them though I am good at making eye contact and smiling and thus encouraging others to start. xo

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  2. working with clothes and fashion for my whole life, this is an interesting reading - because i can see another point of view beside of my own......
    i always feel more drawn to people who dress outside the boxes - which way ever. my experience told me that people who dress to please the common sense are boring - at least to me. thats not to say that everyone who dresses flamboyant stand the test of time - some are just plain superficial and seeking for attention.
    and i know that there are no boring colors - its just HOW they are worn - a fire engine red jeans can be much more boring then a beige skirt suit - it depends on how its worn from whom :-)
    xxxx

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    Replies
    1. Hi Beate! You are so right about colours and who they are worn making the difference. I think style is more about how an outfit is put together and simplicity can be deliberate and stylish while something not so simple can be haphazard and not quite work, though I suppose perhaps not exactly boring. As you say, it's HOW things are worn.
      I had fire engine red jeans when I was 14 years old and this was not acceptable in the teenage world where everyone was supposed to look the same. Some other girls tried to beat me up over it! While I don't remember whether or not my red jeans outfits were stylish, I remember them well because they certainly provoked a response. LOL xoxo

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