“Transparence means experiencing the luminosity of the thing in itself, of things being what they are.”
—Susan Sontag, “On Style” (1965)
A place to lay my thoughts about getting dressed, and other matters. I am 22 years old, and I work in a library.
“Transparence means experiencing the luminosity of the thing in itself, of things being what they are.”
—Susan Sontag, “On Style” (1965)
I pay attention to collar styles, both in my own dressing and in other people’s. For dressier shirts, especially when worn with a tie, I tend to stick to a fairly wide spread collar, which fits current trends and balances out my relatively narrow head and neck. But most days I am dressed more casually, so I have other collars to choose from. I like button-downs, especially with a strong roll, but I find myself seeking other collar shapes, each with their own expressive capabilities.
One such style is the band collar, sometimes called the Nehru collar, after the Indian politician whose jackets bore the distinctive rounded shape (though there are subtle distinctions between these two and another collar, the mandarin). I picked up a band collared shirt from The Brooklyn Circus about a year ago, and I’ve noticed its particular voice, if you will, among the other shirts in my wardrobe. As I mentioned here, this collar plays well with other curves, as in cardigans or crew neck sweatshirts; I find the roundness lends a certain softness and ease to the collar and the shirt, as well as a uniqueness among the shirts one regularly encounters. Having spent many hours on eBay looking for similar shirts, only to come up with one other (a gauzy, linen-cotton Ralph Lauren henley in cream), I came across this post at TheStyleBlogger last week that really opened things up. In the third outfit, Wesley describes simply cutting off the collar on a shirt, leaving behind the simple rounded shape. It never crossed my mind to do this, but sure enough, upon inspecting an old light blue oxford, I saw that converting it into a band collar shirt required nothing more than a clean removal along the seam between the button-down collar and the rest of the shirt.
So, I’ve taken that oxford to the alterationist, who assured me that this a straightforward job. I’m awaiting Tuesday for the results.
The more I use the analogy of the mirror in my thinking, the more it opens up and helps to connect various aspects of my daily existence. I see mirrors in many places; for example, in the psychological process of projection (which I have written about here), wherein other people serve as mirrors for aspects of myself of which I am ashamed or afraid or otherwise want to disown; a culture’s artistic productions serve as reflections of its values and its collective consciousness; even in Buddhist philosophy where our experience of Reality is likened to a mirror—we perceive duality when the true nature of Reality, according to this philosophy, is nonduality, not-two. There is only the one, and no mirror.
The mirror is also interesting because its nature, reflection, is simultaneously illusory yet real, or false and true. The mirror’s image is false in that it is simply animage, not an actual clone of what it is reflecting, yet it is true in the sense that it is afaithful reflectionof the real thing. I find this ambiguity interesting, but it is not my chief interest here.
What does interest me is clothing, of course. I have been studying developmental psychology in the last couple of months, and I have been particularly interested in the development of the capacity to form images, which usually begins in the first year of life. We know intuitively that images are very different mental entities than symbols (i.e. words) and concepts; each of these has its advantages and limitations as far as communication and expression are concerned. But what fascinates me is that images develop first, both in evolution (as in, there are mammals besides humans that can form mental images) and in the development of the human organism. This evolutionary “primacy” seems to be partly responsible for the particular power that images can hold. Further, if we consider the broad pattern of evolution as proceeding from matter to body (or life—plants, animals, etc.) to mind (which begins in the higher mammals but reaches further potential in humans), we see that images, as the first form of “mental life” are thereby the closest aspect of the mind to the body. This holds true within the human, as the infant develops from being identified with its body (and its primitive emotions) to the further development of the capacity to form images (and then to symbols, concepts, and the ability to reason). In other words, images can serve as a bridge from the mind to the body, which we notice intuitively in the close relationship between imagery and emotions.
I have been paying more attention lately to the particularly deep and fundamental power of images, from the language of dreams to the language of design, particularly in clothes. Doing so has enriched my appreciation of the reflective power of these images—reflecting changes in my broader self, tensions, growth, desires, etc. Looking back to last fall when I started this blog, I am noticing what has remained and what has changed in my approach to fall and winter clothing, as I begin to plan what I want to wear in a couple of months. For example, in my fantasizing (which, as a psychological process, is rooted in the ability to image) I have noticed an affinity for a certain strictness and tightness reflected in the clothes and shoes I want to wear. I have been focusing on balmoral boots and shoes as opposed to my previous preference for open-laced footwear; more aggressive tailoring for trousers, including specific tapering and cropping, like Travis demonstrates here; and specific colors, like black for footwear, and more olive and deep brown and navy up top.
There is a clear parallel between these new preferences and the increasing emphasis on self-discipline I have been developing this summer, which is something quite new for me. The clothes I fantasize about wearing reflect what is going on within myself. And it is very satisfying to be able to mirror what is happening with my writing, my symbolic expression, with my clothes, my imagistic expression. So we’ll see how things go into the fall.
Thinking about colors and outfits for the summer.
I already have white and khaki pants (now, while I cannot wear them, would be a great time to take them to the tailor…) and I just bought this beautiful light blue linen pair.
When I first started paying more attention to my clothes, it was near the end of last summer. And I found my style, at least for the time being, about a month ago. So I have had some success in the fall and winter, but I still have yet to implement what I have discovered for warmer weather. Very excited.
“I maintain that one should always talk of philosophy with a smile.” — Ernest Renan
Lately I have begun to see all of human activity, particularly the disciplines of the mind, as fascinating, twisting, entities not unlike the branches of a tree or the petals of a flower or the feathers of a peacock. I am used to viewing the artistic output of humans in the same vein, as visible or audible or tactile expressions of something, like the songs of birds or the veins of a leaf. The attitude expressed by Renan’s quote is very similar to the attitude I have been taking lately. When one reaches a point when one can regard whatever one holds most dear, which for me includes philosophy, with a smile is to see a particular aspect of it: its utter non-seriousness. Just as we are able to gaze upon a flower, appreciate its beauty, its intricacies and simplicities, without feeling the conviction that its particular visual configuration is of the utmost, serious importance, I have begun to gaze upon any human “display” in this manner—the volumes upon volumes devoted to such mammoth constructions of thought as Marxism or Christian theology or quantum physics appear as spiders’ webs or crystals; the destruction of a world war appears as an avalanche; one person’s passion for social justice and human rights appears as a geyser shooting its column into the air.
From this point of view, every human endeavor is utterly and equally meaningless, as “meaningless” as a geyser or a crystal. Of course, we have assigned meaning and purposes to these aspects of nature, but these assignments are themselves just a fraction of what is actually going on, as it is the opinion of just one species—our own. Usually the way we view “purpose” in nature is that it is solely tied up with survival and propagation—the flower looks the way it does to attract bees to spread its genes around. The spider spins its web to catch its food so that it may live another day. We are used to thinking of human beings as above and beyond mere survival, and indeed, we feel disturbed when we feel like we are simply surviving, as we imagine the homeless and the destitute must feel.
But purpose is just one way of making sense of the world, both the world of nature and the world of humans. If one had to ascribe a shape to the concept of “purpose,” it would probably be a line. Lines are fundamental to our understanding of space and time, but they are certainly not the whole story. Similarly, “purpose” is not the whole story. What is the purpose of dancing?
When I said that from a particular point of view, every human endeavor appears, and is, utterly meaningless, it is easy to forget the necessary corollary. Like the idea, “When everyone is a superhero, no one is,” a complete lack of meaning corresponds to a simultaneous fullness of meaning. Each person’s point of view—even each culture’s point of view, or organism’s point of view—is infinitely, pitifully limited and incomplete but also an expression of the fullness that knows know limits and does not need to be completed.
The attitude I have been describing has led to my feeling much more at home in both the human world and the natural world that includes it. It’s like the difference between dancing with a partner, all the while believing that there is a “perfect” way to go about it, that much depends on the execution of the dance, that dancing will solve all one’s problems, etc. and dancing with the assurance that it’s just a dance, that it doesn’t really matter that much. The latter gives much more room for abandon, for surrender. It allows one to enjoy and explore and give oneself to the activity to a greater degree, by seeing its finitude. I have begun to take a similar attitude towards language—the more I am acquainted with the limits of my native language, how clumsy it can be when faced with the prospect of describing certain experiences, the more lightly I handle it, and the less seriously I take it. It has assumed a much more congenial place, on more equal ground with the other aspects of the world I traffic with every day.
Let me see if I can bring this around to where I am as far as dressing myself goes. I have spoken before about the period I go through when courting a new dance partner, as it were, learning a new craft or skill like cooking or dressing—when I fixate on the most miniscule issues, knowing that they matter very little on one plane but feeling that they are crucially important. A particularly captivating issue was the fit of a shirt’s shoulders. For a couple of months, every day I would be quite sensitive to where the shoulders of my shirt sat, and I felt uncomfortable if the shoulders were too big for me. A year ago I would never have noticed. The gap between knowing and feeling, as far as the “importance,” whatever that may mean, of the fit of my shirt’s shoulders gradually closed, as did other similar nuances, to the point now where I am aware of many of these nuances, and choose how I am going to engage with them at any given time. Now I will sometimes wear a shirt that is too big in the shoulders purposely, to harmonize and comment on how I am feeling. And last week, after not having purchased any clothing for over a month, I found a jacket with shoulders that are far too big, but that enchanted me so much with its drape and the way it made me feel.
Interesting, isn’t it, how sometimes we feel something first then seek to know about it, and sometimes it is the other way around?
As the design of the cardigan sweater was based on the tailor jacket, the cardigan often takes on a similar role—being worn with a shirt and tie, for instance. The completely natural shoulders (the most natural-looking on a spectrum that extends all the way to the roped shoulder, and beyond to the exaggerated zoot suit shoulder) looks great, especially when worn by someone with gently sloping shoulders, when framing similarly curved elements in the shirt. Below are two excellent examples.
Pictured is Nicolas Lazaro and Ariel Ovadia at the Ovadia and Sons booth from the second day of (capsule). This is the first time I have seen a cardigan paired with a club collar, though I’m sure that when these sweaters were more in style this pair was worn often. The rounded club collar does pair nicely with the rounded shoulders of the sweater, just as the traditional points on Nico’s gingham shirt’s collar pair well with the sharp lines of the jacket’s notch lapels.
Do the Ovadias have Irish in their blood? If so, the black watch and kelly green combination is a lovely way to show some pride.
Another example is Travis Gumbs’ outfit in this recent video by Street Etiquette.
Travis wears a cardigan, unbuttoned, over several layers of undershirts, each with a curved, or crew, neck, including a henley shirt (fast forward to 2:40 for a good shot). The open sweater and the shirts form a subtle ring of circles that frames him quite nicely. I like this look much better for myself—it has nothing of the grandfather, or dad-in-the-1950s, look that I so associate with the cardigan. Travis’ look, as usual, is complex, but relaxed and totally un-stuffy.
(photo courtesy of The Significant Other)