Monday, 12 April 2010

Style Ideologies

The other day I got to watching re-runs of TLC's What Not to Wear. I have never been a huge fan of the show, mainly because I feel awful for the women who are made to cry because they have bad style. (No one should have to cry over style!) Also, I find their mantra of "slacks, boot-cut jeans, wrap dresses, kitten heels and empire-cut dresses and tops" a little old. I am not saying that they give bad advice necessarily, because a lot of the times the people could use some; I would just like to see a little more than the same styles over and over again, and I would like them to consider the question of style ideology.

The episode I watched featured a beautiful, curvy artist in her 30s. She had tons of personality and a great crazy afro. She was also a nudist. After having come out of a bad relationship that dictated her to cover up her figure, she had come a long way to love her body just the way it was. She had learned to celebrate her curves, perhaps to an extreme. She considered clothing restricting, and she refused to wear a bra. She did not want to be a conformist. Yes, she had bad style, but to me, this woman had learned to love herself, and to see her friends tell her that she was "a hot mess" made me feel really bad for her. The show took her bra-shopping, and after the whole ordeal, yes, she looked nice. I just couldn't help wondering what was there to celebrate, really. This woman loved her body way more than most women ever will, and the show helped her "fix" that, in order to appear more professional, in order to fit in and to be accepted.

I got to thinking that the woman already had a really strong style ideology, which to me anyway, would have been way more precious than to see her look better to the objective observer. The show made a huge point out of wanting to maintain her identity, to celebrate her personality, but I still felt that she just wasn't happy wearing a bra, even if it made her dresses fit better. So what if she was showing too much cleavage before? She had figured it out for herself why she was doing so. Clothes were not just clothes to her. She believed in something, and she was proud.

I often buy clothes just because they appeal to me. I don't follow a strict style ideology, but I admire people who do. People who are committed to only buying second hand, or vegans, combine values and style. Clothes are not just something that make us look nice - they never are. Style is a choice, it is a manifestation of who we are and want to be, regardless of whether we are actually stylish or not. I think that styles can be right or wrong, but the more I think about it, what makes them so is not a matter of looks necessarily, but of the attitude and the ideology behind them. I would rather see someone feel crazy-confident about wearing a mini-skirt at the age of 50 than a 35-year-old who got rid of her minis just because WNTW told her so. Sometimes looking bad is more interesting than looking fashionable. The countless soldiers of leggings-tunics-and-studded-ankle-boots-army that crowd the streets of Helsinki are less interesting to me than, well, pretty much anything.

Style ideology can be about celebrating life and our bodies. It can be a bright light that guides us toward sustainable living. It can be a value statement. It can be not caring about how we look. It can be a choice to follow mass-trends, or a conscious step to support more production instead of less. It can be about promoting serious design and fashion-as-art. How seriously we take these types of choices is a choice as well. We can choose to not think about it and just keep doing what we do, or we can sit down for a while and consider why we wear what we wear. I want to have fun with clothes, but that won't stop me from considering issues of sustainability, which, by the way, is becoming my key word for the style ideology I want to adopt.

For a long time I have disliked all sorts of style rules. Yes, I recognise that people that come off WNTW look better in the end of each show, but for the most part I still feel that they have just become women in uniform who are just happy to fit in with the rest. But whether they actually make any choices of their own is something I question. The style ideology of "looking nice" and following imposed rules is not enough, for me anyway.

What do you guys think? Do you have a style ideology of your own, and if yes, how did you develop one? Do we have the right to NOT be stylish, or should those who struggle with style be told what to wear? What is the limit between style guidance and style imposition?

Tunic: Tuuli's old
Cardigan: second hand / Salvation Army
Jeans: Tuuli's old Diesel
Shoes: Steve Madden


Sal said...

OH yes. Clothing exists to make us look good, but if we don't feel good in our clothes, things go awry. We may look "technically" good, but our discomfort and dismay will cancel that all out.

WNTW is teaching the same lessons over and over again with little regard for individual taste and choice. They can't imagine anyone NOT wanting to look tall, thin, and hourglass-y. But those aren't top priorities for every woman alive.

Eline said...

I don't believe in these style rules either because it limits women in what they can wear. "Don't wear this when you're pear-shaped, don't wear this over the age of 30" etc. etc. That's ridiculous isn't it? Style should be something personal and there are no rules to personality. I also feel like these rules are set out to make women feel bad about themselves, because when they break the rules it's a SIN and every woman will look down upon her etc. Everyone should wear what they feel comfortable in and that comfort and pride will shine through, no matter how tasteless something can seem it can suddenly become beautiful because of the person who's wearing it.

And yes, it also seems like the ultimate goal of these rules is to conform women into one set uniform, stripping them of their own personality, thoughts and will... It seems like one big set-up of a patriarchy to make women feel bad about themselves. It seems like I'm exaggerating and maybe I am just a little but there's a core of truth to this no matter what.

Also, that sounds like one of the saddest episodes of reality tv ever.

jesse.anne.o said...

This is an interesting post. I'll be the first to admit I can't stand the US version of WNTW because I think the hosts lack style (and personality, but that's another point), are horribly cruel and I just think the UK one was executed in a kinder and more creative way.

I do have a style ideology - partly being utilitarian, vegan, hopefully sustainable and classic, fitted, etc. (That's the ideal - how well that's executed is up for debate.)

Whether people need/should get "help" is tricky. I think there's a way for friends to helpfully and genuinely level with a friend that the too-much-spandex isn't pulling in the type of partner they want because it sends a specific message, that coworkers might not be taking you seriously because you're not dressing the prescribed part, etc. -- but only if the intention is true and caring and more a suggestion or conversation than a directive.

But then the offering of assistance should be just that - an offer. Not an imposition.

I usually think if someone doesn't look like they care about clothing, I assume they don't care about clothing.

I think that for people who are struggling with wanting to find a style ideology or whose wishes are manifesting otherwise...they would have to want to ask for outside opinions in order for it to be appropriate.

FashionTheorist said...

I think you've aptly and beautifully put your finger on what I loathe about WNTW and its ilk. By imposing cookie-cutter "style" on its participants, it destroys true style - the use of clothing to express one's personality and aesthetics.

The dialogue of the all-knowing, condescending "style guru" proffering/imposing advice on fashion (and, by extension, on happiness and success) to clueless supplicants, aesthetically impaired rubes who would be otherwise lost is, in my mind, a perfect paradigm of how not to approach the tricky business of being a fashion authority. Make no mistake, I'll gladly offer advice on fashion and style: I'm actively trying to launch a career doing so. I think the most important thing a person in that situation can do is to first and foremost consider their client's individual aesthetics and style, not shoehorn him or her into a "fashionable" box.

Jane W. said...

I�ve been thinking about this issue a lot lately as a new blogger. My style ideology is a work in progress, and rules do not play nearly the role that they used to.

Trinny & Susannah�s What You Wear Can Change Your Lifewas one of my earliest exposures to style guidance. On the plus side, this book encouraged me to experiment more with color.

On the minus side, I think their prescriptive tone inhibits the experimentation that can lead to self expression, self knowledge and self acceptance.

Yes, some experiments might be �failures� in that you won�t look your veryveryvery best. But who cares? Style is not the dichotomy that a lot of �gurus� claim it to be�there�s a whole continuum between Following The Rules and Total Disaster.

Modesty is Pretty said...

I do have a style ideology, my style is to be modest because it goes with my beliefs and I am happy to dress modest I'm not forced at all. I dress in a way that I believe honors God and that is very important for me, some people wonder why I only stick to certain clothes, why I can't or don't wear pants or things like that and look at me in a weird manner, they think that I'm imposed rules and this and that, but the reality is that I chose to dress the way I want to because I decide to do so, some people don't understand that. I think it's a beautiful thing to be able to chose how you dress and to be happy with the way you dress regardless of what people think it's fashionable or not. I don't think it's good to look weird at people or look down on them just because they don't follow the mainstream style, what's in or out. Our style should be a refelcttion of who we are instead of what's in the cover of a style magazine. This post made me think of an earlier post of you where you discussed the cape the muslim women wear, it's their choice and if it's their choice why should we take that away from them, I just learned by a blog I visit that jewish women have to cover their heads when the go out, I have to cover my hair when I'm at the temple and I think it's a beautiful thing to choose to dress how you want to, not because it's fashionable or in but because it's a reflection of who you are and what your beliefs are. I always appreciate your posts that make me think outside the box Mrs. Waves, and you look lovely, I'v always loved your style because you dress like no other girl out there.

Charlotte said...

You know what really bothered me about WNTW the few times I saw it? Everyone came away looking disturbingly like the show's female host.
"Looking better" is so subjective. Rules are for the insecure and the unsure. If you don't know what you're doing, then sometimes it's reassuring to have rules to follow. When you figure out what you really do and don't like, it's easy to live without them. You have your own internal barometer of "right" and "wrong." So with style, as with life. . .

a cat of impossible colour said...

This is completely unrelated to your excellent topic (on which I completely agree, by the way. What Not To Wear bothers me hugely - they seem to homogenise people more than anything) but it is exciting!

You won my giveaway!


I couldn't be more thrilled. Send your postal address to andrea[dot]eames[at]gmail[dot]com and I'll post it to you this week. SO looking forward to it.

Take care

Andrea xx

Teenysparkles said...

Oooh, I try to be intuitive as to what I wear, my only hard style rules are very vague "try" not to wear leggings and "try" not to wear black all the time. I watched the UK version of WNTW the other night, and it's true, you get that uneasy feeling of "what if the person doesn't want to change...although they look good now" It is as if they are being told in no uncertain terms that however they feel about themselves, it is of no consequence; the hosts are telling them they do not fit in to a norm of beauty, so the recipient has to learn to change. Then again, some are obviously happy with the change. I loved this post and will continue to follow!

Anonymous said...

Just discovered your blog, from Cat of Impossible Colour, and I Love it.

I totally agree with you, and that episode of WBTW bugged me as well. I wish I could have that woman's confidence!! :)

I think fashion/style SHOULD be about looking & FEELING good, so to each their own style, and life will be more interesting!

Milla said...

What a great post! You've really gotten the gogs in my head moving. I remember hating the original Trinny and Susanna when I lived in the UK. They were such shrews, creating these monotonous, watered down SATC-clones, which I guess is what women working in offices are supposed to look like. Thank god I have a minimum wage-job where I can wear whatever the heck I want...

Personally, my only style-ideology is 2nd hand. I find it really hard to buy anything new. Tights and underwear are exceptions to this rule, although I'm more than happy to get 2nd hand tights if they're in okay condition.

I've always been very into the 60s and 70s, and continue to draw inspiration from those decades, even as finding clothes from that era becomes more and more difficult. I also always strive to be comfortable. Restricting, or emotionally uncomfortable clothing is just not worth it.

reckless daughter said...

eek! adorable shoes!

I have a hard time watching that show for those same reasons. I'm not really sure if it's helpful or hurtful to women.

Rad_in_Broolyn said...

I also am very iffy about WNTW, although I do something like the makeup and hair cut parts (since I typically don't experiment with that). The opening sequence of the show is also annoying because many of the people already look good, and "spells" they cast on the passerbys make them all the same: saturated colors, overly tailored pieces, and too polished (I hated when they did Blossom, but it's probably telling that I did watch the show). I think folks should be free to look as they want, because even very casual or "sloppy" dressing is a form of self-expression.
I used to dress like a 20 year old boy, until about 4 years ago, and I don't think I have a style ideology. I try to be thrifty, somewhat sustainable, but also playful. It helps to be in a profession where there are no clear style norms (other than at conferences and interviews) and we work with young people. Mostly, I don't want to be boring, stuffy, bourgeois, or pedestrian, but that's not always easy to pull off.

Camelia Crinoline said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving such a nice comment.
I think it's sad that someone who actually liked their style and shape was made to feel like the way she dressed was wrong. Shows that make women feel bad about the way they dress are reinforcing the perception that a woman's worth is measured by the way she looks. I love clothes and style because they make me happy and it is irrelevant whether they fit into WNTW's narrowly constricted style rules. This was such an articulate and thought provoking post.
I love your style too.

Pretty Little Pictures said...

I love your shoes!!!

Thank you so much for your lovely comment on my blog :) It means so much, and its comforting to hear other peoples stories of similar situations (even though its not a nice situation to be in).


Eyeliah said...

I feel I have run out of enjoyment for that show. For me it was with a lovely girl Sunny who liked to wear fairy wings. She was a happy free spirit and they made her into something fairly generic, with only a bit of eccentricity. I am sure she went right back to her wings, and atleast they found her some great vegan clothes. I have more to say but my time is so limited!!! I linked this post on my blog today ;-)

tigerteacher said...

I know I'll be in the minority here but I'm going to do a bit of WNTW defending.

To me the "rules" aren't the main point of the show. They often seem to feature women who are dedicating all of their energy to caring for loved ones (mothers, caregivers of sick family members, etc.) and who have not allowed themselves a spot on their own daily priority lists. This show is something of a reminder to them that they are worthy of a spot on the list. I can see your point about this week's episode and the one that Eyeliah mentioned and a few others that come to mind in which a person had a style that was intentional, but when I think of the show I usually think of the woman who is giving herself (not only in terms of her appearance) no thought or thinking of herself in a strictly self-critical way and I think that this show is a great reminder for them and for the audience that it's really fun and it's a great boost to give some care and attention to your grooming and clothing. The other thing that I love about this show is that they do feature people with different body types and Stacy and Clinton are always encouraging and supportive in their absolute confidence that everyone and anyone can look great no matter body type, age, etc.

For what it's worth, on a daily basis, I don't follow the rules that I imagine they would give to me. I'm a thrifter and I do tend to buy oddball pieces that they would probably tease me about if I were on the show. That said, on a day when I really know that I have to put my best foot forward I do tend to think of that show and I feel that it helps me with that.

I am a plus model and when I'm going to a go-see, I'll use some of the rules of that show and I'll feel confident that I'm showing my shapeliness at its best and that confidence is a great boost when you're competing for the same job with a roomful of pretty girls!

It also made me pay a different kind of attention to my appearance and to shop somewhat differently than I used to. For example, their consistent emphasis on fit has helped me to pay more attention to that and to not compromise on that in the face of a bargain. I also pay much more attention to color and will be more critical while shopping about what colors and shapes are flattering on me.

I know its not a perfect show and there are many good points made here, but I do think that its emphasis on women actually making a priority of themselves in their lives is a good thing in the end.

Kelly said...

I think WNTW "subjects" are generally in three groups: 1) People who used to like fashion but stopped putting the effort in when they got a demanding job, got married, got sick, had kids, etc. 2) People who really couldn't give a rat's ass about fashion and will pretty much wear anything that keeps them from going naked and 3) People who already DO love their look/style, but have a much more unique fashion sense than the general public.

I think groups 1 and 2 are helped greatly by the show.

Group 1 ladies usually leave totally beaming with a feeling of rebirth.

Group 2 ladies aren't necessarily thrilled, BUT they do now know the "rules" and "formulas" for creating a flattering (if sometimes boring) outfit and they can use that knowledge and tools for situations like a job interview or date when they know that OTHER people will care about their appearance.

Group 3 is the only group that I think doesn't need to be on the show. Group 3 women always leave feeling downtrodden and looking lackluster. Honestly I think wearing fairy wings or flame-print pants is a little nutty, but it's world's better than a woman wearing a "flattering" wrap dress/heels and looking totally unhappy and feeling unlike herself.

(I'm basing this all on my memory from the show, which I haven't seen in several years now due to a lack of cable!)

en said...

What a great post.

I only watched the British WNTW briefly and I liked it, mostly because they were encouraging women who weren't perfectly shaped to wear figure-fitting clothes, anyway. That was all I got from it, but it was a lot for someone that used to dress to hide everything. They were rather dictatorial, but I remember them being so in the interest of getting women to feel better about - and show off - their bodies. Maybe my memory is bad, but I don't remember the clothes all ending up the same from one woman to another.

I think I've seen the U.S. version two or three times and hated it for the meanness and the sameness.

It's too bad they don't focus on helping women figure out what their style ideology IS and how to buy for that style (and look good at the end, since it's TV).

I love the idea of defining your style ideology and hope you'll write more about it. It's such an interesting idea, moving away from everyone dressing to an external standard to everyone dressing in a way that reflects themselves.

Monkey said...

I actually love WNTW and while Stacy and Clinton often make snarky comments, I don't believe they are ever really mean-spirited about them. I do agree with the previous commenter who said the women on the show can be divided into three groups and that the third group is often not convinced by the end and were maybe not best-served by being on the show. That said, the hosts are always extremely clear about what being on the show will entail, so if you don't want to give over your entire wardrobe and be open to a makeover, you don't have to.

The thing I like most about the show is that they are always telling women they deserve to look nice, no matter their size or shape and that they don't have to wait until they lose more weight or what have you before investing in nice clothes for themselves. They also emphasize how important it is to look presentable to the world; this is certainly not true in all professions, but it is true for most I would say. I've noticed this first-hand this year as I've transitioned to a more careful way of dressing, people really treat you differently. And trust me, they would not treat me the same way if I showed up with a set of fairy wings.

Sheila said...

Great post! I found you through Sal's weekly round up.

I agree with what Kelly, above, said - I probably have fallen into group 3 many times over my life. It's those people who experiment with style and grow who become the most interesting! As long as you don't get stuck in a rut, keep on experimenting.

I have learned some valuable things from WNTW, like cut and tailoring, and I do like that they feature a lot of different body types, but I do feel bad for those women who already have a style...but it doesn't fit the "norm".

I'm a proud 42-year-old who still wears mini-skirts! And I adore your shoes - I would totally wear them.

Rosanna said...

What "limits" women (and men) isn't the rules but the shapes. That is to say, each and everyone of us does have outfits in which s/he looks better than others. If you put on an outfit that flatters you you should feel better. If you avoid wearing outfits that make you look uglier, you should feel better. If there is a belief in your head that "no matter" how you look people should like your body (even when the garments you have do not flatter you) then it's a temper tantrum.
I'm skinny now, I used to be way heavier (44 lbs heavier to be precise). I felt badly about myself, of course. I couldn't just ignore the image in the mirror, you know? So I started asking to myself: "how is overeating a sign that you love your body?". I decide to love my body, therefore I stopped overeating. As a result of it, I am skinnier. In short: in no way (unless you have a medical condition), being overweight is a sign of "loving", "accepting" yourself. It's a sign that you are letting yourself go. Granted, many model are too skinny... but let's not use this as an excuse to "like" our being fat.

Anonymous said...

great post! i'm very much in agreement. i have a very eccentric style of dress, though as a stay at home spouse it's not an issue. although i do get looked at a lot in public (a month ago i even got comments about my look on Telegraph Ave. - yes, THAT Telegraph!)

one other aspect is that people get clues about who you are from your style of dress. if i dressed according to WNTW rules, i would be bored, yes, but it would also be COMPLETELY MISLEADING to everyone i met as to who i am, my life experience, my values, etc. i don't know how that would serve 'the public' or myself. i am able to dress enough 'to the rules' for special occasions, the rare professional gig, etc. so it's not an issue for me to need to learn 'the rules'. getting stuck all the time eccentric can be limiting as well. but dressing a part that you're not entails a lot of problems for the dresser and the observer both.


stephanie said...

LOVE THIS POST! I think it's all so true and we def have a right to look unstylish. How boring would it be if we all looked stylish. And I think the most stylish ppl, the ones you look at and just grab your attention, are the ones who have only their own rules, which most certainly don't fit in with WNTW guidelines.

storiteller said...

I have the same issue with a lot of those fashion shows, but the one that I thought always did it right was "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." The guys on that show always seemed to respect the men much more than the fashion shows respect the women. I think it's in part because women are expected to "take care" of themselves much more and fit those societal guidelines than men are. I remember in one, they were making-over a guy who was really into hunting and fishing. His living room looked ridiculous, with stuffed moose heads and stuff. The Queer Eye guys made it over to look like a really classy old-fashioned hunting lodge, which preserved the feel of his personality but made it look slightly more presentable.

Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP said...

My ideology - well I make my living as an image consultant, but one of the things I'm most passionate about is helping my clients find their individual style, and then dressing to their own style in the clothes that are most flattering to them and their style.

Also, sometimes some need to twist their style for their workplace.

I think it's great to know the'rules' and then know how and when to break them.

We all have to get dressed, unless we live in a nudist colony, so I think dressing to show our authentic selves is important.

The difference between all the guests on makeover shows and my clients - my clients are choosing to ask for my advice, they want the advice and want to make a change because they're not happy with their current wardrobe. I don't ever tell anyone I meet or see that I think there is anything wrong with what they wear. That is not my place.