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