The Fashion That Binds Us

From an early age, we are taught "How to Dress Your Age" through retail window displays, magazines spreads, televisions spots and other more nuanced messages filtered down from the fashion authorities on high. Browsing a few retail websites recently, I found this promotional graphic loaded with restrictive stereotypes from J.Crew:

 Screen capture of J.Crew website, March 2015.

Screen capture of J.Crew website, March 2015.

When did turning 20, 30, 40, 50 or BEYOND decree I must fashion myself in a particular way?
 
Before The Femme Project, I spent a couple years as a fashion blogger and stylist in an entrepreneurial effort called Obsessless. I built a website, a blog, a social media presence and a collection of styled looks in an effort to invigorate my creative skills in an area of personal interest: fashion. After amassing an impressive selection of tops, bottoms, dresses and shoes accessorized to the nines; and after I primped and posed, daily documenting my fashionable look-of-the-day, I was left with a nagging emptiness of purpose and a compelling feeling of need.

 Obsessless Website, July 2014.

Obsessless Website, July 2014.

Bleary eyed, I would spend my nights scanning the blog feed for a fetching item that I had to have; my days would encompass browsing, pinning, liking, loving and blogging about what was next in a world where the rules were constantly changing. I certainly became obsessed with the projection of the exterior  rather than the reflection of the interior. 

 Obsessless "Dress to Impress" look detail.

Obsessless "Dress to Impress" look detail.

 Obsessless "Coffee & Friends" look.

Obsessless "Coffee & Friends" look.

 Obsessless "Night Life" look detail.

Obsessless "Night Life" look detail.

I couldn't help but feel discouraged and hollow inside. Fashion-forward portals use names like The Coveteur, Ideel, The Cut, MyHabit, Lucky, even my word "Obsessless" is guilty, and they take root in the juxtaposition of the "haves" versus "have-nots." We're encouraged to covet, to lust and to shop in order to fill a void, to fit in, to look good, or to be something other than ourselves. Designers have transitioned into corporations; stylists, bloggers and publications assume their role as dutiful missionaries; while retailers have become the beneficiaries of our need to consume. We're bombarded by a standard of ideal beauty and accoutrements that are mostly unattainable by the average woman. I realized that we have created an environment which claims to be nurturing womanhood, and instead, is creating anxiety and encouraging competition and elitism in women - in short, all the things that work against fostering a bond between women and community of womanhood. Can your individuality be celebrated or do you end up on an episode of “What Not to Wear?” I was struck by how shallow and vapid this entire experience was, as well as by the resulting loss of confidence in myself. When I eventually closed down the website and shelved the Obsessless brand, I was surprised by a sense of relief and unburdening. The shackles felt removed.

I have since left the fashion world behind, a little wiser and more informed, as well as confused. I still need to get dressed in the morning, but will the exterior reflect the woman who resides inside? Is fashion the friend of women as it claims? Or is it really a unwitting foe that has become the means to bring out the worst in women?

And here it is, your moment of zen...

 Nine West, Fall 2014 Ad Campaign.

Nine West, Fall 2014 Ad Campaign.