Should Fashion be Flattering?
Fashion has a long, long history of oppressing women through unrealistic and rigid body standards and clothing that pushes women to fit adjectives trendy at the time—ladylike, modest, nice, womanly… Thankfully, in recent times, much of this sentiment has been discarded for individual expression and freedom rebelling against these oppressive standards, which is what I love about fashion. I wrote about my style metamorphosis a little while ago where I talked about how I've gradually gotten a better grip on my individual style. Yet, there are still times when I struggle to truly channel it, not exactly because I don’t know what to wear, but because I’m conscious of how other people would perceive what I’m wearing and then wonder if what I’m wearing is unflattering.
This sounds like a terrible, though perhaps understandable (even to myself ha) reason to be hesitating! Yet, I have this constant conflict between wanting to objectively look good and subjectively look good. A sudden thought makes me wonder if this is more prominent because I’m in school, which is a particular and isolated environment. Regardless, I want to be strong enough to not let anyone’s opinions affect my own perception of my style.
What do I mean by flattering? The definition of flattering I have in my mind is when clothing tries to create the appearance of or complement the socially current sense of the ideal body. If you look across the fashion industry, most clothing tends to be flattering and characterized by classic silhouettes and shapes. On the red carpet as well, celebrities tend to wear things that are safe and have popular appeal. Yet, some of the most lauded and revered fashion houses, like Comme des Garçons, Iris van Herpen, and Balenciaga, especially now headed by Demna Gvasalia, don’t let what is flattering obstruct their vision as they explore different shapes and figures through clothing. These latter designers are intriguing to me, but tend to be what the general public ridicules when they’re ridiculing fashion because they don’t understand why anyone would want to wear their supposedly outrageous clothing. Ironically, it is these designers’ exploration of boundaries which shapes what the general public thinks is flattering by subtly priming the public's taste; fashion is an endless cycle of the unflattering becoming flattering, so that a new shape becomes the new unflattering which eventually becomes flattering…
Fashion is one of the most common mediums of art, but it is viewed differently by different people. The less dedicated don’t actually think of fashion as a form of art and only think of it as something they put on their bodies, but the more dedicated think of fashion as a richly personal form of art that promises endless possibilities. The average person’s practical perspective on fashion is why he or she tends to cling close to what’s flattering, but as someone who aspires for a more intimate relationship with fashion, I shouldn’t be conceding to that.
So what do I do with all these doubts clouding my style? I shouldn’t be wary when a person passing by glances at my shirt, I shouldn’t be sad that my boyfriend doesn’t like my wide leg pants, I shouldn’t care that my friend is laughing at my Birkenstocks with socks. In a social environment, especially in school, it's tough to dismiss, but I just need to keep on shrugging off socially induced doubts and step out in what feels right to me. Flattering things have a solid space in fashion, but it’s not the foundation of fashion. Invention and expression are its highest tenets and perhaps in the near future, I’ll feel fully comfortable abiding only by those tenets too.
Cover photo: Yohji Yamamoto Fall 2017 RTW Vogue