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the style fyle :: my most cunning disguise

a little while ago, i went out to a literary night- various authors reading their work and talking about their creative process. i enjoyed it very much, although i didn't really do anything except applaud when i thought it was appropriate and otherwise blend into the background. or so i thought.

at the end of the evening, a friendly woman approached me to tell me that she liked my "costume". costume. not outfit. not style. my costume.

i'm sure that she meant it as flattering, but you have to admit that it is just a little unnerving. it's not like i was walking around in this:

and if i were, i wouldn't be smoking a cigarette around it

here's what i was actually wearing:

considerably less fluffy
for the record, that's a blouse from h+m [which was also available in a nice forest green kind of shade that disappeared from the face of the earth the week i decided to buy it], a skirt from my perennial favourite dinh ba, boots from john fluevog [of course] and "sleeves" i picked up from annie 50.

this is quite seriously how i choose to dress myself on my own, not necessarily on days when i feel the need to do something formal. for the record, i did want to put on something that was a little 'funky', in keeping with going to an arts event, but i wore the same thing all day. it never struck me as weird.

apparently, though, i looked mighty fancy to some eyes. it looked like a costume.

even within my lifetime, there has been a definite move towards the casual in all areas of fashion. my father wouldn't have dreamed of going to work wearing anything but a suit. for that matter my mother always had an air of crisp formality about her at the office as well. if you've ever read the book gone with the wind, there's a scene near the beginning where scarlett causes a controversy by wearing an afternoon dress to a barbeque at the wilkes plantation. such were the demands of fashion at the time. most of the offices where i've worked have been pretty accepting of anything. casual friday was pretty much a given, but often denim, t-shirts and even running shoes have crept into other days as well.

in canada, i find that this has taken hold more than almost anywhere. in the united states and europe, at least, there is still a tacit dress code in place, even if the official one is vague. in many offices here, anything goes, provided it's not in any way revealing.

i wonder if that emphasis on being able to dress in a way that's relaxed, unpretentious, effortless has ironically created a new sort of conservatism, where any type of formality looks odd. essentially, we've swapped three-piece suits for t-shirts and jeans, but our eye still alerts our brain to anything that looks too different.

this probably sounds like i'm saying very mean things about someone who paid me a compliment and that's not what i want to do. i was flattered. it was just the choice of words that struck me, something that she almost undoubtedly didn't waste as much time thinking about as i have. also, it's not the first time i've heard something like that: a compliment that somehow leaves me thinking that my personal style marks me as an outsider, like the phrase "that's so nice, what you're wearing" is silently but surely followed by "i would never wear that".

perhaps i'm over-analyzing things. [almost definitely -ed.] but i do wonder, despite our modern sense of freedom, if we aren't just playing the same games, but with different costumes.

Comments

Bellyhead said…
??? huh.

Maybe English is not a language she's conversant in?

Maybe the wrong word slipped out?

What you were wearing looks perfectly like a well put together OUTFIT and not a costume.
Kate MacDonald said…
Non-English-speaking would have been my first guess, since in Montreal, you never know (there's a HUGE diversity of languages here), but she seemed to speak it without any kind of accent.

What struck me was that I know I've gotten comments from people who I knew were English-speaking that were similar. Comments that were complimentary (which I appreciate!), but that also left me with the feeling that the person thought that I was wearing something that they would never dare.

And personally, I think it's kind of sad if people wouldn't even feel comfortable wearing the kind of things that I do. It's not like I'm wandering around in string bikinis!!

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