Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lighten up, it's just fashion

Silliman yesterday (but I read it today) linked to a post on A Tonalist Notes with the words "The fashion of poets." With no offense intended toward author Laura Moriarty, this really got my hopes up and I was a bit disappointed when it ended up being mostly about jeans. Just an issue of thwarted expectations since her post and jeans are certainly interesting enough in general. This did prompt a longer fashion post by Nada Gordon which revolves around the issue of costume.

This is close to my heart as I've long professed that clothes should be more like costumes. This view dates back to a time when I was ~21 (attending Rice, of which I have many a fond memory) and wearing an outfit I thought was supremely cute: a round-neck pink sweater vest over a collared white shirt with a gray schoolgirl skirt, black tights and black shoes. My boyfriend at the time walked in and said, "Is that a costume?" I'm pretty sure this made me cry.

Shortly thereafter I realized, better to look cute by my own lights and anticipate such comments and/or unspoken judgments from the unstyled masses than conform to avoid them. So now I attempt to costume-up my outfits whenever possible. (It's not always possible, because I don't always have the time/energy to put into crafting an "outfit" per se before leaving the house. In which case I just wear "clothes.")

And now, a list of ways, mostly obvious, to Costume It Up (meant to be gender-neutral) and hence have more fun and probably more sex:
  • Evoke an era, bygone or futuristic.
  • Evoke a career other than the one you pursue (e.g., waitress, bike messenger).
  • Evoke an age bracket other than the one you belong to.
  • Evoke a tax bracket other than the one you belong to.
    Evoke the dress of a foreign nation. (Without, you know, being racist about it.)
  • Evoke any adjective, strongly (e.g., "autumnal," "sporty").
  • Imitate the canned stylings of a catalog (e.g., Anthropologie or J.Crew).
  • Mix patterns (dots & flowers! paisley & stripes!).
  • Don't always tone your wacky colors down with black or denim.
  • Add more jewelry or other accessories (scarves, belts, hats).
  • Add a "blazer."
  • Bright shoes. See Adam Golaski. Who usually wears a suit, but when he doesn't, he's wearing very bright sneaks.
  • Hair products.
  • Makeup.
  • Wear your parents' clothes (or your kids' for that matter).
  • Cultivate some signature bullshit. For example, Shafer Hall always wears Western shirts. With shorts. I'm not sure I've ever seen Jessica Smith wear something other than a dress.
Most importantly, expect people, your friends especially, to look at you askance as though you're wearing a costume. Do it enough and suddenly everyone thinks you have style. The more often you CIU, the more outlandish you can be without people being all, WTFAYW.


  1. I liked the way you Costumed It Up on the 4th of July: almost imperceptibly red-white-and- blue.

  2. i'm inspired. even had some foreshadowing: went the garment district last night and today wore my new RED vintage 60's slack-shorts to work. but as i was informed after work by a very fashion-forward person, i ruined it by wearing white socks and a black shirt that was too old. old black shirts don't look good, apparently. meaning i'm gonna have to toss about 3/4 of my wardrobe. so a perfect time to start thinking CIU. I love the "fresh" bold feeling of wearing sassy shorts in my office, which has a zillion dollar architecty makeover but is filled to the rafters with dudes in chinos and golf shirts.

    i'm inspired by the example of shafer, who i have never met but heard a great deal about. i think blazers and shorts will be a big part of my new CIU lifestyle. I swear i was already thinking about that combo. lots of bright colors too. i'm gonna bring em back for guys.

  3. oops just re-read and saw shafer was WESTERN SHIRTS and shorts. so i'm original after all!

  4. Thanks, Kathy! You are a frequent wearer of near-costumes.

    And Chris, I love when men wear shorts. Are they "Nantucket reds" or focal red? You are also prone to a little CIU in your excellent hat(s).

  5. I used to wear two of my dad's shirts, not really costumey, they're just button-down office-work shirts, until I tore a hole in the sleeve of one and tore a pocket halfway off the other. I still have them in case I learn how to sew someday, because they're my favorite shirts. They look good and fit so well, kind of snug, form-fitting. They don't seem to make them like that anymore. All the new shirts I buy are so blousey. I think those two of my dad's are as old as I am...

  6. Henry James has that gothic short story called "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes." The story's pretty good--sibling rivalry from beyond the grave!--but I really like that phrase which seems to explain in a few words why it's so appealing to wear vintage items in general, but items that used to belong to parents/grandparents in particular: their sentimental value in addition to their just looking cool.

  7. Matt, yes, men's clothes made in America these days are cut too loose. I think it's some kind of widespread homophobia. Or a response to rampant obesity I suppose. Slim-cut tailoring looks so much nicer at least in stuff like Oxford shirts. You could take those shirts to a tailor?

    Kathy, yes--one feels so much more authentic wearing some item from a grandparent's closet than the equivalent purchased at Urban Outfitters. I used to wear my dad's old swim trunks (with the lining removed) as shorts, until the drawstring broke. They were my fave. John likes to wear his grandather's leather gloves.

  8. What about the Gap, can I CIU in Gap clothes

    They fit me good

  9. This advice very Little Edie, and therefore awesome.

  10. This post def. makes me want to evoke a futuristic era tomorrow for my students...i'll tell you what they think...

    i wear very, very red lipstick a lot even in the summer when one should opt for a more subtle color----it's easy and does make a statement!

  11. I had to look her up, Christen, but see you have paid me a great compliment.

    Seems like people who dress from the future for Halloween always make costumes involving tin foil. What's so space-age about tin foil, I wonder? Keeps your pot roast moist in zero gravity? Do let me know how it goes.

  12. Having gone down the aluminum-foil-to-evoke- the-future road for Halloween myself, I think its because what you're evoking with the foil isn't the actual future (of robots and flying cars or whatever) but rather a nostalgic, bygone, past idea of the future. Like the Future As Seen from the 1950s--it's always already wrong and therefore kind of funny and sad, like books that trie to predict what the year 2000 would be like. Or how Dippin' Dots have been the "ice cream of the future" for decades now.

    Red lipstick, however, is timeless. I wear it almost all the time, regardless of season, too, Sandra, and you are so right.

  13. well, i'm a pretty dorky dresser (very caught in the 1990s---just could NOT get over grunge) so the lipstick is all i've got left.