things to think about

today i am thinking about: ACTIVIST FASHION
November 3, 2011, 12:00 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

A few days ago I was heading down to occupy Wall Street for a little while before Simchat Torah. I had had a shleppy, run-around day – 8:30-12 work in the city that kept me late until 12:30, run to the PATH train, go to Newark, training for 3 hours, back to the city, you get the gist. I looked it, too – wrinkled all over the place. I looked the worst kind of busted.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a vain person. I am a horribly vain person, and more than that, I am vain in a Capricorn way – which is to say, I obsess over fashion rules and then feel guilty I am not doing it right. Light shoes after Labor Day? Oh god! No! Brown shoes black bag? I’d rather die. God forbid I wear a bow tie out of proportion to my shirt collar. I know these rules are completely made up and yet I cannot help myself. I am forgiving (well, mostly) forgiving of other people’s lapses but I? Must remain above the fray. God forbid I should end up in public undone.

So I did what any reasonable person would do before going to a giant anti-capitalism protest: I stopped in at the department store to get a little something to wear.

I spent probably 45 minutes there in the men’s furnishings department, worrying about which socks were most appropriate given the color of my pants. Is there any finer illustration of the contradictions of our times?

I talk a lot about fashion as a weapon and a way to navigate all the complexities of how we walk through the world.  I feel nervous about being judged – for being a fat person, for having an ambiguous gender (well, ambiguous to other people). Fashion is my way to try to control how people see me. I think at best I go for a “well, that one’s clearly making choices” response. I look good, and I know it, and I know that the way I look good probably doesn’t resonate for a lot of people, but at least they cannot pretend I’m being unintentional.

But blah blah motherfucking blah, fashion is revolutionary, my gender is precious and excuses my consumption, that’s not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is what it means to really, actually, in the moment fail to live up to your own ideals.

Why did I feel a need to go buy a motherfucking bow tie? What would really have happened if I showed up all wrinkled? Wasn’t my presence at the radical protest synagogue more important than whether my socks were too dark for my pants?

I bought that bow tie because I thought it would make me feel better. And it *did* make me feel better. But that’s because I’ve been trained to feel good about myself when I fit certain tropes of capitalism, like looking done a certain way and having nicely maintained things. By looking a certain kind of good, I am exerting a certain kind of control: sure, I might be a fat gender weirdo, but at least I am participating fully in the capitalist tropes of spending money to look appropriate! See! I’m not so bad!

Again, I believe in people doing the work to be themselves for whatever that means for them. And I also really want to honor the ways in which people around the world get killed — actually — for their fashion choices, especially when they’re rolled up with non-normative gender. But for me, here, in NYC, those aren’t the stakes for me, and I need to be more critical of the ways in which I let myself off the hook in the name of my own revolution.

Sometimes, I’m a capitalist, and always, it’s better to own our flaws than pretend it isn’t the case.

And the bow tie? It was too short anyways.

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I know you did not write this post looking for validation. Still, I have to tell you: I love your radical fashionable genderful fabulousity so much. I’m not saying there’s an excuse for the consumption trends we all have pounded into us, and I know it’s possible to thrift-store your fashionable heart out, etc etc. But I am so inspired by your fashion because, culturally, I was raised to be a huge hater on people with any fashion sense. One third of that has to do with lack of money (on a personal, family, and community level), one third is about feeling inadequate around city people (on a personal, family, and community level), and the last third is because I do not have the gift of a fashionable eye AT ALL (S., bless her heart, is trying… really she is trying so hard with me). When I became a teenage marxist, I threw a healthy dose of anti-capitalist analysis into the mix, but mostly that was just a cover for the other anxieties. And eventually, the flip side of that analysis forced me to stop being a hater, because I have come to know and respect that fashion can be one amazing way that people with limited resources make art, make beauty, and mark out boundaries for the sacred in their own lives. An example: omfg I HATE northwestern white suburban church fashion BECAUSE CHURCH IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE LAZY. And that’s not about resources or having the fanciest church hat, but it IS about presenting your best self to God and it IS about claiming full dignity before God and your community. The northwesterners we go to church with are so rigidly committed to casual. But when we went to church in Harlem, it MATTERED for all the members of the choir to be able to wear a robe– some of the choir members were homeless, and carving out that dignified, sanctified space (in a uniform that placed them, at least visually, on equal footing with everyone else in the choir) MATTERED. And when I think back on the dirt poor, rural, elderly congregation I grew up in, I remember clearly that people wore their best flannel shirts and hand-knitted sweaters on Sunday. And “best” might mean there was only one shirt that didn’t have holes in it, and that’s what they wore, as an offering to God (and because hello! in a very small community, church is a major social event!). And the older ladies always made sure to have their hair set perfectly ❤ ❤ <3. Anyway. The way I feel about church and the way I feel about The Movement are often parallel, even though the cultures can be very different. And so, Ariel, I love your movement fashion the same way I love church lady fashion. Because I love people practicing their full dignity and joy as a little glimpse of the life of the world to come, where everyone is free and able to be as relentlessly fabulous as they need to be.

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