To whom it may concern

An A for effort

Two years ago I was in writing hell.

I was in the process of finishing up my master’s thesis, and as such, was spending upwards of thirteen hours a day sitting in front my computer (and I use the term sitting pretty liberally, because for much of the time, I just contorted myself into the most back breaking positions imaginable to human kind – so much so that it’s really quite amazing I didn’t rework the entire curvature of my spine) writing a path dependent analysis of British and Canadian immigration policies and immigrant integration schemes, post-1945.

Nymeria was pretty much the best study partner I could have asked for.

Overall, I loved writing on the subject matter, loved my research (carried out both here in Canada and over in the UK), and very much loved the finished product.

Of course the million dollar question is, would have I said all this to you then?

Maybe.

Probably not.

What most likely would have happened instead, was that sometime during our conversation on the matter I would have either burst into tears, or begged you to go out and buy me a 7/11 apple fritter.

(Had you said either yes, or no, I probably still would have cried. From either disappointment or happiness – believe you me, those fat, salty sobs would have flowed.)

Sitting here, writing this today, with so much perspective on this event, it is pretty darn easy to talk about how great the whole experience was.

Nymeria is also here to remind me not to get completely delusional. She would like me to remember that at the time I was completely knackered. PLUS: Animal Print.

However at the time, I was a miserable wreck; as previously noted, my life was rife with high-drama crying fits, poor nutritional choices, and completely cringe-worthy, totally horrifying fashion statements.

If I only had one word to describe my dress sense for the first four months of 2010, it would be BRUTAL.

Just brutal.

I am disclosing this today, because I want to provide a different perspective (or palate cleanser if you will) from last Friday’s post.

I feel compelled point out that there have been times in my life where I have, on a daily basis, fashioned outfits that would have propelled me to the top of any worst dressed list out there.

Sometimes when I look at old photos, particularly of the early years Mr. M and I spent together as a couple, I often repeat to him, “Thank you so much for staying with me despite all the times I looked absolutely deranged.”

He normally just smiles, and dismisses my claims.

(Although, to be real here folks, if you take a second at the photos, he may be thinking along the same lines. We are a match made in (crazily dressed) heaven.)

But getting back to Thesisgate, 2010.

By the end of my scholarly run, things had gotten pretty darn bad.

Indeed, my closet had pretty much devolved into the following two outfits:

The first?

My pajamas.

The words on this sweater "who gives a hoot?" eventually became a short-lived life motto of mine.

Each morning I would wake up, and immediately begin writing. No shower. No bath. I would type away until about one o’clock, at which point I would eat a banana completely slathered in peanut butter, drink a pot of tea, and then have a massive, massive sweat-and-panic attack. To combat my massively rising anxiety, I would throw myself into different feats of strength, which sometimes meant push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups, but other times meant episodes of Gossip Girl.

After these exercises (in self-loathing), my garb would be sufficiently grodtastic, so I would take everything off, wash them, dry them, wash myself, dry myself, and then put the whole thing on again.

At the height of my efficiency, I probably had about three different sleeping ensembles on the go, none of which (I promise you) had a best before date that outlasted my defense date.

Blargh.

Outfit number two was my “Going Out Outfit.”

Now, at the beginning of January, this setup was at least a “semi-normal” ranking, on a scale from plain jane to absolutely barmy.

It mostly consisted of a pair of thick, comfortable leggings, a cute (albeit short) summer dress (it pretty much covered my bum and that was it) and a rotating duo of cardigans.

Unfortunately, before I really knew what was happening, I started adding soccer socks (on top of the leggings), big doc marten boots, chunky mens sweaters, and really outrageous scarves to the whole shebang.

I looked a bit like a cross between Daria, Blossom, and Claudia from the Babysitter’s Club.

The only thing missing was a giant hat with a bunch of fake flowers stuck to it. I mostly just wore old-school Canuck’s toques and a pink beret.

In my opinion, (and to the many, wide-eyed, confused individuals, who saw me wearing this in public places)- this is not a very good look.

For anyone.

(Or at least not anyone over the age of fourteen. In 1992.)

The day after I defended, Mr. M (ever the gentleman) very politely asked if I could never , ever, wear any one version of the getup ever again for the rest of my life.

I very respectfully (not to mention eagerly) agreed to do so.

I’ve also stopped eating 7/11 baked goods.

( But you can pry my penny candy from my cold dead hands.)

So there you have it my darlings. A (very bleak) fashion confession from yours truly.

Okay, so I have scoured my archives for a digital copy of my "going out outfit" and couldn't find one (good thinking on my part it would seem.) So please accept this as evidence of some of the silly things I do like take photos of my hairdo before going to work so I know what it looks like.

And I would like to make it very clear that when I do offer critiques on this here blog spot, they are never done with any malicious intent, or mean spiritedness. It is a way for me to deconstruct my relationship with the fashion industry, and how both my choices as a consumer, and my (evolving) taste aesthetic inform not only my perspective of the industry, but also of myself.

I spent a lovely afternoon with my sister in-law V on Sunday, and she remarked that she thinks there are lots of people out in the world who probably wish they could try on some of the more, well, unique outfits available for purchase at different stores, but never have the nerve or gall to follow through.

(To which I say (of course) is: GO FOR IT DUDES! It’s a TON of fun!

She also remarked that the salespeople probably spend quite a while speculating on who will even purchase the store’s crazier merchandise when its shows up at the store.

And just like them, I so desperately want to know who, if anyone, is out there is purchasing the strange apparel I’ve come across in downtown Vancouver.

And if I find out, I won’t have the heart to pass judgment.

After all, they’re probably just in the midst of finishing their PhD.

And their pajamas are still in the wash.

6 thoughts on “An A for effort

  1. I debated whether to respond here or via Facebook/email, but in the spirit of the blog, I’m going to do it here.

    Firstly, I know everything I’m about to say is going to be coloured by the following declaration, but I will say it anyway: I think your legging/dress/Docs/cardigan/scarf/etc outfit sounds awesome. I’m pretty sure I saw you dressed like this. And I’m pretty sure you looked awesome.

    Moving along…I think I know we disagree on this point because we talked about it while we were watching the Oscars, but I definitely look at fashion differently. Like you, my relationship with the fashion industry has definitely evolved over time. For a long time (aka high school), I had a conservative view of fashion, and hated anything I thought was too outrageous, skimpy, “ugly”, etc. I thought simple was best and it was important to look elegant and stylish. Meanwhile, I had no confidence in my looks or body and wore sweatpants and t-shirts on most days. That would have been fine if that’s the way I wanted to dress, and it was, sometimes, but I also wanted to wear “prettier” and more “feminine” clothes, but I felt like I didn’t look good in them.

    I feel like I’ve grown out of a lot my body image/appearance hangups (but only until, from time to time, the media images that constantly bombard me with their pre-ordained definitions of “beautiful” and “sexy” beat me down and make me feel like shit about myself-but that’s only sometimes). In any event, the way I dress changed, but I also completely changed my ideas on clothing and “what looks good.” Where I used to look at people dressed on the street, mannequins, fashion shoots, celebrities, and think “WTF are they wearing, that looks hideous,” now when I see someone wearing something that would typically be judged frumpy, or crazy, or unflattering, etc., I tend to think “cool, that person is wearing something other than the easy option of jeans and a t-shirt.” And I DON’T mean that in a hipster-asshole “everything different is cool way.”

    I think the single biggest thing that changed the way I look at clothes is repeatedly reading the style blog Style Bubble (http://www.stylebubble.co.uk/). Nowadays, the writer, Susie Bubble, is kind of a big shot, a very succesful freelance fashion writer with a closet bursting with designer clothing, but when I started reading her blog in 2006, she was just a recent uni grad who loved to experiment with her outfits. What caught my eye is that she would put together clothes, shapes, colours, textures that conventional wisdom would say DO NOT GO TOGETHER, and somehow, totally worked it. I know that lots of people would not agree with that assessment (you included). Many people say that she looks bat-shit crazy. But I think the reason she has so many readers, the reason she struck a chord, is because she has so much FUN with getting dressed. That was true back before she was “somebody” in the industry, when she shopped mostly at thrift stores, Primark, Next, Topshop, New Look, etc., and it’s true now that she has a big budget to buy designers clothes.

    Looking at photos of Susie’s daily outfits permanently changed the way I look at clothes, and irreversibly turned me away from thinking a garment must be “flattering” or that colours have to match in order for an outfit to be acceptable for public wear. Especially since a lot of the discourse about what constitutes “flattering” clothing is actually centred around “what men will find attractice on a woman’s body.” Sure, it’s not like I dress in a particularly outrageous way, or anything. I think my outfits are pretty “normal”. They’re nothing like Susie’s. But I don’t like the idea that fashion should be prescripive.

    I think Susie puts it very well herself here: http://www.stylebubble.co.uk/style_bubble/2008/11/pro-choice.html
    Also here: http://www.stylebubble.co.uk/style_bubble/2010/06/going-skinny-and-strappy.html

    I agree with the Heidi Klum quote about excess in the industry. I do think it’s insane the amount of money that gets thrown around and it’s wasteful. I also don’t think the lives of the very rich and fashion editors is a model for how I want to consume fashion (because I am a consumer, whether I like to think of myself as one or not).

    YES, I agree, some of the clothes at H&M, F21, etc. look completely insane. But I don’t really have a problem with crazy-ass clothing per se. I think the conversation about the ethics of fast fashion and the downright wastefulness of the industry is absolutely worth having.
    But if, the next time I see you, you are wearing those houndstooth leggings (which I think look great on you and I would totally wear) or the flesh toned suit, I will not blink an eye. Nor, will I, if you show up dressed in the immaculate clothes you already own!

    Ha…maybe I should’ve written my own blog post on this…oh well!

    1. I feel like I should follow up by clarifying that I don’t believe that just because H&M tells you that a flesh-toned suit, or a hot pink tutu, or a zebra print hat, or whatever, is SO IN RIGHT NOW, that one should purchase it.

      I’m just saying that, if one happens to think that zebra print hats are the bees knees, wish to purchase one, I don’t have a problem with it. But if aforementioned Strange Garment makes you feel comfortable and confident, I think that’s cool. Do I think the world needs zebra print hats? Not necessarily, but neither do I think clothes are more than just coverings for our bodies.

      I do think it’s important to consider carefully what, where, and why you’re making a purchase. I don’t happen to think fast fashion stores like H&M and Forever 21 are such a great thing, and I do think we should consider whether stores like that selling crazy-pants trends du jour are a sustainable way to consume clothing (the answer is no, but I don’t think the solution is so simple).

      Ok. That’s all for now. I hope we can still be friends despite my terrible taste in pie, er clothes. :)

  2. tl;dr

    JUST KIDDING! OMG I would never do that.

    Urg, banoffee pie sounds so gross I don’t know what to do with myself. So instead, I’ll just say (because I didn’t make it clear) that there was a direct link between my “going out outfit” and the misery/stress/anxiety I was going through during that period of my life.

    Because I felt like I didn’t have my crap together, I (in my opinion) very much looked like I didn’t have my crap together. And because of this, I cannot help but have a negative view of that outfit.

    As a human being (I think) my personal experience colours my perspective on not only the clothing that I currently own, but the clothing I once owned (especially if they were owned and worn during phases of my life where I was incredibly unhealthy and unhappy) and the fashion I see on the streets/in the stores.

    It’s the same way you feel about jeans/sweats/t-shirts. Only I feel this way about my crazier outfits. So I don’t look at people and think “cool, how different.” My immediate reaction is that perhaps they are unsure of themselves, or trying too hard, or way too preoccupied with something else to really notice (and I think this way because those are some of the reasons behind why I dressed the way I did).

    However, I am very much aware that this is a gut reaction and that it shouldn’t dictate my overall interpretation of the person. But I would be lying if I said this is not something that happens to me. I’m human afterall. And humans make judgements off of how others look. I make up for this by being an overall good human (and formulating my final judgement based other things such as their actions, and characteristics, and opinions on David Benioff.)

    Also, while in a perfect world, fashion wouldn’t be prescriptive, we do (unfortunately) live in a society bound by rules and regulations. And while I don’t necessarily agree with this, I do freely admit that my preferred aesthetic falls within the limits of mainstream acceptability, which makes some things easier for me, and of course also colours my opinion of the clothes I see in stores/on people/in magazines/etc. Do I try not pigeonhole people based on their mode of dress? Like I said before, of course. But perhaps I’m also a jerk who also believes that there are ways of subverting the status quo/proclaiming individuality other than wearing a wok as a hat, and sequined underpants over a hot pink onesie.

    Now that I’ve mellowed out substantially, those kind of outfits mostly just make me cringe. I feel as though people want me to feel bad about this, but I’m kind of at a point where I can’t be bothered. My taste has evolved and I am happy in my life, and with myself. I’m a square man! A happy square! AND a (sometimes) sucker for practicality.

    Plus I assume that if those individuals are as comfortable in their individuality as they purport to be, then it really shouldn’t matter at all what I think about their mode of dress. They probably don’t like my aesthetic either.

    But mostly, more than anything, I am of the mind that greater dialogue is needed on the insane excess that propels and sustains the fashion industry.

    Not buying anything for pretty much an entire really made me understand just how bombarded we are everyday by stuff (particularly clothing). My questions would be, how do we know that we want the zebra print hat because we genuinely like it and it makes us happy, and not because we’ve been told to buy it because we like it and it makes us happy?

    Is it that easy to tell anymore?

    I don’t know, but the more I think about it, the more the fashion industry reminds me of wall street – dominated by big businesses, that are mostly morally bankrupt, dependent on the easily manipulated masses, run my billionaires who surround themselves with sycophants, narcissist, and arseholes, while local, indie designers are so dang expensive that most can’t afford anything they sell.

    And this is why I question where I, a consumer, and the consumers consuming all of these (in my opinion) strange, and very quickly turned-over pieces, fit into the ever-evolving, ever-expanding picture.

    KBYE!

  3. 1. Banoffee pie is delicious! Seriously you don’t know what you’re missing.

    2. Obvs, you’re not a jerk. Of course it’s human to judge people at first glance, and I do as well, we all do.

    3. I think it’s interesting that you say that when you see people dressed in an off-kilter manner, you project onto them that they’re unsure of themselves, trying too hard, or otherwise preoccupied because you can relate to that experience. It’s funny how we project our own experiences on to people…because for me, when I see someone dressed in a quirky way, I thin, “that person is really confident and is wearing what pleases them and doesn’t care what anyone thinks” or, “that person is experimenting with with crazy look because they’re may not be sure of themselves, but they’re using clothing to express themselves”
    Meanwhile, if I see someone dressed in sweats/yoga pants, or even sometimes just jeans/runners/hoodie, MY unfair asshole gut reaction can be, “that person is lazy and/or has no confidence in themselves and/or is unimaginative/boring” — because that’s how I felt when I dressed like that.
    It’s funny how these things are so subjective, and ultimately very personal.

    4. I’m absolutely with you on the interrogation of disposable fashion front. I agree, it is hard to tell sometimes whether certain items seem desirable because they really truly speak to you, or because a fashion designer/marketing executive decided I need it. But that goes for anything that’s for sale, not just clothes.

    The fashion industry is definitely very fucked up in many ways – aside from just selling us a ridiculous luxury lifestyle that is unattainable for most people, and promoting very narrow standards of beauty, there are just so many questions about production and labour and exploitation and environmental cost.

    I personally do think long and hard before I buy something (do I really NEED it? Ok, maybe I don’t NEED it, but do I really WANT it? Will it bring me utility? Why do I want it? Am I okay with spending a lot more money to buy something that is of better quality and will last me years, or am I going to go for the H&M option, because I am broke, after all? etc. etc. etc.).
    But at the same time, it’s hard for me to just dismiss the entire industry as a complete waste of space, and say we should all just wear burlap sacks, etc. because at the end of the day I really do think that garment construction is an art form. I appreciate the imagination and art that goes into it, and the way that art meets function (or doesn’t, as the case may be). And I just like pretty things.
    It’s very difficult to reconcile my aesthetic appreciation for fashion with the problematic nature of the industry. I don’t want to be a mindless consumer, but I can’t see myself full-on boycotting fashion either. I’m not sure where the middle ground is yet.

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