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I could give two shits about fashion, but I will say this for it: fashion is easy.* You buy a magazine, you watch a television program, you read a website, you keep your eyes open when walking past shops with window displays, you hang out in the common areas of any accredited undergraduate institution, and ta da! You now know what is in fashion. You may not like it and you may not have the knack for making it look effortless and you may not be able to find it in your damn size, but at least you know that skinny jeans and high heels that lace up and kind of look like boots but are also open-toed and over-sized watches are on trend.**
But what about style? Not what the fashion industry is excited about this season, but what I am excited about every day? For some people, those two things are the same, but alas, not so for me. The problem is that after, shit, nearly a lifetime of having to subjugate my own personal style instincts in the face of a dearth of off-the-rack, at-least-semi-well-fitted, affordable clothing, I had no idea what my actual style preferences were. In the same way that in a patriarchy, women are strongly encouraged to ignore their own instincts regarding hunger and eating, in a capitalist society, everybody is encouraged to ignore his or her own personal taste and preferences regarding consumer goods, because capitalism feeds on the constant dissatisfaction of the consumer base the way Pennywise the clown fed on little kids’ fear. If the consumers stop chasing the brass ring of the Next Great Thing, capitalism stops working (or at least starts winding down (presumably; it’s hard to say what those in power will do to keep the status quo chugging along)), so consumers shouldn’t worry about what they actually like, because if they buy it and hate it, they can just buy something else!
So my first step was to figure out what I even liked, style-wise. I could have followed Plumcake’s reasonable directive to make an inspiration board, but I have this thing where when I get an idea and I know it’s good, I’m all, “FULL STEAM AHEAD” and “DAMN THE TORPEDOES” and many other naval metaphors and creating an inspiration board was going to take FOR-EV-ER and GOD I just wanted to do this WARDROBE THING, OKAY? So instead I started by thinking about stuff that I like, the kind of stuff where when I see an item that is representitive of said stuff, I say, “Ooo!” and run directly toward the representative item, leaving my companions standing around, brows furrowed in puzzlement. For me, this list includes (but is not limited to):
The Arts and Crafts Movement
Jane Austen Novels
The English Renaissance
Norma Desmond’s bedroom in Sunset Boulevard
While there are a few outliers, this is a sufficiently cohesive list from which I can tease out a general aesthetic trend: bookish, proper, and correct yet unrestrained and unpretentious, and a little witchy with a crypto-goth streak a mile wide. The cool thing for me was realizing how right freaking on this general aesthetic trend actually was. I looked around and saw this aesthetic on my bookshelf, in my DVD collection, on my iPod, around my workspace, and to a lesser extent in my home decor (I do live with another person whose preferred aesthetic is best summed up by the concrete and stainless steel modular home that this dude in Japan built that was featured on the TV show Small Space, Big Style a couple of years ago, in which you can slide big, blank, dully reflective walls around to hide your kitchen, bathroom, living and bedrooms, and which, in its native state, looks like a big, empty concrete and metal box, the mere thought of which makes my chest tight). The one place this aesthetic does not appear? My closet.
Unfortunately, another place in which this aesthetic is absent is on the racks and webpages of most plus-size retailers, unless Victorian Dress Reform included a hidden period of enthusiasm about polyester and plastic bedazzling. And so, now familiar with my personal style aesthetic, I bought this dress in every color and spent $5,000 at Holy Clothing and called it a day.
Just kidding! For me, there is a lot more to creating a capsule wardrobe than just selecting clothes that satisfy a particular aesthetic paradigm. I also have to consider the logistics of why I need to wear clothes. There are obvious environmental considerations: I live in Chicago, which while sometimes as hot and humid as a hobo’s armpit, is mostly temperate to colder than batshit on a witch’s tit. Then there are professional considerations: I am a legal professional and while my current job does not require a particularly high standard of dress, I am a believer of dressing for the job I want, and I want a job where people won’t ask me if I am going to be on TV or something because I happen to be wearing a tailored black dress and pearls. And finally there are general, practical considerations of personal preference: a strong preference for natural fibers and dresses more so than pants, a unabashed love of cardigans, a white-hot hatred of constricting clothing, the need for durable and easy-care garments, and a tragic lack of closet space.
The bigger challenge for me was taking this aesthetic, and all these logistical considerations, and turning them into a style. I actively and intently thought about this quite a bit. Eventually I settled on the following characteristics: evolved from an Anglo-Western tradition; was fairly modest without being timorous; relied on smart tailoring and a wee smidge of stretch to achieve a fit that emphasized simple lines yet was comfortable and non-restrictive; had a decidedly yet subtly old-fashioned vibe; was minimally embellished and then Morris over Mondriaan; and constructed, whenever possible, of natural fiber fabrics. Think an episode of Project Runway as hosted by Lady Dedlock and Aubrey Beardsley, with special guest judge Queen Elizabeth I, in which the designers have to create a plus-size look appropriate for presenting oral arguments before the US Supreme Court, and Stevie Nicks wins.
And thus was born My Personal Style. The next step is to apply this nascent personal style to my fantasy capsule wardrobe.
*Well, in some respects. In other respects, such as the respect of actually finding those on trend items in your actual size, it’s fucking hard as hell as Gabi and many other excellent fatshion bloggers can tell you.
**Actual trendiness of the listed items not guaranteed.
About two months ago, a thought exploded to the forefront of my little brain with all the ferocity of a supernova: I could give two shits about fashion.
And it’s true. I could really, seriously give two shits about fashion. I don’t care about what’s “on trend.” Sometimes trends and my own personal taste will intertwine, but 90% of the time as I pass store windows or read fashion blogs, I wind up just shaking my head in puzzlement or dismay.
Now, please do not mistake me. By “fashion,” I absolutely do not mean “style.” Style is extremely important to me. Style is what makes me feel confident enough to push my way onto a crowded train. Style is what helps me stand up to misogynistic jagoffs in a professional setting. Style is what supports me when I am feeling a little deflated in the ego department but still really want or need to appear in public.
Style, however, is not fashion. Which isn’t to say that fashionable people lack style. I merely realized, in a moment of cerebral detonation, just that one need not be in style to have style.
Though simple, this realization was startling.
I have been struggling valiantly to develop a wardrobe of clothes that suit my style and my personal distribution of fat for at least the past year. And friends, I have been failing spectacularly. Sure, I have (and wear, fear not) clothes, but clothes, I would posit, are no more synonymous with style than fashion is. Getting dressed is just something I do because the alternative is hypothermia or jail or both. Getting dressed for me is a routine, a desultory start to my day. And you know, I totally deserve better.
Over on Shapely Prose in the comments to a post that I will never be able to identify at this point, A Sarah mentioned that she was looking for a tailor to help her construct a capsule wardrobe. What is a capsule wardrobe, you ask? Let me provide this excellent definition from Shop Talk, a blog I just found by Googling “capsule wardrobe” and that also happens to sport the eerily relevant tag line “Fashions fade, style is eternal”:
It is what’s left when you downsize your closet to the bare essentials. It is the actual backbone of your wardrobe and as such should work with everything. For that very reason it must be based on timeless, best-quality items (think cotton, cashmere, silk) with the most flattering cuts. Think of it as a style investment as these pieces will transcend fashion trends, year in year out. Finally your Capsule Wardrobe will be built around key pieces in neutral colours that suit your natural colouring.
I don’t give a shit about fashion, I thought. A capsule wardrobe, I pondered. Clothes that excite me, that fit, that reflect my personal aesthetic, that make me want to get out of bed and go out there and knock ’em dead, I enthused. Could I, fat woman looking down the barrel of 40, have and embody… style?
Yes, I thought, I absolutely can.
And so, what I have been calling in my head My Own Personal Wardrobe Project was born.