Not too long ago my friend Kiki and I were sharing an impressive order of fries and hashing out the long-held divide among feminists about the frivolity vs. importance of fashion in general, and personal style specifically. Always an expert with the killer one-liner, Kiki managed to skewer the notion of fashion as frivolity with, “First humans clothed themselves, then they started drawing on cave walls.” Meaning that “fashion” is in fact so integral to our sense of self, of personhood, it preceded all other forms of expression short of, possibly, language.
Sure, to call the clothing that enabled early humans to migrate out of Africa 170,000 years ago “self expression” might be a stretch, especially since we wouldn’t evolve the high order thinking skills that led to “art” for another 130,000 years, but still. Let’s just say our ancestors married form and function.
Either way, in the intervening centuries fashion has evolved as a form of language in and of itself–an aspect of personal visual culture that can be “read” with all the subtext, narrative arcs, and suspense of a good book. The stories of our “selves”–our bodies, our fears, our aspirations, our successes, our interests–are the stories we tell with our clothes. Continue reading