Saturday, September 27, 2014

On becoming a fashion addict: pillow talk

"Is this happiness? Noticing the subtle signs of life and enjoying them?" (Source)

"You are most beautiful in the morning."
I just stared at him for a second and then smiled. Either this guy is an amateur sweet talker  or he is naively sincere. My hair was grossly wrapped, my eyes puffy and my skin dull and yet he found me beautiful.

The rain was dancing on the window and a cool autumnal breeze was flowing in the bedroom. I rested my head on his chest and listened to all the subtle sounds of life surrounding me. Was I finally happy? Is this happiness? Noticing the sounds of life and enjoying them?

Mark and I had been together for a few months. He was a positive force in myself with his existential talks about anything, including things he didn't know much about and his easygoing attitude. We often seemed to be arguing from an external standpoint, but it was just lively discussion without ill feelings behind it. It was the way we rolled.
He introduced me to his band: a brotherhood of lunatic boys creating rather plain and repetitive music and unlikely to get anywhere in life with that. But I was happy that he truly believed in their success. So I encouraged them. 
I unearthed my saxophone for him. Cleaning it brought up a mixture of sour and sweet emotions, but I enjoyed feeling its cold metallic shape in my hands again and seeing its glow slowly come back. I was as rusted as the thing, but Mark and his friend thought my gigs were brilliant and wanted to incorporate them in their music...So we played without pretentiousness, without stress, just for fun.

My spendings significantly changed in his presence. He was partially filling the inner emptiness they used to fill.  Beautiful dresses and branded shoes didn't impress him. Your state of mind and your philosophy of life did. He was a passionate, curious being and was usually interested in women from his species. I was an exception he was pleased to have encountered. "You have that je-ne-sais-quoi...You are not totally a snob", he used to tell me when we first started dating.

I was still a snob, though. I gave too much importance to appearance for his liking. I would explain  to him that in the current society, appearance is important for social advancement regardless of his opinion and that in the world in which I was evolving being well dressed wasn't an option. However Mark still had an ill opinion of the wealthy students he used to serve meals to during summer. I felt that a hint of envy and misunderstanding tinted his criticism.  He came from a modest family too. He grew up in the suburbs and came to the city for success and fame and hadn't encountered them yet. He evolved observing these snobs surrounding him in his new life without truly interacting with them as if an invisible line separated him from them. He seemingly envied their apparent success brought upon them by their name, rather than their work. I was his first contact with this different species and an outlet of his frustration towards them he was constantly  trying to hide behind a big smile. He eyes often told another story thought...

"You are most beautiful...without makeup, without expansive perfume, without all those designer clothes...", he continued stroking my hair and staring at my rack of clothes prepared for the next week.

Mark wasn't aware of my rather simple upbringing. He didn't know that my je-ne-sais-quoi was the fact that my family wasn't famous or rich either.  I was able to understand him. We came from the same bucket. I felt the same envy when my newly made snob friends would go for pricey entertainment I couldn't afford. But I wanted to hang out with them still. I was finally a Chanel girl and was going to live a Chanel girl's life. He was trying to strip that image away from me, probably because it made him a bit uneasy, but he was unsuccessful so far. Without acknowledge it himself, image was probably important for him too. My posh-woman-in-heels outfits wear tarnishing or rather polishing a bit too much his philosophical bohemian hipster vibe and maybe discrediting him in front of his peers.

"They are the expression of my inner self. They upgrade me and I upgrade them. They make me feel happy on sad days and cozy on cold mornings. They are the door to my universe. Just like my smile. A door to my inner self." I answered him.

He paused a second and continued stroking my hair in silence. I thought my answer satisfied him. He always liked discourses that seemed profound and well thought out. I have to say that I was content with my answer too. It digressed from the true less philosophical and glamorous role these clothes were playing in my life. 
"You are not a snob. You haven't found your inner self yet. They do not represent you." he whispered  firmly before kissing my forehead.

I didn't know what to answer to that. There was truth in his words. I kissed him back and continued to listen intensely to his heart and the rain to block that attempt to damage the Chanel girl in me and my new found sartorial philosophy. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Of women and scarves

Audrey Hepburn on the set of Sabrina (Source)

I often wrap my hair in a silk scarf on Sunday mornings when I am heading out for my weekly errands.  Although I have appropriated this habit as a fashion statement now, the pragmatic reasoning behind it is not. I braid my hair before going to bed to avoid living a frizzy horror in the morning and those rapidly done braids are rarely good-looking enough be seen in public. However, on weekend days, I often don't feel like going through the process of unbraiding them, brushing them and styling them knowing that they will get treated and washed later on that day anyways...

I took this habit from my mother and other female relatives that shaped my childhood. Wrapping their hair wasn't a fashion statement though. They did it to hide their hair or advancing baldness, to protect themselves from the sun while working outside or to pray God in a more respectful way (Men weren't covering their head in church and it annoyed me, but that is another story...) I felt there was always something quite demeaning about it whenever they were using it.

Living in a neighbourhood populated mainly by a Orthodox Jewish community whose women often go out with their hair covered without any sense of shame in their eyes, I have wondered about the role of scarves in women's lives.

Head covering with scarves is as much a female custom in many religions and traditions as it is a useful habit for protection from the elements. Often the way the item is wrapped differentiates its religious and its utilitarian usages or marks the characteristics of its link to a certain community. 

A Sikh woman (Source)
An Orthodox Jew woman (Source)

Although often presented as a way to make oneself look humble, respectable and pious, head scarves have always had a secondary agenda to me: hiding the shameful perhaps sinful thing that is hair (or the lack of it, depending on the context), may it be conscious or unconscious.

Cancer patient undergoing treatment with a scarf (Source)

Long hair is central a feminine attribute in many cultures and attentive care is given to it to keep it beautiful.  Besides clothes and makeup, haircare is probably the third subject mostly covered in magazines aiming a female population.

With such vain attention on it, I do understand how covering it is seen as a humble or pious action. Although I fear that often the instigator of such propositions have been men... But we, as women, after centuries of being second-class humans, have developed tricks to make what was used to humiliate and hide us as our own, as self-empowerment objects and as fashion statements.

When I started wearing my scarf on Sundays, a sense of shame motivated my actions (attention!ugly hair underneath!), but now I sometimes do it on purpose because I like the look it gives me and how it makes me stand out. Maybe such a thought process partially explains why many Muslim women are defending their right to wear their hijab in public spaces in France while other women who haven't gone through their reasoning don't really understand it...Maybe.

Erykah Badu (Source)
Although often seen as a sign of modesty, there is something quite sexy about a scarf well wrapped in how it accentuates the neck, frames the face or let some loose locks come out adding colour and presence to your look. I personally think we should integrate it more in our wardrobe.

A fashion statement on your head (Source)

Regardless of the historical or cultural meaning of a symbolic item as a scarf, the attitude with which you harbour it determines if it owns you or you own it. Cultural appropriation and adaptation are after all signs of evolution, distancing items from their original meanings and conferring them the new sense its actual users give it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

On becoming a fashion addict: the first date

"I liked this disheveled look of his that was perfectly balancing my very polished one. I was all about the image. And there was nothing wrong with this picture." (Source)

His green eyes were softly listening to my high-pitched pressed voice. His hair loosely tied in a bun, he smiled at the overexcited girl I was. A faint smell of oil was exuding from him, but I like it. I liked this disheveled look of his that was perfectly balancing my very polished one. I was all about the image. And there was nothing wrong with this picture.

I was working as an apprentice programmer during summer to bonify my C.V. solely to get a better chance to get accepted in med school and didn't really enjoy my work. He was an acting student, but worked as a cook in the university kitchen for the summer to pay his studies.
"Do you smoke?" He offered me the remaining cigarette from a crushed cardboard package hidden in his breast pocket.
"No" I couldn't stand cigarette smoke, but I let him light it. It made the picture even better.
"So what do you do on your free time?", he asked me leaning backward, his eyes never leaving my smile.

I didn't have much free time. College was taking most of my time and I spent the rest of it on shopping related activities: window shopping, making endless wish lists, browsing fashion blogs, listing items on Ebay, buying others...Little time was left to see my friends and family. Or I didn't let them intrude my fashion regimen. I was constantly looking for that rush that comes with new garments in my hands. It was the sole rewarding activity I had to curb my stressful academic life and I did have any intention finding a healthier one for my body, soul and wallet.  But I couldn't tell him that. It would scare him away.

"I like playing saxophone, dancing, running and rock climbing when I have time I guess. What about you?"
This was a deceitful allegation.The reality is I used to play saxophone, but haven't touched mine since high school. I took some beginner's dancing classes, but I couldn't follow a partner jiving or dancing salsa. As for running and rock climbing, it happened maybe once a month...

"Interesting. I play guitar and the violin. Are you in a band? We could gig together..." His free hand approached my arm and softly touched it. 

I ignited his interest, but I had to change the direction of that conversation before he realizes that I was inflating my personal resume. However, I wanted to the turn the spark that appeared in his eyes into a shimmering light, so I went deeper into my half-lies. 
"I was in a jazz band in high school. We were animating the school dances. Our shows were quite popular, but we decided to stay small and leave it as a hobby. With college, it is hard getting together to play though." 
- That is really cool. Were you playing established songs or partitions you created?
- A mix of both, but we were mostly improvising and adding our own flavour to Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Duke Ellington classics. People liked listening to classics and appreciated the modern twist we were giving them.

I had to do research on these musicians later on that night. I knew them but barely. I actually wasn't an integral member of the band. At the auditions, another girl playing the saxophone tenor took the part. They proposed me to replace her if she couldn't attend a show because I was good enough. So I practiced with them, but never got to play in front of the public because Helen (fictional name) never missed a show in 5 years. 

Thankfully for me, my date liked jazz, but wasn't a connoisseur. So I could navigate around the conversation without looking like someone who doesn't know what she is talking about. 
We talk about music, school, politics, religion, existential questions on life. He was very talkative,  maintaining the conversation.

I was realizing as we discussed how my general knowledge had declined in the last few years. I, who could discuss about anything with a good average knowledge, was struggling. My date was too blinded by my big smile to realize it though. I knew my obsessing with fashion had something to do with it, but leaving those habits was hard. It worked for a few days, but they were hitting me back harder with binge buyings and hours of shopping. I knew I had a problem back them, but I couldn't address it. I didn't want to address it. It was the only thing that was making me content.  But Mark (fictional name) was about to change that.