Sunday, July 11, 2010

It Takes a Village. So E-mail the Council Your Pictures.

Some habits are hard to break, such as a tendency to take long and entirely undeserved holidays, and allowing for extended hiatuses between posts. I could do worse, though. I could try to become ordained as a priest, which the Church apparently considers to be an offense punishable by the same penalties as child sexual abuse. Don't believe me? Check this link for details - Penalties for Ordaining Women as Priests

Since I continue to be on holiday, however, and have only 20 minutes before Germany vies for third place at the World Cup (yet again), I will use this post to write about something less weighty.

I happened upon a website called www.fashism.com while reading through the NYT's Style section yesterday. Fashism allows users to instantly upload pictures of whatever it is that they are wearing, and  contributors comment on the 'look.' Responses are then compiled to give a quick overview (in percentage terms) of whether other users 'like' or 'hate' the outfit.

I found the entire exercise very interesting - users virtually invite strangers into their closets or changing rooms and ask them the question men (and possibly the kinder sort of friend) have dreaded for generations - "Does this look good on me?" Based on the comments I scrolled through yesterday, Fashism is a great way in which to access feedback that is helpful and constructive and doesn't mitigate itself in an attempt to be 'nice.'

What is even more interesting is the idea that these opinions, from people one doesn't know and will possibly never meet - are of value. Fashion pundits consistently tell us that style is an expression of individuality, that it is inherently personal.  But it is made apparent, both by our everyday behavior and by websites such as this, that 'dressing up' is a performative act. Our ensembles are a less a statement of self than a construction of self, meant for public consumption, or at the very least, for consumption by significant others. And it seems as if this construction is a ceaseless process, as if we are constantly sartorial works-in-progress.

This may seem like an exaggeration, but visit the website before you decide. There are queries not only about big ticket purchases, or 'first-date' looks, but also about what shorts to wear when biking to class, and whether a certain dress is 'too much' for a visit to Central Park. The conversations are also surprisingly intimate - one woman took a picture of herself in an LBD and asked - "Is this too much for a third date?" At least one response said that yes, it was a bit much, unless she had (I quote) "lovin" on her mind.

Perhaps what I find most intriguing about Fashism are not the clothes or even the comments. What is most interesting is that people will find an opportunity to 'perform' and will seek out an audience whenever and wherever they can. We're social beings seeking engagement and companionship - that's the commodity Fashism is trading. It's comforting to know that the onus of buying that hideously expensive dress rests not only with us, but also with an accessible community of men and women who span the continuum from sweet to snarky. Looking one's best does take a village. And we'll take our villages where we find them. If there's free Wi-Fi.

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