I am not a good dresser. I sometimes wear black shoes with a brown belt. I sometimes wear socks with sandals. I sometimes do this carelessly. I sometimes do this deliberately. I am a fashion anarchist.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against fashion. The people I supervise at my office are welcome to dress up or dress down, as their fancy suits them on any given day. Occasionally things in the “up” style catch my eye as aesthetically pleasing; occasionally things in the “down” style catch my eye as aesthetically pleasing. Often, I’m just plain oblivious. My only rule is this: Dress however you like and give others the same respect.
The most common objection to fashion anarchy stems from the misconception that it is “anti-fashion.” People who know me know that I love art museums, that I love to garnish my plates at dinner. And I am sometimes asked: Why are you so against devoting the same attention to fashion? The answer, of course, is that I am not against it. Everyone should pursue their interest in fashion or art or garnishing down to whatever level of detail pleases them. I’m all for freedom of expression and freedom to be as creative or conventional as you like. Just let me dress as differently or as carelessly as I choose. Otherwise, you undermine the very integrity of fashion. You have turned it from a liberating, expressive act into something restrictive and socially deadening. So match your socks and your belts and shoes if you like, but don’t forget to celebrate those who mismatch.
A second objection to fashion anarchy is that clothing should suit the venue. In this case, there is no misconception, merely an outright disagreement. The fashion anarchist does not believe in venue-driven restrictions. These sorts of restrictions are generally a residue of class hierarchy. The wealthier class does not want to see underdressed people in their buildings or clubs or social locales. In another context, I may argue that this need to segregate one’s “people” from lower orders occurs only where you have collective material power combined with collective low self-esteem, or that it is a residue of pre-Renaissance social needs which will wither away in some forthcoming Age of Aquarius. For now let us just say that the comfort taken in maintaining one’s hierarchical status is probably not going away any time soon. Fair enough, but when class exclusivity uses fashion as its weapon, it may serve some purpose for the exclusionary class, but it certainly does no service to fashion. The “dress code” mentality is, in fact, the direct or indirect source of all hostility to the world of fashion. When fashion becomes a tool for exclusion, the excluded come to associate fashion with oppression, and some measure of hostility will follow. But where fashion is a conduit of free expression, stripped of all restrictive functions, it becomes purely liberatory for all classes. This is the final irony: that only through the prism of fashion anarchy can fashion emerge in its full liberatory mode.
So next time you see me with the mismatched socks and sandals, you might want to buy me a beer. For I am your reminder: fashion anarchists are not the enemy of fashion; fashion police are the enemy of fashion.
(For expansion and follow-up, see From Fashion Anarchy to German Socialism.)