Letter from a Fashion Anarchist

Taken from my original post on my friend’s fashion blog: http://destrehansdaughter.blogspot.com/p/fashion-anarchist-vs-style-blogger.html

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.)

External links:

When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink, Smithsonian Magazine.

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22 thoughts on “Letter from a Fashion Anarchist

  1. I have been thinking about your fashion anarchism and find it appealing. One hesitation I have are occasions in which some attire would be inappropriate and possibly offensive, like wearing a tank top and shorts to a formal wedding or a funeral. does your anarchy go that far?

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    • Thanks for the comment, Mad Dog.

      Yes, weddings and funerals fall within the scope of fashion anarchy. Indeed, from a purely ethical standpoint, these are the types of events where fashion anarchy should be most at home. Considering the relative importance of (a) what is in one’s heart and (b) what clothes one chooses to wear, it is precisely events like funerals and weddings where – at least from that purely ethical standpoint — (a) is so predominant that (b) dwindles to total insignificance. One can absolutely be as respectful, compassionate, and/or festive in cutoffs as one can be in a suit – and probably more so, as the fancy clothes are more or less a distraction from the plane of the heart to the plane of commodities, status, and surface image. Or, to use Jesus as a standard, is there any doubt that Jesus would, on any occasion, care more about the content of your heart than the cut of your clothing? I just can’t see Jesus standing in front of the mirror putting on fancy clothes in order to appear respectful. In fact the gospels seem to gravitate the other way, hinting that those who make a marketplace show of their piety are perhaps a bit more likely to be false about their feelings.

      In the forthcoming Age of Aquarius, of which I write elsewhere, it will be a no-brainer that everyone will dress as “up” or “down” as they like for weddings and funerals. The hippie denizens of that great age will ponder how irrational it was that once people thought that putting on fancy clothes somehow made one more compassionate or respectful – not only irrational but unethical too, as it integrates an unhealthy dose of commodity fetishism and social compulsion into what should be matters of the heart. The more intellectually inclined of these fair waifs will also note that the “dress code” mentality, which had clung perhaps most tenaciously to funerals and weddings, really had nothing to do with a respectful heart and everything to do with perpetuating the chains of Establishment thinking, peer pressuring all but the hardiest radicals into the lockboxes of conventional behavior. They will see this “dress code” mentality as the last gasp of late capitalism, of the commodity-driven world of war, money and machines, just before the millennial rupture into the Age of Aquarius. (For a prescient vision of that millennial rupture, see all the hippies in the main panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, circa 1490.)

      To return to the gloomy present, I, unlike one particular party in today’s American body politic, believe that living with others means compromise. Not everyone is going to share your values, and in most cases some accommodation can and should ethically be made for those with conflicting values. To wit, when I do go to weddings or funerals, I try to figure out the minimum standard of what others at the event will consider respectful, and try to meet that standard – never a suit, but at least long pants and a button-up shirt. This I consider an act of compassion on my part to accommodate the ethically unevolved, and for which I’m sure a handsome reward awaits when the new world community collectively attains the higher ethical standard embedded in fashion anarchy, and I am posthumously canonized in the Age of Aquarius pantheon. Gary

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    • Per the NPR article, I support Justin Bieber 100%, I support Gladys Knight 100%. Linda Holmes clearly needs to get a life if she has this much time to fret about what other people wear.

      Note 1: Sadly for Linda Holmes, I’m guessing that Gladys Knight would side with me and Justin over her on this one.
      Note 2: To be fair to NPR, I assume that Holmes is representing her own views here, not those of NPR.
      Note 3: I redirect Holmes (if she’s not speaking tongue-in-cheek, in which case I owe her a drink) to the thesis of my original post: Fashion anarchists are not the enemy of fashion; fashion police are the enemy of fashion.

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  12. There has been some discussion in Britain this week about such matters. A BBC journalist was reprimanded for watching cricket without wearing a tie, and I believe that some celebrity or other was banned from Wimbledon for not following the dress code.

    You are right about dress codes being hangovers from class hierarchy, but it is even more general than that, I think. Groups like punks or hippies dressed in a way that would exclude others from their group. Those who follow the latest fashion are explicitly seeking to identify themselves as “fashionable” people, with the sadly misguided belief that “fashionable” people are in some way superior to others. As you discuss, the fashion anarchist is superior, as he/she makes his own rules, rather than being a sheep.

    I personally do not belong to any of these groups, and am simply one who tries to fit in but without making the effort required to do so well.

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    • Thanks for the thoughtful feedback. Excuse my American chuckle at the poor guy who watched cricket without a tie. The level of fashion anarchy varies with groups and subgroups. I found hippies generally welcoming and inclusive to “squares” and hippie-dressed people alike, so long as they didn’t try to enforce the external “rules” of the Establishment status quo. But then there were cliquish hippie subgroups. I found punkers a bit more militant and less inclusive overall but with some very open-minded subgroups. You and I, though, are the Newton and Einstein of fashion.
      https://shakemyheadhollow.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/what-is-fashionable/

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  13. Further, I feel that dress codes are one of those things that is potentially a human-rights violation. Not in a big way, obviously. But since the law of the land doesn’t require people to wear ties or high heels, or such things, how can it be legal for a public venue like a sports ground or a restaurant to impose rules? Surely this is precisely like a wedding photographer refusing to attend a gay wedding, or suchlike? In the UK, legals cases are being brought to court to overturn such activities and create legal precedents forcing business owners to cease such discrimination. As fashion anarchist, your human rights are being violated daily. Fashion anarchists unite!

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    • I like the human rights angle — I may try it at work — although I’m nervous about “fashion anarchy” attaining an enforcement mechanism, since the whole point is that no rules should be enforced — or to raise consciousness without enforcing rules — the logic becomes delicate here. (As a 1960s-type liberal, I’m appalled by the post-80s liberal penchant for speech codes and other such legislative mechanisms for stifling dissent … which may explain my reluctance to muscle in fashion anarchy by enforcement.)

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