I’ve been thinking a lot about fashion and style lately, partly because of a Very Strange and Important Experience I had the other day which slightly altered the way I view the world, and partly as a distraction from some other things which haven’t been going so well. Originally I came here to write about the Very Strange and Important Experience itself, but quickly realized that 1) I couldn’t think of anything to say that hadn’t already been said better by others who’ve had similar experiences, and 2) that it would be like talking about a very vivid fever dream – it would only be interesting to me.
So instead I’ve been trying to think of ways to express my new outlook visually. For me, this manifests through appearance, a personal style that I call “psychedelic flapper.” It’s a little hard to convey without pictures, so (since I’m not very photogenic) these are a few of my dresses:
Chromatic assault in full Kandicolor
Throw in a few Day-Glo accessories, purple hair, bright or tie-dyed tights, colorful t-strap heels or combat boots, and some unnatural makeup, and you’ve basically got it.
Literally the highest compliment that I’ve ever received on my appearance came from an art student at a punk show who looked me over and said, “You look like Louise Brooks on mescaline.” I practically shouted “Yes! That’s exactly what I was going for!”
(Side note: I’m not sure how the whole thing started, but it probably was an attempt to reconcile my love of both the psychedelic subculture of the 1960s and the flappers of the 1920s. I have a tendency to avoid making choices by simply combining the two options, so the whole “psychedelic flapper” idea was probably inevitable.)
All that said, it’s difficult to write about this. I feel guilty for talking or even thinking about how to make this style happen, because even though I’d never deny that style is a valid form of self-expression for literally anyone else on the face of this planet, when it comes to myself I think: “No, caring about your appearance is vain and you’re bad for wanting to think about it instead of all the serious stuff that’s going on in the world right now.” And even though I know that’s bullshit, thought patterns like that are very, very difficult to break out of.
There is no way in hell that I’m the only one who feels this way. These thoughts don’t come out of nowhere, after all. It seems like there are contradictory messages out there about personal appearance: we’re told that we must care about how we look (as long as it means feeling so insecure that we buy a bunch of stuff to make ourselves feel better), but at the same time people who care about (i.e. are happy with) how they look are portrayed as being vain, stupid, selfish, and shallow.
So how do you overcome the hangup?
Again, it’s hard to break out of these thought patterns. But maybe it would help to remind ourselves of two things.
One: style is self-expression. It may be influenced by all kinds of things outside ourselves, but ultimately it comes from within. I’ve heard some writers say that creativity isn’t so much about coming up with something completely new as it is about combining a bunch of existing things into something nobody’s seen before. Take my style, for example: it’s a weird mishmash of the Merry Pranksters, the flapper icons of the 1920s, a tiny bit of the punk singer Poly Styrene, and some bizarre dreams I’ve had. But when you put them all together something new emerges.
Two: style is dangerous. Because style is unique, because it comes from within, because it’s personal, it’s not easily controlled. Sure, parts of it can be packaged and sold – a dress here, a bottle of hair dye there – but while outside forces can dictate fashion, they can’t dictate style. It’s probably not radical, since it still usually involves buying a lot of stuff, but being truly happy with your style (whether it adheres to current fashion standards or not) means you’re not as insecure, which means you’re not as easily marketed to.
As I said above, I’ve been trying to use my appearance to express how I see life and the world around me. Really, is that so much different from expressing myself through writing or drawing or making a video? Or does it not count because I’m not making something for someone else to consume?
Is it seen as selfish because I’m mainly using it to make myself happy, instead of trying to please others? Admittedly, there is a part of me that’s trying to use this style to carry out my central mission of the past ten years (“to simultaneously confuse and delight as many people as possible”). But when I dye my bobbed hair bright purple or put on teal lipstick or wear a fluorescent orange dress it’s also an act of defiance, an attempt to say: “Fuck whatever you think would make me look pretty to you, this is how I want to look.” I wasted a good portion of my life making myself unhappy by trying to look attractive for other people, and it never worked anyway. If I can’t at least make myself happy then there’s no point in trying at all.
Care about your style if you want to. Look however you want to look and to hell with everyone else. If you want to look like Clara Bow at an Acid Test, go for it. If you want to look like a model on the cover of Vogue, go for it. If you want to look like the spirit of punk itself threw up all over you, go for it. If you want to mess with gender norms, go for it. If you just want to wear whatever’s comfortable, fucking go for it.