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In my last post two weeks ago, I mentioned the increase in real life sketching I’d been doing from people rather than places. It’s been a thought-provoking challenge, not least for some of the class, gender, and race-based politics necessarily attending public spaces (on top of everything else, who’s more likely to be on their own in public, as a couple, in certain neighborhoods, etc.). While an essay on the former can (and presumably has) taken up the entire lifespan of some academic journals, I’m gonna focus today on a (relatively) light-hearted connected development: my growing awareness of fashion.
Like a lot of other increasingly middle-aged white dudes from my general cultural milieu (dead-center Gen-X and given to what used to be known as “alternative” media, though not nearly as much as some others), I never paid a great deal of attention to fashion other than stopping my own average sartorial development at “Dickies button-down, dark T-shirt and jeans” for a good decade or so. I made a semi-conscious decision sometime around the turn of the century to dial it up a bit (partly in an ornery, contratrian reaction against my usual bohemian surroundings), opting for lighter colors in the summer and getting my hair cut a lot shorter than I usually had, but other than that I’ve rarely strayed beyond “fast casual” or really thought much about fashion in general.
Maybe ten years ago, some time before I started drawing again, I was faced with a weird microtrend that settled around our town for a summer or two. I’d be out on some bar patio or other, perhaps after work, on a gorgeous summer night, and suddenly stared down three or four couples passing by, almost in a row, dressed in a remarkably similar fashion. All of them straight pairs, the women dressed like scaled-down Jane Austen heroines while the men looked like they’d just gotten back from playing disc golf. Again, I wasn’t (then or now) exactly a fashion plate, but I felt kind of irritated on the women’s behalf because… damn, and a little, I admit, on my own, as even perennially single me would have certainly made an effort to dress up if my partner was doing the same (when I had the chance to do so a few years later, I made sure to double down). While the trend died down, it started me noticing stuff that ramped up not long after I started drawing.
To many, I expect, this’ll sound like I think I discovered breathing or something, but it was more nonplus (it’s not “nonplussment,” apparently) that I’d completely ignored a dimension so fundamental to culture. Especially in the autumns, when the obvious link between fall colors and the proliferations of bronzes, gingers and whatnot in blouses and coats started to dawn, I started taking notice. Each year, there’d be a different trend that would settle and more or less hold—bare midriffs, torn jeans, knotted button-downs—and it’s been fascinating to watch how these phases develop. As the examples might indicate, the gender divide still seems to hold in this neck of the general woods, though things seem to be changing, albeit slowly (I’m making a conscious effort, too, to take note of male styles, such as they are) . While I do a lot of sketching on the college campus that dominates our downtown (as well as my neighborhood) and the dress of the young might skew how I portray people in sketches and eventually illustrations, it feels like they’re more or less pioneering the looks of tomorrow, so there’s that.
I can already feel myself more conscious of my own appearance in public (better late than never). I also owe the Avocado (standing in for several other online spaces as well) and especially the Fashion Threads a vote of thanks for helping to raise my consciousness about this stuff. How’s your work going?