Thursday, July 17, 2008

What Would Women Wear? a smattering of thoughts from two artisans

I have a dear friend whose ability to spin the simplest of clothes into a fashionista's outfit have left me feeling slightly envious. She's slim, beautiful and gracious.

I've come to count her one of my dearest friends.

I love and respect her for more than her clothes. I've come to value her mind, her love for beauty and her resourcefulness. As followers of Jesus we've been b
atting around the question: What Would Women Wear (WWWW)? What is the purpose of style and clothing, attraction or distraction in our lives? Together we've done 2 things to aid our discussion:
  1. Fast from retail for the summer
  2. Read Judith Levine's Not Buying It and share our thoughts of it
I highly recommend Not Buying It to anyone who thinks they are losing too much money or time to STUFF. Get it at your local library and delve in. Warning: Levine's contents are flaming liberal in places, openly atheistic and irreverent in others.

What follows are snippets of our discussion (you will hear both our voices in the dialog) and how Levine, despite all her faults, has inspired us.
  • What do we expect shopping to do for us? Levine describes a New Yorker cartoon by Barbara Smaller. It stood out to me, reminding me why I work for Soulation.
  • It's easy to become smug (Levine calls it "anti-consumer moralism") about not buying what we aren't even tempted to buy. For me I can feel proud that I don't buy "Juicy Couture" clothing, but it's not really attractive to me. But don't get me started on my NEED for books or good food and the temptation thereof.
  • On the revolving door of style: clothing, the fashion-experts would indoctrinate us, teach us how to treat other people, who they are, what class they fit into, if they're relevant or not. But, we've found some clothing is timeless and therefore less distracting.
  • As Levine says, “Just as (the marketplace) promises to buy us love, the marketplace buys us freedom from relationship, releases us from needing other people.” Without money she says, we are like children, money makes us into adults (in American society). Perhaps this is a good application of Jesus’ words “Unless you become like a child you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Unless you humble yourself like a child.” Hmmm. . . the humility of having less.
  • Thoughts on coveting: Recently had 2 women writers visit and one had the world’s most beautiful lips. I found myself noticing them often, and once thinking of how my lips weren’t as lovely. But I only that this one, so I thought that was rather encouraging. Most of the time I just admired her lips for existing. I want to do that in all thing: to admire beauty and not demand to own it. This admiring can create humility, I can find warmth in other’s possessions, even when they’re not capable of being shared. Lack of possession doesn’t mean I have to feel dispossessed.
  • On Location, Location, Location: I think being in Vermont would probably be easier to not buy things than being in NYC. It takes more restraint to not buy when I travel to more metropolitan areas. Is it just because those places are more fashionable? Or maybe it is just the metropolitan aspect of it - the community of commerce, exchanging dollars and goods, showing the salesperson that you have purchasing power. I remember in high school I was shopping for shoes and tried a pair on at Charles David. I, clothed in my thrift store attire, clearly didn't impress the saleswoman and she didn't pay me much attention. When I told her I would take the shoes, she looked surprised. I felt purchasing power then. But I think my itch to buy is more mixed with asserting my power and wanting to be fashionable.
  • On saving nice things: We have a beautiful golden buttercream-colored spun silk duvet with Indian embroidery border (we got it when we were engaged). I stored it away because it was so delicate and special I was afraid it would get ruined if we used it. I found it under the bed last week when I was cleaning and realized I should make the most of what we have instead of "saving" things. Food, clothes, decor. I need to use them or there is no use hanging onto them. When my grandma died we went over to her house to clean and sort through her things, and we found unworn shoes still in their boxes, unopened boxes of perfume (she was saving them to use up her old ones first) and it made me realize that I probably won't have the chance to use up my "favorites" if I'm always storing them away to use up the old first. The silk duvet is now spread across our bed, brightening and lifting the room.
  • Levine's thoughts on a pair of flimsy, romantic heels (I've heard a teenage girl call these “sittin’ shoes.") Levine writes, “These shoes conjure dreams of dancing and kissing, of hobbling over curbstones as the dawn comes up.” Fashion is about flirtation with a product, not to last, not a marriage. Levine calls it a mini-relationship. She closes the month of April with fear about dissuading girls from buying the flimsy, crippling shoes because “I don’t want to risk suggesting they give up the sexy dream of dancing the night away. That dream is stitched into the soles (and souls) of the shoes.” And I think, WOW! Have we personified, animated a pair of shoes and bequeathed them too much power, or what? And yet I know what she’s talking about. What is it about flimsy heels that give us a feeling of romance? Is it the helpless way they make us walk? Do you think it’s a suggestion made possible by media (Hollywood’s Casablanca, etc) or part of the ontology of the shoe? I’m thinking it’s a cultural endowment, cause you can have some wicked cool romance in flats
  • On the pros and cons of shopping
    • Pros:
      • buying good equipment ensures a more enjoyable experience (e.g. good running shoes)
      • thrill of “the hunt”
      • thinking and planning with someone else about putting together a gift for a friend
      • finding the “fit” what’s appropriate to wear/give/share/use (though this has been abused by making what’s a “perfect” fit too difficult and pricey to find), reminders of what you do love (if you can allow your tastes to rule you and not the fashion) like when Mary Jane’s come back in style I scarf them up because I’ve loved them since I was 5.
      • I guess it allows us to relate to culture, but then again if that's an important mode of relating, we ought to be doing a better job in other areas. I actually don't think this is a great excuse.
      • if it's part of our profession, it could allow us to compare make/model of clothes.
      • In NJ we're always looking for warm places to walk around to get exercise in the winter months. Malls and Target serve that purpose.
    • Cons:
      • In Levine's words shopping “saps your energy, reduces ingenuity, harms your health (huh?), makes you unhappy, makes you false, a traitor to who you really are. Without shopping your life allows your individual soul to awaken.” Well, sometimes..
      • “the good thing about not buying clothes is that you don’t have to engage in the level of microscopic self-inspection the activity promotes”
      • it could make us rely on trends to express ourselves instead of truly expressing myself, uninhibited by trends.
      • it creates covetousness (We think this is the worst one for us)
      • there is something about it that always leaves me wanting more - more than just what my neighbor has but more and more and more, regardless of what everyone else has. Everything is on display and marketing does such a great job of leading me to believe I would be better with the product.
      • I agree that it is really, really fun to buy gifts for others, but I wonder if we're curbing our creativity by rushing to buy something when we can make it. One of our most treasured and precious gifts we have received in the past year were the hats you knitted for Micah. Not only were they so beautifully handmade and special because you took the time to design them, make them, and ship them, but what was most special was that you are so busy (so busy!) and you still took the time, when it would have been a hundred times easier for you to buy something. My sister and I started a new rule for birthdays and Christmas: we have a $5 dollar limit or must be something we handmade. It has been great. I've received CDs full of good running music, a beautiful bowl, and a madeline pan she found on clearance. I've given her a used cooking light cookbook I bought from the library, etc. These gifts forced us to be more creative and thoughtful.
From the minds and hearts of two recovering consumers.

p.s. who have chosen a new identity, that of two artisans.

1 : a worker who practices a trade or handicraft : craftsperson
2 : one that produces something (as cheese or wine) in limited quantities often using traditional methods


Mandy Orozco said...

This is great! Your works refreshes previous challenges. Thanks so much, dear friend.

tiffany_wismer said...

Wow, your comments about shoes are right on. I actually still feel sorry that I can't wear heels that make my back ache and give me bad posture. Why? How many times have you seen a woman who is obviously uncomfortable in her heels, but obviously still believing that they make her look sexier than she would if she was skipping freely along in sneakers? Isn't this just foot binding all over again? The pressure on women to be beautiful according to the standard that is presented by the culture is so intense. And, I'm sorry to say, the church is no different - just more conservative, as if that was the point!