Anti-Fashion vs. Fashion on ‘What Not To Wear’

As some of you may know, I am a huge fan of TLC’s What Not to Wear. Today I watched an episode some who follow the show may remember, with the beautiful and talented Beryl. As an Asian female with many Asian friends, as well as someone approximately her age, a lot of her fashion choices before the makeover really resonated with me. At first I was shocked to see her on the show because there was honestly nothing alarming to me about her monochromatic wardrobe with ripped jeans and oversized men’s clothing. In Pittsburgh, we call them hipsters. The term is vague and everyone has a different definition, but in this case, the idea is to look like you just rolled out of bed (or that you sleep on a sidewalk).

It is not unlike nineties grunge, and I admit to having some love for the disheveled look. In Berlin, I was truly intoxicated by the cold, distant persona of pretending you don’t care. And yet, clothing does get in your head and I think people are lying to themselves if they don’t feel even a little bit like an angsty teen when wearing ill-fitting jeans, combat boots and a dirty, oversized button up. And it is exhilarating, especially when driving around town with a scowl, blasting Nirvana. There is immediate pleasure in not caring, yet you can feel yourself judging more and people can feel the judgment oozing out your pores. When I am buying my cute little dresses from Urban Outfitters, I can tell the sixteen year olds won’t step within a yard of me. In fact, they look a little afraid.

If I somehow end up at work dressed too grungey, the clients are afraid. It is hard to open up and be a burst of positive energy AND look like you don’t care.

It is interesting for me to look at why anti-fashion would be so popular. I remember my siblings, who came of age in the 1990s, rather than the 2000s, had similar trends. My parents lived in the time of hippies. We can even look at the flappers as a sort of anti-fashion movement. So I suppose the issue isn’t particular to us. Is it more popular than it has been in the past? I would have to research, but I would guess no.

But to see Beryl on What Not to Wear was alarming. She is a gorgeous woman who, frankly, could model if she ever wanted to… she’s that stunning and unique. It was symbolic in a way, fashion and anti-fashion going head to head. And in a way, it was frightening to me, because a key part of the grungey hipster look is that it creates a private club, it is meant to cut you off from society and create a private club where you are free to “be yourself.” A lot of the people on What Not to Wear are truly bizarre, but in this way it made hipsters most similar to the tired mothers who put themselves last and try to blend in. I figured, if you leave them in certain neighborhoods and around college campuses, hipsters blend in perfectly.

But what most people don’t realize is that anti-fashion can be a way of succumbing to insecurity. A lot of people feel that the fashion industry is not for them. They decide that there are beautiful, fashionable women, and there are others. A lot of the grungiest people I know are extremely intelligent, and always have been. They want that disheveled intellectual look. I grew up feeling fairly ambivalent towards fashion, caring much more about my studies. My love for art led to a love of hair and then to a love of beauty, but there are plenty of people who never find that connection. We all get hair cuts and wear clothes, so why do so many feel like the beauty and fashion industry is not accessible to them. In our modern world, we don’t have to choose between smart and beautiful, we can try for both and be fearless about it.

I have always known that dressing well instantly puts me in a better mood. But on emotional days, there is an undeniable, dysfunctional satisfaction in dressing purposely badly. And it isn’t that it is bad, but it is an easy way out. And a way that does not address or deal with issues in the least. And it isn’t that you can’t be a vibrant and happy person when you look like you just rolled out of a dumpster, but it certainly isn’t as easy.

(To be continued.)

One thought on “Anti-Fashion vs. Fashion on ‘What Not To Wear’

  1. nice post. interesting to think about, since hipster (anti)fashion is of course its own kind of fashion. I watched that clip you posted and agree it is pretty jarring, since a certain subset of girls (and boys) would obviously see an idol in her (pre show) style. that she’s drop-dead gorgeous helps.

    I guess the standard argument from the hipster who eschews standard fashion, whatever that is, is the ol’ “why do I need to conform to conventional notions of beauty” blah blah. obviously hipster fashion has become its own convention now so that argument doesn’t hold much water.

    it’s interesting to me going back and forth between here and japan where there’s no such thing as hipsterism. honestly it’s refreshing. the hipster stance of refusing to engage with the world in any way except ironically gets us nowhere.

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