Fashion is not frivolous. It is a part of being alive today. - Mary Quant
I adore clothes. While I am not quite as zealous as Oscar Wilde (who claimed "Looking good and dressing well is a necessity. Having a purpose in life is not") or Imelda Marcos (who was eager to point out, "I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes. I had one thousand and sixty,") there is little that makes me happier than spending an afternoon flipping through the fall fashion magazines, thinking of all of the possibilities.
In the movie, The Devil Wears Prada (which I love), Stanley Tucci's Nigel compares fashion to art: "Don't you know that you are working at [Vogue,] the place that published some of the greatest artists of the century? Halston, Lagerfeld, de la Renta. And what they did, what they created was greater than art because you live your life in it." Like DWP's protagonist Andy Sachs, I do not personally live my life in couture (something about the size zero cut and five figure cost keeps me away), but I enjoy the pieces without owning them just as I enjoy the Mona Lisa or a Monet. Simply knowing that Valentino's rockstud sandals exist in the world makes me feel happy. In spite of CNN's insistence that life is nasty, brutish, and short, the shoes are proof positive that beauty abounds.
Even though I am not exactly in the market for $3000 bags this year, not all of my enjoyment of fashion is done vicariously. As Coco Chanel said, "Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening." Chanel found beauty in the details of her clothes: a beautiful button, a chain at the hem to make a jacket hang well, a silk camellia flower pinned to a lapel. As Coco understood, adornment is "a reflection of the heart." We can all bring this sensibility into our lives by adding a beautiful pin to a coat, putting flowers on the breakfast table, or tying a ribbon on a gift for a friend.
While I do not need to look runway-ready to do the morning drop off at the school, it is hard to feel great if, as in the words of Jonathan Swift, I wear my clothes, "as if they were thrown on with a pitchfork." As the V&A's former costume historian James Laver pointed out, "Clothes are never a frivolity: They always mean something." Paying attention to the clothes we wear can shed some light on our inner state. A need to wear the latest and greatest might show a desire to feel special that is otherwise going unmet. A comfort with wearing old, ratty sweatpants might show that we are not treating ourselves with care. Of course, sometimes we can't read into our choices too deeply; perhaps, like Gilda Radner did, we are simply basing our "fashion sense on what doesn't itch."
Clothes can provide a wonderful opportunity for us to engage our senses. We can note how different colour combinations make us feel. Does an all black ensemble make us feel chic or like a mime? Does a yellow patterned sundress make us feel cheerful or like a children's television character? We can also note a garment's texture: the dusty feel of a silk scarf, the baby-soft feel of good cashmere, or the roughness of a Donegal tweed jacket. Some clothes have associated sounds. I love the satisfying thud of a terrycloth robe dropping onto the bathroom tiles, the rustle of a silk taffeta evening gown, and the swishing sound wool turtlenecks make when pulling them on. Clothes can pick up scents and I will forever associate the faint smell of Chanel No. 5 and cigarette smoke with the fur coats worn by stylish aunties to keep them warm during harsh prairie winters.
So this season, rather than fixating on the fact that I do not look like Keira or Jessica or Marianne or even Jennifer Lawrence (galling though that is!), I'll be focusing on the zen of fashion. I'll view the fall collections as art, view my current wardrobes as a reflection of our inner world, and see shopping (mainly in my own closet) as an opportunity to experience the material world in all its splendour.