By Julian Wolf
Levi Strauss. Prada. Chanel, Sally Hershberger, Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein, Stella McCartney, Paul Mitchell, Sara Jessica Parker, Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen. Chances are you recognize most of these names, and even if you don’t your style has by influenced by them and/or their contemporaries.
Frequently, we know our influences. Many people seek out designer labels and pay attention to the trends. Others find a style that works for them and they stick with it, year in and year out. Many people have signature styles, be it jeans and rock tee shirts, suits or custom leather. Hairstyle trends come and go, yet you’ll still see styles on runways today that would have been appropriate a hundred years ago.
Even Joan Rivers, one of the most seasoned red carpet commentators will ask “Who are you wearing?” as the stars take their long slow walk into various award shows and premiers. Even when the follow up is “Of course, I knew it was that designer!” or “I thought I recognized the style” she, and those in her field will always ask. My favorite fashion question usually doesn’t get asked until after the fact, “Why did you chose that outfit?” That, in my opinion, is where it can really get interesting.
Recently, it’s been brought to my attention that we rarely ask the right questions when it comes to style, but we readily place labels. We take a look, analyze, and label within a moment of someone coming into our visual range. Some of the comments that have been made to me over the years have ranged from amusing to infuriating. “Wow- I always assumed you were in drag!” “No, you must be a girl. You have long hair.” and just about everything in between.
One of my friends has struggled to find people to date and she’s been told it‘s because she‘s “too feminine” and therefore people assume that she isn‘t a lesbian. That same mentality has put me in conversations where people have confessed that they assumed I was, based on my frequently masculine appearance, a lesbian. This was, of course, before they bothered to find out where my inclinations really lie. That incorrect label, among others, frequently stayed stuck on me for years- and impaired the advancement of relationships with those who had ‘stuck” the wrong on me. Have you ever been mislabeled? Has it caused issues for you?
What’s the first thing that you thought when you saw the attached image? Did you see a girl in a summer dress or a boy in drag pushing their arms together to have their pecks appear more feminine? Perhaps you noticed the jewelry first, did the beads and placement of the rings tell you a story? Perhaps you didn’t give the image any thought at all- if so, why? How would you label the person in this image? How would you label the photographer? When it comes to images on websites, it is a rare opportunity that you can interact with the artist(s) and model(s), but asking yourself questions about what you see and how you interpret it is an excellent exercise. Going a step further and asking yourself how you represent yourself through your style can be revealing as well.
Let me offer you a proposition, gentle readers. Next time you see someone who intrigues you, ask them about why they’ve made their style choices. From the simplest comment (such as “I feel comfortable in this”) to the most complex conversation, you’re likely to learn something new, and help open your mind to seeing beyond the surface.