An acquaintance of mine just started this online project called Fa(t)shion February on Tumblr. Jessie Dress is asking that folks, particularly folks who are femme and fat, post their outfits every day over the course of one month. As with many fashion blogs by “normal” folks, Fa(t)shion February seeks to correct a sartorial erasure; it insists that the fashion industry move beyond large pieces of cloth to cover our bulk, to insist that fat people can be and are fashionable, even if we have to make our own clothes out of the curtains (as god as my witness). Jessie Dress articulates the desire to see how individuals make their clothes “fit your body and your life” and writes, “Let’s make fashion what we want to see!”
As an individual who wore pleated khakis all through middle school because my mother literally could not find any other pants that fit me, I am invested in finding a community of fa(t)shionable friends and undeniably excited at the prospect of finding clothes that fit.
I am also concerned at the propensity of (radical) fashion blogs to be reduced to the ever-present imperative to shop, to fall to the inevitable model of: Here is a picture of what I wore. Here is where you can buy it. Understanding that within a neo-liberal framework, it is difficult to divorce embodied resistance from capital (and understanding my own complicity in consumerism), I wonder if fashion can move beyond industry. Is the fa(t)shion revolution waiting for us in the plus-size section of Target and WalMart? Can we divorce our sartorial resistance from the psychological rush of finding the one cute dress on the rack that zips or even an entire store of clothes in your size (and conversely, the psychological crash of searching fruitlessly for a single item that fits), no matter what the social, political, or environmental implications of our consumption?
For me, the commencement of Fa(t)shion February has coincided with (finally) finishing Scott Herring’s recent book Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism. In the chapter “Unfashionability”, Herring tackles the “historically entrenched relationship between urbanism and fashionability,” specifically “how sartorial chic–as a style, as a statement, as a semiotic, as a public performance–is and has been a key component of metronormativity’s ensemble,” and how “queer fashion castigates the remainders who fail its universalizing designs” (127). Jack Halberstam coined the term metronormativity to describe the “conflation of ‘urban’ and ‘visible’ in many normalizing narratives of gay/lesbian subjectivities…The metronormative narrative maps a story of migration onto the coming-out narrative” (In a Queer Time and Place 36). So basically, the compulsory movement of queers from isolated, homophobic rural spaces to urban spaces of celebrated out-ness and community.
Herring amplifies this neologism so that we can understand the metronormative as working to standardize queer to also mean urban, (young) adult, prosperous, “progressive”, sophisticated and chic (16). I am particularly interested here in the ideal of forward motion and progression; Fashion, as noted by Barthes, “is never anything but an amnesiac substitution of the present for the past” (289). But while the chic march towards aesthetic standardization works to disavow and displace the past, constantly initiating new trends and dismissing others, it simultaneously positions the human as static, as clothes hanger rather than living creature capable of biological processes (eating, excreting, growing). I imagine here the model suspended in pre-pubescence on the catwalk, contorted and dis-assembled in the pages of New York-based fashion magazines. (Metro)normative fashion not only flattens geographic and cultural difference, it flattens the body, policing particularly the unmarked female body as site of movement or change. This is the juncture in which we see fashion’s erasure of fat bodies, old bodies, hairy bodies–through a social and emotive “fear and loathing” of designated-female biological processes. Mary Russo draws upon Bakhtin to imagine a critical female grotesque that is nothing if not unfashionable: “The grotesque body is the open, protruding, extended, secreting body, the body of becoming, process, and change. The grotesque body is opposed to the Classical body which is monumental, static, closed, and sleek, corresponding to the aspirations of bourgeois individualism; the grotesque body is connected to the rest of the world” (62). It is in the interstices of a critical (un)fashionability that we can imagine resistance to the flattening of histories, of difference, of our physical bodies, the drive towards standardization, the capitalist compulsion towards normativity.
Scott Herring writes:
Fashion is and is not clothing, and it’s not simply that an unfashionable someone is ignorant of the latest style, Worse, to their detriment this style-less person is also dated, ‘shifted,’ Barthes writes, ‘outside.’…It’s not always what you wear (fashion, after all, can be anything). It’s just as much when you wear it, since the ‘penalty’ for wearing something at the wrong place and the wrong time is nothing less than social condemnation, the ‘forbidden‘ stigma attached to the non-urbane, the ‘impossible’ features that result in social exclusion, the shame of being exposed by the chic as a hick yet again.”
Here’s to unfashionability, to the wrong clothes worn the wrong way at the wrong place and the wrong time on the wrong body, to remembering and embodying where you come from, to refusing to comply with the fashion police, to being tacky and being proud of difference. Here’s to doing it yourself. Here’s to remembering that stylistics are powerful and being unique isn’t about buying an image.
Happy Fa(t)shion February!