Fa(t)shion February and (Un)fashionability.

1 Feb

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!”

Iron Age Boots, Target jeggings, unknown origin shirt, Sweater from BJ's, Bling from Forever21, Headband from Anthropologie.

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.

Carhartts, Mom's sweater, g-ma's scarf, pin from MKE Zine Fest

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?

Adidas sneakers, birthday jeggings, shirt from Reid, scarf from Dahab

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.

Asolo boots, Dickies pants, thrifted flannel and hat, scarf from Dahab

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!

❤ JB


7 Responses to “Fa(t)shion February and (Un)fashionability.”

  1. Natalie February 2, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    I really really love this post. There is one part though that I’d like to talk about – the bit where you write about bloggers posting where they buy things. As a fat person who posts outfit photos on my blog, I include where I obtained my various bits and pieces simply because so many people my size (officially deathfat) have no idea where to buy clothes. Even just basic ones to cover their bodies. Things like shoes for wide feet are very hard to source.

    So I’d like to propose a more nuanced look at why fatshion bloggers post photos of their bodies in clothes and include where they have bought them. I have struggled so much with being a poor blogger who doesn’t have new clothes very often, but I always remind myself that I blog my outfits for representation and normalisation. Not to show off things I’m able to buy!

    • sassyfrasscircus February 2, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

      Hey Natalie! Thanks for commenting 🙂

      For what it’s worth, I totally agree with you, but probably didn’t do as good a job as I would have liked expressing the nuance of exactly what you so eloquently stated. How do we acknowledge the basic need both to simply find clothing that fits, and beyond that, clothing that FITS (not just our bodies but our lives), and share our successes with others (not as a form of bragging but as a form of giving information), while still resisting consumerism?

      I think that many of us who post outfits don’t shop very often, and when we do, it’s frequently thrift stores and sale racks, or because we literally have no underpants. So, as you said, how do we discuss the nuance of why fashion bloggers blog the way they do? Shit! I am so into talking about this. ❤

  2. Frowner February 2, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    Hey there, I’m a lurking fan of your blog, also a toiler in the land of university cubicles. Theory and I have what you might call an off-again-on-again thing going on…theory and I hook up, we fight, we split, we meet again at a party, etc.

    I’m particularly interested by that bit about mobility and queerness. First, because it reminds me of a bit out of How Novels Think which discusses mobility as the foundation of the modern bourgeois subject–the bourgeois subject is figured as one which is out of place in the station to which it is born, and so needs to move (generally physically but also socially) into a “better” position that is in accord with the bourgeois subject’s “true” worth. The bourgeois subject has an internal value which is at odds with its ascribed social position, ie the beautiful pure heroine “really” deserves to be upper class even though she’s an impoverished governess, etc etc. Curiously, the bourgeois subject never moves down.

    I think it’s not just urbanism and fashionability; it’s urbanism and class–although only a certain kind of urbanism. The unfashionable is figured as working class/poor/immigrant/rural/ignorant/incapable-of-making-choices, and although the fashionable may position itself as bohemian-poor, it always involves both expense and financial security. (The fashionable constructs an idea of the natural, right, where poor folks and immigrants “naturally” and naively wear their trucker hats or colorful ethnic items; by contrast, the fashionable claims to “choose” those items as a form of sophistication and autonomy.)

    I mean, I think the stereotypical queer-coming-out-narrative is also a coming-into-middle-class-subjectivity narrative. As you say, it’s so much about a modern bourgeois view of time as progressive, naturally-improving, linear, etc.

    Is the Russo you reference from The Female Grotesque? Dang, that’s an expensive book, and our library doesn’t seem to have it.

    None of this, of course, will ever prevent me from being obsessed by fashion/fatshion/queer fashion.

    Thanks for this interesting post!

    • sassyfrasscircus February 2, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

      Word! You should totally read Herring’s book, I think you’d be super interested. Also, does your library have interlibrary loan or anything? I requested mine from somewhere…also I am going to attempt to get a hold of it again and scan it, since it is ridiculously expensive.

  3. Mckenzie February 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    This post is fantastic. The term “metronormative” totally resonates with me. Your past few fashion-related posts have been a huge eye-opener. Thank you!


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