I’m in Poland this week. Walking around the Katowice airport afforded me a different view of fashion than I’ve had in quite some time, with lots more visible/deliberate plastic surgery (so far) and a lot of outgoing body posture all while sporting a deeply synthetic look.
Clothes, too, here, have a much higher degree of synthetic ethos than I’m used to – outpourings and whole outfits of fake rhinestones, shallow black dyes, polyester everything, non-naturey textures made of stuff that looks — well — non-obviously non-toxic. (So… potentially toxic.)
Noticing my own unusual level of awareness about local fashion made me instantly conscious of my own attire. I just got a new vest and coat after wearing my old ones for way too long. Do Silesians find me earthy and silly? How did I decide on this vest? Why did I decide? Are these clothes ‘me’? Would Southern Polish me be wearing the same pink vest and brown fleece-lined coat?
This begs questions of the product designer in me that are a huge part of why I love traveling. We see new worlds in order to come back to our own with new eyes.
It’s not quite a Cosmo quiz, but here are some reflective questions!
I. To the extent we design our look, either through picking clothes or committing to plastic surgery, what vision is driving us? Where does that vision come from and how does it work?
- If new clothes are more ____ than old ones, what types of factors inform our choice in “more”? (Think of the last 3 actual purchases you made and reflect, in order to get closer to your actual vs. aspirational behavior.)
- Whose bodies, costumes or looks are we constructing as we import or upgrade new pieces (or features)? Another person’s, a social role’s, a particular job title, or in-group’s? In other words, where did we get our inspiration?
- What outcomes are we looking for? What types of outcomes do we seek, and which do we get with these changes? (Perhaps monetary? certain feelings – either sensory or psychological? ) What desires are driving us through these evolutionary changes, and how does what we get compare with what we seek?
II. Second, to the extent presentation is a social decision, who are the user types we’re quietly considering as we make these design choices?
In other words, be it new haircuts, t-shirts, or eyelids, when we choose our look, who are we designing for?
- How surprising is this question? Does a specific answer come to mind?
- When you think about “who,” how specific are your first few answers, in terms of a particular person? Do you dress for:
- categories like “approval,” “decency” or “saving face,”
- functions like “looking OK [to who will be there],” “not offending people,” “not getting kicked out [by someone who could],”
- vague relational groups like “acquaintances I might run into,” “to be seen,” or “potential clients,”
- specific relations, i.e. “my boyfriend,” “me,” “my mother,” “my boss’s rules or expectations”?
- To the extent your answer is yourself (yay!), which level of self?
- Professional self – the job I have
- Professional self – the job I want to have
- Personal self – the groups/identities I’m game with
- Personal self – the groups/identities I want to join
- Personal self – avoiding grouping
- Sensory self – clothes feel good on my skin
- The healthy & well self – I’m prepared to stay comfortable in the elements and be active
- Eternal self – my purpose on this planet
Here are some parties for whom I notice I may be quietly and subconsciously designing my look.
- Ads. Does what I put on in the morning match the imagery I’ve been quietly absorbing lately?
- “Men” (as though this is one group) and what “they want,” which if I go deeper I mostly realize is influenced by subtle messaging in media (ads) including storylines in movies and characters I know from TV, rather than real life (because when do I observe men talking frankly about women’s fashion? Almost never.)
- Randos who might yell, follow me, or lash out/take strange steps on the street. I’ve done lots of work on this but it’s still a factor.
- My mother, internalized – more as a trope than the actual person. This is the “customer type” within my own brain that looks at a new outfit to see if the hemlines fall correctly, how it’s made, whether stripes make me look fat, if the straps are built wide enough for my frame, if any bits of my body are too visible or spilling out or if it fits properly. This one is super hard to shake.
- “Cool people” I see in my environment. This one mostly fell away after middle school, but there are probably still vestiges in my psyche of this effect where we identify someone with great social ties or confidence in a given environment, and use their presentation choices as a template for our own, and in doing so, hope they’ll osmotically transfer us some effortless coolness magic.
- Peer cohort with whom I want belonging – i.e. designers or other designers, on days I’m teaching a design workshop
- Costuming/credibility for randos – The public masses I interact with as I build my career in a given direction. For example, if I’m going to an event and will say I’m an entrepreneur, dressing “like an entrepreneur.” If I say I’m a strategist, dressing “like a strategist.”
- Clients – i.e. dressing “how consultants dress” or “how designers dress,” with the idea or intention that if you meet someone that could be a client, this will help the deal go better. I routinely have this idea re-seeded, primarily by very loose ties or totally random usually male people who offer unsolicited, neutral but well-intentioned comments about how consultants wear heels and a jacket, so I should do that and then I’ll get more clients. This is typically done in such a way that I don’t leave offended, but do walk away a bit perplexed and unsure of what decision I’d like to make.
- My “well self” – If a clothing item smells toxic, I no longer buy it. If it feels super synthetic, over time, I will probably give it away and not buy another one. Does it breathe? Does it wash up properly? Is it soft? Does it keep me warm? When I walk all day in these shoes, how do my hips feel afterward? (This is finally the question that got me to stop wearing flip flops daily.) These are questions my “well self” cares about.
- Workers – Who made my thing? Out of what fibers? I’m new to actually making purchasing decisions based on supply chain considerations, and I still overwhelmingly buy based on price. But I no longer buy toxic stuff for well reasons, and I’m starting to consider things like ethical down and the human jobs created when industries like that sell a lot of clothes.
Many of these I’ve been part-conscious of over the years, or variously evolving in considering as a “real thing worth indulging” (and sometimes snapping back to decide it’s “no longer a thing” and “now I’m going to do me). The hard part about consciousness is that it takes work.
When it comes to your look, who are you designing for?