The picture on this post is of my dress shoes: gold patent leather Doc Marten oxfords. From looking at those, you can probably guess how I felt about the clothes costume designer Jenny Beavan wore to the Oscars.
I didn’t watch the show – I don’t like awards shows as a rule – but when I heard both about what Beavan wore and the fact that some idiots were critical of her, I went looking for pictures.
This video on the Guardian website shows Beavan to full advantage, and does seem to indicate that some of the men she walked past were a little shocked by her, her clothes, or – to be charitable – the fact that she won instead of someone else.
But there’s something else interesting about Beavan’s walk down the aisle: Look at how she moves. She’s confident and very comfortable. And her clothes – which she chose on purpose – let her body move easily. They don’t get in her way.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of our bodies and the way we move to our overall being, and that’s led me to think about the best ways to dress. Despite the elaborate and outdated fashion show aspect of things like the Oscars, the way we dress is changing these days. It’s a good time to come up with new ideas on the subject.
Here’s my basic rule for how to dress:
Never wear any clothes you have to think about once you’ve put them on.
For some people – particularly men – this rule may seem obvious. But most women have been in many situations where they were constantly worrying about whether their clothes were right. Anytime you’re worrying about your clothes, you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing.
For example, if you’re wearing a short skirt and sitting on a stage, you’re going to find yourself paying attention to how you’re sitting because you don’t want to flash the audience a look at your underwear. I use this example because I saw it happen recently at an event featuring a brilliant physicist. She kept tugging at her skirt. Being conscious of how she was sitting likely affected her ability to respond to questions in the way she would have liked.
There are four subparts to this rule:
- You should be comfortable.
- You should be able to move well in your clothes.
- You should like the way you look in your clothes.
- They should be the right clothes for what you’re going to do.
Jenny Beavan is an outstanding example of the application of these rules.
Comfortable is obvious. You don’t want your clothes so tight that you can’t breathe well or so loose that you’re afraid they’ll fall down. You want them to keep you warm if it’s cold out, and to at least give you a chance at coolness if it’s hot.
Moving well is slightly different from comfortable. Some clothes may be fine if you don’t need to walk a few blocks or reach for something on a higher (or lower) shelf, but you often need to do those things. You don’t want your clothes to get in the way. And that’s why all my shoes – including my dress ones – are good for walking.
Liking the way you look is all important. It’s also very subjective. Me, I like a variety of bright colors. It would be easier to dress if all I wore was black – as many well-dressed people do – but I feel washed out and dowdy in black. As long as I like the way things are put together when I look in the mirror before walking out of the house, I feel good about myself. If things like color don’t matter to you, then just making sure your clothes are reasonably clean and fit well enough is probably enough for you.
By picking the right clothes for what you’re planning to do, I mean making a practical decision. If you’re going hiking, you want jeans and hiking boots. If you’re planning to work on your car, you want to wear something you don’t mind getting grease on. If your job involves crawling around under desks to deal with plugging in computers, you probably will prefer pants. If you’re going to be on television, you want clothes that work well with color filters.
Of course, that final rule raises the issue of “appropriate” clothes for various occasions. Appropriate is in a state of flux. I notice that very religious people now wear jeans to church, which I would never have done back in the day. I figure if you can wear anything you want to church you can wear anything you want damn near everywhere.
From my point of view, the only time I take into consideration whether something is “appropriate” from a conventional point of view is when I’m representing someone besides just myself. Back when I practiced law, I acquired some rather boring suits and always wore those to court. I didn’t have either the money or enough sense of conventional style to pull off fancy versions of those suits, but I looked respectable. If I’d looked too unconventional, it might have prejudiced the judge or jury against my client.
Diplomats run up against this sort of thing all the time. Sometimes they need to dress to blend in; other times they might need to do something considered rude to make a point. Clothing is part of their skill set, part of their job.
But if the only person you’re representing is yourself, you can dress as you please, just like Jenny Beavan did. If I were being given an award (one can dream), I’d likely go for a gaudy gold top and black silk pants. And, of course, my Doc Martens.