I have been asked by dozens of male leftists why I’m into fashion, why I blog about it or spend hours putting together intricate outfits, since it is ‘inherently’ a capitalist activity.
I have also been told (unsolicited) by many men that they think my fashion is interesting and bold, but certainly not sexy— the same (unsolicted) response given whenever I chop all my hair off.
Male leftist critiques of fashion often ignore that it is a gendered form of self-expression and no more complicated by its relationships with commodification and capitalism than any other aesthetic or form of self-expression. To do many artsy things, you must buy things. Paintings go for millions in hushed auctions filled with white men, so why don’t men criticize artists who use paints, pencils, or finely crafted crayons for being sellouts?
Moreover, fashion can be a way to avoid the male gaze or to at least alienate it. There are many women into creative dressing that are told ‘you aren’t sexy, you won’t attract a boy looking like that.’ As if that should be the only point to your self-expression.
These days I experiment with masculine silohettes. I am wearing slacks and a wool-and-leather top with weird loafers. My hair is to my chin. Many of my guy friends have complained that I de-sexify myself when my hair is short. Or they mutter, you’re clearly going for some weird fashion thing and not attractiveness. It reminds me of the saying that when women get their hair cut short, they do it for themselves.
These days, I don’t twart male gazes completely but I come off as aggressively visible. Most strange men avoid speaking to me, which is what I prefer. They look at me in weird dresses and short hair, and they often have a blank expression because they are unable to read my body within the entitled domain of their gaze.
Being into fashion has been about reclaiming my body for myself. I lose weight because I want to fit into clothes, not because I want to be more appealing to men. I dress how I went, when I want, and ignore the men who say ‘Ainee you don’t look hot today! Your shirt is weird.’
yes yes yes
Fashion is an art form, one we all participate in by wearing clothes, by not letting our hair grow indefinitely. But because women are conditioned to care about it more and put more effort into it, by choice or by necessity it is seen as “low art” if it’s seen as art at all, frivolous and shallow. Fashion and feminism are intertwined like the threads of a cable knit sweater.
How is painting my face more vain than painting a canvas? Seriously, what is the difference? Nobody has ever been able to explain that to me. When I paint a portrait, it’s art. When I paint myself, it’s shallow. I don’t buy that.
When I design a burlesque look, while my sexuality is blatantly on display, it is infused with a confrontational element that many people find frightening and uncomfortable. It isn’t the delicate, demure look of an object up for consumption. It stares back at you. It doesn’t care if you like it or not because it’s not about you, it’s about me. You’re the passive one in this scenario.
If that isn’t an artist statement, I don’t know what it is.
And see, I think about this stuff when I plan outfits. Even when it’s day to day outfits and not stage outfits. I am communicating, expressing, telling a story, a mobile art piece. And I create what I want. I don’t take commissions.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find my tutu. I’m going to the opera tonight.