November 19, 2010

Chicago Manual of Style—11/19/10

I have many friends at the U of C who fear fashion more than their next Calc midterm. They either equate fashion with vanity or find the process of picking out an outfit so befuddling that they decide to just not attempt it. But fashion can be useful and not so scary if you know the rules.

Fashion is part art, part practicality, and part self-definition. Everyone—even those who claim to opt out—participates. Fashion is simply what we wear, so unless you are part of a nudist colony, you have your own style whether you know it or not. While no three words can sum up fashion completely, if there were three such words, they would be geometry, perception, and attitude. There are reasons why trends go in and out of style, why one skirt looks better than another on you, and why you cannot wear that top with those pants. Most of the time, that reason is geometry.

Geometry in fashion is how proportion, fit, and pattern create illusions on your body. High-waisted skirts are popular because they narrow the waist, lengthen the legs, and illuminate an hourglass figure. An empire waist hides stomach issues and emphasizes the chest, while a pair of jeans that starts at the hips lengthens the torso.

Also, if a shirt is too tight, you will look bigger, not smaller, and if it is too large you could look like a waif. Vertical strips lengthen, horizontal stripes widen, and diagonal stripes are just confusing. So before you panic while attempting to shop for a winter wardrobe, take a deep breath and remember geometry. Maybe you hated it in ninth grade, but it can be a lifelong friend.

Perception is the impression your fashion choices have on others. People do not wear suits to work because they are the paragon of comfort. Suits, with their crisp angles and careful tailoring, are designed to make people look more powerful. A Peter Pan collar or a floral shirt, on the other hand, softens the wearer. But these perceptions are not unalterable. Combine a blazer with a floral shirt and you have a whole new look.

Attitude is perhaps the most important word to keep in mind when choosing an outfit. If you do not feel confident, you will inevitably look it. Perhaps this sounds like cheesy advice, but it is true. You will slouch, lower your head, and tug on your clothes. If you cannot feel comfortable in an outfit, do not wear it. And if you are nervous and afraid that what you are wearing might be a little too daring, the best approach is to tell yourself you look wonderful. Take inspiration from fashion designers. The late Alexander McQueen was not praised because he designed generic looks. Instead, his clothing is beautiful because it is a little different and a little daring.

Geometry, perception, and attitude—pay attention to these three words when shopping or putting together an outfit, and fashion will become your friend. Remember, look how you want to look, and never let clothing hinder your life.