"We are what we believe we are."
C.S. Lewis

Monday, April 25, 2011

Clothing is not Superficial

To take a picture of one's outfit in the mirror and then post it on the world wide web for all and sundry to see might seem the action of a madwoman. Or, if you are familiar with the world of the personal style blog, it will seem the most normal thing in the world, and yes even "oh goody a new post". Clearly I am in the latter camp, as a writer of a personal style blog and an avid reader of same.
We do leave ourselves open to criticism however. I haven't received very many negative comments on my own blog, more will come I am sure, though I have heard that there has been some fairly harsh criticisms from women in my own circle of real-life friends.
I don't really care about that. I write my blog for my like-minded friends, both real-life and those I've met through my blog, and truly it is good fun. We are just trying to figure it out, this personal style thing, one darling outfit at a time!

So how is clothing important, and why would anyone wish to read style advice from an ordinary person who has no experience at all in fashion?

Answers to these questions can be found in the first chapter of Stuff by Daniel Miller. Miller is a Professor of Anthropology at University College London. His most recent book is The Comfort of Things which was recommended by my brilliant friend Carolyn. In buying that book I thought I'd pick up his earlier work for a little perspective. Let me share a couple of things he has to say about Why Clothing is not Superficial:

"In both philosophy and everyday life we imagine that there is a real or true self which lies deep within us. On the surface is found the clothing which may represent us and may reveal a truth about ourselves, but it may also lie. It is as though if we peeled off the outer layers we would finally get to the real self within ... as Ibsen's Peer Gynt observed, we are all onions. If you keep peeling off our layers you find - absolutely nothing left .... The clothes were not superficial, they actually were what made us what we think we are."

Of course this last line resonated with me completely as the motto for my blog is, as you know, "we are what we believe we are" ( CS Lewis).

We get to decide, we make it all up. That is where the power of personal style lies. Don't give it up, and don't let anyone criticize you for it. Clothing is not superficial. It is how you convey to the world who your true self is.

Why would the advice of a personal style blogger be of any value? Miller touches on this issue, though he doesn't mention style bloggers. He does discuss personal style as it might relate to the fashion industry:

"Advice from the fashion industry is much harder to use. Once there was some consistency and one was confident in how long skirts should be worn that year ... despite reading multiple magazines, most people are not too sure what fashion actually is at any point of time ... Perhaps more importantly much of this disengagement from fashion comes from the overwhelming pressure to express the individual and not merely follow fashion whatever it may be."

When we post our outfits on a personal style blog we are sharing how we make our own attempts at fashion. It is authentic. This is what makes it interesting, for what we most value as human beings is that genuine, personal story, the threads that connect us all.

I highly recommend Daniel Miller's books. He is a very engaging writer who makes academic material extremely accessible.

Enjoy your Monday!

42 comments:

  1. I often think about this subject. This weekend, I told my friends again about my 'fashion' blog and one of them said, "you like to put these things out there?". And I thought, why not? Many more people expose more of their personal selves on Facebook and Twitter. And I am sharing something I truly love, which is a love of clothes, however frivolous that may be to some. This post, www.inpursuitofprettythings.com/2011/04/when-work-blog-collide.html, also discussed this topic, and about how men's hobbies are not belittled like some female pursuits are. Everyone is entitled to their own passions and outlook, as long as it's not pedophilia or something equally harmful. Be true to yourself, never mind the gossipers! And as for being superficial or materialistic or whatever else society wants to peg us as being, who cares -- you know who you are inside and don't let anyone convince you any different.

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  2. Hi Dinster,
    As women we are often belittled for our interest in style, and worst of all it's usually by other women.
    I am going to go check out that blog post now, thanks so much. Thanks as well for sharing your own love of style on your blog, I'm really enjoying reading it!

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  3. Oh, wow. I have only had a cursory glance (must run to sub soon) but I plan on delving back into this very well-written post soon. :)

    I do believe in one thing fully and that is asking if you are happy with what you are doing. If not, especially when it comes to a hobby, then why do it? Also, if you are happy, and it really doesn't hurt others (no personal style blog should hurt others--come on now), then brava, enjoy your time with your style and your writing.

    I LOVE MY BLOG, I LOVE TALKING ABOUT STYLE, ESPECIALLY MOMMY STYLE! It has only been recently though since I have been able to let everyone know I do it. And I love talking about it! And if people who know about my blog talk about me behind my back, so be it. My writing of my blog is certain to be more pleasurable to me than the pleasure they get out of being negative about me. LOL. Success!

    SWAK. I am so glad you brought this topic up!

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  4. good morning dani,

    i have so much to say on this subject! you know i was criticized recently about my fashion posts so this subject really has me thinking. my 'real life' friends do not get what i do at all. only one supports me. the others ignore it and it is a little hurtful only b/c i'm proud of my blog and i would be proud of them if it were theres. but that is a diff subject. anyway, i tried to get this book from my library but they don't carry it. i'm gonna have to purchase it b/c it sounds so very interesting. i love reading lifestyle blogs b/c they are so real. i admire magazines and the way the rich and famous live but that's not my world. everyday people are what i'm most interested in. the talent, creativity and beauty that they share is astounding to me. it's like reading a really great book that goes on and on. just like i'm doing here. anyway thanks for bringing up this subject. i for one love your blog and your style.

    xo
    janet

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  5. Janet: I was thinking of that knob who made that nasty comment on your blog last week: "leave it to the fashion experts"!
    What that person didn't realize is that those of us who think constantly on personal style and then go on to share it with the world, accepting feedback both good and bad, are offering a level of expertise that is really unprecedented in the world of fashion. Most fashion "experts" do not offer accessible style: style bloggers do.
    Thanks for your wonderful comment your support is so appreciated!
    Yes buy that book it is worth it. I ordered mine from Amazon.
    You should be proud of your blog it is beautiful. Your style is gorgeous and your photos are stunning. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. oh i forgot to mention your outfit today! so pretty and i love those shoes!

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  7. Dina: Success! Love it. So true, and it is in fact so rewarding to write this kind of blog: the people we've met, the great discussions, the ideas generated, it's all so so much fun.
    You are truly the expert at Mommy Style, your blog was one of the first I found and it has given me so much. Thank You!!

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  8. Janet: The outfit! I wore that on Saturday to the theatre with MrBP and my daughters. I chose it for this post partly because you can see the awkward angle of the camera, the taking a picture of oneself in the mirror that is so often a ridiculed aspect of style blogging.
    Those shoes are fluevog, I bought them to go to Paris last year, to me they were slightly Chanel. The polka-dot dress is by Avoca (from BlushShop) and the trench is the Icon by J Crew, one of my best purchases ever.

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  9. Yes lovely outfit and great shoes but most of all what a wonderful post!
    I love magazines but so much of them is fantasy, I want see what other women are wearing when they go out to buy milk and bread because that's my lifestyle, not being clad in head to toe designerwear. Clothing is self expression and that's one of the little ways we get to make our mark on the world everyday.

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  10. I follow a few fashion blogs, though most like yours have more to them than just fashion. They are well written, often funny and sometimes thought provoking.But what I come away with from wonderful sites like yours is the heart warming knowledge that there are still people who care about dressing well. A trip to the market can fill me with pure despair. That is when a visit to one of you delightful ladies helps put the world right and I thank you!

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  11. Great little conversation going here! I LOVE to see a Woman--of any age-- with GREAT PERSONAL STYLE!!! Also--I LOVE J.CREW!!! I am lucky to work with an array of Beautiful Women with great style--but they don't generally wear J. CREW. Where else-but the web--am I gonna be able to see Women rock out their J.Crew!? They may be virtual strangers to me but I just find it so interesting to see how someone else wears and puts together an outfit with the same item I have. It's a creative venture--and it's FUN.
    I read less magazines and more blogs these days!

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  12. Dani,

    I always look forward to your posts. I never believed that clothing is silly. It is an expression of who we are, and people have a need to communicate in different ways. I like how you make your outfits and choices approachable and classy. Not all fashion blogs are for everyone and that is ok. That is why we need to find one that suits our 'style'.

    I always enjoy your outfits and you have inspired me to dress up a bit on a few occasions. Isn't one of the purposes on reading fashion blogs to get inspired? If you have inspired at least one reader then obviously your love of clothing is not frivolous.

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  13. Gorgeous outfit and I love the way you take the self-portraits. I've been reading for a long time and recently became a follower when I started my own blog. I really enjoy your blog although we are polar opposites style-wise most of the time as I cannot or would not wear the items you choose since they don't fit my shape or my style. They are so fabulous on you though, that I must check in to see what you're wearing and how you create your daily style. It's also fun to see what you're doing, cooking, planning, etc.

    I love diversity, life would be so boring if everyone dressed like me or thought like I do. I also love reading blogs and getting different perspectives on fashion and life in general. I moved far away from my friends and family when I got married and I work such long hours and travel back and forth between city house and country house so I have minimal time for my very few friends. Blogs are anytime, anywhere fun. That is a big part of the draw for me.

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  14. Dani, I love this post. My head is clouded by cold meds at the moment, so I can't write anything thought-provoking/brilliant, but I just wanted to make sure to let you know how much I love it. :)

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  15. shopwithm: I hope you are feeling better soon that's no fun. Hard too with your little guy, I know how busy they are, :)
    Thanks so much. You know I love your blog and we have to stick together, not that it's hard as we've made lovely friendships!

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  16. xoxo: So true! In the blog-world we are always there, and there may be lots of fun topics discussed but it is a loyal crowd, good times and bad.
    I've moved around quite a bit too in my adult life, I am a Small Town Girl and I think that once that is left behind there is an open-minded approach to the world, and maybe a continuing naivete too. I don't want to lose that, and I feel I'm fairly safe here, our blog-community is one of surprising growth and positivity (not including the negative comments/gossip of course). I'm so happy to be a part of it!
    I'm also so happy you've started your own blog, I think it's terrific. We do have different styles but I think the point is the striving towards it. Thanks for sharing.

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  17. wonderful, thoughtful post, Dani. I'm so glad you brought this up. I adore my blog friends-and make no apologies for my love of fashion. I am going to grab a copy of Stuff at the library, as it sounds like a great read. I much prefer the fashion styling of my blog friends than those of a magazine editor who is trying to create a fantasy. I am inspired by so many who post outfits and so grateful to those who share fitting room reviews. I am yet to be brave enough for that-some day perhaps. In the meantime, thank you for a great post.

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  18. Wendy: Thanks so much that is so encouraging. I agree if one person can be affected in any way, and even comment or form a friendship, then it's worth it. Totally worth it!
    There are so many style blogs out there, there is truly something for everyone. I feel that we live in lucky times style-wise. ;) Thank you.

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  19. Hello - long time lurker, I think this is only my second time posting a comment..

    I really appreciated your blog today and the thougtful comments of the others. I love clothes, and I love looking nice, and I have sometimes been made to feel self-concious for making an effort... It is such a join to come home from my stressful job and see what you, Tabitha, Dina, etc, etc, are wearing and your have certainly inspired me to "up my game". In a world where people wear logos on their butts, you are a breath of fresh air and grace....

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  20. whoops - make that "such a joy" - do you think join was a freudian slip!

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  21. yogagirl: I found blogs through my love of J Crew! I found JCA and it carried on from there, finally other women who shared my tastes in clothes and my desire to pick apart a catalogue, a new collection, an outfit.
    I continue to love J Crew, though I have branched out a bit into a love for Brora in the winter (well I do live in Canada and I'm freezing!)
    Thanks for reading and commenting, that's what makes it fun.

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  22. James; Thanks so much and I have to tell you it is nice to have a male voice chiming in, and such a wonderful writer too.
    Yes it can be completely horrible going to the grocery store. I was there today and there was a person wearing pajama pants. Deep breaths!

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  23. Tabitha: And make our mark in a little way we shall, it's all a bit of a grind otherwise!
    Agreed about the mags. I still read American Vogue and probably always will, but the other publications have nothing to offer. Give me a good personal style blog any day.
    Your writers voice comes out swinging and your blog lifts me up every day. I'm so happy you're out there!

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  24. WMM: Logos on their butts! Good Crikey what will historians say about that aspect of our culture? I cringe enough to give myself wrinkles when I see that.
    Thanks so much for commenting today. Being made to feel self-conscious is absolutely the pits. I hate that feeling and I'm done with it. I think we should resolve to be done with it together!

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  25. Julie: I think you write a great style blog and if you never do fitting room reviews I won't care. You are very knowledgeable about fashion and outfits, what is appropriate and what will wear well. Your voice is unique and appreciated.
    I do encourage you to read the work of Daniel Miller. His newer book may be easier to find. I love his writers voice, he'd be a good style blogger!
    Thanks so much for your comment.

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  26. I have shared the fact that I write a "fashion" blog with very few "real" friends and mostly regretted it. Or they don't care or I feel judged. I have only one friend who seems to understand and from time to time tells me "I have read your post, it was funny" or something like that. My husband thinks that I am completely crazy to take pictures of myself and hopes that one day I will "wake up". He doesn't get it at all. I think that fashion IS frivolous or superficial per se but is also a way that I found to connect with other people in mysterious and sometimes deep ways, in the end it goes under my skin more than anything else at this time of my life, it's a matter of elective affinities. I tried to read mom blogs and it was depressing. I tried to read movie blogs but I feel them too serious to feel free to express myself. On the other side I have fun when I read yours and my other's blog friends and I love to share fashion tips or suggestions (as you said nobody thinks to be an expert and that makes it more fun IMO). Plus, in real life you would never ask your friends "Do you like what I am wearing?" like my daughter asked her best friend this morning (and you would never have an honest answer).
    Sorry for the long post, I let it free!

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  27. Ema: "elective affinities"... I love that, I think you are very poetic.
    I agree that the "mom blogs" are a bit of a downer. I sometimes share Rascal Bits but not too much, I like that this is our own thing. I think that as mothers and wives we give lots and it can all be improved with a zest for it, which would be a stylish edge. Embrace it, that's what we do. A voice like yours elevates the conversation, I'm so glad we've met.
    I wish your husband did get it. My own is very supportive and can't stand when he hears about people insulting it, it really makes him think less of them. I bet your hubs will appreciate it one day given time. You are a great writer and should be applauded for stepping up and lending your words to our style discourse!

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  28. Great post Dani!

    Obviously an important topic to many important women!
    I think people will always say things and have their opinion. We need to do what we want to do for ourselves to be happy!!

    Writing a blog and wearing clothes is a great way to express who we are and how we feel. We can't take things personally.. and have to keep doing what we love to do!!

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  29. Hi Dani
    I've been lurking since Janet suggested recently to visit your blog and I'm very impressed.
    Clothes are integral to our personality. My darling mother taught me to 'put myself together' from a young age and I shall be forever grateful to her. One does not need to spend a small fortune on clothes to look stylish and I love to read down to earth blogs about 'real' women for wonderful style tips that are achievable in my own life.

    Absolutely love the shoes in above photo. I can see myself trawling every shoe shop to find a similar style and Daniel Miller's books look like must reads!
    xx

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  30. STYLE & SUBSTANCE: Ladies (and gent) you say and wear it so well! 1. It seems to me that those who most readily criticize others--whether it be with malicious comments or subtle put downs--are only attempting to bolster their own lack of self-worth. 2. Modern manners, perhaps it is the anonymity of blogging that allows a few to engage in that unkind spew. As my gran used to say, "something kind, something helpful, something important, or simply be quiet, let someone else have go." 3. DaniBP, Tabitha, JulieStyles, DinaGideon et al, your posts are a change of scenery, outfit, mindset that is so valued because it is real life not some uber-manicured, lacquered, perma-pout, OTT ad fantasy. 4. Perhaps blogoland is the 21st century salon, backyard fence, water cooler or coffee klatsch, thank you all for making it a must-read place to be!

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  31. style experts- yeah, right, the fashion industry telling us what they want us to want, without seeing the real world of dressing- trying to express yourself within the realm of 'affordable' off-the-rack dressing. I think the main reason we share and come back for the perspective of others is to get real feedback on fit and styling, as well as building a sort of online relationship with a like-minded community. down with the nay-sayers (heh, but I still keep the blog a secret from family and co-workers, like many...)

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  32. First of all Dani I adore your blog and I love the fabulous group of commenters that participate and engage in this dialogue!

    Fashion is an art form--it is a form of design that considers line, scale, proportion, harmony, balance, emphasis and texture--and that's just for starters! This is true from the simplest apron to the most exotic piece of haute couture.

    But it is an art form that everyone can particpate in every day. We each have the opportunity to create ourselves every morning. To play with the elements of design--we can all be painters, architects, sculptors in a small way, in our own worlds. What an exquisite priviledge and joy!

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  33. Wow, I came back to read the comments. What incredible insights from so many wonderful women, it's a privilege to know you all through this blog. I don't have anyone in real life to " get girlie" with, my one female friend wears jeans every day and couldn't care less about shoes and dresses. I love having this outlet.

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  34. Tabbers: I know,thank goodness for the wonderful readers and writers out here. Truly a delightful part of my life too.

    Dannie: So well put, and you're right why wouldn't we take advantage of that? And how could it be superficial? Thanks Doll.

    thatdamngreendress: Clever to keep it a secret, I say. Our community is so like-minded, I find it incredible. we have the same sense of manners and caring, it is truly extraordinary. So many friendships made. Thanks for your comment.
    Sometimes I read expert advice with ridiculous shopping suggestions, what are they smoking? This is advice? I go to my blogs for ideas and inspiration.

    GetFresh: Dang I was hoping you'd comment! There is something to it, whether it be our new salon or coffee klatsch as you so aptly put it, it is an important aspect of our modern life, a place of growth for certain. Thanks as ever.

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  35. Anne-Marie: Well I love your darling Mother she did you well! Thanks so much for reading my blog, isn't Janet the best? I am so happy to have found her blog too.
    Thanks so much for commenting and for the compliment on those fluevog shoes.

    BlushGirl: True story we can't take things personally, sometimes that is hard to put into practice though. Doesn't hurt to toughen up one's shell a little though, does it?
    I'll come by to see you today, I want to hear all about Saturday which I was sad to miss!

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  36. Many thanks for a great post! And thanks for yet another book recommendation - I read "The Thoughtful Dresser" and it was just what i was looking for: a discussion of style and fashion, and why it is important. Sadly, none of my real life girl friends are into fashion/cosmetics the way I am and view my blog with a skeptical eye. At least my husband understands - in fact, he was the one who encouraged me to start my own blog because he recognized that I needed a creative outlet of some kind. Since then, I have happily discovered many like-minded people and the blogs that I read daily (like yours!) are the first things I read when I turn on the computer in the morning. Fashion magazines and style websites can only provide so much information, but what really interests me is what people are wearing in real life!

    ...and your shoes! I love them! ;-)

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  37. The best posts are the ones that stimulate thought and discussion, and I always find that on your blog. I love your thoughtful approach to life, and the good-natured way you deal with issues large and small. I view style blogging as another form of the diary or the journal. Diaries of people who did commonplace things during terrible times inspire us, because they knew that whatever else is going on, you have to get up and get dressed and get on with it. Diaries of people whose circles included the famous, the infamous, the witty and the wise are required reading in some English courses! We read logbooks and journals of soldiers and explorers... and to me, the woman with a family, a home AND A MIND OF HER OWN is all of the foregoing. Thank you for your lovely blog, and "long may it wave!"
    Oh, and I love the shoes too!

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  38. Dani,checking out your blog (and Tabitha's, Dina's and others) is one of the pleasures of my day. I live far away from my four sisters and Mom and find comfort in connecting with (even if it's just online) with the daily lives of other women.

    Francine

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  39. Dear Dani, great outfit! I love seeing what other people wear. I suppose I'm quite nosey really!

    You've also reminded me to order a copy of The Comfort of Things, it's been on my list for a while xx

    PS. Please take off your word verification. I keep losing my comments on here. Blogger has a spam filter now. Most blogs I visit have taken it off.

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  40. PS. Also change comments to "pop up" then you can comment on multiple posts without having to open new pages. Very time consuming xx

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  41. Love this post, and looking forward to finding this book....

    Sometimes I think of clothes as armor. Does anyone else? If I am feeling down, or vulnerable, I put on something absolutely fabulous, and somehow, it helps me put on a brave face :)

    Thanks for such an interesting read!

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