Coming of age as a torn-jeans, flannel shirt wearing lesbian feminist, I had little use for fashion. Though now I can rock a pantsuit if required, I’m still far from a fashionista. Yet recently, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning when I found the Vogue September issue in my mailbox. Seeing Vogue’s 120th anniversary issue, with its sumptuous art, photos and articles, for me was like what Medieval pilgrims must have experienced when they at long last glimpsed the Holy Grail. Vogue’s cover, featuring Lady Gaga, and proclaiming “916 pages of spectacular fall fashion for all” promised art and fashion for everyone — even a fashion-loving, non-fashionista like me.
Growing up, when some of us eschewed the dictates of fashion by conforming to non-conformity — or protested against sexism by refusing to adhere to conventional ideals of beauty — I’d never have dreamed that decades later I’d be enthralled by fashion or devour Vogue.
What transformed me from a fashion-bashing feminist into a (still feminist) Vogue aficionado? Looking at my (inner and outer) self in the mirror, falling in love with Carrie Bradshaw and realizing that I really am my mother’s daughter.
I can’t say exactly when it happened. But one day, it hit me: with my unruly hair, faded shirts and unshapely, hole-filled pants, I was so unattractive that, without intending to, I was making a fashion statement. Only, not a good fashion statement – I had the look of a fashion victim.
Cornelius Eady’s wonderful poem “White Socks” in his collection “Hardheaded Weather: New and Selected Poems,” speaks to the sartorially challenged. “This is not meant to insult you./Some of my best friends/Have no taste,” the narrator of Eady’s poem tells a fashion victim, “…But listen to reason. You know/We can’t go/Anywhere/With you wearing/White socks.”
I didn’t want to end up (figuratively or literally) wearing white socks. While I didn’t expect to walk about my city in Manolo Blahniks like Carrie, I now knew that you can be queer, (a second or third wave feminist) and, in your own way, appreciative of the art and aesthetics of fashion. Like my Mom, I began to enjoy shopping on special occasions for outfits with my friends, finding the perfect scarf, or discovering the most colorful (non-white) pair of socks.
I deplored (and still deplore), the harmful effects of our culture’s obsession with body image. Given fashion’s enormous influence on culture and commerce (658 pages in Vogue’s September issue are ads and one ad in Vogue can cost up to $165,232), it makes sense when Vogue editor Anna Wintour says, “There is something about fashion that can make people very nervous,” in the 2009 documentary “The September Issue.”
Yet, I’ve come to agree with my friend Penny who says, “it’s horrible what the emphasis on being so thin has done to models, women and girls. But, it’s great to wear and look at your favorite clothes!”
Fashion exists in the intersection of art, style and business. Trying to pin it down is like the cliche about porn: you know it when you see it. “Fashion is style and style’s not just the clothes you wear, but it’s what you eat, where you go, who you hang out with,” says designer Alexander Wang in a profile of him by Hamish Bowles in the Vogue September issue.
Vogue’s queer quotient is on splendid display in its 120th anniversary issue – with photos and articles highlighting the work of, among many others, Truman Capote, Henry James, Colm Toibin and Annie Leibovitz.
“I am not…sure anyone realizes…what goes into creating a shoot,” writes Wintour in the editor’s letter in the September issue. “It’s a quicksilver understanding of whatever fashion is at that … moment, and presenting a sampling of … culture as we are experiencing it at that time.”
Don’t be a fashion victim. Check out Vogue’s September issue.