Walking Canvases

A Melbourne Morning

A briskly walking middle-aged man rushes past you as you sit on the park bench, tailcoats flying behind him in his haste. At first glance, his outfit is crisp and immaculate: the epitome of the perfect businessman. Upon closer inspection, however, you may notice the frayed fabric of his left sleeve, or the small splatter of mud just above his ankle. Was he running late for work and in the process managed to ruin his outfit? Or perhaps he was rushing to a job interview after many years of unemployment, and had to make do with the only suit he had. The gentleman hurriedly passes another bench, where a teenage girl sits, anxiously wringing her hands in her lap. Her hair is in pretty curls, and she is cutely wrapped in a pink lacy dress that hugs her waist and flares out at the hips. But something doesn’t feel right… she keeps shifting in her dress, as if it is too tight. She plays with her hair, subconsciously loosening the curls that she must have spent ages creating. She taps her feet against the ground, seeming uncomfortable in her heels. Looking closely, you see that her makeup is smudged: she is a novice in the field. First date, you think, smiling to yourself. Even sitting immobile on a bench reveals so many stories all around you that you may have missed had you not been paying attention. The stories these people carry are woven into the fabric of their clothing, engraved into the soles of their shoes and expressed through their nervous habits that might manifest themselves through bitten fingernails or constantly fidgeting limbs. These people, often unknowingly, assert themselves on the pavement that they walk upon without being over-the-top or strutting around in pink plumed hats. Appearance certainly leaves an impact, and is a very important art form to many people. It sounds ridiculous at first, to claim that getting dressed and presenting a certain image out to the world is an important part of daily life. Focusing on your look and honing it to perfection is vain: of that there is no doubt. But is vanity really such a bad thing when taken in small doses?  The creative process of getting dressed can be time-consuming, or it can be spontaneous and effortless. It certainly doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t have to control your life and it doesn’t make you shallow. There’s something exciting about deciding what to wear, making sure that each element of your wardrobe symbolises a different part of you, or part of something that you want to become. It’s surreal and thrilling to let your appearance do the talking for you, or to use it to gradually phase-in new characteristics or a new lifestyle that you are going for. At times, fashion can be a conduit for self-expression, or an enabler to create the mood you wish to feel. Fashion is constructive, healthy and as valid an art form as painting, dancing or sculpting. With all these things, you are creating something that is uniquely yours, yet part of a wider community. In the case of fashion, however, you become the canvas. A walking, talking work of art.

 

The Everyman’s Art

With fashion, you become both a painting and a book. Visually, you can create all sorts of aesthetically pleasing sights through what you wear, and the meanings you associate with these clothes and accessories become your own personal stories. Photographers like the legendary Scott Schuman grasped this concept of style as a personal art form early on. Schuman doesn’t care whether his subjects are wearing designer labels or their grandfather’s coat. He sees the aesthetic qualities of the ensemble, but with his adroit insight, he can see what the outfit means and why it is being worn in such a way. A quick browse through his blog, The Sartorialist, inevitably becomes hours of flicking through page after page, appreciating what he can capture through his lens that we would perhaps bypass in real life. Thousands have followed in Schuman’s brown-brogue footsteps, starting up their own blogs for the purpose of capturing their own personal style, through websites like Lookbook. Others prefer to document the street style of wherever they are in the world by stealthily snapping a few stills of strangers as they go about their daily business. The power of street style blogs are that they capture people who could easily be anyone’s next door neighbour or colleague. The ‘models’ could be wearing an elegant frock, ready for a night out, or just have thrown on a comfy, oversized sweater as they rush out to grab some milk, but the camera lens does not discriminate: everyone is equal on the field of fashion. In Schuman’s case in particular, many of his photos express the empowering idea that money is not a necessary prerequisite for expressing immaculate fashion sense. Schuman’s adventure to Morocco proved this, through a series of stunning photographs.

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Schuman, S (2013), The Sartorialist http://www.thesartorialist.com/tag/morocco/

Schuman writes that after posting the photos taken in Morocco, he received comments such as “No Sart, he probably found that jacket on the same dump as where he found the rest of his outfit. Gimme a break will you!” Comments like these show that fashion is still seen as something rather unattainable due to how expensive it can supposedly be. However, a lack of money does not mean a lack of taste and appreciation for beauty. Another commenter on Schuman’s blog makes the point that if it was true that poor people had no artistic aptitude, we wouldn’t have all the beautiful ethnic art from all the different cultures around the world. Even if you don’t specifically go shopping to build up an amazing wardrobe, you can still have a creative outlook on how you put together your outfit using things that you’ve made or garments that you’ve always owned. As Schuman said in an interview, “It’s not what you wear but the way you wear it.” (Jonzen, 2013) It is possible to spend thousands on designer labels and still look quite unremarkable. In contrast, it’s thankfully also possible to drag out a few forgotten treasures from your wardrobe and carry them off in an eye-catching way. This is the important quality that sets fashion apart from all other art forms: its accessibility. We can all play around with fashion and witness it for free because we become the audience of live, impromptu runway shows every time we go out. You can rework the same garments again and again into new and exciting outfits, daring two seemingly incompatible pieces to come together and create a special look, a look only you could have put together. There’s no need to buy instruments or tools in order to do engage in fashion, or to buy tickets just to watch it. You can harness fashion to make it your own and to let it do the talking for you, either as a happy accident or a deliberate choice to express yourself. Lookbook stars like Gabriel Wulf value the power of personal style, which he expresses when he says: “Every time I get dressed and I think of what I should wear, it is a creative process and also an attempt to express a mood or an attitude. So I don’t just wear clothes not to be naked.” (Beyond the Hype, 2012) Your own style can be used to define you, find a community of like-minded individuals and set you apart, all at once.

 

 

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall

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A small sampling of Korea’s famous airport fashion (Tumblr, 2013)

Just as fashion can be used to express a mood, it can also be used to shape a mood or mould an identity. Martina, one half of lifestyle blog Eat Your Kimchi, wrote of how drastically her energy levels and overall mood changed when she adjusted her attire, particularly on long-haul international flights. As a Canadian living in South Korea, she noticed the emphasis Korean culture put on airport fashion: the concept of looking amazing even when you get off a 12-hour flight. Martina noticed that when she rocked up to the airport in baggy slacks, she always felt grumpy, jetlagged and just as unremarkable as her trackies were. Observing the new culture she was now immersed in, Martina writes “…after flying back and forth from Korea to Canada, I saw lots of incredibly dressed people that would get on the airplane with us in style, sleep like us, and then freshen up (change, put on some makeup) and pop off the plane in Toronto like they were coming off a fashion runway. Meanwhile, we got on the plane looking pre-exhausted and got off looking even more exhausted.” (Eat Your Kimchi, 2012) Accepting the challenge that this new culture presented her, Martina decided to spruce up her look and found that “my PJs were telling me to be mopey and sleepy and my dress was telling me to hold my head up high and strut off the plane!… I know when I feel sad and mopey I tend to go towards jeans and a huge hoodie to sulk under.” If you let yourself mope around in blue trackies that reflect your sombre mood and emphasise your thunder thighs, then you’re simply exacerbating your condition. Of course, you should not let your entire mood be dictated by your clothes, but it’s definitely an interesting experiment to see how much your outfit can subconsciously sway or shape your mood.

 

 

The Last Stitch

The elements of your ensemble are like the individual segments of a patchwork quilt. As long as you choose pieces that either say something about you, or about what you wish to feel or become, you can haphazardly throw them together on any given day and still tell a story, paint your painting or conduct your symphony. It’s like introducing yourself to the world without words, being able to represent different facets of your personality all at once. Whether you choose to go for a pink frilly blouse paired with athletic runners, or a dress shirt coupled with your favourite Sunday-slouching shorts, it all says a little bit about you. Stepping out in an ensemble that you are comfortable in can also do wonders for your mood. Decking yourself out in things that you love will surely have a subconscious effect on your overall mood. Embracing fashion as a way to both express yourself and improve yourself will enable you to become a living canvas, waiting to be splattered by your own personal touches.

 

London Youth: click for credits

London Youth: click for credits

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