This Magazine: Clothes encounters
Months ago Beyoncé’s Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show performance of “Formation” served as a poignant example of the evocative power of clothing. Clad in outfits that paid homage to the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, Beyoncé and her dancers embodied a necessary social commentary on police brutality against predominantly African-Americans.
For some shocked, colour-blind fans this was the ultimate day of reckoning: the day they realized not only was she Black but she was also political.
More recently in the foreground of Jian Ghomeshi’s trial and his acquittal of all sexual assault charges, defense lawyer Marie Henein’s designer shoe collection, her “architectural-inspired” hair and courtroom attire were also heavily debated as deliberate choices on the part of arguably one of the most polarizing legal figures in our immediate collective memories. Were these clothing choices a foreshadowing of what would be her razor, dissecting courtroom strategy? Were the red bottoms of her Christian Louboutins meant to warn of the figurative blood-shed awaiting Lucy Decoutere on the stand?
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Our clothing is a second skin, our social epidermis. Our chosen threads are by far one of the most powerful tools we use to convey our social selves, our feelings, beliefs, and our aspirations. Clothing can be rebellious, resistant; it can signify aggression and authority as well as it can embody assimilation and passivity. Intriguingly, that the same garment has the capacity of being all of these or none at all in different spaces and at different times. There is power in our clothes, how we perceive ourselves in them, and how others perceive us.
I have had items of clothing be my best friend at times—my ride-or-dies. I’ve mourned their passing when they we no longer wearable, when their seams had had enough. I’ve had clothing speak to and for me, help facilitate my confidence when I ran low in that department. Similarly, clothing can betray us. Nothing is worst than when a stranger has to inform you of an open zipper. Or, when clothes demand we take stock of our financial reality when a well-hidden price tag, the accomplice to a “wear and return” scheme, makes itself visible to those around us and a good Samaritan, unaware of the aforementioned deception, pulls the tag off and your stomach drops—your backstage is now your frontstage and you are exposed.
Clothing, its meanings, and how we relate with it is complicated. Are we its hunter or its prey? Beyond its capitalist agenda, clothing choices—far from being a mere personal preference, are highly social, political, and filled with emotionality. In the end, we may wear our clothing but in what ways do our clothes wear
You can read Jill’s column “This Abject Body” in the May/June issue of This Magazine on newstands now!
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