As a former classmate of mine, and someone I consider an influence in my classes, Chy Sprauve’s “Dress(ing) as Self-Help: Power, Aesthetics, + Pedagogy” is still a powerful read from the catalog. So, when thinking of her inspiration from Richard Sennett, and how the body is transformed by the wearer, I am struck by this quote in particular:
“Though many of us do not make the clothing or design patterns ourselves, the act of dressing is still a “collective” process because we are curating items on our bodies that other people have created and designed. The act is also many times, anonymous, because, in many cases, the people who make the clothing work in factories miles and miles away. Many times, unnamed labor creates our clothing. This is how the act of dressing is both “collective” and “anonymous” (Sprauve 63).
This reminds me of Jane Schneider’s “Out of Polyester” article where Didier Ravin makes a similar, yet more aggressive claim, in terms of social class and polyester emergence in the 1970’s; Ravin attacks elitist companies like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein for using “natural” fibers in their materials where Ravin asserts: “I am sure that most customers who followed Mr. Klein’s view of ‘back to nature’ would be surprised that the tiny Mexican village serving as the backdrop of his recent campaign is today still mired in abject poverty…” (Schneider 7).
So, with both quotes in mind, I am drawn on this idea of the “collective” as a layered experience between multiple people. For example, the clothing itself can be an entity and its transformation of cloth to clothing makes it an object that can stand on its own. When placed on the body, the clothing is an actor in the ways we move and our body language transforms by how the clothing hits, wraps, and as Chy says: how the clothing is curated to the body. We make the choice of choosing what clothing we wear, where we are actors in decision of our clothing selection, but when the clothes are placed on the body, the clothing becomes active in determining our demeanor. The “anonymous” is still present, though, even after this “collective “process between “wearer” and “what is worn”. The “anonymous”, as Ravin would argue, is only anonymous to the consumer; the companies, elite or not, know the creators of the clothing whether it is a Mexican village or lawful laborers. So, how does the “anonymous” part of the clothing we wear truly affect us as consumers?
As Manolo Blahnik says: “People walk differently in high heels. Your body sways to a different kind of tempo” so that the shoe designer agrees that’s clothing can transform our body and its language; the question still is: if we are feeling the clothing against our bodies and reacting, would our emotional response change with knowledge of how the clothing was made? I believe that the initial reaction of wearing a pair of high heels or slipping into your favorite pair of jeans, as Eco as stated, is a very personal and instant reaction that cannot really be controlled: it is part of our unconscious to how we react when the skin touches the clothing and the clothing changes us.
Our conscious understanding of how clothing is made wouldn’t necessarily interrupt that very instant reaction of how we feel when clothing and skin touch, but it would produce an emotional feeling afterwards of either regret, disgust, confusion, etc. So, the process of allowing our demeanor to change is a very intimate experience that needs to be free of conscious afterthought of where the clothes came from to keep it intimate, and almost romantic. The consciousness of the creation is powerful knowledge, but it may prevent our desire to shop to certain places where our unconscious would benefit in the desire of having such clothing. I by no means think we should be unaware of where our clothes come from, but I do wonder if that romantic bond between the wearer and the clothing would be broken, and less magical, if the mind was conscious, or too aware, of the “anonymous” in creation. While creation, in terms of safety and legality, is beneficial morally, how is beneficial for our relationship with clothing in how we feel, react, and bond when we wear them?
Carolyn J Cei