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Fashion vs. Clothes

2010 September 22

In a recent episode of Project Runway, Tim Gunn said a contestant’s design didn’t look like fashion, it looked like clothes. This is a distinction that I don’t think your average person would make. What is fashion if it’s not clothes? But it’s a statement that got me thinking–just what IS the difference between fashion and clothes, or fashion and style?

Ever since I moved to New York a month ago, I have felt at turns dowdy, frumpy, too cute, too casual, too dressy, too behind the trends, too colorful, not colorful enough. This is the result of many factors–Boston is a far more casual city, overall, than New York; I work two blocks away from “Fashion Avenue”; my self-imposed shopping challenge doesn’t lend me much opportunity to try out seasonal trends; the people in my office don’t tend to dress up too often so I feel over dressed when I wear heels; New York Fashion Week just ended; I read far too many style and fashion blogs. All of this sartorial self-consciousness has caused me to evaluate just what my personal style means to me.

Basically, personal style does NOT equal fashion. Fashion, to me, is art. It’s fun to look at, appreciate, and be inspired by. But what is considered fashionable is almost never what I would feel most comfortable and, therefore good, in. This doesn’t mean that I prefer to shlep around the city in jeans and sneakers either–to feel truly comfortable, I need to feel as though I have done my best in putting together what I’m wearing. It may not be the trendiest or most expensive or innovative outfit, but if I like it, it makes me happy. I try to keep this in mind when I’m walking in SoHo, marveling at the women strolling in sky-high heels and waving designer purses, or when I look at all the stylish Brooklynites in their oversized glasses and peep-toe booties.

What is your concept of personal style? Is it synonymous with fashion or is it something altogether different?

{image via Bookshelf Porn}

3 Responses Post a comment
  1. September 27, 2010

    Great question, Jill, and well-posed! I think Fashion vs. Personal Style is a great concept to consider, because the two are so related and yet so different. Personal style is unique, classic, quirky– a point of view assembled from others’ textile creations. Like bars or clubs that have a vibe, and play a particular range of music selections, although they are not composers nor necessarily play all of the “cutting edge” or hip new groups. Whereas Fashion with a capital F is the industry, the art, the avant garde, etc, etc, I won’t quote Meryl Streep’s withering monologue about Cerulean from The Devil Wears Prada, but I’m certainly thinking of it.

    But then, even though fashionistas like Nina Garcia will critique runway pieces and new designers as “too boring,” “not modern enough,” if you asked Nina about 5 must-have wardrobe pieces you’d better believe she’ll mention a white button down shirt, perfect trench, and little black dress.

    For me, Personal Style as a concept– not just a collection of clothes I either liked, fit into, or hadn’t bothered to get rid of– really clicked for me when I was studying abroad in Paris in college. There, like in New York, women click around in stilettos for miles, apply eyeliner on the Metro, and wear both jeans, flats, and couture with the haughty pout of someone who has combed this month’s vogue and all of the designer shops, but LIKES to wear what she’s wearing.

    It hit me in Paris– and when I returned home to California which sports a very different vibe– that really excellent personal style is interesting, creative, and consistent. It doesn’t have to be overly trendy or overly “classic,” but if it suits you and you can confidently enter a room or strut down the streets in today’s weather, then it’s a success.

    But that being said, different cities, towns or locales set a different “fashion” tone– so deciding whether you want to dress your personal style up, down, or sideways can be a tough choice. Right now in Taipei, I feel okay about my casual/professional/formal basics, but I’m feeling the need for a bit more spice– patterns, prints, and English writing on t-shirts are so in my face so constantly that it might be time for a shopping trip soon!

    Best of luck getting your New York groove, on, Jill– I’m sure the von Furstenberg dress will help you feel dressed to kill, even with your already fabulous wardrobe!

  2. September 28, 2010

    amazing post. i stumbled upon your blog today and i’m so glad that i did. i love your content. keep posting!

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