Thursday, July 24, 2008

Welcome to Nothing Elegant!

Here are some things you might want to know about me and the Nothing Elegant project. Hope you’ll check back soon…

The Autobiography of a Blog: The title of the blog is a phrase that comes from Gertrude Stein’s kooky-cryptic poem Tender Buttons: “Nothing Elegant: A charm a single charm is doubtful. If the red is rose and there is a gate surrounding it, if inside is let in and there places change then certainly something is upright. It is earnest.” Aside from its literary origins, Nothing Elegant represents my own self-effacing approach to fashion. Like anyone invested in the notion of style and aesthetics, I work hard at what I enjoy (trying to cultivate my mind as well as my own personal style), but I have never and will never reach that point where I feel comfortable saying: “I get it!” Terms like elegance denote a sense of perfection, a sense of a rich-shiny-put-togetherness that I cannot -- and do not -- want to attain.

That's Gertrude (left) and her partner Alice. These ladies lived and breathed art, but their own quirky fashion statements (bag lady meets irreverent androgyne) made them just as famous/infamous.

Midwest Fashion?: I think my fairly humble, nonchalant (but still earnest) stance toward fashion stems partly from growing up in middle-America. The fact that I have always been interested in fashion and aesthetics in general is a bit of an anomaly considering my environment. I played with clothes and makeup growing up because it was an outlet for creativity and a way to set myself apart -- it was fun and made me feel empowered, but it was not rooted in any real outside influence (perhaps with the exception of Seventeen magazine). Of course, because of the advent of technology, people everywhere are more in touch with global fashion and culture than they were in my youth (late 70's and 80's). It is not unusual at all anymore to meet a young girl in the suburbs with an opinion on the current must-have brands and trendiest silhouettes for the season.

What would I give to get my hands on some of these old Seventeen's? Look at adorable Miss Jovovich on the first cover. I used to idolize her...still do, come to think of it.

Born on a Budget: The fact that I grew up in a family with a modest income also presented some interesting challenges during my formative years. When I was in elementary school, I remember making a detailed month-by month schedule of outfits I planned on wearing to school. Needless to say, my mother and I made a lot of trips to the Sears outlet store, and my dad dragged me around to thrift stores, yard sales, and vintage shops in order to satisfy my ever-shifting fashion demands. While I suffered from the occasional brand-envy in the past (and still do from time to time), I was satisfied with what was in my reach about 98% of the time, and I found creative ways to stay on trend…or to oppose the trends, depending on which fashion phase I was going through at the time (Victorian goth/club kid/skater girl/bleached blonde Barbie doll/grown-up career gal).

The two elusive items I never got my hands on: Guess jeans and Doc Marten's. Those white Doc Marten's are delicious...hmmmmm. Am I too old to sport those now? I definitely don't agree with the statement that if you were there for it the first time around, you should forego it the second time ;)

My Style Influences: As an adult, I have been lucky enough to have lived in some very diverse and fashionable places. I spent time in both Austin and Dallas, Texas; worked in Sao Paulo, Brazil; and lived in Hoboken, NJ/worked in NYC for two years. I became a sort of fashion and culture sponge, soaking in inspiration from everything around me (a task made much more accessible these days in the blogosphere). I still constantly inspect and analyze the nuanced ways stylish folks dress, do their hair, and apply their makeup. Needless to say, I do a lot of fashion blog surfing and some awkward public staring. As I moved around, I began incorporating the things that caught my fashion-fancy into my repertoire, while still trying to stay within my range of comfort and sense of personal style. Even though I am back in the Midwest again, I envision my style today as still drawing from and synthesizing a broad range of these earlier influences.

Sao Paulo (population 20 million) vs. Oklahoma (little over 3 million). I often wonder if someone can be truly avant-garde in their style if they grow up in a small town? Is it ground-breaking if no one appreciates it?

What is Personal Style?: While I can’t possibly define “personal style,” I do believe an important element of cultivating that elusive trait is constantly balancing between being aware of your comfort zone and environment (uncomfortable people never look stylish to me) and taking some risks with the knowledge you will make a blunder now and again. While I admire those people who have a certain “uniform” they stick to because they know it works, I prefer to allow my personal style to morph and shift according to creative impulses, constant experimentation…and a certain level of recurring boredom and ennui.

I am certainly no fashionista or style insider, but I think about style/fashion/consumerism a lot, and I try to maintain a critical eye. As a graduate student and researcher in literature/cultural studies, I think about the impact and influence that things like gender, advertising, sexuality, and Western culture have on us all (but specifically women!).

Books like Rita Felski's The Gender of Modernity have heightened my understanding of the relationship between female desire and consumer culture. It puts a new spin on the stereotype of the "female shopper."

But, I also spend a huge chunk of my time thinking about the new leather riding boots I want for fall and whether or not coral lipstick is flattering on my skin tone. This constant splashing back and forth between the “deep” and “shallow” ends of things can be rather mind-boggling (and I find that I tend to keep a lot of this ambivalence to myself), but I am beginning to believe it is important to articulate these complicated intersections.

So, here is Nothing Elegant -- an experiment in thinking and writing about things that make being a consumer, a woman, a reluctant intellectual, a shopaholic, and a regular gal, exciting, perplexing, and fun.

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