In my recent fashion adventures, I have come to think that clothing is mostly aspirational. Besides a few pairs of tee shirts and jeans, you don't really need much to get by in life. All the rest of it is, depending on your point of view, excess.
The excess, though, comes from the primary reason that people shop, I would say: aspiration. Through these extrinsic objects, people imagine their better selves reinvented through some bit of technology, clothing, perfume, or cosmetic that will define them to the world.
There are a number of theories that analyze the shopping phenomenon. One in particular summarizes what I find interesting about it.
1. Shopping as a staged experience, like a movie. Stores try to stage the shopping environment like a movie set, against which people rethink who they are and who they could be. The wood floors and panelling at J. Crew, for example, conveys an image of fresh-scrubbed American gentility, just as their catalogs convey an idea of halcyon youth. The company tries to project some sporting life that few actually have, but through a $40 polo, some can try to approximate. The things offered for sale are essentially just props.
The difference between reality and aspiration becomes painfully apparent to me when I sit at the central courtyard at the mall, as I have done a lot this weekend. I try to think of what I see before me as the pageantry of life, all these shapes and sizes of people. But mostly, it's depressing to see the soft, ill-formed bodies and the things that people acquire to disguise a quietly desperate life.
Perhaps this is projection?
I indulge in it myself, all the time. In my imagined self, I see myself wearing knee high boots and shorts skirts with whimsical little tops. Something strong, feminine, and willful. In reality, I dress pretty demurely, as much to disguise as to reveal.
There is a constant push-pull of wanting attention and rejecting it. I think every girl has to come to terms with it at some point. Women are called into their femininity by these (mostly male) gazes that let us know that we have an effect on the world, oftentimes before we are ready. But then, at some point, that gaze and the sense of power that comes from commanding that gaze becomes entrapping. I see so many women who orient, if not their lives, then at least their clothing around male approval. Often, I have thought it would be so nice to be able to pass through life with some degree of anonymity. To cut through the crowds unblinkered, unimpinged.