In last week’s post about my fall fashion plan, there was a resale Rag & Bone blazer on my list of things I intended to buy. I loved the blazer for its cool seaming, the bright orange splash of the under-collar that flashes when I wear collars my preferable way —with them popped —and how the plaid makes it a versatile separate. At the time of my post, it was ordered and on its way.
Since then, I received my jacket and it’s fabulous, fits me like a glove, and didn’t need a bit of tailoring, which rarely happens. I got to wear it immediately which was nice considering we had our first crisp NYC day last week. As I was slipping it over my simple look of a basic white v-neck tee, slim straight jeans, and my M.Gemi Cerchio sneakers to head out for some morning doctors’ appointments last week, my husband, Frank, remarked on my jacket. I told him it was from Rag & Bone, resale.
“Rag & Bone, what a gruesome name for a fashion company,” he said.
“I love it,” I remarked, as I was putting one arm into a sleeve. “So badass.”
“Yeah, sure, but the name, Rag and Bone…it’s just so, how did they even come up with that?” Frank replied.
Finishing putting on my blazer, while looking at myself in the mirror, and noticing how I immediately felt like I could take over the world, I replied with a theory I concocted in my head seconds before and said as I was adjusting my look, “you know, I think, the reason women might have a different reaction to a name like Rag & Bone might be because women have always been fed a singular narrative of fashion as a prim, demoiselle, girly thing. It’s almost as if, in order to find some sort of balance from something so delicate and fragile, the pendulum had to be swung out really far in the opposite direction.
At the moment, it was just a theory, and not a really formed one, but whatever it was, when I put on my blazer, I felt it, like armor; strong, on point and definitely confident. And I certainly didn’t think my story had anything to do with how Rag & Bone got its name, which, if you’re curious, was chosen by American designers of the brand, David Neville and Marcus Wainwright, and in reference to people in British history called Rag & Bone men who would walk slowly on the roads with carts or bags over their shoulders to collect scraps, like rags, bones, lumber, metal, etc to sell in order to eke out a living. As an homage to their pioneering ingenuity and conservation, Rag & Bone derived their name from this legendary practice.
Yet, with my new theory, as with a bone, I was left chewing on it for the rest of the morning. Could it be that some women are drawn to really strong or edgy silhouettes or brands in fashion to balance out all the years of how overly feminine fashion narrowly pigeonholed us to look like delicate, voiceless second-class citizens?
My first stop that morning would be to my appointment to see my sports medicine doctor who has been treating a shoulder issue I have. Upon receiving a compliment on my blazer from the young receptionist, I decided to float my theory past her. Before we could really discuss it, for like the first time in my life, my doctor took me before my butt could even meet the seat in the waiting room, and probably for the first time in my life, I was sort of bummed about it.
Yet my theory, still in its incubation period, must have had some sort of resonance with the receptionist because after my appointment and while making my follow-up one, she seemed interested in continuing the discussion.
“You know, I thought about what you were saying before…” and with that, our conversation unfolded. I don’t remember it exactly but I remember the context. Basically, we spoke about how the industry can sometimes marginally treat women by reducing them to a very slim narrative. We even went so far as to discuss how in its past attempts to be inclusive in advertising, such as by featuring women of color, women who are differently abled, or even how fashion makes efforts to include women with distinguishable features —like with alopecia or vitiligo, for example — even these scenarios can occasionally give off a performative or self-serving energy. Even if we can’t identify what feels off, we know something feels icky.
Walking away from that conversation seemed to break my thoughts open even wider and I spent the next few days continuing to think about this. I’m still collecting my thoughts and my guess is that it’s all too big for one blog post, but as my thoughts expanded, I kept thinking about the concept of the narrative of fashion and who exactly controls it.
FASHION ADVERTISES TO US, WE ADVERTISE TO THE WORLD
We all know the power of packaging and advertising. We’ll choose something in a store simply by packaging alone. Being a visual person, I wholeheartedly and often willingly choose to be taken in by good package design. We also gravitate towards visual elements to find our people or affinity groups or our place in the world.
From a personal communication standpoint, it is our non-verbal communication, or our image and body language, that is our strongest form of communication. It is stronger than the words or the tone that we use when we speak (55% for non-verbal communication, 38% for tone, and only 7% for the words we use). This means our non-verbal communication is essentially our own form of packaging and advertising. Basically, how we respond to product packaging and advertising and how we package and advertise ourselves are both equally critical for how we make our way in the world.
So on the one hand, you have the advertising and packaging that draws you in, connects you to something, or gets you to buy a product, concept, or idea, and on the other, you have the packaging and advertising of yourself. And in the case of buying from fashion brands, you are being drawn in by the brands’s packaging and marketing so you can package and advertise your own brand. In this case, you’re not simply choosing spaghetti sauce brands or the detergent you use, you are choosing clothing brands based on how you imagine yourself as a woman in the world and how you want to show up to others. When you slip into clothing, you know that feeling of stepping into your power the moment you put something on. You know that experience of putting on what feels like armor and how you suddenly feel invincible, connected, seen, or recognized, and how things can change on a dime when you put the right look on. Even if you have this experience for only fleeting moments in your life, you know how clothing how has changed you, connected you, made you feel bolder or made you feel more alive.
In essence, you have two sides to fashion. You have fashion that uses its narrative to sell clothing to women and then you have the clothing that women use to sell their narratives to the world. And the two, well, they don’t always connect. It’s why fashion can be so marginalizing or why, instead of leaning into how diverse they are, some women question themselves and try to fit themselves into the slim narrative fashion has dictated.
SHOULD FASHION SELL EVERYDAY LIFE? REALLY?
Certainly, one could argue, fashion is about selling a fantasy and escapism. Nobody wants to see the doldrums of everyday life. Fashion is art, Bridgette, this is all getting too heavy. Lighten up. And, sure, sure. Okay, yes, maybe. I have a degree in fashion design, and I respect and appreciate the art and beauty of fashion, and even its aspirational nature of it. At the same time, however, at what point should we expect that the rubber should meet the road? We can ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ and daydream over aspirational photos of how pretty and gorgeous fashion is with tremendous appreciation, but at some point, shouldn’t fashion be meant for everyone’s reality? And, honestly, that’s not even my point.
My point is when I see things like this:
You are Going to Covet These Must-Haves for Your Closet This Season
Trade Your Skinny Jeans for these Unmissable Jeans Styles
Be Body Confident with This Hot Trending Shapewear Brand All the Kardashians are Wearing
These Pants are Better than Anything You Have in Your Closet
It’s Sad, But These Trends are Over
Tell me you haven’t stumbled upon some version of these fashion articles or blog titles at least once. And look, I don’t even have an issue with the fact that these fluff pieces exist with titles that are so vapid and stupid sounding and speak down to women like they are just sitting around with nothing better to do than shop and “covet” shit that is “trending.” The way I see it, it’s like magazines. Sometimes you want to read PEOPLE and US WEEKLY and other times you want to dig into the WSJ or the New York Times, two publications that happen to put out excellent style pieces, for the record. I like dumb movies, reading the occasional crappy novel, and watching too many inane viral videos. Not everything has to be an Algonquin Roundtable debate. However, what bugs me about these articles is, first, how you can’t go more than five minutes online without hitting 50 of them within 30 seconds, and, second, why is this the standard level of conversation about fashion that exists? Is this really the best we can hope for as women who know how strongly fashion can work in our lives?
DICTATING THE FASHION NARRATIVE
And like I said, I don’t think anyone, including myself, is looking to turn fashion into this heady, cerebral space of seriousness, where the topic is discussed like it’s an episode of Meet the Press. However, there is a huge sprawl between an article that is as dry as sawdust and one about The Five Life-Changing Necklace Trends All Women Will Be Buying this Fall because there actually are women who do watch Meet the Press and who also truly appreciate fashion. These women don’t think necklaces have the ability to be life-changing, who are highly educated, have retirement plans, balanced checkbooks, and have a lot more to worry about than which trends to cry about because they’re going away this season.
This woman I am referring to is also not above fashion. In fact, she’s struggling, just like most women out there who can’t find a decent pair of pants or a bra that doesn’t give her a uniboob. She enjoys fashion, quite a bit, actually. But, she’s not an idiot nor does she appreciate being treated like one. She also doesn’t appreciate sifting through insipid garbage articles or listening to another influencer who still has her umbilical cord nub attached and who doesn’t know a buttonhole from her elbow just to get to the root of her fashion conundrums. Give women the benefit of the doubt. They are smarter than the narrative fashion has been selling and fell in love with clothes not because of what was trending but because of a journey they took on their own without needing the narrative dictated to them like they were morons. They know how they feel when they wear things that express their own packaging and branding, that make them feel powerful, strong, and invincible. Women are not counting on fashion to figure out how to make them look like everyone else. Women are counting on fashion to help them more fully realize who they already are.