Fear and Clothing

Marshall McLuhan’s book was famously titled The Medium is the Massage.

I’m reading a great guide that proves his title’s point: Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling American Style by the bellicose lettres author Cintra Wilson.

She writes in the most clear, specific, compelling way–better than I ever have or could–about the connection between our clothes and our personalities.

She understands as I always have that young people try on clothes as they go about identifying themselves.

For me how I dressed as a young woman was a way to take on the world. I was told I couldn’t get a job. I was told there was no hope for a person like me.

My fashion choices were a way to arch my brow and say: “So? I can’t get a job? Then I’ll be the best-dressed chair-warmer at the day program.”

It was true that the mental health staff didn’t know what to do with a quirky creative young person like me. I abhorred the vanilla thinking of the time that proscribed women to getting married and breeding kids living in a picket fence house.

Dressing trendy was a way to send a direct message: I wouldn’t submit to the vanilla expectations that the gatekeepers of my success had of a person like me.

Wilson calls how we style ourselves “fashion determinism” because it’s clear that we can become whoever we want to be simply by dressing in the clothes we choose.

Wilson relates: “If there is anything I have learned…life is too short to wear disguises that hide you from the world, because these choices can end up hiding you from yourself.”

Deploying your clothes in a confrontational way really won’t get a person anywhere. You see wearing Fright Night makeup won’t garner you any fans of whatever message you’re selling (unless you’re in a Goth band catering to vagabond vampires).

As I got older I understood clearly that it’s true the medium is the massage. Fashion is a medium–an art form at its highest elevation. How we compose ourselves speaks volumes–and our clothes are the loudest first expression of who we think we are or want to be.

Cintra Wilson traveled all across America to scoop what people are wearing and deconstruct their lives behind the seams.

I’ll end here with one interesting theory Wilson espouses: that people who live in cities like New York where buildings are high and vertical tend also to be built like rails–skinny. People who live in places like Iowa with wide expanses of land tend to be voluptuous.

Do I think this is true? I think it might be true insofar as city dwellers have easy access to gyms for the most part…and living in a city can be a competitive sport.

I will continue to write about fashion when it strikes my fancy to do so. I recommend buying Fear and Clothing which is why I quoted from it. Cintra Wilson’s irreverent whip-smart voice is the prime draw.

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Author: Chris Bruni

Christina Bruni is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Left of the Dial. She owns a resume writing and career help business. She contributed a chapter "Recovery is Within Reach" to Benessere Psicologico: Contemporary Thought on Italian American Mental Health. As well as an author and activist, Bruni is an artist and a fitness buff.

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