I often find myself wandering into introspective reflection territory. Whilst I generally fall into the belief that things are always changing, standing without a few stable supports is a not always a productive position and it can prevent ideas being galvanised when they strike.
In these periods, I reflect more heavily on the pieces that have shaped my thinking thus far: the snippets of my story, the things I’ve read, the people who have left their marks on the structure of my spine.
It is from this point that I start the Citations series – an attempt to unravel the multitude of influences which have paved the way to now. My naïve hope is that it helps identify those latent supports which linger at the wayside and from this understanding, push onward. Without further ado…
The Cheap Date Guide to Style
We start with book from 2007: The Cheap Date Guide to Style. A book which I first read aged sixteen, from the suggestion of various blog reviews around the time. Written by Kira Jolliffe and Bay Garnett as a spin-off from Cheap Date (an ‘anti-fashion’ fashion magazine from the early noughties) the premise essentially revolves around encouraging readers to use clothing as a canvas for self-expression and individuality, rather than sheepishly following trend dictations or grandiose notions of taste. A quaint concept in the latter end of 2014, where fashion has since become a relative minefield of choice and we are (supposedly) inundated with options for our various sartorial expressions.
The emphasis lies heavily on ‘thriftiness’ and whilst it does speak of shopping from anywhere, I’ve always found that it is less about consumerism and more about remaining open-minded. That aspect strikes me as neither time-specific nor clothing-specific. We could sit and hyper-analyse the extent to which much imagery falls in line with norms in western fashion (specifically the binary of womenswear) but to do so would perhaps detract from the point. The Cheap Date Guide to Style is what you read when you want an unpretentious book to remind you about the enjoyable bit in dressing up.
The book itself is just larger than A5 sized, hardback and the right thickness to not feel overwhelmed. It’s divided into roughly nine sections, which does include some ideas of “basics” and “classics” – however, the overwhelming attitude is of embracing your individual spirit, experimentation and respect (of your choices and others too) making it much less prescriptive than the title alludes to. I want to say these are ideas which still exist in the fashion world at large, but I suspect that would be a lie. In some dress-related spheres possibly, but generally it seems the industry wants you vulnerable, because it needs you to keep buying variants of the same thing. It takes some sense of assurance to be less susceptible to that, if that’s what you want.
I betray my current bitterness towards fashion there. Yet when I revisit the Cheap Date ethos, I do find myself remembering some of the elements that attracted me to this arena in the first place. These days, I tend to look at more art and theory than fashion imagery. At social sciences rather than contemporary ideas of good taste. It is perhaps just another way of navigating through the world, hoping to find what it is I feel comfortable standing for (if anything) and in the process, attempting to strengthen the outputs I create. Knowing a complete fashion philosophy is a back burner issue, in comparison to understanding my attitude to living right now. Though perhaps this is the underlying point of the Cheap Date guide? The two are in tandem and exploring yourself through whatever avenues for expression (whether dress or another outlet) can cause a neat feedback loop into knowing your theory of existence. They make it sound much more light-hearted than I have, of course.
For the best part of 7 years, this book has unequivocally influenced the way I think about, not only stylistic or aesthetic matters, but about creativity and expression. It doesn’t often get read now, but sits on my bookshelf as an integral influence if I ever need a pick-me-up. Undoubtedly, I still struggle; because through the act of making or presenting clothing, you demonstrate concrete interpretations of aesthetics and I know I have pandered toward fashion norms, for all they can annoy me. It is very easy to do so because fashion history has created a visual language which betrays even the most avant-garde of practitioners. Like any subject, to be considered as someone in that field, using elements of a prewritten language is almost a necessity it seems.
Fundamentally, my takeaway from Jolliffe & Garnett is that not everyone will agree ‘what looks good’ or even on the deeper values which underlie those seemingly harmless three words. But championing an open-minded, respectful approach is something we can strive for.
Dressing up is not a rulebook, and even if it was, we have permission to rewrite it completely.