Aesthetics & The Search for Identity

Clothing serves an obvious utility. It ensures that we aren’t naked and that we’re protected from the elements. Clothing can also serve as fashion. When clothing becomes fashion, it extends beyond its basic utility. It indicates our preferences, mood, creativity, profession, social status, and a myriad of other connotations that have become tied to a certain style of dress for historical and cultural reasons beyond our control.

And that is why fashion can be so frustrating. There is the temptation to get everything “just right.” We can’t dare repeat outfits on social media- that would mean we lack creativity and are thereby “boring.” But we mustn’t buy too many clothes because then we are greedy and contributing to the destruction of our environment (not to mention our wallets).

We all want to be original. No one wants to be a “basic bitch.” But isn’t it “basic” if all the “bad bitches” are wearing the same red bottoms and Herve Ledger bandage dresses? God forbid if we dress “too slutty” and Hera help us if we end up emulating an overplayed archetype.

I was thinking about aesthetics and how much we care about them and how social media has made appearance and aesthetics such a huge focus in our lives. We waste so much time and money trying to achieve a certain aesthetic and for what?

We attach so much of who we are to how we look and how our house and our stuff looks. We chase aesthetics because we think we’re expressing ourselves. And in some ways, for some people, aesthetics and art are their true highest calling in life. I don’t want to take anything away from that.

However, I also think that a lot of this chasing of an aesthetic is due to marketing and corporate interests and money. I know it’s unrealistic and I wouldn’t want a world like this but hypothetically if everyone in the world had to wear the exact same thing, no accessorizing, who would you be? If everyone in the world lived in houses that looked exactly the same with the exact same couches and TVs and same carpets and same everything, what would you have inside that makes you you? Who would you be?

Who would you be without your stuff and your aesthetics?

If your answer is that you’re an artist and you love to make art and you love to design clothes or buildings or jewelry or other things and that’s what makes you you then congrats. You’re an artist. Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t let me tell you that it’s just consumerist junk. It’s not. It’s your creation and being a creator in some form or another I believe is our highest calling. We all create different things in different ways and I encourage you to go out and design and create things that help others.

Now for the rest of us, it’s time we let go of our attachment to aesthetics as a way to “express who we are” aka signal to other people. Because trying so hard to use external things to “express ourselves” is really just signaling to others. That is, I believe, the crux of this whole aesthetic obsession. Because we live in a world where wearing certain clothes means being a certain kind of person. Because society and culture have attached certain means to certain objects and aesthetics.

Trying to use things & an “aesthetic” to “express ourselves” is really just signaling to others.

For example growing up in a Baptist household, I was taught tattoos and piercings (other than 1 hole per ear for women only) was bad and that people who had those things and dressed in dark clothes or had crazy hair colors or had chains on their clothes meant certain things about those people. I was taught to be afraid of such people because people who looked like that were “Devil worshippers,” demon possessed, drug addicts, criminals, and just the kind of people whose lives were a mess. I was taught wrong.

Yes people will judge based on appearances. I don’t know how or why certain styles are given certain meanings but it’s not going to go away any time soon. All we can do is to take accountability for our beliefs, examine what we were taught, and see if any of it is actually true.

It would be nice to live in a world where our outer appearance didn’t matter so much but the truth is it does to an extent. However, what would a world look like where we don’t feel the need to express ourselves aka signal to other people with our clothes or our hair or our houses and furniture and carpets?

We’re not all the same in this world and naturally we would gravitate to different things like we already do but I believe that our reasons for choosing what we chose would be totally different. We would have artists creating and designing clothes, homes, art, furniture, and jewelry that is authentic to them rather than whatever the market has deemed to be the popular aesthetic at the time. And we as consumers would all be choosing those products based on how we derive value and enjoyment in using them rather than how it looks or what it says about us or using those pieces to signal to others.

And as far as markets and economics go, I believe that there would end up being a natural balance of artists and consumers whose designs and choices aligned to reach an equilibrium. Rather than what we have now which is companies telling people what aesthetic is cool (I read somewhere that the hygge trend was all engineered by a PR company) so that they can sell us products and we as the consumers thinking that we have a choice and that we’re “achieving” something by adopting an aesthetic that was picked for us. Miranda Priestly said it best when she said that the sweater was chosen for Andy long before she ever bought it.

We all wear clothes (unless you live in a nudist colony) so I think we would have to end up picking clothes based on quality, durability, how the fabric feels on our skin, and if we feel that the clothing is aligned with our body. We would ask ourselves “Does this color bring me joy or am I only choosing black because it’s ‘slimming’?” and we think we have to be thin. Or maybe it’s because black is “chic” and we want to be chic and look expensive because we have some kind of unresolved class anxiety. W would ask ourselves, “Does this clothing item help me feel at home in my body or does it make me feel like this isn’t really me?” Some people feel that baggy clothing is what is aligned for them others prefer tight clothes, some want to show lots of skin others don’t and no option is better or worse so long as it’s authentic to you.

The key though when you ask if something is authentic to you, is that you have to let go of all ideas that you have about how you think your body is supposed to look or what you’re supposed to wear and what you’re “supposed to” highlight or hide. There are no wrong answers, only truthful answers and the lies we tell ourselves.

There are no wrong answers, only truthful answers and the lies we tell ourselves.

We all need to take a good, hard, honest look at ourselves and why we are doing what we are doing. If we’re trying to look expensive or chic or whatever, then why are we doing it? If it’s something that is genuinely authentic to you then by all means go ahead you have my blessing, not that you need it it’s your life you can do whatever you want with yourself. But to be quite honest, I think for many many people when we are trying to look a certain way it’s for reasons that we are too ashamed to admit to ourselves even within our own minds.

Like let’s say for instance we’re trying to look classy and expensive. Why? We may come up with all kinds of answers to that question, none of them being true. But instead of admitting the truth, we call it “authenticity.” We call it confidence. We call it whatever excuse we can conjure up. But deep down the answer- the real answer- is something more along the lines of “because I want people to like me because I feel lonely and I’m tired of being alone” or “if I dress a certain way, then I will attract a partner and then I’ll know that I am loved and that I am good enough” or “I don’t believe I can actually level up my life and become rich and being rich is a bad thing but I really want it so I’ll just settle for looking the part.”

We are scared to admit those answers. Even to ourselves inside our own minds. Because once you admit the truth to yourself, you can’t ignore it. Well you can but it’s not comfortable. We like to keep ourselves psychologically comfortable. Maybe deep down we feel guilty for feeling how we feel so we ignore our truth. Maybe we don’t want to admit to ourselves how pathetic we feel. Or maybe we feel like we should be happy and confident when we’re single because that’s what everyone says we should feel if we’re emotionally healthy but we’re actually not happy single.

I’d just like to say that you’re not bad or wrong for how you feel. We think that if we have those thoughts that it makes us weak and that we shouldn’t feel lonely or that we shouldn’t want a partner so much. But admitting how you feel and admitting a hard truth to yourself even if you tell no one else is a very difficult and very very brave thing to do.

And once we have those answers, then we have to look at how it came to be that we feel that way and from there we can move forward.

A lot of people would rather numb how they feel and distract themselves with chasing empty goals like an aesthetic than to look at the truth of how they feel and who they are. Lie to other as much as you want but don’t lie to yourself.

And honestly, you are never going to find yourself or the truth of who you are inside of an aesthetic. I mean seriously, we have churches and cathedrals and holy sites and mosques and temples and fucking nature and we’re all inside of a fucking TJ Maxx trying to find our style and curate an aesthetic to tell the world who we are with a piece of fabric? Seriously?

Yes beauty and art are necessary and they nourish the soul. We all want to surround ourselves with beauty and there’s nothing wrong with that. But let’s not confuse the appreciation of art and beauty with the chasing of a certain style or aesthetic because there are some unresolved personal issues we need to take a look at or because conspicuous consumption is the default mode in society. Learn to see beauty in everything rather than searching for a curated, manufactured, highly processed version of it.

“There is beauty in everything, just not everybody sees it.”

Andy Warhol

Our souls are infinite. You are so much more than the clothes you wear or the car you drive or your watch or your house or the artwork you buy. Who you are extends beyond this physical realm and it cannot be contained at this physical level. You are limitless.

And so, for me, as far as clothes go, I do feel at home in a tight dress. I also feel a ok in sweats and a T. I want high quality clothing that actually fits me and will last a life time. I don’t like the feeling of cheap cashmere on my skin.

I like how powerful I feel in that asymmetrical black dress and my black chemise. It’s not even something where I look in the mirror and I feel good because my waist is cinched in and my bum looks good, no. It’s just I feel an innate sense of power and beauty and sensuality when I wear that chemise and that dress. It’s just something about the way the fabric wraps around my body and hugs me that makes me feel powerful. I feel strong, I feel like Wonder Woman.

I am going to try on all of my clothes and see if I get that sense of power. Not even to see if I get that sense of power but to see what feeling I do get. Because powerful Wonder Woman goddess mode isn’t the only type of way I want to feel. Sometimes I want to feel like a princess. Sometimes I want to feel like a tough badass street smart boss bitch. Sometimes I want to feel like a privileged 50s housewife.

It all depends on the feeling. And that’s how you discover your style. You have to go by how you feel. And that’s not something that can be taught through a blog.

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