Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Un-dressing in the City

Style is more than fashion. Fashion is an element of what style uses to achieve its ends, but by itself, fashion is unreliable, like the friend who is always terrific fun to be around, but who often doesn’t show, leaving you waiting at the appointed rendezvous, feeling awkward and self-conscious.

Style is code. It’s a metaphor for the public self. It’s the way we move in space: our persona. We use it to adapt to our environment, to belong, to stand apart. Clothing can enhance or conceal a person. It’s an invitation, or it’s a warning. I look at the pictures in The Sartorialist and imagine those people in my kitchen. Could I talk to them? Could we find our way past the clothes to meet over coffee?

Vancouver is all about the easy, and these days the yoga cult has overcome all other fashion trends. Mats and other yoga gear can be purchased almost anywhere—in houseware boutiques, in bookstores and in grocery stores—but lululemon is the retail shrine where devotees go to worship with their Visa cards. I bought a tank top there last week. It’s brilliantly designed—a perfect intersection of form and function, but the woman who sold it to me wore the beatific expression of an acolyte. In fact, every clerk in the store seemed to have on that same expression: wide eyes and faces soft and slightly upturned, as if to meet the light.

People in this city give each other a lot of personal space. We almost never acknowledge others without some express reason for doing so. This can be excruciatingly lonely for the newly arrived, but for those of us acclimated to this benign indifference, it’s comforting. We pretend not to look at each other, and so we’re free to reveal more that we conceal. We can go about un-dressed without fear of the penetrating gaze of strangers. Vancouver is a liberated city. The public self is insubstantial, because without witnesses, there is nothing to hold it in place. We grow transparent; weightless. Sometimes out of the corner of your eye you’ll see a man or a woman lift right up off the sidewalk and disappear into the clouds.


Dawn Coyote said...

I'm using "rendezvous" incorrectly. Can I get away with it as a purposeful aberration, like flip-flops with a cocktail dress?

Claude Scales said...

How so? I looked up "rendezvous" in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and found the first definition to be "a place appointed for assembling or meeting." If you went to such a place at the agreed time and the other person failed to show, would it not be correct to say you had been left waiting at the appointed rendezvous?

Your post has me thinking (a dangerous thing indeed) about my own experience in Vancouver a quarter century ago, and considering a post on S-AB about that.

For what it's worth, I think you'd look lovely in a cocktail dress and flip-flops.

Dawn Coyote said...

Claude, I must be confused. I was thinking of the usage where "rendezvous" means the meeting itself. Thanks for setting me straight.

I love Vancouver style. This city is beautiful in a number of ways, one of which is how people seem so free, so unencumbered.

I was afraid I might have offended you by suggesting a new look for your blog. I can be tactless sometimes (see comment to Ted, above).

Claude Scales said...

You weren't tactless at all. I always welcome suggestions on how to improve things. Indeed, I changed the color of the background because of someone's suggestion. That being said, I'm probably more a captive of inertia than most. I've gotten used to working with Blogger, and I contribute to another blog that uses Wordpress and find it daunting to use. Also there's the problem of having the web address change (I know, one can arrange for forwarding), etc., etc.