As a child, I loved watching my mother get ready for work. For her, getting dressed was never compulsory. She did not own many clothes, but she always looked striking and elegant. She wore feminine dresses and high heels that accentuated her long legs. She framed her almond eyes with jet black eyeliner and colored her lips with impeccable crimson, finishing the look with elegant diamonds or cameo earrings. Her clothes were never flamboyant because her height and beautiful white hair drew enough attention to her persona. Her sense of style was also defined by being a St. Petersburg native.
Like my mother, I’ve always carefully chosen what to wear. When I first came to Houston, I owned half a suitcase of clothes and knew that fashion is one of the biggest symbols of separation in society. There is ostentatious runway fashion and more affordable ready to wear fashion, but there is never cheap fashion.
When I started working as a lawyer, I could only afford two fashionable and understated suits. This taught me how to accessorize. Now, that I’ve had time to collect many beautiful outfits, I zealously express myself through my dress and make my own jewelry.
For women like me, who are passionate about fashion, dressing is defined by our identity. Our visual expression of our individuality proclaims who we are, both to ourselves and to people around us. Yet, as I described in my post on authenticity, we form our identities based on our interaction with other people.
Our appearance is central to how they we evaluated by others. As women, we play different roles in society – mother, daughter, wife, professional, etc. These societal roles further dictate what we choose to wear, limiting our self-expression by our expectation of other people’s reactions to our dress. They can either reinforce our identity, disregard it or, as we like to say in Texas, “shut it down”.
Our fashion choices have psychological, social and economic consequences. Wrong outfit could cost us a job, get us a date or gain us a promotion. And so, while most women enjoy looking at fashion magazines, some are scared to express themselves freely, and choose to conform to what others think they should dress like. Other women consider fashion itself a passing trend and do not conform to any social pressures, wearing whatever happens to feel good to them.
My grandmother was one of such non-conformists. She refused to wear clothes that were not comfortable or not made out of durable natural materials. My mother always referred to her as a “tasteless woman”. Growing up I believed my mother because she was my idol. Now, I see my grandmother as a rebel who was true to her values: simplicity, practicality and minimalism.
My grandmother was raised in a house that was always filled with art, music, sculpture and impeccable taste. But as soon as she became an adult, WWII abruptly interrupted her fashion metamorphoses. Her home city of Leningrad was under siege for 872 days, during which time she was forced to bury half of her family and survive without food. This traumatic experience taught my grandmother how to go without. The tragedy of war forever etched her identity. But she also held on to many prewar memories. She never embraced the new more affordable synthetic fabrics and continued to sew her own clothes out of natural fibers. She also made her own jewelry. And she taught me things my stylish mother could not teach me, like how to take photographs, sew, and embroider. Without these skills, I would not be who I am today and most likely could not create Vika Jewelry.
Fashion is a powerful tool for those of us who are driven by self expression. However, just like any other tool, its effectiveness hinges on our knowledge of its function. The possibilities of using fashion to express ourselves are as limitless as there are questions about its relationship with identity.
And what about you?
In which category of women do you fall? Are you fashion conscious, fashion forward, indifferent or non-conformist?
Photo credit: Jane Foster.
Inspired by Nadine – the One Who Dresses