My knee-jerk reaction was, of course, mortification. Glorious! Just what we all need in the current moral and economic climates: a nagging voice urging us to pay more mind to stuff. I knew she was justified in her observation - materialism is an unfortunate byproduct of aspirations in the fashion industry - but what was remarkable was that she seemed to have genuinely meant it to be a compliment.
I'm certainly a believer that people - family, friendships, relationships - are infinitely more vital to our happiness than any pair of Manolo Blahniks that can be purchased on sale. That being said, I do see a tangible value in investing in appearances. For me, getting dressed is not only a means of artistic expression, but also a measure of personal pride; when I walk around with unwashed hair and ratty gym clothes on (out of laziness, not when I'm actually on my way to the gym), I feel devalued in a way that has nothing to do with whether or not men (or women) find me attractive. Clothes have, for better or worse, the power that we have collectively ascribed to them: a power that makes visible a portion of our interior and, perhaps more importantly, gives voice to our self-concept. To ignore society's expectations of our relationship to clothing is foolish. To pass up the chance to create for yourself a world in which you truly look the way you feel is, to me, actually depressing.
I'm also a big believer in the way in which clothes come alive on a person. You can build the most heartbreakingly beautiful dress on God's green earth, but until it's worn by somebody who takes pure, unadulterated joy in its construction, it's worthless. It's like how a fragrance reacts uniquely with the hormones of each individual who spritzes it on - clothing must be loved by its owner to be lovable to others. I adore reading personal style blogs because nine times out of ten, it's the pieces I never would have looked twice at in a store that inspire me the most. The number of trends I've hated until I saw them on people who wore them not to be "fashionable," but because they genuinely loved the look! Anyone can buy an expensive, current wardrobe - but to have true style, clothing must be worn dynamically.
And then I thought of this recent photo shoot celebrating the 30th anniversary of Loewe's Amazona tote. The bag is simple, maybe even boring - but I was instantly struck by the life it brings to each of these photographs. It appears to be, in every frame, placed with a purpose; this is a purse that belongs to someone - a dreamer, a mother, a hermit, an intellectual - and because of that, it takes on a value that no manmade object can claim on its own.
Whatever your opinion of fashion - a crutch for those devoid of inner beauty or the greatest thing on the face of the planet - I urge you to broaden that definition. Because for materialistic me, things are important - but only because people make them so. Is it possibly to have an unhealthy obsession with earthly trappings? Absolutely. Are there those who judge the enjoyment of said trappings too harshly? Believe it. But the only way to recognize the value of style is to experience it to the fullest. Nothing is ugly as long as it is alive.