random thoughts: on fashion, frida and identity

 Self-portrait with my copy of  Friday Kahlo's diary .

Self-portrait with my copy of Friday Kahlo's diary.

This morning, as I was catching up on some blogs, I came across this post by wonderful artist Lisa Congdon, describing an exhibit currently showing at the Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico City.  The exhibit is of Kahlo's clothing, jewelry and personal effects, which had been in storage for close to 60 years, before being shown to the public.  Throughout her life and during the height of her years as an artist, Kahlo was internationally known for dressing not in the latest fashion of the time (the 20s-50s), but instead in the traditional clothing of her native Mexico.   The result was incredibly beautiful and incredibly different; as such, I've always been intrigued by Kahlo.  Besides, I truly love Mexico City, so needless to say, it's killing me that I can't go see this exhibit.

In watching the brief video about the exhibit (shown at the bottom of this post), I was struck that its focus is on Kahlo's use of fashion as an expression of her ethnicity and her disability (Kahlo was partially paralyzed due to a childhood accident).  Hearing the curator describe this aspect of Kahlo's style was stunning for me:  suddenly, my confusion about fashion and style suddenly cleared.

See, I've always had a love/hate relationship with fashion.  For example, I love the creativity and art behind it, and am always intrigued by the structure of clothing. I love the artistry of a well-crafted shoe or handbag.  And I've always loved people who are innovative in the way they put pieces together. 

That said, I loathe -- really loathe -- the concept of fashion as a way to communicate wealth or status.  I detest the concept that only Certain People with Certain Body Types should wear Certain Things, and for the rest of us, not to worry, because the industry has come up with clothing to Hide Our Flaws.  Seriously, the idea that certain clothing should never be worn by someone by virtue of what they look like makes me insane (actually the whole idea of being told what to wear at all makes me crazy).  I hate that fashion magazines make kids like my 8-year-old believe that in order to look beautiful and, worse, be beautiful, you have to be a certain height, weight and ethnicity (though, trust me, I'm fighting that every step of the way).

I hate what the industry does to the self-esteem of women all over the world.

So this exhibit of Kahlo's dresses, illustrating how she took clothing and made it her own -- only wore clothing that carried meaning for her -- felt like an epiphany.  I love that she used style as a way to communicate who she was, and not who she wished she could be.  I'm sure, back in the 30's and 40's, she stuck out like a sore thumb -- but she didn't care, because she knew she was going to stick out, anyway.  Why not use fashion as a way to accurately communicate what people were seeing?

As I've gotten older, I've definitely moved away from following design trends (and in truth, it has been years since I've read a fashion magazine), and although I continue to love clothes and bags (Marcus is horrified at my affinity for bags), I couldn't tell you what's in fashion or trendy at any given moment -- I just get what I like.  And lately, it has become really important to me to wear clothing and jewelry that reflects my heritage (which is why I keep an eye on Trinidadian designers like Meiling and Anya Ayoung-Chee, hoping to see something I like, and can afford). 

Even so, after seeing this story, I think I might just have to be even more intentional about what I wear -- using fashion to tell my real story, rather than some fabricated one that I think is told by the clothing itself.

What about you, my friends -- how do you view fashion and style?  Is this something you think about a lot, or not at all?  And if you do think about it, how comfortable are you creating your own style?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Also, here's that video about the Frida exhibit: