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Alison Lurie’s fashion liberation

April 22, 2009

There’s a great column in The Guardian this week by Alison Lurie, a Pulitzer prize-winning novelist who decided, at the age of 60, to stop caring about fashion:

Soon after I reached 60 I was abandoned by Vogue magazine and all its clones. Like former lovers who drop you slowly and politely because they once cared for you, they gradually stopped speaking to me. Without intending it I had permanently alienated them, simply by becoming old. From their point of view, I was now a hopeless case. They were not going to show me any more pictures of clothes I might look good in, or give me useful advice about makeup or hair.

Since fashion no longer pursued and flattered and scolded me, I realised that I did not have to pursue her. I could go through my closet and get rid of all the stylish clothes I really didn’t like: the fitted jackets, the cropped pants that left six inches of pale stubbled leg hanging out, the silk dress-for-success blouses with floppy bows and padded shoulders. I also gave away everything too obviously “sexy” – that is, shiny and low-cut and tight and uncomfortable.

Lurie found the loss of this pressure to be fashionable and her realization that she could wear whatever she wanted liberating. After getting rid of the clothes she hated, she tossed her high heels, and stopped coloring her hair and wearing make-up.

As someone whose demographic group–young, white, with money–is the target of Vogue, Glamour and the like, I find this concept interesting. We often lament the exclusion of certain groups of people–people of color, older people, obese people, poor people, non-cisgendered people–from the “target audience” of the fashion industry and the popular definition of beauty, believing that they too should be considered beautiful and represented as such in cultural images. But in what ways does the impossibility or unlikelihood of being considered beautiful liberate us? If we accept that living up to the image of beauty presented in the media is impossible to us, why even try? Why not wear what makes us happy, what is comfortable, convenient, colorful, whimsical, weird? Lurie’s obvious joy at her rejection of fashion is gratifying. She has realized–and I hope that we can too–that beauty does not consist in striving for something we are not, but rather in reveling in what we are.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 22, 2009 1:34 PM

    Thanks for sharing the story. While I admire Lurie’s rejection of the fashion “target audience,” I think it’s terrifying that she was shoved aside by the industry by doing something natural: getting old. The media’s young, beautiful faces tell us that we can and should avoid getting old at all costs and that the products we buy will enable us to “beat” the aging process. What ever happened to the idea that with age comes wisdom? We have glorified physical beauty so much that we have forgotten about the inner beauty that comes with life experience. In a lot of ways, we are a culture of people who want to stay young forever because once we get old, we are “no longer of value” since our images are no longer “attractive.” Does this Peter Pan syndrome make our society immature? I think so.

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