The grammar of fashion awareness

If cats did art…we-ell, if cats did art, you might imagine dimly lit galleries stocked full of infrared mouse installations. As for dogs. Their artistic endeavours have widely been regarded as a pile of poo. Literally.

And women? (and men?)

The point, i guess, is that we all – cats, dogs, men, women, mice, llamas… – create a syntax of art and imagery that conjugates best when it is located within the grammar of our senses. If your primary means of accessing the world is through your nose, why so surprising if your creativity starts in works of smell. If eyes, then visual. If ears, then Beethoven may be more your thing.

That works, most obviously,at the grossest level. Bats, probably, do not visit the National Portrait Gallery – unless to hang around in some of the more splendid central London eaves to be found under that institution’s roof.

But it almost certainly works at the level of detail, too. Which is my cue for nudging this post gently back in the direction of gender issues. What women do incredibly well is notice detail. Detail, that is, when it comes to clothes – and the personal. Change your hair: its noticed (by female friends, at least). New nail colour? Obvious. Dress? Blouse? Ear-rings? Instantly, in most cases, noticed and commented upon.

The fashion gene?

So what’s all that about? Is it some innate feminine disposition towards fashion-consciousness? A gene for accessories? Or something else? I’ll start by suggesting that, yes: there is a l;earnt component to this particular behaviour. Though that’s neither one thing nor another. Most complex social behaviours have learnt AND innate components to them, whiloe the interplay between the two…well, that’s just incredibly complicated…so the old nature-nurture argument is mostly, usually just a waste of breath.

I know there’s a large chunk of learnedness to this behaviour, because i’ve been learning over the last couple of years. Not consciously. Not like i sat down one day and said to myself: from tomorrow i WILL notice other women’s hair. But by osmosis. As so many of these things are learned. Because if one is constantly circulating around social spheres in which awareness of look and image is going on, its hard not to find yourself, very soon, playing too.

OK. Its always been there to some extent. I’ve always been someone who noticed small details, to the point where it used to provide me with insights i wished i didn’t have. One partner once accused me of “spying” (huh!) because i asked, quite innocently, why a couple of objects had moved in our bedroom. Honest: i couldn’t help it. I just had mental image A, gleaned from a day or so before, with mental image B now super-imposed, and all her fidgetting with “stuff” just screamed out at me.

Trivial Pursuits

More recently, though, i know its grown worse. Taking the boy to the cinema to watch cod-classical gorefest “Clash of the Titans” (yawn!) i mostly tolerated the onscreen silliness. The bowdlerisation of myth – and the reduction of an archetypal deity (Kronos) to CGI supervillain. I did my best to keep up, but it was hard work. Until the very end when hero, Sam Worthington, and heroine, Rosamund Pike, finally get together for a rather awkward embrace just before the final credits roll.

Oh, i found myself wondering: those ear-rings! Were they really appropriate for the period? And weren’t they so not what your average warrior queen tends to wear nowadays? Hmmm. Then there was the whiter-than-Persil-white dress, which appeared to have survived a trip to Hades and a volcanic eruption without copping a single stain (a feat that i singularly fail to achieve when faced with the challenge of a white blouse and spaghetti bolognese!).

So, sure: its learnt. Or partly learnt (see above).

Confidence Crisis

Which brings me finally round to the main point, which is whether the problem faced by most women, the teen confidence killer, is some evil indoctrination into how it is necessary for one to “look good” at all times in order to get on. Perhaps, to some extent.

But I wonder, from the above, whether that particular pressure is secondary to this observational thing. I’ve mentioned before how almost every woman i know, well dressed, badly dressed, interestingly dressed, has made an effort, in a way that blokes, on average, don’t. Social pressure, certainly. Peer pressure, too. But the mechanism through which that pressure works?

It starts, i think, with awareness: with a structuring of our visual world to notice certain sorts of detail. Once noticed, once structured, it is all downhill from there.

jane xx

8 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    bobette said,

    It’s more a language than a grammar, i think.

    • 2

      janefae said,

      Grrr! It ate my reply. I was going to say…i DID say …that it is both. And that my interest in viewing fashion or awareness of same as grammar emerges from the fact that one of my obsessions at uni was linguistics and eternal interesting questions like the relationship between thought and language – and whether it is possible to think certain things if your language doesn’t possess that vocabulary.

      This is also in that area, in the sense that i am asking whether the mechanism whereby fashion obsession arises is not a direct obsession with fashion, but an emphasis on the components needed to put that obsession in place.

      While carefully ducking the issue of whether it is either genes or not at the root of same.

      jane x

  2. 3

    herr brockman said,

    Rubbish! This is a tranny trait you speak of . Nothing more. It is motivated by your morbid facination with all things feminine.

    What could you possibly know about women? You are, (trying to be generous here), a trans*-woman.

    • 4

      janefae said,

      Since I rarely socialise in trans company…and most of my time out is with female friends, I’d love to know what u base your own generalisation on.

      All I’m doing here is noting an issue written widely about by women and feminists…and proposing a mechanism for it based on personal observation. Of women I know compared to men I have known.

      A selective sample, obviously. But hardly a trans thing. Espesh as its the sort of psych thing I’ve been doing since my psychology degree almost 30 years back.

  3. 5

    herr brockman said,

    I admit that I know virtually nothing about you or your background other than what you write here. From what I can gather you are rather recently trans, having spent the majority of your adult life, including your, “sort of psych thing I’ve been doing since my psychology degree almost 30 years back”, as a man, or at the very least a trans*.

    My point is that your perspective is skewed by this very background as well as the fact that your are in fact by your own description quite trans*.

    It just seems a bit presumptious to me to offer such commentary on how women obsess on such things as nail polish color or fashion. I do agree that there is a social/peer pressure to present in an acceptable manner, IE; reasonably clean and well groomed. Do women notice how other women are dressed or groomed? Yes, of course. But, “structuring of our visual world to notice certain sorts of detail.”….I don’t think so.

    • 6

      janefae said,

      Given how little you DO know, yes: you are being very presumptuous and writing an awful lot of stuff that is at least as skewed, perspective wise as anything you reckon i am doing.

      I am also puzzled by your continued presence on this blog, given that almost every comment you have made reads as negative, destructive or otherwise critical. Are you aware that that is how you read?

      Anyhow: yes…my background IS skewed by my lived life. As is that of every single other person on this planet. So what’s your point, unless you are arguing, with no real evidence beyond your own view on how men and women interact (which is also skewed by your lived experience) that my experience is less valid than yours?

      Because i developed skills in a Psychology environment, i am absolutely NOT saying what you suggest i am saying in your final par. It might help if you read what i had written in my post, which is observation based on behaviour (a proper topic for psychology) and not some sort of analysis of inner state.

      Yes…since you seem to nitpick…i do use the “obsession” word in a response further down…but that’s talking more generally about what many others have identified as supposed issue.

      My observation, borne out by countless conversations with cis WOMEN, is that there is some truth to the old cliché that women notice small details related to appearance that men do not. I’ve also highlighted an argument, that is much in vogue in the UK, about how young girls have low self-esteem because of an alleged obsession with looks and fashion.

      That’s another argument being put by women: i’m recognising that it exists, without, here, jumping to the conclusion you have that its as simple as an obsession with nail polish and similar.

      Rather, i’m asking – open-endedly – whether the mechanism that leads to this issue is something perceptual (without jumping to conclusions as to whether that perceptual mechanism is itself innate or learned), as opposed to the grosser social imposition that some commentators seem to think it is.

      OK. I’ve gone to the trouble of answering more fully here. But i probably won’t again. I’m not making the assumptions you are so keen to imply that i am making.

      In fact, in post after post, you are very quick to frame what is going on inside a presumptive world of your own making…usually in ways that are either hostile to or critical of the trans experience. Which makes it severely rich when you try and cover up what you are doing nby writing assumptions over on to others.

      Its not big. Certainly not very clever. And if you can’t really be bothered to read the arguments being put, then my main conclusion has to be that you are mostly here to cause upset.

      jane x

  4. 7

    herr brockman said,

    Bah! Comes now the victim. Crying foul when their pontifications are exposed for the baseless, sophomoric drivel that they are. How destructive of me that I am not swallowing this swill hook line and sinker like your ignorantly adoring fans.

    Should I stand silent in the face of such nonsense, or better yet just leave that you might carry-on ‘spaining how a grown man with children suddenly changes genders(?), and then magically knows all about how women think.

    Excuuuuuse me for THINKING!

    By the way Jane, nothing personal, just a generic reality check.

    • 8

      janefae said,

      If i were making some of the claims you pretend i am, i’d possibly be with you. However, since i am not – and since i have also explained rather more directly what i am saying (and therefore what i am NOT saying) this is you having a debate with yourself: putting up a straw man argument about what you reckon Jane is saying and then taking it apart.

      Feel free to do so: but a little lighter, please, on chiding me for stuff i haven’t claimed.

      jane x


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