Free-stylin’ projections

Connect the Dots

Wearing sweats in public makes me think of sleepwalking.

Besides the handful of times I’ve made it to the RSF, I save wearing my shapeless cotton pants for sleeping days and ones that don’t entail too much sweating. It’s not that I think sweats look (too) gross or hopeless — I mean, athletes wear them all the time.

Maybe if I could just look past my distaste for its Costco-reminiscent value, or disconnect it from the laughable trauma of high school PE … then I could get on with my life and go to my 9 a.m. class with the enviable nonchalance that sweats-wearing athletes carry.

But since my words per minute are more reassuring than my mile time, I slip an oversized sweater on top of a dress instead. A simultaneously comfortable and incongruous outfit that I can wear without feeling like a fraud (but maybe like a fool).

I’m too shallow to get past the first thoughts that pop in my head when I see myself in the mirror wearing sweats — the office-chair potato that I am over the stair-climbing master that I should be more like.

Self-esteem psychoanalyses aside, style puts meaning behind pretense. To quote a literary genius who valued style beyond his means (a quote I found in my Interpretive Film Criticism reader with enough pretense to make pragmatists squirm), Oscar Wilde wrote, “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”

Though style comes at a price, it seems like one many are willing to pay. Whether it be the “Juicy” brand stamped on your velveteen ass or the leather dandies vintage-store mongers charge on credit, style expresses a part of our individuality that we like to share and see in each other.

Individuality is limited, as style can only express so much. While my friends and I share a wardrobe that ranges from special free-pile finds to multipurpose American Apparel investments, our individual styles become tools we use to pursue our own agendas.

Style allows us to project what we want others to think of us. Heels show determination and confidence, a collared shirt presents class and cleanliness, while the likes of flip-flops and tank tops give off an air of comfort and indifference.

But what happens when those first impressions don’t last? After all, we have ads, musicians and films to compose our appearances as we are too busy forging life plans to match our insides with our outsides. Style ceases to express individuality when we use it thoughtlessly.

Wearing a pair of heels is (arguably) easier than being as confident without them. When the pain of pressurized high heels is worth the gain of respect, it’s easier to develop our style of confidence than the amount of confidence we actually have.

As we rely on style to project who we are or want to be, buying things that might set us apart is easier than showing others who we really are. A distraction that takes the pressure off self-improvement, style makes us feel accomplished rather than fulfilled.

Style is a hook that reels particular people into a realm of mutual respect and interest. But as style breaks down into frays of ignorant words and empty stares, style tests not only our ability to deceive others but also how true we are with ourselves.

When pop stars’ manufactured lyrics and marketed styles are fawned over instead of their substance, the meaning of content becomes secondary. Chris Brown’s beats hypnotize us to feel beyond his chauvinistic impulses as we watch each other get down in his B-boy manner.

Appearances consume identities that aren’t meant to be defined by first glances alone. Our style reflects    what we like, but it is not the essence of who we are.

Style is not confined to fashion, as our personalities are too much to fit in what we put on our bodies. It is a matter of expression. But what we wear is the first thing we present not only to others but to ourselves as we (consciously or unconsciously) catch a glimpse wherever there is a reflection.

Athletes are not only the superhumans they appear to be, as I am not whatever pretense mismatched clothing seems to give off. While style defines our exteriors, it invites others to see beyond what is displayed. Just as abstract art is more than its convoluted manifestations, style is a clue to each individual mystery.