Sparking joy, rejecting restriction

Making sense of the sublime

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Over the last few months, with nowhere to go and nothing to spend my money on, the consumerist voice in my head has been whining away: “You need new clothes.” “You should buy an espresso machine.” “You know that package on your doorstep will give you an addictive sense of productive satisfaction that you desperately need right now.” Well, I’ve managed to resist that incessant voice ⁠— which sounds strangely like Leonardo DiCaprio’s ⁠— until now.

And yet, I’m actually immensely proud of my recent online spendings. They symbolize a mindful contemplation of the person I’m becoming, rather than a reflexive mishmash of the latest trends.

In preparation for the arrival of this small collection of clothing, I decided to do a closet cleanout. A few days previous, in a mindless Netflix stupor, I stumbled across “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” Now, I didn’t find the show particularly interesting ⁠— as I had just come off an action-packed “Queen of the South” bender ⁠— but I was inspired by Kondo’s philosophy. She described that items should “spark joy” if they are going to be in one’s life. So, I set out on a bold cleaning quest to rediscover what my clothing and general aesthetics mean to me.

Tucked away in the far corner of my room — aging white paint adorned with black-and-white postcards, a single polaroid and a poster of Lana Del Rey circa Born to Die — my closet walls are deceivingly simplistic. But inside, that’s another story.

Removing one item at a time, I held each garment, as Kondo suggests, and waited for it to “spark joy.” But it wasn’t working. Some clothing made me smile with memories of the places I’d traveled, and yet I no longer felt inspired while wearing them.

My fingers grazed a creamy summer dress with buttons up the front and lace details, which I hadn’t worn in over a year. I thrifted it from my favorite Goodwill in Capitola, Santa Cruz, on a hot summer night with my best friend. We had arrived 20 minutes before closing and joyously searched for inspiration in the layers of fabric that had lived who knows how many lives. The creamy summer dress hung, unassuming, at the far back.

It was the perfect mixture of romantic softness and sensual suggestion. I wore it to the beach the next day, ignoring the irritation of the broken straps and buttons that kept popping open. It was the person I wanted to be and I didn’t care about the discomfort I experienced in the process. 

But in the past year, I’ve been moving toward fashion that speaks to me and no one else. I’m not concerned with how my clothing communicates with others, because it’s on my body, and I want it to inspire me as I move through the world. 

So, as I cleaned, I found myself rejecting clothing that felt physically restrictive: a beautiful burnt orange shirt that is too tight on my shoulders, a stark red tank top that unsettles me with its unnatural brightness and so on. Some of them were beautiful pieces of fashion, but they weren’t inspiring to wear. 

I’ve come to realize that to me, fashion and physical aesthetics aren’t about projecting every intricacy of my personality out into the world. I share the most intimate space possible with my clothing — my body — and therefore, that clothing should celebrate and nurture me as well. This venture into the depths of my closet was a wake-up call to how distracted I’ve become by the gazes of others. This period of social isolation has removed the anxious need I felt to appeal to an audience and replaced it with a more personalized relationship to fashion.

I want to feel the world as I walk through it. I want to feel the swish of flowing fabric around my heels, I want to wear chunky earrings that tap gently at my neck and sandals that mold to my feet. I want my clothes to inspire me and to make me feel a connection to my body.

My personal style is becoming a mixture of organic functionality and soft, artistic inspiration, demonstrated by my recent clothing purchases: vintage Ralph Lauren flowy pants with downward spirals of soft green and pink flowers, a black peasant skirt that falls at alternating lengths around my calves and thick acrylic earrings in the hue of tortoise shells. And I’ve decided to give away all the clothes — no matter how objectively beautiful — that do not make me feel connected to myself or the world around me. 

That’s the beauty of fashion: Not only does it project growth, but it also manifests it. Everyone has their own unique style of clothing that makes them feel empowered and beautiful. And that relationship, between our clothes and our bodies, speaks volumes to the person we are or want to be.

Nathalie Grogan writes the Monday arts & entertainment column on art as a method of communication. Contact her at [email protected].