Why do we excel at turning everything into a competition?

Let me preface everything else that I am about to say in this email by saying that every person needs to immediately start to read the book Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in the Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. Immediately. If you read that, then it will put everything that I am about to say in proper perspective.  What is shortly to follow is extremely shallow, and deserves to be called out as such. If you get a sense of the plight of a 12 year old garbage collector subsisting on the equivalent of 33 cents per day, then you will understand just how shallow and ridiculous we are in the West.  And by “we in the West”, I raise my hand as exhibit A.

For the past few weeks at church I have been told and heard comments made to the effect of, “The rest of us have to try harder to compete with you,” in regard to my attire.  That is ridiculous, right? We get it all wrong, right?  Well, the comments have sort of knocked me off my guard for a number of reasons which I will outline:

1. Only our capitalist mentality can manage to turn EVERYTHING into a competition of some kind.

2. This “competitive” capitalist mentality can rear itself at CHURCH, of all places, where we are supposed to be free of viewing ourselves and others in terms of competition and any kind of consumer aspirational lifestyle.

3. If you view getting dressed as a competition with other people, then you are doing it wrong.

Here is the reality. I have always dressed in some derivation of exactly how I dress now.  Seriously. When I was a four year-old living on a farm in Mississippi, I insisted on wearing dresses every day and wanted my mom to curl my hair every day.  I always wanted to wear dresses in elementary school and middle school. In high school, I would wear dresses or skirts four out of the five days of the week. Keep in mind, that all of this was done in the early 1990s, when “grunge” and “heroin chic” were the popular clothing aesthetics.  The only times I wore flannel shirts were to go camping.  In college, one of my friends freshman year asked me why I dressed every day “like I was going to the office.”  I had a total of two pairs of jeans my entire years in Provo, and I wore them maybe on the weekends.  I don’t know why I have always been this way. No one else in my family is this shallow when it comes to clothing. My sisters aren’t. My mother isn’t.  I have just always liked dressing up.  Even when it wasn’t cool, I liked dressing up.  Believe me, for most of my life, dressing up has not been cool. So it just throws me off when suddenly, people make comments like how I chose to attire myself is indicative of some kind of gauntlet that I am throwing down and expecting other people to keep up. People should wear whatever they like to wear.  Period.

Anyway, to underlie my point that getting dressed every morning shouldn’t be a competition, I am just going to give away all of my “secrets” right now.  I am not hiding anything. Here is my own consumerist outline for dressing as of February 2012:

1. I like Danish designers – namely my own self-proclaimed “Big 3”: Bruuns Bazaar; by Malene Birger; and DAY Birger et Mikkelsen. Here are the reasons that I like those designers:  I can buy all three from my home in North Carolina. Bruuns Bazaar ships to the United States. I can get by Malene Birger and DAY Birger et Mikkelsen via Net-A-Porter online. Not only that, but all three have very good, convenient size guides that always ensure that I can buy things in the right size.  Also, they actually make clothes that look good on people in my size,which suffice it to say is not a Sample Size 4. There clothes are generally quality clothes and made of nice, durable fabrics. Furthermore, I like the classic minimalist aesthetic.

2. I also spring to order from British High Street lables that are accessible via the Internet here in the United States.  They also fit my aesthetic – namely, clean, classic clothes that are ladylike and comfortable.  Currently, my favorites among these labels are probably LK Bennett (their dresses fit very nicely, and they also have stores in the US, like in Phipps Plaza in Atlanta), Toast (incredibly comfortable clothes that are also well-made), and Hobbs.  Toast and Hobbs both ship to the US, and all three websites have very good sizing guides that accurately reflect the way their clothes fit. There is nothing that is worse than spending $20 for international shipping only to find that clothes don’t fit and that you will have to spend another $20 for clothing that has to be returned.  I won’t order anything internationally that doesn’t have a sizing guide that gives me some assurance that the clothes will fit before I order them. Also, it helps to know your body well enough to have an idea of what works before ordering something online.  All of these stores exhibit what I love about classic British styling.  And since I don’t have a tailor like Katherine Hooker in my neighborhood, it is the best I can do.

3. My go to’s for US clothing are Billy Reid, Diane von Furstenberg, and Tory Burch. Brooks Brothers is my go to for work separates and suiting.  Billy Reid has great, comfortable clothing that fits my Southern aesthetic. Diane and Tory both have beautiful dresses that are wearable in everyday life, and that is usually what I order from them.  Billy, I generally have to order online, as he doesn’t have any stores in my metro area. I wish his sizing was a bit more forgiving, as there are some styles that I just can’t wear that he puts out because they don’t exist in my size.  I love the fit of DVF (which Nordstrom and Saks carry locally) and Tory (and my local Nordstrom just started carrying a selection of her RTW). However, I hate clothes with outward labels, so I will not by Tory flats, etc.  Brooks Brothers no iron shirts are my go to workshirt, and there is no other suits that fit me better than a Brooks Brothers suit. It isn’t cool, but it is completely functional (although, I do think that their Black Fleece label is pretty swoon-worthy). I also love Vince sweaters. They are soft, comfortable, and wearable across my wardrobe. Yes, I do on occasion still find some goods at Anthropologie, but it is becoming less and less a part of my wardrobe for a number of reasons including:

4. I try to avoid buying crap made in China.  I try to avoid buying clothes that will only be trendy for one season, because I like classic clothes I can wear forever. Something about buying stuff made in China just speaks about our throw-a-way culture.  Also, I am just not a fan of buying things made in China for political reasons, so I won’t if I can avoid it. I am not perfect, so my own personal embargo is a little like UN Sanctions – some contraband gets through, but the effort is still worth it.  This week I was trying on a Tory Burch dress that I really liked at Nordstrom, and saw the label read “Made in China”, and I put it back, because I am not spending $300 on a dress made by people earning less than $1 for making it.  This also is why I love Billy Reid clothes – most of his clothing is made in the United States.

5. I don’t want to spend money on trendy crap that is only good for one season. I will spend more money on a Burberry lined pleated navy blue skirt because I can wear it until I am sixty. Even if a dress looks cute now, I won’t buy it if it isn’t well made and won’t last. So, I generally say no to brands like H&M, because anything that I have bought there in the past rarely lasts beyond one washing. I am tougher on clothes than I would like to admit (I am pretty messy), so I need clothing that is built to last. Also, in the past, I have bought too many clothes that I never ended up wearing and just had to give away (as both of my sisters will attest), and I am trying not to do that anymore.

6. I do still look for bargains, but within reason. I love the website The Outnet, because they have good quality clothes for discount prices.  They also have a great online sizing guide for each garment that makes life easier. I love a good Barney’s Outlet if I can find one in person.  The Off Saks outlet in Mebane is also surprisingly good.

7. For shoes I stick to the basics generally. Most of my shoes come from Cole Haan, with seasonal support from brands like Sperry (for summer topsiders) and Frye (for boots).  Again, I know the fit well and I know that the shoes are well made and will last.

8. I don’t spend money on jewelry, for the most part. Aside from my philosophical objections to precious stones like diamonds, I just don’t like the looks of most of it.  The jewelry I have has mostly been gifted to me, which makes it more meaningful.

9. When I travel, I shop. Durham, North Carolina isn’t the fashion center of the universe, so I shop less when I am at home and more when I travel.  It also makes shopping more of a treat that I do when I am away from home, and not part of my every day life. It is one reason why I love visiting British Commonwealth countries, because they are more likely to carry designers that I love like Pringle of Scotland and Paul Smith.

10. Shirtdresses are my staple outfit when I feel like I don’t have anything to wear.

11. I don’t look at fashion blogs to compare what I am wearing to everyone else. I like looking at runway shows to know which designers to keep my eye out for that season, because I know what I like. For example, if I had an unlimited budget this year, I would buy pretty much everything in Emilia Wickstead’s FW 2012 collection.

So to sum it up, it is about knowing what you like and then finding out who makes the clothes that you like. It isn’t about seeing what other people think you should like and then seeking that out. Again, if you do it that way, you are doing it wrong.

But if you insist on buying clothes based on what someone else tells you that you should like, can you at least make the person whose approval that you desperately need be Anna Wintour?  That lady always looks like class.

Shallow post concluded.

5 thoughts on “Why do we excel at turning everything into a competition?

  1. So because the style of clothing that you have always worn and liked is now the latest trend that the lemmings are jumping on to, they have to make you feel bad and turn it into a competition? Nice.

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