New Year’s Edition! 8 Fashion Resolutions

vintage girdle ad. Woman standing amid weird striped pillars and star background
Happy New Year! Let's knock stuff down!

We’re not sure about you, but for us at Dismantle, 2018 was kind of exhausting. There were things to make us hopeful and grateful – for instance, we are now successfully publishing a new article every week. But there was lots of other stuff happening in the world that we’re ready to leave behind. We decided that a new edition of the Dismantle After Party  would be just the right thing to welcome in some fresh energy (after all, it’s way more fun to celebrate with friends!). This time we’re talking about our 2019 fashion resolutions. It seems like we have enough weighing us down; so we want our clothes to lift us up, energize us, and say something that matters.

Casci Ritchie: Better Undergarments

Casci's Fashion Resolutions. Woman in orange girdle

As I type this, the underwire of my old faithful M&S bra is digging further and further into the flesh of my under arm. This bra and the rest of my underwear have all seen better days. Unsurprisingly my New Years fashion resolution for the coming year is to inject some much-needed TLC into my long neglected underwear drawer.

It wasnt always this way.

What makes my sorry state of underwear even more disheartening is that I have a true love for lingerie. I even studied lingerie design at the Master’s level. During my final year as a fashion design student I spent a few months as an intern at Agent Provocateur — at the time my own personal Holy Grail for underwear design. The endless supply of technicolor silk-seamed stockings and my infectious passion for beautiful undergarments led me to amass my own collection of signature vintage pieces. Over the years I wore out those corselettes and stockings and now Im left with the remnants of a once fruitful underwear drawer.

My wardrobe is packed with a much-loved array of vintage and vintage inspired garments. Wearing the right foundation garments was always part of that look, but nowadays Ill be lucky if I own a bra with fully functioning hook and eyes! My neglected rail of wiggle dresses and pencil skirts are crying out for girdles and cinchers just as much as my own self confidence. No amount of comfy cotton can give you the same va va voom as some cleverly constructed shape wear (and no, Im not talking Spanx!).

In my early twenties I treated my underwear with just as much care and attention as my outerwear. While I have not become slovenly in my dress, Ive definitely become more acquainted with cotton and jersey than I would prefer. The past few years Ive found myself tightening my purse strings more and siding with (*gasps*) practicality more when it comes to what goes on beneath my clothes.

This has got to stop.

2019 is the year I reclaim my confidence and glamour — practicality (cotton, that means you) is out! I will invest in beautiful undergarments — functional AND fabulous  — not just economically sound. Opting for more decadent underpinnings will, in turn, take my daily looks up a notch. Win win all round. Now I just have to wait for the January sales….

Anna T. Bernstein: An Organized Closet

Anna's fashion resolutions. Clothes neatly organized on hangers
That’s right, the shirts and pants are separated.

I have a confession to make: I don’t know how to fashion. So when I got the invite to this particular After Party, my first thought was that I don’t even know enough to have a resolution. I could easily have some sort of vague hope to do better in 2019 — maybe resolve to smash the patriarchy or dismantle capitalism (fashionably, of course), or somehow begin to understand the delicate interplay between my own internalized fat-phobia and building sustainable habits to improve my physical health. But then…I organized my closet. By which I mean I picked things up off the floor and took things out of boxes (I just moved) and put them in actual places where they can belong. And I realized I have more wearable clothes than I thought, and that it’s pretty cool to be able to see what I own. For some reason, putting clothes away is my least favorite cleaning task, and I mostly just don’t do it, so then I grab whatever clothes out of a pile, pour clean clothes on top, ad infinitum.

So, here is my measurable, attainable, incredibly simple fashion resolution: to keep my clothes put away and organized. That way, knowing what to wear, I can get to work on smashing the patriarchy.

Jennifer Saxton: Find My Style

Women looking at window display featuring movie star looks
Window shopping ca. 1937

I work as a costume design professor and a major part of my work life centers around helping other people look gorgeous or appropriate to the character they are playing. I often ignore my appearance in the drive to get this done. I would love to develop my own personal style based not on what is convenient to buy and easy to care for, but on what pleases me artistically and personally.  I’m not sure what that is, but I’d like to find it.

Verena Hutter: Explore

Verena in two outfits, a polished dress and a sweater and torn jeans
From Academic Conference to Portland Freelancer

I moved to Portland five years ago. Fashion-wise, it has been a bit of a transformation. Previously, in my academic life, I wore academic-chic. Blazers, cute dresses, heels or wedges, and a great haircut.  

My life, however, has changed since then. I still religiously spend a lot of money on good hair (for which I blame my German grandmother’s influence). But I work from home, and rarely teach these days, so generally I am not exposed to a lot of scrutiny from the outside.

Recently, I realized that I moved from being one caricature (fashionable junior academic) to another: let’s call it Portlandia. I own blouse-dresses, flannel shirts, have a sneaker collection, and wear leggings with tunic shirts (and please — do not even ask how many knitted sweaters and sweater vests I own!). Leaving academia included some sort of physical transformation, I guess.

2018 was the year in which I allowed myself to try out different things. I am still doing some academic writing, but I am exploring other avenues of expression, from my blog, to contributing to Dismantle, to publicly admitting my love for books on witchcraft and fountain pens.  I presented at two academic conferences, and helped organize local cultural events. I put myself out there, and didn’t die. Thus, my 2019 fashion resolution is going to break out of the boxes I put myself in, and explore. I am not quite sure yet what this will look like, but I am here for it.

Sara Tatyana Bernstein: Wear Jewelry

Sara's resolution, necklaces spilling out of jewelry box
The jewelry box that isn’t still in storage.

Wear More Jewelry. That’s been my resolution for — I don’t know — the last five years, maybe? It seems like such an attainable goal. It’s small and specific, and I’ve accrued so many pretty bracelets and necklaces and earrings (rings too, but becoming a ring person is a bridge too far) that I hate to see gathering dust.

I used to wear jewelry. For most of the 1990s people probably thought my chokers were keeping my head attached to my body. In the 2000s I discovered the world of delicate handmade, minimalist geegaws, and I loved all of it.

I want to say I stopped for practical reasons. When I moved from New York to California and entered a PhD program I had fewer and fewer reasons to dress up, or even dress middle. My wardrobe kind of devolved and by the time I earned my doctorate it was mostly just a worn out pile of gray jersey. Then I moved back to Portland, where (as Verena pointed out) the dress code is aggressively casual. As an adjunct, I wasn’t making enough money to cover basic needs, let alone new clothes. And I only really needed to put on “public” clothes once or twice a week when I taught classes. In my head I started referring to getting dressed for school as “appearance management.” Jewelry seemed excessive.

But I realize now there’s another reason this resolution hasn’t stuck.

I got fat. Those post-PhD years were hard. Like — really, really hard. Like cult deprogramming and realizing that the life you spent a decade working toward and being told you were uniquely suited for didn’t actually exist. I’d already spent most of my life “feeling fat.” But, during my post-PhD depression I became actually, objectively, can’t shop in regular stores, fat.

Studying fashion and the body and the power dynamics that produce the absurdity of “feeling fat” gives us a vocabulary for understanding the feeling, but doesn’t make it go away. And being an avid proponent of fat acceptance can’t erase a lifetime of images and messages saying bodies like mine don’t look right, and that my flesh percentage represents personal weakness and failure. But I’m working on all that. And with help from Universal Standard I’m figuring out how to dress this body in ways that match my taste and flatter this shape.

What I can’t figure out is how to put jewelry on this body. The expectation for women with bodies like the one I have now is to go big and chunky. But I don’t feel right in the roomy caftans that provide an appropriate backdrop for oversized statement pendants. And little asymmetrical metal loops get lost in this now rather ample bosom. But I will try again. Because 2018 was a dark year, and 2019 will probably be hard too, and sometimes a flash of something shiny and pretty can give us just the spark we need to keep going.

Sue Brower: Let Go

a pile of clothes
Be free, unworn bras and shirts!

New Year’s resolutions tend to be a set-up for failure. You promise yourself you will lose weight, learn piano, become vegan, and when you inevitably slip, then what? It’s April, and what do you do, start over? But fashion is about timeliness, so if you slip, it’s sort of just as well – you’re even more up-to-the-moment than you were when you began, right?

Well, in terms of fashion, I’m not really there. Never have been. But I feel the need to make some changes — modest, but necessary — and they’re the sort of resolutions you can’t go back on.

1) Clear the decks. I know – we all get the urge to purge at some point, but I’ve often felt like a failure for not purging enough. I’ve come to the realization that ANY elimination of unusable stuff is good. And I’m getting better, finally, at recognizing what I really will not use. There are a number of things I’ve kept out of sentiment, like the two nightgowns that were gifts and I will never use. I love the people who gave them to me, but they wouldn’t want me to be weighed down year after year, would they? I also have a few items still with sales tags on them, including a lovely cocktail-length dress in green — what? I never wear green! I’m determined to take the best of these things to a consignment shop and get at least some of my money back.

2) Purge, part II. There’s a subset of stuff that is usable, but not by me. I am overrun by socks that fall down and bras that don’t fit anymore, and maybe never did. I don’t remember EVER buying a push-up bra, and yet it seems I have two. They are in excellent condition. I also have a drawer full of scarves that just went with some outfit that perhaps has already been purged. At any rate, I can live without them. And are people still wearing scarves, by the way?

3) What lies beneath. So my other resolution is to find undergarments that fit. Undies that don’t shrink two sizes when you wash them, and socks that don’t lose their elasticity. And when was it that bras became designed to increase your shirt size? You have to stand them in a corner somewhere, because they don’t fit nicely in a drawer. I’m determined to find a few bras that fit me, thank you, but don’t make me feel like I’m encased in armor. Everything, as my mother used to say, looks better with the right foundation.

I’m realizing that as I sort out the “keeps” from the “rejects” and wear them over my new unmentionables, I may feel like I have a new wardrobe. Unfailingly. Here’s to a comfortable, spacious New Year.

Elise Chatelain: Focus More on Breathing, Less on Jean Size (aka, Quit Smoking)

Elise showing off her new jeans
New Year, New Jeans!

Last January I decided that after 20 years, I would maybe quit smoking. I had thought about it for several years, but never could bring myself to break up with my dear ciggie friends.

I always knew that it would be tough to quit, but when I look back on it one of the main things that held me back for so long was that I was worried about weight gain. You see, I started smoking at the end of high school, during what was the start of a pretty unhealthy relationship to weight loss. I had been chubby most of my life, and I had gained a lot of weight as my body went through lots of adolescent adjustments. So I decided I would lose weight by only eating one small meal a day – and by smoking. By my freshman year in college, most of my meals consisted of a cigarette and a soda.

Things didn’t stay that extreme for long, but it wasn’t until my mid 20s that I started to figure out for the first time in my life what constituted a healthy relationship to food. (More accurately, I figured out what was healthy for me – because it finally started to hit me that our body types and needs are incredibly varied.)

So I was exercising. I ate lots of healthy meals, multiple times a day. I learned that snacking was okay. In fact, I finally realized that it was okay to get hungry every few hours!

But even then, I couldn’t end my relationship to smoking. There was that last little anxiety, the worry that my body would change more than I wanted it to change. I didn’t want to buy new clothes, or feel different or ashamed for having a different body than I had before.

So it took me years, but I finally did quit. One day last February, I woke up and decided to eat a nicotine lozenge, rather than smoke a cigarette. And that was it! (Not really. There were tears. There were days when I longed to smoke more than anything else. There still are tears. But I haven’t smoked in almost a year).

And my body? It’s changed. I’m rounder, healthier, and can breathe better. I feel like I could probably run a marathon if I wanted. I have an incredible amount of energy. My colds last for two days rather than six, and I never get painful coughs. I love waking up and not being burdened with a cigarette.

I even bought a new pair of jeans – two sizes bigger than I was wearing a year ago – and I love them.

Tyler Snazelle: Recognize that Fashion is a Language, So Speak It!

A woman in a white bouse, wide belt and pencil skirt
Some inspiration from Vogue Italia. Apollonia van Ravenstein, 1980 Photo by Gian Paolo Barbieri

“Fashion is a language that creates itself in clothes to interpret reality.” Karl Lagerfeld

There is great power in dressing, and multiple capacities that make it so much more than just the arrangement of different articles of clothing and accessories onto our frames. Once on the body, our clothes become an ensemble; a word from the French, dating back to the Latin insimul, (in- ‘in’ + simul-  ‘the same time’). A moment when several parts seamlessly become a whole to speak a unified message. An ensemble holds tacit knowledge. Nothing can quite speak the same about our person than the clothing we chose to dress ourselves in. Even the antithesis, of ‘not caring’, has its own recognizable objects and patina. Choosing not to participate in conversation does not exempt one from speaking volumes in the language of dress.

If dressing is like speaking, individual pieces of clothing could be seen as words, chosen and pieced together to form whole sentences, stories, desires and fantasies. In a sense, one could edit their closet as they would a paper, discover a new definition in the form of a shoe, and summon a new identity with the flick of the wrist in a pair of gloves.  

With this I say, come forth 2019! Let us imagine the new versions of ourselves and dress these characters accordingly. Write down what your essence is longing to say and translate it into that wordless poetry which is dressing. Life is much too short to not be heard.

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