What is personal style and how does one develop it? Is style the absence of mainstream clothing, the avoidance of normalcy, the exception to the rule?
The calm whispers of dawn wake my daughter and I each morning. Fall's last licks of sunshine stroke our cheeks. We rise together, enjoy our first meal and then dress for the day.
For this little one, the ritual of clothing has already begun.
These mornings have caused me to think about the advent of personal style. Where does it begin for each of us?
As with most things in life, we follow role models—first, our parents.
My mother has always dressed with what one could call pizzazz. She'd don multi-coloured pant suits for galas, black dresses emblazoned with Aboriginal designs for fundraisers and her trademark fire red glasses to teach cooking class at my middle school. When I was a teenager, her fashion choices unnerved me. I was afraid that her distinctive style would doom me to social excommunication, but to my surprise, she was dubbed the "cool mom" in the hallways. My mom was different. She wasn't cut from the same Mommy cloth. She was unique, she had presence, and the students were drawn to it.
Without a conscious thought, I followed in her footsteps. She was, after all, my example. My mom dared in her personal style, and so have I, I like to think. Establishing my own style began with second-hand binges on torn jeans and band T-shirts (a particular favourite: my Primus's "Sailing the seas of cheese" tee), but it ended with the racks of the local and handmade. I followed in my mother's footsteps, and my daughter Madeleine, I can only expect, will do the same.
But for now, my child at a meagre seven weeks is at the hands of her mother. It is cold outside so we dress sensibly, but it is nearly impossible to avoid dressing my daughter for my own pleasure. Sure, she needs comfort, but not at the expense of visual appeal. For the feet: darling charcoal boots made from New Zealand rabbit's wool. For the legs: chocolate brown leggings from a friend in the United Kingdom. For the body: a mint green, robin's egg blue and pink polka-dotted onesie that subtly hints at her gender. And for the head: a handcrafted cap, adorned with vintage ribbon and buttons, made with love by a particularly crafty friend.
I dress Madeleine the way I want to dress myself. But, one day, she will identify her own style. I have been asking myself (mostly as a result of writing this column), when it comes time, how do I hope Madeleine will choose to dress?
A few weeks ago the clothing chain Forever 21 opened in my neck of the woods. There is a YouTube video showing over a thousand keen teenagers waiting in line for the grand opening. The line laced itself through the labyrinth of the mall and eventually around its exterior like a mile-long boa constrictor lying in wait. What were they waiting for exactly? $4 tank tops and knock-off sheath dresses. Forever 21 has a gaggle of lawsuits under its belt due to allegations of copying designers. Is this fixation with the mainstream culture of "cool" what lies in store for my child?
For now, I choose not to dress Madeleine in Baby Gap, Please Mum or any of the other name-brand outfits hanging in her own closet, already half full. I'd rather she wear clothing that comes with a story, like the pink knit cardigan from the hospital auxiliary store that was made by hand by a local volunteer. In these small ways, Madeleine's clothing choices can become about relationships and about people, not simply about mass markets, labels or brands. Because after all, she is a child of God, uniquely made, and her story is just beginning. Her style should express it.
When Madeleine sets her mind to creating her own outfit one day, I hope she will dress with originality. And, when she is old enough to understand the impact of her choices on the world around her, I hope she will dress with responsibility, choosing quality pieces, and with modesty, respecting herself and those around her.
How do I want my daughter to dress? Creatively. Modestly. Responsibly. It's a Christian way to dress, I think.
Pen and Ink 2010 This pen and ink drawing is the third in a series of five wrestling with the idea of epiphany. Like a pig in mud, a half naked...