William Shakespeare is my fashion idol.
It's not because of his puffy pantaloons or saggy tights or frilly Elizabethan collars though an argument could be made for a pantaloon revival. They are quite likely more comfortable than yoga pants. And one could discreetly carry snacks in the folds of fabric.
Have you ever tried to do a downward dog with a full-sized candy bar stashed in that tiny pocket stitched into the waistband of most yoga pants? Don't.
Back to Shakespeare. His plays are undeniably brilliant. His sonnets can bring me to tears. But it is his fashion writing that has real impact on my everyday life.
What? You didn't know the Bard was practically the Diana Vreeland of his time? While the long past editor of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue magazines coined phrases such as, "Pink is the navy blue of India."And "Fashion must be the most intoxicating release from the banality of the world." It was Shakespeare who penned perhaps the timeless fashion idiom “. . . apparel oft proclaims the man.”
This advice from Hamlet, given by a father to a son who was about to head to France, still holds true centuries later. (Consider it before boarding a plane to Paris wearing a pair of shorts.) The playwright's words are often interpreted as “clothes make the man,” but I think that is the opposite of what the father was saying.
Granted, I know next to nothing about Shakespeare. However, he did write in English which just happens to be the one and only language in which I can (fairly) confidently claim fluency, so I am going to take him at his word, specifically this word; proclaims.
Proclaims is defined as “declares publicly” or “gives an outward indication.”
So clothes don’t make the man but they do say a lot about him. Publicly. You may as well blast your latest outfit across all social media platforms ala Kim Kardashian.
Not to make you paranoid, but your clothes are talking about you right now. Do you have any idea what they're saying?
For many years, I wrote about fashion for a daily newspaper. One of my favorite story series was to go out with a photographer to ask people what they were wearing in their everyday lives, and why. The first one we ever did was in January 1998. Photographer Ross Hamilton and I scouted people at an urban mall a few blocks from the newsroom in downtown Portland, Oregon.
I stopped people who were dressed in stylish ways and simply talked with them. I saw a cute, young, semi-tough-looking inked-armed guy. I asked about the pork pie hat he wore. He said he was taking care of it for “a friend in the pen,” as in penitentiary. That was not an answer I could have predicted.
I was hooked. It became a regular feature.
I called it Found Fashion, like found art. At some point, we changed it to Street Fashion. For several years, I’d go out on random style hunting expeditions with different photographers. Most times, we'd simply meander around the city in the middle of the day. Other times, I’d choose a specific place or event where we were all but guaranteed to find people who paid attention to how they dressed. I talked with those attending indie fashion shows, fancy fundraisers, or art gallery openings.
My colleague Ross was brilliant at it. He always made his subjects feel confident and look great. Plus, he also seemed to genuinely enjoy their stories as much as I did. It was fascinating to learn why people wore what they wore.
I remember talking with a very cool looking silver-haired woman dressed in what appeared to be a perfectly tailored menswear suit and dress shirt. In an era of spiky high heels, she strode about comfortably in men's black brogue shoes. She was an attorney who adapted the look early in her career, she said, to establish herself as an equal in a game that was then still pretty much ruled by men.
She looked incredibly cool and stylish. Like Annie Hall in more sophisticated bespoke clothes.
A beautiful young man who'd recently moved from Minneapolis to Portland, said he never felt fully dressed without a top coat, hat and gloves. He was still adjusting to the more temperate, and laid-back style of the Northwesterners. Portlanders favored a uniform of active sportswear and sneakers, thanks to Nike. He didn't understand the region's reluctance to feel sharp.
Once I talked with a darling high school senior dressed like a 1960s London Mod in mini skirt and boots. She said she typically wore schlumpy T-shirts and jeans so felt a little awkward about being stopped for her style. Turned out, that morning her mother said she looked especially cute and should dress like that more often.
I think the student had mixed feelings about a fashion writer agreeing with her mother.
Working on that semi-regular feature helped me appreciate fashion as a genuine form of self-expression more than any 7th Avenue designer could. It also brought me back to another Shakespearean quote: All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.
Why dress for a bit part? You are your own main character.
About the Creator
A former daily newspaper journalist, now an independent writer of essays & fiction published in several lit anthologies. The Whole Hole Story children's book was published by Versify Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021. More are forthcoming.