Fashion is one of our most accessible art forms, a functionally necessary means by which we can also conjure up hints of transformative magic with a minimum of effort and resources. Within fashion's practical realm where we clothe and protect our selves, we also brand our selves; we "suit up." Within fashion's broader realm we broadcast our histories, our beliefs, aspects of our personal know-how and savvy. With fashion we manifest our visions of our selves to the world around us, the best possible "I" and "me," as circumstance dictates. And if we are completely honest with ourselves, with fashion we also live out every dream, memory and fantasy we have ever carried forward from our childhood, as fabricated and applied to our selves, to create a visual sum of our emotional parts.
Honoring fashion (the universal) and style (our personal interpretation of it) is on one hand a form of materialism. But fashion's form follows luminous function: That which arms us, defines and illustrates us also lends color and brightness to our existence. Lives fraught with all reality hands us to stifle and squelch these two elements -- duty, deprivation, sacrifice, the collective ills of Mankind -- must allow for some justification for the desire to balance it out with a little sparkle, something to highlight our everyday.
Lovers of fashion tend to define themselves by the item they respond to with the greatest emotion. There are hat people, there are handbag people and there are shoe people. There are jewelry collectors, fur collectors, sunglass collectors -- it's that essentialness to the wardrobe, the thing by which even friends and family identify you that defines the " " person you are. What makes this a fascinating philosophical topic are the questions of how, when or where and most especially why anyone considers themself a " " person. Was it a pivotal person we remember, who was also a lover of the same items we now cherish above all others and possess in multiples? Was it a single, special gift or a few such items that marked the most significant milestones in our road to self-actualization?
I currently serve as president for an affiliate organization of the Indianapolis Museum of Art called the Fashion Arts Society. Still in growth mode, we have held a few memorable events and are evolving into an active, diverse collective of fashion-loving Midwest residents who through our endeavors work to protect and promote our State's stellar fashion legacy (Norell, Blass, Halston and Sprouse all hail from our home State) and raise fashion and design awareness through enjoyable and educational opportunities. One area about which I am most excited are the smaller, special interest events we are organizing, to be based on singular fashion loves: Shoes, handbags, jewelry, designer's biographies, fashion literature -- the potential list is vast. These Show & Share opportunities will lend themselves to deeper discussion of those how's and why's I mentioned earlier. The memories shared, the stories and perhaps even secrets behind those loves will open doors to a fashion fellowship that will lend multi-hued insights into the personalities and lives of all who will participate. The fashion tie that will have brought us together will foster friendships and stoke our energies for future FAS endeavors and help our new group forge a legacy of its very own.
I myself have for years maintained that shoes are the 5th Food Group: Along with meat, dairy, fruit, veggies and the good ole grain, I believe one needs shoes to be happy and healthy, and one needs regular servings of them to boot. I say it fully tongue in cheek -- but I also really mean it. Whether it's my crystal-paved Havianas or my red-heeled, platform Marni Mary Janes, the finishing touch that is the shoe I wear is my glass-slippered connection to the fantasies and images I have carried forward from my formative years and into every situation I have encountered as wife, mother, daughter and workforce member. My personal connection to the brothers Grimm and to Anderson is physically manifested in numerous ways: a couple of artfully rendered mermaids and an antique, cut-glass slipper can be found in my home; hand-glazed "Glￃﾼckspilze" lurk beneath the shrubs outdoors, and on one fireplace hearth there resides a ceramic Dutch "wooden" shoe, symbolic of the hard-working girl who slept in the ashes. In my closet, there are shoes.
Fairy tales, those magically-fleshed out folk stories that have represented society's natural penchant for the telling of good versus evil, bad versus ugly, love versus hate, have come into frequent question in recent years by well-intended pragmaticists who prefer to shun any reliance on traditional fairy tale iconography to define any means by which to attain the proverbial happily ever after. I have lived long enough to reject any blanket notion of happily ever after and prefer to acknowledge the work-in-progress that is any measure of happiness in life (which is also quite different from fun). But with eyes wide open I have concluded that fairy tales and their messages are not only valid and reflect the very way we are wired, they represent tremendous universality in the crafting of myriad aspects of happiness: Magic in all its incarnations, color, drama, love, lust, beauty, art -- both the virtuous and the dark side -- are all essential ingredients in living life to the fullest. So every last pair of shoes I own is member and minion of the fantastical round table over which I still reign. My "slippers" are my definers and protectors and they do indeed take me places, literally and figuratively.
There are the white patent leather slip-ons I wore at age six. Each shoe had an oversized, clear plastic buckle over the toe. These were my Cinderella shoes; that is what I called them back then, that is what I call them now. I remember running through the train station in them, looking for my grandparents who had just arrived from Germany for their first visit to America. I recognized them by my regal grandfather's crown of silver hair. My grandmother, on a subsequent visit to the US, bough her first pair of pants -- red pinstriped menswear trousers -- and wore them with liberated panache.
There's the blue, red and yellow suede, mod-style tie shoes I wore when I was ten. The shoe store at the Plaza shopping center stocked these also in a combo of pink, lavender and purple. I longed for a pair of them as well. But the blue-collar world in which I grew up did not allow for purchases of multiples of anything, so I gazed in silence at the pink and purple shoes and was grateful for the pair I did get. The primary-color set I owned I loved so much that, for days after receiving them, I would put the shoes on the moment I woke up and go about my morning in my nightgown and suede shoes. I wore those shoes until the suede finish was worn to a slick, dull gloss.
There's the pair of hand-painted, black Swedish-made clogs I got when I was fifteen. The most special thing about those shoes is that they were the only unnecessary item my frugal mother ever bought for me on a whim. I was raised on fashion minimalism, which had me from junior high on babysitting and taking those funds to the fabric store, where I would purchase fabric and notions and sew homemade outfit after homemade outfit. I am grateful for the enterprising self it brought out in me; I am just as aware of the compensatory nature of my fashion collecting as a result of the frugality with which I lived as a girl. It's my ongoing pursuit of that sparkle. I might as well reflect positively on it, but I will call it for what it is. The black hand-painted clogs I wore for years and years, taking them in for new soles every so often, the wood platforms scuffed and marred like old chair legs. I still have them, some thirty-plus years later, wrapped in white tissue and stored in a fabric-covered box. There will be a granddaughter some day, I hope, to whom I will hand both them and their story.
And now? The rows of shoes in my closet are the stuff of friendship-circle legend and no small, balancing measure of good-natured teasing. The humor is felt mutually, and so be it -- we must never take our George Carlinesque "Things 'n Stuff" too seriously, nor should we ever let our "Stuff" own us. But I confess; I own not one or two but three pairs of Irregular Choice shoes, pumps and a tie oxford, that each sport clear, carved, sparkling acrylic heels. Cinderella all over again? You bet. That my good fortune allows me to indulge in this fashion is never taken for granted, and it is counterbalanced by other pursuits. I also possess a healthy, self-analytical curiosity on all this. It's my thing, my privilege, my fun. A hearty loaf of bread might be the staff of life, but so are my shoes.
Justify? Well, Albert Einstein said this about fairy tales: " If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." To that I will add: Put on one foot the work boot but on the other, don the glass slipper. We do need to toil; we also need to dance.