What do you look like?

Ever since the first human, back in the mists of ancient history, wrapped a bit of dead animal, or a fig leaf of whatever it was around a damp or cold part of their anatomy, we’ve been wearing clothes. And I would bet you that somewhere after the first fig leaf, someone else looked upon it and thought ‘well, I see the utility here, but I want a bigger leaf!’

Body adornment is universal, although ideas of what is beautiful are not. Alongside what we wrap around our bodies, we modify our flesh with tattoos, scarification, stretching, cutting off. We hide some parts and reveal others. All of this is culturally constructed, with a heady balancing act of fitting in and standing out going on at the same time. We want to be noticed, but we don’t want to be so different that we are ‘other’, often.

One of the many reflections to come out of a weekend of Steampunkery is about how dreadfully banal modern attire is. I don’t always see it, because I’m used to seeing it. When you’ve had a weekend of extravagant hats, amazing dresses, fabulous waistcoats and the such, the average bod in the street looks very dull indeed.

Why is 21st century mainstream attire so incredibly bland, for the greater part?

Some, if not all of it, comes down to mass production. It is cheap and quick to mass produce clothing that is identical and near identical, and to have everyone wearing that. The more individual an item is, the more time, effort and therefore money has to go into it. Most people at a Steampunk weekend will either have lavished hours on their attire, or will have paid appropriately for someone else having lavished hours upon it. This isn’t cheap.

Cheap is a consideration if you are in a state of abject poverty (been there, had the t-shirts). However, we’ve been sold the idea that low cost, banal predictability is actually a good thing. We should want the cheap and the samey any time we can get it, such that if you go into a more expensive clothes retailer, you can still get the cheap and banal aesthetic. We don’t value difference or quality, and I wonder if we are the first period of human history where that’s been the case in terms of how we normally dress and adorn ourselves.

I enjoy difference. I enjoy variety, and the interest that comes when things are made with love and imagination. It’s as true of a lunch as it is of a dress. Of course that’s neither easy nor convenient, and we’ve also been sold the idea that easy and convenient are measures of ‘good’. Increasingly, I am questioning how we got here, and what it’s for, and how to do differently.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

11 responses to “What do you look like?

  • dkhyde2014

    A colleague of mine pointed out that whilst we are in an office environment, with associated rules of attire, everyone can express their individuality on ‘Dress Down Friday’. This individuality is mostly expressed through everyone wearing SuperDry. I don’t since their range in incompatible with a pocket watch!

  • bish

    I hear you, and I’m seeing the emergent Steampunk culture – clothing and music – as akin to the original punk; a reaction against the drab austerity politics we live in. I remember the seventies, and we had a lot of colour. Kaftans were cool, and nobody but nobody wore beige… much.

  • Bren

    Once again you hit the nail on the head perfectly!

  • Yvonne Ryves

    Once outside or escaped from the ‘office’ environment it’s about dressing to please ourselves and not in the way that others would wish us to be IMHO 🙂

  • Jenny

    I’ve been considering this very thing recently and I couldn’t agree more. Expense can be cut down a bit by wearing just one thing which is out of the ordinary and unique alongside the bland. For me, that might be a jacket cut in the 18th century style with my jeans, or a patchwork gypsy skirt with lots of flounce and lace and colour. Charity shops sometimes yield great finds too and I love hunting for unusual things. That’s how I intend to approach it, even while money is really tight.


  • dapplegrey

    The Hat! Thank you – we get to see it in all it’s steampunkish glory! I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and made almost all my own clothes, which back then was totally normal, and dressing uniquely and expressively was something everyone took for granted. How grimly bland and dismal things are today – for the most part. Thank goodness for Steampunk – and any form of individuality in this age of conformity and mass production.

  • shelleylorraine

    I am in the not so distantly related goth group – but I only dress for events. It’s hard to be that level of unique when the rest of the world is so blah. i like attention, but not to the point of being a sore thumb. :/

  • BillW

    Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed a men’s civilian “uniform” of blue shirts and brownish-hued trousers that has crept in over the past few decades?

  • druishbuddhist

    Khaki machos my skin crawl. The funny hi g is that I tend toward earth tones and shades of gray. So much so that the wife banned me from buying anything gray for several years.

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