In my first year of college, I had approximately ten shirts, two shorts, two pairs of jeans, and two pairs of shoes. I mixed and matched them to give the impression that the parts were more than their sum. I went to Ateneo where it looked as if no one could be compelled to repeat an outfit to save their soul.
I’d been a country mouse who couldn’t tell one brand from the other before I began to covet the Tommy Hilfigers, the Banana Republics, the Lacostes that everyone else at school was wearing. I hadn’t known that they were not luxury brands at all, but they seemed out of reach just the same.
Soon enough, I found that I could reverse the fortunes of my closet by buying at the tiangges but especially from ukay-ukay, the second-hand heaven where branded clothes are at last affordable. I just had to stop my imagination from running wild (did the previous owner have a contagious skin disease?). That these clothes were probably smuggled into the country brought just the perfect color of intrigue to it.
This habit has stuck, although my fascination with brands has faded. Now I swoon over the art or detail involved, like this convent-school embroidery
Or something Latin American (?),
I have now more clothes than in I did college – blouses, tees, maxi-dresses, boyfriend shirts, skinny jeans – not all second-hand, each one costing an average of 300 pesos, my ceiling. They’ve been sifted from purchases that at one point made sense or of sizes and waistlines that are long past.
I am in awe of people whose wardrobe consists of so few they are practically uniform. There’s a guy from my former office who much rather wore company-logo-embossed shirts everyday. A friend who runs a garments business sticks to a number of standards. And, of course, Buddhist monks in Thailand wrap themselves in orange cloth, and call it a day.
I’ve read somewhere – my code for I am not sure – that the fashion industry works because of the sense of status and escapism that clothes provide. Clothes are class markers, the reason why an alligator logo transforms an otherwise simple polo shirt into a middle-class goal. Fashion apparently also makes a killing by capitalizing on (the modern idea of) individualism, distinguishing one from the crowd through specific and endless expressions (and purchases).
This is particularly true of the modern woman whose wardrobe must consider the occasion (weddings, prom, bridal shower, baptism, debut), the audience (there is a look for would-be husbands that you cannot wear to attend a dinner with would-be in-laws), the venue (church, board room, club), the activity (yoga, going to the market, attending a parent-teacher meeting), and so on. There is a look that must be pulled off for every role that she is playing.
“If fashion has been used to introduce new ways of expressing womanhood, it has also been a tether that keeps women’s social, economic and political opportunities permanently attached to their appearances. At a time when makeover reality TV shows suggest that self-reinvention is not only desirable but almost required, and the ubiquity of social media encourages everyone to develop a ‘personal brand,’ the pressure on women to be fashionable has never been more pervasive,” says Minh-Ha T. Pham in “If the Clothes Fit: A Feminist Takes on Fashion” in Ms Magazine.
My closet now is a far cry from when I dressed as a boy, uncomfortably, but also ‘simply’. It seems I had inherited the burden of shoring up my then newfound appearance and identity as a transgender to be accepted, but also to be free.