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I just finished reading this critical essay on the importance of apparel in Nella Larson’s novel Quicksand. Finding this essay was a great thing, because I was always under the assumption that my desire to apply fashion tropes to anything creative (books, music, art) was purely because I am just a fashion obsessed girl. But oh, was I wrong in assuming that I’m the weirdo shoe giddy, style conscious, book-worm. Kaley Joyes, the author of the essay The "Highly Important Matter of Clothes": Apparel and Identity in Nella Larson's Quicksand (published in Fringe), is also seemingly a little fashion obsessed. She dissected the novel (which I’ll admit, I’d never even hear of until I read this) down to the meanings of the main character, Helga’s color choices in her garments.
If you follow my blog, you might remember awhile back a post I did called “Tudors, Gothic, Literary, Gypsy Pirate?” That post was my weak ass attempt at articulating the fashion element in Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela. Once again, I'll be honest with you, I’m kind of a lazy student. And by kind of I mean very. But I digress; the post was a little tiny assignment for my PhD cowboy of a lit prof, to transmediate the novel Pamela. In my half assed studiousness and flurry to just finish assignments as quickly as possible, I decided to kill two birds with one stone, “hey”, I thought, “why not do a blog post about Pamela, then I can blog, and do homework!” Brilliant idea, except Dazed and Confused a la a Fashion Gone Rogue post took me to more of a bizzaro highly stylized, and modernly coifed portrayal of Tudor style in an editorial spread. And of course, I was distracted by the strange yet elegant fashioning in the photos and kind of forgot what the assignment was. I mean, I still got credit, because cowboys are also good for giving a nod to a creative attempt. But I missed the mark on what I was trying to do.
I think what I was actually trying to do with Pamela was what Joyes did with Quicksand. She eloquently used fashion as a way of breaking open a text and analyzing the cultural and psychological significance of apparel in a person’s life. According to Joyes, clothing is sort of an “art form” for Helga and an avenue for self-discovery. She writes, “Larsen tracks Helga’s quest for self-discovery not only across multiple geographic settings – from the American South to New York, Denmark, and back again – but also through multiple changes in costume.”
The way that she magnifies the significance of fashion and other material aspects of Helga's life, such as just generally having "nice things," doesn't exactly justify a very material centric lifestyle it just sheds light on how inescapable and innate it is for us to place surface markers at such a high priority level.
The essay is definitely a good read if your into intelligent fashion thought. However I personally tend to get annoyed with literary criticism that goes too deep. Its one thing to wrestle open a reading stacked in one direction, but high-falutin' literary jargon mixed with a thickly lain on analysis becomes a little too detached. I like to keep readings and analysis grounded, and around page 7 I started to feel like I was floating around in the clouds that encircle the tip top of the proverbial ivory tower. But if you read it, and you get to this point, just push forward, its not that it gets less academic, its that your brain just gets more comfortable.
I think the essay is an important read. Think of it as a tool, a tool with which we can start to speak what we think. Well, speaking for myself, I've been looking for ways to articulate the importance of fashion. In fact my goal with this blog is to fight the idea that fashion is merely superficial vanity. This essay has leant a lot of ideas that can be utilized as building blocks for a new fashion paradigm. I strongly urge you to arm yourselves with this tool fashionistas, its a very useful one.
By: Kaley Joyes
Published in Fringe