I’ve always been fascinated by women who don’t care about clothes. This is probably because I care so much.
Not in a ‘care what people think of me’ way. And certainly not in a way that has anything to do with labels. But I care about clothes because they give me joy. For me, they’re a form of creativity and self expression.
Some people feel this way about cooking or gardening or art. For me, it’s a gold bumbag and a sparkly pair of trainers. And because this is such an intrinsic part of who I am, I find people who are the opposite utterly fascinating. I certainly don’t judge anything about them based on their lack of interest. I’m just curious.
This week at a conference, I had the chance to study one of these women up close from the audience as she sat on the stage directly in front of me. Her age was hard to determine but she looked to be somewhere between 40 and 55. I noticed her immediately because everyone else on stage was a man in a suit.
I watched her closely for an hour and was struck by the way she chose to present herself. Utterly unadorned and pared-back to the bare minimum.
She wore a pair of black pants, a black top and black flat shoes.
I couldn’t describe anything she wore beyond that because there were no other details to describe.
Her clothes were as plain as plain could be. Not tight nor loose.
Not dirty, not dishevelled. Just nondescript. Functional.
It’s not that she had bad taste. It’s just that she quite deliberately chose items of clothing that said nothing, signified nothing. Although when I thought about it, that actually wasn’t true. By choosing to eschew fashion so overtly – and make no mistake, everyone makes a choice about the clothes they buy and the ones they step into each morning – she was making a different kind of statement.
It was a fairly formal occasion and she knew she would be sitting on a stage in front of 1000 people alongside eight men in suits (panels at almost every conference look like this, women are always woefully out-numbered or not on the stage at all) and yet she decided not to wear a jacket or a single accessory.
Her face was open, tanned and handsome. Her hair was cut sensibly short in no discernible style and she wore no make-up or jewellery except for a thick silver ring on her wedding finger. She carried no handbag. Her shoulders were back. Her posture regal.
She exuded confidence, self-assurance, accomplishment.
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I was entranced.
When I’m bored or alone, I like to stare at strangers and search for outward clues about their lives, making up stories in my head about what they do and who they live with….all sorts of no doubt wildly inaccurate joining of imaginary dots. It helps pass the time. Most of us tell some kind of story to the world with our clothes, our hair, our jewellery. We use these things as signals to the world about who we are and how we wish to be perceived.
The fact this woman had none of those became in itself a fascinating insight into her.
I’d missed hearing her speak but I studied the program to learn more about her and did some light Google stalking. She was an academic of incredibly high standing. An expert in quantam physics among other things. I think she may actually have been a rocket scientist. Or something. Married with kids. Early 40s. And she always dressed like that according to the other images I saw.
She had a big, big brain and a hugely important job and perhaps having a purely functional wardrobe left her more space to think. Not that a high IQ has any bearing on your interest in clothes. I’ve met genius women, incredibly accomplished women who adore fashion. A long time ago I learned to reject any link between enjoying fashion and being superficial. Just like not being interested in fashion does not necessarily make you smart. There is no connection between your IQ and your wardrobe. No link between who you are and how you look. Just like there’s no connection between fashion and feminism. Clothes are just….clothes. They serve a different purpose for all of us and they often serve a different purpose depending on what the situation requires from us. Sometimes we use clothes to stand out or express ourselves, other times we use them to blend in.
For some it’s purely a matter of practicality. Barack Obama said he wore the same thing every day because in a day filled with a million decisions, what-to-wear was one less one he had to make. I know several people who have a uniform of sorts. Jeans and a top. All black. A dress and trainers. I get that although my approach is the opposite.
Daily reinvention is the best part of fashion. No two days are the same because I rarely feel the same way. For example:
As you can see (if you’re still scrolling), I enjoy clothes and dressing up and wearing make-up and choosing accessories. I enjoy shopping and putting different things together. I even enjoy reorganising my wardrobe. “Mum’s playing with her clothes” is often the answer my children give when my husband asks where I am. I imagine it’s like how a good cook must feel when they make a delicious meal. Or how someone who likes to decorate feels when they arrange a room just so.
I can only imagine these things because I can do neither of them. But clothes I can do.
The moral of the story: never judge a woman by what she wears. Clothes do not maketh the woman.
Mia Freedman is the co-founder of Mamamia Women’s Media Company. She is a proud patron for Rize Up, an ambassador for Share The Dignity and an ambassador for Sydney Dogs and Cats home. She is also a proud supporter of Ladystartups, an initiative she began to support women who have started their own business. She is the author of the best-selling book Work Strife Balance for every woman who feel like she’s the only one not coping (you’re not) and the host and co-host of podcasts: No Filter, Mamamia Outloud and Tell Me It’s Going To Be OK (even though Trump is President).
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