Fashion challenges conception of conformity, uniqueness

When I think of uniqueness, one of the first things that comes to mind is fashion.

Everybody expresses themselves differently and what one wears can often provide insight into who they are as a person.

Clothes themselves aren’t what I think of; it’s the designers. Specifically, Alexander McQueen.

McQueen was a brilliant designer who worked for many labels across Europe, even making costumes for the award-winning play, Les Miserables. He returned to England and received his masters in fashion design. At one point, he served as head designer for Givenchy in Paris before returning to London and opening his own fashion house. McQueen took his own life in February 2010, but his works still astound those fortunate enough to see them.

One of my favorite books was inspired by some of McQueen’s works, so I did some more digging into his designs and his career. The clothes I saw were nothing short of breathtaking. They were all so incredibly elaborate, from the types of fabric to the silhouettes to the way some of the clothes were presented on the runway. I probably wouldn’t wear any of the clothes myself, but each item told its own story, with pieces of a collection coming together in a great symphony. 

McQueen once said he wanted people to be afraid of the women he dressed. I think he definitely accomplished that. In the recordings I saw of his fashion shows, the models strutted down the runway with no fear, completely aware that they had thousands of pairs of eyes on them. And they didn’t care. The fierceness of the clothes and the sheer confidence of the models scared me.

The man wasn’t just a designer. He was an artist, a visionary poet, who happened to use clothes as his medium.

The first thing I really took note of when I looked into McQueen’s career was an exhibit the Metropolitan Museum of Art had on display in 2011, an exhibit entitled “Savage Beauty”. If I had a genie, I would wish to see that exhibit with my own eyes. The exhibit had pieces from his entire career, from things he made as a student to his posthumously released collection, unofficially called “Angels and Demons” (my personal favorite collection of his). As I watched the video of the exhibit on the museum’s website, it was like I could feel McQueen’s soul through my phone screen. I could hear his voice in my head when the camera panned over the quotes of his on the wall.

“You’ve got to know the rules to break them,” one of the quotes said. “That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition.”

Those were some of the most powerful words I’d ever heard. And it made me really think about the power behind one’s unique sense of self.

Everybody’s heard the phrase “be yourself,” or “there’s only one you” before, but these messages have become lost. We all hear these things so much that they’ve more or less lost meaning, but we also live in a very conformist society. Standards are set for intelligence, jobs, education, beauty, clothing, wealth and a lot of other things I know I’m forgetting.

Then I got to thinking about why these messages are so relevant in our culture when stereotypes are also so prominent. Just because you don’t meet all the criteria for something doesn’t mean you’re not that thing. A cat without hair is still a cat.

McQueen once said, “I think there is beauty in everything. What ‘normal’ people would perceive as ugly, I can usually see something of beauty in it.”

Why do we stress the importance of being yourself, but at the same time, force people into boxes based on trivial things and ignore people who look for the beauty in everything?

Why don’t we practice what we preach?

I think we say “just be yourself” to create the idea of acceptance. In a world where it’s so hard to be yourself, the least we can do is say it’s okay to be yourself, right? Even when the real you is embarrassing?

At that point, you ask yourself this: do I own who I am, even if it means people treat me like an outcast, or do I give up something I love for the safety of following the crowd?

Anyone great has had to make that decision. Alexander McQueen wouldn’t have become one of the world’s most iconic designers if he didn’t put his work out for people to see. Taylor Swift wouldn’t be a music industry powerhouse if she kept her music to herself. Chris Evans wouldn’t be Captain America if he didn’t audition.

Sometimes it’s scary to take the first step. It feels like the whole world’s telling you no. Like it’s telling you that you’re not good enough. That you’ll never be able to make it. 

Instead, say “yes” as you take that first step. Then you take the next step and say “I’m going to make it.” Then you take the next step. Then you take the one after that. 

And yeah, life might knock you down sometimes. Things don’t always go as planned. But if you let life knock you down, you’re not going to make it very far. No one ever reached the stars by staying on the ground.

McQueen said it himself. “Of course I make mistakes. I’m human. If I didn’t make mistakes, I’d never learn. You can only go forward by making mistakes.”

One day, I hope I’ll be fearless enough to wear an Alexander McQueen dress. I’m not quite there yet, but I will be one day.