Walker Percy Wednesday 127


THERE IS NO FASHION so absurd, even grotesque, that it cannot be adopted, given two things: the authority of the fashion-setter (Dior, Jackie Onassis) and the vacuity or noughtness of the consumer. E.g., bustles in the West, bound feet in the East.


The efficacy of fashion turns on the self’s perception of itself either as a nought or at least as lacking something, and its perception or misperception of the splendid wholeness of public figures as evidenced by even the most carelessly worn badges of their substantiality—when in truth the selves of Jackie Onassis and Wallis Simpson and John Wayne are probably more insubstantial than most.

Question: What does the saleslady mean when she fits a customer with an article of clothing and says: “It’s you”?
(a) She means the same thing the customer means if you should ask her: It is becoming to me. It looks nice. I don’t have a thing to wear.* It does something for me.
(b) She means that it—the hat, blouse, hairstyle, dress—actually accentuates your best features—eyes, hair—while minimizing your worst: no neck, etc.
(c) It will please your husband or lover.
(d) It will impress other women.
(e) Most other women are already wearing it and you look dowdy without it.
(f) The saleslady means what she says. It really is you. That is, you are not much without it, you perceive yourself as mousy, and you are a something—your self in fact, your new true self—with it.


But if the saleslady means what she says—and since you have gone through any number of such styles in the past— then it must follow that the other articles in the past were also you and are no longer. How can that be? It could only be because some sort of consumption takes place. The nought which is you has devoured the style and been sustained for a while as a non-you until the style is emptied out by the noughting self.
Consider the stages of the consumption:

First stage: You see an article or a style worn by a person with a certain authority. At first glance it seems outlandish, even absurd. Or ugly, like the long skirt of the New Look of the 1950s.

Second stage: You see more people wearing it. It is still outlandish, but it is an outlandish something and you are fading.

Third stage: You try it on. The saleslady says it is you. You laugh, shrug, shake your head, but secretly the possibility is born that it can be you.

Fourth stage: You buy it and wear it. For a while, it is you and you are it. That is, you perceive it as informing you and you as informed, either as a new you or the old “real you which has never come to light before.

Fifth stage: Gradually the new style becomes everyday, quotidian, rendered neutral. No matter how exotic it is, like a morsel to which an amoeba is attracted and which it surrounds and takes into itself, it is devoured and becomes part of the transparent flowing substance of the amoeba.

Sixth stage: After a sufficient lapse of time, the husk or residue of the new style is excreted and becomes an oddity, a slightly shameful thing but still attached, like the waste in the excretory vacuole of the amoeba.

If you don’t believe this, take a look at an old snapshot of yourself wearing a Jackie-O pillbox hat twenty years ago—or a ducktail Elvis haircut. You will laugh or frown and put it away. It looks queer. It is not only not you. It is a not-you.