Monday, 3 May 2010

Analysis of an outfit

From a friend of this blog:

"How would you describe your outfit [that you were wearing] and ideally what's the thinking behind it? I'm working on a theory ..."

And now, somewhat edited, my response.


Err ... not sure what you're looking for here. I suppose a practical analysis, and practicality is a very important aspect of this particular outfit, but that's misleading without the aesthetic analysis.

The trousers are a bit old-ladyish, you won't see them approved of by any magazine, but I like them because they're warm and washable and require no ironing but have a bit of shine and flow. The point of them is that they can comfortably be worn on public transport in winter as well as at the milonga; they don't attract attention and I won't be too cold if I have to wait for a bus. The glamorous-grannyness is ok in context.

The top, too, is glamorous but practical, partly lined, well designed and of good materials. Quick hand wash, quick dry, and cool on the upper body so I won't get sweaty. It's sexy without being explicitly revealing, and counteracts the grannyness.

Seen from the front, it shows off my figure and creates a visual focus on the face; the total visual effect is of the lower edge of a frame, so that the bosom and face together form a bright flower set on top of a smooth, columnar stalk.

Visually, in the artistic tradition of European portraits, it has a certain amount in common with the neoclassical Regency look [see Henry Raeburn - Mrs Scott Moncrieff, left, and Jean-Francois Ducq - Mary Lodge], and a certain amount with the 17th century fashion in which dark-coloured but luxurious fabrics of beautiful texture were topped with a crisp white collar or ruff framing the face and emphasising the bosom, shoulders, and eyes in much the same way, but covering the skin [see Franz Hals - a Dutch Lady, below].

As for the specifically tango aspects - this top was also chosen because all the eye-catching decoration is at the back, but not of a kind to cause problems with any normal embrace, while at the front there's nothing to catch on buttons or distract the eye. Most high-street chains put all the detail at the front, and the back looks disappointing, but there are exceptions, so I look out for them.

The trousers, being full-length, give me the visual unity and physical warmth that a long skirt would without the disadvantages. A long skirt just involves too much fabric in the wrong place under too little control - that, or it has to be split to the thigh and look like a theatrical costume. Both visually and practically it just gets in the way, or sends the wrong message, or both.

If I wanted to dance predominantly 'nuevo' style, I'd advertise that fact with more fashionable trousers that put a lot more emphasis on the hips. I'd probably choose different tops too, again bringing the eye to the hips rather than the shoulders, and I might try to create a more broken outline with less visual formality generally, in a different choice of colours and fabrics.

With this outfit, you can't see my feet or shoes very well. This is fairly unusual and you could interpret it as little bit of a counter-tango-fashion statement. I chose the outfit for practicality and look, but in as far as it's telling you anything about how to look at me, it's telling you to look at the embrace rather than just the legs and feet. Together with the glamorous-grannyness of the trousers in the first place - it certainly encourages the idea that I want to dance 'salon', albeit perhaps of a relatively modern and intellectual flavour, not necessarily limited to dancing with men, or in just one style, or with people over six feet tall.

The shoes go along with this - they're very pretty, and higher than I would wear to work, but I have chosen not to wear spikes. They're a single colour, with the heels thicker and lower than the name-brand tango shoes, and incidentally they're about half the price and they go with more of my outfits. Now it's mainly that I've tried tango spikes and I just don't really get on with them, but if these send a message that I'd prefer to underpromise and overdeliver rather than the contrary, that's fine with me.

Those are the messages it carries for me, anyway. Of course there is no reason to assume that that's what it succeeds in communicating to anyone else.


After reading my response, my friend revealed his theory, which I hope he will write about himself (a guest post would be nice, or I'll do a link). It was that he might choose better among unknown partners, and thereby improve his evening, by paying a bit more attention to what women were wearing. We choose what we wear on purpose, so maybe we say something about why were are there and what sort of dance we want to have. (So do at least some of the men, of course, as a commenter said on "different dresses".) He knows that he finds me easy to dance with, and so he thought he might look, with an artist's eye, for other women sending the same messages.


cindy said...

wise man!

David Bailey said...

- related. Naturally :)

Sophie said...

Argh! Just bought what I thought was the perfect tango dress - with all the detailing on the front. Never even thought of that. Thanks for pointing that out.
Oh well, perhaps the dress will help me get invited to dance even if the beautiful decorations are useless thereafter.
P.s. Another one I've learned to think about: big hair decorations (like corsages) one the left of the head or else they take the leader's eye out.

msHedgehog said...

Very good point Sophie! I have naturally messy hair which I keep in place with various decorations, and yes, mainly on the left - or well back. I have had to move them once or twice.

I know, it's so annoying that so many chains assume you don't look at the back at all.

Anonymous said...

should men wear something for their backs?

msHedgehog said...

@Anonymous: men's clothes don't generally have surface decoration at all, so the question doesn't arise. The only time it does come up is with the kind of T-shirt that has a written message; it's definitely worth reflecting on the choice of those. However, I would certainly encourage them to take Sophie's advice and pin their hair back (or stick it down with suitable goo). Fine hair can be tickly, and springy hair can get in the lady's face!

Anonymous said...

What we choose to wear is a fascinating topic, Ms. H. And the "nuevo" fashion is the main reason I and many others just can't "get into it".