sleeves, hems, socks, collars

An extract from Mufti Day, my fashion column for Smiths Magazine. In it I use this photograph as a starting point to discuss the poetics of the everyday.

In George Perec’s film Un Homme Qui Dort, the narrator describes a street scene or a plate of food (the protagonist’s steak-frites) without resorting to metaphor or simile. The description is ‘flat’. ‘Tu as 25 ans et 29 dents’, the zeugma of possessing both years and teeth accentuating the ‘flat’ and non-hierarchical tone. Bathos, understatement and the prosaic become poetic. These moments are the Infra-Ordinary, an idea influenced by Duchamp’s capturing/ measuring of the Infra-Slim (yawns, cowlicks, sighs). The way we roll up our sleeves or tie a scarf is similar: these actions are understated adjectives of our outfit and our day.
In Perec’s fim, the man’s sartorial or gastronomic choices lose importance: ‘these things no longer speak for you… no longer have the impossible job of representing you’. The protagonist decides not to decide. Even the poster on his wall shows the back of a man’s head standing before a mirror that reflects the back of his head also: the mirror denies representing identity. Yet surely the decision not to decide is a choice, and so not caring about the rolling of a sleeve is a sartorial statement. Thus our personality slinks, fox-like, into all that we do.  Perec demonstrates this in his own position: he is half leftist-student and half consumer of ‘things’ (he wrote a book of this title, depicting a couple who are the opposite of the homme qui dort, in that everything they buy is intended to represent them). This contradictory position is perhaps the most honest and common. While we might not be fully conscious of the way we roll our sleeves, nevertheless the action is part of our personal statement.
A study of the everyday is anthropology of the near, and from looking at a sleeve we can see how each of us use tactics, or sartorial adjectives, like collage. We use what is already to hand, and alter or tweak it. As when we buy a jacket, it becomes our own only after we wear it in, add a pin or lose a button. Likewise in speaking, we use the language that is all around us, but make it our own through idiolect. We favour a turn of phrase the way we do a scarf, and its use, however discreet, is poetic. Making do in this way, through alteration and understatement, is one of the most interesting elements of fashion. To end with a quote from Michel de Certeau, as sly as a fox and twice as quick: there are countless ways of making do.