The Obscurity of Identity in the Fashion of the Universe

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When an article of clothing looks particularly fitting on someone, we might use the phrase, “that’s so you.” This invokes a standard that is no standard because it is utterly particular. That is to say, the only person a hat that is “so you” seems to fit is you. When wearing such a hat, it might appear that you are more yourself.  Such you-like articles can also be egocentric—“that’s so me.”

The “you” and the “me” are intriguing criteria. For something to be “you” or “me” it must invoke a somewhat unformulated pattern. Oddly, it cannot be totally without formulation, since then its pattern would be so unique it would defy identification.

You don’t find a “you” or a “me” on a department store rack, and yet, you must find them on a rack. Perhaps this is why “you”ness often seems like a fluke—misplaced—the one item left in your size that is therefore meant to be yours. I don’t doubt that we can be duped into thinking something fits us, and fail to get it right. People who say “that’s so me” rarely have the same accuracy as outsiders who say “that’s so you.”

What is interesting, however, is that, while many people believe style is forced upon us, when you consider that a good fit strikes the measure of “you” or “me,” you realize that the motive behind clothing is to reflect true identity.

It would be vulgar to assume clothes are just costumes, end of story.  Rather, the costuming of our identity seems to be a casualty that occurs in the process of revealing our identity. To costume is in one way to conceal. And how could concealment not occur, if clothing, which is external, is trying to display something internal? The ground for deception is quite rich, but this is only because clothing is so very revealing.

Clothing preferences can seem as irrational as a preference for pea soup, despite the fact that they can also lead to extreme attachments (like Linus’ security blanket).  Maybe it is the inability to explain the origin of preferences that leads to our intense attachment to them. The “you” and the “me” are constantly changing, and so, to become attached to a single way of looking threatens to make the self into a caricature. Yet, we seem only able to access reality by our “looks.”

In his essay, “On the Origin of the Work of Art,” Martin Heidegger uses Van Gogh’s painting of peasant shoes as an example of how our understanding of reality is essentially aesthetic. In everyday life, the peasant is absorbed in using his shoes, and so, might never stop to examine their identity, unless the shoes wear out and cease to be usable. It is only in Van Gogh’s painting of the shoes that their reality emerges.

This is not because Van Gogh’s depiction corresponds to an actual pair of shoes, but rather, because his painting unveils the impression of the shoes as so peasant. Of course, the impression is skewed, since it is requires wresting the shoes from their employment, which changes them.  But this is the price of reflection.  To see something as itself requires that we cease to engage with it.  We see the peasant in the shoes only because the peasant is not present.  This is especially complicated when it comes to self-reflection.

Our attachment to the way we look is impossible to fully see (since it requires that we look at our own look). Like an eclipse or a work of art, we can see our reflection only when it is partially obscured—only when it is clothed. Here, clothing has become quite metaphorical. To clothe our selves is to treat our identity as a canvas, where we are also somehow the artist.  Something like this might be true of our understanding of the universe, too.