Clothes vs. Physical State – Which Matters More?


April 30, 2019

by Gracia Ventus

A week ago I held an informal poll on my Instagram story. The question I posted was:

What's more acceptable to you or what you see on other people:
A. immaculate grooming and/or makeup but little attention to clothes, or
B. immaculate clothes and accessories but little attention on grooming and/or makeup.

Out of almost 400 votes I've received, 38% voted for A. So a solid two third chose immaculate clothing, which was not surprising considering that my instagram content is centered around luxury fashion and not beauty nor grooming nor fitness. What was most surprising was the number of constructive responses that I have received, many of whom have voted for A. While I cannot be sure of their motivation to justify their choice - perhaps being in a minority group warrants them to explain themselves, it was also noteworthy to mention that there were a few who first chose B, then changed their mind to A.

Needless to say I am taking this informal poll with a grain of salt. However it provides a glimpse into gender-based perspectives. From the articulated responses that I've received, most of them are mostly men and a few women who believe that a good foundation to looking presentable begins from the body. A couple of people even threw in the infamous Rick Owens reference with regards to sculpting one's physical state. The ones who answered B seemed to be mainly women who wrote in with the believe that makeup is not important as clothing when it comes to self expression and making a lasting impression on others, with little references to fitness nor physical state. I believe that we tend to speak from our own experiences, thoughts and exposures. I think it is safe to assume that everyone who gave their responses would be speaking from (mostly) a reflection of the habits of the gender they belong to.

Fashion, beauty, and body are all a larger part of one's personal expression that we cultivate to feel good about ourselves before we can face the world to attract a mate, relate to other peers and be accepted in a wider social context. It is very much influenced by the norms of the day. As much as we would like to think we are far more progressive than we have ever been, heteronormative practices are still alive and well. There are some changes that are more visible in the last decade or so. Although men is now the fastest growing segment in the clothing market and women are increasingly more conscious about looking fit and healthy, many of us are still bound by implicit social contract that enforces gender traits we are born with, especially in formal places like the workplace. Perhaps it is not surprising that when it comes to making quick judgment calls about people, we fall back on familiar cues that we apply to ourselves and habitual practices within our own genders.

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"Working out is modern couture. No outfit is going to make you look or feel as good as having a fit body. Buy less clothing and go to the gym instead." - Rick Owens

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This question was posted as a precursor to a larger matter that I've been pondering - namely, how much we actually value synergy between our looks and our clothes, and how much effort is put into enforcing that coherence. A few popular clothing brands require a rigorous sculpting of the body (Rick Owens comes to mind again), some others require a certain outward appearance that conforms to the lifestyle portrayed by the brand (any one that has been tainted by Hedi Slimane). Failure to consider and incorporate these factors often result in a disjointed overall image, often described as the 'clothes wearing the person'. This is only the beginning of the discourse. I hope to delve more into this if and when time allows.


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