How to Dress in Our New World

POSTER created for the book Women in Clothes (Penguin, 2014), the New York Times bestseller edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton.

1. We see now that every part of our lives needs cleaning up for the new world – for the contemporary situation. Like what we wear.

2. We can just start here. We can see what we have. Like see, recent face science has shown us that our faces communicate to others almost everything we thought we were hiding or enhancing with our clothes.

3. The new face science has shown us that greatest communication happens with the twitches of our muscles, with the way we move our eyes and how close we lean our heads in. We have learned that people see who we are before they even look down.

4. There used to be seminars on how to dress like a strong woman, how to dress like a deer. We used to dress to show the real us, or the other us, or of course to stay warm or without shame; to show our sex, our carelessness, our professionalism, our nihilism, our money; to be camouflage, a glossy magazine, a protest sign. But now we see – this old game is only a game of playing matchy matchy with our souls.

5. The new game is to be misunderstood. And the new challenge is learning how to be misunderstood.

6. Being misunderstood makes everything easier. It makes clothing acquisition less time consuming. The contemporary situation is taking up plenty of your time, no time to waste.

7. Getting dressed used to be a game that happened too quickly, lasted forever and was boring to win. Like Monopoly. But things are different now. Things are worse, but also better.

8. The stores are dying, or being killed. It is a new time of not so many private helicopters to take you to old ground, not so many fur coats on racks so far away from the forest, not so many black-and-white balls where we pour champagne down the gutter in the ceremony to remember where we came from. We must find new ways to acquire clothing, new ways to show we are both of the sky and of the earth.

9. So now if you find a T-shirt on the street and it is 100% cotton, maybe it is time to put it on. That is a great find, to find cotton on the street, so far away from the fields. And though it probably advertises a bad system that you don’t believe in, everyone knows from your face what’s in your heart. And besides, our personal investigations are as valuable as our speeches. See what it is like to match your face with the bad system. There are not so many vacations anymore but we still must go places.

10. If a kindly older woman gives you a coat that makes you look like you’re on the wrong side of the money wars, wear that coat to your comrade or nemesis’ dinner party. If we can’t practice our beliefs and our empathy and our experiments over dinner, what is the point of dinner.

11. It might seem like, in the new world, clothes are nowhere to be found, but they are everywhere. In the dessert, at the funeral home, in the garbage.

12. There will never not be enough clothes. We made so many. Galaxies of factories were born in the name of individuality. Our person to clothing ratio spiraled out of control and the resulting great piles of clothes made more visible the meaninglessness of our individual lives on earth.

13. Stores were built up with marble bricks and were filled with empty clothes. They were guarded by kindly workers/menacing security guard in an attempt to show that a dress was still hard to come by, still meant, maybe, just for you.

14. But they needed the marble again, for the marble wars, so the game now is to make meaning of that more visibly depressive pile of production.

15. Now, we must remember, the less effort we spend before that pile of production, the more meaning. It is not about finding the perfect you in that garbage heap, it is about economical movement and effort – what we can find here, at our feet. Since you are very much you, and anything else is, again, a juxtaposition, a gift.

16 . So now, if you easily come across a dress that fits you like a glove, but makes you look like a stranger, remember, this is a fortune-telling game of meaning and ease - we must turn in the direction of what fits.

17. If you are worried you might be inappropriately dressed, just keep in mind, there is always a funeral somewhere.

18. What we love now are worn things, things that have made it through experiences with what appear to be travel scars and thick skin. We think, these dull blue boots are strong, I can tell they have been to the woods and the jungle and the floods and the dinner. Maybe we can’t tell what the shoes mean, since we haven’t been there, but we know they are still here. Sometimes, not knowing the meaning is not meaninglessness, but love.

19. We get dressed now like we are in love. We don’t need mirrors anymore, or the sides of the old shiny buildings or the placid lake, to see what is good. Mirrors are for amateurs, for people from the old tragic mirror era. We can use our bodies to feel what’s happening.

20. What we are talking about is something we have always known but forgot , our bodies are smarter than our eyes. Our bodies are the newest mirrors and the ancient way.

21. Also, don’t look down. We now know that clothes can’t change the information on our face, but what we do with all of the time we have saved can. There used to be secret meetings about how to get people to look down, they always want you to look down. But we know, and maybe always knew, that looking down is more time consuming than heroin, academia or beer.

22. Wash but do not make alterations.

23. This is not a make-work project. Make no adjustments beyond what scissors can do. If the shirt is too big, you will look young and poor. If the shirt is too small, you will look big and strong. If the shirt is much too small, leave it on the street for a smaller hunter.

24. We are not talking about comfort here, we are not advocating for fleece. We must always be a little bit uncomfortable. We are, are we not?, part of this world. We have to be alert here, we can’t get too comfortable. As they say, if you’re going to go anywhere, you mustn’t get too comfortable.