It’s So Predictable: A Review of “It’s So You”

T-Rex recently lent me a copy of  “It’s so You: 35 Women Write about Personal Expression Through Fashion and Style.” This collection is edited by Michelle Tea, perhaps best known for her lesbian novels “Valenica” and “Rent Girl.” Furthermore, the anthology includes writings by such names as Jenny Shimizu (known for dating Angelina Jolie and modeling for Calvin Klein), Kate Bornstein (author of “Gender Outlaw” and “My Gender Workbook,” among others), and Debbie Rasmussen (of Bitch magazine). I was pretty excited.

However, as I read through the essays in this collection, I quickly became bored. Now don’t get me wrong, I love fashion as much as the next girl. However, most of these essays recount the same story with minor variations in details:

First, I was poor/ I was a child. I didn’t have fashion sense. I wore what people gave me. Then, I tried really hard to fit in. It didn’t work. So, I started to dress punk/goth/crazy/80s/like my grandmother. I tried on identities. Now, I have my own style, and I can express myself without totally embarrassing my friends (most of the time). I can be a feminist and still have fun with clothes.

I, myself, have the same story:

First, I was a kid. I didn’t have fashion sense. I wore what my grandmother collected on her thrift store journeys. Then, in 4th grade, I tried really hard to fit in. I got a Old Navy logo tee, but it was the wrong logo. It didn’t work, I still wasn’t cool. So, I started to dress wannabe punk, heavy eyeliner and clunky boots, with colorful tights and short frilly skirts thrown in for good measure. I tried on the identities of my high school; goth, punk, emo, hippy. Now I have my own style, and I can express myself without totally embarrassing my friends (except for Bam-Bam, who laughs at my red over-dyed jeans). I’m a feminist, but I can still have fun with clothes.

That said, if you don’t mind a little repetition, or, if you don’t mind skipping a few selections, you can find the gems in this collection.

Laura Fraser’s “How to Dress like a Cowgirl” is an essay about trying on identities and discovering one’s personal style- but it works. Much of the essay is about reconciling feminism and femininity under the shadow of a second wave feminist mother who saw women’s clothing as inherently oppressive. “How to Dress like a Cowgirl” is a touching memoir about finding that balance. And, Fraser may sum many of us up when she writes, “I wanted to dress like a princess sometimes, too, but I also wanted to be a witch, a movie star, a diva, a Victorian, a rodeo queen.” If feminism is about opening the options available to women, Fraser captures it here.

Frances Varian’s “Lighten Up, It’s Just Fashion: How to Be a Gorgeous Revolutionary” offers another thought-provoking foray into the intersections between fashion and feminism. As she puts it, “Fashion and feminist are both infused with the theoretical and practical limitations and opportunities presented by the female body. They can be symbiotic or deadly, depending on the way the light shifts. The are parasites and I am the host.” She concludes by arguing that the artistic merit of feminism is not diminished just because fashion can be unsafe for women, just as the political value of feminism is not diminished because feminists forget to recognize their privileges. Her message is simple and relevant: “lighten up” and recognize that both fashion and feminism can be tools in women’s hands.

My other favorite, “Oh My God- Shoes!” by Cindy M. Emch, explored one of my favorite topics (That would be shoes, in case you haven’t noticed). In a world where designers don’t envision their clothing in a size larger than 10, and fat is deplored, shoes offer any woman a means to explore fashion. “The shoe store […] Here anything was possible. All I had to do was tell them my size and it always fit.” And when it doesn’t fit, it’s no big deal. “No one cared if they had to try on a 9 instead of an 8.5; they just blamed the manufacturer. Things vary. No big deal.” This is important. As Emch explains, when clothing sizes vary and women have to try on a larger size, tears may ensue. It’s a breakdown of self image. But with shoes, whatever. I try not to let clothing sizes get me down (just last week I bought items in a size 4 and a size 12, both of which fit beautifully), but it can be difficult with that size 8 just won’t zip. With shoes, however, I’m just glad to have  found a good pair of shoes, be that in a 9, a 10, or (god help me) an 11.

[2.5 of 5 stars] There are some good essays in this collection, but expect a lot of repetition. I want more voices. I want to hear from non-American women, as well as women of different racial, religious and class backgrounds. There is so much to say about fashion and feminism. I don’t want to read the same thing over and over.

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