Jan. 22nd, 2004

I'm awake in an effort to reset my sleep schedule: I've been sickish this week, and spent all last night tossing ineffectually (leading to sleeping well into this afternoon, which was bad). Although I did manage to do some thinking on a number of things, including the possible importance of costuming when writing.

Bear with me. This is a wild-ass theory, but it's going somewhere.

A little while back [livejournal.com profile] linden_tree posted about a certain look a lot of the girls at her school have, and in discussing this with Roupen, I kind of hit on the idea that how one dresses or does their hair -- every applied detail of one's physical appearance -- is a symbol. It's really shorthand for some idea or characteristic that the person espouses. So a character wearing a certain colour, a certain cut of clothing is saying something about themselves.

Here's the hard and interesting part: it doesn't always say what the wearer thinks it says. The example I used describing the girls at [livejournal.com profile] linden_tree's school (to whom she was referring was this:

By dressing like our Typical [school deleted to protect the tragically fashionable] Inmate (as described) one is stating that one is easily influenced by others (follows fashion), readily sexually available (all the skin stuff, which does send a message), excessively concerned with form over substance (obvious), impractical (bare tummies in the coldy cold), and somewhat lacking in self-esteem (ie people who will not leave the house, literally, without a full face of makeup). Probably more stuff I'm not catching. This is why these girls are so damned interchangeable. They're clones inside as well as outside: they have the same behaviours and they're symbolically stating the same goals in their interactions with other people.

How'd we reach these conclusions? The context which bare tummies, tight clothes, full face of makeup, etc. possesses in our society.

So, none of this exists without context. Societal context, personal context...and each individual's context is different from the next. My context and connotation when describing what these symbols mean to me are different, than say, the average university-aged male (otherwise these symbols wouldn't work to attract them).

On a more group-oriented level, in describing an Indian funeral, having a person there wearing black would obviously mark them as an outsider. Having the mother of the bride at a Western wedding wear black makes a strong statement about the family politics. But without the context, it's just a wardrobe description: with the context, it's a workable element of a story, an informative element. It's another way to convey information -- to show. Either the reader's built-in cultural assumptions can do the work, or the reactions of other characters to the clotheshorse in question can clue the reader into the cultural assumptions at work in a created society.

I'm seeing a few applications for this one: building richness, relativity, or hinting at an unreliable narrator. Showing people's biases. Showing a character's internal image of themselves. Other stuff, I'm sure.

Thoughts on this? Am I onto something, or way off? Any ideas on how we could use this?

Anyways, Roupen's made butter chicken and basmati rice for us (yeah, really late dinner, but he closed tonight) and I must away to eat it.

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