Fashion makeovers: Is the transformative Cinderella story still relevant in 2019?
Just a little fashion nerdery
Is the fashion makeover dead, or at least, ready to be put out to pasture? From Max Fleischer and Disney’s adaptations of the Cinderella fairytale to Sailor Moon, audiences have been fascinated by dramatic, rapid transformations since the dawn of moving images and comic books. Fashion, for its part, has loved playing with the codes of transformation (both physical and psychological) — sometimes to a problematic extent.
Middle Age theologian Erasmus collected and popularised the proverb "clothes make the man" in Adagia. With all due respect to good, old 'Rassie, however, fashion can reveal deep internal change in a person — but cannot fuel it. It's a subtle difference between correlation and causation that Netflix's Queer Eye reboot understands well. While grooming (JVN) and wardrobe (Tan France) are still central to the premise, an increased emphasis on relationships and communication (Karamo) signals a deeper understanding of what it really means to transform, which most other shows within the makeover genre have yet to grasp.
So, it's increasingly understood in 2019 that fashion is a flimsy vehicle for transformation on its own. You cannot purchase self-discovery or a second chance at life in the form of a leather bag or silk dress; Amex Centurion Black Card and sheer, bad b*tch willpower be damned. Yet an issue remains with the transformative, cosmetic, and emotional shifts that clothing illustrates. It's an extreme vision, one that relies on polar opposites for impact. The 'before' and 'after' only hits the spot when the visual contrast is shocking, but is there room in fashion and pop culture for a truly authentic transformation narrative?
Real transformation is slow, and messy. Real transformation is impermanent, with progress and regression competing endlessly. One can transform themselves overnight, but probably not without some form of emotional harm to the self and others; our attempts to manifest transformation's complexity in objects and rituals, and to wrestle it into a neat narrative form may be doing us a disservice despite good intentions.
So the next time the impatient and thoroughly natural urge to transform strikes you, maybe take it slow and easy, and reflect before impulse-purchasing an out-of-character outfit. There's no hurry to reach the finish line, because (*has a Cady-Heron-at-the-Mathletics-championship epiphany*) it simply doesn't exist. That said, I'm still getting dressed every morning to the tune of Sailor Moon's transformation theme music. What can I say? I just love the sound of old-timey electric guitars.
Check back every fortnight for another Fashion Nerdery column from Ryan Sng, Buro. Singapore’s fashion writer. Read previous Fashion Nerdery entries here.
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