By Kerry Tinga
As a child I would often take a moment to dress up for dinner. I would change from my school uniform to a colorful, pink skirt I thought appropriate for the dining table. One time I changed into a tutu I owned back when I dreamed of becoming a ballerina, as nine-year-old girls do. I would do this when my family had no guests to impress when it would just be us at the table. Everybody else would just be in their house clothes, which also worked as pajamas for when we went to bed.
In the mornings I would make sure my hair was just right before I went out, complete with a hairband, my signature accessory at the time. As I got older, my morning routine became more and more elaborate. It started to include skin care products and makeup, even if I was just going to class, where there were others whose morning routine just involved brushing their teeth and maybe their hair.
Like many young girls, fashion and beauty products were what I would spend most of my money on. Dressing and making myself up—morning, noon, and night—was something that would, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, go on to define me. For better, I would go on to be considered someone who dressed well by friends and even by some people I had never even met (this would be an example of a humble brag). For worse, I could come across as shallow or vain or even both to some people who didn’t really know me.
As I packed earlier this week for my first New York Fashion Week trip, that thought, which I had overcome in my younger years, began to resurface. I was filled with excitement, genuinely thrilled at the idea of seeing garments trotted down a runway and then would be sold around the world to consumers eager to wear the newest collections, like myself. Then the creeping insecurity of coming off as shallow or vain or both began to infiltrate my thoughts.
As the often said misquote from Hamlet goes: “Vanity, thy name is woman,” though the actual line begins with “ frailty, ” not “vanity,” reinforcing the extremely patriarchal society of the time that viewed women as weak and dependent (despite the fact that a queen sat on the throne during Shakespeare’s time). So over the years “frailty” and “vanity” became interchangeable, as the defining characteristic of women, feeding into the negative connotations of each other.
Negative connotations of each other. Am I a victim of that stereotype? Worse yet, am I also fueling that stereotype as I drool over the latest collections from my favorite designers and brands, fussing over how I look and how I assemble my #OOTD?
Perhaps on some level, it is true: Vanity, thy name is Kerry. I am vain. I care about how I look. I care about what I am wearing, and how I do my makeup in the morning, and how I take care of my skin in the evening. There is no question of vanity when it comes to me, I cannot even begin to pretend otherwise to myself. And so I decided to embrace it wholeheartedly.
“The moral world has no particular objection to vice, but an insuperable repugnance to hearing vice called by its proper name.” —from Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
It is supposedly extremely vain to love clothes, which I do, and so I am. It is all fine by me.
A woman’s vanity is a label placed on a complex concept that a single word alone is incapable of describing. I began to fear the thought of being considered vain before even thinking through what it means. I love clothes because clothes engage people around me in a discussion even before I say a word. Clothes can fill up a room with life. Clothes can make me feel like my best self.
At its core, vanity relates to a sense of caring. And when framed that way we can think about all the positive ideas related to caring. I care how others see me and I hope they like me because I would not wish that they come across someone they do not like. While I am here in this beautiful world of ours, I care to add to that beauty in any way I can the moment I step out my door, by putting on something that I find beautiful.
When I look at a beautiful dress or a shirt or even denim jeans, I admire the technical craftsmanship and artistic thought that went into every seam and stitch. Or an outfit that is thoughtfully put together, becoming so much more than the sum of its parts, head to toe, accessories and all.
The way the appeal of a Rembrandt or a van Eyck goes beyond just what we see—although these are undeniably visually appealing—there is an appreciation of everything it encapsulates: The skill, the history, the process, and so on.
If we could wear a masterpiece, not just on a T-shirt with a photograph of the painting, but through a form that captures its entire essence, we would. And thanks to fashion, we can.