#080321: Can you really dress to be invisible?
Taking back the desire to blend in, honoring the one to stand out
I’ll never forget the opening line of an essay from a 2014 issue of T Magazine. It read, “Invisible. That is what Phoebe Philo’s clothes make you feel,” and went on to call feeling invisible a relief, a new form of power dressing.
This burgeoning “form” sunk in and fossilized, like wet clay surrounded by a piercing stick, and I agreed implicitly even if by the literal terms of my style, eccentric by most accounts, the notion seemed antithetical.
Sometime last week, I was getting dressed and I thought of the line again. I’d spent a good part of the late morning in and out of clothes — shooting figures with my selfie timer in the room with the pictures on the wall, readying concepts for the weekly e-mail. “What do I wear if I hate denim cut-offs (and shorts more generally) but want to embody the vibe they espouse?” turned into “What makes a plain t-shirt good?” then the prompts took a turn: “What do I wear when I have no destination but want to hold on to my presence?” “What do I wear to feel seen?” and finally, “How to be invisible.”
On the last one I thought, I know many of us want it sometimes, but getting dressed is a thing you do to leave the private and to enter the public, so by this rule, can any of us get dressed to actually become invisible?
It was getting late, and I did have to go, so I put on some clothes and that’s when I thought of the line from the essay because
I felt invisible.
It clicked that to feel invisible and to be invisible are two different things. That the desire to be it faces outward whereas to feel it, you go further inward.
The incentive towards invisibility spans a pretty vast range: maybe there is some way you don’t want to see yourself. Some way you too acutely see yourself. Some way you’ve come to believe or come to confirm that no one should see you. Some way to control what others see by presenting nothing to see.
Invisibility helps us reign in self-protection, is motivated by a longing to go unnoticed and in a neutral-case scenario, no one gets hurt.
That someone could get hurt has more to do with what kind of power is on the line here — and it seems to me that when a desire towards invisibility faces outward, we’re talking about a pursuit of power that is different from being empowered. It’s like the former is fixed and transferable because it was never originally yours or mine to begin with, whereas the other kind is like your own moveable feast. Nontransferable and uniquely assembled. An egg you harvested, an embryo you grew, a baby you made that is birthed incrementally.
Before I put on the shirt and shorts, I put on a dress with a pair of sandals and I felt physically comfortable and liked how I looked and wasn’t sure what compelled me to change but I did.
To be clear, the dress was perfectly good. It was also a deviation from the tried-and-trues of my personal style — the clothes that I barely feel on my skin because it’s almost like they are skin. The discrepancy between clothes as a second skin and clothes-as-clothes sharpened my awareness of how the latter existed, on me, in space.
In other words, the dress was a distraction. A thing that took some of my attention off whatever else was around me. I don’t mean this in a bad way — sometimes we need these distractions. They help us cope by getting us from point A to B without shedding some skin or some blood or whatever it is before we are actually ready to.
This is what performance dressing is all about, and why, in my view, it can feel so essential and be so endearing.
But for a reason I haven’t quite wrapped around, on the day that I changed, I wasn’t looking for a distraction. I wanted not to be aware of my clothing in space so that, I think, I could be aware of what else was in space. So that I’d have more capacity for intake.
Have you ever felt this way — not like you wanted to shrink or be small, to become invisible, as if you’re not there, but more like you wanted to feel invisible, to wield yourself differently in order to see what around you would bring itself forward — what would be willing to show itself.
It is a special kind of power I’m not sure I understand yet, to hold what will show in grace.
Signing off yours truly,