By Erin Sheehan
During our course we have discussed works that looked at youth subcultures, like that of Dick Hebdige (1979), in a way that often neglected the voices of young women. This is partly due to the time period in which young women were structured within the domestic sphere, if we consider Mods for example. However, as Angela McRobbie and Jenny Garber (1976) revealed in their work, “Girls and Subcultures”, the cultural discourse within these studies frame youth as masculine. Although girls have since been examined as part of these cultures, these studies often, even in our postmodern society, neglect the everyday embodied and contradictory negotiation these female adolescents have with themselves and their context.
Although Julia Twigg argues that age is neglected within the study of fashion, the recent discourse has left a certain generation of individuals out. Even though I agree that the lack of representation of older women within the beauty industry is a necessary discussion to have in the discipline of fashion, it seems that there’s still something missing. Specifically, as female adolescents are neither understood within the areas of youth and age, they are not seen as subjects within these disciplines. For example, as a twenty-two year old individual, I am still considered an adolescent by psychologists, which means that my style and, in turn, my complex identity, is being left unexamined in these disciplines and within many studies that do look at girls.
My main argument is that these multidisciplinary studies, including McRobbie’s, do not let adolescent females actually speak about their negotiated experience with the act of dressing. So I guess that is what I am going to do here since, as I have not conducted an ethnographic study, I am only aware of my own embodied forms of articulation. This articulation is about more than negotiating between being too much of a Betty or a Veronica; gender is always more complicated than it seems. I negotiate between being a shy, Caucasian, introverted, feminist 90s kid, who was raised as an upper-middle class, liberal, Irish Catholic female within a Canadian suburb by a pair of lawyers. However, the way I style myself is built from other interactions between these subject positions.
Being a child of lawyer parents, having a pop culture vernacular was not exactly prized. I am very lucky to have my parents, however, because if I did not I would probably be on the Canadian version of Big Brother right now. Still, it took them a long time to accept my interest in fashion. Also, more importantly, my interest in television costume design, which still reflects how I style myself and, in turn, perform my identity. Often studies that look at the body of female adolescents only speak about it in reference to eating disorders. It is frustrating to read these because the adolescent body, even if it is something that is dressed within the structures of society, is also clothed. The way I interact with clothing is conditioned on this experience, which was informed by the multiple subject positions that influence my daily life. As Joanne Entwistle argues, the body, dress, and the self are connected; they are processes that interact with one another.
During a therapy session that was to help with social anxiety, I was asked to write about the time when I was most myself. My mind immediately went to a memory from my childhood, where I was running around in black leggings and a black and white checkered crop top singing Aqua. My therapist and I decided that I would wear a crop top as an exposure technique, to be more comfortable with myself. It’s a daily struggle, but that is why I love to wear crop tops.
However, different pieces are worked together to create meaning. When I’m at school I often pair a crop top/sweater with either a pair of mom jeans or a full skirt. This is partially because that is the current trend today, however I also wear these jeans because of Beverly Hills 90210’s Brenda Walsh, and I wear the full skirt because of the Edith Head designs I would see in the movies I watched with my mother every weekend growing up.
I wear this outfit with low-heeled boots because I have injured my feet so frequently that my Jeffrey Campbell Lita’s are now just an ornament on my bookshelf. When it’s not raining I like to complete this look with my vintage fur coat that, in a postmodern context, may result in having paint thrown on me, but I’ve accepted that. I am aware of what I am wearing and the process of how fur is made now, but I also know it is a coat that makes me feel the closest I am to myself. Its weight and softness comforts me since it was a gift from my best friend.
What I have done here is provided a personal account of a female adolescents experience with style. As they are in a time of becoming, how a girl of this age group performs her multiple and contradictory self is important, not only to themselves but to the understanding of fashion and dress as disciplines.