the Semiotics of Style: Identity as Art and Expression

You must be an artist.”
What band are you in?
Where are you shooting?”
My family never failed to marvel at the questions I’m asked by total strangers, some of whom have crossed streets or held up lines to ask advice in whatever field they think I’m in. “It’s so funny,” my mother will whisper. “How do they know?”
To me, the answer is plain: they can read my style. Each piece I wear, each choice I make is indicative of an influence, an icon or industry. To those in the know, everything is a symbol: the semiotics of style. It may be what’s inside that counts, but the outside can be a language used to decode the mysteries within. It’s a language that takes years to cultivate, and one that never stops evolving. Some of us take to it naturally, knowing just what to put on and pair to communicate our interests and ideas; others take years trying to gain fluency.
Stevie Nicks Self Portrait
For creative people, each article we wear, each hairstyle, lip colour, accessory, is a statement. We indicate our interests, our quirks, our differences on the outside—sometimes as fluid and gracefully as our creative pursuits, sometimes a little clumsier. I can’t even begin to count the awkward teenage translations I mucked up to communicate my still-developing identity. Sometimes, we plagiarize—in my own adventures in style, one could easily see Siouxsie’s brows, Robert Smith’s Hair, Stevie Nicks’ gypsy layers, Mana’s exaggerated lip color. Before I developed my own dialect, I lifted language directly from others. Like a child, we learn through imitation. We might try on so many other identities, learn so many different ways of speaking before honing in on what best communicates us to others. And after years of practice, gaining fluency and command of our new language, we allow these assumed identities to accent our individual voices.
Identity is my favourite medium. I admire skillful painting, and I marvel at musical composition, but every artist I can count among my favorites worked endlessly in cultivating not only their artistic skills but also their identity. Joel-Peter Witkin’s infamy is due not only to his strange, abject photography, but also the mythology that shrouds him. Edward Gorey illustrated countless works of whimsical fiction, but his larger-than-life character earned him a place in the public eye. David Bowie shape-shifted from character to character in order to immerse his audience in the fantastic worlds he conceived of. Andy Warhol not only became his own masterpiece of commercial culture, but also kept a veritable gallery of experimental identities. In my opinion, Candy Darling and Edie Sedgwick are infinitely more finely-crafted art objects than any silkscreened disaster or painted Brillo Box.
the Factory regulars
We’re often told to “dress for the job we want, not the job we have.” By trying on identities and learning the language of personal style, we explore not only our relationship with the world around us, but our deepest desires in life. Motivational speakers and life coaches will add that definite statements of success will help manifest goals—“I will be collected in the MoMA,” “I will write a NY Times best seller.” When you say these things with outward style, the sentiment is echoed back at you, which not only stokes the flame of our long-term goals, but also gives the immediate gratification of instant success—“you must be a rock star,” “I can tell you’re an artist.”
Walking through my neighborhood the other day, I passed a man who spoke volumes to me without ever saying a word. At a glance, I could tell what music he listened to, what places he frequented, what books he likely read, what shows he’d probably seen. —and in the fleeting instant our eyes connected, I wondered how he read me with my sea-witch hair and my waxed black jeans. It was clear as he stood on that corner in his matched tartan plaid bondage trousers and field jacket, taking long drags from a gnarled cigarette, that he had spoken this language far longer than I. He had settled comfortably in his manner of speech years ago. I wondered if he saw me as a foreigner still building my vocabulary, or as a modern polyglot chameleon, shifting from one language to another according to habitat. I could read his bleach-burned hair and bovver boots, but did my vintage frames and abundant silver jewelry translate to him?
David Bowie, Hadden Hall
Whether conversation-casual or professional-proper, our outward presentations say a lot to people. They can read our drives and desires before we ever open out mouths. We are art objects as much as anything we create, and we should take pride in our fluency and expressions. Popular opinion has shifted lately, placing the responsibility of style on the outside world—that we dress for other people, to please society, draw sexual interest, or squeeze into a designated role. But when considered as a form of expression, making these statements about style is like saying that artists produce work solely to please the public—and any artist can tell you that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Artists create work to convey ideas and concepts dear to them, to articulate points that may not be otherwise heard. They create to satisfy a deep need to express what’s going on inside. So too is style—we ought to adorn ourselves out of that same expressive drive. My hair isn’t blue in order to attract men or set myself apart from society, it’s a statement of self: “I am an exotic bird, a creature of my own creation.”
The next time you dress for the day, pause for a moment before the mirror. What are you saying today? Where did that expression stem from? From whom have you learned your visual language? Are you satisfied—even mores, are you happy? Express yourself. Exorcise those thoughts and feelings, pull yourself inside-out and look at your signs and signifiers as they manifest. What kind of life do they indicate? Life and art aren’t the tag-team separates we paint them to be—they are one in the same. Art doesn’t imitate life—life is art, and it begins with you. You are your own masterpiece. Speak out proudly.
Photo Credits: Self Portrait by Stevie Nicks, Factory Group Shot by Andy Warhol, David Bowie Hadden Hall 1972 by Mick Rock
Fashion, Giveaways

Score some new glasses for the holidays–a Giveaway from Firmoo!

The holidays are a great time to give and to receive, but wouldn’t it be nice if some of those gifts were functional as well as stylish? Well, the lovely team over at Firmoo is offering you guys a chance to win a $20 voucher for your choice of glasses! Their wonderful selection of frames starts as low as $8, so $20 can buy you a whole lot of style.

Use the rafflecopter widget below to enter–leave a comment here with a link to your favourite pair of Firmoo frames and “like” Firmoo on Facebook. For two extra entry-points, use Firmoo’s digital try-on feature and post a screen cap of you “wearing” your favourite pair! 25 lucky winners will be chosen on December 11, 2012. Vouchers will expire on December 25, 2012 so shop around early and narrow down your choices while the giveaway runs to avoid missing out on this awesome opportunity!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Fashion, Reviews

An Eye for Style: Accessorizing with Firmoo

As an eight-year-old with rapidly-developing near-sightedness, my glasses were part of my identity. I remember the day I picked them out–a pair of giant oblong frames in a purple tortoise-shell finish–considering how they could change people’s perception of me, what they would say about who I was. I wore them day in and day out, content with them and their effect on my image. As a teenager, however, it occurred to me that I changed my clothes every day. I wore different makeup, different shoes, even carried different purses if it suited me. Why should I have to wear the same glasses all the time? Of course, I was oblivious to the exorbitant cost of a pair of glasses. It was expensive enough to change the lenses in one pair each year.

When I was contacted by Firmoo about reviewing a pair of glasses, I had flashbacks to that first time I ever picked out a pair of glasses. My most recent pair was selected more for comfort than style: I experience chronic photophobia and selected the largest, blackest frames I could to reduce the amount of light that came through. However, I find my large frames and tinted lenses to be an obstacle while working. They interfere with my sense of colour and space, which is not acceptable while working with hair and makeup. Firmoo offered me my choice of frames as well as lenses in my prescription in exchange for my honest review.

The task was honestly a little daunting–Firmoo has thousands of frames to choose from. Luckily, you can break down your search easily by materials, colours, shapes, sizes, and any combination thereof. When selecting frames in a doctor’s office, I usually end up trying on a dozen or more pairs before settling on one over another, so I was uncertain how shopping online might turn out. However, if you create an account on Firmoo’s website, you can use their handy “virtual try-on” tool by uploading a photo of yourself, selecting your pupils for accuracy, and allowing the tool to superimpose an image of your frames over your face.

After agonizing over five or six different pairs for what seemed like days, I settled on the frames above: a dainty pair of black-and-lavender plastic, much lighter than what I was used to but still bearing enough black for me to feel like myself. Inputting my prescription information was simple enough, but my doctor did not give me my Pupilary Distance, or PD. This is a measurement taken before fitting a pair of frames and is not usually written on a prescription. Luckily, I did some quick google-fu and found this handy online tool that measures your PD using your webcam a basic credit card for measurement. I did this a few times to get a solid number and came up with a number of 62, a fairly average PD for a normal human being.

My glasses shipped within a week and arrived quickly, along with a sturdy leather case, a cleaning cloth, and a tool to loosen and tighten the screws as necessary. The frames fit perfectly without any adjustments–my last pair needed to be re-molded several times before they sat evenly on the bridge of my nose. My prescription was correct and the lenses were clear. However, like many glasses I’ve had in the past, I did notice a bit of distortion around the periphery. It could be my prescription, it could be the shape of the frames, I’m not sure, but I have had many pairs of glasses in the past that had this same sort of warping around the outermost portion of the lenses. It usually takes me about a week to adjust to it and then it becomes less noticeable. I found the same was true of these glasses. I don’t feel it has anything to do with the quality of the lenses as much as it has to do with the sensitivity of my eyes.

All in all, I am very satisfied with my experience with Firmoo. Even if these glasses had not been free, they would have been well worth the money: the frames with basic lenses would have cost about $8.00 plus shipping–my last pair of glasses cost me over $150 for the frames alone, and lenses were an additional $200. The most expensive pair of frames Firmoo offers is $55.95, which is still far less expensive than what most places ask. If you require more than just basic lenses, that’s fine: for less than $30, your glasses can be made into bifocal or progressive lenses. Prescription sunglasses can be polarized for an additional $20, and for no extra cost you can select your own level of tint.

If you’ve never purchased from Firmoo before, make sure you check out their Free Glasses offer. As a new customer, you can receive a voucher for new glasses when you share your favourite eligible pair through Facebook, Twitter, or email. Even if you have a pair of glasses, this offer allows you to snag a spare pair for backup, or even just a departure from your norm!

Thanks to Firmoo, I have a great, functional addition to my fashion arsenal. Now that I have the option to choose which eyewear I’ll be sporting each day, I wonder how I got by for so many years with just one pair.


(cross-posted from Bella Cantarella)


Metamorphosis 133.0 – Shiny Things

Believe it or not, it’s February 1st, which means it’s time for the Sophistique Noir Monthly Theme post! This month, the theme was Rings. I’ll be honest–I wasn’t sure how to shoot these photos, and I didn’t want them to look like I was just taking pictures of my hands, but I don’t really know what I could have done differently.

I have a “thing” for hands. I look at absolutely everyone’s hands, whether they’re passing me paperwork or just walking down a hallway. Hands, to me, are like faces: each and every person’s hands are entirely unique and identifying. I’m a bit self-conscious of the size of my hands, but I like the shape of my fingers and nails well enough that rings are one of my favourite accessories. For many years, I didn’t wear rings. I was elbow-deep in dough or icing for more than half of the day, which really wasn’t conducive to wearing more than a simple, short necklace. I didn’t even wear a watch. But that’s not to say I didn’t own a few nice pieces for days off or events that didn’t require any sort of manual labor. These days, I still forgo my rings and bracelets much of the time so they don’t get wet or disappear, but I make sure they’re readily available for days off.

This little guy started life as a spoon. Personally, I sort of wish it had never underwent transformation and I somehow magically acquired the whole set. Could you imagine a table setting of scarabs? The band (which was once the stem) is decorated with stylized lotuses and stalks, leading up to this beautiful beetle. I believe it’s stirling, and it’s quite heavy.

This was a gift from my boyfriend three years ago, when we had been dating about three years. It’s not the only ring he’s given me, but it is my favourite. I love the three cut garnets and the intricate filigree on the white-gold setting, but I also love that it was more or less a “just because” gift. He saw it and thought of me. I’m pretty sure if pieces of jewelry can really house spirits, this is the one I would haunt as a ghost.

This ring is my most recent acquisition. Hand-cast in silver, this delicate little skeleton hand was given to me by my mother. Of all the bones in the human body, I think the hands are among the most interesting: something about the way the bones are elongated, making the whole hand look like nothing but wrist and fingers, two things I love about the human form. When people see me wear this, however, I don’t think that explanation is what they think of.

I do wear all three of these rings just about every day, unless I know I’ll be getting wet. They may not exactly “go” together, being of three distinctly different styles and not particularly matching any other jewelry I frequently wear, but I’m not the type to really care.

Do you have any pieces you wear every day? What’s your favourite jewelry to accessorize with?

If you haven’t all ready, I highly encourage you to participate in Sophistique Noir’s Monthly Theme. They’re super fun, and I really enjoy seeing people’s variations on it.

Love you to the Moon and Back,

Luna Valentine