Uniform is a new series on the blog about the language of clothes. I grew up in actual uniforms, kindergarten to my senior year of high school. So clothes have always held a special thrall for me; creating my own uniform was novel. And this first segment is about pants, about Tennessee made denim to be exact. I dress practically, mostly like a boy, and with the odd bit of lace thrown in. I like slacks and button ups, boots and wide brimmed hats. I rarely wear bright colors, and I expect the bulk of my clothes to do work. Naturally, I own denim. Lots and lots of denim, chambray to stonewash. I own more pairs of high waisted jeans than anything else, mostly due to a search for the platonic ideal. I never found them…until I did, and you’re looking at them: the Elizabeth by Nashville based Imogene + Willie (pronounced eye-mah-jean). I don’t just like to buy my food from real people when I can; I like to buy my pants and bowls and all the objects that make up the fabric of my daily life from real people. In this case, I got my pants from Carrie & Matt. You can read their story here (and the stories of their grandparents, their inspiration, one set of whom the shop is named after). I just had the chance to visit their store while weekending in Nashville, fell ever more in love what they’re doing & wanted to share this southern gem with you all.
As a lot of you (especially if you follow me here) have probably gathered, along with food I have a passion for aesthetics in general, spanning everything from Cy Twombly to to mantle vignettes to linen smocks to the death of a beautiful woman. To pants. Which is why I’m incorporating new features into this space, features that will allow me to share those things with you too. But don’t worry, there’ll be no shortage of southern victuals & baked goods. That said, I was, for the better part of a decade, hotly concerned with the philosophical defense, definition, and differentiation of aesthetics, of beauty, art & taste. I could entertain very long discussions of why an original work possesses (or, depending on your position, does not possess) more intrinsic worth than an exact replica. My relationship to the notion of beauty has been ever evolving. But I think it started with fashion or, more precisely, with a leather mini skirt. When I was 9.
In retrospect, it was probably a pleather mini skirt. I saw it in a department store with my grandmother who, being my grandmother and not my mother, let me try it on and subsequently bought it for me for Christmas, much to my mother’s dismay. Something alchemical happened in that moment. That skirt had properties, and I thought it would change my life, that it would change me. I thought that black, pleather mini skirt would give me super powers. It was an amulet, armor. Magic. It seemed that in a moment I could put that skirt on and no longer be a painfully shy 9 year old girl (yes, I was painfully shy as a child, once recalled by a former class mate as “the girl with big eyes who never said anything”) into something altogether different, something older. And the thing is that’s almost true. Just like in art & everything aesthetic theory is forever going on about, clothing deals in signs & symbols. Change people’s perception of you and you change, at the very least temporarily, the ways in which you interact with the world. The whole of reality will bend and ripple around you in different ways depending on how you present yourself. Should it be that way? Probably not, though I’m not qualified to answer that question. But it is that way; clothing is an elaborate system of signs & symbols similar to language. How you dress is not the only or most important thing that bends and ripples reality around you, but it a thing. You can choose to care , not care, or you can choose to amuse yourself with it. I choose some combination of the latter two.
Fashion can say a lot or very little. I knew that even at 9 years old—though what, exactly, my 9 year old self hoped to become or say with a leather mini skirt is beyond me. I was an eccentric child. Fancy that. What I wear varies wildly; to this day I play dress up. But on an average day I prefer quiet, handsome, well-made clothing. I’m a less is more kind of girl. Except on days when I’m not. I’m certainly less risqué than at 9. But still, I have always loved & still do love the language of clothing. The peacock way we are. I love to see men in their dashing, mean suits and leather shoes. I love to see women dripping like Stevie Nicks, little gypsy witches. I love the quotidian blacks, the stripes & khaki, shoe strings & leather. The Edwardian lace and fringed suede. My feelings about fashion are, indeed, like my feelings about food. I like it all.
Imogene + Willie personifies everything I love about clothing these days: well-made, workhorse pieces that can take me from one mood to the next, one job to the next. They’re a blank canvas. And I really need to wash mine. If you have a chance to visit them in Nashville or online, their store is more than just a clothing shop; they have handmade goods & found treasures from all over the world. Being in there was, I admit, a sort of beautiful torture. I wanted everything. They make & find things with properties. Heirlooms & collectibles. Signs & symbols. Things that last a lifetime. My kind of things.