Dressing the Shadow

 We all have days when we look in the mirror and have to reconcile the disaster wincing back at us.  We didn’t mean to wake up on the wrong side of the bed and have a turd sandwich for breakfast, yet here we are.  Running late in a terrible outfit and ready to take it out in the first unfortunate soul to speak words in our direction.  We’ve all been there, and some of us go there more often than others.


We settle for bad outfits based on poor time management and those around us suffer.  We become insufferable largely due to our own ignorance.  Most people are blissfully unaware of that they are their own personal nightmare.  Waiting in their shadow, ready to slip out from under their unwashed hair, is a shadow monster who cannot wait to rip on everyone and anything to cross its path.  Legendary psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, identified this monster as the shadow archetype, or the Id, the opposite of the conscious ego.  Our shadows are composed of the very things we seek to hide or are afraid to embrace.  It’s where I’ll bet a lot of you hide memories of self cut bangs and crop tops from the 90s.  


When we encounter something that we don’t want to deal with, we often take an extreme measure to avoid it.  We sometimes even create a persona as a rebellion against it.  I hate the thing, so now I will embody the exact opposite.  We fear what we may become.  We don’t want to age so we avoid the costume components of an older person.  But, cardigans, high waisted trousers and track suits are not the enemy.  Stigma is the enemy.  Button-up sweaters are friends.  The fountain of youth does not exist inside a pair of daisy dukes, but if it did, we would hemorrhage money just to try them on.  Perhaps this could explain the unbearably long lines at H&M...


So, if avoiding the existence of our shadow is only causing us more pain, how do we remedy this malady?  We address and learn to dress the shadow.  How the hell do we do that?  Glad you asked, because this is the part where I tell you that you’re on your own.  Everyone’s shadow is a beautiful, dark snowflake-like fingerprint that is as unique as your skin care regime.  But just so you don’t feel like you’re alone in the shadow of your own darkness (even though you totally are), let me spotlight some designers who make it their business to dress the darkness in our collective souls.   


To be clear, my shadow self wants only to wear Rick Owens—also, her spirit animal is one of those horrific deep sea fish with the bioluminescent antlers over its head—in case you were wondering.  (Though, sometimes, she’s more of a Miss Piggy in statement jewels and a Dynasty attitude, really just depends on the day.)  Rick Owens designs very distinct clothing in a very distinct palette.  It’s moody, dramatic, clingy...and now that outburst I had last month is making a lot more sense...Moving on...


It seems that the best shadow dressers are brooding and comforting at the same time.  Ann Demeulemeester is another label who understands the darkness and how best to embrace it.  Often draped in sheer coverings and shrouded from the head down, Demeulemeester has a clear understanding of the cross section between the beautiful and morose.  The clothing addresses sadness in a way that says, “I’m in mourning, but that doesn’t mean I’m talking to you about it.  So piss off.”  Insert oversized bloom and veil.


Alexander McQueen knew darkness all too well.  I would say the bulk of his body of work exemplifies the idea of the shadow.  The couture runway pieces, embellished with ephemera, with contrasting pale pinks walking right after all black full length capes and sheer corsets.  The excess doubling as gluttony for the finer things.  The perfect disguise for the insecurity and fear of being perceived as impoverished or less than.  What better to ward off a disgust of the inexpensive than a garment valued higher than someone’s adjusted gross income?  My own shadow wouldn’t mind galavanting around in some McQueen, if only she could afford it. 


Embracing the alternative ego can be seen as a descent into darkness.  Better to descend into the dark willingly and well heeled, than to be thrust into the world wearing yoga pants and flip flops.  I mean, even the devil wears Prada...


Ann Demeulemeester  


Helmut Lang


Alexander McQueen  

Sarah Seals