|If you've read any Victorian literature, you know that those equestrians also loved beautiful clothes. This is Anson Ambrose Martin (1787 - 1887), James Taylor Wray of the Bedale Hunt with his Dun Hunter, via Wikimedia Commons.|
Did you see Buzz Bissinger's essay in GQ about his clothing obsession? Probably you did. If not, here are the facts: Buzz B. got addicted to shopping for high fashion designer clothing, and spent like 500,000 dollars over a period of a few years. He bought men's and women's clothing, the flashier and more outrageous the better. The fact that he had been Mister All-American Sports Writer Guy makes this all the more surprising. In his essay, Buzz B. reflects on the relationships among clothing, sex, and the desire to feel alive.
The article is titled "My Gucci Addiction," and this leads you to think the article will be, like, shopping, shopping, freaking out, shopping. But I thought the narrative of the article was more like shopping, shopping, freaking out, shopping, sex, sex, sex, shopping. Which is, of course, much more interesting.
Although in certain ways the story Buzz B. tells is clearly one of becoming unhinged, some aspects of Buzz's B.'s experience resonated with me in a powerful way. Like Buzz B., I have been excited by exciting clothing, and like Buzz B., I've connected clothing with sex and sexuality for as long as I can remember.
Although I'm not sure I would ever spend 22,000 dollars on a coat, and though I can see why Buzz B. feels so freaked out by his own strange spiral, still I find the form of the desire -- for the perfect article of clothing -- to be one that is familiar and close to home.
Buzz B. finds the experience of buying Gucci clothing and wearing beautiful leather electrifying, and yes, he explores the possibility that what he's really into is S&M, or sex with men, or something. He makes clear that he is probably, in some sense, sexually bored in the way of the 58-year old man and that is all part of it.
So he tries some stuff. He has sex with men, and finds that despite the charm of gay guys, it's not really his thing, or at least, it's not the thing he's craving. He tries trips to sex clubs in Macau and Hong Kong: again, not really quite the thing. He tries getting further into cross-dressing, and that's not it either: it's not so womanhood but rather androgyny that appeals. It's not about sex alone, evidently, but rather about sex and clothing connecting him to desires and the feeling of the life force.
Obviously the frame of the piece -- of Buzz B. as a "shopoholic"-- is meant to showcase a point about gender: that while we associate obsessive shopping for clothes with women, it can happen to a guy, and here's what that's like.
What I want to say about all this is that the case of women is much more like this than is sometimes thought, and we all do a disservice to women when we interpret their clothing and shopping choices in a certain way.
When women become obsessed with clothes, it's often read in ways importantly different from the Buzz B. narrative.
1) It's interpreted as being "into luxury," in a way associated with feminine fussiness and consumerism.
2) It's interpreted as showcasing and showing off for other women.
3) Insofar as it's interpreted as related to sex and sexuality, it's interpreted not as an expression of sexuality, but rather as a tease.
With respect to this last, there's still something about a woman who gets dressed up in a high style and sexy way that makes people -- men and women both, I think -- say to themselves: well, she must be looking for sex, and if she isn't, all the dressing up must be an effort to seduce and manipulate people, to get attention, all in some problematic way.
What gets left out in these interpretations is, I think, just what Buzz B. describes: the desire to feel alive, to feel the surge of pleasure and energy and connectedness to life that beautiful and sexy clothing gives you. Sure, that can be related to a desire for a sexual feeling. But if the options on the table for actual sex are a problem, or bore you, or aren't all that appealing for whatever reason, that doesn't get in the way.
It doesn't get in the way because the connectedness to life is the mixed interplay of desiring and feeling desirable. This is different from simple pleasure, and obviously, different from the having of sex itself. It's also different from the simple clothing-as-signal of availability so often used in the common interpretations when women dress up.
I think one reason it's difficult to interpret women's choices in the more complicated way is that we are caught up in the picture of women's sexuality as responsive or secondary or focused on the desirability question for women that we forget about the desiring part of the equation. I think a second reason it's difficult to interpret women's choices in the more complicated way is that for all social and cultural changes of the last few decades, people are still bothered, upset, disturbed somehow, by the fact of women's sexual desires being just that -- desires.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go clothes shopping.