April 25, 2011

On Looking Like

by Angela Veronica Wong

Style has never been incidental to me. Perhaps it was spending ten years as a uniformed student, where clothing very clearly indicated a where and what you belonged to, if not a class, a privilege, and a mentality. Additionally likely, the love of clothing and development of a style is something passed down from my mother, who received it from her mother, an amazing woman who, when I was born in America, sent boxes of adorable children’s dresses, shoes, and hair accessories from Taiwan because children’s clothes were much more expensive in the States. Pictures of me at two years of age show an impeccably dressed little girl in white bobby socks and patent shoes, plaid jumpers with shiny black hair and big dark eyes looking solemnly into the camera, flanked by my smiling, youthful parents.

The author and her mother.

For years, these pictures served as my basis of self-understanding: I was such a good, attentive little girl, I thought. Perfectly dressed and standing still. This idea of myself was quickly disabused when I saw home videos of myself as a child, where I am bursting with energy and unable to stay put. There is a clip of me at three, sitting on a piano bench with a friend of mine. I stare at him warily as he attempts playing a piece in completely acceptable toddler fashion: out of rhythm and very slowly. This goes on for about a minute until I pushed him aside and started playing myself.

I think of this when I think of fashion, because there is a distinction between style and fashion. Fashion is the clothes, the objects. Style is personal, what you do with objects. How you give them life.

In case it rains, yellow boots and a clear umbrella.

As someone who has styled both photo shoots and personal closets, to make something or someone really work is to understand the what or who. The narrative that wants to be told. That what one wears is tied to identity—chosen identity, manifested identity, and determined identity—is nothing new. What is interesting to me is the expectation that comes with a visual presentation, and the subversion of those expectations.

I am often told I wear things that few can get away with, that my style is quite eclectic. That one day I will be wearing pearls and sundresses and the next leggings and plastic jewelry is not a testament to my excellent taste, but more my continuing changing nature. There are days I choose what to wear based on how I am feeling, and change how I feel through what I choose to wear. (I am guilty of mid-day fast-fashion shopping for a complete wardrobe makeover – thank you H&M on Fifth Avenue!). You have to feel and believe in what you wear. And when you do, you can get away with breaking rules and experimentation.

Modeling at a hair show.

There is a bit of an exhibitionist quality to this—which is not to say I walk around wearing as little clothes as possible, or writing the most audacious, titillating material. But rather, I’ve learned and continue to be learning how to embrace the fact that being a visual body (textually and physically) entails absorbing a gaze. It’s not always welcome, but being able to anticipate or subvert the power of being gazed at, of being read, for me, is wrapped in subverting expectations. My new favorite (and also most frustrating) words to hear are: “you don’t look like,” and the times when people first encounter my work after meeting me echo a similar sentiment, the surprise of what I am on a page versus what I look like.

Inside the notebook 1.

The author in the fall.

While I would not claim to be an experimental writer, pushing boundaries in expectation and language is extremely important to me as a writer and a reader. I am attracted to those who are willing to take risks for the sake of uncovering or presenting something new. In terms of the material of writing, though, I have found, despite my notebook fetish and desire to own every type of stationary in the world, a great comfort in a particular brand of notebook (Moleskine Large Plain Volant Notebooks, 5 x 8.5, 96 pages) and a particular type and color of pen (Muji black ink, 0.5 mm tip). The notebook is the perfect size to carry around in almost all bags, and 96 pages is not too daunting when completely empty. The Muji pen gives the perfect ink flow on the Moleskine’s acid free paper. It's cheesy, but true: it just feels right.

Notebook + pen.

Inside the notebook 2.

And from that, an important lesson in style: after all that experimentation, if you find something you love and works, stay with it. You make your own classics.

The iPod as an accessory.

Bio: Angela Veronica Wong is the author of the forthcoming chapbook 25 little red poems on dancing girl press, as well as two previously published chapbooks on Flying Guillotine Press and Cy Gist Press. Recent poems appear in H_NGM_N, Drunken Boat, and Columbia Poetry Review. She is almost always wearing big sunglasses and wearing dresses. Please visit her at www.angelaveronicawong.com.

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