I’ve been thinking a lot about uniforms lately. The first images that come to mind hail from eye roll-inducing, cliché depictions of elite schooling: Plaid skirts, navy blazers and khaki pants. A young Matt Damon getting branded as an anti-semitic prick as he gets dejected from his cushy pre-Harvard purgatory, or Jenny Humphrey using her brother’s L.L. Bean pants as a punchline — the list goes on. Outside-looking-in type glimpses into the supposedly Shakespearean highs and lows of the very rich and disproportionately white. The most culturally significant edition of that canon — the one that feels like its been beaten into our heads with a Vuitton monogrammed baseball bat, is getting a reboot that will likely do well regardless of its content. Despite a social climate that seems a little bit less eager to simultaneously admonish and celebrate a system that bottlenecks the distribution of wealth and power, I can already envision articles about the new Serena and her $10,000 endangered crocodile skin boots. I’ve practically written, read and commented on that article in my head. That is why the show will succeed in its role as one part soap opera, one part live-action fashion editorial drowning in product placement.
Before “Gossip Girl” transcended its own DNA, which was very much rooted in high school politics gone the way of Macbeth, the school uniform played a major role in the show. Often taken as a light suggestion as opposed to a unifying standard of dress, its employment in the visual makeup of each character was always more of a foundational class signifier. It merely symbolized the monetary weight of the storyline, the amount of status, power, fame and money that was at stake with each condescending quip or stock-plundering blast. The emphasis was on what was worn on top of it, around it, under it and what alterations were made to it.
Blair, the conservative and conniving power that B, would fashion herself into the Queen of England during periods of vulnerability — clinging to veneers of her projected status as everything that lined it was tossed into a meat grinder. Serena, the best friend and foil to Blair, always seemed to find a low-cut tee shirt/vest combo, loosened tie, smattering of dangly gold necklaces and an ever-receding hemline to suffice. The impossibly beautiful and doesn’t know it (wow!), bad-girl-gone-good-but-sometimes-still-bad and sunshine barbie chaotic venus archetypes she simultaneously embodied were balanced by her beachy, sea-salt waves and the Chanel scarf that seemed to just fall from the sky and wrap itself around them.
You wanted to be Serena. She was genuinely kind and happy and unbothered by the wild amount of pressure she endured throughout her tenure as “Gossip Girl”’s mythological golden goddess muse. In doing so, you became Blair, who spent her days toiling over the things that materialized out of thin air for Serena, that Serena never bothered to ask for and turned into a “95 pound, doe-eyed, bonmot-tossing, label-whoring package of girly evil” in the process. Mega-sexist, only one queen can reign overtones aside, the ups and downs of their character arcs were underwritten by what they wore. They had a personal uniform, a range of tastes and proclivities that spoke to who they were as people; and a school uniform, the access card to a general mist of unattainability that followed them around as they erected entire utopias before burning them down within the span of a single episode.
There are a lot of ways to go about dressing oneself. Many of their determining factors have to do with what’s appropriate or what will provide the most safety in a certain context. What’s going to get me through the day? Do I want to be seen? Do I want to project authority? Do I want to hide? What’s the amount of discomfort I’m willing to deal with in order to look good? Do I need to pass as something? All run like lightning bolts through the mind as we thumb through our cotton/poly in the morning. It doesn’t pay to give a lot of thought to it in the moment — the best outfit decisions are usually the quickest ones, too.
Discussions about personal style, held long after those first calls are made and often drawn up in opposition to someone else’s (whether they be complementary or not), are when the self is defined. Somewhere in the interplay between private and public identity is where our current and ideal selves float around in the abstract. How we view ourselves and the securities we cling to, what we abide by. We all want to feel like our decisions are our own and not just a product of who we talk to and what we look at.
Directors don’t make every decision and designers don’t oversee every thread that gets stitched. Production teams are like organisms, and the final product is one that had to pass through a lot of hands to get there. We might not be able to exert what feels like even a morsel of control over what trickles up to our processing centers and how we make the decisions that we do. We might not always be able to decide what channel of information flows through us, who we surround ourselves with or who we compare ourselves to. Thinking about what we look at, how we look at ourselves, and what might be influencing those two things is a surefire way of changing that course, though. Whether it be with a pair of Feiyues, a tried and true denim jacket or a pair of scandalous croc-skin boots — when you dress yourself, who is it that you’re trying to be?