Dedicated follower of fashion: Michelle Lee
Dedicated follower of fashion: Michelle Lee
Emily Shur

High Style, Low Esteem

There are fashion victims: people oblivious to the fact their garish outfits make them resemble clowns more than supermodels. And there are fashion victims: people oblivious to the fact that their intense desire to shop for clothes, shoes, and accessories is fed by the media, garment industry, and their own slightly twisted need to keep up with what's trendy no matter the financial or physical cost. Author Michelle Lee chose to highlight the latter as the subject of her first book, Fashion Victim: Our Love-Hate Relationship with Dressing, Shopping, and the Cost of Style, an exploration of how fashion permeates our lives and the positive and negative aspects the insidious force she humorously describes as "ninja mind control" has upon us.

Lee, a former South Floridian (she spent her last few high school years in Plantation), readily admits to being "a very big fashion victim," quickly naming an army-green cotton jacket by Juicy Couture when quizzed about her favorite item of clothing. "It was about $200, but I've gotten so much use out of it," she explains. Spending a good amount of her writing career at magazines such as CosmoGIRL!, Mademoiselle, and Glamour also helps her know of what she speaks. According to Lee, observing the hyper-fashionable staffers strutting around the cafeteria at the Condé Nast building inspired her to write her book and caused her many moments of anguish when it came to dressing for work each day. "It's that frustration of feeling like you're not good enough somehow because you can't keep up with how everybody else is dressing," she says.

But agonizing over what to wear is one thing; knowing why you wear what you do is another. "Fashion is a great thing," Lee claims. "The main thing I want to get across in this book is for people to open their eyes a little bit. It's not to say abandon fashion completely because it's so negative, it's bad, it's evil. It's more just like open your eyes to what you're buying, what's going on in the world, and be a smarter consumer." Good advice for folks who watch the Oscars more to see what the stars are wearing than to see who is winning, who freely allow print ads and television commercials to dictate their sense of style, and eagerly wait for the next issue of catalogue/magazine Lucky to arrive in their mailbox. "We need the Björks of the world," notes Lee, lamenting the profusion of sartorial lemmings.

But blowing wads of cash to "update" our wardrobe, slavishly following trends like showing butt cleavage, and mangling our bodies for the sake of looking good, also might not be all bad. Prospects of imminent war and further disruption in our lives may either leave us clinging to fashion's transformative power or discarding it like yesterday's outdated peasant blouse. "Fashion will forever be around," says Lee. "I don't think one day we're going to be wearing uniforms like on Star Trek. Everybody needs beauty and novelty in their lives. That's the one thing about our appearances that we can change every day. In a way, it helps us be a new person every single day if we want to."


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