Swatch: The De-Materialization of a Wardrobe (excerpt) by Aaron Valenzuela




From a young age, magazines such as W, Rolling Stone, and Vogue were sought after literature.  The first magazine I ever subscribed to was Rolling Stone, lured by the cover of a golden Amazon warrior, made real by the then burgeoning singer Jennifer Lopez.  She was poised, powerful, but stiff.  There was a mannequin-esque quality to her tan body, undoubtedly kept in pose by the cold hard hammered gold metal armor bikini she wore.  Her only human quality was her windblown hair.  A chocolate mane gently fanning past the sides of her face and over her bare shoulders by the force of a frontal gust seemingly emanating from within her charismatic gaze rather than from the image’s curated environment.

I eagerly graduated to V, W, Vogue Paris, Pop, and Interview magazine.  I marveled at the perfect creatures transformed by impossible garments in editorials that always seemed extraterrestrial.  As I studied and began to learn the names of these heroic bodies captured in poses and freeze-frame moments that often pointed to a transformative life of fame, glamour and mystique, I could only desire more – more imagery, more beauty, more objects, more bodies.

Despite growing up in Riverside County, the pink embers of my flamboyant sensibilities were fanned.  The manipulation of my own image was achieved, like all skills, through implementation.  I lifted the visual language from the expensive glossy pages of my small library of aesthetic references and performed selected qualities with the woven as my weapon – my own vestimentary vanguard.  Fashion became my diversion, however transparent it really was.  Barthes cites Doctor John Carl Flügel for his psychological analysis on fashion. Flügel explains, “Clothing is a compromise between the fear of, and the desire for nudity, which would make clothing part of the process of neurosis that is both display and mask.”[1]  It is both the vanguard of self-presentation, and an advertisement of the unconscious self.

It must have been at the age of eleven when I fully understood the power of self- creation through clothing.  My first taste of taking advantage of a garment’s magical powers came in the sixth grade.  I cut large triangle swatches from a pair of dark blue jeans that I had outgrown, and inserted them into the outer seam of my father’s old faded denim pants.  The effect was a poor man’s bellbottom, creating an excess of fabric that floated and shook around my feet with every step.  Never mind that the waist was at least four inches too big.  I used a cracked brown braided leather belt to keep the weight of the fabric from falling prey to gravity.  Wearing a crisp white cotton V-neck tee under an open short-sleeved baby blue rayon collared shirt, the gusts of air from my strut were enough to catch the rayon fabric, letting it softly billow behind me in the wind.  Not to mention the puka shell necklace I chose to wear, though it constantly pinched the peach fuzz on the back of my thin neck.  People paid attention.  I felt cool, admired, protected, and handsome.  More than anything, I felt glamourous.  I was the same person, but I was regarded differently and I loved it, but I never heartily believed the opinions that I looked good in denim and a collared shirt.  I was playing dress-up.  I was no Marlboro Man, but for a moment I mirrored the men in my family[2].

Dressing had became a ritual not dissimilar to how the Spartans prepared for combat.  Unlike the fearlessness of a Spartan, I still had plenty from which to protect myself.  My wardrobe is my sword and shield, my material militia.  Yet, even with fabric as my second skin I still felt naked.  As a teenager, disrobing in my high school locker room only seemed to expose my insides rather than my surface, and my plain pubescent body became vulgar, grotesque and excessive.  Flesh versus skin.  The closet, mixed with an adolescent’s self-consciousness only reified the idea that fashion could be my army of ensembles.  I studiously altered my battle gear to keep one pace ahead of my opponents.  Just like Ms. Lopez in her Rolling Stone cover shoot, I too was destined to become an Amazon – a charismatic fashion warrior battling alongside flowing swaths of fabric.  This was the beginning my transformation away from the examples of masculinities with which I had grown.


[1] Barthes (89).

[2] Aged 11, it was the first time I had worn jeans.  Growing up I shared a room with my two brothers and had a father whose wardrobe staple were blue jeans and cowboy boots.  I was no Marlboro Man, but for a moment I mirrored the men.