Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Outfit post: Inspiration or copycat?

The other day I stood in front of closet, index finger tapping my forehead impatiently, and could not come up with something to wear. It was a stiflingly hot day and I longed for an outfit that was cool and comfortable. I also had some rather Picasso-like abstract tan lines around my shoulders I needed to conceal. I wasn't feeling especially confident about my body, and didn't want to reveal too much skin. Furthermore, my family and I were going out to dinner, and my clothes needed to be appropriate for public viewing. So I did what has become habitual when I'm struggling for style inspiration: I turned on my laptop, cruised a few blogs that I follow, and duplicated an outfit right down to the style of shoes and amount of jewelry.

Initially, I felt fantastic - stylish and attractive. Even - dare I say it? - hot. But as the day wore on I became increasingly uncomfortable. I couldn't keep my shirt tied at the waist like my favorite blogger did. I became self-conscious of the amount of jewelry I had piled on. My skirt felt too short, heels too high, and top itchy and tight. And, worst of all, I felt as if I had betrayed my own sense of personal style. As soon as I got home I ripped the entire outfit off, sat on the corner of my bed, and tried to figure out what went wrong. I had long admired the blogger whose outfit I had duplicated. We had similar senses of personal style and common pieces in our wardrobes. Her outfit photos showed a confident, stylish woman, one many would want to emulate just as I had. So why did I feel so uncomfortable and traitorous? And then a scary thought hit me. Was I a copycat?

So many of us turn to magazines, blogs, and even catalogs (wave to the whimsically layered J Crew outfits) for style advice and instruction. In the aftermath of my style fail, I was left wondering about the difference between being a copycat, and being inspired by a certain look. We all take inspiration from the things we see around us, but at what point does inspiration become copying?

The Free Dictionary defines a copycat as this:

One that closely imitates or mimics another.
To act as an imitator or mimic.
To imitate closely; mimic.
Closely imitating or following another: a copycat version of a successful product; a copycat crime.

We are all living in what Lawrence Lessig calls "remix culture." It is a time when there is literally nothing new under the sun. You're very seldom going to get an opportunity to do something that does not build on some cultural, artistic, or technical precedent. Copying is what you're going to be accused of it you produce a design that differentiates only in small or superficial details from someone's work. I personally define copying as creating something absolutely identical to what already exists.

Here’s the problem with copying: Copying skips understanding. You have to be able to understand something in order to personally relate to it. When you copy it, you miss that. You simply recycle an idea which someone else generated, based on their own personal life experience. You have no real connection to it, and will always be removed. For this reason, the copy typically lacks depth and detail. It’s usually pretty close, but there’s something not right about it. Which explains why I felt so uncomfortable in my duplicated look.

Inspiration is when you see possibilities no one has seen before. Inspiration comes when we translate a certain concept into something unique and individual. Developing a style further through the use of different accessories, colors, material, and even proportions immediately makes it personal. When you're inspired by a certain design, look or object, your creativity rises. You have energy to put your own twist on it, and make it your own.

At this point in fashion, so little is truly new or original. In order to be unique, you need to exercise your creative muscles and test the boundaries. This might mean branching out from your usual style and trying new looks. While I forgive myself for being a copycat, that doesn't mean I am forbidden from being inspired by other bloggers.  I simply need to have the courage to blend their style with my own perspective, in order to create my own look.

How do you define the difference between inspiration and copycatting? How strong an influence do other fashion bloggers, magazines and catalogs have on your own style? Do you ever feel like a copycat? 

Vintage thrifted white shirt; vintage thrifted denim skirt; vintage thrifted petticoat; Old Navy espadrilles; eBay bracelet

This outfit made me so, so happy. It feels like me. And the petticoat made twirling a requirement.

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