Should we be concerned by our tendency to rationalise our fashion philosophies?

If you want to be taller, wear heels. Sure, they may give you nasty bruises but at least they look good.

If you’re looking for mobility then wear sneakers. They may not be the most elegant-looking, but they’re comfortable.

So why, wonders Rebecca Willis in a thought-provoking article that appeared (‘Are your shoes telling lies?’) in the May/June edition of The Economist’s bi-monthly magazine Intelligent Life, are hidden-wedge sneakers so popular?

The hidden-what?

The hidden-wedge sneaker is a combination of heels and running shoes. It looks as clumpy as that definition sounds and, going by what Willis says, is pretty darn uncomfortable too.

So what you get at the end is a cross between ugly sneakers that you can’t run in, and painful heels that don’t make you look good. Did I mention Reebok is currently selling them for about 90 US Dollars? Uh. Okay.

When put this way, it all sounds rather pointless, doesn’t it? And in Rebecca Willis’s words, “deceptive.” But more than just the case of the hidden-wedge sneakers, Willis makes you think about how, in rationalising our opinions on fashion trends, we are all highlighting the line we have sub-consciously drawn in our minds separating the permissible with the unacceptable.

Reading between the lines

Willis has a simple rule for herself: it’s okay to make the best of what you were born with. That means push-up bras are fine, vertically striped clothing is fine, as is make-up and hair styling. Heels are okay because their purpose is there for everybody to see. That isn’t the case with hidden-wedge sneakers.

Using that line of reasoning, Willis (though she admits her lines often redraw themselves) is currently unenthusiastic about cosmetic surgery – another actively deceitful tactic to look good. But that is essentially what all clothing is, isn’t it? Like she says:

“If the animal kingdom is any guide, where the limit of what might be called natural is washing, preening and a spot of grooming for nits, everything we do to alter our appearances is artificial.”

Given that we’re all artificial, why do we feel the need to draw lines? This line drawing is especially evident in educational institutions and reportedly some government agencies in India where categories like sleeveless tops, or tight jeans are frequently prohibited. This is just a manifestation of some parts of society’s line-drawing.

It’s not only the so-called moral police who do this, however. A fair proportion of the broad-minded of us too find ourselves sub-consciously passing judgement (perhaps just to ourselves) on people around us who are crossing our personal lines (“Is she seriously wearing purple contact lens?” or “I can’t believe he dyed his hair blond.”).

Liars… every one of us!

In thinking this way we don’t mean to be hurtful, but we are forgetting that we too are probably wearing clothes that hide what we perceive as our body’s flaws, or clothes that accentuate what we perceive to be our assets, or if not that either, we’re still wearing clothes which are, at the end of the day, a way we alter our appearance.

Perhaps the reassuring aspect of this is that most of us, like Rebecca Willis herself, evolve our fashion philosophy as we grow up and are exposed to a plurality of cultures and personalities. We might find ourselves warming up to something we were brought up to consider a complete taboo, or grow to detest a trend that we once found fashionable.

The best of us will eventually learn to let things be. The trouble only starts when you start trying to establish a standard line of acceptance. So wear what you want to wear, look how you want to look, hide what you want to hide.

You know what they say. Let hiding wedges lie.

(Nandita Jayaraj writes about her encounters with the strange and interesting. You can send her feedback at nandita.j@thehindu.co.in. You can also tweet her @nandita_j )