poseur persona style

I love playing around with sartorial personae. Mine are more active in summer and fall, as evidenced by the above photos of me in futuristic tough-gal, cowgirl, and retro woman attire. But I do my fair share of playing with punk, arty girl, and nomad looks through the winter months, too. It’s exciting and invigorating to wear an ensemble that highlights an aspect of your personality, or expresses a part of yourself you wish you could explore more thoroughly.

But I find that there are certain lines I’m loathe to cross, certain garments I feel strange wearing, and certain combinations of pieces that push me over the line into feeling like a poseur. Interestingly, much of that has to do with authenticity.

For instance, I’m obviously not a cowgirl. I’ve ridden horses and that’s my only remotely cowgirl-esque qualification. But I adore Western style, from jeans and snap-front shirts to cowboy boots, big-buckle belts, and prairie skirts. But I would never buy a shirt that says, “This Ain’t My First Rodeo.” I can’t imagine donning an actual Stetson hat. And what puts me off those items is their authenticity. REAL cowgirls are likely to wear those brands and pieces, and I don’t want to give the impression that I think I’m a real cowgirl.

But it occurs to me that any adoption of a sartorial persona could be irritating to someone who actually lives the associated lifestyle. Some subcultures are more welcoming and lenient than others, but virtually all of them must rankle when outsiders adopt their symbols and trappings without any real understanding of the meanings that those symbols and trappings hold. It’s tempting to use clothing, shoes, and accessories to evoke the most obvious or appealing aspects of a group’s behaviors or beliefs, but at some point persona becomes poseur, and deeper in, poseur becomes appropriator. Especially in ethnic and religious contexts, this can be deeply insulting.

So where do we draw the line? What’s harmless play, what’s irritating poseur behavior, and what’s insulting appropriation? When you explore your own sartorial personae, do you ever worry about how you’ll be viewed? Ever been confronted? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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