a different kind of closet visit.

closet visit header of a plain wire clotheshanger

disclaimer: i’m hoping this won’t fall into a slightly passive-aggressive girl-hate post (which i feared my rant about the man repeller would fall into) but i wanted to know if any of my readers felt similarly.

closet visit has been around for a year now, and i find myself back there from time to time. it partly reminded me of the selby, which i’ve been a fan of for eye candy for a while now, where we visit creative people’s homes. but closet visit focuses solely on, you guessed it, closets. here is a description of the site from the creator herself: “Artist Jeana Sohn visits creative, inspiring and stylish ladies’ closets.” sounds simple and straight-forward enough, right?

and that it is. a simple formula with beautiful results.

i was really drawn in by the concept, and was happy to virtually meet some of these people via their closets. i was even surprised to find an old livejournal friend and the creator of the popular livejournal fashion community newestwrinkle there, and to see that her style was still captivating, and her advice still sage (Be patient and shop vintage. The quality is great and the pieces will be unique. Invest in great quality shoes).

but overall, i must admit, i felt a bit… frustrated. very quickly, i started noting some overwhelming trends in the kind of woman profiled and was ultimately left desirous for actual depth in digging through these strangers’ closest.

where i feel closet visit is strong in visual content and stimulation, it lacks in storytelling. ultimately, it strikes me as superficial and vapid. yeah, that’s a bit harsh, but of the “creative, inspiring and stylish” women featured, how many of them fall outside the norms of fashion? how many have a body type that is difficult to dress in straight-sized clothes or couture? how many of them struggle to pay the bills, let alone buy the latest prada shoes? i found myself thinking, of course you can have twenty different leather jackets when you have the money for it and are a straight-sized person and have a closet the size of my house. of course you can describe your beauty regimen as “low maintenance” and then list off products i didn’t even know existed just because you can.

part of me can’t decide whether i love or hate the fact that nearly all of them list frida kahlo as a style inspiration (i almost wanted to go through each interview and do a tally, but honestly i don’t think it’s exaggerating to say it’s 80% of them). but even though frida kahlo is an inspiration, not one of them has a hair out of place (facial or otherwise). none of them talk about having a disability, or being queer, or their politics. i think a lot of that is inherent to kahlo’s presence in photographs, in history, in her art. it was radical for kahlo to talk about those things in the 1930s and 40s, yet women who list her as a “style inspiration” or icon don’t touch any of those issues in 2010.

i could go on, but i don’t think it’s productive. i don’t want this to come off as a criticism of the women profiled, their warddrobes or their tastes: rather, i think it is disappointing as a project. disappointing because it seems to me yet another instance of the illusion of the democratization of fashion via the internet. because there are no ad dollars going into this, because there are no space constraints like you would find in print, it is more radical than a magazine feature. to me, this is no different than a vogue profile of affluent people-who-know-the-right-people showing off their warddrobes. perhaps i am being unfair: closet visit never states it sets out to be radical, nor does it express a desire to be different, go against the grain. in fact, all it says is that it seeks out creative, inspiring, and stylish women’s closets. how about i leave it at this: why are all of the creative, inspiring and stylish women also affluent, rich, largely white, thin, mostly designer wearing people?

my closetme showing off my closet to my friend annemarie in january

how many people do i know who fit the criteria of “creative” largely due to the fact that their bodies are not reflected in mainstream fashion, and they have to alter and mess around with clothing that wasn’t designed for them? how many creative, inspiring and stylish women do i know who had to sell their vintage treasures gathered over the years in order to be able to make rent that month (myself included)? how many broke ass crust punks do i know with incredible style because they dumpster dive, because they can’t afford designer clothes, but also because they reject them? and how many stories do their warddrobes tell because of those factors?

maybe this all ties into the fact that personally, i feel like your closet and your clothes can be a huge reflection, or at least a window into the story of yourself, your personality, your life. of the 35 or so interviews and features on closet visit, i don’t feel like i got to know more than two or three of these women on anything other than a superficial level. and perhaps i am to blame for searching for that.

when i dig through your closet, i long for stories of what you were doing the last time you wore it. a memory that bursts forth every time you see that scraggily old t-shirt. a hat you wore when you first met your best friend. a dress you tore because you were having too much fun to be careful with the delicate old lace.

instead of just grumping about it, i thought i’d throw the question to you.

whose closet (or suitcases) would you want to visit and rummage through?

my choices:

phew! okay i’ll leave it at that for now.

what do you think? am i totally out of line with this one? is closet visit great on its own, and doesn’t have to be critical?


Filed under politics, vintage

11 responses to “a different kind of closet visit.

  1. Hmmm… This is a bit of a tough one. One the one hand, I understand that it’s a personal project and if Jeana happens to be closely connected to affluent, thin, white ladies, then that’s just her social circle and I’m not sure we can necessarily fault her for not providing more balanced content; as you say, closet visit never sets out to be radical. On the other, I’m definitely with you in wishing that it would.

  2. For ages I thought it was entirely ‘normal’ that I knew the origin of almost every single item of clothing I’ve ever owned and that they all had personal stories attached to them. I was kind of disappointed when I discovered that most people don’t have that kind of attachment with their clothes. I mean, it’s not that I think everyone should, it’s just that it made me a bit sad that more people don’t. I guess it’s that whole throw-away consumer culture that gets me down. Most people don’t see clothes as representing more, they just see them as consumables. It’s something I’ve been wanting to blog about for a while now actually. Maybe I’ll get around to it someday soon.

  3. Maybe you’d like Style Like U? http://vimeo.com/user997601

    I like Closet Visit for these things- nice photos and portraits, fancy things, California vibes. It’s not a site that gets personal, and I think that’s ok. Who knows what they talk about while Jeana is shooting? We only know what they publish in the questionnaire, which I assume is written out or done via email. Maybe they talk more in person about their heritage, finances, worries… we don’t know that, because it’s not what the site is about. Maybe as professionals they’d rather keep that information/dialogue private.

    I can appreciate the point you’re making but I don’t feel like it’s totally fair to imply that Closet Visit is a site that purposely excludes people or chooses subjects based on race/weight.

    There are definitely other sites out there that get a little more personal, like Style Like U that I mentioned above. Seven minutes of video talking to someone about their style is way different than a questionnaire and still photography, you’re able to get way more of a sense of someone’s personality. Maybe if Closet Visit was videos instead of just photos you’d feel more of a connection to them?

    I would looooooove to see Nicole’s closet, can you imagine? geeez!

  4. This is one of my fave posts here for so many reasons. Because I love Frida, who I love as an artist, as a woman with arthritis, as a woman living in a predominantly Mexican Catholic, low-income community, as a woman who tends to be sweaty and never totally “put together”. Because I’m an “inbetweenie.” Because I’m a low-income “inbetweenie” who still gives a fuck about style. You are my fave.

  5. Ghostpaw

    Nah, it’s not just you, I’ve read the first half dozen and even if you hadn’t pointed it out I’d have been irritated by the sameyness and the unexamined privilege. And I’m saying this as a fashionably sized, reasonably affluent White cis woman.

    I mean, while designer stuff can be fun, the reliance on it of the women profiled is… rather unimaginative.

    I think Michelle has a definite point that Jeana is probably using people she’s mates with, and the people who’s style she admires will tend to mirror her own (human nature being like that n’all). But I agree the project could have been far more interesting if she’d go outsider her comfort zone.

  6. thank you for posting this. while i enjoy looking at closet visit pictures, something always nagged at me a little, i.e. the abundance of “omg frida kahlo is mah style icon” quotes from wealthy caucasian women, and the obvious lack of diversity in the subjects. you articulated very well why, for me, a mexican american female, that always made me roll my eyes. i don’t think the site aims to really be personal, and it’s just to show a window into a beautiful kind of life and style of the fashionable and affluent (of which jeana appears to be most connected to and the majority of which in los angeles are indeed white), similar to a trendy magazine. it’d definitely be awesome to see a different kind of person in closet visit, especially because i’m sure the very talented jeana would photograph everything beautifully, and because it’s possible to be poor, brown and have a similar good style/taste of the subjects on the site. it wouldn’t be terribly hard to find some, l.a. is very diverse and interesting place. however, i don’t see that happening anytime soon for closet visit.

  7. I had high hopes for that site but ended up unsubscribing in my reader because of all the reasons you mentioned.

  8. I had actually never checked out Closet Visit before. How frustrating though, because it sounds like a project that could be really great if a more diverse set of people were profiled. I can think of a lot of others whose closets I’d like to dig through (thanks for the shoutout, by the way). If only I had someone to photograph me, I’d probably write a lot more about fashion and thrifting.

    And yup, I’ve purged my vintage clothing in order to pay the rent on more than one occasion. In fact, I’m about to do it again…

  9. Julia! You are not out of line in the least bit, although I know exactly what you mean about fearing that you might be treading on girl-hate territory. I fear that for myself as well, and I wonder how to negotiate that space between wanting to be a critical, thoughtful person interested in fashion, and becoming someone who is critical of women. Though I identify, through and through, as a feminist, I find it hard sometimes to imagine what a complete and total solidarity to feminism would look like if I also maintained a complete and total solidarity with the struggle against racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and everything else that is also important to me. I feel like I am rambling now and not really addressing your post. I often don’t visit sites like the The Selby or closet visit sites because they often depress me. My interest in fashion never was first and foremost an interest in material objects in and of themselves, but always always always the stories are inextricably linked with those objects. And it’s hard for me to relate to the idea that, let’s say, a $4000 Chanel purse is intrinsically something to jizz home about. On the other hand, remembering the story of my mom telling me twenty-five years ago, after coming home from her double shift at Dunkin Donuts, that her dream was to own a Chanel purse by the time she turns 50, is the kind of attached personal history to an object that gives it worth and value for me. Seeing a bustier top in someone’s wardrobe makes me wonder about that person’s ideas about femininity, constraint, physical pain, the ideal body, etc. Sure, the site Closet Visit doesn’t purport to be anything more than a site to show off other people’s closet (and as you’ve noted, often white, privileged, able-bodied women who have the kind of physique and economic privilege that has ample visibility in the fashion world,) but how many fashion and style related sites are there that don’t purport to be anything more than a site to show off white, privileged, able-bodied women’s material possessions? I guess closet visit doesn’t have to be critical, though it would be cool if it were, but I wish, at the very least, it could be more interesting, or that other people might have more rigorous standards for what is “interesting.” Is that elitist of me? Incredibly pompous? I agree with you–I don’t find it very interesting to hear so many of the women cite Frida Kahlo as their style icon, when the most interesting things about her are absolutely not reflected at all in any of the aspects of the closet visit–not in the interview, not in the personal style, not in the clothes, not in the stories, not anywhere. This is super, crazy harsh, but it reminds me of how these frat-boys who were the exact kind of date rapist-thugs Kurt Cobain hated were coming forward as huge Nirvana fans, or total racist assholes aping Dave Chapelle’s “catchphrases” and loving the hell out of his show when they were exactly the kind of person that Dave Chapelle was trying to say something profound about via the medium of humor and parody and satire.

    Anyway, my thoughts went all over the place, and as usual, I don’t feel like I’ve said anything significant, but thanks for writing this, Julia. It certainly inspired me to freely rant, didn’t it…


  10. I think, like a lot of fashion pieces, the people featured appear almost interchangeable, right down to their spacious, well-decorated, white-walled homes (and quilted Chanel bags!) Like fashion blogs, the closet idea could potentially show us stuff we don’t get to see on fashion magazines, but the majority of people featured are the same people you see in major mags, and they are shown in the same way.

    I liked how the 17 year old pictured smiled awkwardly at the camera instead of model posing, she provided some realism/ variety in that sense.

    Oh man, I used to stalk newestwrinkle like crazy even though I didn’t have a livejournal and then was so sad when they shut it down to non-members. I would love to see the archives from 2004 to see what was hawt at the time. I think I learned to sideswipe my bands from looking at people on livejournal.

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