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Creative Pragmatism v. Future Garbage

Finding a uniform that won't end up in the trash

Allegra Raff

Jul 27, 2023

It’s incredibly useful for a person to have a “uniform,” or formula for how to dress. Particularly a busy person. Particularly a busy creative person, with lots of ideas and opinions.

The catch is that you have to develop your own uniform. In our current era of fashion where anything goes, is that there are very few actual, external rules. So for it to work, you have to make them. And believe in them. And enforce them. Yourself.

I know this and I live it. Still, articulating, let alone codifying, how to go about building your own uniform is… hard.

So my ears perked up when I heard not one, but two hallelujahs within a week for The Creative Pragmatist, by Amy Smilovic of Tibi.

Are you familiar with this? I’d love to know your thoughts.

The book is priced like an objet d’art, and I’m sure it makes a lovely coffee table book for people who have coffee tables. But if you just want the objectives, not the object, you can find a nice summary by Avery Trufelman here.

I like that Smilovic’s formulation accommodates the individual. You can weave your own values and priorities through these guidelines. They’re spare and abstract. In a kitchen, they’d be sharp knives rather than spiralizers.

The guidelines all point, of course, to Smilovic's shop, Tibi, which is capital-F fashion.

With my priorities awakened and engaged—why start a project like defining a personal uniform if you aren’t going to go deep, and get it right?—I was surprised to find so little attendance to OTHER INFLUENCES outside of fashion. Sustainability would be a big one.

Does the product align with my values of sustainability? is one of my biggest concerns when I acquire new clothes. (Most things, really.)

No product is perfect in this regard. But a philosophy of sustainability, if it exists, will show up in every decision a brand makes.

Also absent: any sense of reconsidering the conventional practices of Fashion business.

Maybe my disappointment means I'm just not a Creative Pragmatist. But why not?

Creativity and pragmatism both seem essential to most things I care about, including sustainability. Disregarding sustainability is a head-in-the-sand denial of reality, and also very status-quo. Lacking creativity, lacking pragmatism.

I would think that for a creative pragmatist, seeing clearly would be important as finding something aesthetically pleasing.

Seeing clearly that the societal costs of producing something may outweigh the individual benefits of having it. Seeing clearly the inevitability that one day, no one will ever want to wear it again. Seeing clearly that it matters what happens after that.

Tibi, if you're listening, just tell me if you thought about those things before you brought some new future garbage to market.

The death of a branded garment, or of the style it once espoused, is a phase of fashion that Fashion generally likes to distance itself from.

I get it. Death is scary. Irrelevance isn’t sexy. But clarity is.

Uniforms—deeply considered, often repeated—seem like a natural choice for vanguards of a sustainability revolution in fashion. Deeply considered actions, often repeated, are the recipe for changing the world. And every dimension of your uniform is ripe for defining, as you wish.

For example, you can include non-aesthetic concerns, like what kind of business model you want to invest in.

A uniform saves time you don't have to spend laboring over outfit decisions (what goes with what; whether or not a garment is flattering). And it saves you from spending money on styles you think you like but won’t wear.

In those ways, uniforms actually undermine the industry goals of Fashion, which are to keep you engaged with it, the industry, and keep you seeking.

So maybe I shouldn't have been surprised that Tibi doesn't take uniforms to their logical conclusion.

But I was still a little let down that snuffling around something called Creative Pragmatism yielded what looks a lot like business as usual.

Writing this, it occurred to me that a key benefit of a uniform is how it shields you from the self doubt that, for many of us, can gust up when making decisions. This is particularly useful against the gale of capital-F fashion’s own priorities. They're usually trying to push me where I don't want to go.

With your values spelled out clearly on every supporting timber of your uniform, it protects your priorities while your vision, aesthetic and beyond, takes root, then flourishes.



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