No Longer Grey

The sartorial experiments and ramblings of a girl named Sarah

The Jouissance of Clothing

by Sarah on June 14, 2019, no comments

It’s only appropriate, 50 years post-Stonewall and during Pride month to be honoring the spirit of jouissance that goes hand in hand with and has characterized LGBT+ history. And what better way to celebrate that spirit than through clothes with a bit of boom-shaka-laka? Testing whether a piece has jouissance, joy for the sake of joy is the ultimate Marie Kondo test. My clothes, so frequently rooted in practicality, don’t tend towards jouissance. They spark joy, yes, but of the practical, comfortable, Friday night curled on the couch with a good book kind of way.

I’ve been leaning into the jouissantic (a Google search reveals that I just made that word up) pieces in my wardrobe. The swishy red silk skirt, the light brown pointy toed boots, the lime green shirt so bright it imprints a silhouette in your eyes even when you look away, all bring a bit of jouissance into my life.

What fills these with jouissance, whereas my delightful, joy sparking overalls can never quite be defined as jouissantic, is that these pieces possess a sort of ephemerality. While I hesitate to suggest that queerness implies ephemerality (hello Lee Edelman’s No Future and a long history of the kill-your-gays trope), I would claim that joy for the sake of joy can only be experienced in bursts. Therefore, the experience of jouissance is less a static state than a transient mood. Clothing that won’t last has the same quickly fleeing spirit. White pants doomed to fall to grass stains, overly trendy Bardot tops that will seem dated in just a few months, party dresses that get one night to shine and then are banished to the back of a closet, all are jouissantic, and all short lived.

That ephemerality also implies impracticality, which, once again, I want to clearly separate from queerness. Although jouissance is typically rooted in the inability for many queer couples to bear biological children, in an arguably overpopulated world, not having biological children could certainly be thought of as a practical choice (and sexual experience certainly doesn’t need to be a practical endeavor for hetero or queer couples). But in the context of clothing, an all-white outfit is wonderful and could hold jouissance, but it’s also a walking canvas for stains. A tiny triangular clutch is superb, but also doesn’t work for carting around much more than similarly triangular Doritos. These joy sparkers, jouissance holders, exist in a space of delightfulness without needing to be practical or timeless. They’re good, no further obligation to fit into a larger scheme placed upon them.

This dress, which could basically be a Reformation x Laure Ingalls Wilder collab, holds an enormous amount of jouissance. It features leg o’ mutton sleeves, a cupcake-esq skirt, and a neckline so high and yet so lacy it feels distinctly Gibson Girl. It’s white, which none of my clothes are, for aforementioned staining reasons. It’s also handmade (not by me), and thus super delicate while still featuring an industrial slip that’s potentially made out of rain coat material. I bought it simply because it felt right, not because it filled a gap in my wardrobe. And while that feels like a recipe for needless consumption, I would argue that sometimes, just the existence and creation of joy is a worthwhile goal.

When was the last time you bought something jouissantic?

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