Claudia Kishi and the quest for personal style

Remember Claudia Kishi? Junk food hoarder, terrible speller, burgeoning artist and founding member of The Baby-Sitters Club.
claudiacartoondescriptionCROPPED
If you don’t know Claudia, you should. But not necessarily because of her role in one of the biggest pre-teen book series of the 1990s (the last title was published in 2000), or because she was one of the few literary role models for Asian-American girls coming of age in that decade (OK, actually, you should definitely know about that). What’s important here is that in the 21st century Claudia Kishi has taken on a new life: Style Icon. The internet is bursting with blogs and tumblrs dedicated to Claudia and her unique, thoroughly DIY, and ultimately undefinable fashion sense.
Here’s a fan art rendering, from the claudia kishi diaries tumblr linked above, of a typical Claudia outfit (if there is such a thing):
claudiaart
And here’s the description, from the Baby-Sitters Club Super Mystery #2: Baby-sitters Beware:

“Claudia was wearing leggings, too – purple ones – with black Doc Martens, red slouch socks, black bicycle shorts over the leggings, a big t-shirt with the words “This Might Be Art” scrawled on it in purple (I knew she’d made it herself), and an old black suit jacket of her father’s, with the sleeves rolled up… Claudia’s earrings were purple feathers (she made those herself, too).”

Here’s the thing about Claudia: even if the shorts-over-leggings or homemade jewelry look isn’t for you, she represented (and still represents) something very important for young girls on the verge of adolescence: fearless self-expression. Her modern style icon status isn’t so much about what she wore (check out this great quiz for examples of how Claudia’s outfits wouldn’t necessarily look so amazing on actual people), but about why she wore. Fashion is frequently dismissed as frivolous, superficial, too girly, and a host of other descriptors meant to deny it as a topic worthy of serious consideration. And while a simple search for “fashion studies” or “fashion theory” or “fashion history” will swiftly disprove this assumption, there remains the very consideration-worthy matter of personal style.

More than just a means to look good, personal style is a path to self-exploration and self-expression. It’s not the only way, of course, but it should be respected as a valid option. It is also a way to take back some control from the usual channels that get to define what is trendy, or beautiful, or worthy of admiration. I suspect the reason many now-grown former readers of the Baby-Sitters Club, as well as new fans, identify so strongly with Claudia is that she beautifully illustrates how creating your own hard-won, trial & error, always-evolving fashion sense can be a crucial part of a person’s development.

And, since Claudia would likely roll her eyes at how serious I’m getting about this, we should allow her the final word:
 “I think clothes make a statement about the person inside them. Also, since you have to get dressed every day, why not at least make it fun?”
(BSC #2, Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls)

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