Imitation: the sincerest form of flattery, or just plain creepy?

by Ranim Elborai

In the 1992 hit erotic/psychological thriller, Single White Female, Bridget Fonda’s character, “Allie,” experiencing some rough times with her fiancé, advertises for a new roommate. When “Hedy” (Jennifer Jason Leigh) moves in, our protagonist gets a little more than she bargained for: Hedy soon becomes overprotective and possessive of her roommate, with whom she wants desperately to bond.

Hedy then proceeds to get her and Allie identical haircuts, and starts wearing clothes similar to hers. The clingy Hedy impersonates her roommate on several occasions, once going so far as to seduce that fiancé I mentioned earlier. Full of blackmailing, begging, screaming, eye-gouging, threatening, sister-drowning and puppy-murdering fun, I think we can all agree that the most disturbing thing about the film is the idea that someone else trying to pass themselves off as you.

Unknown  Jennifer Jason Leigh (foreground) and Bridget Fonda (back) manage to look uncannily similar. Also, this haircut is back in style and if my hair weren’t so curly I would probably get it.

Okay, so because this was a psychological thriller, they escalated the “she’s imitating my style” thing to a whole new level. Very rarely does anyone go to such extreme lengths to try to shape themselves into someone they admire.

octomom-angelinajolie-photo-615x400Quite extreme: Octomom attempts to channel Angelina Jolie, all the while denying that she’s doing it. Angelina Jolie allegedly “creeped out.”

I’m talking about something a little less over the top, and a little more prevalent.

In Closet Space, I discussed how women hate playing “who wore it better.” Showing up at work one morning wearing the same patterned blouse as Lisa from HR would be an experience so horrifying, it may even necessitate an emergency shopping trip disguised as a coffee run.

For most women, maybe.

But every now and again you come across that one girl who actually enjoys playing that game.

She is usually an acquaintance, but she may even be a close friend.

And she wants whatever it is you’ve got — she has your same coffee order; eats exactly what it is you’re eating for lunch; and you begin to notice that she has several of the same items in her wardrobe as you do…

First she’s got the same boots. The same jacket, in different colour. Identical jeans in a different wash. Then you find her tagging along when you’re meeting friends after work.

If you happen mention to her who it is you’re crushing on, she might even say, “OMG I’ve had the hots for her/him for months now!”

She so did not though, and you know it.

Age is by no means a factor here — this isn’t a hallmark of teenage silliness, wherein two best friends decide to dress alike. This shit goes on between female friends of any age. One of my much older friends has complained to me before about a woman she’s known for years. Whenever my friend buys an item, say an expensive pair of earrings, lo and behold, should her copy-cat friend chance to see them on her, off she goes to purchase same exact earrings the very next day. These are women in their seventies and sixties, respectively.

Is this simply a harmless admiration of your impeccable taste and glorious sense of personal style, or is something a little more insidious?

I wouldn’t know, because very few people have ever imitated me.

For one, I tend like the most unlikeable guys, so no one has ever tried to muscle in on my crushes, because who would want to?

Then, when anyone says anything about liking some item i’m wearing, I get all gushy and endorse wherever it was I found it and say they should definitely go ahead and get the same thing immediately.

But I’ve never seen someone I know wearing my gear. I’m not sure if that means I’m inimitable, or just badly put together…

And then of course there’s the matter of having friends who of similar minds when it comes to fashion.

images-4In Clueless (which we can all agree is one of the best movies ever) Cher and Dionne, best friends, wear a very similar outfit. And they don’t seem to mind.

I racked my mind (not for very long) and came up with only two acceptable forms of imitation: 1) imitation by consent, e.g. “Hey Darlene, I really love your cowboy boots, do you mind if I get the same pair?” “Why sure thing Maggie! ‘Course you can!”; and 2) preemptive-imitation, which isn’t imitation at all, it just happens that these ladies stumbled upon the same cowboy boots separately, and both happened to like them and buy them, simply because the odds are if Darlene would like something, Maggie probably would too. It’s convergent evolution.

Guerrilla imitation, in which a so-called friend buys the sweater you wore last week then ambushes you with it at some outing without so much as warning you (in case you both were to walk in wearing it) is definitely not okay. Neither is getting all clingy and possessive about who you choose to spend your time with. And finding yourself suddenly in romantic competition with a so-called friend who previously showed no interest whatsoever in the current object of your desire is most unsavoury indeed.

Also something that some people have a problem with is the requirement for mutual admiration prior to the fact of imitation: when I asked a stylish friend about how she felt about being imitated, which seems to happen to her often, she said that she’s usually flattered by the gesture. Unless if the imitator was someone whose personal style she considered subpar. Then she would deem it to be a personal slight.

What about men?

Well, as I mentioned in Closet Space, unlike most women, heterosexual men don’t seem to be quite as preoccupied with making a splash with a unique outfit when they leave the house. God knows why. One source says he would in fact be flattered if another fellow went off and bought something similar, or tried to replicate his personal style. I guess he sees it as an endorsement of his general coolness and fashion sense, rather than a copyright infringement upon the personal style he laboured to cultivate.

A gay friend I asked about this said that he too  would be flattered if someone bought something he’d worn, but would be creeped out if the person were to show up wearing it the next time they meet — especially if he happens to be wearing it too.

And little imitation getting rather creepy between guys is not something completely beyond the realm of the imagination.

Okay, so this is not a factual example at all, and is actually based on a crime novel by the wonderful Patricia Highsmith (who is a woman, and “imitation being creepy” is again possibly a product of the female mind), but you all remember The Talented Mr. Ripley, right?

Boy meets boy, boy becomes obsessed with boy, boy copies personal style of boy, boy goes on killing spree and assumes other boy’s identity for profit?

Good stuff.

images-5I couldn’t find a photo of Matt Damon’s character looking eerily similar to Jude Law in the film, so here’s a shot of the book cover. It makes for an excellent read.

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