Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Fashi-on or fash-off?

(October 2008)

A fashion is merely a form of ugliness so unbearable that we are compelled to alter it every six months. And wasn’t Oscar Wilde right. But fashion is meant to be a beautiful thing. Something that allures us, entrances us and helps us achieve anything from elevated self-esteem to making a statement, from making us more attractive to the opposite sex to competing with the same sex. If fashion were not something attractive and tasteful then why would we buy it in the first place and why would there be a need for such sharp changes at the turn of every season? Of course, the why is a combination of keeping things fresh and to avoid the feeling that our clothes are stagnating on our backs. The other, more obvious reason, is a money making one used by the fashion houses and designers, for it is essentially these people who hold the fate of our apparel in their hands.

The return of plaid shirts to this winter’s fashion landscape is an example of a recent trend. But who decided it was to be a must-have? Some designer at one or another brand would have come up with the idea, made it a feature of the shop’s inventory and a few articles and features in the magazines later we are all grappling for them. This would apply to plaid as well as any en vogue colour, style of trouser or shirt, shoe, ensemble etc.

Why did designers choose to bring back long tops that drown anyone shorter than 5’7”? This question is pretty unanswerable and would involve traveling to the core of a particular designer’s psyche to find these answers (perhaps he saw some despicable celebrity wearing one at Mahiki.) The point I am trying to make is that a season’s trends are essentially dictated by the clothing shops and the people who design clothes for them and the subsequent “fashionistas” who expound these trends as law in the magazines.

So, we have our shops full of attire for our choosing and buying. Why do we just happen to like what is in the shops? A lot of us don’t, such as I. I would love to pull off a plaid shirt as I have seen people look gorgeous in them, but it just won’t happen. I deplore the style of coats around at the moment a lot of which are a relatively good fit around the chest and shoulders and then expand out like a triangle, again, making the wearer look pregnant unless they have a BMI below 10. I am in a position to comment on this season’s coats having wasted a great deal of time on the high street only to find a long, green coat, ten years my senior, in a vintage shop at a fraction of the price. And I look amazing in it.

A fashion then becomes fashionable because a substantial number of people adhere to it following indoctrination by the brands. Perhaps the small minded nature of man is brought out in us when it comes to fashion as we go along and copy how those around us are dressing. Maybe it is an inherent instinct to fit in and be accepted. I hope this is not the case, although, one would be forgiven for doing so as it is easy to underestimate the colossal pressure exerted on us by society thanks to an endless access to media.

Obviously, not everyone follows fashion. And there is not just one fashion, there are many tributaries of fashion along which to ride and to which we are at liberty to switch on a daily basis. The clothes I wear are entirely indicative of my mood, how I feel about myself, and what sort of look I want to work, not having found a niche I am completely comfortable with. I would fall more into the fashionisn’ta category. A rise in vintage shops means we are much more able to choose our own fashion as we have access to those from yesteryear, as my recent shopping trip demonstrated.

What may be trendy and flattering on one person could be a disaster for another. Most cuts of top, trouser and dress at the present moment are all detrimental for my figure. At only 5’4” it is sensible for me to wear short skirts and dresses to make me look less tiny. I am also more comfortable baring my legs (not necessarily out of vanity). However, all the short dresses and skirts are designed for taller people and so fall to my knees rather than mid thigh. Most ‘normal’ length tops fall well past my hips which is something else I hate. One redeeming quality of Topshop is their ‘petite’ section: a dream come true for me as I am able to find those short, tight tops I love.

So, why do a lot of us just happen to like what is in fashion and what makes us look back on it with hindsight in disgust? The 90s were abhorrent (not just in a fashion sense), so why did we ever sport greasy curtains (the men at any rate), denim jackets, baggy t-shirts with leggings (of which I am guilty but excused of due to eight-year-old folly) and tie-dye? In ten years I am pretty sure the thought of Ugg boots will be recoiled at; I already do. Don’t even get me started on Crocs. Fashion is a fickle thing but not as fickle as our tastes. Getting to the roots of what exactly it is that makes us like something is still an issue under much study by anthropologists and neuroscientists alike.

If we look at what the first cave men started to wear (fur mainly: I am a massive fan, to hell with the ethics of it) up until what “civilised” man wears, we can look at it as a sort of evolution. What influences this evolution? Certainly not survival of the fittest or fur coats would be in. Environment, the weather (sort of), culture, popular culture influenced by everything from politics, albeit perhaps very tenuously, music, art and, I am loathe to say it, famous people all play a part.

As much as I have disparaged fashion’s fickleness in this piece, there is no denying the pleasure of appreciating the wider body of fashion – that is all the clothes, shoes and accessories available to us in the world - just as we might appreciate the craft and skill that has gone into creating a truly glorious sculpture or painting.

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