Monday, July 31, 2006

Admit it. Fashion is ridiculous.

1. It is irrational and subjective.
2. It is juvenile and superficial.
3. It is wasteful and silly.

I am sure to irritate people with this post. But I feel there is something that should be said on this subject. Let me begin first by acknowledging the right for people to express themselves however they like and, if the only aspect of themselves they find important to express is found via their appearance, then great. Good for them. They might be idiots, but good for them all the same. Let me also say that I support fun. Buying clothes and slapping them on is exceptionally fun for some. My gripe is not with clothes. My gripe is with the arbitrary “in and out” artificiality of the industry.

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A case in point (and what sparked this opinion): a major national news program leveraged a “use it or toss it” segment from a well known fashion magazine. Certain items were deemed no longer appropriate, such as cowboy boots, chandelier earrings and cargo pants. Other items were declared freshly important such as oversized bags, leggings and ballet slippers. Sorry…is someone making a joke? Because I can’t stop laughing. We are supposed to be this country of rugged individualists, yet I suspect in a year’s time the assertions made above will become cardinal and widespread.

Where does this nonsense come from? There is a lot to mull over on this subject.

Consider the historical angle. How could the very rich distinguish themselves from their inferiors? By constantly updating their wardrobes is one way. The court of the 17th and 18th centuries demonstrates this brand of insanity in a dramatic way. Courtiers follow the royals, haute bourgeoisie and rural aristocrats follow the courtiers and so on…until you run out of people able to expend the needed monies to keep up. Status could be instantly recognized by how behind the newest look you are. The pinnacle of this madness featured individuals so decadent as to have custom clothes made for them to wear only once and never again. It also demonstrated how moronic things could get as in the adoption of powdered wigs originating from the hair loss of Louis XIII after a nasty bout of sypillis. In what way other than one of sheer absurdity did this…look good?

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There is developmental psychology to consider. The anxiety of peer approval. The obsession begins in middle school doesn’t it? Mapping out social equity. Cool kids vs. uncool kids. Styles selected in order to be presentable in a light that portends to elicit favorable social response? Of course this has nothing to do with the actual, physical material items themselves, but with the arbitrary rules of the setting. A boarding school in New England would have a much different set of standards than a public school in south central Los Angeles. A school in Dallas would have very different definitions than a school in California. This underscores the meaninglessness of opinion. What matters is perception. Becoming a follower begins early. And it never really goes away.

Then lastly, perhaps we should consider the gender studies angle. Beauty and fashion are aspects of culture seemingly more appealing or widespread among women. Now, I’ve had a whole gang of discussions with women about the horrible impact on self esteem and body image that comes from an environment saturated with unattainable ideals of beauty. Still, when the voices of Style speak…everyone snaps into place. And what is the point? Say what you want but on some level it is about being attractive to the opposite sex. Drawing attention. An example of the strange inverted policy among humans versus the rest of the animal world where it is the male who must work to attract a female partner via vibrant adornment. (Ladies, you’re helping make it a man’s world.)

Stupid, isn’t it? Allowing others to proscribe what is worthwhile and what isn’t? Okay. I began this diatribe with some assertions. Allow me to put some meat on the bone point by point.

Fashion is irrational and subjective. The aim is to zig when others zag. Why the trucker hat came (and passed) or the frightening return of tapered jeans is upon us is seemingly without reason. Irony at play, then adopted by those who cannot define irony even if their lives depended on it. Who are these tastemakers? Because I’ve got a piano necktie with their name on it.

It is juvenile and superficial. Children learn that cruelty to others makes them feel better about themselves. In a more nuanced way, the woman with her Birkin shames others to see how superior she is. (They hate her. But they’d love to have the bag.) In a society without formal class demarcation, the very rich want to put the well-off in their place. It’s a giant school yard. Full of bullies. And…what is more superficial than the beauty industry? That we live in a society where there are $60,000 handbags may be worse than one where you needed to pile a giant tower of white horsehair on your head and paint various black moles about your mouth.

Finally, fashion is wasteful and silly because it is of fleeting importance. It is intended to mutate. Items with immense margins are paraded about for consumption as ‘must have’ replacement for other items which are perfectly functional, but no longer ‘acceptable’. The one constant is that if you buy the most fashionable items, you will rapidly look ridiculous. (Ahem, UGG Boots?)

We simply have too much disposable income, as a society. We revel in entertainment and distraction. God knows I’m aware of this. I’m part of the problem. I’ve bought my share of Hermes ties. I drink like a fish and throw up on Gucci loafers. Wasteful and Silly is the subtitle of my life. However, as noted…I am a clown. Don’t be like me. Admit fashion is stupid, ladies. Don’t get sucked in. Wear what you like. Be yourself. Put down the magazine. Who cares what Scarlett Johansen wears to the supermarket? Don’t be bullied. Aren’t there other aspects of your identity that are more important that your accoutrement? If only there were.

In the end, the next time you feel shame about a magazine saying your earrings are SO last year…remember that Fashion and Fascism begin with the same sound.


Blogger Bdogs said...

Fashion both makes you feel good about yourself and makes sure you are never completely satisfied. It's about the shine of the possible, the eternal something better, which is the core spirit animating our age and society.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Chas Chesterfield Esq. said...

Bullshit^^^. It's about expensive clothes. The core spirit animating our age and society is the clash of ideologies. In an interconnected global world, you'd think we were more likely to find ways to get along. Are we? Nope. Quite the opposite. Fashion is another distraction from more important matters. Of course, so is a nice glass of Scotch.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Long live the New Flesh said...

it reminds me of Brave New World, how everyone was getting messages when they were a kid to throw out anything that was torn or broken and replace it, instead of trying to fix it.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Helen Sparkles said...

I wonder if I can qualify as a stalker if I comment again, or just a regular contributor. Who knows what the the rules are in this blog world but I am grateful your blog got me writing at least something on mine! I think you are both right (tigerlily and; fashion is an aspiration and a distraction. The aspiration ensures we are never satisfied with what we have and, despite being richer than we were 50 years ago, we are less happy; hence the 'science' of happiness debate which has become the zeitgeist in the UK at least. The distraction means that we aren't thinking about anything more important, and ironically, helping others is one of the things which makes human beings happy so we could be happier by not being distracted. Personally, I love fashion, but I hate being dictated to. Mostly here we pick and mix, there isn’t that much pressure to conform except in some work environments, and that just means we can save our other stuff for going out it. It is impossible to read a culture through religious purchasing of US Vogue, but I wonder if American fashion is more conservative and if there are more rights and wrongs?

1:31 PM  
Blogger Chas Chesterfield Esq. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:02 PM  
Blogger Chas Chesterfield Esq. said...

HS: Stalkers are welcome. Please keep coming back. I think the love hate on this subject is an interesting one. As for "slaves to fashion" I think it depends where you live. Single women in NY/LA seem to wrestle with it more than married women in other areas of the country. That's a huge generalization, but seems more true to me than not.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Helen Sparkles said...

Now that leads me onto the other thing I was thinking, but then I decided my post was long enough already, I get the impression that single women in NY/LA wrestle with dating more than elsewhere. Again I can’t take an accurate reading, but friends of mine who have worked in either feel like they almost have to take their CV out with them, and I am sure the men they are dating feel the same. I am very curious about the whole dating thing per se USA Style though because it feels quite alien to me. Here we (generally) don't go out with more than one person at a time full stop which means we are never really dating I suppose, just with one person or someone else. Anything else would be considered duplicitous.

7:02 PM  
Blogger anne altman said...

well put, chas! too much disposable income will make you cringe when you look at old pictures of yourself.

i like to describe my style as a combination of

classic, inexpensive, and the same fuckin' thing everyday just inside out and outside in.

6:10 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

Fashion is a conundrum. It is wasteful to society holistically. Imagine what could be done if even some of the cash that people put into buying overpriced clothes was channeled into something more ambitious like curing heartburn or funding poets or buying me a house. The other side is that women are made to suffer in small, unseen ways if she wears high wasted jeans or shoulderpads. You aren't taken seriously in business or socially by people who can make your life better/more fulfilling. It is a conundrum.

10:19 PM  
Anonymous Martin said...

Fashion needs to calm down, with so much vanity becoming overbearing in the world, being focussed/judgemental upon ones clothes removes any social interest on the virtues of intelligence and intellect. would you still be friends with people who challenge you mentally if they had run of the mill clothes? Everyone needs to see where they should focus their eyes and minds, just wear what you want and hope that people worth meeting will see through your exterior image, those will turn out to be the worthwhile ones

3:47 PM  
Anonymous Cathy said...

I teach fashion marketing at the high school level. I see your point that fashion can be wasteful and is oftentimes silly. The industry itself is ridiculed through movies such as "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Legally Blond". We even talk about this in my class. The point I make in my class, and the point I want to make here is the economic impact of the industry. Any industry that preys on the consumer consciousness or subconsciousness to be superior (look at the technology industry -- phones, IPODS etc., and the car industry) is going to affect our economic stability. Trying to take the desire to look good or feel superior out of the equation will undoubtedly turn our economy on its ear. Go to the mall. What percentage of stores are fashion-related? Take them out and replace them with bookstores or some other non-fashion store and watch it fold. My point is that yes, fashion may be insignificant compared to other issues like poverty, starvation, disease and war, but it's one of those industries that has helped keep our economy going. The fashion industry has marketed its wares with shrewd strategies to make sure that it is an important piece of the economic equation.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Chas Chesterfield Esq. said...

^^Cathy makes a very good point here. "the economic impact of the industry".

The principal driver of our society is very much based on people spending. The less people spend, the worse off we are. The reason for this (IMO) is that the stability we have (401k, employment itself) is either via giant corporations, or the millions of small businesses who thrive off of these corporations. The corporations are judged based on GROWTH – that is the ability to continue to meet or exceed earnings. Because of the fluidity and efficiency of the contemporary equity trading environment, to miss earnings, or not to grow at a fast enough rate spells doom. As such, there is an active search for new and different things (they call this “innovation” in corporate America) which will help secure double digit growth.

In a way, fashion is the template for everything today. The new must replace the old. Cell phones, computers, Plasma TVs, Cars, everything is designed to quickly go out of style or use. I remember when my grandmother would send the TV out to be repaired. There were places that repaired appliances. Now, of course, we just buy a replacement.

I am not alone in feeling that this is an unsustainable situation. And I find its near universal acceptance, in a word “ridiculous”. Unfortunately for me, and maybe for us all, I don’t think things are going to change any time soon. And yes, given that, fashion is a huge part of our economy and to rail against it is probably futile if not foolish.

Luckily for me, if I’m playing the fool….it’s a role I was born to play.

10:51 AM  

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