Some of you may have seen Tanya Gold’s article on why she hates fashion a few weeks back. It’s been slagged pretty universally and all the bloggers’ reactions I’ve seen have been pretty defensive. I think this is due to the way it’s been framed as an all out attack on fashion, by the intro and the question at the end. Obviously lots of people love fashion and won’t take very well to being described as mindless oppressed drones.
But actually, I think the article is just Tanya Gold’s story of her relationship with designer clothes and her decision in the end not to bother. It’s a pretty powerful personal story, it’s just the way it has been framed makes it seem like some sort of attack on everyone who likes fashion. Yes, there are a few ridiculous assumptions in there (The claim that the girl died because she was wearing high heels is taking the Guardian into scary Daily Mail territory, and if she had left that out, it would have improved the article no end). I don’t think you can tell everyone else that they should stop liking fashion, but if she personally wants to reject it (and it’s not as if she hasn’t thought it through) then that’s fine too. All the comments attacking her body size and the clothes she’s wearing in the photo are just horrible.
But what actually interested me more than the ins and outs of Tanya’s article was the question they put underneath it:
Do you think that fashion is oppressive to women – and men – or should we celebrate it as a source of fun and self-expression?
Why is it a question of either/or? Is anyone seriously suggesting that it is possible to come down completely on one side? I mean, OBVIOUSLY it is always both at the same time, though with a different balance for different people and in different contexts.
Evidence abounds that the fashion industry is pretty racist, sexist, sizist and ableist. And it’s also not exactly falling over itself to change, with all the different parts of the industry blaming each other rather than actually making a positive change. And yes, many underage models live in appalling conditions and risk their long term health. And I’m not sure there are many people who would argue that the fashion media’s representation of idealised bodies is entirely blameless for the increase in disordered eating and body image related mental illness. And the accellerating cycle of trends and the acceptance of bags that cost as much as the average monthly wage as ‘must have’ surely plays a part in the exponential growth of personal debt and all the consequences that has. And the environmental impact of churning out clothes that are worn twice then go to landfill. So yeah, the fashion industry, knowlingly or not, mobilises some social forces that are pretty oppressive and therefore probably does deserve its own death star.
But at the same time its undenaible that fashion is fun! Of course it is, that’s why so many people love it and clever, socially aware people (such as me, ha!) too. Liking fashion does not make you a dupe or an airhead, and it’s perfectly possible to recognise the oppressive tendencies in the fashion industry and still love fashion. For the great majority of people, it’s a hobby, a way of expressing themselves and defining their identity. And at it’s best, fashion is art, a creative practice that challenges they way we see the world.
I think it also makes sense to distinguish between different types of fashion (or between fashion and style). A lot of the problematic things (the ever accellerating cycle of trends, the idea that new is always best, the pressure to ‘keep up’, the over-marketing of the same old ideas, the assumption that people will wear anything if the designers say so) is all about the fashion industry’s cycle of seasons. And if you define fashion in that way, I actually don’t care for it much (and it seems I’m not the only one who isn’t so inspired by high fashion). I don’t follow the designer shows, I don’t read blogs that are about fashion trends, I am actually not aware of trends until they are so big they come and hit me over the head with a hammer.
But I LOVE clothes. I like playing with them, mixing them up, adapting them, trying out different shapes and colours. I enjoy thinking about the possibilities of different clothes, and planning my outfits. I like that I have built up the skills to identify quality regardless of price. Sometimes I even follow trends. I loved the big shoulder thing last year, and will keep going with it. Other trends I have no time for (like the current neutrals trend, not for me!), but I still like having the options that I can incorporate into my personal style if I want. Or not. I like that I have, after all this time, built up a recognisable style that is mine and noone elses. It’s a way of bringing art into my everyday life. If you define fashion that way, then I love fashion, absolutely.
So maybe we should stop seing the world in such black and white terms, no? Rejecting fashion as a whole seems a bit of an extreme reaction to what are (hopefully) solvable problems.