The art of getting dressed

by liv barnes ~

The wider world perceives fashion as frivolity that should be done away with. The point is that fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. – Bill Cunningham,

The dreaded question of “hobbies” was a topic of conversation that was constantly thrown around whilst chatting to adults and parents’ friends and one that had the immediate ability to make me squirm inside. Not being the most athletic or artistic of folk, it was an interesting question…what were my hobbies ? I mean, I knew what first sprung to mind…but I just had this funny feeling that that didn’t really count as a hobby or interesting interest. Am I judging myself or is there a general view that an interest in fashion is vacuous, frivolous and vain? Perhaps the answer is both or perhaps it is not something that people give any thought to… However, as someone who would say (if I didn’t feel so shallow for doing so) that fashion is one of my main interests and hobbies (yes, I do think it is a hobby) I think there is definitely some kind of intellectual snootiness about an interest in fashion.

Perhaps this is because of the very real problem of the industry’s environmental impact and its ongoing mistreatment of workers. These are both areas that have to be addressed, and I do not deny this, however, as an expert in neither field, I am not going to try and present solutions to this here. I also wonder whether people look down on fashion because I suppose we have to be honest and ask ourselves what the point is of designing and making clothes that are unwearable…Comme des Garcons’ Fall 2017 Ready-to-Wear Collection springs to mind here, as do many of Lee Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood’s collections. But then, what is the point, really, of designing and making ornamental sculptures ? Why would I feel less intellectual in confessing to an interest in the creations of Maria Grazia Chiuri than I would to those of Dame Barbara Hepworth, for example? Surely both women produce pieces of immense beauty with complex influences and important ideas to convey. It just so happens that some of the former’s can also be purchased and worn.

I have been building a case in my head for some time about why people really shouldn’t look down their noses at an interest in fashion, and why I think it is actually pretty damn important. Again, I know there are some serious flaws in the industry, and I do not deny these but I also know that fashion is not the only flawed industry, and do believe that there is some real progress being made, though of course there is still far to go.

Articles, books and podcasts have reassured me that there are plenty of fellow fashion disciples, each with nuanced beliefs and examples of why fashion is so important. Ruby Redstone talks about just how much we can learn about a historical period through the clothing created and worn during it. Looking at more recent history, Christian Dior’s post-war creations with their exceptionally voluminous skirts and tiny waists are not only representative of the prosperity that meant fabric could be bought in excess, but also of a nostalgia for glamour and ‘femininity’ which had made way for practicality during the 20s and 30s. Studying a dress from a certain era is much like studying its government records, but just a little more tangible, accessible, and dare I say enjoyable!? Clothing has been and still is also a powerful vehicle for political messages; think Trump’s State of the Union speech in 2019, to which all the female US democrats wore white or the purple, green and white which we still associate with the Suffragette movement today.

Coco Chanel sums it up quite eloquently, saying “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only; fashion is something in the air. It’s the wind that blows in the new fashion: you smell it. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening”.

Then, so does Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada when she chastises Andy for revealing her intellectual snobbery against the fashion industry by laughing at the idea of having to choose between two (admittedly) similar blue belts. The Runway Editor sums up just perfectly the intricacies of the fashion industry and points out not only how high fashion works its way into the day-to-day of even the most uninterested Joe Bloggs but also how important it is as a cog in the global economy.

“OK, I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select that lumpy, loose sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back, but what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue. It’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns, and then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent who showed cerulean military jackets, and then cerulean quickly shot up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it filtered down through department stores, and then trickled on down onto some tragic Casual Corner where you no doubt fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs, and it’s sort of comical how you think you made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.”

I digress, I digress.

Although I strongly believe there are valid historical, political and social reasons that fashion, and an interest in clothing should not be dismissed as frivolous. I think that perhaps it doesn’t even need to be over-intellectualised…am I contradicting myself ?!

This morning, lying in bed reading Alexandra Shulman musing on the idea that a suit, in matching your top half to your bottom, can make you more efficient, I thought that perhaps the most important thing about fashion and clothes is what they can do for the mind…Excuse me if I sound a little too ‘21st Century’. Let me expand…this morning, as I deliberated getting out of bed, I thought shall I just get into my gym kit…or shall I try and get something good together with that waistcoat I haven’t worn in a while? Like many people, the past year has been a mountainous journey of  ups and downs, and, I am convinced that on the days I have got up and put some thought into my outfit (even on days that I will see no one but the ‘bouncer’ at Sainsbury’s) I am a better, happier and more productive version of myself. I can only speak for myself, but I’d eat my hat (beret, in case you were wondering) if this wasn’t true for others too; clothes are a reflection of my personality, my mood and are the creative output that I make use of most frequently. Putting an outfit together is satisfying and fulfilling and it is my little work of art that I create for myself at the start of the day; like all art, it is not always to everyone’s taste, but I feel much better for creating it.