Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dedicated Followers of Fashion

 Like most bloggers, I have those blogs I read regularly and those I read now and again. In the latter category falls a cat of an impossible colourI enjoy reading it because A Cat of an Impossible Colour sometimes posts about her writing (she has a novel coming out in 2011) and her cat Mink (as anyone who has read this blog knows, I love cats). The reason I only read a cat of an impossible colour now and again is because it is first and foremost a blog about vintage fashion. Being a somewhat stereotypical male, my interest in fashion, even vintage fashion, is somewhat limited. I am interested in the fashions of the Victorian Era, the Twenties, and especially Swinging London, but I cannot say I am a dedicated follower of fashion by any means. That having been said, I do respect those who are. After all, while I haven't written much about fashion in this blog, it is very much a part of pop culture. As a pop culture buff and a history buff, I can understand those who are interested in vintage fashion.

It was over a week ago that A Cat of Impossible Colour posted an entry defending an interest in fashion. The gist of this post was that one should not have to give up an interest in fashion or a sense of style to be taken seriously. Quite simply, an interest in fashion does not mean that one is shallow or vain, or lack intelligence. While my interest in fashion is somewhat limited, I happen to agree with her whole heartedly. I know plenty of people who are interested in fashion, and none of them can I say is shallow, vain, or unintelligent.

Indeed, it seems odd to me that someone would even think to class those interested in fashion as shallow, vain, or unintelligent. People do not make these same judgements about an interest in movies, TV shows, books, or music. And like movies, TV shows, books, or music,  fashion is very much a part of pop culture. Just think about it. Certain fashions will bring to mind certain eras of history just as certain songs or movies or TV shows will. Even when they are long out of style, we tend to remember certain fashions to the point that they have become part of our collective unconscious.

In fact, much like other pop culture artefacts such as movies or TV shows or books, fashion can also be an indicator of an era's standards and mores. By way of example, the Twenties were a time of breaking with tradition, an emphasis on modernity, and changes in society ranging from urbanisation to sexual liberation. This was reflected in the fashions of the era. Dresses not only had hemlines that were scandalously high by the standards of earlier eras, but even bared women's shoulders and arms. Suits with long, tight waisted jackets and drainpipe trousers came into fashion for men. These fashions were a reflection of the modernity, the changes in society, and the liberality of the era. By contrast, the Fifties were a much more conservative era. The hemlines of dresses during the Fifties were actually lower than what they had been in the Forties. Dresses tended to be tight to the waist before falling into a full skirt. As for men's fashions, this was the era of the grey flannel suit. Those suits tended to be simpler than the ones of the Forties and not only had shorter jackets, but shorter trousers as well. The fashions of the Fifties then reflected the conservatism of the era. It is for that reason that many who are interested in history or nostalgia are also often interested in vintage fashion as well. Nothing exists in a vacuum. The fashions of a given era will reflect the standards and mores of that time.

Of course, there is another reason not to look down on those with an interest in fashion. It is not often one hears fashion classified as an art, but I see no reason it should not. After all, the work of industrial designers such as Charles and Ray Eames and Viktor Schreckengost have long begin regarded as art. If industrial design can be regarded as an art, then why not fashion? After all, much like painting or sculpture or writing, fashion design is essentially an act of creativity. Like any other artist, the fashion designer must take an idea and turn it into a reality that will be appealing to the human eye. It as much about aesthetics as it is creating something that people can wear. In fact, I must point out that there was a time when fashion was regarded as much of an art as painting. Late 19th century fashion designer Paul Poiret was friends with the painter Francis Picabia and he employed artists such as Paul Iribe to illustrate his fashions. He even collected paintings. It was not unusual for fashion to be displayed in international expeditions, such as the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, alongside other works of art. Although today we don't tend to think of fashion as art, there is little reason not to. Indeed, it can be argued that the classic fashion designers, from Coco Chanel to Hollywood's legendary Edith Head were artists. If fashion is to be regarded as an art, then there is no reason to belittle an interest in it, any more than interest in any other art form.

Of course, I just mentioned Coco Chanel and Edith Head, which brings me to another point. Both Coco Chanel and Edith Head were strong willed, independent, and intelligent women who made their own careers. Not only were both women obviously interested in couture, they made a living from it--Coco Chanel designing distinctly modern clothing in the Twenties and Thirties, Edith Head designing costumes for Hollywood. Neither of them could be said to be shallow and certainly neither of them could be said to be unintelligent. Coco Chanel made millions from her fashions and even designed the most famous perfume of all time (Chanel No. 5). Edith Head won eight Academy Awards, more than any woman in the history of film, and was so well regarded that in the late Seventies the government asked her to design the women's uniform for the United States Coast Guard. These were two women who were nobody's fools, and yet they made a living from fashion. They would seem to be proof that an interest in fashion is not indicative of a lack of intelligence!

Even if an interest in fashion were to be considered entirely frivolous, it seems to me that would still be no reflection on the intelligence or depth of an individual. The fact is that human beings are complex animals who often need to escape from the stress and pressures of existence. For some this might be through watching television. For others it may be through sports. For yet others this may be through fashion. The desire for entertainment of some sort, something we can enjoy, is universal to all humanity, whether the individual is intelligent or, well, not intelligent. Even if it was judged frivolous (and I see no reason it should be), an interest in fashion should be used to judge someone no more than interest in comic books, music, sports, or what have you.

While I cannot say I am overly interested in fashion, then, I can fully identify with those who are. Fashion is a part of pop culture and it has contributed something to modern, Anglo-American society. While it may not seem overly important to some, I do not think cannot be faulted for having an interest in it.

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