Fashion: An Enthusiast's Look into the Industry
Walking through the ornate streets of Paris, it is apparent that fashion and all its implied frivolity is revered in the City of Lights. It is deeply ingrained in Parisian culture, shaping a part of the city’s identity and attracting tourists and influencers in the fashion world. Yet when I speak of fashion and my pure love for its wondrous complexities, I am often written off as frivolous, or simply feel embarrassed to admit my devotion to fashion in the face of others’ pursuits of diplomatic authority, historical analysis, or medicine. Do other professions prove themselves more ‘worthy’ or ‘academic’ than fashion? Why has fashion itself, a vital part of the everyday life, become seen as having such a low status in academia?
Physical art forms such as painting and sculpture also cherish the impractical nature of innate beauty so associated with fashion, yet are still respected in academia. Clothing provides a different, more accessible medium in which to display this. The user can proudly exhibit their art, an extension of their personality, to whomever they pass by on a given day. Fashion can be ridiculous, and the clothing industry itself can be steeped in a consumerist agenda, but it is the choice of what to wear in the morning which allows fashion to be art.
The Paris metro undeniably contains its fair share of people-watching. Different characters get on and off at each stop, with no shortage of eye-catching cashmere, perfectly-tucked tuxedos, and swathed scarfs to grace the cramped compartments. I enjoy listening to music, my headphones firmly secured as I watch these striking combinations, as if it were a soundtrack to a musical about the great Parisian public train system itself. I find it fascinating to try and understand why each person donned what they did each morning, if their image affected the mood du jour, or if they received any compliments on the clothing decisions they made.
In her article “Museum Quality: Rise of the Fashion Exhibition,” Valerie Steele takes note of fashion’s low status in academia, even pointing out that, to many, “fashion seemed ‘unworthy’ of entering the museum …”, which is a societal institution greatly respected and revered in the world of academia (9). It is therefore natural for the public to resist the display of fashion in museum exhibitions; such displays have deep ties to the consumerist clothing industry. Clothing plays an important role in the presentation of one’s self in society, but in this context, fashion is not regarded as a vital art form simply due to its commonplace nature. Instead, it becomes associated with a consumerist part of modern civilization, or else sheer frivolity.
Yet fashion provides a broad creative outlet, not only for the designers but also for the wearers of the clothing. The world of vêtements opens doors to museum curators, writers, photographers, and many more who are passionate about a world of eloquently-draped fabrics and endless combinations. Clothes are a vessel for designers’ creative endeavors, much like a canvas is for an artist. Therefore, fashion, considered as an art form, pertains more to the great combinations and possibilities of clothes rather than the clothes themselves. The question of the academic value of fashion is naturally linked to the consumerist side of the industry. It is a system inherently designed to profit off of the need for more and more clothes in daily life: needs change based upon weather, trends, and the wearing-out of garments. Yet, the clothing industry and fashion are entirely different things. Fashion is an art of not only the creation of garments, but the art of wearing and styling them, versus the mere consumption of the clothing industry.
Additionally, fashion is extremely political, and can often spark small revolutions in the way people wear the garments, or in how the public reacts to the message behind them. For instance, particularly in the last few years, slogans pertaining to feminism and equality has frequented the runways of big-name designers, and have pushed brands to become more transparent in their political opinions. Brands themselves have also taken stands to cut out the use of real fur, as at Stella McCartney, and refused to dress certain political figures due to their actions in government, as with Ivanka Trump. Logos and fashion companies thus create their own distinct communities unique in their influence on the industry and their approach to style and physical presentation of clothing. Brands cultivate cult followings through a targeted aesthetic, and as seen in the shocking switching of creative directors for the popular French label CÉLINE, can even create a following so loyal that people refuse new designs which do not fit the intended or original aesthetic. People build their lives in the fashion world, researching past designs and garments, pulling from their individual archive of knowledge to build an opinion and analysis on new collections, and depending upon their creativity to make a life for themselves, just as any artist or traditionally-recognized academic.
I believe that style and fashion are truly accessible to the average person, and that it is the inherent power of designer labels that turn fashion itself into an enigmatic, and an exclusive phenomenon that many associate with the expensive forms of consumption, and elitist tendencies. Thrift stores and hand-me-downs can be as equally developed into a memorable outfit as an haute couture designer piece because it is the intent of personal expression that is important in defining fashion as a concept. Fashion is a presentation of self which allows for the physical expression of one’s own personality and style in the context of clothing. Trends and other phenomenons occur under the broad umbrella of fashion, but this does not mean that one’s personal use of clothing needs to follow trends or the expensive dictates of designer fashion labels.
When I pick out my clothes I imagine my ensemble for the next day as I fall asleep, each item of clothing an element in a broader equation that will become my presented self for a whole 12 to 18 hours. I carefully factor in fit, color, pattern, relevancy, weather, and various other considerations with each predicted outfit, until I land upon the perfect combination, which ultimately does impact my day and any interaction with the city. It is a delicious and addictive puzzle that can keep me up at night, but for me, it is a necessity. Fashion is an integral part not only of my physical appearance but of the ways in which I act and participate in society.