“You’re interested in fashion?” The rhetorical question is pronounced in a high-pitched tone that makes it sound more like “faSHION?” as judgmental eyes run themselves over my clothing as they secretly assess the value (none, obviously) of indulging myself in such a superficial pastime.
When we think of fashion, we think of a frivolous, lucrative industry that prides itself in the glorification of the exterior. We think of glossy Marie Claire explorations into the meaning of the new trend of three earing holes as opposed to two; we think of the Victoria Secret spectacles of bikini-wearing models, we think of the circus of Fashion Week street style where ordinary people transform into gigantic-hat-wearing, towering-high-heel-sporting Martians for the sake of ‘style’.
But to distill fashion to ‘models’ or ‘trends’ or even ‘style’ would be on par with reducing an entire personality to one adjective. It would be calling Jay Gatsby ‘nice’, or Mr.Darcy ‘mean’. It is simplifying the multidimensional character of fashion, and the adjective this simplification commonly leads to is ‘shallow’.
Is fashion shallow? Yes. But, is fashion deep? Yes. In the postmodernist world, those two aren’t mutually exclusive. In the words of Karl Lagerfeld, “Fashion is a language that creates itself in clothes to interpret reality.” Beyond the façade of fashion as the self-serving indulgence it seems to be, fashion is our most important medium of expression. And everything is an expression of fashion: whether an acceptance of fashion or a rejection of it, its deterministic quality is simply unavoidable as long as we continue to wear clothing (and even if we don’t: I’m sure many would agree that public nudity definitely makes an unforgettable statement). Across the civilizations and eras of intellectual thinking, there has never been a more widely understood, commonly accepted language than that of fashion: the signifier of class hierarchy, the grammar of intention, the vocabulary of society and the metaphor for life.
This may seem obvious to you. And yet, the concept of fashion as a metaphor confers it some level of intellectualism that people seem unwilling to acknowledge. The high-pitched incredulity of “you spend your spare time thinking about fashion?” never fails to amaze me, considering art never faces the same censure when both are metaphors and interpretations of life and in fact, fashion – being the more accessible of the two – may have greater relevance.
Society’s denial of fashion’s intellectual side may be a metaphor in itself: a metaphor for sexism. In the language of fashion, gender roles are full stops that constrict women and men to their respective vocabularies, and it just so happens that the vocabulary of female clothing is more diverse and more articulate than a male’s. Fashion is a sign with a signifier generally of female dress, and the signified is of frivolity in contrast to a man’s more serious work ethic. The invalidation of the importance of fashion is the invalidation of the only area wherein females have a societal advantage over males, and where their voices are heard louder and given greater importance.
Now one may say that most famous designers – Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Christian Dior, Riccardo Tisci – are men, but one must never forget that clothing is mostly made for female markets, and the range of clothing for females far outnumbers that of males – take the Met Ball 2013 as an example. Whilst ‘fashion’ ranged from Beyonce in her Givenchy strapless dress to Stella Tennant in her G.Valli pantsuit to Kim Kardashian in her flowered…monstrosity, the world’s most fashionable males were reduced to a homogenous blend of black tux after black tux after black tux. The expression of style is severely limited for men, and for them fashion as a metaphor may indeed seem to be a preposterous idea.
However, the patriarchal society is one that has seen its power beginning to fade. And to seize on the idea of intellectual fashion isn’t just a statement on feminism, or a statement on equality: it’s an acknowledgment of an existing, unavoidable concept. Fashion is a metaphor: what it means is for you to decide.