Tuesday, February 2, 2010

there's more to fashion than fashion

by frédérik sisa

My column this week at The Front Page Online is all about the uproar surrounding figure skater Johnny Weir’s now-rescinded plans to wear fox fur at the Olympics, With all the talk of rules both obeyed and broken around here, it seems like a good place to leap from in thinking about fashion as something more than just fashion.

There is, of course, the issue of luxury versus necessity; we don’t need to wear fur, so why abuse and kill an animal for it when we have synthetic alternatives? But, Johnny Weir notwithstanding, that’s a bit easy. What about footwear? Plastics can be tough on tootsies; chafing, unyielding, merciless. Throw in the chemistry of manufacturing shoes, and synthetic footwear can be a problem for the environment. Leather, however, is often flexible, breathable, and (more or less) able to stretch to accommodate the foot’s form. Yet it requires killing animals in large enough quantities to meet the demand. The choice, even for vegans, can be a challenge when considering the bigger environmental picture. Thankfully, there are more opportunities for us to buy shoes made of hemp and kindred materials, thus bypassing to some extent the leather vs. synthetics dilemma. And, as a movement becoming increasingly entrenched among innovative independents, eco-conscious footwear and clothes are becoming the baseline instead of the margins. Also notable is the increased popularity of vintage raids and DIY.

This next one is fairly obvious, but worth mentioning nonetheless. Take the fashion industry’s obsession with the toothpicks and the photoshopped, throw it into the media blender and voila, you get a self-esteem shake chock-full of insecurity. And insecurity undermines style as a means of confident self-expression, not to forget the devastating disorders that also occur. To what extent does supporting certain brands, design houses, retails stores, and boutiques – never mind the fashion magazines – reinforce an overall mindset of fitting people to the clothes instead of fitting clothes to the people?

A related issue involves putting the words “class” and “warfare” together in an unlikely combination for a fashion blog. Yet, clearly, different economic classes have access to different fashion styles and craftsmanship. One aspect of this is quality: a $30 pair of shoes is very rarely as durable and precisely constructed as a $200 pair of shoes. We can ask, however, at what point price and quality lose all correlation. Is a $1,000 pair of shoes distinctly better than a $300 pair?

Another aspect is the paradox of a society that judges based on appearances, fashion operates along the same lines as the adage that it takes money to make money. If you look poor, you will be treated as if you are poor. If you look rich, you will be lavished with attention befitting royalty. It’s a question of opportunities not just missed, but denied.

It would be easy to go on, but I think the point is made: there’s more to fashion than fashion. While the rules of style can be made and unmade with equal ease, there’s some serious consideration that needs to happen if fashion is to be a positive human endeavour instead of yet another expression of consumerism. That is another reason to be galled by Johnny Weir and his fur fetish, because his refusal to acknowledge the often complex corollary issues of fashion showcases the worse, most callous and indifferent side of the fashion industry.

What do you think? Beyond your view of whether a piece of clothing or an accessory looks good, what issues matter to you when you decide what to buy?


Aqua said...

Great post, Frederik. I always consider whether or not the design house actually cares about its customers. ie: Steve Madden's shoes are cute (knockoffs) but deadly to women's feet so I know his company doesn't care about the product/customer relationship. Whereas Donna Karan's thoughtful design style will cover flaws and make women feel flattered and beautiful. Very considerate. So even if I like the product, if the Designer is too arrogant to design for the wearers, I won't make an exception or purchase.

Frederik Sisa said...

Absolutely! That's a very good point, Aqua. The quality of a company's character - how it does business - is also crucial.

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