20 August 2006

Highfalutin Hyperbole?

Today my mother sat down next to me and said, "I trust that you are not a catty person, so I have an honest question for you." Oh no, I thought, this will not be good. "Well," she continued nervously, "I just wonder what the difference is between your interest in fashion and the average high school cattiness? It seems that sitting back and judging people's clothing and sizing them up is very catty." Oh... this conversation again.

I think every fashion lover has had to justify herself at least once. I find myself tire quickly of saying things like, "It's not about judging people! It's about appreciating beauty!" Or something equally trite sounding. Part of me feels incensed that I should have to defend what seems so obvious to me. But when I can step back far enough to assess the fashion industry with an unbiased eye, I can indeed see the "high school cattiness" that my mom refers to.

It's exclusive, elitist, unattainable, wasteful, obscenely wealthy, fickle, hot and cold, judgmental, mean, unforgiving and all-consuming. But as I spew adjectives, I realize how each one could be tagged on to just about anything. As an industry, fashion is cutthroat. But so is stockbroking. So is politics. So is the educational system. So is the healthcare system.

But, fashion is also exciting, inspiring, creative, innovative (at times), era-defining, revolution-starting, politically openminded, culturally vast, universal, border-blurring, individuality-encouraging and peaceful.

Art defines a generation. Art is supposed to be a snapshot of the world, or hold a mirror to the world. What is fashion if not an everchanging snapshot of the everchanging world? When I study history, which is one of my favorite subjects, I'm always curious to know what people wore, because what people wear says so much about them.

Looking at a magazine, it might immediately seem too superficial and commercial-driven to contain art. But if you can filter that out, and just focus the clothes and the amount of talent and inspiration they required, suddenly it's not so obscene. A magazine consolidates the artistic efforts of a group of likeminded designer and photographer contemporaries. How is that different from a coffee table book on Impressionism that consolidates the work of Monet, Renoir and Degas? Art history majors and art lovers know exactly what the Impressionists contributed to their art. Fashion majors and lovers know exactly what Chanel, Givenchy, Balenciaga and Dior contributed to their art.

Fashion is not just vanity, it's about expression. It's an extension of Expressionism. Clothing is the tangible fruit of Expressionism that serves an individual's desire to speak her mind. Just like an art lover decorates her house with her favorite paintings, a fashion lover studies her favorite artists and cloaks herself in the artist's work.

This is all beginning to sound melodramatic and self-important, and I don't intend to be highfalutin. I really am struggling to define my interest in fashion. I only know that I hate feeling like I have to validate it when it's been such a crucial part of culture in the modern world.

Is anyone with me?


Amy said...

I agree with all of your postings...you read my mind! I go to a design school, where most people are studying fashion, so pretty much everyone at my school views fashion as an important force. But I am constantly having to stand up for the classes I take because people who go to other colleges think they are a joke (example: People ask me if all we do in class is read fashion magazines). My reply is...look around you. Everyone is wearing clothes - clothes they choose for particular reasons. Like it or not, fashion is part of everyday life, and it influences everyone. So yes, I completely agree with you - I, too, am tired of having to validate my interest in fashion.

claudie said...

Totally, totally with you. The fashion industry and fashion magazines have such a reputation for bitchiness, elitism etc., but reading Fashion Babylon the other day I suddenly realised that the (non-fashion) industries I have worked in are at least as bitchy and elitist and silly in their own ways. It's just human nature. At least fashion leaves something pretty - and, as you say, historically fascinating - behind. Really well said. Great blog.

Margot said...

I agree with you 100%. I can't exactly afford to cloak myself in my favourite artists' works but I can still admire it.

sweatytechnique said...

Well spoken, clothing obsessed one.
Well spoken and true.

Casey said...

I totally agree with you, and I too am sick and tired if having to justify myself to others. I finally started giving the flippant answer, "I'm not judging people by what they do, just what they wear!" Ha! It seems to stop people in their tracks.

Do you mind if I post this entry on my MySpace Blog? I'll definately link it back to you!