Fashion matters. I love how Frances Corner started her book “Why Fashion Matters” that way, and that’s how I want to start this blog. It’s a statement, not a question. It’s undeniable that fashion matters.
Anthropologists study the textiles and clothing of different cultures. Psychologists study the way that the clothes we wear influence our self-perception and cognitive abilities. Employers and dictators alike have historically used uniforms to promote obedience and conformity. Because fashion matters.
When people talk about The Fashion Industry, they’re referring to the multiple industries that make the materials (wool, cotton, leather, nylon, on and on and on), design and produce the clothes and accessories, and then advertise and sell the products. It employs millions of people and is worth over $1 trillion worldwide. The fashion industry’s annual GDP is more than that of the entire United Kingdom. For further discussion of GDPs (what they are, how they’re calculated, etc.) seek an economist. Sorry; I am definitely not that guy.
Okay, I’m done pandering to people who need economic justification for why fashion is important. I don’t really think that something needs to be a huge global economy to be worthy of my love and interest, but if that’s your thing then fashion is for you too.
Economic significance aside, we live our lives in fashion. Fashion is self-expression that every person who wears clothes is almost forced to participate in. Whether it’s an haute couture gown or a band t-shirt from the mall, the clothes that we choose to wear tell the world a number of things about us: our interests, our profession, our mood, our community. Even people who claim they don’t care about fashion tell us information about themselves with their clothing choices. More on that in a later post.
Most of us participate in the world of fashion by buying and wearing clothes, but some lucky people are allowed to participate in the design and creation of clothes. Perhaps the best example of the importance of this side of fashion is haute couture. Haute couture is high quality, often custom-made clothing that is usually created entirely by hand by tailors who are probably secretly magicians. This is the most cliché example, but just look at this Chanel wedding “ensemble”:
Those are hand-embroidered beads. That’s art. Fashion is wearable art. I saw this at the Manus x Machina exhibition at the Met, and it was all I could do not to lay on top of it and weep. Thankfully I restrained myself; I don’t want Andrew Bolton to know me like that.
Haute couture gives artists a platform to push the boundaries of creativity while preserving the traditional practice of creating clothing by hand. I think there’s something so human about haute couture — dedicating so many resources to making one piece of clothing in a time of human history that’s defined by mass production and instant gratification says that we still highly value craftsmanship and artistry even when it’s inconvenient.
There are darker sides to the fashion industry; it’s not all creativity, self-expression, and embroidered beads. Fashion’s legacy is stained with issues like its negative environmental impact, use of forced labor, and promotion of distorted body image. It’s a complex community that both celebrates women and subjugates them. I don’t want to ignore these problems, and I think we should talk about them in detail in future posts. However unacceptable these current realities are, to me they further emphasize the impact that fashion has on the world and can have on our future.
After all that, I don’t think I can say it any better than Frances Corner did:
“Fashion matters. To the economy, to society and to each of us personally. Faster than anything else, what we wear tells the story of who we are — or who we want to be. Fashion is the most immediate and intimate form of self-expression.”
Fashion matters. Now let’s talk about it.