It’s unfortunate, but reactions to an interest in fashion can often be dismissive and condescending. The go to slur among some in society is the ridiculing of people who like to wear designer clothes, shoes and bags. The implication being that if you like these things you are somehow morally bankrupt, are not socially conscious, are vain and have the intellectual capacity of a dung beetle. Yet some of these same people can been seen at Colombo Fashion Week pushing their way through to demand FROW seating, alighting from insanely expensive cars and even work in the design field. The hypocrisy is flagrant and doesn’t go unnoticed.
In a world struggling with income inequality, driven by deep social divisions and battling a pandemic, the often-forgotten concept is of fashion as legitimate art. Fashion seems to be judged much more harshly than other forms of art. Film, music, and literature all rely, to an extent, on fashion.
Fashion, historically, has rarely been seen in the same light as painting, music, sculpture or architecture, even though it’s one of the purest expressions of art. It’s living art, think of it as performance theatre. The person wearing it is having a conversation with the designer and an audience. It helps us visually communicate our personalities who we think we are and who we want to be. It’s the manifestation of human art and communication. Fashion and trends are important cultural reflectors, especially for women.
Fashion and art have a symbiotic relationship. Everything that exists and surrounds us is a product of the society we live in. Who we are, what we see, and what we experience is interconnected and interrelated! You can get a snapshot or insight into of a culture or time period by the paintings it produces as by the clothing it uses for individual and collective expression.
Fashion has always been used to send messages, some subtle and others quite blatant. Watching Melania Trump when she was First Lady was fascinating, politics aside, she really chose to speak through her sartorial choices. Most infamously in 2018, in the early days of the Trump administration separating migrant children from their families and detaining them at the border, she boarded a plane wearing a Zara jacket that read "I Really Don't Care, Do You?" It was a tone-deaf statement that spoke volumes.
On leaving the White House after Trump’s defeat, Melania stood out with her decidedly funereal ensemble. She wore a Chanel black cropped jacket with gold buttons, paired with a pencil skirt and black Louboutin’s, and oversized Bottega sunglasses. She also carried a black crocodile skin Hermes Birkin bag. Absolutely stunning and conveyed the not-so-subtle message that the she believes country is heading towards demise and it also dominated the headlines and overshadowed the outfit of the incoming First Lady.
More recently when the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, decided to speak her truth to Oprah, she wore a black Armani dress with a white floral pattern on it that unfortunately resembled a big splotch of bird droppings. It sparked hundreds of memes, and fashion pundits questioned whether it was subtle messaging of the after-effects of the interview, on the Monarchy.
Tellingly the day after the interview, The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, wore a Pepto pink top and coat to a public engagement. Pink is associated with cheerfulness, optimism and healing.
Just as knights selected armor to convey varying degrees of terror, the modern woman too selects outfits based on the message she wishes to convey. For all intents and purposes, fashion is about how you look, which unfortunately lends itself to the charge of vanity. And while no one would bother arguing that five-inch stilettos are actually quite practical and comfortable, their purpose isn’t to be useful, it’s to look fabulous, make the wearer feel incredible (at least for the first hour before the crippling pain begins to set it in).
Whether you think it’s vanity or just human self-expression, no one is removed from fashion, absolutely everyone makes sartorial choices. Whether you care about fashion or not, what you wear and how you look is how you present yourself to the world. In the words of Miuccia Prada, “Fashion is an instant language.” It immediately communicates how you want to be seen, and surely, designer duds or not that shouldn’t be thought of as frivolous.