less progress

This is an idea I’ve been thinking about lately. My own design “style” has been on a steady track towards simpler, archetypal ideas… stripping the fashion away from clothing and trying to eliminate the temporal obsolescence traditionally built into fashion.

Now, I love fashion and love hanging out with fashion people but they don’t necessarily “get” my silly ideas. “People are looking for something new, something different,” I get told, despite the fact I am surrounded on the street with people wearing dull, expected clothing, or occasionally, bright and interesting clothing rehashed from some other decade.

Here’s a thought. The fashion-forward woman already has plenty of choice. She doesn’t need another designer competing for her jaded eye.

It seems to me that most people are overwhelmed by too much choice – and they don’t get served. I am constantly seeking clothing that will last me for many years, be versatile, simple, easy to care for, and above all functional. The criteria “new” and “different” are nowhere on my list of desirable attributes and I believe I am not the only one. I don’t need to be presented with a zillion different options because I’ve already made my choice, it is singular, it is obvious, and it ought to be available.

“The fashion business runs on novelty,” I am told and I won’t dispute that. The ebb and flow of (relative) novelty produces the trends that live and die in such fascinating succession. As I said earlier the designs I am envisioning are not fashion.

“Will people buy it?” is the hundred thousand dollar question. The very idea of a line of timeless archetypes suggests the opposite kind of sales pattern than the fast fashion we have become used to. Instead of constant, implusive consumption, the choice to purchase archetypal designs would be extremely deliberate and infrequent, as my own shopping patterns are.

In fact, if I was to produce such a line I would want to discourage overconsumption. I would limit the availability, focus entirely on fit and quality so purchases could be staggered by five or ten years instead of a few weeks.

I don’t blame fashion people for finding my ideas mystifying because I am purposefully slaughtering some of fashion’s sacred cows. The seasonal treadmill fashion runs on demands consumption, obsolescence, novelty, change, and always progress and growth.

How did I become interested in these ideas?

When I try to look into the future as a fashionophile, I don’t see this treadmill leading anywhere. In fact, I can’t help but feel as technology complexifies, turnover times shrink, and trends become tired before they even hit the shop windows, that we are about to enter the unthinkable – a regressive age.

In the near future it is apparent that we will have less resources, less mobility, less productivity and less choice. No one wants to admit that we are entering an age of regression. We want this amazing golden age to continue along its path of exponential growth and we ignore the ceiling of limitation – namely the finite resources of the Earth.

Some well-meaning activists suggest that if we make “better” choices in aggregate the eventuality of reversed progress can be slowed or even avoided but these exhortations don’t fill me with hope. They still rely on the idea of improved technology whose development is deceptively resource heavy, or the green consumer movement, a contradiction of terms which only gets more complicated the closer it gets examined.

As I ride my train of thought into darkness I find myself becoming comfortable with belonging to a generation that will see the age of regression finally arrive. I am divesting myself of the cultural assumptions that progress and improvement are desireable.

The late Kurt Vonnegut said “don’t spoil the party” and I live by those words. I savour the freedom I have, the incredible abundance of choices available to me, and the joy I derive from technology as the accidental privileges of birth that they are. But in my mind I am preparing myself for the next step.

Part of that is embracing the ideas of regression, scarcity and simplification.

It is only natural that I would adapt these ideas to my fascination with trends in fashion or clothing. Whether these ideas apply while the party is ongoing is open for debate.

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11 thoughts on “less progress”

  1. I’d recommend checking out the chapter on Zoran in the book “The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever.” They take the non-trendy approach to fashion that you describe.

  2. Good thoughts, Danielle. You’ve hit on something that echos for me as well. I want my clothes to last and be really wearable – but a long lasting product isn’t a business model that “works,” let alone is “fashionable.” I’ll be mulling over this – thanks!

  3. Great post Danielle!

    I have always believed in “investment dressing”. Those items in my closet that, while they may in fact be on trend but not trendy, will stand the test of time. That I can embellish or change with accessories. That will stand alteration or will adapt with some weight fluctuation.

    For me these items currently include:
    — Burberry rain coat with zip in wool lining (black)
    — reversible Bellissimo shearling (black)
    — 2 DVF wrap dresses (both jersey, one silk long sleeved, one sleeveless)
    — stretch velvet scoop neck knee length cocktail dress (black) now bordering on vintage
    — pea coat style tweed winter weight blazer
    — single breasted summer weight tweed blazer
    — black blazer summer weight
    — cashmere sweaters, pullovers and vintage cardigans

    Obviously I haven’t listed everything, but the glaring omission in the list is bottoms. As a middle aged woman, from the tummy down the rest of the torso is where physical change has manifested through the years. So that is where I am likely to put less money, because the pieces will have a shorter lifespan.

    Although I will offer a dislaimer on that last statement. I am now willing to spend the money on one pair of designer jeans a year that fit my body.

  4. “it is singular, it is obvious, and it ought to be available”

    Amen. I love this post. I’m so sick of shopping for things that should be available, made of good fabrics, and fit well. Perhaps that’s why I am so reluctant to spend any real money for clothes.

    I think there are alot of people who have elected to sit the party out and are totally open to your ideas. The trick is, for the most part, they are not in “fashiony” conversations.

    Fast fashion is quickly going to become too much work for most.

  5. Wow, I am surprised to see such positive response to this post! I remembered thinking, gosh this is long and rambly. I’m so glad that it seems to be a good post after all.

    Anne, thanks for the recommendation, I will check it out.

    Emma, of course you may use fashionophile, I’m not sure where I got it from honestly.

    Dalila, I look to men’s tailors and dressmakers back in the day for inspiration. Imagine if you created a business where the number of items per year was always limited – like Tom Mahon at the English Cut. You never get busier, and the implied scarcity means you can charge even more. How’s that for less-is-more in business?

    Wendy and Rebecca, I love your comments as always. Such simple systems for dressing are so admirable.

    BTW I thought of a funny line –
    “Clothing for the fashion-backwards woman.”
    Oh, the little things that amuse me =P

    I’ve been considering doing a little experiment in system dressing, perhaps I shall blog it…

  6. Such an incredible rant. And with ideas that are as equally applicable to male fashion as women’s- though it seems slightly trickier to be reductionist about women’s fashion these days. I guess James Dean paved the way for simplicity being an accepted norm in men’s style. Never thought I’d find myself saying this, but the new french vogue has some -incredible- ideas about simple, elegant men’s fashion (the mag. isn’t normally my thing.)
    Wendy I’m behind your list, it’s pretty great – tweed, wool, peacoats, (I want to add denim) are all pretty fantastic.

  7. you know, my mom is sort of like this. she is one of those st. john’s knit women… she wears it day and night, and every season she picks up one or two new things… all of which match the things she bought 10 years ago. she’ll pair one of those jackets with jeans and a tshirt to do errands, or do the whole nine yards with her Manolos for church. But even as much as she loves fashion and shoes and such, I really think she could, in all honesty, survive for the rest of her life with 6 or 7 pieces of clothing.

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