August 18, 2009
just a thought – fa$hion vs $tyle
Last week I was feeling excessively curious about fashion’s relationship to money. I tweeted:
The Grumpy Owl replied:
After that I got on the bus to go north. It is a long trip and I brought along The Way We Wore: A Life In Threads by Robert Elms. It turned out to be the perfect book for my mood and went a long way to answering my questions about whether fashion exists only for the money. Of course, the answer is: no – sort of.
British street style, as Elms tells it, was a product of poverty. Growing up without much at home, at the mercy of politics and economy, clothes become something you can control, a way of holding on to identity and dignity against a backdrop of urban blight, a way that anyone can access the feeling of wealth in a tactile way. The clothes themselves were not cheap – in fact their inaccessibility was an important factor – they were saved for and carefully maintained and treasured. And of course, clothes were an obsession for Elms and his friends at a level that rivals any French queen with the social rules and tempestuous trends to match.
Its interesting to consider other street styles in the light of where they came from – hip-hop for example needed poverty and oppression to create the taste for the lavish bling and bright white sneakers. It makes me wonder if the third world is where we should be looking for what is new in fashion. Of course the best stuff out there probably is not being blogged – and that is probably its saving grace.
The problem for modern street style is that everything is a little too accessible. The two significant modern street style trends after hip-hop, rave and hipsterism, both suffer from a lack of intensity due to the intense degree of availability – the clothes are cheap and can be bought anywhere, the trends are disseminated worldwide in record time by a voracious media machine, the corporations are too tied up in it all making it hard to parse who’s putting on who anymore. Modern youth culture is incredibly homogeneous as a result. The fact is that the current generation isn’t hungry enough to invent its own culture anymore. When it comes to street style, money kills.
Modern fashion, on the other hand, isn’t any healthier. Ever since we revolted against birthright and royalty, fashion entered the era of identity crisis characterized most by Coco Chanel – understated luxury, good taste, call it what you will – it is, as Grumpy succinctly put it, money shame. Licensing, feminism, equality, democracy, education – these are all nails in the coffin containing what fashion used to be.
Will we ever have fashion return to its former unapologetic glory, or street style that is intensely new again? Unless this recession really kicks into high gear soon, I think we’ll have to wait quite a while longer.