just a thought – fa$hion vs $tyle


Last week I was feeling excessively curious about fashion’s relationship to money.  I tweeted:

finalfashion I wonder where fashion would be without wealthy husbands and inheritances? 11:42 AM Aug 12th

finalfashion No W magazine. No Karl. No Chanel. No YSL. No Valentino. No Stella. No Prada. No Wang. No interns. No customers. 11:54 AM Aug 12th

The Grumpy Owl replied:

thegrumpyowl @finalfashion Trying to imagine society without wealthy husbands and inheritances. And failing. 12:06 PM Aug 12th

thegrumpyowl @finalfashion I think there’d be more luxury. More gaudy. Less money shame. 12:07 PM Aug 12th

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.

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2 thoughts on “just a thought – fa$hion vs $tyle”

  1. “The problem for modern street style is that everything is a little too accessible” — I disagree that youth culture is homogeneous. Yeah, you could say that is the case on the mainstream tip, so really it’s homogeneous because the manner in which we lens youth culture has become staid. Street style has become fixed because we still frame youth culture within the Queen West West/Soho/etc. hipsterdom confines. This has been the age-old trend, and you know what? We really need to cross the lines of privilege, drop the Eurocentric money shame, and move on to the postmodern, the transcultural.

  2. “I disagree that youth culture is homogeneous.”

    I guess I’d like to see some examples of current, original youth culture movements that aren’t staid. With names too – after all if we can’t label it, is it even a trend?

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