in a condescending fashion

Fashion is the Cinderella industry. A cultural step-child – part media, part manufacturing. Part art, all commerce. It’s true – fashion doesn’t save lives – but why shouldn’t it be afforded the same respect afforded to other creative industries like music, film, or literature? Unlike most creative industries, fashion also arguably qualifies as a universal necessity. Yet it is routinely dismissed, usually by people who wear clothing.

One of the most poignant takeaways from The September Issue documentary was the visible frustration that Anna Wintour revealed, when she spoke of how her family doesn’t take her work seriously. It’s ridiculous that the most powerful woman in fashion is placed in a defensive position so frequently.

As Wintour said last year

When women are in positions of power, and they’re featured in a women’s magazine like Vogue…they tend to be incredibly unfairly criticized. It’s an incredibly old-fashioned approach. Just because you’re in a position of power, and you look good and you enjoy fashion — does that mean you’re an idiot, or that it’s not seemly to be in a woman’s magazine? If a man is in GQ, they don’t get the same kind of criticism.

Deeply rooted cultural sexism is bad enough, but the greater irony is that fashion is frequently dismissed by feminists too. I recently found this fascinating video on sexism and friendship via Rachel. It did a great job of explaining to me how sexism is endemic within our language – how words with female associations are used as insults, for instance. These ideas go a long way to explaining to me why my “feminine” industry suffers from so much condescension. Then, at the end of the video during the question period, one of the professors, with apparent lack of self-awareness, advised her audience not to befriend women who were concerned with, to use her word, “frivolity”.

It occasionally happens to me too, and maybe you. You meet someone, explain what you do, and you instantly feel their respect for you evaporate. All of your accomplishments are reduced to mere “frivolity”. These snap judgements are often made by otherwise clever, educated, articulate people. For an intelligent person who works hard enough to enjoy some success in a competitive sector, it is maddening to be treated like you’re dumb by your contemporaries. It’s not like, when discovering someone is a journalist, you automatically assume they are an unscrupulous hack. But if you’re in fashion, the odd time you are put in the position of having to prove you aren’t a brainless bimbo… or a bitch.

Fashion is just as integral to human culture as any other creative industry. Sure, it’s just as corrupt as the rest of them. And yes, it has its fair share of mediocre players too. Still, music, art and narrative occasionally transcend, and so does fashion. Fashion people can be just as brilliant as they are beautiful – and their greatest creations play significant – and often unrecognized – roles in human history.

If you don’t understand or appreciate fashion, it would be nice if you could admit your ignorance instead of being condescending. Don’t bother trying to out-snob us. 😉

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15 thoughts on “in a condescending fashion”

  1. Interestingly, music, film and literature are often much more universal than fashion is. While all are creative forms of expression, fashion is the only one that – as you build your ranks – you stray further away from mass. Until of course, the bubble pops and you get so big that you go to mass market, as in designer/mass retailer collabs.

    We can all listen to music for cheap or nothing at all, watch a film for the same, but we can’t all share in a piece of clothing. So fashion as a form of expression is inherently more exclusive or individualized than those other art forms. Maybe it has do to with the fact that it brings another element of utility that these other art forms don’t possess. And therefore, it’s so much harder to get “right”, seeing as how there are a dozen other things to take into account when making clothes, apart from the expression of art bit.

    A very very interesting topic to explore!

  2. Thanks for commenting Annching!

    I love this point: “We can all listen to music for cheap or nothing at all, watch a film for the same, but we can’t all share in a piece of clothing.”

    Bringing anything into the physical realm creates a lot of complexity. It might not be any easier to write a hit song than it is to design an iconic garment, but you’re absolutely right – designing a garment takes a lot of practical considerations as well as aesthetic ones. I like the connection you’ve made between the hierarchy of engineering and the nature of exclusivity.

    (Tangential – I recently found a beautiful, 100% wool, fully lined set of culottes in a store for a ridiculously cheap price. I couldn’t tell why they were so cheap until I tried them on, and the effect at the front crotch was… labial, to put it frankly. It was so tragic that the designer had gotten everything right in concept but the garment was ruined by what was essentially, a bizarre technical flaw.)

  3. OK, there was some interesting discussion on twitter which I’m going to attempt to address, but not without the preamble: twitter is a terrible place to have discussions, folks! Everything ends up being in reverse order, it’s really tricky to suss out who’s responding to what, and it ends up being impossible to understand. Whatever happened to commenting on blogs? Ugh.

    Good point, Ryan. I did say “occasionally” I receive this kind of dismissal – and it tends to be from people who know nothing about what I do. Fashion people are often (but not always) more respectful, obviously.

    I love this way of describing what fashion is. I sometimes say I use it as a lens through which I understand the rest of the world. I agree baseball is the same, I wish I understood it a bit better. I’ve been listening to the Freakonomics podcast a lot lately and they use baseball as a lens quite often. Do baseball fans get treated like morons by so-called superior people? I guess probably.

    Thanks for offering counterpoint, Tiff! I guess I would say, that maybe most intelligent fashion people are uncomfortable with the idea of being heroes? But also, fashion people can be incredibly snobby! The whole idea of fashion, it’s very nature (as Annching noted above) is hierarchical. Which is why…

    “A little rich” is the sharpest (and funniest) stab Ryan hit this post with. While I don’t think that my “contention” was that fashion was “hard done by” – rather that, relative to other creative industries, it’s a bit unfairly vilified from the outside, possibly based on prejudice. Does fashion have to work harder to get it’s fair due? Yep. That’s probably a good thing, though.

    I guess it’s typical for a fashion perspective to dismiss the approval of the masses and crave the respect of an elite minority, eh?

    I think Sarah breaks it down very well in this tweet.

    Thanks everyone!

  4. I have worked in fashion for years and have never encountered anyone not taking me seriously or looking down on me because of it. Perhaps that is because I choose to treat everyone with respect and equality rather than pretense and snobbery.

    Fashion is a business first and foremost and most of the people I have met in this city who call themselves ‘fashionistas’ are brutal. Lots of idle chit chat and not a lot of hard work. More interest in who you know and less in how to get the work done. I sometimes think the worst offenders in looking down on each other in fashion are the bloody people who work in fashion and still think it’s the 80’s where everything is fabulous darling!

    There also seems to be some sort of over stereotyping of what someone working in the fashion industry should look or act like. It is this larger than life persona pulled from slices of media like ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. The real industry is incredibly industrious and can afford to be fabulous, when they have time for it, because they have worked hard for it. They have SET the trends, not followed them and are known for more than their ability to show up at parties.

    Can we get a reality check before we start asking for respect here? Are you all really that inclusive of others? Or do you say ‘I work in fashion’ with a little tilt upwards of the nose? Maybe that’s why no one is taking you seriously.

  5. Hi Danielle,

    Hope you’re well 🙂

    I really like this post but especially because of this: “It’s true – fashion doesn’t save lives – but why shouldn’t it be afforded the same respect afforded to other creative industries like music, film, or literature? Unlike most creative industries, fashion also arguably qualifies as a universal necessity. Yet it is routinely dismissed, usually by people who wear clothing.”

    THANK YOU, you have well verbalised what I have been trying to process in my head. Finally, I can put it into words a bit better 😉

  6. You’re right, Danielle, Twitter is awful for discussions – but it’s great for getting that discussion across to more than one person quickly.

    Interesting point about being uncomfortable with heroism. I’ve noticed that in many of my acquaintances who work in fashion (I can’t call them all friends!). Maybe it’s that discomfort that makes ME so uncomfortable – a lot of creative people I’ve met seem a bit weirded out by admiration. Is it because they’re so unaccustomed to it and they don’t get enough of it? Is it because they’re socially awkward? Or is it because they’re just generally people who shy away from the spotlight and who want the work to speak for itself?

    Whatever it is, it always makes me feel like my praise is sort of less appreciated than it would be if I WERE working in fashion. But that might just be my own insecurity.

    And to be fair, I probably dismissed baseball as well – not that I don’t think it’s intelligent (it surely is), but because it seems divorced from the discussion of appearance and bodies that I was having with myself yesterday =p

    SNP, as always, makes the best point. I agree.

    And I quite enjoyed that tumblr post about you – captured you perfectly. =)

  7. HI Danielle,

    The fact is that you did not address the point I made. And I have no reason not to respect you, mine was just a response to a random blog post that came across my desk. The fact that you were uncertain in your answer as to what you do for a living does not make you the go to person on politeness, but it does highlight why some in the fashion industry prefer pretense over politeness. Insecurity plain and simple.

  8. I thought this was such an interesting post I tweeted it. I have heard similar comments made about snobbery in the industry and at the same time, being dismissed for liking fashion or working in fashion. I’m really glad you brought the topic up. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it discussed before. I believe we all would be a lot better off treating each other respectfully. I hope your post inspires more of it.

  9. Hi Tiff,

    I’ve noticed it myself when I approach people I admire. I try not to be nervous… somehow it’s always a bit awkward! I don’t think it’s just you.

    To be honest, I love meeting people like you – I meet a lot of people who follow the blog who are in different industries, it means that what I’m doing isn’t just intramurally relevant within fashion circles, but has a more universal resonance. Kind of what I wrote about here:

    Hi Jen,

    I appreciate your random response. =) What point would you like me to address?

  10. Both of your responses are key to exactly what I am talking about. You wrote a piece on how fashion industry types are not given equal respect by their peers outside of the industry. I responded that respect starts from within the industry with us treating each other equally.

    In your first response, you highlighted the fact that someone complimented you and then gave a catty wink and an attempt to bash my anonymous status. I wrote back asking you to focus on the response and your second answer was another catty retort using ‘random’ as a sticking point.

    My apologies Danielle, it seems as though I touched a nerve, but that was not the point of any of my responses to your post. I would like to hear your honest feedback with regard to the cattiness that festers inside the fashion industry. Especially in Toronto where people think that intellect is responding with winks and smiles.

  11. Hi Jen,

    You said it was a random blog post in comment 8, but that’s OK I forgive you. You’re so obviously trolling for an emotional response. Why?

    If I ever slighted you, unknown person from Toronto, I’m very sorry. I’ll certainly admit I’m not the most socially adept person.

  12. Again no real answer. I guess that is as deep as this blog post goes. It’s not about emotion at all. It’s about addressing a real and present issue in our industry. It seeks to exclude rather than include with a focus on individuality vs collaborative efforts. Our industry does a lot of damage outside of our posh 1st world. The throw away clothing industry alone wreaks havoc on third world societies so that we can have the latest looks.

    It might be time to stop trolling for more respect and think about ways to improve our relations as an industry between ourselves and the world at large.

    And indeed, I forgive you as well for the lack of depth.

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