May 18, 2016
The New Neutral
For almost two years now, I’ve had a column on the back page of The Globe and Mail‘s fashion magazine supplement, Style Advisor. I write a short editorial and illustrate it – it’s a great opportunity to share ideas in Canada’s most prestigious newspaper. My editors have graciously given me blessing to share the work online after the fact, so this will be the first of a series of recaps.
What follows was my first column for the Globe, published September 2014 – in which I predicted that 2015 would be all about trans aesthetics. I’m quite pleased to be able to say that with my first last word I was right on! The illustration is inspired by Andreja Pejic walking for Rad Hourani FW11.
Taste is no longer hierarchical. Now, taste is about identity. The result is that criticizing fashion on the basis of aesthetics is, ironically, out of fashion. The traditional role of the fashion critic was to defend good taste, and the domain of good taste was stuff rich and powerful people liked. The classic dichotomy of beauty and ugliness is dispersing into an increasingly diverse spectrum. If our culture upholds freedom and fairness, it follows that one person’s ideal is as valid as anyone else’s. So how does a fashion critic decide what is desirable or not?
Today, an item of fashion’s value is determined by politics – appearances matter less than where it came from, who made it, who wears it and why – and a critic is more likely to criticize a collection’s elitism or cultural appropriation than its unflattering silhouettes. Judging fashion successfully is about landing on the right side of history.
The most politically charged issue facing the fashion industry at this moment is sexual identity. Think-pieces about male rappers performing in skirts or models going through sexual reassignment surgery are as topical as trend reports identifying the season’s must-haves. Abandoning a binary view of gender plays out very visibly in fashion. Gendered clothing is becoming radical. Ambiguous, androgynous clothing used to be transgressive. Now, it’s the new neutral.