Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Industrial Waste

It's Fashion Week in New York right now, and I'm enjoying a love/hate relationship with the whole affair. I love parts of it and hate parts of it and I hate that I love it.

The models in a runway show are usually made up to look like they're half-dead, with hair a bird wouldn't nest in. Their expressions fall somewhere between vapid and predatory, which doesn't exactly inspire me to put on the clothing. Not that I could, considering how much the stuff costs. Or how much skin it usually shows.

When a woman comes down the runway looking like this, I find it easy to sigh at what the whole enterprise has come to, and move on without being affected.

But for the most part, I enjoy looking at the clothing many designers create. This, by Jamil Khansa, is beautiful. I understand other people may disagree; fashion (like art and beauty) is entirely subjective. What one person considers amazing, another person finds urbane, what to one is avant garde is to another garish. From its earliest conception, fashion has taken wild swings from the sublime to the ridiculous. Elizabethan England, anyone?

Despite my interest, I am very uncomfortable with most of what goes on in the world of fashion, especially all the exploitation and self-absorption. This article about the obsession many teens have with designer labels illustrates the problem with how fashion is currently defined. It's not enough to dress nicely in clothing that flatters your figure and is appropriate for the occasion. Fashion is now the exclusive property of the world's top 20 designers (Armani, Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, etc.)

That's not right, especially considering the prices these dregs command.
Want a pair of Roberto Cavalli designer jeans? Blue jeans. Cotton. That'll be
$435. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. It's really the accessories -- shoes, handbags, jewelry -- that strain your wallet. I would certainly shell out more money for something of high-quality fabric, handmade and unique, but fashion pricing stems primarily from the designers' name, not their work. And considering the preponderance of discount fashion outlets (Bitten, Forever 21, H&M, Isaac Mizrahi at Target) it's very easy to look great for $50. The question becomes, then: How can you justify spending $5,000? Or even $500?

It makes me wonder if there is any way to support this industry at all without compromising my core values. I think the short answer is: No. But it's not because fashion or style is inherently bad. It's because, like with most other things, it is through industrialization that we as consumers lose our power to affect the standard.

I spend more for organic meat because I believe the food industry is dangerous, wasteful, immoral and unhealthy. I could apply all those labels to the fashion industry as well, and it makes me sad because at its core I think fashion should be art, not industry. Clothing is a form of self-expression -- and why not? What could be more natural than to adorn ourselves in a way that speaks to who we are as people? So much can be learned of a culture just by the way they dress; the colors they wear for certain occasions, the level of ornamentation, the style, flow and fabric of their garments, and certainly the form it takes on the human body.

I don't think there's any dispute that the gown worn by Katherine Parr (or perhaps Lady Jane Grey) is as much art as this painting of her wearing it. Both take tremendous time and talent, both are the privilege of the wealthy, and both speak to what we value as a society. It is very different from modern fashion, but not wholly unlike what Dior or Givenchy can send down a runway.

I'm not of the opinion that anything which doesn't turn our minds toward God should be shunned. We are not all called to aestheticism. Jesus did not walk the world in animal skins like his cousin, John.

But I can't understand how someone can spend $765 on a pair of green snakeskin Manolo Blahnik low-heel slides when you can get stylish, high-quality, fair-trade shoes made from organic, recyclable materials for less than $100.

I think it's all right to indulge yourself occasionally as long as you Take the Poor With You when you do it. It's fine to buy things you love. Just buy responsibly and keep things in perspective. Remember how many people around the world freeze to death in winter because they don't have coats. Or walk barefoot everywhere because they can't afford shoes. Or go hungry so they can buy their kids a school uniform.

Style should come second to soul.


Anonymous said...

Remember how many people around the world freeze to death in winter because they don't have coats. Or walk barefoot everywhere because they can't afford shoes. Or go hungry so they can buy their kids a school uniform.

Right here in America. Today.

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