Why loving fashion does not make me an ‘airhead’

I’d like to write about a little subject that is very close to my heart, and something that has been bothering me an awful lot lately. It’s come to the fore because of a combination of factors, and a sudden realisation that there is a place for me, and there are a lot of people who see things as I do – which is terribly reassuring. I’m talking about fashion. Specifically, my love for, and respect of, the industry. It’s a bit weird to state that, actually. I find it sad that I should feel the need to justify myself on this front, but unfortunately, the reputation of ‘fashion people’ necessitates a need for this riposte.

When I was very small, I first engaged in my love affair with fashion, plummeting in head first. It started with costuming in films – mostly old films. I loved what miracles the clothes could perform. You could see the villain simply by the turn of a collar. Bette Davis, sweeping out of rooms, ably assisted by some supremely dramatic clothes. Hepburn (Audrey) clad in a series of gloriously sculpted black dresses. Hepburn (Katherine) husking away in her high waisted, pleated trousers…

I progressed to Vogue, and I have remained in a loving, stable relationship with the magazine since – despite the little wobble we had when they put Cheryl Cole on the cover. Twice. The pages of that publication provided, as I’m sure they have to many others, an escape from the daily monotony of school, of grey pavements, of high street shops. Inside Vogue a world unfolded, and I stepped halfway in, covering my walls with tear outs. I began to speak the language of clothes, of opulence, of fabrics, of concepts. I would go through, covering the information with my hand, testing myself to see if I could recognise who had made the outfit, going on the cutting of the cloth, the fabric used, or the colours.

I went to school every day in my uniform, and my body spoke the language of school girl, but my head said otherwise. I had found my Arcadia, and it wasn’t the one owned by Sir Philip Green. But did I suddenly start to lose brain cells? Did I feel my mind slowly drifting out of one ear? Of course not. I remain, as I was then, an intelligent girl. I attended debate club, I read obsessively, I worked hard.

Let me illuminate you, for those who don’t understand. Fashion IS cerebral. Fashion is about thought, about precise engineering and a slew of cultural references. Look at the catwalks and you will see something reflective of both society and the economy. It isn’t just ‘a bunch of girls in pretty dresses’. Every (good) designer will perform a series of manoeuvres, display a collection of little codes and cultural references that may only mean something to them, but might translate to the audience too.

As a lover of fashion, I strongly object to the stereotyping of ‘fashion people’ as vacuous, idiotic and shallow, but I’ll forgive you, because I know where you’ve picked up the impression from. Sadly, those people do exist. They only care about what they’re wearing themselves, what they’re eating, drinking or buying. Name-dropping abounds. Whole conversations can revolve around length of skirt, or what colour lipgloss they are wearing.

I’ve worked hard to align my love of fashion with my academic side, and I’ve been delighted to find girls who are of a similar persuasion – boys too, in fact. There’s a whole world of us out there who like fashion because it makes us think, but sadly it’s the vapid types that you probably all know about. I suppose I’m just a little fed up of having to defend myself. Of having to feel like I’ve admitted to something shocking, deep and dark when I talk about my secret love. There are times when I’ve practically felt the need to hand out my CV and an essay on Phenomenology I’ve written, to prove I have a brain. But perhaps that’s just me?

I don’t think it is, I truly believe there is a stigma attached to fashion. This saddens me. It may sound hackneyed, but fashion IS art. It’s tangible art that shapes the world we have around us. Whether you like it or not, fashion is always going to be ubiquitous, for the duration of the time that we all still prefer not to go out naked. In the Devil Wears Prada (sorry – liking that really IS a shameful secret), the Anna Wintour character gives a speech on how her assistant, Andy, may think she’s making a statement with her ‘blue sweater’, but in fact, the precise colour (cerulean) has filtered down from the catwalks, from De La Renta, and found its way to the protagonist’s wardrobe. Her outfit has, in fact, been “chosen by the people in this room”.

And it’s as simple as that really. Whether you like it or not, everything you choose to wear makes a statement about you. Throw on a black t shirt with a sarcastic logo and you’re a stand up from the 80s. Jeans? Well, don’t even get me started on the cultural heritage of denim. You may say it’s just a leather jacket – I say it’s James Dean. Frankly, I believe that everyone should wear whatever they like. ‘What not to wear’ articles are an abomination and detrimental to everybody. Like it? Wear it. It still means something.

That’s why my ‘what I’m wearing’ will look less like “today I’m wearing a blue skirt and white shirt’ and more like “today I am dressed as a doomed Chekhov heroine going to a country party which will do doubt unravel at alarming speed’. It makes perfect sense to me. I costume myself, and fashion – clothes – afford me that ability. I can sculpt my personality through my wardrobe choices. Feeling at odds with the world? Then it’s the swirling raven coat that creates a trail of drama behind me, the bitch fox fur, the belt with studs and chains. I am indestructible. I move differently, slicing through crowds, knife-sharp.

I have learnt that you can know how to write code and still love clothes. You can read Schopenhauer and be sartorially aware. You can nip off to a fashion show and then to the Natural History museum.

You must be true to yourself. To the girls like me – you must never, ever dumb yourself down to fit in. Don’t sand the edges off. I did, a long time ago, and I never will again. I am proud of who I am, and I wear my love of fashion on my sleeve, literally. Don’t blend in. Seek truth and authenticity in all you do, stay true to your artistic ideals and your knowledge. Keep reading, keep writing, keep absorbing. Don’t live a life on the surface.

It’s ok to love clothes, to enjoy fashion. Clothing can be clever, witty and thought-provoking. Seek to make sense of it using your personal system of codes and references. Remember, most importantly of all, it is never ‘just’ a piece of clothing.


11 thoughts on “Why loving fashion does not make me an ‘airhead’

  1. Fantastic read! love it! 🙂

    I am not a fashion addict really, I like to observe fashion rather than embrace and ‘follow’ it. For a long time I had no clue what it was, who it was for and why on earth people got interested in it. But then I got wise. I realised, understood and started to appreciate the amount of genius-ness that happens behind the scenes, all the hard work, all the ideas. and I am a idea-person.

    Sometimes it is still a little too much, and I get lost – but then I retreat for a little while, until I am amazed again.

    I really ought to think like you, about dressing up, being someone different every day but retaining a core personality. It is something that I always wished I did, but never actually did it. Food for thought…


    • Thanks so much, Marie. It makes me sad that this is how the industry is interpreted. ‘Fashion’ as an ideal should be inclusive, and for everybody. It shouldn’t be a force for intimidation and exclusion. Fashion is tangible. It is everywhere. As you say – it’s about the ideas, the thought that goes into capturing the world around us and transforming it into wearable art.

      I’m sick to death of posturing, silly girls just thinking it’s about a piece of clothing.

      Re: the dressing up – you should! I blame my English and Drama degree wholeheartedly for that! Lots of fun, though. Helps me navigate dates, job interviews, all sorts! xx

      • I think it’s also due to the commercialisation of everything. Real fashion is expensive, and too often nowadays a beautiful garment full of ideas will be transformed into some low-cost alternative for the “masses” (excuse the word – I am part of them just to be clear) that has lost all meaning. This is done just to feed a never-ending crave for yet more choice, more trends and more profits.

        There is still lots and lots of work involved, but it does lose part of its essence.

        I am all for fashion, but fashion with a conscience (and I’m not talking eco-conscience!)

        (me again!)

      • This makes a lot of sense, Marie. By the time a garment ha been transmuted down to the lowest common denominator, there is little art left in it. Which is where I think the world of vintage garments come into place. Ultimately, I suppose I think that style should come from the person wearing the clothes, and the way it’s been put together. With high streets becoming increasingly homogenised, we’re all buying the same things from the same shops, and we start to look bland!

  2. Great post!

    I was always slightly disdainful of the fashion industry (while sneaking off with my stepmother’s Vogues!) until I started doing costume designs in college. Then I realized that everything I loved about costuming could also be applied to fashion (“today I am dressed as a doomed Chekhov heroine going to a country party which will do doubt unravel at alarming speed”). And now I’m in school again for fashion studies, which is what I should have done in the first place!

    If you’re interested in pro-fashion feminist arguments, I wrote a similar post to yours: http://goldstarstyle.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/fashion-and-feminism/

    • Thanks for your comment, Violette! I’m so pleased to hear someone thinking along the same lines as I do. I studied English and Drama at university, and also did a course in fashion design at St Martins, and the idea of ‘costuming’ is always present when I think about fashion. I can’t remember if I’ve got this right, but ages ago I studied a designer named Edward Gordon Craig. He designed a production of Hamlet, and Gertrude and Claudius had these phenomenally gigantic cloaks, which dominated the set.

      Really looking forward to checking out your blog, and thanks again for commenting.

  3. Bloody love this post!

    Reading the first two paragraphs I was hoping you’d mention the Devil Wears Prada scene as I really like it.

    I’m beyond useless at my own dress sense, I just seem to suck at it but that doesn’t mean I don’t love fashion. I love the history and creativity of it more than the actual clothes sometimes. The V&A exhibitions on costume and clothing are some of my favourites and fashion illustrations are absolutely beautiful.

    • Thanks Anna! I agree with you – I like the concepts and ideas behind fashion, as opposed to just thinking about what top I’ll put with what skirt! I absolutely adore the V&A too. I don’t think it’s even possible to be ‘useless’ at your own dress sense! By virtue of it being yours, you can do whatever you like with it 🙂

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