Tuesday, January 26, 2010
I am sure by now, you have read dozens of responses to Tanya Gold's recent essay in the Guardian entitled "Why I hate fashion." She opens with these titillating words: "A confession – it's been stalking me for years now, this crawling disdain for fashion; the certainty that it is not an ally but an enemy. The older I am, the more disenchanted I am with what is meant to make us beautiful... I believe it is one of the ultimate evils in the universe... Simply put, I hate fashion."
Gold then cites what she believes to be a casualty of fashion: the tragic death of a sixteen year old girl who suddenly slid to her demise in very high heels under a moving train. A poor choice of footwear on an icy day, yes, but to argue that the accident carries the symbolic significance of a literary heroine's suicide is a bit melodramatic, to say the least.
Her other arguments carry more merit, albeit in less original ways: fashion, Gold argues, is for the impossibly rich and skinny, most women who try to adhere to those impossible standards find themselves miserable and even those who live in that rare world (the models who pose for the photos, who are then stretched beyond recognition through photoshop for our general consumption) are miserable creatures, too.
Reading Gold's essay is a bit like reading someone's breakup letter to an ex... somewhat disjointed and exaggerated. She tries to make it sound like she has moved on, that she has found a happier place where she can simply block out the memories she once shared with fashion but the wounds are still there, still fresh. "Can't you ignore it, you may ask? Can't you squeeze yourself into a library and have an inner life instead? Ha!" she writes.
You may be surprised to hear that I can relate to Gold's sentiments, however raw and shocking as they may seem to those of you who have always had a strong love affair with fashion. Fashion and I have always had a complicated relationship- you might say we were on again, off again lovers, and there was a prolonged period a few years ago, when I made the bold pronouncement: "Fashion, we are through, for real this time."
At the time, I was pursuing fiction writing, and had very little disposable income to spend on the "frivolities" of fashion. I felt myself superior to friends who would put their designer goods on display while I locked myself in my room for hours reading "serious" fiction and writing (in retrospect) rather dreary and self-important stories about rather dreary and self-important people. Fashion, I felt then, had only a utilitarian place in my life-- something to wear to stay warm or cool, but given little thought. And I took pleasure in wearing a pair of jeans with a simple tee or a cozy fleece jacket with the ugliest logo I could find. Yes, I was fighting fashion hard, the best way I knew how.
But then something shifted. I stopped wearing sloppy things and surprisingly, I felt better about myself. I realized how much I missed the creative act of assembling an outfit. I re-learned the significance that fashion plays in the way we communicate with one another-- how fashion is a set of unspoken symbols with which we express our inner selves. And then, when I started writing about fashion, I started to fall in love with it again, with the marvelous act of creation, almost a contact high with those who live and breathe the creative impulses behind fashion. And yes, how fashion may be part conspicuous consumption and for many, out of reach (who among us can say that we will ever be able to afford couture in our lifetime)... But how dull our lives would be without the beauty of fashion in it!
Fashion deserves its place in the world alongside other arts such as music, fine arts, film, literature. And while the arts are not necessarily essential to our physical survival, they transform our inner lives in the richest possible way, and in the case of many exciting, intellectual designers, challenge our notion of what it means to be a mere piece of clothing. Fashion CAN be art. And as cheesy as this may sound, Gold's essay reminded me a bit of an exchange from the movie, Devil Wears Prada. While Gold may scoff at the role fashion plays in her life, she is, like it or not, still a participant in the cycle. And in simple response to her essay, I offer these words: cerulean blue.
What is your relationship with fashion? What did you think of Gold's essay?