Fashion is important - but why?

Sophie Kingston- Carter examines why fashion is so important, and yet why it is so often quickly dismissed. The interconnection between fashion and artistic movements is an important one, and one that opens space for communication and personal representation.

The study of fashion matters and those who would say otherwise delude themselves. In my second year at university I took a class in Comparative Literature focusing on political theatre and the first opinion the lecturers commuted to us was the argument of Brecht that all theatre is inherently political. Those playwrights who choose not to focus on politics are making a political choice. The same reasoning applies to fashion; those who choose not to engage with it are making a fashion conscious choice. After all, we all must wear clothes to fit in with social norms.

The fictional character Miranda Priestley argues in the film The Devil Wears Prada that by choosing not to engage with the fashion-obsessed environment Andy finds herself in, she is in fact doing so. Month after month, year after year, designers and editors decide what the next big fashion trends will be. This is far from a random process; it dates back millennia with fashions being tied in to climate, practicality and levels of modesty dictated by the patriarchy.

For centuries, men dictated the clothes worn by women with ankles draped in fabric, the hair of married women covered, visible flesh considered scandalous. However, now more than ever before, fashion is an art form. A wealth of new materials and sewing techniques can create the most exquisite clothes. Clothing may still be dictated by men in certain parts of the world but women now have more freedom than ever before to express themselves.

Fashion is complex and deserves to be studied as an intellectual pursuit. The enormous amount of cheap clothing available in the world and the tragic stories such as the Rana Plaza disaster may cloud our visions. However, at its very heart, fashion is an art form. It expresses emotions, displays creative vision and reflects the circumstances of the time. Like a painting, a piece of clothing can express so much and each design differs from one another. A drawn-in waist is reminiscent of Dior’s New Look, a scattering of sequins hints at glamour; an elbow-length glove turns one’s mind to elegance and champagne. Every item of clothing tells us something about where and when it was made and for whom.

Sadly, mass production of clothing has taken away some of the glamour and desirability. The news reports the squalor of high street sales while the suffering caused by the process is recognised more readily. Primark shops have the ability to curdle one’s stomach in disgust as excess flows. However, it cannot be denied that fashion is important. Our clothes make us who we are on first encounter. They make us into professionals, gym-goers, debutantes and country gentlemen. Through them we have been given a gift, an escape from the world just as one can escape in an art gallery.

At its very core, fashion is art, it is elegance and it is the symbol most easily translatable between the ages. Women like Amelia Bloomer have fought to give us the right to dress the way we wish in order to express ourselves. Fashion is not just a stream of models on a catwalk, nor is it a shop window on Bond Street. It is all around us, as art, as history and as a personal statement.