How Should We Interact with Fashion?
Whenever a quarter ends, I find myself overwhelmed with the need to find something that will keep me busy. So, to induce the levels of winter quarter stress, I have decided to question myself incessantly (and maybe-sort of-definitely unnecessarily) as I look through copious amounts of clothing that I cannot afford.
Fashion can be quite alienating, so first I want to think about something that is less so -- art. Despite having abandoned almost every form of visual art I've pursued (painting, drawing, sculpting, etc.), I always end up surrounded by art in some capacity. I work at the Smart Museum (as a barista, but still) and worked at my local art museum for two years. I'd walk around galleries, sometimes moved and sometimes bored, and study each piece for weeks until all I could do was sit and wait for someone to ask me about my favorite ones.
Art can be intensely upsetting. Sometimes for its content and oftentimes for its untouchable nature. How does anyone make sense of a canvas painted black (left), or of a disorienting array of colors (right) after one leisurely walk through a modern and contemporary wing? Can we ever truly understand a piece without directly speaking with the artist? These frustrations surrounding art are what make it what it is. It's a way to say something, to say nothing, with no obligation to explain any of it to anyone.
Fashion upsets us in the same way. What are we to do when we can't stop thinking of how that Gucci Spring 2018 campaign was freakin' painted, or of Burberry's rainbow check if we don't have the funds or the connections to participate in any "real" way? How can we sustain this feeling of admiration and respect for fashion when all around us it's turned into a mere good, a status symbol?
Yes, ultimately clothes are meant to be worn. But if we want to look at fashion as an artistic medium, is it right to treat it as a way through which we assert our (parents') wealth? Of course not, but it is equally discouraging and uncomfortable to speak towards your passions when you can't play the part for other people. Just as the seemingly pretentious murmurs surrounding a blank canvas deter us from contemporary museums, it's the high price tags and outlandish aesthetics of haute couture that keep us from engaging with fashion as art.
Just as one isn't expected to have a Degas hanging in their apartment to prove they love Impressionism, we don't need to own a closet updated each season to prove we keep up with our favorite designers. Some of the industry's most valuable figures have this figured out. Take, for example, Grace Coddington's and Alexander Wang's all-black ensembles (a look Anna Wintour hates), and Wintour's everlasting affinity for statement necklaces and big sunglasses.
There's no real end to the discussion here, but I want to keep thinking about what makes fashion so maddening, and what (if anything) will stop us from feeling that ridiculous need to prove ourselves and our passions to others.
I'd be wearing head-to-toe Miu Miu everyday if I could. But until then, I'm happy to watch from afar in my sister's hand-me-downs, the items I've splurged on, and the clothes I've had since middle school all at the same.