Is Fear in Fashion?
Upon returning home from a crazy ass trip to Baltimore, I thought I’d try to wind down by catching up on last week’s Project Runway. I used to love the show back when it was on Bravo but this is the last season I’ll be watching because an hour and a half every week is way too much time to spend watching these people make stuff you’ll never encounter in real life. I mean, how many times have you seen a top made out of straws and cheap somberos hanging on the rack? Unless you have a black Amex and a private jet, you could say the same of the haute couture collections but at least those involve designers we’ve heard of before and the probability that something will be trickling down to clothes to which a normal person has access.
Something struck me, though, as I was watching the critique of the three contestants up for the final spot at New York Fashion Week. Nina Garcia asked the blonde European girl who likes to make yoga pants if there was going to be any color in her collection and it was revealed that the black, beige, taupe and light gray that made up her baggy-panted preview was the extent of her palette. But that’s not the important part. What struck me was something urgent in Nina’s voice as she questioned the choice of color, as if the world was watching and there was a potential for huge embarrassment if stronger shades didn’t make it out on the runway. What if everyone was expecting more color and she wasn’t living up to what the public wanted? It would be horrible! People would point and laugh and that would be the worst thing that could happen, right?
It started me thinking about how much of fashion is really ruled by fear. As much as we like to think of fashion as something liberating, a way to express our true selves, it seems that our business goes hand in hand with fear in so many cases. This is nothing new, of course. Many members of 17th century French nobility were plunged into bankruptcy by Louis XIV’s edicts on suitable attire for the amusements he scheduled in order to keep them too busy to plot against the monarchy. They needed to fit in big time and they lost everything to avoid seeming unfashionable in the king’s arbitrary dress code.
Now, I have some clients with an uncanny ability to choose pieces that express their own personal style without regard for what’s “in” this season but I can’t begin to count the number who have clung to my arm over the years, willing to spend whatever sums necessary to escape the horror of not being properly dressed for a cocktail party, interview or bar mitzvah. In the end, is it really that goddamned important? Do you really want to be liked by or work with people who will judge you by whether or not you’re toting this season’s must-have bag?
As it now stands, I’m sure the psychological need to fit in far surpasses the desire to express oneself in the dollar amounts of fashion but let’s see if we can do something to change that. Wear what makes you feel good and if anyone gives you grief over it, tell them to fuck off.
Then make fun of their shoes.