This week was the Met Gala, and that means all the claws come out as all the tabloids push their best and worst dressed lists. This year’s theme was avant-garde, so there were plenty of gloriously unconventional outfits for them to verbally rip to shreds (I know, my heart hurts too).
My love affair with fashion began in 5th grade. When my parents were off doing chores and grocery shopping, I would sneak into their bedroom and watch VH1 Fashion Week. I remember being inches from the screen enraptured by the creativity, the surprise, the magic of the way the fabric draped and swung off the supermodels’ bodies.
With such poise and grace, they made the clothing dance as they walked down the runway, hips swaying to the techno beat. Sometimes the clothes were classic and chic like Donna Karan and Vera Wang, sometimes they were fantastical and extreme like Issey Miyake or Alexander McQueen, and sometimes there was even a wayward nipple (shocking to my prepubescent mind). I practiced my walk playing dress up, shimmying and sashaying back and forth in a discarded thrift store prom dress and my mom’s oversized high heels.
When an assignment at school asked us to create paper avatars of our future selves, I naturally decided on a sporty cropped top, Hawaiian floral print sarong, and a matching tie. For me, fashion was about exploration and experimentation. Why wouldn’t a future me wear those items together with a pair of matching pumps?
In middle school I learned to hone my trend forecasting skills wearing mini-hair clips a season before butterfly clips became de regueur in the 7th grade locker room. I wore Capri pants a full 2 seasons before anyone knew the name (when everyone just called them “waders” instead and asked me when the flood was coming). In high school, I fell in love with a retro yellow off the shoulder sweater, the color of big bird. I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t one of my best decisions but I felt confident and edgy.
In college while working in a theatrical costume shop, I finally figured out how to wear vintage without looking like a costumed character. It was all about the balance of old and new. That understanding became the foundation for my career in the fashion industry.
Fashion is about self expression and personalization. So it pains me every time I see so-called fashion experts calling out celebrities for wearing something “hideous.” Ill-fitted or poorly executed design is one thing (every outfit could be improved by a little tailoring and every design could be improved by an expert patternmaker), but how can we expect fashion to be experimental and creative when everyone’s focus is on how many re-tweets we will get in our Twitter feeds or how many likes we can garner on Instagram? These “experts” only add fuel to the flame for the benefit of their own re-tweets and re-shares. It’s all about analytics now. But has anything really changed that much?
Seven years ago E! Entertainment launched Fashion Police with Joan Rivers. With segments like “Starlet or Streetwalker,” “Slut Cut”, and “Who Wore It Better” co-hosts pinned celebrity against celebrity to decide who looked better and who could be most easily slut shamed for shorter skirts or deeper V’s. In the 1800s to early 1900s, it was unthinkable that women were even showing their ankles, yet in ancient Greece and Rome, it was perfectly common for people to bathe publicly and for athletes to practice their skills working out in the nude. Nudity and modesty have been on a pendulum of social acceptability for thousands of years. Did ancient societies also critic one another’s garment draping and style choices the way we do today?
Now style criticism is amplified by television, tabloid magazines, and social media. Who gains from this type of shaming for skin-baring, style experimentation, or non-conformity of trends? Does it propel our industry forward or send us back to the dark ages? Coming out of the 90s business model of logos as status symbols, the millennial generation has grown to despise the cookie cutter concept of being told what is stylish and what is not. We live in a society where individuality is now prized, and Lady Gaga is worshiped for singing, “I’m beautiful in my way, ’cause God makes no mistakes. I’m on the right track, baby I was born this way.”
Of course, the fashion industry thrives on sales – we need them in order to exist. And that often means manufacturing concepts as trends. While many mass market stores are seeing economic set-backs, cut-backs, and bankruptcy, one thing is certain. Sales are driven not only by need or through the preaching of trends. Sales are driven by each individuals personal emotion and relationship with how a garment makes them feel. In order to keep our field from becoming a lost art, we must find a way to embrace individuality, technology, and personality.
A culture of true creativity could inspire a new renaissance. So let’s throw out all those black rectangles we used to put over people’s eyes and let’s encourage experimentation once again. Rather than devoting full page spreads critiquing celebrity style mishaps, let’s celebrate them for their bravery. Devoid of the fear of the press and our peers, we can embrace our own style. Let’s let our personalities shine through and in the process encourage others to do so as well.
As Alexander McQueen once said,
“Fashion should be a form of escapism, and not a form of imprisonment. Give me time and I’ll give you a revolution.”