AS I SEE IT
Do you ever come across cringe-making photos of the fashion fads you fell for in the past? I found one recently, I wore bright yellow hot pants, teamed with a yellow top with green elbow patches, thigh-high yellow socks and wedge heels. I was a fashion writer at the time – don’t even go there!
The recollection does make the point though that before you have even said a word you will have told the people around you a good deal about yourself. Clothes can do the talking for you. From the conservative message of classical outfits to the one- of-the-herd look featuring jeans/ trainers/ puffer jacket, they are part of a cultural conversation.
Fashion, especially women’s fashion, can be a social commentary on contemporary society. So what are we saying with the mixed messages sent out by current styles? Today’s in look features girly dresses with long skirts in pretty floral prints, a look as demure as any Jane Austen heroine. These floaty frocks are teamed with heavy-soled boots that wouldn’t be out of place on a building site plus BLJ’s — Marlon Brando eat your heart out — black leather jackets. Maybe it’s that old friend nostalgia at work, harking back to rock concerts starting with Woodstock and Glastonbury where romance (frocks) met practicality (boots). Or maybe there’s a message in femininity combined with Nancy Sinatra’s song from 1966 – these boots are made for walking and one of these days. You get the idea…
Some previous fashions are easy to interpret: like Dior’s 1947 New Look, which provoked riots over opulent skirts with yards and yards of fabric and cinched waists and signalled a return to femininity and luxury after the austerity and uniforms of the war years.
The messages in the different subcultural styles in the Sixties and Seventies and Eighties were clear. Black- clad Beatniks reflected the anti-conformism of Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation, the swinging youth cult of Mods and the rival subculture, leather-clad biker Rockers clashed in style wars, sometimes literally.
Hippies with beads flowers, long locks and bell bottoms embraced free love and giving peace and chance in an anti-war stance, while Punks, with looks designed to shock featuring Doc Martins, ripped clothing and safety pins signalled nihilism.
Looking back, women especially have put up with the most extraordinary torments in the name of fashion. Can you imagine wearing a crinoline dress supported by whalebone hoops and half a dozen petticoats over a corset designed to pinch your waist to a required 18 inches? It was a look reflecting the affluence of the Victorian era, of importance of a rising middle class where a wife was the angel of the house and her clothes rendered her quite unable to work never mind walk through a normal size door.
Nothing can seem quite so ridiculous as an outmoded look (until it has a revival that is). Remember those giant shoulders designed to break through the glass ceilings in soap operas Dallas and Dynasty back in the Eighties? Now we probably think we wouldn’t be seen dead looking like Sue Ellen or Alexis but bet your high heels the look will be back one of these years.
What am I wearing now? PJs topped with a cardie and a dressing gown not to mention fleece lined slippers. Certainly, it’s a commentary on the times we live in, there’s the WFH (Working From Home) angle accelerated by Covid and there is the climate crisis. I am wrapped up, doing my bit to lower carbon emissions and to avoid paying for more heating oil when prices are soaring thanks to Putin’s warmongering.