Monday, 2 August 2010

On Real Clothes

According to the August issue of Vogue UK, fashion this autumn represents the return of real clothes. Lisa Armstrong writes that

"[t]he longest bull market in history ushered in a school of design that became consumed by theatrical change, with dramatic mood swings between (what it's only fair to describe as) prozzie dressing and princess dressing. It was quite a party, with quite a hangover."

"The more women worked out, starved, Botoxed and lipo´d, the more designers felt tacitly encouraged to design for teenagers. If the role of designer was once to make clothes that formed a carapace that turned a woman's body into the prevailing ideal, in the past decade the onus has fallen on women to somehow mould their bodies to fit the clothes."

This season, clothes do appear to make more sense: longer skirts instead of micro-minis, well-cut trousers instead of so-skinny-we-can't-breathe, chic overcoats rather than leather jackets with shoulder pads, and even kitten heels rather than 10-inch platforms. Designers say they are now designing for "real women". Whoever the real woman is, the current developments probably make her happy (even though circle skirts are actually a lot more challenging than you'd think).

As usual, my take on these types of things is all about more questions than answers. Who is the real woman? If it is you or me, won't she feel at least a little cheated now that her latex-leggings, flashy tunics and studded boots are all of a sudden labeled teenage-wear, and she is told to celebrate her curves in camel and gray? Will she settle for the explanation that designers were consumed "by theatrical change", which resulted in years of her wearing unreal clothes? What is real anyway? Isn't fashion all about change, dress-up, even role play to some extent? Who is Marc Jacobs fooling when he wants to address, in his words, "a beautiful and a womanly quality that's universal"? Are heaving bosoms on the runway any more real than my flat chest? Haven't we, the real women, been here all along, and why do we play the game of fashion at all when for the most part it doesn't even address our needs? Isn't it a little unfair that we are supposed to celebrate the return of real clothes and spend money on timeless classics now, as if the hundreds, heck, the thousands of dollars we have been spending before didn't mean anything, and neither do the clothes that we have packed into our wardrobes recently?

Of course, despite the rantings and ravings of fashion magazines, a lot of women are (and have been) able to decide independently what they want to wear. There will always be a certain amount of fashion victims, but my guess is that the majority of women stay away from the be-trendy-or-die type of mess. Younger women still looking for their personal style are probably a little more prone to the changing trends, or that is at least my personal experience. Having done my share of trend-hopping (and aren't I experimenting with circle skirts as we speak) I understand the appeal of fashion: it offers the type of escapism that is, as simple as it sounds, just pretty and fun. That is why the comeback of "real clothes" seems suspicious to me. If women only bought rational classics that last a lifetime, the fashion houses would very soon be out of business.

The thrill of the new is ingrained in many of us. Recently, my 14-year-old nephew told me how happy a new toy car made him when he was little, and how sad it makes him now that he no longer gets that feeling from buying anything. That, to me anyway, might suggest that the future generations are increasinly attached to the high of buying, and it starts earlier than ever before. The expanding high-street market banks on our need to buy, and the notion of trend walks hand in hand with that. As long as new trends keep coming, the option of getting the latest fix exists. I have a feeling that the return of "real clothes" might just be another marketing gimmick to make us buy more clothes. This season we are perhaps told that the camel coat we buy is forever, and it will seem like a reasonable investment, but come next year, that same coat might be considered old-fashioned lady-wear, circle skirts matronly, kitten heels unflattering and simplicity just plain old boring. So what stays?

Well, real women do. Not the styles we wear, not the clothes we buy, not the body types we admire. We do.

T-shirt: second hand H&M / recycling centre
Trousers: second hand / Aino flea market
Necklace: second hand / Aino flea market
Ballet flats: second hand / UFF

Also here to stay: the appeal of a cat in a box.


Cynthia said...

This post really resonates right now. I am going on the Great American Apparel Diet this year, and after some last minute purchases made in an "OMG can I really do this, not without fortifications!" spirit, I realize that I really have kind of an unhealthy reaction to getting new stuff right now. Fortunately I haven't spent my wad on thigh-high mini skirts and precarious heels this year, and I'm hoping that I'll find that a lot of the things I have already are practical, attractive "real clothes" and can be made to last well beyond one year.

Anonymous said...

As happy as it makes me to see clothes that are more my style on the runways, it also makes me laugh to see how a lot of people (and not only women) seem to fall for this weird stereotype of a "real woman" being a woman of the 50s.
I've always thought that this way of thinking emerges from social status and background. I've always heard from my mother about the imprtance of buying "real clothes" (long-lasting, classic, practical- which are more or less what you described in the post). Then again I've always thought that it is the result of her living the hard way in the then-communist Poland. But as it turns out the notion of a "real" woman isn't limited to countries that suffered hard opression and textile shortages and threfore people had to survive somehow. One wonders where all these stereotypes come from, eh?
Thanks for another thought-provoking post

Laura said...

Excellent post! I really enjoyed reading it. And, love the cat-in-the-box! :D --I happened to be holding my cat on my lap as I saw it :P

Charlotte said...

Cats know how to respond to stupid comments such as, "Real cats have orange fur. . ."

Really, Waves, advertising as we all know is based on making the potential buyer feel insecure. If you feel insecure in your leggings and tunic, you'll have to run out and buy a sedate knee-length skirt. Just wear what you want. You're a beautiful woman. You could wear jeans and a tee-shirt every day of the year, and you would still be a beautiful woman with "a signature style."

tigerteacher said...

Good questions all! I will cop to being excited about the shift in silhouette for the fall and not only because it's one I think is more flattering on me, but, just as you described - for the fun of trying something new and feeling pretty and enjoying putting clothes together in a different way.

Love a box of kitty too! :-)

Milla said...

So many lovely Finland posts to catch up with, but I just had to say, congrats on your shopping ban and that your writing is such a treat, just like your style.

Jatka samaan malliin!

ps. että käy kateeksi nuo punaherukat. ai ai sitä Suomen Suvea ;)

Anonymous said...

I LOVE cat-in-a-box!!!! :) CR

Eyeliah said...

It is tough to define. Basically they are doing whatever they can to get us to spend money. If it’s not making us feel like we need to be thin and rich we need to feel ‘normal’. You are right about the trends being more the young, I hope that we can all grow out of it. I certainly have, and then I read on a blog that ‘hair wraps’ are back in style, like I used to braid into my hair at 12 years old and I get excited, so that’s a bit of a fail.

Tessa Zeng said...

Glorious questions, glorious post. I have been meaning to write about the nature of trends for a long, long time. "The return of real clothes" is a truly laughable phrase. Why do these magazines imagine that they can dictate "the return" of anything? Why do designers?

I'm a design student myself, and feel quite jaded when I'm surrounded by design students and teachers who don't take the time to question these things. If you said "I'm designing for real women in this collection," no one would ask you who this "real woman" was. It's a breath of fresh air to find someone who deconstructs these spoon-fed ideas, poorly understood by the spoon-feeders themselves!

I think this part says it all:
"Haven't we, the real women, been here all along, and why do we play the game of fashion at all when for the most part it doesn't even address our needs?"

I want to find that intersection of fashion and our needs and dive right in. Anything I can say about style (and I say a lot, these days!) is living in that spot of authenticity. We stay. We absolutely do. Something I've been musing over recently and that hits home for why I write in the first place. Thanks for being a kindred spirit and inspiration (&that cat!!) :)