In defence of fashion

Thankfully the political whirlwind is no longer in the thorn trees and we finally have a PM in Downing Street, so I can stop worrying about that one and just get on with it. Ooh look, where's all my money going?

On the subject of money, during a frank discussion with an acquaintance of mine a few days ago, they came out with something along the lines of 'what has fashion ever done for society?' This made me incredulous mainly because they do have a penchant for Chanel sunglasses and ridiculously expensive underwear, but also because it's a surprisingly narrow-minded thing to say. Sure, they'd spent most of the discussion repeatedly stamping on the head, hand and heart of people like me with big dreams but without the map to find the road to them quite yet, and people in worthwhile and meaningful careers that don't rake in the big bucks, so nothing was really going to shock me at that point. But this one really surprised me.

Cast your mind back to primary school, when you were studying the Tudors, the Victorians...or whatever the equivalent is in your home country (big love to my international readers). I bet you relished elaborately and intricately illustrating your fact files with images of men and women of the times in contemporary dress. Learning about how in certain cultures, wearing specific colours indicated mourning, marriage, celebration, virginity - clothing became the ultimate status symbol. Like today, only the rich could afford to wear specific colours and fabrics, and like today, wearing them showed that you had cash to flash.

Talking of cash, here are a few figures that I found. In 2005, before the recession hit, the British clothing and textile industry combined generated over £9 billion pounds'worth of goods. In the same year, around £21 billion pounds were spent on womens' clothing by the consumer, accounting for 5% of spending on consumer items; this figure rose to 6% in 2007.

Ok, so there are a couple of big bold figures for you to mull over. Here another. £1.5 billion. That's how much Harrods, the luxury department store that houses one of the most elite collection of fashion items in the country, has just been sold for. Not exactly small change, given the fact that we are in a recession.

Blah blah blah, the clothing industry hardly generates anything, you say, and it's only getting tougher out there for young designers entering a saturated market. Alexander McQueen was, at the time of his death, still worrying about the profitability of his label. A recent article in The Times talked extensively about the difficultly new designers face in finding resources and funding to make their latest collection.

But thankfully for Alexander McQueen, there was Isabella Blow. And once we get past the designs and the clothes themselves, the profitability of the industry really opens up. What about the models, the photographers, the fashion magazine editors, writers, publishers, advertisers? Art directors for campaigns, stylists and make-up artists for shows? Lowly checkout girls at Harvey Nichols? HR girls, PR girls, ad men and marketing whizz-kids? Website creators, moderators, developers, maintenance staff? All those working away behind the scenes to keep the cogs turning in the collosal machine of what we wear.

So what has fashion done for society? Aside from the collosal turnover and the millions of people that it employs, it's got value that can't be measured on an economic scale. If you've seen the expression on the face of a bride trying on her perfect wedding dress, a woman with a dramatic new hairstyle or make-up look (yes, that's fashion too, and we haven't even touched upon the cosmetic industry!) a young girl or boy discovering their fashion indentity, or the way you feel when you find your perfect pair of jeans, you'll have measured the effect that fashion has on society. It has the power to make or break a life, a country, a society. It is, and has been, universal. While teaching, banking and governing practises change, we all have to wear clothes. And we always have been, and we always will be.

Sock it to 'em, Miranda.

'This... 'stuff'? Oh... ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise, it's not lapis, it's actually cerulean. You're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar De La Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of 8 different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of stuff.'
From 'The Devil Wears Prada'

(Please don't ask me to provide a balanced argument by talking about how the fashion industry has created generations of women and men who are slaves to trends, anorexic models and credit-card-wielding monsters like Carrie Bradshaw. That's not what this post is for. Plus, to look at it another way, anorexia is the polar opposite of obesity, a *ahem* huge problem in the modern world. Fight fire with fire I say! Plus the obese people shouldn't worry, it'll probably be the height of fashion again soon)

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