A Fashion Writer’s Lament

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Sometimes I tire of writing about clothes. Not that it’s a dreary topic, but from a philosophical perspective at least, the business aspect of fashion is trivial. I’m not denouncing the artistry of garment making; I acknowledge the ingenuity that designing a beautiful gown or a handsome suit requires. I appreciate fashion as a fine art just as much as painting or sculpting, not a frivolous endeavor. Rambling on about shopping advice all the time, however, hardly constitutes a great metaphysical contribution to society. It’s fun for a while and it helps keep magazines and fashion houses running but that’s all it helps: fashion insiders’ bank accounts, not their souls.

Unfortunately for me and anyone else who wants fashion to achieve highbrow status in the general public’s minds, producing consumer oriented fashion articles proves far more lucrative than penning essays about fashion from a historical and cultural point of view. After all, more people want to read about where they can snag the latest trends for cheap than they do about what donning lingerie-inspired street wear implies about the evolution of Western attitudes toward morals and sexuality. Short and sweet, I have to eat so I do what I have to do: write what people will pay to read.

Call me a sell-out. I know I am most of the time, but at least I try to output an equal ratio of snappy fashion tips to more scholarly fashion pieces. If I only wrote about shopping, then I probably would have dropped fashion writing altogether long ago. It’s the balance of crap to gold that manages to feed me yet still bring me closer to achieving one of my missions in life: convincing more people that fashion isn’t all frou-frou. (A pretty qualitative mission, yes, but a mission nonetheless). It CAN be frou-frou, just like summer movies in the film world or dime store romance novels in the literary world, but that doesn’t mean that it all is. Who these days would argue that filmmaking and novel writing aren’t art forms? Initially both movies and novels received a lot of negative criticism, denounced as vulgar entertainment rather than masterpieces, when they first came out but now they’re established fields of study at colleges and universities across the globe. So why is it that the general public still holds fashion, which has existed far longer than movies and novels, as fluffy?

Maybe you don’t believe that statement—that the public deems fashion fluffy. Maybe you think that I’m exaggerating in saying that fashion has not become a widely respected art form. Yet watch the 2006 movie, “The Devil Wears Prada,” whose popularity must indicate that it rests well with our society’s mindset. Ann Hathaway’s character, Andy, plays an educated young woman who seeks a career as a journalist. While looking for jobs, Andy notices an ad for an internship with a major fashion magazine. Andy’s reluctant to apply because she wants to become a “serious” reporter. Because she’s “smart,” she envisions herself at some other kind of publication (and, by the end of the movie, she does end up switching to a newspaper job), implying that working in the fashion industry isn’t for intellectuals. Rather, the fashion industry is for people like Andy’s co-worker, Emily, who apparently is pretty typical of the other girls at the magazine. All she can think about is fashion to the point that she makes attending Paris Fashion Week her main priority that year. Emily’s portrayed as shallow and snarky—and yet nobody seems to question whether that’s a fair and accurate portrayal. In fact, much of the movie’s humor revolves around making fun of Emily and other fashionstas, just evidence that our society stereotypes fashionistas as vapid and deems nothing wrong with it.

“All fashionistas care about is glitter and lace, right?” Well, perhaps prettiness does preoccupy some of them, like Emily, but that doesn’t mean that these people are representative of the entire fashionista population. Do all Mexicans mow lawns for a living? Are all Irishmen drunkards? Do all women dream of getting married to Mr. Right and having 2.2 kids in Suburban America? Are all blacks lazy? (How many more rhetorical questions do I have to ask to prove a point?) Not last time I checked. Yet the general public likes to spawn their generalizations based upon their observations of a small minority. And, in this case, fashion writers like me suffer.

As a fashion writer, how can the belief that fashion’s worth lies exclusively in the money it earns and narcissistic mania with appearance not offend me? Sometimes knowing that fashion’s importance extends beyond looking good and raking in profits isn’t enough to convince me that my job’s worthwhile. Whenever possible, I try to remain optimistic and dismiss what “others” say about fashion as a declaration of their ignorance (there’s A LOT more to it than making big bucks) but it’s hard not to mope every now and then. Call me insensitive but if other groups can complain about persecution, so can I as a fashion writer.

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