On fashion and superficiality

I’m not entirely sure how it took me over a week to notice, but Hadley Freeman went and wrote (yet another) brilliant thing about fashion. 15 year old Olivia wrote to Hadley’s advice column in the Guardian to ask how to get her classmates to stop calling her stupid for reading fashion magazines, and the reply had me nodding in agreement and screaming “yes!” at my laptop so many times that I thought I ought to blog about it.

Dionne (Stacey Dash) and Cher (Alicia Silverstone) in 'Clueless.' Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Dionne (Stacey Dash) and Cher (Alicia Silverstone) in ‘Clueless.’ Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

An interest in fashion is often thought of as something frivolous or superficial – perhaps because fashion is often considered to be only the trend-led easily-distracted way of clothing ourselves, or perhaps it has something to do with fashion’s historical links to women’s dress and patriarchal society’s dismissal of anything feminine as of lesser importance. Of course, just like football isn’t all about obscene transfer fees and music isn’t all about what’s at the top of the charts, fashion is so much more than catwalk shows and H&M’s latest designer collaboration. Although Hadley’s entire column is brilliant, and I highly recommend that you click the link above and read it all, the following points really stood out to me.

Being interested in fashion is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I don’t think one should be ashamed of taking an interest in anything. Being interested in something does not mean liking everything about that subject, nor does it mean one is utterly uninterested in everything else.

When I say I love fashion, what I mean is I’m interested in garments, fibres, fabrics, history, sustainability issues, underwear, subcultures, style, advertising, photography, diversity in fashion images, journalism, illustration, campaigning… the list goes on. I have no idea what the latest trends are, who showed at London Fashion Week (or even when it is!), how you pronounce Maria Grachvogel’s surname or who the current editor of British Vogue is. I can be interested in fashion and not know those things. I can also be interested in fashion alongside science, politics, online gaming, movies, cars, football, music and cats. (For example.) Freeman goes on to say:

Many men, in my experience, get a bit nervy when they see a woman taking an interest in something that has absolutely nothing to do with them – for all of fashion’s faults, one thing in its favour is that it is utterly uninterested in the opinion of heterosexual males – and their instinctive response is to mock it. Don’t let this make you feel bad about yourself, Olivia, or like you have to apologise for yourself.

I’ve done my fair share of apologising and justifying myself in the past. I even said to a scientist friend of mine recently that my research and interests weren’t especially important and she, quite rightly, looked at me like I was making no sense whatsoever. Well, it stops now. The fashion industry is an extremely valuable part of the UK economy and what we wear often says far more about us than we care to admit, so an interest in fashion is nowhere near as superficial as Olivia’s classmates (and occasionally me) have been led to believe.

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