Life in a modern community is far more controlled by fashion than many people realize; fashion is big business, invented by original designers and controlled and promoted by business magnates for profit. Moreover, it affects not only clothing, but almost every aspect of daily life from the kind of house we live in, to the kind of book we read. And what is this mysterious thing called ‘fashion’ ? The best definition is that it is the material expression of a new trend of thought — the outward expression of a new idea, and new ideas are the life blood of business, if they ‘catch on’ !
When most people think of ‘fashion’, they think of clothing a women’s clothes in particular, and it is true that the ‘world of fashion’ implies the latest ‘model’ from Paris, New York or London. Curiously enough, it was man in the old days who, like the male bird, dressed himself in ‘fine feathers’ — not so much woman. In Britain, for instance, the 18th century ‘gallant’ in his velvet coat lace ruffs and powdered wig was splendid to behold. But since about 1820, fashion decreed that to look ‘male’ meant to look somber, and men’s clothes have never recovered from the change, or indeed altered very much since then. Women, however, have more than made up for them. Today, event he most remote and primitive of them try to obtain Western clothing, shoes, etc … while the wealthier ladies of more developed countries spend annually millions of pounds sterling or US dollars on the latest ‘model’.
These are first produced in the famous fashion houses of Paris, New York, London and Rome. “haute Couture’ draws the rich to the annual shows in these salons for the purpose of buying exclusive clothes. The prominent designers produce them according through their own ideas, and in doing so create new fashion trends which may or may not be popular. Stage two is the commercialization of successful models by large clothing firms which mass-produce them much more cheaply for the general market. and so, thousands of copies of a ‘model’ may appear in the chain stores some few weeks after the salon show.
To be fashionable, women’s clothes must have a certain ‘look’ which can be identified by other women, and therefore admired. It may be a raised or lower hem line, a low or high waist, a dress cut naturally off the shoulder, a certain range of colors or materials. The ‘fashion-wise’ woman recognized ‘fashion’ at once, and buys it, and this makes fashion big-business. To a lesser extent, men’s clothes also vary according to fashion, but the conservatism of the average male is despair of the men’s clothing trade.
But public taste in almost every feature of living is subject to change — even the female figure must be one year thin and boyish, another year’ curvaceous’ to meet the dictates of the couturier, and men’s clothing firms are, today, trying to sell the ‘baggy look’. So let us look outside mere personal appearance.
There is a vast difference between Victorian furniture in Britain, pushy and elaborate and over-stuffed, and the cleaner, streamlined household products of the middle 20th century — and this is simply fashion. Much modern furniture is grossly uncomfortable and much Victorian furniture supremely functional ! Houses, too, vary according to architectural fashion, modern leading architects setting the trends. Your new house today may be round, or made of glass and steel, or built on a split-level plan, or — thanks to modern materials such as reinforced concrete — perched high over a river or protruding from a mountain side. the old-fashioned ‘boxy’ structures are ‘out’.
‘Fashions’ are often made possible by the invention of new materials like plastics, ‘man-made fibers’ and cardboard they have revolutionized packaging and consumer-goods presentation. Cars have ever-new body-styles, thanks to fiber-glass and monocoque construction.
But ‘fashion’ goes deeper still. A ‘way of life,’ an occupation, a residential area, even a religion can be ‘fashionable’ or not, according to the whim of the moment. And we all know how ‘fashionable’, ‘doubtful literature’, ‘kitchen-sink theater’ and incomprehensible art and sculpture is at the present day.
‘Fashion,’ in fact, is the commercial exploitation of man’s restless quest for something new in an over-sophisticated society. It may give expression to new ideas, but basically it has no real worth. The beauty of a Grecian urn never varies, any more than will the absolute standards of beauty and decency which apply eternally to art and life.