As a naïve young punk (which was many years ago now) I visited a designer label store on Southbank. I spotted some fantastic looking clothes in a shop window and decided that they were worth a closer look. I could see the shop assistants inside the store and therefore figured the shop was open. I went to the shop door and then realised it was locked. I managed to catch the shop assistants eye and she came to the door looking a little jaded. She hesitantly opened the door, looked down her immaculately manicured nose and spoke to me in the most pretentious tone, ‘Do you have an appointment?’ she said. I looked back at her completely confused and asked ‘Why? Do the clothes have somewhere to go?’ Needless to say, she was NOT impressed.
It is fair to say that I have since developed in my appreciation of fashion (at least a little bit). Let me be clear… I am not a model, I am not a fashionista, I’m not wealthy enough to buy designer labels, and I am not someone who follows closely the glamorous world of catwalks and haute couture. I do however believe that everybody can and should shout the immortal words uttered by Will Ferrell’s narcissistic fictional character Ron Burgundy,
“I look goooood… I mean really good… Hey everyone, come and see how good I look!”
Let me explain. The fashion industry gets a pretty bad wrap, and to be fair, at times it probably deserves it. It isn’t always respectful of social conventions and has unhelpfully perpetuated significant social issues. But, like many significant cultural phenomena that has been distorted over time, it actually has positive and humble beginnings.
1) Fashion as art
The first recorded fashionista was Englishman Charles Frederick Worth, who lived and worked out of Paris. Revolutionizing how dressmaking had been previously perceived, Worth made it so the dressmaker became the artist of garnishment: or as we have come to know them – a fashion designer.
While he created one-of-a-kind designs to please some of his titled wealthy customers (including royalty), he is best known for preparing a portfolio of designs that were shown on live models. Invited guests would inspect his handiwork, make their selection, specify colours and fabrics, and have a duplicate garment tailor-made in his workshop.
Worth moved fashion from simple dressmaking to art-design. For Worth, fashion became an expression of creativity intended to enhance ones beauty. As a result, consumers began to look to him to decide what was worthy of purchase.
2) Fashion as confidence builder
The first Fashion Week event took place in 1943 in New York City. In the midst of World War II the fashion industry was unable to travel to France and invest in the current trends of Paris. Fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert created “Press Week” to direct attention to affordable American innovations and fashions in New York. Whilst it was an opportune time to distract buyers away from the dominant Parisian fashion industry, it was also an attempt to build confidence into people (during a time of war and economic challenge) by showcasing affordable and attractive clothing.
People felt good about themselves, they could still demonstrate something of their unique beauty. They weren’t just victims of circumstance, they were ‘people’, and their clothes helped them communicate this.
Needless to say the success of the week spread like wildfire, and since then many have followed suit.
It would seem that what people wear has the potential to build them up and enhance their spirit. It also has the potential to confuse ones perspective of self-worth and personal value. The difference? We must keep our attitudes toward clothing and our understanding of self in their right place. Fashion should seek to serve the self, and not the other way around.
So how can we avoid this common pitfall? It may seem obvious but I’d suggest we need to remember…
1) Beauty is never just skin deep
It was Mark Twain who said
“Clothes make the man, naked people have little to contribute to society.”
Not sure that I totally agree with that. Metaphorically speaking, a ‘naked person’ i.e. one who does not hide behind garments – is transparent, honest, truthful, open, and real. In short their personal character is more important than their clothes. A person who lives like this will probably make anything they wear look good! You don’t simply wear these things, you are these things. Clothes can’t replace or alter ones personal integrity or true nature.
2) What you wear does not determine who you are
The fashion industry can be guilty of dictating our clothing preferences, and in extreme cases it dictates the shape of the body that wears them.
Clothes were once designed and made to fit people. The unfortunate tale of today is that our culture is sometimes guilty of trying to make people to fit clothes.
Beauty, colour, light and life exists in every person, regardless of shape and size. We ought to dress in a way that allows these inherent attributes shine and never believe that we are somehow unable to do so. By allowing the fashion industry to dictate your shape, decisions and value you begin to distort the truth of the beauty that is you. I happen to believe…
You are enough.
You are valuable beyond measure.
You are known.
You are loved.
The universe was clothed in colour, beauty and wonder at the beginning of time, and the Creator’s refrain was ‘it is good… it is good… it is good…’ Then, speaking of humanity created in God’s own image it was said ‘it is very good!’ If you like, God looked at His creation and in a moment of delight shouted ‘Hey everybody… come and see how good I look!’ By all means dress well and take pride in your appearance, but more importantly understand who you are and whose you are.
The Creator’s delight in creation has not changed, and when we are able to look deep into our being and see the beauty wonder and presence of God our appearance takes on a very different meaning… few things trump the beauty of a person who is seen through the eyes of the Creator. It is possible to see ourselves and others in this way and I imagine the world might be a very different place if we were intentional about this.
So… whether you are known to be a fashionista, for your fashion-faux-pas, or anywhere in between, may you embrace the truth of the Creators refrain and give rise to the beauty that is you.