I had originally planned to write about true wardrobe essentials today – no boring black pants on that list, as you may have guessed – but then I went to the Sculptureum in Matakana and the plan was abandoned. Don’t worry, we’ll pick up on essentials soon, but the Sculptureum plus a speech by Jacinda Ardern on Friday night got me in the mood to ponder.
I’ve written before about why I think style matters. It allows you to signal clearly to yourself and to others who you are, and how you should be engaged with. However, I haven’t written about why I think fashion matters, which I think boils down to two things: good to have people in jobs, good to have a creative element in society. It’s the latter that I got thinking about at the Sculptureum on Monday.
I’d been to the opening of Toi Art on Friday night and spent three hours immersed in art. Our Prime Minister talked in her speech about the importance of art in our communities, and the importance of access to art, ideas which I instinctively agree with. However, I can see how some people might question what value a giant polar bear made out of old washing machines really brings to the lives of humans, and so I turned to the internet for some information on why art really is important.
I loved this description from Peter Bazalgette:
Imagine society without the civilising influence of the arts and you'll have to strip out what is most pleasurable in life – and much that is educationally vital. Take the collective memory from our museums; remove the bands from our schools and choirs from our communities; lose the empathetic plays and dance from our theatres or the books from our libraries; expunge our festivals, literature and painting, and you're left with a society bereft of a national conversation … about its identity or anything else.
Art also plays an important role as a mirror, reflecting not so much its future as its present. Art is vital for protest, for education, for provoking thought, and its increasing accessibility and prevalence in our society – from the street to the poshest environs – means that its ability to influence change is growing as the groundswell of social change continues to build.
But what about fashion? By that, I don’t mean personal style, but the more monolithic idea of Fashion, of haute couture and high street alike. Does fashion play a vital societal role, or are we just satisfying our own personal desire to constantly assert our own personalities and “specialness” into the world around us?
This piece by Professor Frances Corner sets out various reasons why fashion matters, including two interlinked ideas that grabbed me:
- Fashion can “spread an idea around very powerfully, coherently, and with the all-important 'cool' factor.”
- “The integration of technology into the fabric of our lives will help us if clothes are easier to put on, if they can monitor our body temperature, help administer drugs or connect us more easily to our friends and family.”
In addition to being a vehicle for expression of oneself, fashion is a vehicle for communicating ideas and beliefs to others (think of protest tees or the PussyHat). History is littered with examples of fashion being used to subvert ideas, or communicate a subculture’s manifesto. In that way, fashion can serve some of the same purpose as art, perhaps more accessibly again. After all, a tshirt and a tin of fabric paint is significantly easier to acquire than the goods for sculpture.
I’m grabbed by the idea of technology in fashion and how that might ultimately have a direct impact on our wellbeing. I’m quite confident there will be some issue with this that we’re yet to have fully anticipated or understood (humankind’s standard move when it comes to technology), but the idea of clothes being able to detect cancer or changes in blood chemistry, is alluring.
Ultimately, I accept it’s all cloth coverings that we use primarily to keep ourselves warm and to maintain social codes of propriety, but I think that fashion can be, and should be, so much more. I believe that how you choose to participate in fashion has a degree of impact on the influence that fashion can have, and since we all wear clothes, fashion is a seemingly somewhat democratic lens to communicate needs, both societal and personal, through.