The Rise of Fashion as a Serious Interest

The Rise of Fashion as a Serious Interest

When I started this blog, I hit pause and thought about how it might reflect on me.  Long time readers will know that I have a Very Serious Job (I’m a lawyer in New Zealand’s financial industry, with a team reporting to me and a job where my decisions directly impact other people and their businesses.  It is no joke).  I was, briefly, worried that a website where I basically fecked about talking about what I wore and making jokes about my fashion tits would undermine my trajectory to “Ultimate Boss”.

Obviously I got comfortable with the dynamic, because here we are two years later reading my blog.  Basically, I decided any person who is silly enough to think a blog about clothes reflects on my ability to be an incredible human is going to be a shit boss anyway, so really, the blog is just a useful weeding-out device.  What’s mostly interesting to me now is why I even thought about this. I mean yes, my blog is a bit irreverent from time to time, but I didn’t know that at the time.  If you read those early posts they are (a) terrible and (b) terribly earnest. I was purely concerned because my blog was about fashion.

Fashion has not, historically, been viewed as serious stuff.  The feminist in my (aka: me) thinks this is undoubtedly because in very recent times fashion and style has been largely a woman’s pursuit – although please note the high degree of involvement in fashion that men had for many years, until something went terribly wrong in the 90s.  Interestingly, when I went to the lectures at Te Papa on the weekend I learned that scorn directed at people who are interested in superficial, vain fashion is nothing new – think Cicero, team (that’s 63 BC for those who aren’t familiar with their Roman history). 

There’s a ton of virtue-laden messaging tied up in the idea of not caring about your appearance, but I’m here to call bullshit on that one.  Isn’t parsimoniously dressing yourself in sober clothes just as deliberate an act as dressing in shiny, gaudy fabrics for fun?

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I’m interested in this because I think we live in a time where fashion is increasingly becoming an intellectual pursuit.  While it’s been the focus of fashion historians, collectors, curators and conservators for centuries, my impression is that the evolution of technologies that allow more effective conservation, and the democratisation of information via the internet, has meant that conversations about fashion are more sophisticated and more informed than perhaps they have ever been before.  The knowledge and interest that once would have been held by a select group is now accessible and exchangeable with a wider, highly engaged audience. 

We see it in the increase in fashion literature (like the very good Why Fashion Matters, by Frances Corner, which is pictured above).  A far cry from the Gok Wan and Trinny and Susannah stuff that was the calling card of the 90s, a person who is interested in the ideas and philosophies, or the practicalities, or the dreams of fashion can now access all of it.   To me, fashion is slowly but surely taking its deserved place among the other fine arts.  And if you’re thinking “Megan, a top from Glassons is not on par with the Mona Lisa”, may I direct your attention to the proliferation of shit art on the internet?  Who wants a mass produced print from Ali Express?  There’s your true comparison.

While fashion is not subject to copyright law, it’s arguably subject to just the same craftsmanship, skill and study as other creative pursuits.  We now protect our material culture of history – in fact, museums buy key pieces or collections as they are released, for future generations.  Fashion gives us a unique insight into our past selves (both personal and historical), captures social movements and fancies, and allows a level of personal expression that I think is important in a world that seems to grow ever more political and corporate.

If I was starting this blog today I think I’d hardly pause to consider the ramifications of a public expression of my interest in fashion – but the catch-22 is that I no doubt think that because this very blog has encouraged me to engage with concepts of fashion, style and culture in ways that I would not have had I not had this blog.  I know that there are still people who think my love of dressing up and my “collection” of blazers is superficial or demonstrates a lack of seriousness, but I hope that those people are slowly becoming the minority.  Dressing yourself is a personal act, but it’s also a public act.  You chose your clothes but you are observed by others in them, and observe others in theirs.  We know that the clothes we choose will change how we behave and think.  We know that the clothes others choose will change how we perceive them.  There’s many things in this great wide world that are worth exploring and this question – what does fashion mean? – is worth a little intellectual heft.