One of the more interesting perks of the social media age is the ability of the general public to see fashion shows in real time. In other words, we can all be Miranda Priestly now. We get to decide whether we like the clothes that any particular designer has created as they are seen on the catwalk. We, the average masses, get to decide what if any of the upcoming seasons accoutrements are what we would like, rather than waiting for the fashion buyers to decide from their SixthAvenue Olympus thrones what we should all be wearing. (For those who don’t know, Seventh Avenue is the place where fashion is born, Sixth Avenue was where the fashion moguls and purveyors of culture, aka fashionista magazines and Admen, reside.) As was so famously pointed out in The Devil Wears Prada, only that opinion was the opinion that counted. Not so much anymore. Egalitarianism has reared its head, as with most aspects of society, due to social media. And the battle has been joined…..
Now granted, the vast majority of the public couldn’t even hope to afford any of the lush garments paraded by these lithe ethereal beauties and beaus. But what we can do, is afford the knock-offs that every Taiwanese and Hong Kong sweatshop is about to produce. And yes, the exploitation of the third world, which produces our cheap version of haute couture, is an issue that shames the fashion industry (and Walmart), today I am talking about the ingenuity of fashion meets technology meets the average person.
The ability to make a decision about who you are is essential to being an independent person. The “clothes make the man (or woman),” they say. And so clothes do. But who gets to decide what those clothes should look like? If every thing that you can purchase is already decided for you by some other’s idea of how society is to be viewed, where is the independence or the individuality? Deciding to buck the trend, may be your way of revolting against societal norms, but when you look ridiculous that doesn’t add to a modicum of functioning in this world. And yes, the young have made it their business to fight the establishment, but what happens when those who fought the establishment become the establishment? It becomes de rigueur to be iconoclastic, nonconformist, and well….ridiculous looking.
Seriously, there was a menswear show that had the models wearing their underwear over their suits. Who in real life, other than an attention seeker, is going to walk into a boardroom like that? Are you going to walk into a courtroom, or on the factory floor with your tidy-whities over your clothes? Does anyone really think that a venture capitalist, or a bank loan officer, is going to fork over hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars, to someone who is so outrageous? No they are not. Investors, and society in general, look to sane people with interesting and challenging virtue driven and fact based ideas. Does anyone think you will be seen as a competent lawyer when you wear your skivvies over your trousers?Who is going to be given the reigns of heavy machinery if you think your jockeys are there as decoration? Dressing like you are from planet Meth is not what it takes to be successful in life.
So be outrageous all you want. But remember, society still decides what constitutes appropriate behavior, even when it comes to how we dress. Moreover, if you want to be seen as a productive member of society, please remember that the outrageous antics of the catwalk, or a fashion magazine, are for a few, and not for those that live within the norm.
Ok, ok, Madge did it 30 years ago, wearing her underwear as clothing, and became an international superstar. But evaluate the reality. How many Madonnas are there in any given generation? Most people get ahead by taking stock of acceptable behavior, and understanding that you do judge a book by its cover. In other words, put your underwear under your clothes, wear a typical shirt, pant, skirt, dress, and appropriate pair of shoes. Heaven knows that in the USA, we have more than enough to choose from, in any price point.
But the idea of social media and its effect on fashion, isn’t so that we turn ourselves into some foolish looking version of an adult, but what we are able to do, by looking into the world of high fashion, is to take from their perspectives and add to our own. We don’t have to wait for the overseers to tell us what we should add to our wardrobe. If we see it in a show, we can talk to our local shop and ask them to find similar pieces. We can decide what it means to be us, without having to bargain away too much of our own personality.
In a nod to equality before Seventh Avenue, one house even had Fashion bloggers as their runway models this September. A very interesting development when it comes to independence from the coterie of control. Here, the bloggers, women who may have worked in fashion, may have had jobs as buyers, may have studied fashion design at Pratt and FIT, or are simply Stay-at-home-moms looking for a creative outlet, are seen as legitimate commentators on the comings and goings of the fashion world. They are the new Art Critics of our day, similar to those who discovered Any Warhol and Marc Chagall in their creative periods. They can see the world in which the average person lives, and discusses fashion in order to make it user friendly. Turning fashion accessible is important if these bloggers really want a following, and in the end, it’s the way many of them earn a living.
Now of course, there are those fashion houses that want to shock. They also come and go at an extraordinary rate. Fashion is a multibillion dollar business. People do not invest in fly by night designers. Talent and vision are important. But even more important is business sense. If the designer is too avant garde, he is not sustainable and in the end, the money dries up.
Without a doubt, there are those Houses that have remained in business for decades because they emit a je ne sais qua, an elegance, a sense of uniqueness that we equate with class. They are the Houses that you think of when you think of how we should present ourselves. Their designs show off the best attributes of the human form, encased in some of the most exquisite fabrics. It is all put together to make the world in which we live extraordinary. Lace, sequins, satin, plush brocade, minute detailing that takes hours and hours of refined labor, all put together in a way so that artists can see their creations come to life. They create a world of fantasy, while also needing to be economically viable. In fact, because survivability depends on sales, in today’s world, you can find the off-the-rack label of famous Houses in any department store.
Fashion is the touchstone of any society. People view themselves by how they present themselves. While fashion was also the way in which the rich differentiated themselves from the poor, and in many ways still do, fashion has become more of the every-person expression of who we are and how we want to be seen. But what social media technology has added in this little twist of knock-off clothing, exploitative labor, and globalization of the industry, is the idea that the average person has a say in who they are through their clothes almost from the moment those underfed models descend down the runway in those exhilarating and breathtaking moments enshrined in the absolute aura of human creativity.
Hence, social media has turned another industry, the sublime, creative, enchanting and class distinctive fashion world, into the epicenter of what French Jacobins would call égalité.