The Purpose of High Fashion

FASHION - What is the point of high fashion?

Last year supermodel Carla Bruni (now the First Lady of France) wanted to bring herself down when standing beside the Queen Elizabeth II... She also chose a sombre grey dress-coat so to not upstage the Queen and for her shoes she wore a pair of plain black flats, while the Queen wore black heels.

Had she worn something exquisitely beautiful it would have been wildly out-of-place... plus with Carla Bruni it doesn't really matter. She'd look good wearing a burlap sack.

Most of us however are so ashamed of our bodies we wouldn't get caught dead wearing a burlap sack smock (or anything like it). We know we don't have the figure and we try to wear things that make us look better than we really do.

That's the purpose of high fashion. Its like make-up in a way. Or high heels. Or corsets. Its to make us look better. We aren't naturally stunning to look at, so we need high fashion as a prop.

If we all looked like supermodels there would be no need to go to such lengths.

Are we doing this for men? Not necessarily. Sometimes we just want to stand out or blend in. Depends entirely on the circumstances.

"We look at a beautiful person and think they are lucky," says Elizabeth Semmelhack, curator of Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum. "But if we look at a particularly fashionable person who is not possessed of raw beauty but rather a socially constructed beauty, then we're impressed. Real style is considered a magical skill."

High heels are now inextricably linked to pornographic imagery. Six-inch heels have elevated women's sexual allure to the point that flat shoes are now derisively described as "sensible."

Although frankly if I see a woman on the street wearing 6-inch heels, chances are likely she's a prostitute. She knows exactly what she's doing, especially if she has a fur boa, a short skirt and is showing a lot of cleavage.

Its always possible she's just a clubbing chick, but with those clothes she's still selling sex, except her payment is liquor and a guy good-looking enough to pass her drunken standards.

This is the POWER OF FASHION. It transforms a person from whore to madonna and back to whore again.

For women who are plain, or downright ugly, fashion is the way to even the playing field.

Lets take for example Susan Boyle, the bushy browed, wild-haired Scot who recently became world-famous as a contestant on Britain's Got Talent. The 47-year-old ugly duckling with the angelic voice has become a pop culture icon since her April 11 performance on the show partly because of the enormous disconnect between her appearance and her voice.

She's since had a makeover. Her grey hair has been coloured and styled. Her famous caterpillar eyebrows have been tamed. And she's traded in the unflattering mother-of-the-bride beige dress she wore on TV for a pair of fashionable, wide-leg trousers and a cool leather jacket. Though her supporters worry the makeover could diminish her chances of winning the competition, it's undeniable that she looks a lot better.

"This is why stylists are so popular," says Barbara Atkin, vice-president of fashion direction for Holt Renfrew. Women presume they can't learn these tricks themselves, so they hire a professional.

"Fashion offers women an alternative route to the spotlight, some sense of pride and dignity that they might not have if they don't approximate conventional standards of beauty," says Holly Brubach, former style editor of The New York Times Magazine.

Brubach is convinced the recent evolution of feminist culture has allowed women who aren't beautiful to participate in fashion. Feminism's first wave in the early 20th century liberated women from corsets and constructed silhouettes, she says. But in the 1960s, fashion was denounced as a male conspiracy.

"It was the hemlines issue, when the miniskirt was popularized and then seemingly one season later the maxi-skirt was in. Fashion was revealed as a commercial endeavour intended only to make women spend money."

In this era of post-feminism we have softened our dogma and now everyone can be stylish (or sexy).

It the dual faces of fashion – the model as front person and her plainer sister as participant. (Except behind the scenes the fashion models are hiding in plain sight wearing skinny jeans and t-shirts, because they're comfortable and they know they look hot wearing whatever.)

On TV's Ugly Betty the show's frizzy-haired protagonist stands alone as the unattractive employee of a fashion magazine staffed by beautiful people... except in real fashion magazines, the opposite is true... If you think the front row of an international runway is lined with lithesome Paris Hilton types, you'd be dead wrong. We're usually pretty butt ugly and our obsession with fashion is really about wanting to look better because we physically are below our own standards.

(We also work in an industry with an unusually high number of suicides, but thats another topic for another day...)

Try doing a Google image search for:

Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune.
Isabella Blow, the late stylist and fashion muse.
Ingrid Sischy (who looks like a man), formerly of Interview magazine.
Anna Piaggi of Italian Vogue.
Kim Hastreiter of Paper magazine.
Lynn Jaeger, formerly of The Village Voice.
Glenda Bailey of Harper's Bazaar.

They are some of fashion's most powerful players, always a breath away from the runway but never on it... and they're all pretty plain or ugly looking.

So we ask again, what is the purpose of high fashion? Its not to make beautiful people look better, its to help the rest of us raise ourselves a bit up on the beauty scale... without having to exercise.


Meg said...

thank you very much for your insights, i am working on an english project and used your website as a source, as my project is about the fashion industry. thank you again.

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