Fashion is doing funny things right now. Instead of expensive suits, which models certainly never really wore in real life, models are increasingly photographed wearing the clothes they go home in. These are not people who want to look rich. Rather they look fashionably as poor as their peer group. So they all wear sweaters from the local school-uniform supplier (cheaper, no VAT), or the kind of 'pearl one, drop one' granny-knit jumpers they said they'd never be seen dead in and have hardly taken off through the summer. (Style note: Arran jumpers, which have a habit of getting so filthy that someone gives in to temptation and puts them in a hot wash, are particular favourites once they have shrunk to a size where no one else can wriggle into them.)
The funny thing is that some of the champions of the neo- sweater girl look are not so poor. They'll spend money to achieve it and you'll find labels such as Joseph and Comme des Garcons mixed up with their Portobello market finds.
In some ways, this loosening up and the lack of glamour is a good thing, for it's less prissy and uptight and more attainable to the vast numbers of the British population who care about style but don't have any money for expensive clothes. But it's a bad thing when it goes too far (like the shot we didn't run here of a girl in her dressing-gown, smoking a morning cigarette out on the balcony of her council block looking as though she was thinking of jumping). So what is it all about? There has always been a tradition of low- budget street style running concurrently with designer fashion. And every decade or so the two strands of fashion combine on the catwalk to be thrown back into the mainstream: from the posh shops, through the knock-off shops, and then in cheap imitations on the market stalls - next to the second-hand stalls that originally inspired them.
But what is happening in fashion is also happening in a wider context. Just as the sweater girls of the 1950s put on a pretty face and stayed at home while their men re-established themselves in the post-war job market, so today's sweater girls have a message. The optimistic version is that the current amalgam of fashion and anti-fashion is a sign of unity, of people wanting to look the same, rich and poor, and of money no longer having the social power it did in the Eighties. The downbeat version is that it is about hopelessness - and a fierce protectiveness about that position: 'We've got nothing and we'll dress that way.'
So just as there was more to those Fifties sweater girls than a D- cup pin-up on a garage mechanic's wall, there's more to this than a spread in a Sunday paper.
If you want to see confirmation of this mood, then examine that useful barometer of social taste, the movies. Even in Hollywood, the slice-of-low-life formula has displaced the pumped-up star
vehicle. If you've tried Jim Jarmusch and Gus Van Sant, and you really want to go for broke: go to see I was on Mars, by Dani Levy, about an inarticulate down-at-heel ingenue in New York. And when you've seen the movie, wear the sweater.-
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