The Independent Archive: Why should anyone apologise for the frock?

29 September 1988 Charlotte Du Cann, `The Independent's' new fashion editor, nails her colours (not necessarily designer black) to the mast
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The Independent Culture
STOP! IF you are not in the habit of reading fashion pages - or indeed if you are - suspend any formerly held opinions.

No page in any paper has to apologise for its presence, except for fashion. Fashion is constantly obliged to excuse its existence. Like the poor relation, it is reluctantly let in and made to suffer in a corner.

But poor is a bad adjective to attach to it. The fashion industry is the third-largest employer in Britain and has an export value of more than pounds 1,700m. No one has to stand up and defend the right to take the British car seriously. So why should anyone have to apologise for the frock?

I will tell you: because of the prejudice. The attitude to fashion, the wearing of clothes, style or what you will in this country has more enemies than the Dynasty ogress, Alexis. This arises partly from a national distrust of conspicuous consumerism and partly from the fashion business itself. Distrusters and dissemblers, here are the reasons why you are wrong.

Fashion doesn't mean anything anyway. Fashion is the visual expression of the age. Nothing illustrates more vividly the aspirations and follies of a society than the clothes in which it garbs itself. Even the clumsiest semiologist may understand the sartorial implications of a skirt that is short or puffed like a meringue or worn by a man.

Why, for example, does a decade that formerly dressed itself in sharp-money suits and sober conformity now desperately wish to be seen to be dressed as a hippy? Is this merely a whim of clubland dressing, or several designers in search of a new nostalgia? Or does this herald a new direction, a search for a more liberal attitude? Should the Tories be worried? Read this page.

Style is dead. In spite of numerous articles that declare this new truth, style is not dead. Style is not something that was invented by a materialistic economy eager to convert a nation of previously delightful citizens into rapacious consumers. Style is a visual expression of self: it is the outside declaring what is inside. The recent "designer" years have reduced style to concerning itself with simply the outside, sans content.

Red is black. The language that fashion uses, like all jargons, confuses more than it elucidates. There is no reason for words like greige (a colour) or accessorise (a verb) except as shorthand for those in the business. Who, except those fluent in fashion-speak, knows that even though we are not French a maillot is a swimming costume, that though we are not American trousers are pants, that even though we are not 82 years old a frock is never a dress? Fashion-speak uses words like directional and knows what they mean. Do you? I don't.

Only bimbos care about fashion. Contrary to received opinion, it is possible to look good and still have a brain. Dressing with a deliberate disregard for form and beauty is not a sign of intellectual or moral supremacy, only of mealy-mouthed imagination. Fashion is not a funeral, in spite of its predilection for wearing black: it is a pleasure. It is as amusing to put on a new hat, it feels as good to put on a new white shirt, as it does to eat a perfect peach, or jump into the sea. You would have to be a kill-joy puritan to deny that. Are you? I'm not.

Only girl bimbos with good legs care about fashion. Contrary to received opinion, it is possible to be not 19, not size 10 and not female, and still be interested in looking good. Are you? Read this page.

I would die for that hat. No one should die for anything, let alone a hat, even if it is designed by Chanel. This page is not for fashion victims (though it may observe them). It is for those who know that there is life after the shops close; that fashion does just not happen on the catwalk, any more than art does in galleries or books in literary criticism; that the clothes we wear are inspired as much by film, music, history, sport and travel as they are by designers. Jump in here!

From the Fashion page of `The Independent', Thursday 29 September 1988