There is much vitriolic bile hurled at the fashion industry: ecologically unsound, morally corrupt, ageist, sexist, racist. They all have an equally vociferous defence. There’s one, however, that stands up. The fact that what you see on a catwalk bears little or no resemblance to the clobber of normal folk.
Looking outside, with the winter shows fresh in the mind as our alleged summer draws to a close, I don’t see blokes clad in the graphic knits of Raf Simons (below), the paisleys of Dries Van Noten, or even the bloused layers of Lanvin. Instead, even in November rain, you see T-shirts, flip-flops and ubiquitous cargo shorts as far as the eye can see. Occasionally, there’s a rumpled navy suit or soaked shirt, neither taking advantage of the advances in techno-fabrics nor innovative design that could relax the suit and let that shirt breathe. But it’s not just the men: it’s rare you’ll see a woman wearing a catwalk-fresh look unless she works in the industry.
When did fashion separate itself from clothing? When did the stuff we see on the catwalk become so far removed from everyday life? Well, it’s always been like that. Dior’s New Look caused a furore and created a revolution, but few women wore it undiluted in their everyday lives. Granted, those frocks cost several thousand francs (hence the furore in a Paris, where people could barely afford loaves of bread), but the trickle-down was decidedly watered down.
It stretches even further back – when you look at Renaissance portraits, bear in mind that the nobility in them didn’t really wear those clothes. Rather, those frills and furbelows are representations of the people they want to be, or the people they wanted other people to think they were. So Nicholas Hilliard added a few extra virginal pearls to Good Queen Bess’s farthingale. So what?
This was all inspired by a comment on The Independent website, a voice plaintively declaring: “Once upon a time… fashion was what could be worn out of the house.” By my estimate, roughly 500 years ago. And even then it was pretty hardcore.