Fashion as text - a month-long series
What my clothes say about me is that I have very little interest in fashion, yet nothing could be further from the truth! Long-standing issues with body image have made it difficult for me to indulge my interest but I admire it as an art form, the skill it requires to make, and even seeing a person walking down the street wearing something that suits them perfectly.
In recent years I've seen the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A which I mention in an upcoming piece on the Thin White Duke, so it was nice to see the Starman clip here. It was the McQueen outfits that stood out for me. The tailoring! The V&A also had a Grace Kelly exhibition which we saw by chance having gone to see some Raphael cartoons and got there a bit too early! The vintage dresses were - as you can imagine - a sight for sore eyes. I enjoyed a Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A which was shown around the same time as one on Dior. Friends told me how amazing the Dior one was and I can well imagine - the queues for it when we went to see Quant were long. There was less interest in Quant but that was the one I had wanted to see : she has always been a style icon for me and I thought her designs really were revolutionary. We also saw a small number of Vivienne Westwood creations at an exhibition in Southport once. She was one of the greats.
Last year I wrote an article on Isabella Blow. I'll just provide the link for you here Kate. She was a legend in the industry!
Love this, Kate! I am not a fashionista either, and I always envy those people who seem to have an innate sense of style - which I think is slightly different to fashion, in that it is the way they wear clothes which sets them apart. But your opening around identity is what interests me. I have been thinking about this a lot lately (probably more than is warranted, frankly!) But I think the word 'transitions' here is key. I know that I have moved through several transitions in my lifetime of clothes-wearing and styling (as we all do) and I have been playing around with this in the past year or so as I hit 50. When I was a new mother, for example, I had to adapt my former professional wardrobe to jeans and t-shirts, but I was always concerned with not adopting that 'mumsy' look. When I ran an arts business, I was constantly covered in paint and clay dust and so wore jeans and t-shirts all the time for work, teaming these with more 'boho' headbands and scarves, which seemed to fit the vibe then. When I returned to work in an office part-time, I notched it up to a bit more professional, of course, and now that I work between an office and home as a writer, what I have found is that I feel the need to still wear smart-ish clothing on writing days, albeit a bit dressed down, as it makes me feel I am taking my writing more seriously. Probably silly! But I really think that far from frivolous, what we dress ourselves in (call it fashion or not) affects the way we feel about our roles and our self-esteem in general. I know that as I am 'transitioning' into a new phase of life atm, I have swapped out some of my older clothes for ones I feel reflect where I want to head next! Thank you for another thought provoking post - I look forward to the rest of the series :)
Such an interesting post, Kate. Thank you. I love your denim outfit. That’s pretty much my wardrobe. Double denim and converse, or denim and checked shirt with converse. In the winter, the same but with docs. Though winter jumpers and huuuuge woolly scarves are my favourite. I don’t think my ‘staple’ style has changed much over the years. Not including the 80s of course... but we won’t talk about that...
Also - just need to show appreciation for the denim jumpsuit, Kate! Love it :)
Fridman and Friedman in one article :D
It's a delight not knowing what you're going to cover each week, Kate. (Perhaps I should pay more attention to when you mention what's coming, but I enjoy not knowing 😄)
So glad that you enjoyed the podcast!
Fashion. I've been a bit of a bystander, never quite knowing quite what to wear and what suits me, having to rely upon girlfriends and ultimately my wife to advise me best haha. I think that stems from a lot of lack of confidence as a teenager and not being in enough with the "it" crowd to either pay attention to fashion or be bold enough to experiment/go with the trends. However, I really really connected with the discussion in the podcast and your words here about fashion as helping you to play a part in a role. It's certainly helped me. Back when I was a working magician, a smart-casual suit helped to put me within the role I was acting out. Same with teaching and lecturing, I usually start smart and gradually slide towards a more relaxed attire as semester moves on and I get to know my students 😆 I used to think that it was because I cared somehow about the appearance, but it's actually more aligned with the clothes helping to reinforce the character and enabling me to step into that role more easily. I'd say that right up until hearing that podcast I thought that being able to play multiple roles throughout a day/week was some kind of inadequacy, that I should just be myself as much as possible, but it was incredibly refreshing to hear that a chameleonic nature can actually be a valuable skill.
And as always, your wonderful post has sent me down a spiral of thinking, and a rambling reply hehe.
I love this fashion topic... Kate you look great in your outfit... Maybe a scarf, neckerchief can add a touch of something special too...k If you knew me you'd understand why I say thatl... I am a designer of silk scarves. But wanting to also design in cottons soft materials so this fashion topic interested me immensely. I love the images on the catwalk thank you for sharing these delights.
I ended up caring more about fashion after moving abroad; in California the incentive to be fashionable was simply not strong enough. And Europeans place more importance on it; integration/assimilation means having to care. But I also liked that in France the brand mattered little, if at all. More important was how an individual could customize their fashion accessories in order to produce an individual mix. What made me appreciate fashion more was how, in France at least, it is the last form of artistic expression that is truly individualistic.
I spend more money on books than clothes, like Desiderus Erasmus. But if I was more of a dandy I'd invest in styles that reconnect with cultural uniqueness. Nordic fashion, for instance, has a regional distinctness I like. I don't like the bland sameyness that many call fashion nowadays, and it's bittersweet looking at the old photos and seeing what was lost.
Even so, I maintain that the utility of the t-shirt should not be underestimated. Whether it's love of a band or adherence to a cause, it's the most effective way of communicating certain things that one might otherwise have to be delicate about. :-)
Very interesting article, Kate. I'm not that interested in fashion per se, but have always been interested in how it reflects the (forthcoming) economic climate.
I do, however, have a thing about dressing well in public, even if just casual wear. For example, when I worked as a teacher, plus in local govt, central gov and then independently, I always wore a suit and tie or jacket and tie. As a teacher it was to act as a role model to the students and to show them respect. in my other roles it was in order to gain respect. I get quite annoyed when I go to, say, an education conference/exhibition and am "served" by someone in jeans and a t-shirt. I just think, if I'm here to potentially spend several thousand pounds on your product, the least you might do is not look like you've just tipped out of bed. Sorry if that sounds snobbish.
I often dress according to the task I'm doing. I wrote about this in a jokey way here -- https://terryfreedman.substack.com/i/135231849/dressing-up but I do actually think it helps to get one into the right frame of mind.
Thanks for the link to the FT article. I missed that so I'm looking forward to digging in for a long read.
Thanks for this, Kate. A lot of food for thought. You managed to make it interesting even to me even though I usually only admire fashion from afar.
I would define my fashion style as non-committal - or bland, as my wife puts it. My ideal fashionista is Jeff Goldblum's character in "The Fly" - a scientist who owns about ten identical suits, so he doesn't have to waste time every morning deciding what to wear.
Believe it or not, I have not worn denim for more than 20 years. Too cold in winter, and wearing blue jeans in summer in Japan feels like self-inflicted torture to me.
Sorry I can't send you a photo of me wearing my writing clothes... In Yokohama it's still hot and muggy, so I'm almost naked.
Loved this! I’ve come full circle. The corporate business suit-and heels-days are mercifully over and I’m back in my Bean boots and flannel shirts. (NB: this doesn’t translate well to the Arizona desert)
Thank you, I am enjoying my designing - today I am illustrating a dog for a book I am planning ... That is very kind of you to allow me to show a link - I am based in England I only make what is needed - so as to eliminate extras anywhere. I guess it makes my scarves more unique with limits - I can offer varying colourways to suit ...hope you like my new designs 7 silk scarves.
https://tracycatchpoleart.com/7-silk-scarves let me know what your thoughts are, you are welcome to subscribe too.
A great set of ideas and videos about fashion, Kate, thanks for this brilliant post. Loved the David Bowie video from 1972.
My relationship to fashion has totally changed as I've got older. I used to spend way more time and money on my wardrobe than I do now, I guess as I was figuring out how I wanted to present myself to the world. It doesn't take up much of my headspace anymore, so I have a few staples that are gradually getting more and more worn out. And occasionally my wife will add something in to my wardrobe for me that she finds on Vinted or in a charity shop whilst looking for stuff for herself.
I liked the fact you started by saying about the inner strength gained from your peers when they donned on the 'cape of power' be it a hat, a robe, it was of great interest to learn about your experiences.... However to brush by so many elements of history of art, design and culture, not mentioning the opulance and stature needed by a few to be shown to the masses, to warrant position, power and intrigue.
I am a royalist and I like to keep our countries heritage of the royal family in high regards and respect its heritage and history, even though there have been dark phases, it has brought us to a time where we are able to question right from wrong, and although history CANNOT be re written of prefabricated it now has a chance to grow with a righteous and healthy opinion and purpose. Helping more whom truly need help.
It is a shame that the frivolity of the fashion world like to down grade the royals, it is unashamedly in poor taste, especially as many see the Royal family as a measure of our stability in a world that is so volatile..
Monarchy and all it stands for does bring a vast amount of wealth to our country, the way our King, (as when he was a Prince) and now, has been manifesting such established colleges, and fine architecture in Cornwall, now had to pass the baton to Prince William, it is in itself a powerful dressing of fashion in the form of bricks and mortar but also in its culture nurturing future trades, and artisan arts and crafts for the future, aswell as offering a good process of sustainable agriculture and local farming, this too is another form of dressing our country in the form of land, trees, foliage, flora and fauna, which in turn offers the ability to make clothing for local future fashion within our towns of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Especially as the heritage, culture, fashion, exquisite cloths of times even before 2000BC in my mind is like a dream so far away.... And our own heritage of royalty spans milleneums, a family being royal encapsulates a world few of us really would like, but the old power of royalty donned on those capes to win battles, fight for freedoms, and encouraged wealth into our building heritage with Royalty Aids, through the ages. They too were aspiring for attention so they could enjoy wealth and high life, enabling a strong future existence of life, for their children and future children...
Times move fast these days, we used to say old news of yesterday were tomorrow's fish and chip wrappings ...(.l must mention we were so eco friendly right there.)
I'd love to hear more about the history, culture of linens, silks, cottons and how it became so famous with the silk road, oplulent times, opulent clothing,.
We all like to be seen at our best, special functions, yet we did also like to dress more, respectfully daily...it has all changed, seeing people in housecoats in the streets... Where has dignity gone?
What I can never quite get to grips with is... I can understand wanting to show how great one looks, but why then show themselves at their worst?
If fashion, top fashion is what we like to see, why isn't it being reflected in the everyday people's world...
At a lighter budget...
Everyday Quality of clothing has downgraded for sure, there now needs to be a force for quality, organic, long lasting materials, no plastic recycled clothing which is harmful to our skins promoting cancers, but organic, sustainable, quality made, garments for beautiful fashion for all to buy at a price which is sensible, fair and have the special pieces for special occasions...
I too went off on many tangents, easily done, with such a huge topic... I think breaking it down into bite size topics will be fun to read, and a rewarding piece of literature, rather than scanning lots of data.
Refining and defining specifics is a great way for the topic of fashion to be expressed over vast historical eras, encapsulating differing cultures.
Climates of varying countries not just its weather, but its social and economical climates have all played a part in the growth of fashion today, and at the front if it all is
😊 what the people admire,
😊 why they admire it, and
😊 how it makes them feel, to be part of their culture, their time, sharing with their friends and family...
Do we conform to fashion, or are we steering the fashion of clothing, to fit our times our changing world.
Thank you for sharing your writings today, I hope you didn't mind me responding...