A Defense of Fashion and Clothing
Vikram’s post on the value of brand dilution lead to a discussion on clothing and cost. As OT’s resident fashionista, Jaybird gently baited me with this comment:
Let’s say that I make one of those $300 shirts that looks exactly, and I mean *EXACTLY*, like a $30 shirt. (SAUL, I AM LOOKING AT YOU HERE)
I wondered that there maybe it was time to write a post defending clothing and fashion as subjects to think about and take seriously. There is a long history of deriding people who think about clothing and fashion as being unserious. There are words dedicated to the subject (and a good deal of sexism and homophobia). The man who thinks about clothing is often thought of as being effeminate and not a real man. Nikil Saval’s excellent history of the Office reveals that the young men who were the first white-collar workers in early 19th century United States were treated as being weak and strange for using brain instead of brawn to earn a living and putting a good deal of effort and consideration into their appearance. Paying attention to fashion and clothing is also considered to be a sign that someone is always chasing after short-term trends instead of what is really important.
I don’t agree with this for a variety of reasons.
One a basic level, I like clothing because it is fun and aesthetically pleasing. You can think of clothing in pure utilitarian terms: I wear clothing so I don’t die of exposure, get arrested, etc. You can also think of clothing as art you can wear out on a daily basis or semi-regular basis depending on the outfit. I also know I have a reputation as OT’s resident art fanatic and my feelings on clothing are no different than my feelings on art, I see it as a variant of human creativity and I don’t see why this is to be discouraged. The joy of fashion is seeing how people change and their own take on classic styles or items of clothing or come up with something on their own. What colors did the designer use? What fabrics? Did they do anything to change the texture or appearance of the shirt, pants, shoes, etc?
I’m guessing that Jaybird’s comment on spending 300 dollars on a shirt that looked like it cost 30 dollars is about distressing and purposefully scruffing up an item of clothing. Golden Goose sneakers are a good example of purposeful distressing. There is an obvious socio-economic issue to distrssed clothing and that it can be the well off trying to pass themselves off as scruffy bohemians or as the less fortunate. I’ve heard people argue that you should distress your own clothing instead of paying for clothing that has already been distressed. I’m not sure of the validity of this argument. I don’t have the skills to make the stuff that I would want to wear but I know what I like and can work on what skills I do have to be able to afford it.
Like art, fashion is a far and wide subject. The person who likes brands like Engineered Garments or Our Legacy could find a brand like Rick Owens to not be there thing because it is too futuristic and harsh seeming. I know that I would look good in pants like these but absolutely silly in something like this. So I don’t go for the cropped pants or the drop crotch.
Is fashion signalling? Yes. Does the signalling sometimes or often reveal that some people can be assholes? Also yes but everything about our outward appearances is signalling whether we want it to be or not. The person who wears Doc Martens, tartan, and a green army field jacket is showing just as much tribal affiliation as the person who wears Paul Smith shoes and Belvest suiting. I think it is fair to ask whether the Doc Marten uniform would mean anything if it could not be contrasted with a suit wearing person and vice-versa.
One thing I’ve noticed in life is that people have strong opinions about “Item X should not cost above Y.” This can be true for many goods but it seems to come across strongly in clothing even if there are good arguments about the high costs of cheap clothing as supplied by places like H&M. I’ve never been able to figure out why so many guys take a pride in not caring about clothing or aesthetics generally.