I have had the privilege of interviewing many fashionable ladies, much like those that line the sidewalks during New York Fashion Week. When I ask them for the story behind their look, almost every woman says: ‘my mood dictates my fashion.’ For them, fashion is very personal and their inspiration comes from within.
I remember writing something corny in my journal along the lines of, ‘the best part about starting a blog and trying to find my style is that I found me.’ See? Corny.
But like those women, I always thought that my style should be an extension of me and my personality: who I choose to be when no one is looking, not what society says I should look and dress like.
Now, I am starting to think that the powers-that-be who control the fashion industry design not for who they are, but for who they wish they were. They are less authentic, and more aspirational.
Walk with me. I’m going somewhere with this.
This thought has been rolling around in my head since I read model Leomie Anderson’s letter to The Sunday Times on The YBF about what it’s like to be a black model in the fashion industry.
What stuck out to me the most was that even though it may not be right, fashion portrays what people want to be and who they perceive as superior.
For example, the idea of fashion looking better on white skin is associated with an old sense of elitism that many want to preserve no matter how diverse our culture truly is.
In the same way, no matter how curvy we are in reality (the national average size is ’14’), fashion magazines continue to show thin models because the editors see it as the look to aspire to. They care less about representing the masses, and more about imposing a standard of idealized beauty on them.
Is this really the world fashion magazines and runways aim to create? A world where no one wants to be black or over a size 2? I think so.
But their aspirational world is falling apart at the seams.
While many runways in Paris and Milan don’t feature black girls for their shows, Vogue Italia’s ‘Black Issue’ was rushed to reprint. No one wants to be over a size 2 in their mind, but I am jumping every time my phone vibrates hoping it’s the press office for Full Figured Fashion Week (going strong now) emailing me I will be admitted to sold out events.
It seems fashion’s long held elitist and aspirational mentality is battling with women of color and women with curves, who are tired of being underrepresented. And the fallout has been great.
Remember the chaos surrounding John Galliano and his anti-Semitic slur? How about hair stylist James Brown dropping the N-word? Journalist Liz Jones wrote on both incidents for The Daily Mail, saying:
“Both Galliano and Brown have swiftly apologised. Their ignorance could be seen as isolated incidences. But the truth is that behind the headlines there is something much more sinister and, ultimately, more damaging and institutionalised going on in fashion.”
I understand the institutionalization Liz speaks of. It’s why out of the 60 girls that walked in Chanel’s Resort 2012 show, none of them were of color. It’s why I’ve never seen a plus-size model walk the catwalk at a couture or high-end fashion show. It’s also why designers keep using the excuse that black or plus-size doesn’t sell when the truth is they don’t want it to sell. They want to keep fashion limited, elitist and aspirational (in their eyes). They want to keep it from becoming true to life, democratic and accessible to all.
As we prepare for another New York Fashion Week, it is about time we see ‘us’ reflected on the runway whether it’s our hair, skin tone or weight. But sadly, that won’t happen until more of us are behind-the-scenes, creating runway shows that are a reflection of how we really look, and not how the elitist fashion industry thinks we should look.