Monday, March 7, 2011

Fashion is the new stupid


Got some? Sure you do; hard to hang your clothes out without them. You can tie the socks in a knot over the line, hang your shirts at the middle so they stay there or whatever, but it's a whole lot easier to just have clothes pegs. And they're so cheap! Bag of fifty? Less than ten bucks! And provided you don't wait until there's a month's worth of washing (bachelors? If that's what you're doing, that's why you're single), then that should be enough to last you a lifetime, right?
Well, yeah. Except that they break. After a month or three out in the sun, their colour starts to fade, they crack, bits fall off and eventually they snap clean through when you squeeze them. No big deal, grab another handful and let the dog chew the broken bits. And when they run out? Bag of fifty for less than ten bucks!

You don't have to know tooo much about plastics to know they shouldn't break in the first place though. Great chunks of your car are made of plastic, but they don't snap off after a few months (except Hyundais, but hey, bag of fifty for less than ten bucks!) And plastic bags are made of stuff that can keep right on choking sea turtles for decades. So why the heck do our clothes pegs keep breaking?

You already know the answer to this: they're meant to.

No company is going to make a product that never needs replacing. What would you sell next year? Works with light bulbs too: leave a little bit of air inside so the filament burns out and you've got yourself a nice little earner. Sure, it only lasts until someone invents little twisty spirally fluoros that fit straight in standard sockets, but that's a good couple of hundred years away yet, right? Soon after that they'll figure out how to illuminate offices by passing a low DC current through work experience kids, but that's a while off too. So do yourself a favour: buy wooden clothes pegs and you'll only have to replace the ones the dog eats, the kids use for slingshot ammo or that you hurl at the neighbour's cat when it's yowling at 3am.

But we're talking clothes pegs here. Regardless of how fast they break, it's not going to affect the household budget much. But what about the things we stick on the line with them?

Clothes are expensive. Designer clothes are more expensive. Not because they're better-made; the awesomely stylish company-issue dungarees and stripey-black-and-orange 'team shirts' I wear to work inevitably last a lot longer than the sharp-looking kit I throw on when I'm steppin' out Saturday night to shake my groove thang. Not entirely sure I actually have a groove thang, nor if I can legally shake it, but I know the clothes I wear when I do will be rags wiping grease off the bike long before the ones with the company logo stitched on the bum.
But even worse than your cool threads wearing out are the times when you head out on a first date with Hot New Thing In Your Life, wearing the trusty old shirt that's been bringing you luck since you wore it to meet That Girl, you know, The One who could do That Thing. A mere decade after you bought said Lucky Shirt though, Hot New Thing greets you at the door, and her expression makes it abundantly clear that an apple-green body shirt is not going to get you anywhere.

And why is that? Not because there's anything fundamentally wrong with apple-green body shirts. The reason it's no longer fine is because, collectively, we've all decided that they are No Longer In Fashion.

What, I ask, the HELL, does that MEAN?

The shirt fits. It keeps me warm. There are no holes in it, no slogans saying "Jimmy Carter for Prez," or "Russia out of Afghanistan", so why is it apparently wrong to wear something that was just fine ten, twenty years, even thirty years ago? Safari suit, anyone? C'mon, those things were great! All those pockets, right? Right? Hello?
No doubt you've read the story of the Emperor's New Clothes. Or at least you remember it from some cheesy Disney thing when you were a kid. In case it's been a while and you've been filling your brain with useless stuff like an education and the passwords for all your iGadgets (you don't just use the same one for all of them do you...?), here's the guts of the tale: some guy comes to town and convinces the emperor to buy these clothes that only clever people can see. Emperor dude can't see a damn thing, but hey, he's the emperor, can't look stupid. So he pretends he can see 'em, thanking tailor guy for his new magical clothes. And when he goes on parade in them, everyone else admires them too, not wanting to look like idiots. Except some kid, who points out that emperor guy is completely starkers. Everyone admits they can't either, emperor goes home, feeling like a bit of a dill. The epilogue is a bloody uprising by the people who don't want this nonce for a ruler, but Disney's only attempt to film this version fell over when Jean Claude Van Damme pulled out of the project, citing creative differences.
We're living that story now. We buy our threads, we look good in 'em. A year passes, we pull out our boot cut Levi's and chambrais shirts again; if they still fit (and I SWEAR everything shrinks over winter), there's no reason we can't chuck them on and get through another season without shelling out for new kit. Then some dunce comes on TV and says "Sleek fit is in! Bold colours are the look this year!" We see some dead-eyed meat puppet oozing down a catwalk in this gear and suddenly we're wondering if we're going to have any luck with the ladies wearing last year's duds. And the ONLY thing that's changed is that some pretentious git with giant sunglasses and a faux-French accent has come to town and said "Look! Magic clothes! But only the cool people can see them..."

I wish I could say I don't play along. I really do. But I spent some small part of my formative years in the 70s, so sticking to my no-fashion guns would mean bell bottoms and cardigans with foot-long lapels. You can tell people you're taking a stand against the fashion industry all you want, but even in the 70s we all looked like dills in 70s gear.
Epic belt buckle, flying-nun lapels...only Bruce Lee would dare.

So, teeth grinding, I throw out the skin-tight jeans and corduroy jackets and go buy...I dunno, whatever the hell is in the shops now. In most cases, and I cringe when I admit this, I actually meander about town for a bit first, looking at what other blokes are wearing before I go buy clothes. Usually I get distracted by hot chicks or all-you-can-eat sushi bars, but hey, who can ignore fresh ebi nigiri and halter top/cutoff shorts combos?

Wow. I just Google Imaged that last phrase. You're lucky I came back at all.

So how did this happen? Why are we wasting millions of our dollars every year, replacing clothes that still do the job just because they're not quite the right shade of taupe, or throwing out our sunglasses because everyone else is wearing those hideous giant ones that hide half of their forehead?

I think it's partly because it's just easier. For one thing, the big stores that we buy most of our clothes from are just as keen as that poncy faux-French guy to keep the fashion grinder mincing along. They're the ones flogging the latest Paris-designed, Beijing-made flimsies, so you'd better believe they'll be telling you how ridiculous you look in the stuff they sold you last week. And if your equally fashionable friends saw you at the Christmas party in the same dress you wore to the Halloween do, or (gasp) LAST year's Christmas party, dealing with the shame and embarrassment of it would be far, far harder than just going out and buying something new. And shopping is fun, right? Traffic, queues, crowded malls, high prices, queues, dodgy food court lunches, queues, screaming kids, the burning smell when your credit card approaches spontaneous combustion, get the idea. Sure, maybe it's a tiny bit stressful, but it's way better than looking like a derelict in last season's threads, yeah?


Fashion is a con. Pure and simple. Nothing clever or sophisticated about it; mostly it's just lowbrow advertising pummelled into your cerebellum every time you go near a TV, radio or your letterbox (here I exclude the annual lingerie catalogue delivered to most homes in some Australian cities; I can't even remember the brand, but you better believe I can remember the contents. Hot chicks in undies delivered fresh to my door? Don't mind if I do!) We get TV ads for the latest look, radio ads for the stores that sell it and paper catalogues chock-full of desperately smiling third-string models, showing off New Season cardigans as hard as they can in the hope it'll get them that next big gig modelling for a publication that might actually make it past the wheelie bin on the way back from the letterbox. Add in a few cash backhanders to celebrity bellwethers like newsreaders and small-time soapie stars and bam, next season's kit is flying off the racks, adorning the Slimfasted shoulders of every low self-esteem fashion filly at the spring racing carnival. They've got a wardrobe full of perfectly good clothes back home, all worn exactly once, but a new event means new clothes, and that's just how the fashion industry wants to keep it. I've had new girlfriends tell me they were looking forward to meeting my friends for the first time because, quote "I can wear all my dresses again; they haven't seen them yet!"
Ladies? A tip. By and large, we don't give a damn. If a dress looks good on you, it'll look just as good tomorrow as it did yesterday. Especially if it's tight, short, a bit see-through or, uh, cleavagey. More to the point, the odds are we won't even remember if we've seen it before. Our brains simply aren't wired to retain that sort of information. We might know every model of Porsche released since the 356, we might know the frontal armour of every American tank in World War 2, but ask us whether we've seen you in that dress before? "Ah, dunno babe, but you'd sure look good wearing it in a 1967 Porsche 911R with the 2 litre flat six and Weber carburetors."
And the same applies to the latest fashions. Mostly, we don't care, mostly. I mean it's great when the mini skirt  rolls around again, really great. Really, REALLY great. But we wouldn't know if what you're wearing is the current look, last year's look, or whether some woman first wore the style at the launch of a new American tank in World War 2.

And that to me is at the crux of the issue. The things you're seeing now, minus the odd bit of frippery, have all been done before. It's not surprising; there are only so many different ways you can hang cloth off the same object. So when the fashion visionaries run out of fresh ideas, they blow the cobwebs off their predecessors' portfolios, pull something out at random, PhotoShop a couple of new colours on the main bits and declare "Cardigans are back! Vinyl cowboy chaps are back!" Mini skirts have come and gone several times, denim shorts have done a couple of laps, big ugly 1970s sunglasses have resurfaced recently (with the added ugliness of designers' initials on them) and countless fashion concepts have been declared 'back in vogue'. So here's the question. If these things went OUT of style once before, how is it they are now back IN style? What's changed?
One thing. Some tailor guy has come to town and said "Look! Magic clothes! But only the cool people can see them."
Sure, we've seen them before. And we remember when their magic wore off, and we were caught wearing stovepipe jeans/denim cutoffs in the open. But we're so damn desperate to be counted amongst the cool people that we go with the lie anyway, perfectly content to be duped because hey, all the other cool people were too, so that's okay.

Of course, at any time, we are capable of getting of this expensive merry-go-round and doing our own thing.

Op shops are full to bursting of perfectly good clothes. For ten bucks and a brief chat with the old dear at the counter, you can get something barely worn and only a couple of years out of date. You might not fit in with everyone at the Mums With Kids At Expensive Private Schools picnic, but ask yourself: do you really care whether you're accepted by people who judge others on what they wear? Do you think maybe the world would be a better place if the things we wear were just that: things? When I meet someone I expect they will judge me based on the content of my character, not the clothes on my back (mainly because said clothes are usually faded band T-shirts with stretched necks and bike grease on the arms). So even though my jeans are a few years old, my jacket's kinda old school and my shoes aren't all that different from what I wore in the 80s, they're all still keeping me dry, warm and just a little bit smug when I see fashion ads. And that will do nicely.

And if you're out of breath from reading that lot, here's someone cleverer than me saying just as much in a single line:

"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to change it every six months."
-Oscar Wilde.

1 comment:

  1. It's sad because it's true.

    "When I meet someone I expect they will judge me based on the content of my character, not the clothes on my back ..."
    Depends on whether or not you are sporting a shiny suit of Iron Man armour. :D

    Oscar Wilde, the 19th Century's equivalent of "Star Wars" and "The Simpsons".
    He had a witty observation for any situation.