Material Visions

More to fashion than meets the eye

There is something fascinating about the contradictions that hold tension within fashion. It is an imaginary that we dress into each day in the privacy of our homes, the clothes we choose covering us in the illusion of the “she” we want to be or the “him” we feel we are. Of course, clothes have a utilitarian function too, keeping us warm or cool, covered (or partially uncovered) to conform to social expectation, while they can also assume the intangible in their folds.

It sometimes seems as though clothes literally absorb the shape and memory of the experiences we live in them, recollections that draw into familiar proximity as we step into particular garments once again.

As there is a deep connection between surface and self, between cloth and skin, there is also much more to fashion than meets the eye. Fashion is where ideas of artistry, embodiment, gender, taste and commerce intersect, a spectacular visual art that has an intimate power because it finds its fullest realisation when it is worn.

Its capacity to shock is often voiced with an incredulous “where are you supposed to wear that?” (Although I for one would loudly applaud anyone who wears a sequinned cutaway jumpsuit to duck up to the shops because why not inject some theatricality into your everyday?)

Its surface excesses are easily dismissed as frivolity rather than considered as having something more complex to communicate about the time in which we live, yet fashion holds out a mirror as much as a product.

Of course, in speaking of and to appearances, fashion can polarise as well as knit together. Presenting a new ideal subject every season as it does, there are inevitably men and women who, by not embodying that ideal by virtue of their ethnicity, body shape, age or gender are excluded.

And what of the ethical implications of our excessive consumption? And what are we doing when we claim that the stuff we buy expresses who we are and what we value?

This column, Material Visions, will tease out some of these contradictions and tangled illusions. It will be a place to discuss high fashion as well as everyday dress, all from the considered perspective of a fledgling fashion theorist. No aspect is too niche or too broad for discussion, but I promise to never, ever tell you what to wear ― unless you are on the fence vis-à-vis sequinned cutaway jumpsuits, in which case, go for it!

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