If I were to aggregate my fashion knowledge and type it in 14-point font, it would not cover paper equal to the girth of a box-gap on an Ursula Hufnagl model. Which is to say, my learning is slimmer than even the nation’s slimmest and most fashionable labia. I do not know style. I do, however, know stupid twats, and they have revealed themselves again this Fashion Week.
Well, not in the front rows of Fashion Week, but in its compassionate bleachers we can hear a predictable yammering of twats. The models! They’re far too thin!
It is easy and not the slightest bit pointless to scold the twattery endemic to fashion itself; fashion is always and intentionally saying and doing stupid things. Fashion consumers use stupid, hilarious terms like “mankle”, “fierce” and “jodhpur”. Fashion designers say stupid, hilarious things like “sweatpants are a sign of defeat” or “no one wants to see curvy women”. Fashion is very good at extending the language of vacuous unconcern, and to object to its cruelty is only to object to the free market at its most candid. Better a slim, naked capitalist than a fascist who tries to sell you leggings.
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So it is not with overpriced designers and the underfed ladies who sell their creations with whom we should quarrel this week. Instead, it is the empty journalism that demands upright behaviour.
Melissa Hoyer, whom I have long admired for her refusal to attend reform school, is the only journalist who dares ask her peers to shut it. “No, models do not depict what ‘real women’ look like, but ‘real’ isn’t what many high-end fashion designers want to see. Models are thin,” she said. Now quit your bleating so I can enjoy me some clothes.
Hoyer, of course, attracted scorn for her decision to state the obvious. And this was not, by the by, that tall, thin women are the only women who might be considered beautiful. Leaving aside for the minute the toddler feminism that holds being considered beautiful is a right and not a trifle, Hoyer is quite right to remind us that couture is not now and never will be in the business of blandishment. Luxury goods are not effectively sold by giving consumers any sense that they deserve them. High-end events like Fashion Week exist to showcase brands that scream, “I’m too good for you”.
Luxury clothes, like luxury cars, are sold only through the mass production of self-loathing. Elite vehicles that cost even more than a pair of Louboutins are routinely advertised during television programs watched by people who could never finance such a purchase. The value of the object inheres not in the labour used to produce it but in the social relationships that form around it, namely: if you can’t have it, then I want it more. I mean. Shit. It’s in volume 1, chapter 1 of Capital. And don’t look at me like I’m a loony Marxist. The thing called “commodity fetishism” is understood very well by marketers and advertisers even if it is largely ignored by the twats who, year in and year out, demand the appearance of democracy from the feudalism of fashion.
“… you should maybe shut up with the half-arsed theorising and easy outrage. Because some of us want to enjoy the pretty clothes.”
Every year, a designer or two will give an inch. This year, it’s Alex Perry forced to apologise for doing what he has always done. The man who once likened a size 8 model to “overstuffed luggage” has made the requisite noises to press and said that his use of pint-sized kittens on his catwalk was a “mistake”. Marie Claire’s Jackie Frank was one of many fashion observers who forced the contrition. She said she was worried it sent the wrong message. This from the editor of a periodical that once upheld on its cover the preternaturally hot nude rack of beauty queen Jennifer Hawkins as a “positive role model for women”. This from one who habitually sells the implausible as “aspirational”.
High fashion is held together less by good tailoring than it is by velvet ropes. Sure, it takes a few millennia of loathing for the feminine and uses it to market advantage, but this does not make it especially evil. Claims that Dangerously Skinny Models pose a risk to the health of “real” women are unfounded; emerging research on eating disorders suggests the self-harm may derive from neurological rather than social factors, and histories on the matter show that anorexia predates mass culture. This is not, of course, to discount those social relations that esteem a diminished female body. It is, however, to suggest, along with Hoyer, that you should maybe shut up with the half-arsed theorising and easy outrage. Because some of us want to enjoy the pretty clothes.
Actually, I don’t. I made a decision some years back to dress solely like a vintage hooker to avoid the bother of remaining “on trend”. This choice, such as it was, turns any judgement about my inappropriate taste to dust in advance. You cannot call me an unfashionable old slut without stating the obvious. And you cannot call Fashion Week elitist, undemocratic and uncaring without doing exactly the same.
You just don’t sell a lot of crap and make a lot of money without hurting a few labourers and a lot of consumers these days. Published anxiety for the “health” of models or the social body is specious and, as Hoyer points out, very boring. We can be sure that the injury done by fashion is not chiefly to models, but to the overstuffed luggage at their feet, who reshapes its envy into concern.
If we do not count the offshore textile workers who work in heartbreaking conditions, the real fashion victim is our rational minds. For as long as we believe that fashion, of whatever sort, is something that can redeem us or be redeemed, we are its slave. If we believe, like Hoyer or Marx, that it is a mystic nonsense with no value extrinsic to itself, then we have just half a chance at liberation.