why fashion might be important

I propose that because fashion coincides with societal change and development, it is a better indicator of current societal attitudes and moralities than political events are.

That is because, in a more or less democratic society, the more people are comfortable with an idea, the easier it is to convert that into real political action.

It sure is easier to change your clothes than it is to change your Member of Parliament. But if enough people change their clothes, the politician has to change as well to stay in favour.

Also, while political activists often represent a “radical fringe” and are treated as outsiders… perceived as anti-fashion, shrill, and eccentric…

Fashion spreads the word seductively… first shocking, then desireable, then available, and finally absorbed into the zeitgeist.

While female activists struggled shrilly to be heard at the turn of the 20th century, it wasn’t until mainstream society was comfortable with women in short skirts and short hair, cigarette smoking and career girls, that the actual momentous political turning point (getting the vote) occured.

This is a recent historical pattern in the western world, to my mind. The political axis doesn’t turn until the social axis has already completed the rotation; and always, the fashions predate the historical events.

I think the hippie movement is another example. For the radicals it really was a mission: anti-war, environmentalist, sexual liberation… this was the serious stuff that made the sixties unlike any other decade. But it was the fashions, not the vision and rhetoric, that eased the ideas of gender equality and civil rights to mainstream acceptance, followed by political change.

After that, the fashions changed again… just see how many hippies were hippies in fashion only and reverted to yuppie-ism in the 1970s and 80s. But because politics lags behind, the political changes effected remained in effect. The social benchmarks have shifted.

It seems to me that this kind of pattern can only happen reliably in a capitalist, democratic society.

I could be totally off the mark, but I think this is a pretty compelling argument for justifying the pursuit of fashion to anti-fashion intellectual radicals, if you meet any. There seems to be the possibility of effecting desired social change subtly by the simple act of choosing what to wear.

Also, whatever seems the most ridiculous, cutting edge, and offensive to mainstream sensibility, is also the harbringer of the next social benchmark.

Which side of the current social benchmark are you when you dress or when you buy? Is it conscious or unconscious?

more graphery

I’m not the only one out there who gets immense satisfaction from such unscientific graphs. In addition to room for improvement, this one has so many possibilities.

Some interesting comments popped up after my last graph. First, no category will simply stick to a single quadrant. Big Irv correctly pointed out how workwear seems to tumble towards fashionability. I thought that Lululemon is a blend of sports clothing and fashion with a moderate to high degree of functionality. So it floats at the most fashionable edge of the “sports bubble”.

Then it occured to me that the most expensive clothing would cluster around the outer edges where there was supreme functionality or extreme fashionability – especially fashionability. So I mocked up that as well, just for fun.

No matter what we are talking about – the idea of branded clothing, the idea of “ordinary” clothing, it floats somewhere on this graph. Next perhaps we should place Dickies and Tough Duck.

Rebecca gets a kick out of the graphs too – it’s fun to visualize fashion like this. Her system for dressing is so elegant it would be well suited for some lovely graphic representation.

contrafashion conversation

Nadia just did a post about contrafashion!

She elaborates on my loose points and then adds some of her own, highlighting the utility/appearance divide, as a continuum.

While I don’t think that the categories utility/appearance are mutually exclusive, I *do* think that all clothing companies have priorities and that these are ordered; either something is designed with more importance on one aspect or another.

A fellow Canadianophile like myself, Nadia brings it home:

I think that a lot of Canadian fashion falls under the heading of contrafashion, clothes which aren’t made to impress or to “improve your image”, but are made for living in. Companies like Mountain Equipment Co-op, Mark’s Work Warehouse and Lululemon Athletica are all companies which aim to clothe the middle class as they life their everyday lives. You’ve probably never heard of these companies if you’re not Canadian.

All this talk about the utility/appearance divide, that gives me an idea! Let’s make a quadrant graph!


What quadrant do you think Lululemon is on? What direction is it coming from, and where is it heading? Feel free to add arrows and repost. I’ll add my own arrows later… thanks Nadia for giving me something to think about!


We truly live in a marvellous age. In the 2 years since I’ve started blogging, audio and video are transforming the content we see online. Whether it’s seeing the models walking the runway or listening to the bloggers and writers we used to read, the richness of the content available is endless.

The TED Conference features great speakers on Technology, Entertainment and Design, and now they’re releasing videos of these lectures online for free. I’ve barely scratched the surface, but here are some of my picks so far:

Malcom Gladwell on lessons learned from spaghetti sauce.

Dan Gilbert on our ability to manufacture happiness.

Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, on how free choice is the scourge of the priviliged world.

Ze Frank kills some time.

Stephen Levitt on the economic structure of inner-city gangs.

A favourite – Hans Rosling shows the power of design to bring statistics to life.

custom work

Fashion School feels like it was about a zillion years ago now, but I’m blessed to have some friends on the inside. One of them is Sidney Holloway. I love going out for lattes with Sid. Even though we have almost completely opposing aesthetics (he loves maximalism and artifice – I prefer mimimalism and functionality), we are united in our curiousity about the why and how of fashion – fashion nerd friends. We don’t often agree what makes a good design but we always get along and have a great time talking fashion.

I’m so proud of Sidney – he placed second in a fashion design contest! You can read the coverage on torontostreetfashion.com.

For the competition, contestants were given a bag of fabric with which they had to create their final piece. Given these limited parameters, the entries were diverse in style. Even though the fabrics are the same, the creative freedom allowed really gives us a chance to see the designers express their personalities.

Sidney designed an appliqued kimono. He also chose the makeup and styling for his model. The geisha-girl is a recurring theme I’ve seen often in Sidney’s work.
Sidney's Kimono

Sidney is interested in creating custom kimonos for clients in the Toronto area. I think every fashion student tries their hand at custom work at least once – for some, it is the beginning of their future businesses. One of those designers who got into fashion through custom work is Paul Hardy, who Sidney interned with. Sidney is a wonderfully genuine, engaging person – I think personality wise he is well cut out for the social nature of custom work. Sidney’s rate for a custom kimono is very reasonable. If you are interested or know someone who is, email me at finalfashion@gmail.com and I will connect you to Sidney.

I did some custom work when I was in school. Some projects were very successful and others, not so much. People often think that by hiring a student to do their custom design project, they will save money. This type of client often has no understanding of what they are asking for or what the student is capable of achieving. Often, inexperience on behalf of both student and client leads to irregular results at inconsistent prices.

Sometimes a custom project is a great opportunity for student and client. As long as communication is honest, expectations are clearly laid out and written down, and both parties are flexible and reliable – the custom project can be a catalyst for something beautiful and unique. There’s a lot of talented upstarts out there who need chances and challenges – and people with wild ideas who need something unlike anything commercially available who can’t afford to pay professional fees. Definitely a recipe for some wild stuff.

Does anyone have any weird custom project stories?

when everyone is doing it, it goes out of fashion

Fashion is perverse.

Not too long ago, the Superstar Designer was the real deal. Supermodels were known by everyone whether they cared about fashion or not. Fashion was dominated by celebrities so massive, their names were known even by those who could care less about fashion. Suzy Menkes wrote about it recently in an article that generates some mixed feelings.

The glamour of the fashion designer which had grown over the past century reached its peak in the eighties and nineties. Glamourous features about designers with elaborate pictures of their homes and features about their work dominated the pages of W and Vogue. The names in fashion were big enough to be mentioned in the celebrity and mainstream media.

The result of this? People became sold on the idea of being a fashion designer – lots of people who dreamed about the fancy homes and the idealized media adoration of the designer. More and more schools offered fashion design. There are more and more designers, more and more labels. Fashion weeks seem to go on for longer. All of the big names are holdovers from 20 years ago – none of fashion’s rising stars seems to have been able to break out internationally in the sense that they become household names with massive empires. It just seems like there is so much noise out there that no one designer can capture anything more than a niche.

That’s the multi-channel multi-media overload thing. If everyone can be a designer, what is it that makes it so special? Am I the only fashion school graduate who has noticed how blithely unimpressed people are with my hard-earned Fashion Design degree? I’m beginning to be awfully vague about my schooling background unless people are very curious.

Then there’s the other 21st century occupation that dilutes the desirability of fame – the reality television star. Now CBC is offering you fifteen minutes of fame and a chance to win the Host position on Fashion File. Sure it would be a cool job… but…

What makes something desireable? It’s something that everyone wants but few can have.

What makes something unfashionable? Something that everyone already has.
Ubiquity is killing these trends:

  • Skinny Jeans = everyone’s got’em, no longer desireable
  • Reality Television Fame = everyone’s tainted, no longer desireable
  • Actual Celebrity Fame = oversaturated, no longer desireable
  • Fashion Design Degree = dime a dozen, no longer desireable
  • Printed T-Shirt Lines = you do ’em, I do ’em, anyone can do ’em, no longer desireable.

These are things that I think have become rare enough to develop into new trends:

  • Back to the Land = everyone’s been flooding into the cities for a long time now. We’re ripe for a revival of this idea.
  • Non-Distressed Denim = it lasts longer and is more authentic, and seeing an honestly worn-out pair of jeans is a rare event.
  • Craftspeople and Technicians = when everyone is designer and white collar, suddenly people who can actually execute ideas are far rarer and much more impressive.

What else have you not seen around for a while? What can you think of that few people are doing?

something green

The weather was cold and miserable up in the country… but I still had a wonderful weekend. Our friends gave us all sorts of fresh food from their gardens… basil and mint, squash and hot peppers… yum. It beats shopping at the supermarket, that’s for sure.

The food was the best part of my birthday – my birthday wish was for roast chicken, mashed potatoes, veggies and apple pie… and it was perfect.

I got a vintage book from the 1970s called “House Plants – How to Keep ‘Em Fat & Happy”. After murdering several houseplants, with my current collection looking quite forlorn, it is apparent that I need some guidance. This book has a warm practical character that is just great. I’m feeling more confident already. Knowledge is power. I’m going to throw out my scrappy old plants and save a few cuttings.

Here’s a photo of my wreckage. After such a celebration of growth and the power of plants to feed and enhance our lives, I must come home to my own shameful ignorance.

I truly am dismayed at my failure to pay attention to the needs of these living things… I am going to reduce the collection to just the spider and perhaps the other odd leafy plant. The basil I will eat and the ivy is nothing but a ghost now anyway. I resolve to visit and enjoy my plants instead of being forgetful and inattentive. After all, it only takes a moment.