Caring about fashion doesn’t make you shallow
When there are so many important, pressing issues in the world, it can be hard to admit to an interest it fashion – something that’s usually considered as trite, frivolous, and shallow.
First of all, there’s nothing inherently more superficial about fashion than comic books, movies, musicals, or website design. I am not denigrating these interests by comparing them to fashion. Any industry has facets that are uninspiring and, frankly, stupid, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t powerful, worthwhile aspects. This is also true of fashion.
To consider the history of fashion is to examine social, economic, and political changes and upheavals. Whether it’s the advent and use of synthetic dye (the first, mauve, being on the color spectrum reserved for royalty), the vogue of neoclassical dresses after the French Revolution, leg shaving, or shoulder pads, the way society engages with fashion is telling. Just because we don’t have the benefit of hindsight doesn’t mean that current fashion trends and fashionistas aren’t doing the same thing.
Now, most people don’t say, “I wear leggings as pants as a way to subvert strictures about modesty at the expense of comfort, which, I suppose, is part of a second sexual revolution where sexuality and sexiness is not only celebrated, but regarded as normal for all body types.” (If you want to say that though, I gift this phrase to you. Please say this in a normal conversation and then tell me about it.) People are more likely to say they like the lines or like feeling comfortable, but that doesn’t mean that they’re unaware that their fashion push is met by an opposing societal pull.
As long as fashion has been recognized as a pursuit, women have been getting crap for it. Whether it was enormous wigs, too-thin gowns, too tight corsets, too big ruffs, too short skirts, too high heels, etc., those who deemed themselves the arbiters of propriety have wrestled with fashion trends and explained why women are frivolous for participating. It seems that a certain type of person gets to have an opinion on what women should wear, and they also get to say they’re better than the fashion industry.
Participating in fashion is also about identity, self-expression, and yes, sometimes it’s about trying to fit in. The flannel shirts and ripped jeans of the 90s may not have been haute couture, but it was a method to identify with the grunge scene and counterculture. Wearing high heels and glitter eyeshadow to work at a tech start-up is also a bold message. We’re either explicitly told, or find out through trial and error, that how we dress is important and meaningful. Not only to make an impression on others, but also to hone how we feel about ourselves.
I’ve gone through various style phases, and while some of them didn’t look good, I now consider them necessary to figuring myself out. Never mind learning how the same people approached me differently depending upon I dressed. For example, when I graduated from college and needed work clothes, I had to experiment to find the right balance between fitting in, standing out, and function. When opportunities to make an impression were limited, the right clothes did help, even if they weren’t conventional. (People loved my outfit of pink Converse shoes with a matching men’s tie with skinny jeans and a blazer.) In a way, the clothes were a reflection of maintaining individuality in a large corporate office while still illustrating that I belonged there. They helped me feel that way too.
I think it’s worth saying that fashion isn’t always about simply looking pretty or attractive to a wide audience. From the Alexander McQueen to punk style to Lady Gaga, fashion can plumb ideas like repulsion, aggression, tradition, gender norms, and more. Moreover, fashion can do so in a decently accessible and fun way. Few mediums affect quite so many people on such a visceral level.
Having fun matters. Wanting to look pretty is fine. Believing you look pretty can be important, especially if you’re from a group of people that traditionally have been told they aren’t. You aren’t shallow for wanting these things and using fashion to reach them. The fashion industry has a lot of problems, but your enthusiasm isn’t one of them.