STYLE

Is It Offensive To Make No Effort With Your Appearance?

13/04/2011 11:34 | Updated 22 May 2015

A couple of weeks ago the usually chic Elle Macpherson caused outrage in the fashion world with her choice to wear some rather unflattering harem pants on a night out in London.

With that one wardrobe choice, the divisive harem pant found itself once again at the centre of the fashion debate. Loved by women for their comfort feel and boho look – they are despised by men for making ladies look overly plump and saggy bottomed.

That wardrobe choice may be debatable but at least Macpherson cannot be accused of the far worse crime: 'opting out' of fashion altogether. What are we to make of those women who make no effort at all? Those ladies who don't style their hair, use no makeup and wear the most ill-fitting, thoughtless and androgynous clothes.

Granted I come across them infrequently but despite my usual tolerant nature, their lack of care for their appearance makes me irrationally angry.

An ex-boyfriend's mother and a family friend are two cases in point. I will paint you a typical picture of both: unkempt hair – 'brushed for practicality' as opposed for style, baggy combat trousers, terrible shirts badly hiding unsupportive bras and pale faces devoid of any benefits a slight bit of makeup could bring.

Despite my best efforts not to judge, it makes me so mad. I don't want them to dress for men or me, I just want them to dress for themselves and take pride in being a woman, (or, in the most extreme cases, a member of the human race).

Please, I pray silently when in their respective company, just buy something which fits and you will finally understand how good opting in to this part of society can feel on the inside.

On a recent work trip to New York, itself indeed a petri dish of style, I had an insightful conversation with Sharon Graubard, chief trend analyst at Stylesight, a digital fashion forecasting service.

If I believe in people's right to wear and say what they want (as long as neither incites any kind of hatred of others), asked this fashion guru, why do I care so much about these women who don't do anything with their style?

"Fashion is a narrative. When a person gets dressed they are telling a story and are dressing with intent," she replied. "They are dressing a feeling. They are commenting on themselves – so when somebody makes zero effort – they communicating a pretty negative feeling to all those around them.

"We are lucky to have the freedom to dress how we want – but it remains a social obligation. When we get dressed we are making an offering to our friends – usually to make them smile.

"Clothes are the most democratic art form and fashion is a form of communication. If somebody makes no effort – they have opted out. There's a 'screw you' in it somewhere."

Even if these women regularly made fashion faux pas like some felt Macpherson had, it would bother me less than the current dishevelled offering. A mistake still represents and attempt to tell a story for both me, their captive audience, and more importantly themselves.

Making no effort with clothes before you go out is like inviting someone over for dinner and then not cooking. Or coming to a party in a foul mood. The lack of effort offends everyone else and makes the perpetrator feel bad, despite it being self-inflicted.

It may sound like a plea from eras gone by, when people had to dress in a certain way for an occasion. But I am not asking for formality – just a little effort for oneself and those around them.

Emma Barnett is the Digital Media Editor of The Daily Telegraph. She writes about media, culture, technology and social issues and has a monthly column in The Sunday Telegraph. Emma is also a broadcaster, regularly contributing to BBC Radio 4, Radio 5 Live, BBC World Service, Sky News, Channel Five, CNN and LBC. Additionally she has written for The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire Magazine, TimeOut London, The Stage Newspaper and Media Week. She can be found tweeting via @emmabarnett.

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