There's a phrase I often use to describe a certain sort of middle-aged, stuck-up hypocrite. It's often an ageing female hack (like me - but NOT like me, as we shall see) but can be an actress (Helen Mirren criticising young women today for showing off the bodies God gave them) or a singer (Annie Lennox, ditto young pop starlets) but the same line goes for all of them. When the nipples go south, the nose goes north!
Feminism was meant to teach us so much about female solidarity - yet just as many older women seem inclined to tut-tut over the behaviour of younger women as ever did in the days of curtain-twitching petty-minded morality. 'You're not going out dressed like that!' is the long and the short of it.
Now this scolding has become literal in a new book by Lucy Siegle, called To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World? Yes, in the wake of warnings to the working-class that they shouldn't buy cheap food or go on cheap holidays OR ELSE THE PLANET WILL GO POP LIKE A BIG OLD BLUE BALLOON AND WE'LL HAVE NOWHERE TO RIDE OUR PONIES, now cheap clothes are the new villain of the piece.
Let them eat cake? Let them wear sackcloth and ashes! When Siegle advises us to save our pennies and buy one item which we can wear constantly, does she have any idea how preposterous and pompous this sounds to young women on the minimum wage, whose Saturdays are given such sparkle by being able to pick up a £20 dress to wear that night? Most young girls earn rubbish money - the payback is that most of them look good in anything, no matter how cheap.
There is the usual lip-service in the book detailing bad conditions in the Third World factories which produce most fast fashion which those who tout expensive clothes always come out with. But if the young women who work in these factories lose their jobs, what will happen to them? They will be at the mercy of living a rural life - complete with the constant threat of famine, tsunamis, earthquakes and all the other little gifts Mother Nature loves to throw us - or at the mercy of the people-traffickers, ending up as hopeless prostitutes. Yes, factory conditions in the Third World are bad - but they were just as bad in this country, once. People form trades unions, and working conditions get better. You can't turn back the march of progress just so you can enjoy the sight of smiling Third Worlders devoting their lives to hand-stitching colourful artefacts for your poncy coffee table, dear.
Did Lucy Siegle forego cheap and cheerful clothing and instead buy only expensive stuff when she was in her teens and early twenties? If the answer is yes, then she must have been a very privileged youngster and thus isn't really in a position to judge girls on low wages. And if the answer is no, then she's a hypocrite, and her words hold no weight.
Leave the kids be to be young, foolish and happy in Topshop while they can - for tomorrow they will be fat and old, and no longer able to make cheap polyester look like the finest gold cloth simply by virtue of their beauty. And make mine Primark - because I'm worth it!
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