The overall vote at Cambridge Union's debate over whether fashion is elitist was yes, it is. So why do women slave to something that is aimed at an exclusive few? If elitism is something that excludes the majority, why do we spend so much time trying to access something that doesn't invite us to be part of it?
Fashion and shopping are usually paired as two peas in the pod. You see fashion on the catwalk, you buy it in the shops. For me, the love of shopping is a female characteristic that skipped my family's gene pool. Attempts by my mother for girly trips to the shopping centre, to build that mother-daughter bond over a sparkly dress, failed miserably and turned into mother-teenage daughter rows.
I grew up thinking fashion wasn't for me because I would rather wear the same clothes day in and day out than have to spend time trailing through rows of clothes. I was never going to be able to afford Louis Vuitton or Prada - that world seemed dominated by an elite who would scorn my H&M wardrobe. The most I would probably ever manage to purchase was one of those impossibly-expensive key rings that every fashion house labels 'stocking fillers' at Christmas time. That's one pricey satsuma. It made me uncomfortable that I didn't have the shoes of the season, nor could I change my wardrobe by the season either. Fashion, as I knew it, didn't make me feel good, it made me feel like I was on the Gladiators Travelator and I would never reach the top.
Now, however, I am a fully-fledged member of the I Love Fashion club. What I have realised is that Fashion is an industry full of creative and intelligent designers and editors and what bugged me for years was not fashion, but retail. At the Cambridge debate, Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman opened with: "Fashion that is not elite is just clothing". I concur. I can quite happily flick through the pages of Vogue and admire everything in it, without ever dreaming to be fortunate/mad enough to fork out thousands on a skirt. Clothes shopping, however, is nothing but an endless maze of rails followed by a strip-lit changing room full of inadequacies. Bring me the elitism any day, even if i have to watch from afar.
Fashion is elitist, and it has its critics, mainly concerning its detachment from the realities of society, but within the doom and gloom of an economic recession, it can be a breath of fresh air. Most of us will never be invited to a catwalk show, compared to football fans attending their team's matches, nor would we meet up every Sundays and perform our own amateur catwalks, like local football teams. Yet it is a hobby for so many, and goes way beyond merely wanting the clothes. It's not just for girls who squeal at a new top, and you don't have to have a shoe collection hitting three figures to have an interest. I can aspire to the fashion world without spending my entire month's wages on high street knock-offs to keep on trend. Sometimes (most of the time) I am even off trend, and I still manage to cope.
The fashion world is ridiculous, shallow and self-important, but it is fun. The Daily Telegraph's fashion director Hilary Alexander rounded off the Cambridge Union debate by saying: "We all have to wear clothes so we might as well enjoy them."
Hear, hear. (As long as I don't have to step foot in a shop to buy them.)
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