By Irene Bell, author of Kate Middleton: Our Princess.
In our image-conscious society, the language of fashion speaks volumes. Young people will cheerfully spend way over the odds for poor quality tee-shirts with fashionable labels because they must be seen wearing the trendiest brand names, however odd the style. According to 19th century American author, Henry David Thoreau "Every generation laughs at the old fashions but religiously follows the new".
He might have wondered what today's black-clad Goths or tattooed youths with faces peppered with piercings would come up with next. The more conventional fashion followers care little that they are providing free advertising for the multi-million dollar corporations they allow to exploit them. Personally, I think I should be paid for promoting their product, not the other way round.
Fashion statements proclaim cultural origins, sexual orientation, professions, social and financial status. We 'read' and judge people by their appearance - would the Queen command respect if she turned out in jogger bottoms and a tee-shirt?
The most significant influence in recent years has been Kate Middleton whose impeccable fashion sense has been instrumental in boosting takings in British High Street tills, inspiring optimism in a flagging clothing industry. The Reiss fashion chain, for example, is reported to have increased its fortune by £5 million to £130 million after Kate wore its creations, notably the blue dress seen in her official engagement photograph. From then on, copies of her affordable outfits were rapidly produced both sides of the Atlantic and snapped up by eager young women anxious to emulate Kate's stylish but casual look. Throughout her pregnancy, she never lost her unique dress sense, shunning traditional maternity wear with a succession of fashionable and flattering outfits.
Despite Mark Twain's observation that "Clothes maketh the man", in reality men are generally less interested in fashion than women. A recent menswear company survey of 1,000 males revealed that one in six did not care how they looked, and more than half confessed that they relied on the women in their life to pick out their outfits for them.
Perhaps they should heed Lord Chesterfield, 17th century statesman and man of letters, who believed that "If you are not in fashion, you are nobody".
Irene Bell is the author of Kate Middleton: Our Princess, published by Endeavour Press Ltd.