Fashion and the Body

‘Fashion,’ declared Vivienne Westwood at a press conference in Tokyo, ‘is about eventually becoming naked.’ The soundbite was greeted with confusion, heads were scratched and puzzled glances exchanged amid the flurry of flash-bulbs. What did she mean? How could the act of wearing clothes have anything to do with becoming naked?

Style mirrors the changes in society. With new styles come new advertising, and through advertising we are informed of how to keep up our psychologically and visually pleasing lifestyle. Our bodies, since then have been moulded to the restraints of our clothes. Chanel dropped the waist-line as the lines of morality drop, speeding the pace of accepted behaviour to a fox-trot. Twenty-five years later, Dior created the ‘New Look’ for the post-war woman, sexualising them with miniscule waistlines and billowing skirts. Clothes effect a new way to walk in the world, to either feel part of it, or excluded by it, to pinpoint on a map of the human mind where exactly we stand in the world. Ideas of what it is to be desirable are constantly re-imagined.

There is no such thing as self-invention. Style guides are only guides; it is up to us what we do with the information. Style bibles such as Vogue, born at the beginning of the nineteenth century in America, kept an sharp eye on changing trends. Now in 2004, Vogue has changed little but serving high couture and toned glamorous celebrities as fodder for an ideal world. The images keep rolling as does the need to look persistently beautiful and rich. Alternatively, i-D, a magazine born in the post-punk/new romantic era of the early eighties looked to those who did not want to feel part of the world, but part of themselves, a rejection of the coiffured neatness of the sloaney office girls. Its aesthetics, born from the self-made cut ‘n’ paste disorder of punk fanzines, featured faded portraits and text of everday people on the street, who, in turn had something self-made about them.

, but the manner in which it is presented to us remains the same, celebrity endorsement to encourage advertisers to pour their money in to the beautiful pot at the end of the exquisitely coloured rainbow. Not everyone wants to be thin, have a trendy haircut; to make an argument reflecting the influence of fashion would be a huge generalisation.

go through pain-staking methods to get them. By altering the image of the physical body by plastic surgery and other body-enhancing techniques we are enslaved to our formed idea of what we are told is glamorous. We want to be perceived on a stage that is bigger than our own. Those who wanted the Jennifer Aniston hair-cut of yore have gone through the same mental process as the woman who wants to look as busty as Jordan. Through looking at other people we gauge a sense of ourselves, and the most obvious way is to look at celebrities. They need not have talent, or charisma, but by simply being there and perceived my millions we ackowledge their existence and influence as greater than our own.

But those who embrace avant-garde styles are rarely those with avant-garde opinions, not directly expressed by their attire. Both style and attitude do go hand in hand, but it’s an arrogance to create a two-tier form of existence by not admitting those who are equally in possesion of human intellect but choose to reject the rules imposed on them by door-staff.
If Nelson Mandela did not have the freedom of thought to gain liberation for his people he would not have defended himself in his tribal Xsosa costume at his trial; he would otherwise have been convicted as a man of an apartheid regime. By adopting his tribal costume he paid allegiance to his ideas of a united South Africa. Self-expression is useless if you don’t have a voice to go with it.

In fashion we become ‘naked’ by giving into or rebelling against the mental and physical desires of others. We can either remove from oursleves the ever-changing styles, diets, figures and their promises created by other people and listen to ourselves or we will surrender our minds and bodies most erotically to the allure of those who pronounce it.

Gemma O’Brien