Whether you love it or hate it I’m sure that you can relate to the experience of carefully considering your look at least once in your life. We know how it feels to care and there are many who resent that feeling with a passion. They view it as a bothersome waste of energy in the morning. Not to mention the existence of those relentless trends. Such things seem specifically designed to baffle and alienate anyone who would really rather just avoid the whole thing.
There is weird and wonderful variety in the ways that humans consider their clothes. There are those who care primarily about what flatters them. Such people are in abundance; after all it is tricky to completely ignore the urge to increase one’s sexiness. Many dress to match an in-group, others might dress to defy one. For some it’s mostly about money, they love to brandish their trend-riddled outfits as a status symbol. Their newly updated looks convey that they can afford regular shopping trips and, if need be, a personal stylist.
It all sounds a bit vacuous; worrying about how attractive you look, trying to fit in with the cool crowd and showing off your money. Perhaps a mild interest is acceptable, but not a shameless obsession.
Well I am shamelessly obsessed. I love fashion; I am the sort of person who will work hard to spot trends in advance. I play the game. I wear things because I think they are “cool” not because I think they necessarily suit me and I, like the elitists, am guilty of disliking clothes if they look a little bit… last year.
I began to notice my own clothes at roughly the age of twelve and, in a similar way to that pivotal moment when Adam and Eve noticed that they were not wearing any, all hell soon broke loose. I suddenly longed for my clothes to be accepted as cool. When puberty hit I was even more concerned, I now needed to look attractive on top of this. Those were my priorities. None of this sounds healthy for a young woman but fortunately as I matured so did my relationship with fashion.
At fourteen, I started flicking through Vogue – my younger self frequently made meagre attempts such as this to appear precocious. I never read very deeply into the runway analysis or the designers, whom I knew little about, but I did stare at the pictures.
Surprisingly this time, my precocious posing was not in vain, I began to feel like I was learning something but I wasn’t quite sure what. Soon I was standing in front of my full-length mirror placing and replacing different details of my look, taking a few steps back and tilting my head like an artist assessing her work. It was becoming less about other people’s opinions and more about my own.
I suppose Vogue was the source of my newfound opinions, which many may not view as progress. Granted, I was now simply being told what to wear by a magazine rather than my peers, but only very loosely. Fourteen year old me could never afford to replicate anything that was in Vogue so I merely used the images for inspiration. From fashion magazines I began to develop a fluffy and elusive notion about what “works” and what doesn’t.
We use our feelings to decide what “works”. Many of us do it without thinking too hard. It is not just an instinct that we exercise when getting dressed. It could be when decorating a house or even tidying one. Because a tidy house just looks better. Doesn’t it? Some things instinctively look good while others look messy and there seems to be an impressive amount of consensus about which category each falls into. The world of fashion highlighted the curious nature of aesthetics to me and that was one of the first things that made me seriously begin to love it.
In many ways, fashion falls into the same category as any other art form. Like art, outfits can evoke new feelings within us and sometimes we are able to see ourselves in them. But fashion is also more complicated than that. Unlike art, the officials have classed it as too utilitarian for designers to have their own copyright.
Pretty much everyone is forced to use clothes. It remains very difficult to abstain from the activity of getting dressed. Consequently, those who attempt to make a stand ought to be very careful not to let their guard down. Every now and then a friend might compliment their attire and a sign of genuine pleasure may flash across their face. Or they might try on a leather jacket and briefly entertain the prospect of being a punk rocker for a day. Even if you hate fashion you probably have occasionally allowed clothing to be a vehicle for your imagination or a marker of your identity and you probably enjoyed it.
Fashion haters are generally willing to concede that what fashion designers do is creative but they would probably describe a trend follower as the opposite. I beg to differ.
Apart from a few exceptions, whom most frequently reside within the adolescent population, people don’t follow trends because they are told to. It is not an act of compliance but instead one of internalisation. They follow them because what they have seen recently has genuinely altered their taste.
The revolutionary product designer, Raymond Loewy, understood this. He coined a principle which he named MAYA. It stands for: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. People favour things which strike the perfect balance between what makes sense to them and what is new and exciting. The result is an endless progression. What is new and exciting soon becomes popular and tired at which point the position has been primed for something, which was once considered way too left field, to replace it.
MAYA can successfully explain a huge proportion of which music, art, literature and of course fashion that people show preference for and how it shifts with time. If you are a human being with opinions about any form of media you are most likely operating under the influence of MAYA. Fashion trends just put this natural propensity under a magnifying glass.
I recently read an article, written by the fashion journalist Pandora Sykes, about her relationship with the colour pink. She shunned it as a teen after overdoing it as a little girl. Recently she rediscovered her passion for the warm girly hue, on new terms: in the form of the pink trouser suit -although not the skirt suit because “the skirt suit misses the point”. To her, a pretty pink trouser suit playfully displays just the right amount of interesting providing that it is juxtaposed with tomboyish white trainers and perhaps finished with a geeky, cropped trouser leg.
I do not know Pandora, nor do I mix within the same circles as her. No one has had a discussion with me about the best way to style pink yet I know exactly what she’s talking about. My views on pink are almost precisely the same. Why? It is most likely because we both follow the trends. Similar things have influenced us which is why we now both view white trainers as an appropriate thing to pair with a certain type of brightly coloured suit and why we’ve been loving a geeky cropped flair this season.
I doubt that anybody dictated to Pandora that she should suddenly have a passion for pink trouser suits. Yet she effortlessly elaborates on how this new way of rocking the look sits in her own Goldilocks zone. She implies that were the pink suit teamed, more generically, with a pair of black stiletto heels the careful balance would simply topple over. I one hundred percent agree.
There is variation in each of our MAYA thresholds. Some are more susceptible to the effects of habituation and will throw out what is familiar in a heartbeat, while others prefer to cling on for slightly longer. But dare I say that a world without the natural progression of MAYA would be a dull one indeed.
So perhaps following a trend isn’t so silly, but blindly donning a look that doesn’t flatter you at all -that’s just stupidity, isn’t it? Quite the opposite.
Is it really stupid or is it genius to invent an activity, alternative to fixating upon physical perfection every time that you catch yourself in the mirror? It is liberating to transcend thoughts about your mortal, degenerating physique in favour of speculating about the fun you might have with a pair of mustard dungarees, that somebody once tried to tell you weren’t your colour.
Pioneering something wilder and far less flattering than the universally coveted thigh hugging jeans, or the forgiving little black dress, is the ultimate way to display your confidence, without having to speak a word.
Man Repeller is a hugely successful fashion blog which captures this ethos perfectly. It is aimed at women who love to dress Avant Guard even if that means making themselves less attractive to men. Leandre Medine began the blog as a young masters student it was only three days before it was featured in Refinery29. Man Repeller caught on because it was a concept that so desperately needed putting into words. The feeling resonated with a lot of fashion lovers: that there’s a big difference between dressing attractive and dressing fashionable and it’s a difference worth celebrating. It’s empowering to snub the opinions of men (the one’s who clearly will never get it) and dress solely for yourself.
I can understand people who prefer to ignore fashion trends. It is an individual’s choice which forms of creativity, if any, that they wish to partake in. But those who play the fashion game are not slaves to anyone. Fashionista’s don’t prioritise the male gaze, but they might use their outfits to signal to fellow fashion junkies that they have what it takes to hit the MAYA sweet spot, and having good aim is a skill worth showing off.