April 9, 2011

SOME NOTES ON FASHION


by Elisa Gabbert

Fashion is considered frivolous because the industry revolves around women. Fashion is about women, although most designers are male. (Gay men face the same systematic dismissal as women; homophobia and misogyny are at base the same instinct.) Fashion is not the object of the male gaze, but it does lie in the gaze’s path.

Fashion serves two purposes, one functional and one aesthetic. This is what brings it into the realm of design – one wants fashion, like furniture, kitchen implements, and houses, not simply to look good or to work, but to do both.

One of the ways fashion “works” is by signaling our alliances. Fashion communicates – nonverbally, unless your clothes are a text – your socio-economic status, your politics, your personality. Do you seek attention or avoid it? With what subcultures do you identify? This signaling is largely unconscious, and realized through the illusion of taste.

In street fashion, aesthetic flourishes must not detract from usability. In couture, function is sacrificed for style; hence couture is not design, but a purer art. Fashion is art you can wear. Couture is art you could wear, but would probably not.

Nudists aside, there is no opting out of fashion. One must choose to wear something. Thus one’s fashion communicates even if one wishes to remain silent.

Men’s fashion works within a tighter set of constraints, the formal poetry to women’s free verse. In such a controlled system, details become crucially expressive – the tie says more about the man than the purse of the woman.

Fashion is an open text. Much as the director, actors, and even the audience collaborate in the realization of a play, the art of fashion is collaboratively realized through those who style and wear it.

Fashion magazines are often shallow and consumerist, but not because fashion is inherently shallow and consumerist. These traits can be attributed to most magazines, including those focused on the other arts.

Fashion is a Veblen good – the more expensive the item, the more desirable it is. Art aspires toward consumerism.

Design and production processes aside, no schooling or formal training are required to participate in and appreciate fashion. Thus fashion joins music among the most populist of arts, and the least racist and classist. In fact, innovation in fashion often occurs from the “bottom” up; in lower-class communities, expensive clothing is less available as a status-marker, so status may be conveyed through individuality and creativity.

Alice Fulton said poetry is recursive. Fashion too is recursive, always referring back to itself as it moves forward.

In fashion, as in other arts, a kind of crude progress is made over time, but compared to, say, communications or medical science, this progress has no obvious end. Art may improve our lives, but better art does not seem to improve it more.



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Elisa Gabbert is the poetry editor of Absent and the author of two collections of poetry: The French Exit (Birds, LLC) and Thanks for Sending the Engine (Kitchen Press), a chapbook. Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, The Laurel Review, Pleiades, Salt Hill, and Sentence, among other journals, and her nonfiction has appeared in Mantis, Open Letters Monthly, and The Monkey & The Wrench: Essays into Contemporary Poetics. She currently lives in Boston and blogs at The French Exit.

9 comments:

elizabeth said...
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elizabeth said...
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Elisa said...

Hi Elizabeth,

Thanks for the comment. As the author, I feel I should clarify (is this okay to do?): this is an art piece. The statements therein are not meant to be taken as facts or truths. It's a lyric essay in the true sense of "essay"/"assay," a try or attempt. That's why there is no evidence or research to support the claims. They invite disagreement as much as agreement.

Elisa

becca said...

Hi Elizabeth,

Ditto what Elisa said, and please feel free to channel your position into a submission for SEAM RIPPER -- see the call on this site.

We're anticipating getting some submissions that deal with the more, as you say, "dirty" sides of fashion, and we welcome all positions.

These are not meant to be "articles" so much as "texts" broadly construed: essays, poems, fictions, creative nonfiction, memoir, etc.

Best,
Becca
Co-curator, SEAM RIPPER

ali abraham said...

Hi Elisa Gabbert! I'm senior poetry/philosophy undergrad at Colorado College. and interested in fashion. I've been reading delirious hem for about a year now...and it's funny because I started my fashion/poetry/life commentary blog about 2 years ago...and it is named after a poem of yours (Walks are Useless III)

(kind of)

so this post is sort of like cosmic alinement? sort of?

http://theneonzee.typepad.com/

ali abraham said...

Hi Elisa Gabbert! I'm senior poetry/philosophy undergrad at Colorado College. and interested in fashion. I've been reading delirious hem for about a year now...and it's funny because I started my fashion/poetry/life commentary blog about 2 years ago...and it is named after a poem of yours (Walks are Useless III)

(kind of)

so this post is sort of like cosmic alinement? sort of?

http://theneonzee.typepad.com/

Elisa said...

The Neon Zee! How cool! Thanks so much for telling me, I'm going to go read your blog right now.

becca said...

I know that last comment was spam, but I let it through anyway 'cause it read hilariously like fashiony flarf!

Glam said...

Well, I agree that fashion has no end, it reminds me some circle, everytime we come back to some point in the past.