“I Don’t Get High Fashion”
If you’re in the middle of your introduction to high fashion, or if you approached it in the past, you’ve probably found yourself, at some point, scratching your head and saying, “I just don’t get it.”
Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you’re some tasteless plebian. There’s not some special, enlightened form of critical appreciation that you’re lacking. It’s all about the lens you’re looking through.
To start: Fashion is one of those things that is tied inherently practicality. It’s inevitably practical: we wear clothing to stay warm, remain modest and to protect our bodies, among other reasons. And yet no one who’s ever seen a picture of a Victorian era corset, or worn point-toed pumps for more than an hour and a half, would tell you that being fashionable is a purely practical pursuit. In fact, many would tell you that it’s quite the opposite.
So fashion, clearly, has its roots in function but has an aesthetic element that sometimes supersedes its other purposes. In other words, fashion has practical purpose, but it’s also art. Sometimes the art side means more than the original purpose, even becomes the focus.
So if fashion art is all aesthetics, what about the pieces that don’t seem so aesthetic? Well, the perspective is important. If you’re looking for clothing aesthetics—something that fits according to western tailoring standards with emphasis on the female form, for example—you might not find them. High fashion can do that, of course; many, many pieces are beautiful in what we would consider to be a clothing kind of way.
But sometimes the aesthetic isn’t clothing standards, and sometimes it’s not even beauty. Art isn’t restricted to traditional beauty, or to beauty at all; art can be representative of a multitude of concepts and feelings. One of the elements of abstract art is that it’s often conceptual, representing an idea rather than a concrete, recognizable object.
In a way, thinking of some high fashion as an abstract art showing is a gateway to gaining a creative appreciation for what the designer is doing, especially if the clothing they’re showing is something you’d never wear. Don’t worry, all the oohs and ahs and critical applause don’t mean you’re some kind of clod, pretty much everyone else wouldn’t wear it to the office, either. It’s quite possible that everybody else is confused, too.
But it’s also possible that they’re looking at the pieces as art objects. That’s why the runway doesn’t just include Swarovski crystal studded gowns and immaculately detailed boots (although those are art, too). That’s why there’s a place for a deliberately homeless-inspired style, and impossibly convoluted creations of fabric that completely restrict movement, and entire collections that you couldn’t wear outside your house. The designers can express some artistic idea or meaning, and clothing is a valid medium for art as any.
Of course, one of art’s chief elements is its subjectivity; even the standards that we can objectively measure with are established by notions that someone conceived, and those standards can change. You could change them. Even though there’s value in looking for the designer’s aesthetic aim, you’re not obligated to adopt it. Sometimes an artist can state a meaning for their work, and it still doesn’t make sense. Sometimes you can see the meaning and you still can’t get over the basic reality that you just think it’s ugly. Just be aware that beauty might not be what the designer was going for; and instead of giving up on high fashion in disgust, credit it to artistic purpose for now.
So maybe that perplexing sandpaper-and-feathered dress you’re looking at will be considered perfectly wearable by the majority ten years from now; today it’s art. But you still don’t have to wear it. You don’t even have to understand it. And that doesn’t make you a plebe.