The Fashion Barometer has been inspired by a piece on the BBC News Magazine today, which at the start of London Fashion Week, looks back at the trends that scandalised the masses in times of yore (whatever yore is).
After reading the article, I wondered how we can trust our own Fashion Barometers when they are hemmed in by cultural expectations, preventing true expression of our innermost style desires.
Macaroni style - image from Wikipedia
The 18th century Macaroni, the article explains, “adopted the flamboyant continental styles of the French and Italians, but taking every detail to the very extreme.”
According to the article, the Macaronis were vilified in the press as “neither male or female”, and those gendered fashion boundaries are stronger than ever today.
Despite the continual grinding of the trend mill, fashion, particularly for men, continues to have strongly-defined gender boundaries. Here is an interesting piece from feminist magazine The F-Word on gender in fashion, where writer Lorraine Smith discusses the gendered marketing strategies used in the fashion industry.
While the modern casual wear uniform of jeans and a t-shirt has become ubiquitous across the genders, men still risk vilification in many societies for wearing anything more “feminine” than a pastel coloured shirt.
Let’s see what FBF oracle Cher Horowitz of Clueless says on the matter
So okay, I don’t want to be a traitor to my generation and all but I don’t get how guys dress today. I mean, come on, it looks like they just fell out of bed and put on some baggy pants and take their greasy hair – ew – and cover it up with a backwards cap and like, we’re expected to swoon? I don’t think so.
Cher is complaining about a culturally-dictated fashion code, also reinforced in the film by the one homosexual character, Christian, being outed with the evidence “the boy can dress” – so no man who “can dress” could ever be heterosexual.
A caricature of bloomer wearers - image from Wikipedia
The BBC piece describes another gender-related fashion item: the bloomer. Designed by Elizabeth Smith Miller in New York in 1851 and championed by women’s rights activist Amelia Bloomer, the bloomer was originally worn under a skirt, and later on its own, to facilitate such “unfeminine” activities as riding a bike.
It is interesting to see that 100 years apart, the Macaronis wearing bloomers were seen as feminine and women wearing the same item of clothing were seen as unfeminine. Though styles may change, the divide remains evident and dangerous to cross.
For long enough we’ve allowed ourselves to be dictated to by completely arbitrary gender rules, and that’s just in terms of the clothes we wear. What hope is there for the elimination of the millions of other gender stereotypes that affect us every day? And gender is one of many factors in determining what is considered to be socially acceptable clothing.
Tilda Swinton at the Baftas
For a modern example of stereotype-challenging fashion, one never has to look further than FBF crush Tilda Swinton. The Baftas this week saw her killing everyone else’s red carpet outfit dead with her alien-shouldered Celine dress and Bowietastic quiff.
She’s reportedly said of her idiosyncratic style “I follow my nose. It’s as simple as that.” If only it were that simple to overcome our fears of fashion boundaries and embrace true Fashion Barometer authenticity.