THE FASHION VICTIM by MICHELLE LEE Fashion makes fools of some, sinners of others, and slaves of all.

— Josh Billings, 17th Century lecturer WHO IS A FASHION VICTIM? By most accepted definitions, a fashion victim is someone who follows trends slavishly, a person who is not necessarily captivated by the beauty of a new garment so much as he or she is by the mere novelty and fleeting social standing of it. In everyday life, the people who we typically refer to as fashion victims are tagged as such for one simple reason: they don’t look good. The fashion victim is the balding small-town male hairdresser who pours himself into tight leather pants, wild imported silk shirts, and fluorescent-green alligator boots; the bulbous-bellied talk show guest in stripper-esque spandex who slaps her own behind while howling, “I look good”; the high school typing teacher still stuck in her disco youth with wide polyester lapel, mushroom-printed shirt and high-waisted flares; the A-list actress who struts the red carpet at the Oscars in a pair of unflattering bike shorts (somewhere in Idaho, Demi Moore is still embarrassed). We catch one glimpse of these misguided souls and can’t help but proclaim them fashion victims. But these eyesores aren’t the only ones who deserve the label. One day, on a sidewalk in Manhattan’s Nolita shopping district, an ultra-hip neighborhood nook lined with cafés and cutesy boutiques, a chic twenty something walked out in front of me dressed entirely in Burberry plaid, from her bucket cap to her jacket to her skirt right down to her shoes. She was the type of girl who nearly everyone, upon laying eyes on her, would agree was cool, although being wrapped in the trademark checks was obvious overkill. In the same way that fashion darlings like Chloë Sevigny and Kate Moss can pull off outfits that would make a good number of other people look foolish, this girl made it work. Did she look good? Yes. Was she still a raging Fashion Victim? Absolutely. The point is: We are all slaves to fashion…some just do a better job of conforming to the socially-accepted picture of good taste. The Fashion Victim is all around us. The Hollywood starlet who’s personally dressed by Donatella Versace is no less the Fashion Victim than the small-town salesgirl who hops on every fad at her local JC Penney. The genteel lady in the Chanel suit toting her toy poodle in his Louis Vuitton carrier is no less a Fashion Victim than the Japanese teen swathed in full-body Dolce & Gabanna with ankle socks and white pumps. The Latin crooner in the long Armani jacket and collarless shirt is no less an offender than the club kid squeezed into silver leather pants and faux fur jacket. The hipster with the Prada sneakers and Hermès bag is no less a Fashion Victim than the soccer mom with the faux snakeskin pants and bad Fendi knockoff. A Fashion Victim is anyone who has ever looked back at old pictures and cringed —a reflex induced by the realization that fashion at some point in their lives had been able to manipulate their brain waves with some sort of ninja mind control. It’s anyone who has ever worn a scratchy sweater, tight jeans, a stiff collar or unyielding shoes just because they looked good. It’s anyone who owns more clothing than they reasonably need (I’d venture that this includes about 99.9 percent of you reading right now). But most of all, Fashion Victims are people who, no matter how many frustrations they can


the ridiculousness of trends—heartily continue to play along. as enjoyable as it can be at times. The image put forth by some theorists was of malleable consumers being pushed in certain directions by an oppressive fashion system. We love shopping for clothes to relieve stress. but commercial. In the August 2002 issue of Vogue. As Ralph Lauren once said. Fashion makes us strive to attain. being well-dressed can elevate a person to mythic proportions. leaving us incapable of making rational decisions. Thanks to these contradictions. How many times have we seen a so-so actress rise to the ranks of a screen idol simply because she shows up to events in designer gowns? On the flip side. It’s creative.” When a man buys the flat-front linen Regent pant and Yarmouth shirt in gingham twill from the Polo store. It is fun. Unglamorous Sissy Spacek. most of us harbor a love-hate attitude toward clothing. and business.. the tyranny of style. he’s buying an attitude. all rolled into one. often highlights how warped society’s priorities can be. fashion is not some mighty force that sweeps over us.] The styles and labels we wear reveal our membership in certain groups. gave a knockout performance in the 2001 2 . Those who concerned themselves with dress were referred to as vain or foolish by the high thinkers of the early 20th Century.” But for the most part. Fashion. Fashion brings people closer together. All this being said. for instance. It can make us feel beautiful. A jacket is not just a jacket. there’s still a tinge of shame associated with caring too much about fashion. Likewise. But as Valerie Steele argues in her book The Corset: A Cultural History. but frustrating. I design dreams. the modern woman who dresses in slinky minis and low-cut blouses isn’t necessarily succumbing to the masculine majority. “I don’t design clothes. it was actually a tool women willingly used to make themselves more powerful. but it also makes us think about everything we don’t have. We’re drawn to the sheer excitement of everything we think it stands for. but also a lifestyle ingredient. but hate looking at our credit card statements at the end of the month. “How Stella McCartney.list about fashion—the cost. we are Fashion Victims by our own volition—style masochists. fashion historians referred to the tight-laced garments as a sort of torture chamber. We jump into the sometimes-ridiculous world of fashion head first. he’s not just buying an outfit. “It’s so sad that I know that. but hate covering our blisters the next morning with Band-Aids. Chloë Sevigny—upon seeing a dress with a leaping stallion across the front at a 1930s costume design exhibit—remarked. but also drives them farther apart. Fashion is built on contradictions. Even an article of clothing as excruciating as the corset was not something thrust upon unsuspecting wearers. We love how a nice outfit can brighten our mood one day. if you will. in particular—have been regarded as slaves of fashion.. For years. but also ugly when we can’t live up to the established ideals. and still today. but hate the frustration of having “nothing” to wear the next. [. people—women.” adding. we are far from defenseless victims. fabulously talented people are sometimes swept aside because they don’t play the fashion game. entertainment. Today. We love how high heels make our legs look. but may instead be exerting her own feminine force through self expression. Even today. Throughout history. imposed on women by men in the wicked hopes of making them quite literally the weaker sex. Another reason that fashion has also lured so many avid followers over the years is that it’s an attractive world associated with glamour—a fusion of art. On the contrary.

Can’t stand swimsuit shopping? Then why buy a new one every year? Hate exorbitant price tags? Then why continue to spend so much money? Tired of seeing everyone wearing the same clothes you see in stores? Why shop at the mall? Frustrated by the pace at which handbag shapes come and go? Why snatch up the latest styles? Sick of rail-thin models and celebrities in magazine layouts? Then why subscribe to three different fashion glossies? This year. but few ever truly contemplate their own motives behind having those clothes in the first place. the environment. That same average Joe (or Josephine) will make four trips to the mall each month (interestingly. To this day. We have the power to change how we feel about our clothes. the mere thought of that shirt makes me smile. Millions of research dollars are poured into understanding the basic human drives of hunger. in fact we seem to have formed a dysfunctional bond with it. without questioning why it carries so much weight in our lives. And clothes serve the purpose of memorializing many wonderful times in our lives—the dress you wore on the day you met the love of your life. the same number of times the average American has sex per month). Hundreds of millions of people around the world buy clothes every year. “Aren’t you that famous model?” My father’s favorite shirt in the 1970s was a cornflower-blue T-shirt with his name “Benny” ironed on the front. we’re going to register for gifts at Gucci—who needs silverware and fancy china when you can have suede boots and finely crafted Italian pants?) Fashion has also contributed aesthetic beauty and extraordinary art to the world. but what about the drive to be fashionable. many of us simply accept that it steers us in certain directions. Who can deny that a bride glows ten times brighter when she’s wearing her dream gown? (When my boyfriend and I get married. our finances. and security. the outfit you were wearing the day someone asked. which in some people is just as strong? It’s not as though fashion is something easily overlooked. 3 . sex. thirst. racking up more than $200 billion in annual sales for the industry. our health. I certainly don’t undervalue the ways in which fashion enriches our lives. both good and bad. as well as the premium we put on looking good has deteriorated our self-esteem. but rarely do it. For all the crazy things fashion encourages us to do. the fuzzy yellow jumper your child toddled around in when he took his first step. The purpose of this book is to examine how fashion has become enmeshed in our everyday lives and to illuminate the many ways it has affected society.729 on clothing. Many designers like Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano are artists who happen to work with the medium of fabric on bodies. our morals—but we continue to be more ravenous than ever. Our modern-day hunger for more clothes and faster In the Bedroom but her presence on the red carpet at every awards show was severely overshadowed by her couture-wearing competitors. the average American will spend $1. They’ll spend a good chunk of their mornings pondering which pants to pair with which shirts. self-protection. While I cast a critical eye on the industry and on the concept of fashion itself.

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