Thirty as The Perfect Age

March 29th, 2009 § 0 comments


Last week my co-worker and I deserted our desks to catch a lecture by one of the “creative directors” of the company. He happens to work in our photo studio, and is the only one with a nice roomy office full of windows. David is an older, very knowledgeable, friendly man who spends very little time working in his office, and more time out lecturing or attending events. The receptionist calls him “pretty boy,” much to our amusement, and hounds him about his comings and goings. We know of them by the tokens he shares with us; samples he does not want, books he has picked up, a gallery catalog for us to peruse. Doing a Google search for his name brought up a variety of results, but my general impression of his job is that a lot of people, designers, vendors, and students alike, consider his opinion necessary and enlightening.

I eavesdrop a great deal on his conversations when I hear him being interviewed as I am interested in how he talks about fashion. He treats it as something other than frivolous, and therefore expects it to be something other than frivolous. His comments concerning retail and the economy have been interesting to overhear since last year, as the industry shrank, posting losses one month after another. He has been suggesting fashion needed the change this recession is bringing, seems hopeful about shifting toward practicality and necessity, and enthusiastic that fashion is (at least temporarily) moving away from expensive excess and trends that are divorced from everyday life and people. He argues there is no reason we can’t still have glamour and beauty—“deluxe but not flashy”—pointing out that depression era style had both, but that it should be of a different kind.


Though his presentation opened with a somewhat overused line, “fashion is (or should be) a reflection of the society that wears it,” the lecture that enfolded was an interesting comparison between the times we are currently facing, and the clothes we are going to face them in. I was reminded of a recent project I saw called “pictures of the recession,” compiled photographs of housing lots half built, unemployment lines, and so on, and I realized that an indicative picture can be constructed of society by deconstructing what people wear. After working initially at an image archive and staring at exorbitantly expensive fashion shoots reeking of absurdity, this seemed a more worthwhile end of the profession to consider. This company, it seems fair to add, is considering these relationships because they are deeply concerned with what, come fall, people will want enough to buy.

Madame GresIt is not surprising that the fall color is black, “financial funeral is everywhere from everyone,” and the inspiration draws from the 1930’s. Lucien Lelong and Madame Grès were sighted as inspirations, both of whom have recently been shown in the city. Setting aside black as a symbol of social sentiment and the depression as familiar history, the manner in which trends are shifting is interesting—perhaps it is time, at least for a decade or so, to grow up again? “After 15 years of dressing down,” fashion is finally ready to dress up and grow up. Hemlines have dropped, the tattered look has been replaced by sophisticated skirts, suits, and blouses. Dresses mimic the Grecian draped look Grès was famous for, they are goddess gowns that show off beautiful women instead of provocative babydolls. The trends, surprisingly, are geared toward making women look older, mature, and sophisticated, a definite departure from the young, innocent, and sexy feminine ideal.

It is intriguing that as a society becomes more and more unstable, as times get harder, people feel the need to appear more fashionable and sophisticated. I wonder if the insecurities of gender, culture, and an era, can be seen in the clothes we buy and wear. Do we want to look professional because we have no job? Do women need the powerful suit to reclaim a kind of presence necessary for the time? Perhaps we cannot afford to look ratty and haggard because that is just how we feel? Do we need the asymmetrical goddess gown, recalling the Hollywood sex icons, because we need magic, a miracle, or a distraction? They sound almost like absurd questions, but at its heart I often wonder if fashion, trends, and forecasting is a bit absurd, and rightly so. There is no point in denying the cultural power fashion has over our perceptions of character, however, and it is important to consider just what type of Americans we are going to be this fall. David ended his lecture by questioning again the overuse of black. “Come fall,” he wondered, “are we still going to be in mourning? Or will we have become accustomed to the way things are?” If we accept the reality of the “downturn,” and all that it might entail, he suggested, we will probably be ready for a little color come August.


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