Reimagining Fashion Without Wealth
January 28, 2022 / Farah Merchant
What’s the point if a logo can’t blind everyone within a 500-feet radius?
Ding dong. It’s happening. The clock strikes 12 ushering in a new era – one where everyone has the same money to spend on clothing. How did this happen? Irrelevant. A revolution of sorts. The real question we should be asking is what happens next.
We live in a world where being fashionable is defined by the ability to keep up with ever-changing trends. People slave away in horrid conditions only to spend their paycheck on the new wave of fashion before it rushes out the window and a new style, look, or item of clothing takes its place.
Some will disagree with this. They’ll claim self-expression. They’ll say style reflects identity, and it only changes to reflect a constant identity crisis. They dress for themselves, for people to understand them. And to them, I say, let’s look back on the past.
Fashion emerged in Rome as a way to link appearance to social status. At times of intense financial disparity, rulers felt the need to distinguish themselves from the common folk through extravagant outfits. Those who refused to partake in the ever-changing world of fashion were mocked. In the 17th century, Western empires criticized Japan for wearing the same plain and practical kimono which casually draped the bodies of the entire populace.
Japan’s stagnant fashion wasn’t a symbol of their secure identity. For the West, it represented a homogenous country where the rich and poor dressed the same from head to toe with the only difference being the number of layers worn (rich people wore more). Westerners quivered at the possibility of residing in a place where garments did not indicate status. They gasped in horror, struggling to grapple with the idea that clothing didn’t need to differentiate wealth.
The same concept still exists today as rich girls wear $600 Golden Goose shoes to separate themselves from the Converse-wearing masses. You’ve all seen it — those gold emblazoned Gucci and Hermes belts with the big, bold G and H sitting firmly on their midriffs, that Prada nylon bag with the shiny triangle logo glittering in the classroom’s fluorescent light reminding the world of their association with luxury fashion. All things logo to assert their wealth to onlookers.
While these brands create many unique, gorgeous, and to-die-for pieces, only the ones with an insignia saturate the mainstream public. Because what’s the point if the logo can’t blind everyone within a 500-feet radius?
Fashion emerged as a way for Julius Caesar to tout his jewels and the opulent silk he could afford to be imported from China, and it continues to represent wealth as people rush to buy the latest “it” item. They punch in their 16-digit credit card with dexterous fingers on their Macbooks, rushing the shipping to own the latest trend before “it” becomes outdated.
As wealth disparity increases with the lower classes faring worse than 18th-century peasants during the French revolution, fashion further entangles itself with wealth, money, even class. Those who can keep up with the fast rotation of trends gloat their wealth as a growing group struggles to finance their necessities.
Everyone can see the effect society has on our choice of clothes. Former editor-in-chief of Vogue, Diana Vreeland, famously notes the constant shift in fashion and its relation to our circumstances:
“Fashion is part of the daily air and it changes all the time, with all the events. You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes. You can see and feel everything in clothes.”
Her words ring true. We embody the sign of the times within the silks and shoes we wear. Now as more people become disillusioned by capitalism and even the world, luxury brands capitalize on this angst by introducing grunge collections. Marc Jacobs’ Heaven collection captures the anger and isolation of our times in dark designs, chain mail made with safety pins, and graphic viscose tops. Ironically, the $200 price tag for a top means those actually impacted by capitalism cannot afford to purchase them. When fashion shifts away from disaffected grunge, only those with wealth will be able to keep up.
But, perhaps the most important question is — what happens after the revolution? What happens when the world is finally at peace and the mayhem of the times no longer affects us? When we reach a dystopia where wealth serves no purpose?
I argue self-expression. Fashion can now detach itself from wealth and finally form its own identity. Centuries of trend-following will come to an end as fashion finally becomes individualized. It can now be a reflection of one’s taste – one’s growth and versatility — as people shift through garments and styles to finally discover themselves.
While clothing can be expressive, and people do break from the trends perpetuated by the media and the times, most rely on these cycles to appear fashionable. There’s this innate tingle in our brain that makes us desperate to belong. To consume and conform to the passing trends. However, after this hypothetical revolution where wealth no longer indicates who belongs and who doesn’t, when we all have the same money to spend on clothes, maybe then people can focus on self-expression.
Without a need to compete in a world that values capital, maybe people will begin dressing for themselves. Finally, we can stop buying all things logo in a desperate attempt to be labeled as fashionable. ■
by: Farah Merchant
graphics by: Zayana Uddin
graphics by: Zayana Uddin