I was asked that very question a little while ago, and I can’t stop thinking about it ever since. I bet you intuitively answered this question without hesitating, just like I did. I bet your answer is the same that I had: “NO”. But I must say, while I still stand behind that “no”, I started doubting my stance in the days that followed.
Does fashion have to be beautiful after all?
Let’s start with the word “beauty”. Beauty, as we know, lies in the eye of the beholder. For example, I LOVE certain clothes that may not necessarily emphasize my assets. I just have a soft spot for oversized and stripe patterns. It may well be that others find that some of the clothes I wear lack shape, and I guess many people will turn up their noses at the sight of cycling shorts – which I really like.
But no matter what other people think, I have my own aesthetic guidelines. I like he clothes I choose. I like wearing them. Not necessarily because they fits me snugly, or because they make me more beautiful. I like my clothes because the make me feel a certain way. With that in mind, the term “beauty” is already not as clear cut as it may initially appear.
Who decides what’s beautiful and what isn’t?
The only authority in that respect should be ourselves.
For me, fashion is a form of expression, a signal to the outside communicating an internal feeling. For example, on days when I feel like staying more in my private sphere I tend to wear jeans and T-shirt, when I have important meetings I often go for pleat-front trousers, and when I want to feel sexy I often opt for dresses. Fashion helps me to feel sexy, confident, strong or relaxed. Fashion reflects my mood, gives it a frame. And no matter what the day, I never, ever feel like looking ugly. But that’s another thing: is “ugly” really the antonym for “beautiful”?
If so, then fashion needs to be beautiful.
If not, then things are a little more complicated.
The question is difficult to answer even from a historical perspective. After all, fashion had a very practical component in the past. It was a social signifier, a manifest demarcation line between men and women, the rich and the poor: trousers for men, dresses for women, exquisite textiles for the elites, rags for the poor. These parameters have shifted, today it’s not always immediately clear just from someone’s fashion which social strata or even which gender they belong to. The borders become blurred.
As a sign of the times and a result of the social debate concerning equal rights, unisex becomes more and more popular. Even in business, dress codes are becoming less strict. Many successful companies today are helmed by men in jeans and T-shirts. The potency of fashion as a tool to make statements has not changed, but the formerly rigid categories are becoming less and less strict, and people can no longer be easily pigeonholed due to the clothes they wear.
With societal pressure breaking away, the decision how one chooses to express oneself with fashion becomes a purely individual one. In a roundabout way, that also makes it seem more important than ever to express oneself through style and clothing, and it also makes certain pieces of clothing more valuable to us. We are still being judged for our appearances, but the details are more important than ever: which material are your clothes made of, how well do they fit you, how much of a sense of style does someone have… those aspects have grown in importance. Clothes may not necessarily give away someone’s social status anymore, but they show if someone is creative, they may hint at liberal or conservative world views, etc. We have simply become much more attuned to those little details than our parents were, certainly more than the generation of our grandparents, who usually had much bigger difficulties accepting that torn trousers can be a statement and a choice. For them, that sort of fashion is not beautiful, and by extension not socially acceptable.
Personally, I really don’t care if someone wears flower-patterns, glitter or unisex black – what’s important is that the person feels good and beautiful in the clothes they wear. Beauty has many faces and gradients, and often it does not conform with society at all.
So, I guess I changed my mind.
Fashion needs to be beautiful.
It does not have to be beautiful to all of us in the same way, but it needs to convey a positive feeling. I want to feel beautiful in my clothes – pretty and strong or pretty and feminine.
And this would be my wish, that fashion does just that in the future, that it serves as a medium for all of us to communicate our own aesthetics – in myriad different, colorful ways. My wish is that fashion no longer excludes, but that it underlines the beauty in each and every one of us.