Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, was a recent guest on The Colbert Report. When Stephen Colbert commented that fashion was a trivial pursuit, she countered that “fashion reflects culture; it reflects our times. A great fashion photograph can tell you just as much about what is going on in our world as any headline or TV report.”
Take Michelle Obama for example. A recent book entitled Michelle Style studies the choices of Mrs. O, “the first lady of fashion.” Because she mixes off-the-rack clothes from Gap and J. Crew with American designer frocks, Obama sends the message that she is accessible, someone that Americans of every economic status can relate to. Following the inauguration she donned a pair of olive green leather gloves from mid-priced brand J. Crew and their stock immediately jumped 10.6 percent, an indication of the power of her influence.
Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style analyzes her image as it has evolved from what was initially dubbed “angry Black woman” to the current one of “Power Wife” and “Mom in Chief.” Clearly how one dresses communicates one’s associations and values.
Clothes have played a significant role in my life and helped shape my political views. I recall the day in 1967 when I was sent home from high school for wearing blue jeans in violation of the dress code of skirts only for girls. My feminism “clicked” on that day. Alison Lurie noted in The Language of Clothes that “women in trousers are viewed as wanting to wear The Pants, which in our culture, for centuries is the symbolic badge of male authority.” That rebelliousness is celebrated in Tomboy Style, which champions those women who “blur the line between masculinity and feminity” and defy gender stereotyping.
Scott Schuman began photographing street style and posting images on The Sartorialist blog, with the idea of creating a dialogue about the world of fashion and its relationship to daily life. He looks beyond runway models and haute couture to the individual on the street who expresses his or her own point of view apart from the idealized images and dictates of fashion magazines.
Similarly, the DVD Bill Cunningham New York documents the photographer who has immortalized real people and their personal style on the streets of New York for decades.
Speaking of the street, Quebec protestors are wearing their politics on their sleeves by safety-pinning on red felt squares as a symbol of solidarity. The “red square” appeared at Cannes Film Festival on the tuxedo of Quebec director Xavier Dolan. Montreal-based band Arcade Fire wore red squares when they performed on Saturday Night Live with “street fighting man” Mick Jagger who sported a red shirt.
Far from being a trivial topic, fashion raises many different and important questions. So say the editors of Fashion : Thinking with Style, which explores how changing sex roles, political upheavals, class structure and globalization have all influenced fashion.
Thoughts to ponder as we pull our summer clothes out of storage.