The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Clothing and Fashion

People, of course, ask me what I'm interested in. When I indicate that I'm interested in sewing, they often respond, "Oh, so you want to work in the fashion industry!" as though there could be no other possible reason for sewing.

"Well, not exactly," I say. You see, I don't want to design fashion. I want to design clothes. Now, undoubtedly some of you are rolling your eyes, because of course when they say "fashion industry" they mean clothes.

I disagree.

Occasionally, in keeping my eyes out for interesting and creative clothes, I do get suckered in to visiting fashion sites. Sometime a few months ago, I did. It was supposed to be about international fashion, and I thought it would be interesting to see how different countries and cultures approached their clothing. As usual, I found nothing useful, and regretted visiting; the site had nothing to do with clothes.

For instance, the first two pictures I saw was of a stick-skinny model walking towards the camera on a run-way, wearing a tight, short dress. It was a grasshopper green, I think it was made out of silk, and about mini-skirt length. I think it had long sleeves. The second picture was of the model walking away from the camera. The same green silk, the same long sleeves. . .but the back of the skirt had been carefully cut away so that the model was mooning the camera, the entire audience, and anyone else who cared to look. I kid you not. That was the greatest "feature" of that dress--the ability to moon people without hitching up your skirt.

This is no lone incident. At every fashion site I have ever dared to peak at, the models have not been so much clothed as unclothed. This leaves me to think that, by and large, most designers main dilemma is trying to figure out exactly how much fabric they must use in order to call it a "look" or a "piece" or even sometimes a "garment".

Sometimes I imagine the designers planning their runway shows:

"I think it's time for knits to be 'in', so lets have this model wear chunky knitted socks, and a nice, long scarf."

"That's all? Don't you think that's a bit skimpy?"

"Really? You think so?"

"Yes. She should definitely be wearing a hat."

"D'you know, I think you might be right. A wool flannel plaid with ear-flaps, maybe?"

"Sure, with a real, stuffed duck on top."

"Excellent idea. We can call it the 'huntress' look."

This is where we get into the quibble of whether fashion has anything to do with clothes. Fashion is "The prevailing style or custom, as in dress or behavior." Clothing, on the other hand, is defined as (by varying sources) "1: Clothes considered as a group; wearing apparel. 2: A covering." or "Articles worn to cover the body." or "Things worn to cover the body." or "covering designed to be worn on a person's body" or even "Clothing is defined, in its broadest sense, as coverings for the torso and limbs as well as coverings for the hands, feet and head." You see, by definition, clothing covers the body. Fashion, on the other hand, has no such bounds. Since it is only the "prevailing style or custom", it is possible for 'fashion' to mean "walking around buck-nekkid with only a pair of dark sunglasses"--if it's in fashion, it's in fashion, regardless of what is or is not covered.

Clothes are sometimes fashion, but fashion isn't clothes. In fact, I'm much more inclined to call those skimpy rags popularly known as "fashion clothing" as simply "un-clothing"--fabric that is, by and large, meant to leave as much as possible uncovered. This un-clothing has no other use (besides leaving things uncovered)--it is neither comfortable, nor practical, nor protective, and nearly all the time, it doesn't even look good.

I have therefore learned, in the manner of Pavlov's dogs, to avoid association with (among others) these words: Fashion, fashion-forward, trend, trendy, style, stylish, diva, current, and even, alas "modest", which for some peculiar reason often seems to mean "just because it looks like all my un-clothing is about ready to fall off doesn't mean it will". Which, one has to agree, is indeed more modest than un-clothing that not only looks like it will all fall of, but, in fact, is also in a regular habit of doing just so.

What, then, is left for one who is interested in sewing, but not in fashion? Well, there are always the old reliable stand-bys--like sewing hot-air balloons, and repairing worn out belts on your car, and sneakily sewing shut the legs to all of your brothers pants. But some of us like to consider the possibility of actually sewing clothes.

Yes, clothes. Clothes that work. And by work, I mean to fulfill the intended function of clothes--to cover, to be comfortable, durable, protective, practical, and aiding you in your activities, whatever they may be. People seem to often make themselves subservient to their clothes, forgetting that clothes are a tool for people. They put themselves through discomfort and inconvenience for the sake of wearing the "right" clothes, instead of using clothes to lessen their discomfort and inconvenience. Often this is done with the claim that form and function can't mingle--that it has to be uncomfortable and inconvenient in order to look good.

This, then, is a common argument: Yes, I wouldn't be caught dead in many things labeled "fashion". But "clothes" are so utilitarian, so boring, and so flat out ugly, I wouldn't be caught in them either. Therefore, I will stick to wearing whatever is in fashion that I can talk myself into wearing.

Some people think that one cancels out the other--if it looks good, it can't be very practical, and if it's practical, it must be ugly. Of course, everyone's idea of what "looks good" varies, but combining form and function isn't considered weird for most things--cars, appliances, electronics--in fact, most things you buy. People want things to work, and to look good. But for some odd reason, they make an exception for clothes. Clothes, it seems, don't need to work. Or rather, un-clothes don't need to work; clothes don't look good.

I think that designing clothes that combine both form and function can be done; it just takes more skill. Do I make a claim to great skill? No. But that is what I aspire to.


Blogger Kathy said...

Excellent post. I, too, would like clothes that look good, and are comfortable, and help you in the work you want (or need) to do. And after that, can you find a good replacement for purses?

8:20 PM  
Blogger abigail said...

This post is both entertaining and informative, as usual, but I must confess that my favorite part of the entire rant is your inspired and imaginative discussion between two designers. I laughed aloud at the end and am now going back for another read (and another chuckle). Perhaps it's because the Wren has been awake since four this morning, and I'm in dire need of sleep, but I found this post particularly amusing.

p.s. I took some split-second pictures of Millie in The Dress right before we walked out the door for church and will send them to you once I put them on the computer. She wore it for three days straight, and I hand-washed it the night before church so that she could wear it (per her request). After getting rainbow-colored ice cream on it Sunday night, however, I told her that I really have to zig-zag it before she turns it into her daily wear, so it sits awaiting my trip to town for Fancy Thread.

5:40 AM  
Blogger abigail said...

aren't diaper bags the replacement?

i never carried purses at all until children came along but find diaper bags quite useful.

5:41 AM  
Blogger Tatterdemalion said...

Abby--I can never tell if things will be as funny in "real life" as they are in my head, but I'm glad for giving you the early morning chuckle.

I intend to post on the Dress, as soon as you send me pictures. Having heard how many times you've hand-washed it, I'm beginning to feel quite guilty for giving Millie a half-finished gift!

As for purses and diaper bags, I confess to say I've never had a problem with either one. Of course, there are good bags and very bad bags, so one does have to be careful.

8:38 AM  
Anonymous Rundy said...

Obviously you should go work for The Dulth Trading Co.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Tatterdemalion said...

Actually, I almost did mention the Duluth Trading Co. ( in the post, but I decided that it didn't really fit in the scope of the post. Duluth is specificially oriented toward very physical labor (construction, firefighers, tradespeople, etc.). My post was speaking a little more broadly--that is to say, what works great for a firefighter doesn't necessarily fit the challanges and duties of, say, a stay at home mom, or a chef. Different activities are better suited to different garments.

1:53 PM  

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