The Genteel
February 27, 2021


Illustration by Shingo Shimizu.

A recent survey conducted by online retailer indicates that British women, between the ages of 18 and 25, think about fashion 91 times a day; or 30 full days a year, depending how you look at it. Although our attention to the aesthetic side of living might be considered arbitrary by some, for those who apparently have "clothes on the brain," why is fashion so important to us?

It would be naive to suggest that fashion hasn't always been of cultural significance; the art of dressing is a timeless expression of culture, belief and status. And, as our beloved Coco Chanel once said, "Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening." True to word, the fashion industry often reflects the current social mood. As the luxury market expands eastward and technology continues to enhance channels of communication, fashion has never been as inclusive, accessible or influential as it is today.

Prada livestream
Live streaming is one of the biggest digital 
trends transforming the fashion industry.

For better or worse, fashion isn't exclusive anymore - the hobby that was once the foray of the elite has become a social norm for the majority. In layman's terms: you don't need to keep up with the Jones' to keep up with the seasons.

As societal attitudes towards fashion have changed, so has the industry. Fostering our obsession, mainstream fashion publications and the media have sidelined label snobbery for a "get the look" fashion culture, focusing on wearing a trend, not a label. Television shows such as Gok Wan's Clothes RoadShow, which is dedicated to offering styling masterclasses and assembling runway looks from high street stores, are making it easy and affordable to "do" fashion. So, while we can pretend our IKEA furniture is mahogany and our tablets are iPads, when even Kmart, a popular American-based discount store, is catering to "the seasons," reasonable excuses for dressing below par are limited. Suddenly, sparing a fashionable thought every 11 minutes doesn't seem so unreasonable.

Nonetheless, as everyone who has watched The Devil Wears Prada knows: every seemingly irrelevant cerulean sweater has a runway collection that first bore it. Swedish retail giant H&M doesn't just appropriate for its customers, it collaborates. With one-off collections by designers including Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Marni and Versace, H&M is giving its customers the best of both worlds - labels without the price tag. H&M collaborations and diffusion lines by designers such as Marc Jacobs and Chloé, have further enticed novices to dip their toes in the fashion world through the airs of true design and craftsmanship. While not everyone agrees with making fashion so easily attainable, as Anna Wintour, American Vogue editor-in-chief, said, "The more people who can have fashion, the better." And as most know, what Anna says goes.

...the hobby that was once the foray of the elite has become a social norm for the majority. don't need to keep up with the Jones' to keep up with the seasons.

Needless to say, it's not just our ability to wear labels and trends that is causing us to fixate on fashion, but the way in which fashion has been carefully integrated into our lives. The online fashion world means we are constantly being exposed to the "in one minute, out the next" motions of the market; seeing more, wanting more and developing an insatiable consumerism.

The apparel market is the fastest growing market in the e-commerce sector, yet its increasing prominence isn't the only reason for our infatuation. Earlier this week, I was captivated watching Raf Simon's first haute couture collection for Christian Dior - but I wasn't in Paris. Live streaming is one of the biggest digital trends transforming the fashion industry. Armani was the first fashion house to stream a live couture show back in 2007 and now fashion weeks have developed digital schedules; you get the best seat in the show, from the pyjama row in your living room. Now that is what I call accessibility.

But between live streaming and immensely popular websites like, the online world is breaking down the editorial barrier between runway and consumer. Through social media, everyday consumers are becoming the new tastemakers, dictating what's hot and what's not before the September issue even goes to print. The growing decentralised nature of the industry is transforming our role as consumers from passive followers to active participants. If style director, Rebecca Elderfield is right in saying the results of the study reflect that fashion is "a way of life," they probably reflect just how much of our lives we spend contributing to the very industry itself.

While those not enthused by fashion can easily keep their participation at a minimum, avoiding it altogether may not be so easy; the influence of fashion at times appears to show no bounds. In February this year, Wintour held a fundraising event to raise funds for Runway to Win, a campaign composed of t-shirts, bags and accessories, designed by prominent American designers, supporting Obama's re-election campaign. Speaking of the campaign, Wintour aptly pointed out, "The runway is no longer just a runway, it's now a force for change in politics."

Gok Wan
Crowds gather in Bristol to meet Gok Wan.

A force for change indeed, which is exactly why the United Nations has teamed up with the fashion industry and Vogue Italia editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani for the Fashion 4 Development initiative, which aims to tackle global issues such as poverty and gender inequality. Speaking of the new program, Ray Chambers, a Millennium Development Goals advocate said, "The fashion industry in the past several years has redefined how to market, how to brand, how to raise awareness and how to inspire others," impressing just how multi-faceted, in its purposes, fashion has become.

It is undeniable that fashion has an increasingly multi-dimensional nature, that is becoming more and more integrated into our social fabric. With its current cultural saturation, you can't blame a gal for thinking about it so much. Frankly, if we're only thinking about it every 11 minutes and 23 seconds, we're probably doing OK. Because after all, being fashionable is important - in both style and politics.



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