High fashion, low regard

I am not fashionable. It’s an easy admission to make. That’s not to say I stroll into the office looking like Timothy Mallet. Nor do I plump for the sheep-like suit. I wear nice clothes, often hastily purchased from whichever John Lewis happens to be closest.

Yet when it comes to the cutting edge, I seem to dress mainly on the wrong side of the sartorial trouser. Working in the media and with friends whose job it is to comment on fashion, I am made all too aware of my passé threads on a weekly basis. “Trainers again?” is an oft heard criticism.

“I really don’t like that watch” is a more recent abuse.

My uneasy relationship with clothes stretches back some years. My first major fashion outlay was at University. Having cut the apron strings from mother (but with her purse strings still loose) I decided to buy an expensive shirt. It was the mid-nineties, an era in which men pea cocked in pinstripe trousers, shoes buffed to the point of disintegration and the all important button down shirt with branding.

I had watched with interest as friends spent hours ironing every inch of their prized, over-sized asset to ensure not one crease remained. One housemate took his dress so seriously that he would demand a cab with a sun roof so that he could stand in the back to avoid wrinkling his garb.

Having cobbled together £60, I settled on a charcoal grey number from Yves St Laurent. It was magnificent. I wore it that night, making my way down the stairs of the student house like the debutant at a Venetian ball.

“What’s that you’ve got there?” one of the chaps quickly enquired. “What this? Just a shirt,” I replied, downplaying the investment. “Ah – Yves St Laurent,” he said knowingly. “That’s the poor man’s Ralph Lauren.” I was crestfallen.

I wore my shirt – many times in the end – yet I never quite shook the feeling of being the kid with the knock-off top. That feeling of self-reproach is rare these days, even in the face of vehement criticism from the fashion desk. In fact, I find often find their choice of clothing just as baffling as they find mine. Are jeans that cling vice-like to the ankles really the trouser of choice for a man in his thirties? Are brogues, sharpened at the toe, honestly suitable for anyone other than a Bond villain? Maybe so. Fashion is, after all, nebulous – an abstraction subject to trends that filter down through a million magazine articles, blogs, photo shoots and music videos.

Last week I was invited to a show for the start of London Fashion Week. There would, I reasoned, be a free bar. Yet there was something very bitter about the experience… more than just the gin cocktails. I took my place in the front row. There was no sign of Posh Spice or Anna Wintour, but my fellow attendees made for quite a spectacle. Hitler haircuts mixed with Vulcan eye brows. A woman opposite wore a yellow nappy. A man to my left was dressed like a Samurai. SS-chic met The Lord of the Rings. Yet this was nothing compared to the horror of the models.

Dysentery-thin teenagers paraded up and down the runway, their stares fixed like caged animals. Cheeks mantled with acne, they marched towards the photographers gathered like keys on a typewriter at the end of the plank.

“Looks at the hairs on her legs,” said a woman behind me, clearly in earshot of the gangly waif walking past.

Dance music gave the show a semblance of performance, but I was very glad when, after 20-minutes, it was all over. I couldn’t tell you a single thing about any of the clothes. Much has been written about the fashion industry, in particular its role in defining the ideal female form. These bizarrely-proportioned creatures who saunter for a living now embody that ideal, no doubt to the determent of the self esteem a large number of perfectly healthy women. Yet it’s the magazines with these ghostly wretches on the front that sell.

The unfortunate truth, prickly as a polyester jumper, is that publications that opt for more naturally sized women on the cover see a fall in sales, despite Glamour Magazine’s recent stunt of featuring a model with a bit of extra baggage around the midriff.

I found it interesting that my colleagues at the show, none of whom could be described as callous or cold, barely noticed the models. As one friend put it, “they’re just something to hang the clothes on”. Perhaps that’s right. The models are, after all, getting paid. They also do it by choice. Yet for an event that celebrates the aesthetic, my front row seat felt about as far from beauty as was possible.

Perhaps that is the point. High fashion has nothing to do with me, nor is it supposed to. It’s an aspiration that you have to buy into. I don’t but millions do. I left the show confused. I didn’t like what I had seen, but I wasn’t sure who to blame. The fashion industry? The media? What about the people who buy the clothes? al-Qaida? Noel Edmonds?

What is certain is that the world of fashion is a strange and uncomfortable place, and not just for those squeezed into a pair of skinny jeans. Do people like fashion to be individual or to be the same? I’ve no idea but I doubt I’ll be attending another fashion show soon. Not that it’s a loss to the industry. Boat shoes and a jumper hardly cut a dash…

This first appeared in The Sunday Express. The original article can be found here.