While Barack Obama’s messages of hope and a renewed sense of American identity were strong themes within his inaugural address the primary focus and most compelling segment of his speech was it’s emphasis on shared culpability. The world of fashion may seem slightly divorced from such sensible notions but it is important think about the ways in which this new era of accountability will impact the way in which fashion is portrayed and consumed.
Shortly after 9-11 former President Bush told Americans to shop with the hopes of rebuilding the damaged economy. Open up the latest issue of V and you will find a similarly themed message at the very last page. The glittering text urges readers to start buying again – a wonderful idea to boost waning sales, but one that hinges on the old way of thinking. In a world of credit card debt and housing foreclosures even the most privileged consumers have to think before each purchase. The cheap disposable trends that dominate the current fashion scene seem démodé when compared to the classic virtues of craftsmanship and longevity. People need to shop but they also need every dollar to count for something in the long run. Oliver Theyskens may have had his tongue planted firmly in cheek when he said “When the economy changes, it’s not like you want to start eating bad-tasting chocolate” but his words hold true – a responsible consumer is one that values quality.
By that same token the luxuries we allow ourselves must also find a way to be less exorbitant. For years the price of clothing has gone up – either by necessity (inflation is a cruel mistress) or as a means of preserving brand exclusivity. If fashion is to acclimate itself to consumers it has to find ways to be less costly. Savvy shoppers know an MSRP is bound to drop during post-season sales but what if the prices were a shade less daunting to begin with? While no one is suggesting that Giles and Gap share a price point we live in an age wherein an extra $50 can mark the difference between purchasing something and leaving it on the rack. A few dollars off here and there lightens the load significantly and well made clothing that people can actually afford will always be in demand.
The most striking change in the way we buy things might just be who were buying them from. Supporting newer or less hyped designers is both the chic choice and the smart one. Michelle Obama has graciously led the way with her egalitarian & eclectic fashion choices. Whether she is in her much talked about Isabel Toledo inaugural ensemble, Jason Wu gown or Maria Pinto dresses, the first lady supports homegrown talent. It’s easy to forget that designers are entrepreneurs in their own right and that each label a small business. It may be simpler to pick something up from a brand everyone knows but choosing to buy from a local label is an investment that goes much further than a season.
Responsibility isn’t the most inviting word but it necessary if fashion is to thrive. The escapism and exclusivity the industry manufactures are amusing diversions but they are at odds with reality – the ideas that resonate now are not nearly as lofty. Simple virtues like ingenuity, affordability and quality are trumping names on a labels and with the tides shifting away from blind materialism the time has come for a change. Whether the industry will respond to these desires with a shake up remains to be seen but the proverbial writing is on the wall. The time has come and it’s up to us.