A Conjecture of Our Time

As I was sewing up a knitting project, I listened to Amanda Halley, as I so often do. In an episode about fashion forecasters, she pointed out that fashion has changed very little from 2008 to 2018. The Laird Hamilton and I have discussed this from time to time, as some of the clothes we wore when we first met are, at present, wearable and relevant. Still, Halley had pictures.

This isn’t to say that absolutely nothing has changed, but the overall aesthetic is so similar. We expect interior design and architecture to remain more constant, as to update anything more than throw pillows annually would break the bank. However, the streetwear-through-time pointed out that very little has changed in the way we dress our bodies. Halley argues that we don’t want anything new at present – we just want better versions of our old stuff.

I wonder if this is true. Do we want to subconsciously relive those years, when things were more predictable and the outside world felt normal? Or are we just sartorially lost? We’ve seen wave after wave of mini-trends and subcultures taking prominence, but nothing has stuck around. Runways have brought us the dramatic and extreme, but few things would suit a regular woman’s lifestyle. The 40s, 50s and 70s have all had their moments, and yet we still go back to our skinny jeans and slightly oversized jumpers. Very few of our everyday outfits are exciting, though as a society our purchasing has exploded.

As we know, the 1950s and 1960s each had a very unified look – a set handful of haircuts, a small margin of skirt lengths, prescribed shape wear. Today, it seems that we’re floundering a little, with so many of us seeking out the ideal wardrobe and then proceeding to wear 20% of it 80% of the time.

Of course, this paradigm of ‘more of the same’ is pitted against a consumerist model, in which 52 micro seasons now exist. Retailers are geared toward producing fast fashion pieces that keep us feeling pacified as the memory of our weekend recedes. Ultimately, we have much to choose from, but the selection is hardly any different from what we already have. Statement necklaces, check shirts, ankle boots – we’ve had them all, with slight variations. Are we so caught up in details that a slimmer heel outshines a block, or burgundy outpaces red?

I’m all for individual expression, particularly through fashion. However, I believe that what we’re seeing here is designers trying and failing to find a look that speaks to a generation – someone who creates an aesthetic conjecture of our time. Thus, they make subtle changes to previous designs because they sell. We buy them because we know that they work. And still, we spend our weekends in skinny jeans and oxfords paired with our husbands’ jumpers. (Or is that just Surrey?)

I wonder how fashion would change if the designers were all encouraged to take a year off. Like letting fields go fallow for the good of future crops. How much could things change in that time, without the external pressures of sponsors, parties and buyers? Would we be able to go back to a time of slow fashion made explicitly for the way we live now?

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