Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fashion is Dead

Thirty years in the future, we'll look back at clothing from the 1990s or the 2000s and we'll have no idea what era it came from. Or perhaps we'll be able to identify it only by process of elimination. All distinctiveness has been lost - fashion is dead.

I noticed this the other day when talking to my daughter. She had attended a friend's "80s"-themed birthday party and so was interested in fashion of that era. That was when it occurred to me - every decade of the 20th-century, or very nearly so, had clearly-identifiable clothing and accessories that screamed of that age. Clothing from the 70s was easily identified as such. Likewise with the 60s, the 50s, the 40s/30s, the 20s and so on. But since the end of the 80s, our society has been bereft of distinctive clothing.

I think it was actually a somewhat unique phenomenon, based on my (admittedly limited) studies of historical clothing. Certain "high" fashions may have changed every few years - whether or not to wear a powdered wing and how long the hair on the wig should be might have varied from decade to decade in the 18th century, for instance. But throughout that period, farmer and merchant attire probably didn't vary all that significantly.

Then something really, really important happened at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The Industrial Revolution! Suddenly clothing, among other things, no longer needed to be made entirely by hand. It got cheaper, and it became easier and (presumably) more commonplace to change designs. My hypothesis is that one outcome of the Industrial Revolution was more ready access to "trendy" clothing by a broader spectrum of people. Regardless of the cause, though, there's no denying that virtually every decade of the 20th century produced recognizable clothing styles in places like America and Britain.

It took about a hundred years, but apparently people finally got tired of outlandish costumes, and now most people just wear fairly tame, ubiquitous, non-descript clothing. Pretty much the same stuff they've been wearing for the last fifteen years or so. Oh a few things have changed - like neckties, for instance. But nobody wears neckties anymore, so they don't count.

Perhaps "natural" or "simple" is the best term for today's fashion, or for lifestyles in general. Recent reports I've seen suggest that there's a backlash going on against things like plastic surgery, with Hollywood stars and regular people alike beginning to eschew the botox injections and and breast implants that have been so popular in the last few years. Wouldn't that be refreshing?

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't mind. In fact, my entire wardrobe consists of a few (identical) pairs of jeans, a drawerful of T-shirts, a couple pairs of casual shorts, and some casual button-down shirts which are about as dressed up as I ever get. I don't need people to be in the 2010-equivalent of the poodle skirt for me to feel that my culture is worthwhile. I just find it fascinating that zoot suits, bell-bottoms and Miami Vice pastel pants have given way to simple, comfortable, largely lackluster fashions. I think I'm okay calling that progress. Farewell, fashion! We don't need you anymore.

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