April 29, 2008

Who's Wearing the Pants (and the Gown) Now?

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In my first column four semesters ago, I explained the significance of fashion in two ways: as a form of art and as a means of expressing our identities. I thought I should try to justify what is often considered a trivial and frivolous subject. Now, in my final column, I would like to re-explore why fashion is so significant (in case my 28 other columns have not made fashion’s importance apparent enough).

Although there is a tendency to label fashion as superficial or marginal, there are innumerable reasons why those labels are just not accu-rate. The psychological, sociological, anthropological, economic and historical implications of fashion span across space and time. Fashion both mirrors and can be used to follow political, religious, social and economic change within societies. Just consider the increasing equality between men and women and how that corresponds to the wearing of pants by both sexes. Power, it seems, whether in 18th century France or modern America, tends to follow the sans-culottes. Perhaps Louis XVI would have known exactly what was meant by the question, “Who wears the pants now?”
Fashion is a facet of absolutely everything. Costume design is a key feature of movies and theater. Musicians and politicians pay close attention to their attire. Much can be read in the selection of a pair of jeans or a lapel pin. Professional athletic uniforms are both utilitarian and aesthetically designed. Members of religious groups wear outfits and religious accessories that differentiate them from other religions or even from different ranks within their own. Pope Benedict XVI, who is reviving many traditional sartorial trends from the Church, has also been spotted in Gucci sunglasses and red Prada shoes. Apparently nobody told him that the devil also wears Prada.
Beyond religion and other societal institutions influenced by fashion, shopping and styling can be a source of solace. In the words of Herbert Spencer, the consciousness of being perfectly dressed may bestow a “peace such as religion cannot give.” Shopping can be a relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable experience. Retail therapy is by far one of the best ways to relax. Anyone who knows me well is aware that during study week you are bound to find me either hidden away on the third floor stacks of Olin Library or hunting through the racks at T.J. Maxx.
Fashion is big business. The designing, production, marketing and consumption of fashion generates a huge sector of the economy. I sometimes feel personally responsible for a large portion of that purchasing power. It is my individual effort to get our economy out of this supposed recession. Maybe if everyone tried to be a little better dressed and bought some new clothing, we would have a dapper populace and a booming economy.
The fashion industry is also a great mechanism for spreading awareness. Whether through Lance Armstrong’s “Live Strong” bracelets, Project Red or other charitable items, fashion can be used to inform consumers about causes and to raise money for them. Similarly, the fashion industry is also part of the current craze to go green. Natural, organic and vegan are not just culinary terms. By buying earth-friendly items, using vintage goods and donating old clothes, everyone can help to protect our planet.
Fashion is everything. The title of an article from Sept. 2, 2007 in New York Times says it all: “Admit it. You Love it. It matters.” Calling fashion frivolous or trivial is trite, erroneous and petty. I hope that my columns over these past two years have helped to substantiate that assertion.
Whether writing from my Collegetown apartment or my flat in London, I have thoroughly enjoyed writing Run Away Style. Thank you to my family and friends who have read my columns every other Tuesday and offered me their criticism and praise. Thank you to everyone who has spotted me on campus and asked, “Are you that girl who writes that column?” For those of you who don’t know me, my hair and sunglasses are even larger in person.

Dana Mendelowitz is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be contacted at dbm33@cornell.edu. This is her final column.