FASHION | Fashion is for us all

"Fashion fades; Style is eternal".

Those are powerful words by the fashion icon, Yves Saint-Laurent. This means that trends may come and go, but what always has and always will matter is your personal style and taste, because "you can pay for school, but you can't buy class."

Whether you are attending a red carpet event, a cultural/religious ceremony, or simply running daily errands, there is always an occasion to look fashionable.

However, we can get carried away in following the "trends" and what everybody is wearing or doing, usually because of commercialization and peer pressure. Sometimes all goes well, but more often than not, we may get it wrong.

This is not necessarily because something is of bad taste or quality, but simply because it does not represent You: your identity; your unique personality.

Fashion is much more than just good clothing and trendy merchandise, it's about YOU, the person wearing the clothes.

It is how you portray Yourself to the world - neither for validation nor approval. It's about taking the bold stand in showcasing your uniqueness and identity through fashion.

You are the creator of your ultimate style.

However, since its inception, the concept of fashion has been associated with the elites of their time.

Mainly highlighted by the monarchs like Queen Marie Antoinette of France, to socialites & celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe - basically associated with those of wealth and popularity throughout history.

Taking nothing away from their style and eloquence, mostly an exclusive definition of style & beauty was portrayed, with other forms of beauty being overlooked.

The early to mid 19th century is considered "the golden age of fashion". Pioneered by the greats such as Coco Chanel, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre de Balmain, & Cristòbal Balenciaga, to name a few. Magazines like Vogue, Glamour Magazine and Elle Magazine provided a platform for the world of fashion, taking this phenomenon to even greater heights by representing the people.

American born designer, Mainbocher, redesigned the Women Marines service uniform. His collection includes uniforms for the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and the Girl Scouts of the USA. This accommodated both femininity and functionality of the modern day woman, defeating the stereotypes of the sexist role of women in fashion, challenging the status quo.

However, the best of the fashion industry was still inaccessible for some people who did not meet the commercialized criteria. For those who could not access merchandise unique to the their individual needs, clothes had to be tailored, if not custom made.

Custom made clothing required several working hours and people to create a single item or limited number of merchandise at a given time.

This is an expensive process too.

The lack of equal representation in society at large, meant that there were cracks in the fashion industry that highlighted the lack of equality and equity. In times when the minority of the population set the acceptable norms and laws of the land, even the standards of "beauty" and "fashion" were prescribed in this manner.

The misconceptions of social as well as gender based stereotypes surfaced in almost all forms of mainstream media.

An example would be of, Pierre Cardin, who was hugely criticized for using black models at a time when Europe was still relatively conservative.

Commercially, numerous groups of people were underrepresented: Africans, Asians, Indian and Muslim/Arab women, the LGBTQ community, plus size models, people with albinism and darker skin models were left out of the limelight - if ever included at all. With the world having slowly but surely evolved, so should fashion. The promotion of equal representation against racial & gender discrimination, and body shaming in society through social activism resulted in a gradual but certain change in the industry. This promoted the idea of embracing one's uniqueness, in every way possible.

A change towards inclusion by fashion brands of all kinds, meant that fashion played a deeper role in society. Several influences have played a big part in how fashion represents us. From magazines, to designers, stylists, models, musicians, and even social media influencers have shaped our thinking of fashion, representing a holistic approach.

One of thee most iconic brands in fashion Victoria's Secret could not withstand the test of the changing times. Having been inspired by a man's awkwardness when buying lingerie for his wife, founder Roy Raymond wanted to establish an enterprise where men would not feel embarrassed when buying lingerie for their significant other. The name Victoria's Secret was also a resemblance of the "Victorian" era, in the form of fashion.

Largely known for showcasing flamboyant lingerie in their highly acclaimed fashion shows, a one dimensional view of beauty was usually on display. The idea of skinny models with skimpy outfits, lived up to a certain hype in its prime.

The expensive and jewellery studded items, such as the $15 Million Dollar "Fantasy Bra" worn by Giselle Bündchen, did not realistically reflect the ideas, comfort, and the image (never mind price range) for people over the changing times.

On top of refusing to adapt to more body positive undergarments, then CEO Ed Razek publicly denounced the involvement of transgender and plus size models.

It comes as no surprise that after its reign in the 90's and early 2000's, it simply became irrelevant as it did not represent society at large, particularly with the #MeToo movement, as well as the rise in social media engagements, and subsequently filed for bankruptcy. Times have changed, and the fashion industry, much like society, has become more united and inclusive with time.

In 2018, Angela Ponce of Spain, was the first Transgender contestant in the entire Miss Universe history. Such advances may have been the final nail to the coffin of discriminatory brands like Victoria's Secret.

In the 2019 Miss Universe ceremony, history was made again, as Miss Myanmar, Swe Zin Htet came out as the competition’s first openly gay contestant.

This was a bold move in its own right, as Myanmar has incredibly harsh laws against homosexuality.

On that same night, the winner, South Africa's Zozibini Tunzi, created history and set a precedent for embracing natural African beauty. "I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful..."

She proclaimed that all those ideas have been challenged that night.

All these achievements and advances are not just for the individuals, but represent something more in society - something for everybody. If people do not feel represented by the clothing/items they would spend their hard earned money on, the concept of fashion is dead.

Brands like H&M have referred to a black child as "Coolest Monkey on the Planet", and Clicks (South Africa) has referred to African women's hair as "Dull & Dry" and "Not Normal."

Several other high end fashion brands have openly excluded certain groups from their brands, yet profit highly from the same people who they disregard. In a world where social activism is fueled by social media engagements, just like Victoria's Secret, some of these brands with old ideas are a ticking time bomb.

On a brighter note, there is a much better representation of diversity today in Fashion. Innovators such as Virgil Agbor's Off White, Jeremy Scott with Moschino, David Tlale (SA), Excel Clothing (SA), Palesa Mokhubung (SA), Fashion Nova Curve, and countless more, have embraced diversity by filling the void through inclusion.

Such brands show the advances in the accommodation of functionality and Identity through fashion.

Even the high end fashion houses from the golden era of fashion, although with speedbumps from the ignorance of some individuals, have made strides in showing off their fashion to be more inclusive and diverse.

Innovation and progress can be seen with Louis Vuitton's collaboration with Virgil Agboh, and Rihanna's Fenty Beauty working with LVMH to create a beauty range for all skin types. Lingerie brands like ThirdLove and Savage X Fenty have also played a crucial role in accommodating the diversity for all body types and sizes.

Vogue UK, dedicated itself to promote the voices/faces of hope & forces against oppression, by including Marcus Rashford & Adwoa Aboah on their September issue cover, in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Captured by Misan Harriman, this was also the first time that a black photographer was used to create the cover for the magazine.

A new precedent has been set on the standards of fashion, in direct proportion to the natural standards of humanity as a whole; and the flame reignites over and over in various ways.

The idea of fashion does not necessarily begin and end with the design of the clothes. It begins with how a person feels about himself/herself inside, no matter the occasion. It is a reflection of one's identity, mood, self awareness & confidence, and how that feeling radiates to the outside world in the form of "a look" as the apex. Beauty comes from within.

It is always evident on the outside, if someone is not comfortable with what they are wearing. It can be that some items are simply not made for your body type/shape, or do not coincide with your religious beliefs, or the mood/feeling that it evokes is not that of your own.

Some may feel extremely comfortable with showing off their skin/bodies through their clothing, and some may be more conservative. Some may prefer a more avant garde type of fashion, showcasing their dramaticism, while some may prefer a much simpler approach. Other may prefer to break boundaries when it comes to the gender constrictions of fashion, preferring something that represents a cross gender approach.

Even during pregnancy, there is still a reason to look and feel good while maintaining comfort. Others may prefer something that showcases their athleticism such as fitness gear, or a proud parents(s) matching with their kid(s) over family time. It can also be a form of cultural, religious heritage, that fuses tradition with fashion. The examples are endless.

Whatever the reason, whatever the occasion, everybody wants to feel represented one way or another. To be accepted without having to "fit in", and looking good while at it, is a feeling that is refreshing.

Those commercially defined "imperfections" are what make you "perfect" just the way you are.

Rachel Zoe once said, "style is a way of saying who you are without having to speak." So no matter your background or environment, the colour of your skin, your values/beliefs, your ethnicity, the texture of your hair, your sexual orientation, or body shape/size - FASHION IS FOR US ALL...

Written by Tevin NKS
Edited by Tevin NKS