Should Fashion Be Politically Correct? A Response to the NY Times

What is the cost of a fashion statement? How far are we willing to go to call something “chic”? Straddling the line between appropriation and offense and raising awareness around socio-political issues, many major players in the fashion industry create on the basis of exploration. However, they fail to acknowledge the struggles of the same cultures or people that they claim to “borrow” from. Clearly stated by Vogue Italia editor-in-chief, Franca Sozzani, “Fashion isn’t really about clothes. It’s about life.” but there is an unfortunate pattern of photographing high fashion, luxury shoots with the backdrop of poverty and social marginalization. These shoots are concocted under the guise of creativity for being inspired by the grit of “street life” or the “real world.” This language, coded in the idealism of sartorial ingenuity, is actually detrimental to the communities that are exploited as a mere “backdrop” or source of inspiration. While the notion of wanting to artfully “shed light” on various social ills seems pleasing, it is only superficial. At the end of the day, major fashion houses, models, photographers, and other major players featured in these exploits are still gaining tremendous monetary benefits. Even though the fall 2014 Chanel ready-to-wear show helped to raise awareness about women’s rights and the inequality of the patriarchal system, a piece from the show will still go for thousands of dollars and the patriarchy remains alive and well. This is not to say a simple runway show will bring about significant change after centuries of inequality, however, major fashion brands like Chanel still benefit from a system of inequality that persists.

As W magazine’s editor-in-chief, Stefano Tonchi remarked, “Like any art form [fashion] becomes propaganda.” Fashion has a responsibility and a role to highlight the issues of society and force them into public conversation. Often, the overly constructed, avant-garde productions of the fashion industry are labeled as escapism because creators do not want to face the ugliness of reality. I agree that it is wrong to assume that designers, editors, and other major players in the production of fashion are after a “cheap shock and not a deeper commitment.” But one does have to consider the diversity of experiences, perspectives and issues individuals are facing in the world; especially relating to the so-called “inspiration” that fashion people take from these struggles. In an industry that is so lacking in diverse representation and where these questionable “fashion statements” are committed heavily by white people who hold considerable societal power, fashion should be politically correct.

NOTE: You can read the original New York Times article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/15/fashion/should-fashion-be-politically-correct.html?ribbon-ad-idx=5&rref=fashion


Charity Gates, Digital Content Director and Contributing Writer