Fashion has an obsession with subcultures. Be it health, trend eating, designer sneakers, girl bands and so on, the fashion community always finds niches to hop aboard. These trends always end up being ultra exclusive or expensive subcultures that cannot be acquired or obtained by “just anyone.” It’s no longer just knowing the right people and being invited to the coolest parties. It’s about working out at the trendiest gyms and eating the greenest foods. As high fashion brands have become more available globally, the terms for fitting in with the fashion community have expanded beyond just apparel. Fashion is the ultimate hipster; fashion elite have to like something before or after its been “in.” The idea of cool is already too mainstream. They must set the scene for the “new cool” and leave it before everyone else finds it.
Take fashion’s obsession with trend eating. Fashion elite were juicing before you had even heard of Vitamix and by the time you bought it they’d forgotten it. Kale, kombucha and chia seeds were considered “weird” food eaten by the crunchy granola health nuts until fashionistas decided cleanses were in. Suddenly, everyone was mixing them up into daily smoothies … along with a cup of bok choy or whatever the latest green was.
Eating isn’t the only health obsession; fashion magazines have taken to highlighting various fitness trends as well. However, these fitness trends have been taken to a new level, encouraged by the elitism that comes with fashion itself. Although cycling, yoga and barre classes are in, a local gym is still too pedestrian. To be deemed acceptable in the eyes of the fashion community, you have to be at Soul Cycle, your yoga has to be Bikram and whatever barre class you’re at has to have at least one celebrity. In their eyes, it seems that the point of fitness is fashion, not exercise.
High fashion is all about looking cheap. When Jil Sander showed the crumpled up paper bag in 2012, it was the beginning of the end for overstyled clutches. This paper bag, which looked like an elementary school lunch sack, retailed for $290 and created quite a stir. Fashion outsiders were appalled that anyone would buy an almost $300 paper bag, yet it sold out almost universally. Was this the end of high fashion as we know it or a sign that in order to be considered stylish we have to completely step out of the box? Would it be considered cool now to wear a gorgeous Dolce and Gabbana frock with crocs? The overtly tongue-in-cheek appeal of wearing something so ugly it instantly becomes stylish is a very “now” trend.
With the increased accessibility of runway style thanks to fast fashion retailers such as Zara and H&M, fashion is losing its long-standing niche exclusivity. If anyone can wear what is on the runways without understanding the trend, fashion has to create a new set of “code words” to indicate who is in the know.
To a degree, this stinks of old school “you can’t sit with us” bullying. And it’s fair to say that exclusion of any form or intent is potentially harmful. However, looking at fashionistas throughout history suggests something different.
Fashion has always been a small group. At its core, fashion is comprised of the weird kids in high school, the creative types where the boys wore jewelry and the girls could be described as “experimental.” Those truly successful and innovative in the fashion world were rarely the ones doing the bullying in high school. So why do we feel so excluded by them?
We feel excluded because fashion focuses on the physical appearance, the focus of an insecurity. There is a sense that what they say is beautiful becomes the definition of beautiful. This is not completely accurate. It involves physical appearance but it focuses more on the strange. Fashion isn’t afraid to explore the weird; in fact, it is this strangeness that made the most successful people in fashion the “weird” kids in high school. Fashion explores physical appearance and beauty but rarely in the traditional sense. It takes inspiration from paper bags, Russian literature or ancient Roman empires. It is exclusive and bizarre and unapologetically so.
Yes, trends are fun. We all want to feel like we are apart of the community of cool girls. But the height of fashion is not a trend. It is innovation expressed in the physical realm. Fashion began as a niche of individuals seeking a way to express themselves, and it has held true to its roots. It grew out of a niche and seeks to hold on to its exclusivity through the promotion of niches. But the best trend, and that most in tune with this view of fashion, is being yourself.