It was written to substantiate a point of victory regarding the ebullient energy that emerged from London, especially when held up against the dull restraint — the paring down, scaling back and growing up — that was largely on display in New York. And she was right, frankly. But I took issue with this notion that fashion could be unnecessary, especially on the heels of a memorable Oscars ceremony, where I was reminded, through third-party participation in an event that galvanizes the act of getting dressed up to sit in a large auditorium and re-watch scenes from movies you’ve already seen, that entertainment is the crutch of our survival. Because when we’re confronted with the realities of existence, the ones we invariably fight — and fail — to defy, it is only really the notion of escape — an ambitious synonym for hobby — that keeps us moving forward.
Of course, what defines escape will vary by person: one man’s art collection might be another woman’s new handbag, or prematurely released soundtrack, or new set of fishing supplies, but it is this sense of suspension from our own lives — the ability to step into shoes that don’t belong to us, to assume foreign identities and ultimately neglect the minutiae of our circumstances — that we find solace. Life. There is an axiom that is universally acknowledged as true, which says that “stuff” can’t buy happiness. I have argued that it can, however, rent it but I’m coming to realize that it’s not about the rental — it’s about the suspension.
And fashion, no doubt, is the currency with which I trade. Diana Vreeland was right: “fashion must be an intoxicating release from the banality of the world.” And it is. Because without it, that banality reminds us of what the prolific comedian Louis C.K. touches upon frequently in his routines — that we’re all alone and we’re all going to die. The “banality” that Vreeland addresses doesn’t allow for us to divert our attention from the underbelly of our collective unconscious, where there remains in perpetuity a looming fear of the unknown.
But now I’m digressing. What’s more important than arguing that fashion can’t be unnecessary is considering whether that is even possible.
Because when it is 17 degrees below zero, clothes are all we have. Literally. Maybe the bells and whistles that are sewn into the fashion as opposed to the de facto garments are disregarded or looked down upon but when they’re not, the champions of those bells and whistles feel imprisoned by the lack of choice inferred by an imminent snow storm or dangerous windchill. Getting dressed is, after all, our great escape and when that is compromised, we are left inert. Lifeless. Stuck.
If fashion might actually convince you that there is no end point, there is no darkness and that life runs in an ongoing loop littered by rose-colored fancies, it cannot be deemed unnecessary. Quite the contrary; it is decisively necessary. For survival. For endurance. For the gumption with which you persevere.
And on Louis C.K.’s theory, I offer this: we can’t fight the facts of existence and it’s true that we’re going to die — but worth canvassing is whether she who dies with the best shoes really dies alone.
Image via Giambattista Valli Couture Fall 2014