Eliot - Fashion and Judgement

March 31, 2016


In the very idea of fashion is change. What is top banana today is nowhere six months down the line in the fashion world.  Fashions come and they go.  Fashion affects a number of things. Designs of clothes and of cars; choice of house or location of abode; even crime has its waves and its hotspots which shift unaccountably from here to there.

There are fashions in how to speak; in how to wear hair; in colours for sporting club kit; in numbers of children; in their schooling; in marriage and in funerals; in church service styles even.

What makes them all fashions are that they stay for a short while and then public interest declines and they fade away usually whereupon some new fad or quirky approach is making its way up the ladder of opportunity.

In regard to our way of life Andy Warhol allotted for us all fame for fifteen minutes as his ultimate for human fashionable behaviour.  A bit of ribbing and a bit of sardonic social comment maybe?

What is commonplace about fashion is that at the point that a fashion is pronounced newly dead; that fashion becomes an embarrassment to be seen in. More than this, that fashion is cringingly avoided and shamefacedly hidden away in revulsion into the vaults of yesterday.  That recently deceased fashion is now, as it were, exposed for what it was; an aberration; a slip of the perception; a thing which says something about us which we had rather not hear or have be heard.  What is this thing about newly-dead fashion that so mortifies us, and affronts our vanities so bluntly that it becomes for us a thing to be abhorred?

Since beauty is in the beholder’s eye; and because our sense of what is beautiful is shifting sand – what was done in Ancient Athens looks alien and unintelligible to us today – so too fashion and its a la mode immediacy of attraction, and transience of appeal, attains its teetering pre-eminence in our admirations because our eyes and ears behold it as being currently ‘the only thing’ ‘the very creature of the moment’.

So we are committing something to a fashion whenever we espouse it and wear it on our collars; something from within us. We proclaim an endorsement, a following, an approval, a wedding of assent given to it and of pleasure taken from it. It is then, our judgements, which we are parading when we elect to wear or to use a fashion; we are saying to our public – look – this is what I approve of right now – look – this - for the present – is me!

A wedding is not a bad figure of speech to use here.  The outward display becomes a window on the inward understanding. The person who hops onto a bandwagon early in the life cycle is one who is taking a risk and seeking a reward.  The risk is that that early promise of reputation to be had from being known to have been well ahead on the next ‘big thing’ will nose dive into obloquy and derision were this next ‘big thing’ turn out to be a dud, a damp squib, and nosedive.  The reward to be had is a certain social raciness of reputation; for being among the persons who make the trends rather than one of those who follows them. And so a social standing is at stake – prowess in the pecking-order of ‘being on the money’.

So is it just about being able to predict the future?  Is it just about the power which accrues to persons who are able to create and to groom fashions and fashionable behaviours?  Are these then leaders of society in terms of appearances and style?

Without doubt fashion and its activities in society present a form of intense competition amongst their partakers.  Keeping up with fashion is a way of settling pecking-orders within social groups who use and value them.  It sets apart he who has an eye for taste, and she who has a taste for style, from those whose identities are less decisively led by their preferences for choosing particular clothing, or a certain car.

These less decisive are generally squeezed to the back of their social groups, at least in respect to these fashionable things.  They are of poor taste or of negligent disposition, or maybe without a clue for doing the jostling that occurs in this way?

In the way any extremely capable professional player of our times who plays in a high profile multibillion dollar sports team will be headhunted and will agree for a good whack to transfer to another club or team; one day he or she will be swearing an absolute fealty and indefatigable love to the old team; the next day he or she is swearing just as fervently an indefatigable love and undying fealty to the new team.

The truth is patent; although it is hardly ever aired or admitted to by anyone involved – neither by fan-bases nor by clubs and their managers – it is that money buys allegiance – it’s as blunt and deflating as that.

Now fashions are always in their heydays at a premium in the worlds of their adherents. For that short and elevated time in which they are the apotheoses of their worlds, they come at a price.  In the consumer economies which we enjoy that price is usually in straight bucks; but it can be now and then paid in the Bitcoin of star-billing or in the homage of a centrefold spread, and so on.

Once fashions go on the wane they have become as ancient and as uninteresting as yesterday’s news.  Championing and following fashions then might be seen as attempts to keep oneself, and the social groups one belongs to, alive, as if one were on a river and the falls are smoking a misty certain death up ahead and imminent; this is to be your demise unless you are able to hop from one loose log bole flushing hectically downstream and onto the next; so that by a continued restless effort of impetus you find you are able to preserve your life indefinitely?

The language says it: ‘I wouldn’t be seen dead in that!’  ‘I simply died with embarrassment!’

Well then, are our fashionistas doing any thing more subtle or more praiseworthy than the 250 grand a week slavish devotee of his team or her club, who is well-contented to jump-ship at a moment’s notice to the team which offers a higher bid?

Like our football and hockey league setups, the worlds of fashion in all their aspects are a) ineluctably tied to where the money is in our society; and b) instances and symptoms of our shallow outlooks on life.  In the country of the brand the monied man is king.

The undercutting of strong common values by the use of comic ridicule and by way of money briberies and by a means of upholding for admiration false and petty and tawdry sets of febrile values and ways of life; all of which undercutting is happening now and succeeding in all our lives all around us; this is the world of sport and the world of fashions, and the entire economic world as we  know it as a whole.  It is absolutely self-undercutting and it will destroy us.

When we come to a place, where we have no faith left in, nor no respect for what are lamely termed, traditional values; which are better termed essential, vital, life-giving values; we shall be able to show and to know no faith in ourselves, no respect for ourselves, and so the world as we knew it will have ended. Life will have to begin again: if any of us are spared.

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