Review of Chapter 4
From Fashioning Society by Karl Aspelund
By Dustin Enrique Larsen
Paul Poiret, credited as being one of the world’s first influential fashion designers, saw an immense change in the world of fashion during his lifetime, especially from the American market. They were not any type of consumers he had ever seen nor dealt with before. They were a society in which the “aristocracy was based wholly on wealth,” and had “little connection to any idea of place or birthright.” (Aspelund, 2009). It was much like an out of touch parent trying to connect with a pubescent child where the child either does not understand or does not care about the customs of their elders. Americans had taken up the custom of spending their wealth on “anything anywhere” (Aspelund, 2009). They were individuals who had worked their way up through the class system through railroads and shipping companies, not by being born into a family line of importance. They were “new money” and were developing their own behavior rather than following those that had been passed down for hundreds of years in Europe.
This began to alarm and bewilder Poiret. He tried to revive old customs from before the war and was met with great disappointment. He was also alarmed at how American women and the American market took to the fashion of Europe. He described their behavior as a “childish willingness to obey the whim” of fashion designers (Apselund, 2009). Rather than realizing exactly what they were purchasing and placing on their backs and understanding the deeper meaning behind the garments, they only were concerned with the fact that it had come from Paris, which was good enough for them. They “lacked personality,” purchasing items that were solely to show off their status, not their sense of style, attitude, or any other traits that made up an individual with substance or culture.
What alarmed Poiret even more was he felt that the woman of America were “the most beautiful in the world, “ and “woman who have won their freedom, cinema, ‘stars,’ [who were] rich, liberated, independent” (Aspelund, 2009). Rather than using these freedoms and physically going to Paris for themselves and seeing the culture, the people, and all the aspects that made Parisian fashion what it was; they sent people for them and believed wearing the garments was experience enough. Poiret had every right to be alarmed. Watching Parisian fashion become mass produced and not fully appreciated must have been like slaving for hours over a four-course meal just to have it devoured in seconds without leaving time to fully experience the moment.
Poiret was in no way wrong being alarmed by American woman not taking advantage of their freedom and by expressing this freedom in the form of apparel. Every woman has a right to look fabulous, and as do men. Having the right to look fabulous is like having the right to have high self-esteem, one might even compare it to having the right to wake up in the morning and take a big breath of the morning air. Humans are a species that need acceptance and belonging to fulfill their purpose in life, as found in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that has been drilled into our heads in multiple courses. Expression through apparel is the most significant way for a person to quickly get instant gratification for themselves and from people around them. The sparkle in the eye of a little girl picking out her first dress, or the grin of a father receiving a necktie from his young son is proof enough that everyone desires and deserves the right to look fabulous. More and more people are exercising this right by having high-end designers develop lines for mass production and labels that are focused on remaking Hollywood looks for less.
This right to look fabulous can be very affective if people acknowledge it and know how to use it to their advantage. High fashion played a major role in politics in the early 19th century and still has prevalence today. During the presidential race of 2008, President Obama’s campaign had a little edge over the opponents and could credited to the wardrobe of his wife. Her being one of the best dressed first ladies of the decade, and even being compared to Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy, showed just how much fashion can still influence politics, even if the theory of it is not that well known. The fashion of the candidates is always a topic of discussion, from Mrs. Obama to Sara Palin.
Legendary designer Coco Chanel believed in this right for woman to be fabulous, fashionable and functional at the same time; making her “inspired by the moment.” A designer of today that follows that same inspiration is a newer one named Frank Muytjens. He is a men’s designer originally from Holland who came to the states and worked for Ralph Lauren after which he took over J. Crew and added a military flare to the already preppy line. As the wars over seas rage on, the military influence can be seen creeping into fashion and this particular designer has saddled that (GQ 2010).