Sunday, February 01, 2009

What makes good fashion writing?

Installment I: What doesn't.

Fashion writing need not be democratic in the sense of, a cheap outfit's always as nice as an expensive one, or a given outfit will look just as good on anyone else as it does on a model. Distinctions will always have to be made, and will sometimes end up falling along predictable lines. But without holding the fashion commentariat to impossible standards of political correctness, it's fair to say the ideal should be an emphasis on the interesting and attractive arrangement of clothes. If our reaction to a fashion shot is either, "damn, that woman's skinny, if one can call a 15-year-old a woman," or, "yes, how true, Angelina Jolie did dress appropriately, for a change, good for her,'" then what we are looking at falls short of this ideal. Case(s) in point:

-"Go Fug Yourself" is not, I repeat, not, a fashion blog. It is a middle-school clique ringleader, chastising those who look 'weird', but in the form of a blog aimed at adult women. Anyone who looks chic, different, or who does not put 'slimming' above all else when deciding what to look for in an outfit, has, according to the blog's writers, gone awry. Other crimes: dressing too retro or too avant-garde, showing too much or too little skin, basically wearing anything that is not 'classy', 'normal', 'appropriate', 'flattering', or otherwise uninteresting. Since the blog only targets bona fide celebs, and since no one is ever, ever accused of being fat, just of having chosen the wrong outfit for their 'curves', the problem with the blog is not nastiness, as some might imagine, but boringness. It's the fashion equivalent of going to a library and mocking all the novels that aren't 250-page easy (but not too easy) reads.

-"The Sartorialist" is a fashion blog, but one that tells you nothing you didn't know. For example, did you know that emaciated Swedish models out having a cigarette between fashion shows look more glamorous than Illinois sorority girls making the Chipotle-Frappuccino rounds? In Sartorialist land, the photography is interesting, the people are beautiful, but the clothing is so obviously secondary (tertiary?). We all own variants of this outfit, but some of us like cheese too much to wear whatever sub-zero size is featured in the linked photo. Since the gist of the blog is that it's about 'random' chicness in 'random' cities worldwide, the over-representation of the Nordic and the modelesque (or thinner) makes the blog not really about interesting arrangements of clothing much at all. That is, unless it, like fashion mags, works under the assumption that you cannot judge whether an outfit is nice/interesting or not unless the person wearing it looks like they've spent their food money on clothes. The tendency is understandable in "Vogue," because you know what you're getting into, but not with a blog that's ostensibly about clothes, not lucky freaks of nature.

Next up: what is good fashion writing. I have some ideas, but am open to suggestions.


Petey said...

"The Sartorialist" is a fashion blog, but one that tells you nothing you didn't know."

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

Thus is fashion.

I dig The Sartorialist. I check in weekly.

Anonymous said...

Great fashion writers?
Richard Martin, did many catalogs for the Met's costume insititute

Judith Thurman

Cathy Horyn's ok, especially in print and not sounding too bored to be talking.

Academic fashion theory? Anthropology? Fashion and architecture? There's great stuff out there--I guess I don't know what you're looking for.

kei said...

Someone needs to write about fashion and teaching. You and I are the only ones I know of who can really do this from experience. To what extent must instructors dress consciously? Does it make a difference if you're teaching your own class or TAing? Is it unethical to borrow one's dad's weathered briefcase to appear more professorial? What can one do about looking forever young when trying to convey complicated philosophical or historical or linguistic ideas to students? There is no end to the questions.

tor (fabfrocks) said...

Just stumbled across your blog and i have to say I agree! Surely the power of the blogosphere is how much it vears away from the stereotypes of a fashion magazine!

Emmett Katherine said...

Your commentary/thoughts about The Satoralist are spot on, especially now when he gave his opinion on 'fashion bloggers' in an interview.

Well writen and injected with humour, I enjoyed this post.