Gasp! If you’re really into fashion, I know how that sounds. Fashion is art and art is sacred, and this is sounding like an oxymoron?
Well, we are on the subject of modernity and if modernity is the inherent fiber that makes the American urban young-adult aesthetic as commercially successful and as cultural relevant as it is then fashion must be predisposed to imitating its nature, one that mutates and evolves. Which is why fashion is meant to be disposable—it’s meant to be functional and it’s meant to be aware of itself.
You have your fashion staples, pieces that never go out of fashion, timeless pieces passed down from generations that remain profoundly embedded in the vision of every contemporary class of fashion makers and influencers since its time. We can cite Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress as one of those revolutionary pieces that easily made themselves permanent fixtures of American fashion and are now deservedly iconic. Combining a minimalist design with equal parts high functionality and artistic direction is genius that transcends both time and culture. You can now walk into most fashion retail department stores around the U.S and see a wrap dress on display and it won’t feel retrospective or vintage. The prints, the colors, the textures even, will be as modern as our time but the design remains essentially classic.
Or we may look at a simpler paradigm…
American blue jeans, who doesn’t own a pair? This garment probably holds the same importance to the mediated image of American fashion as Bourbon whiskey does for American leisure. The key seemingly is a formulaic dose of design and function. A pair of denim trousers as an innovation at its time was simply a reaction to the social shift in the workplace. No longer did textile need to be spun at home by hand while adhering to dress etiquettes of propriety and decorum. Because of the much dirtier nature of factory work and because of available means to mass produce, a new industrial population demanded more casual, more utilitarian fashion, in effect more disposable fashion— cheap practical simple design—fashion that was not in essence concerned with art but with a primary objective of being wearable.
Inevitably, all fashion ends up reflecting on its approximate culture being bred from the intellectual and material resources of that culture. All design as a general rule takes a creative direction. But the more disposable fashion becomes, the less we see a creative direction in lieu of wear-ability and the more adaptable it is to our own creative expression. Fashion as a disposable commodity responds to the modernity of culture, our need for self-expression, our need for high functionality paralleled to the high-paced structures of our lives, and our endless appetite for consumption and instant gratification. Ideally, fashion has to be obsolete and we want it to be. When constantly seeking ‘the new’ and ‘the modern’, we don’t get that without recycling ‘the old’ to generate new ideas.
So we must go back to modernity and also understanding the instrumental role of fashion being functional for use and disposable for value. We may thus understand why the American aesthetic is ideal to be at the forefront of fashion globally—why people in all corners of the world aspire to the white tee and blue jeans, perfectly bracketed within urban young adult imagery, the most important shaper of culture
Margael St Juste, Hunter College ’15
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