The wide range of fashion that can be found even in your local charity shop

Acts of self-creation: the art of day-to-day fashion

Culture Fashion

Image credit: Prudence Earl. Description: racks of colourful clothing in a shop.

In Oxford, aside from academic necessity, I love going to lectures just to see what people are wearing, to take part in the silent communication that takes place through the language of clothes. That is how I see fashion – as being fundamentally being about communication and connection between human beings. I directly interact with fashion every day of my life because every day, just like everybody else, I get dressed. Fashion provides every individual with the capacity to fulfill the most fundamental, basic of human needs – to create. Yves Saint Laurent said, “We have a need to celebrate. Fashion also has to be a celebration, it has to help people to play. To change. To escape. To compensate a little for this terrible world, so grey, so harsh, in which they are condemned to live”. Meanwhile, Paloma Picasso claims she loves fashion because it is “a game”. Fashion, art, and beauty are modes of escape into another world where anything is possible. To get dressed is to disguise yourself, create yourself, put on a mask. It’s to show, hide, or invent things about yourself.

To get dressed is to disguise yourself, create yourself, put on a mask. It’s to show, hide, or invent things about yourself.

Clothes are a living art form – we animate them, breathe in them, bring them to life just as they bring us to life. There is an exchange in which the boundary between reality and fantasy is blurred or effaced. The immediacy of visual art is also something that facilitates this; unlike temporal art form such as music, film, or literature, visual art has instant impact – you absorb it in less than a second. Thus, it continually evolves and changes.

I go into WHSmith and spend minutes crouched on the floor, pouring through fashion magazines. For those few minutes, I’m not aware that I’m there, crouched on the floor in WHSmith. Then I have to get up, I have a lecture, I come swooping back down to earth, like waking up from a dream. Fashion and photography and visual art transport you like that. It’s like nourishment; I walk through the streets to feed my eyes. I also feel privileged to live in England. Having travelled around quite a lot with my studies, I have a fuller appreciation for the freedom provided by the varied and diverse British sartorial palette available to the average person. Speaking of high street fashion, I’ve noticed that vintage clothing is much more accessible, affordable, and of higher quality in England, than for example, in France. Looking at what people wear in the street, the English shopper is lucky; they are not as constricted by climate (compared to Russia), or for example by the homogeneity of the French high street outside of Paris.

For the eyes, London is the real feast; the clothes walking down the streets there create a richer and more diverse splattering of visual golden nuggets than any other city I’ve visited. I have the desire to document everything I see, but it would be impossible. That’s the ephemeral nature of fashion; you pass a gorgeous outfit in the street, and then it’s gone forever. At the end of the day that person will take it off, take it apart, put it away. Will they ever wear it like that again, exactly as it was?

For the eyes, London is the real feast; the clothes walking down the streets there create a richer and more diverse splattering of visual golden nuggets than any other city I’ve visited.

Annensky claimed that poetry can only be, by definition, symbolist, because all poetry is about the relationships between words rather than the words themselves. In fashion, this relativity is the same; an outfit comes together because of the relationships between the different component parts and how the clothes communicate with each other. The overall image that is created is the most powerful element, but it does not really exist. This is just like a poem; the overall impact is a complex web of interactions between the meaning, the sonority, the positioning of the individual words and how they speak to each other, even how they look on the page. The outfit and the poem comprise cohesive entities but they are constructed only of constituent units – the words and the individual pieces of clothing. Nothing in fashion stands alone.

Communication also takes place across time. Yves Saint Laurent said, “What can we really call ‘new’ in fashion?” One of my favourite collections of the 20th century is his 1971 Collection du Scandale. It’s amazing that a collection so outrageous at the time, widely scandalised in the press for contributing to an apparent degenerative trajectory in contemporary couture, presents a look (feminine lines, blocky heels, bulky fur jackets) that is now seen every day on the modern high street.

For me, fashion providing the average person with the vast choice and possibility, the sartorial playground, the palette that comprises their personal wardrobe is so essentially important. I couldn’t imagine living in a country where this sort of choice was not available. Fashion is the freedom to choose who you want to be each morning and it would be unimaginably suffocating to be deprived of that freedom, of that joy.