What Fashion Is

“Don’t you know that you are working at the place that published some of the greatest artists of the century? Halston, Lagerfeld, de la Renta. And what they did, what they created was greater than art because you live your life in it.” – The Devil Wears Prada

A few posts ago, I asked the ambiguous question of  “What is Fashion?” It seems that everyone has a different answer. Some believe it to be a commercial trap– a way to influence people to purchase more than they need. Others believe it to be a way of life like Coco Chanel immortalized in her words: “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” And finally, most just think fashion is just clothes.

Well, I would like to offer my personal opinion. To me, fashion is art; it’s a way of convey emotions and ideas in a livable form.


To explain my thinking, first, there needs to be a clear definition of art. The best definition is as follows…

Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions. The meaning of art is explored in a branch of philosophy known as aesthetics. – Wikipedia

By definition, anything that is emotionally and purposefully arranged can be considered art. This even includes intangible things like literature and music. The tangible aspects of art are objects like paintings, sculptures, mosaics, statues, digital images, photography, and carvings. Even furniture glued to the outside of a building is considered art such as San Francisco’s House of Falling Furniture.

If this is the case, then why is fashion left off the lists of art modes? I vigorously searched every dictionary and word definition website, hoping to find a reference site that agreed with me. But I couldn’t even find one.

The only aspect that sets apart art and fashion is its function. Art is usually thought to be decorative, something only to look at. You buy a painting, you hang it on the wall. You purchase a vase, you put flowers in it and put it on the mantel. You take a picture of a pretty flower, you set it as your desktop picture. On the other hand, fashion is something that you use. You buy a dress, you wear it to your brother’s wedding. You invest a chic headband, you style your hair around it. You purchase a killer pair of heels, you wear them to a party and make your ex jealous. This aspect is what most people use to separate art and fashion. Their thinking is along the lines of, “How is something that I wear, something that is considered a necessity, art? It only serves the purpose of clothing me.”

If clothing was only meant to cover our body, we would all still be wearing scraps of clothing, similar to clothes in the cartoon The Flintstones. It would be shapeless and dull with sloppy stitching. If you look at any piece of clothing at any store, it is always styled and tailored and has a nice color to it. Why? To make you look good. What draws you into buying that piece of clothing? The emotional appeal and connection.

For example, maybe you really like the color purple. Because purple is pleasing to you, you are going to instinctively seek out the shades of purple you see on the sales rack. The same goes for any preference– stripes, florals, ruffles, mesh, cotton, denim, etc–you will be naturally drawn to it. This also applies to dislikes. For instant, I am not too keen on plaid and floral prints. So, when I see something that is either one of those prints, I am immediately turned off by the article of clothing by the feeling of disgust. Likes and dislikes all stir up emotions. This goes back to the definition of art: “[the arrangement of] elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions.” Yes, that rainbow plaid button-down cotton shirt makes me feel one way and that exquisite BCBG draped one-sleeve top makes me feel another way. Therefore, clothing is art because it makes you feel.

When you hear fashion designers talk about what inspired their collection, one of the most common answers they will give relates to emotion. Like, “I wanted to express a woman’s natural seductive side.” Or, “I wanted to convey the anger and violence from the genocide in Africa into this collection to create awareness.” When you see the collection visually displayed, emotions are evoked subconsciously. A good example is Lanvin’s Fall/Winter 2010-2011 Womenswear Collection. In the show, all the models are wearing the same wig and the same make-up, creating a sense of uniformity.

In a behind the scenes interview, Martin Krutzki describes how he wanted project the idea of a world where everyone looks the same. He explains how everyone is striving for the identical image of beauty and what an ugly and boring place the world would be. While you are watching the show, the models have serious, emotionless faces and you can’t help but feel uncomfortable. It’s the same when you watch a Betsey Johnson fashion show; it’s impossible not to feel giddy and childish, yet freakishly seductive at the same time.

Whether people realize it or not, fashion is art. Even though it covers the body and is probably not the most comfortable piece of art, it still effects the senses and provokes a reaction. As Nigel said in The Devil Wears Prada, it is the most valuable form of art because you live your life in it.

Lanvin’s Fall/Winter 2010-2011 Show

Betsey Johnson’s Fall/Winter 2010-2011 Show

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