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Waste Not, Shop Not

An installation made from clothes found in the abandoned Tak Fak garment factory in Cambodia, representing the more than seven hundred gallons of water required to grow the cotton for one T-shirt; from ‘Clothing the Loop,’ by Von Wong and Laura Francois, 2018
An installation made from clothes found in the abandoned Tak Fak garment factory in Cambodia, representing the more than seven hundred gallons of water required to grow the cotton for one T-shirt; from ‘Clothing the Loop,’ by Von Wong and Laura Francois, 2018

If one is to judge fashion by glossy magazines, there are really only three major questions of importance: (1) leopard print or not, (2) sexy being “back” or not, and (3) what to wear if you aren’t wearing all black.

High fashion, for most people, is a passing blur of bewildering, ever-shifting, sometimes ridiculous seasonal image statements. Whether you are an avid follower of trends or believe yourself to be unconscious of style, or even fashion-contrary, unless you are a militant nudist, you are clothed every time you leave the house and are subject to snap judgments about your overall person by anyone who sees you. The items you have selected to cover your naked form communicate more about you than you may realize.

High fashion is a manifestation of the immediate zeitgeist: call it a mood ring, or a way to read the tea leaves of larger culture. What came to be the most interesting discovery of my tenure as a fashion critic at The New York Times was how much subliminal voodoo is crammed into the semiotics of advertisements for major luxury brands. In this age of total information manipulation, ads from the big luxury fashion companies contain what may be the most diabolical use of advanced social psychology, murky motivational levers, and Madison Avenue dirty tricks. The images are often entirely surreal and frequently incomprehensible. They are a drill moving directly toward your consumer libido, urging the lizard part of your brain to need that handbag.

In 2007 the national mood was one of ecstatic bloodlust, war drums, and camo-prints, and Dolce & Gabbana ads featured nearly naked models in apocalyptic deserts being pawed into orgasmic submission by cheetahs. The subliminal code being promoted: we are at war, war is like sex but bloodier and bigger, we’ll have our dirty way with the world, the world will love it and we don’t care who watches.

Fashion has ostensibly changed very little in the last few decades; once “everything goes,” as fashion editors announced in the 2000s, there are few drastic shifts in silhouette, either season to season or decade to decade. Changes are mainly visible through sexual temperature, e.g., after a rash of Sexy Back, there is often a whipsaw volte-face back to haute prude, as if all the models suddenly sobered up after a summer of rampant polyamory.…


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