As I’ve mentioned before on the Ramblings, I do love a good essay; and one of my favourite publishers of the form is Notting Hill Editions, an indie who produce the loveliest cloth bound hardbacks. One of their titles featured during #ReadIndies month, and they have a new book available which covers a subject I don’t normally explore much – that of fashion. The book is called “Fashion: A Manifesto” and it’s by Anouchka Grose; a psychoanalyst and clothes-lover, she takes a wide ranging look at our relationship with clothing over the years, and the result is a fascinating read which digs deep into the hold fashion can exert over us.

Fashion and clothing can, of course, be complex topics to deal with nowadays. As well as the fact that many trends, and the influence they have on young women in particular, can be deemed as dangerous if not toxic, there is also the environmental effect of fast fashion and the constant pressure to consume new clothing product. As Grose makes clear from the start, she’s very aware of these factors; and she takes a balanced look at how we use clothing and fashion to define ourselves.

Presumably it’s good to know at first glance who’s rich and who’s poor because then you will quickly know who to marry and who to exploit.

“Fashion…” is divided into chapters exploring particular aspects of the subject; from the definition and history of what fashion actually is, through the concept of fashion as art, the use of clothing to hide perceived bodily imperfections, the harm that clothing can cause to us, and even significant fashion trends like punk, Grose’s narrative is a fascinating one. She’s very aware of how clothing has been used in the past to pinpoint the wearer’s social position, and I was particularly interested in the history of how specific items were worn by the upper or ruling classes to mark them out as better than the rest. To a certain extent, that element of fashion has perhaps been diminished, although there is still the divide between those who can afford the expensive couture outfit and those who have to buy the knock-off version.

Of course, production methods have radically changed over the years, for good or for bad, which has democratised the wearing of certain items of clothing; however, this has caused the drastic environmental effects, and Grose doesn’t shy away from covering the horrors caused by mass production. She comes right up to date, discussing the idea of digital garments, but of course this doesn’t solve the problem of what we wear every day, and also uses up resources albeit in a different way.

I found her discussion of catwalk shows very pithy, too, as they’ve gradually moved over the years from presenting a particular style that consumers could aspire to over the following season to showcasing the most ridiculous and pointless displays of so-called outfits that few could (or would want to!) wear. That element of the fashion industry seems to me particularly profligate and I must confess to find myself torn between laughing and despairing at some of the concoctions the designers come up with. Mind you, the harsh and competitive environment in which the designers work sounds unbearable…

Perhaps, before long, we will get to a point where we no longer need a giant, greedy industry to force fashion on us via billboards, swanky store fronts, pop-up ads and so on. We will just produce it ourselves. Charity shops, resale websites and even our own wardrobes, contain more than enough vestimentary beauty and variation to last us well into the future.

I enjoyed very much Grose’s even-handed exploration of fashion’s past, present and future; she doen’t draw definitive and binding conclusions but instead creates fascinating discussion points to explore ongoing options for sustainable fashion. Certainly many of us are very aware of the dangers nowadays, and movements to recycle or upcycle have gained much traction. Personally, I’m past an age where fashion matters much to me, though I do like to reuse items from charity shops, and some of my Offspring make regular use of sites like Vinted. But then, I think I always had that mindset; I’m from the era that loved to style their own look from jumble sale or charity shop finds in the post-punk years, and mixing a skirt from the 1950s with a modern lace top and a thrifted jacket meant you could have a look all of your own! 😀

So “Fashion…” was a thoughtful, often thought-provoking read which certainly made me reconsider what I knew about the history of clothes, and also what we should be doing, going forward. We absolutely need to pay the proper price for what we buy, stop getting cheap garments produced in sweatshops and try hard to slow down our consumption, opting for preloved items or those manufactured by ethical and sustainable methods. Of course, that’s easier said than done – but this fascinating book certainly should point readers in the right direction to at least think about what they buy and try to make changes!

(Review copy kindly provided by the publishers, for which many thanks!)