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Why fashion has value beyond appearance

Why fashion has value beyond appearance

Originally published on May 05, 2016.

In my city this week a small fashion event, called Fashfest, ( is underway. It started in 2013, but with every passing year gets bigger – they’ve had to move to cater for the crowds.

Normally my reaction to this would have been “yeah, well, good luck to them” (and essentially meaning “So what? I don’t care!”), but a few things have shifted my thinking on fashion in general.

First of all, I’ve recently come to enjoy shopping for clothes online. With this has come a realization of how similar much of the men's retail offering is in my city. I am not sure if this is just a lack of fashion sense among Australian men. After all, we are generally not thought of as being stylish, as opposed to European or Japanese men. Or, is it just that these shops are catering to the mainstream – the economics of it being that fairly bland, cheap stuff is where the money is? I imagine it’s a combination of both – and the corollary is that one needs to accept this trade-off if better quality clothing (in all aspects) is wanted.

Image source:   Contacted publisher on 09 October 2017.

Image source:

Contacted publisher on 09 October 2017.

While looking at stuff on Pinterest, I saw this picture of a girl wearing something in a Black Watch tartan, (which I think Americans call plaid) and I found it really interesting. Less than one minute later, I had to laugh, as I realized I am getting old. As attractive as the girl in the picture was, I was far more interested in the colours in the tartan than in her!

That led me to looking for men’s clothing in tartan, and gave me some interesting results. Not only is there a lot of it out there, but there are now tartan shoes, tartan gumboots (galoshes), and even a tartan VW Beetle.

It has got me thinking. While I have Scottish heritage, and I’m proud of it, I’d never thought of wearing anything tartan beyond something Scottish-related, and one reason is that there are a lot of cheap tartan checked shirts here. But seeing what is possible with waistcoats, ties, and more, I have come to realise that it is possible for two people to wear the same pattern, but to give very different impressions in the process.

Then, while on the treadmill in a gym this morning, I saw a program called Project Runway. It was showing an episode with four remaining designers. Two of them had created clothing which matched the brief really well, while the other two had struggled. The judges chose to break the tie by bringing out what was left of earlier contestants’ failed designs, and asked these designers to resurrect these clothes by combining them – in one hour.

The two girls went backstage and started the process, and one of them burst into tears as she was cutting up some of the clothes. She blubbed “this is someone’s dream, their hard work, and their idea – what right do I have to destroy it?” I was amazed at this, scripted or not (yes, it’s reality TV, I know), not only because of her reaction, but at the idea behind it.

And that’s when it hit me…not only does fashion have value, but there are people working very, very hard behind the scenes to make this stuff happen. When I buy something, I’m the end of a chain that really does stem from someone’s individual efforts to make the world a better place. I do painting in my free time, and I appreciate how hard it is to get as good at it as professional artists are.

Well, as of today, I’ll look at fashion on the same light. Like architecture, it is basically turning art into something tangible and useful. At a time that Australia’s economy is having trouble adapting to the digital world, fashion could help to show other industries how to innovate.
As such, good luck to all of the young designers at Fashfest this week.

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