Fashion’s Role Models: Is Impractical Fashion really the way Forward?

Are Gurus of the industry deliberately making it harder for women to dress fashionably?

With Fashion Week looming, fashionistas from all over are strapping on their platforms and sauntering down to Somerset House, ready to snatch up the Autumn/Winter 2011 must-haves. (Sounds mad to us Durhamites, who can barely see the end of the Arctic Winter of 2010…). But how easy is it to pick an outfit off the catwalk, throw it on and strut down the High Street without looking like Lady Gaga?

Haute Couture creations have been outrageous for decades. Designers combine the impossible and the impractical – models tumble down the catwalk in nine-inch heels, enormous hats which act as prosthesis to the body, and masks to cover up any natural expression on the models’ faces… you name it, couture has had it. But Haute Couture was never meant to be practical, something you could pull out of your wardrobe and wear out and about in town. Couture is art, a walking dream, existing to inspire and tease the imagination. Practicality is where its sister, prêt-à-porter or “ready-to-wear”, steps in. Prêt-à-porter clothes are the designers’ chance to provide the public with a wearable and fashionable alternative to Haute Couture.

But over the past couple of years the ready-to-wear shows have become, well, less ready-to-wear. Has fashion become too outrageous? The clothes are an outlet for eccentric fashion designers, but has the catwalk become a competition of who can make the models look more ridiculous, a place suitable solely for the attention-seekers of this world? Well, yes and no.

The bird’s nest look is set to be big this spring…

Designer Hussein Chalayan made headlines after his 2000 show with his “table skirt”. A model steps on to a catwalk, walks over to a wooden coffee table, steps into it and pulls it up to reveal a wooden skirt. Genius, right? Erm sure… I for one would love to dance around Klute with a coffee table strapped to my waist, at least it might make balancing those quaddies a lot easier! In 2007, Chalayan did not disappoint on the scale of impracticality yet again, sending out his brightest (literally) creation yet. The model emerged from the back of the stage wearing a dress made from Swarovski crystals and over 15,000 lights, dazzling the audience. Do Chalayan’s designs present an image of what he wants women to wear? Or are they a publicity stunt, a cry for attention masquerading as creativity?

Last season saw the rise of underwear as outerwear, models stalking along the catwalk in bras and suspenders with all but a see-through blouse or skirt to maintain their modesty. All very well when you’re six feet tall, stick thin and don’t have to walk down the street dressed like that. But for the masses (especially the masses living in the freezing North) wearing underwear as every day clothing just ain’t gonna happen. A practical take on the trend is to wear an oversized tank, draping at the arms to reveal a metallic or bright, lacy bra from American Apparel or Urban Outfitters. Wear a translucent (not too see-through!) shirt with a modest but fashionable bra, and keep it simple with an unrevealing skirt. After all, let’s leave something to the imagination…

This season it’s time for minimalism to take a stand. You would think this would mean designs on the catwalk aren’t going to differ too much from what we’ll find on the high-street, minimalism is after all minimalism – a shift dress made from one cut in one block colour. Alas no, the fashion gods have decided otherwise. Fashion being fashion, designers have made a woman’s life just that little bit harder. Christopher Kane sent out models dressed head to toe in fluorescent green suits with nothing underneath, also known as the “Princess Margaret on acid” look. Jil Sander combined fluoro pink trousers with a bright purple blazer and coat, and a green bag to match (or not match as the case may be). Giant, billowing, yellow parachute maxi-dresses were the order from Matthew Williamson. These looks are hardly going to help the standard student decide what to throw on for the next lecture…

Are designers deliberately trying to make us look and feel like idiots? Will it be impossible to ever truly be on trend? Not necessarily. For Chloé it’s all about the elegance of the ballet, with flattering, nude coloured, mid-calf tutu skirts (stay away from the fancy-dress shops though!) and elegant leotards topped off with the comfortable ballet pumps much favoured by yours-truly – a look that is bound to dance its way down the High Street. White is definitely on trend this season, and with the approach of a hopefully scorching summer, this is an easy trend to channel. Think white dresses, crisp-white shirts and skirts. Or get ahead of the crowd and start wearing white now. Pair a white skirt with a Breton Stripe T-shirt or a simple black jumper and top it off with opaque black tights and an eye catching necklace.

Now that’s more like it…

So, has fashion become too outrageous to wear? Is Lisa Armstrong from The Times right when she wrote recently that “from the various sexual fetishes on parade to the facile rubbish that spewed out on to the catwalks… it seemed that designers were out to get women, or at least make them look foolish.” Certainly the prêt-à-porter catwalks are less ready to wear than they used to be, but trends are easily shaped into wearable, cool and easy outfits for students, a breath of fresh air to the standard tracksuit with hoodie uniform scattered around lecture theatres.

Far from crying for attention, the designers are trying to make us more independent, challenging our imaginations and calling for us to go out and search for a more affordable and individual take on the style, rather than asking us to walk to lectures in ten-inch stilettos. It’s time to stop following the crowd, and this week’s fashion shows won’t disappoint. Students of Durham, prepare to be inspired and get creative.

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