Resisting the Impulse to Trivialize Fashion
When something terrible happens, as it is in Aleppo, I have often struggled with the impulse to dismiss fashion as unimportant at a time like this. The logic seems like it's there: when people are fighting for their survival, or when an episode of violence is so extreme that it galvanizes our global attention, discussions of what we wear seem insignificant by comparison. Lately though, I've wondered whether this is an appropriate way to think about fashion's place in the world. Ultimately, does treating fashion this way contribute to helping us get at a healthier relationship with it, or does it perpetuate the tendency for us to trivialize what has historically fallen more squarely in the female sphere?
A few weeks ago, I shared an excerpt from a Facebook post by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on this very subject. In the context of giving advice on raising a daughter, she writes:
"Sadly, women have learned to be ashamed and apologetic about pursuits that are seen as traditionally female, such as fashion and makeup. But our society does not expect men to feel ashamed of pursuits considered generally male – sports cars, certain professional sports."
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie via her Facebook page
The acuteness of the crisis in Aleppo gave me an opportunity to think about how I see fashion in the context of what's happening in the world at large. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered about Adichie's comparison of fashion and sports. So, I did some digging to see whether and how sports outlets and fashion outlets covered the news of the human suffering in Aleppo this week.
While this is by no means an exhaustive review, I checked four major sports websites: ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Deadspin and SB Nation and came up with nothing (to be fair, I excluded sites like Fox Sports and CBS Sports since those are affiliated with major news websites). None of the four outlets had a story, or so much as linked to one, as far as I could see from both a google and internal site search. Now, to the fashion sites. Vogue and Elle ran stories on December 14; Harper's Bazaar on December 15; Pop Sugar on December 16. All of the stories included some factual description of the events unfolding, and all included specific steps readers could take to help. The Fashion Law, a blog, published the following on December 14:
"With such atrocities in mind, The Fashion Law will use the next several days to halt our regular on-site coverage. The publication of fashion industry related news and analysis, including round ups of the year's top ad campaigns and influencer reports, simply seems too trivial during this time. Instead, we leave you with the following article and various notes on how you may help those in Aleppo, who are facing such grave turmoil. (Note: The United States Association for UNHCR, Mercy USA, and Doctors Without Borders are also in need of your help)."
So, I ask you, what's going on here? Does the fact that the news from Aleppo was covered by a subset of fashion outlets that predominantly cater to women signal that we women feel the need to apologize for the frivolity (perceived or actual) of fashion by pausing regularly scheduled programming when something serious happens? Or is this the case of a modern fashion website meeting the needs of modern women by covering not only fashion but world events? I'd love to hear what you think, and how you knowingly or subconsciously handle your interest in fashion at times like these.
As for me, I might have once felt that a serious world event meant putting my interest in fashion in its place. In doing that, I boxed myself in by trivializing in my own mind something which I actually don't think is trivial at all. Maybe it's all that polarity I've been embracing but more than ever, I feel that as a woman I can care about the atrocities in Aleppo without feeling the need to apologize for caring about fashion, too. There's plenty of room in my heart and mind for both.
Photograph, Annie Liebowitz and styling, Grace Coddington for Vogue.