Let’s Talk About Why Some People Think Fashion Is Frivolous

Natalia Grosner
From an early age, women are encouraged to pay attention to how they look and what they're wearing (how many times were you told, "You look so pretty in your dress!" versus "That's such a smart idea you had!" when you were a child?). And when we get older, we're made to feel ashamed for paying attention to something as trivial as our clothes. Fashion, we're told, isn't a serious hobby or interest. And that's not just coming from the patriarchy; feminists, too, often see fashion as a tool to keep women distracted, in debt, and in pain.
But you know instinctively that that's not the case — or at least, that fashion has the potential to be so much more than that. But if you've ever had a difficult time elucidating that fact, it helps to hear it straight from someone who's been thinking about the subject for two decades, and for whom fashion has played an important, crucial role in understanding who she is as a person. Our global editor-in-chief Christene Barberich recently sat down with Elisa Kreisinger, the host of our weekly podcast Strong Opinions Loosely Held, to discuss the value of fashion and the powerful function it can serve. We spoke with Kreisinger about their conversation.
Why do you think fashion has a reputation as something that's frivolous and shallow?
"From a young age, women are told their worth comes from what they look like. Then, we're told that we're narcissistic for caring about how we look. It exemplifies a culture that consistently pulls the rug out from under women and other minorities and changes the rules of the game. But when it comes to communities who desperately need to express themselves, it's historically been marginalized communities of color and queer communities. Anything that is seen as 'feminine' (pop culture, makeup, fashion) is dismissed as frivolous, while traditionally 'masculine' activities such as baseball, fishing, and golf are upheld as pastimes. I think no matter your gender, bonding activities like sports and pop culture, manicures and shopping should be viewed for what they are: hobbies that foster bonds and help us make sense of our selves and the world around us."
Do you think that there's an element — or a perspective — that's crucial in loving style and fashion that elevates it from a petty pursuit that turns women into objects to be admired? Does it even matter?
"Saying it needs to be elevated plays into the stereotype that it's frivolous when it's not. But I understand your question. The element for me that elevates fashion and style is looking at it from an intellectual property standpoint. Fashion is one of the few industries with very little copyright protection. You can take a jacket and replicate it because apparel is viewed as utilitarian. So unlike other artists, filmmakers and musicians, designers can sample, remix, copy and reimagine other people's designs. This sampling not only leads to more creativity in the field, but much, much, higher returns. The food, fashion, and auto industries see much larger gross sales than film, book, and music industries who think copyright protection is the way to make more money. For me, this example of open culture and remixing in the fashion industry is what differentiates it from other industries in a way that is seriously threatening to the status quo."
Do you think that women's media companies and publishers have a responsibility to change how fashion is discussed and framed?
"Certainly. Women's publishers have a history of selling a fantasy, not a social justice cause. So when women's and fashion publishers reclaim a movement it never really wanted to be involved with until it sold ads and brought in views, it's always problematic. I think women's media companies should acknowledge that fashion has a history that's flawed: placing a high value on youth, whiteness, thinness, cheap labor, and heteronormative perspectives. But here's how we, as publishers, are calling them out and how we are pushing the industry — and each other — to be better."
Listen below via SoundCloud. Subscribe to Strong Opinions Loosely Held on iTunes.

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