Whilst browsing the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty book with a male friend the other day, who, upon turning each page, insisted on asking of every outfit, “Would you wear that?”, a question arose. Would I wear that? Each dress and suit was obviously a beautiful piece of clothing, but as we flipped through, I realized that even though a piece was aesthetically pleasing, that didn’t necessarily translate into its being wearable. Clothing is often referred to as wearable art, and considering that both art and clothing are forms of visual expression, it follows that the two should have overlap. However, how much overlap is there? Is there a point on the spectrum when clothing ceases to be clothing and instead becomes a piece of art, and if so, when?
Much of this is probably dictated by the wearer’s personal preference–for example, Anna della Russo would be less likely to say “When” than the average consumer would. In high fashion I suppose this difference is technically reflected in the ready-to-wear vs. haute couture collections, but a good majority of consumers still look at ready-to-wear collections and think they’re unwearable. If it is dictated by personal taste, then the line may be drawn when the consumer decides that a piece is too artistically extreme to wear.
It could also be argued that this point comes when the item in question no longer performs the main function of clothing in the first place: to cover us up. However, judging by the many exposed nipples walking down the runways in seasons passed, and by the success of those designers and the women who rushed out to buy those same tops when they hit the store, this doesn’t seem to be the right argument either.
While I can’t speak completely from experience, I do think there’s a difference between men’s and women’s clothing as well. With the exception of a few designers, I think men’s fashion is much less likely to cross the line over to the extreme. Cracked.com even touched on the frivolous, odd and downright confusing state of women’s clothing in their article The 7 Most Baffling Things About Women’s Clothes. The lack of equally baffling men’s clothing could be due to menswear designers not creating such clothing, or it could be due to men’s unwillingness to buy and wear clothing that also passes as art, or it could be a little of both.
This then raises another question–should fashion be art? Considering that what we wear is a visual representation of our personality, and thus can be anything we want it to be, if we want our clothing to be art, isn’t it allowed to be? Fashion is an escapism for some, and if someone wants to wear a floor-length gown covered with flowers, even if most consumers would consider the piece more suitable in a museum than on a person, shouldn’t they be able to wear it? Or, is fashion a form of art already? For example, take the two photos above. The McQueen dress on the left seems much more like art than clothing, although it technically here it serves as clothing. However, Halle Berry’s outfit on the right (I’m sorry, Halle) seems to fall pretty definitively on the side of clothing. It seems that some fashion can be art, but not all of it is.
Anyway, I don’t have a definitive answer on any of this, but it’s certainly something to think about. Fashion for thought, if you will.
Wear Where do you weigh in?