Monday, October 11, 2010

Fashion with a Purpose?

A friend of mine who is a first-time mother has become a huge fan of the trend of baby-wearing. She has several different styles of the fashionable wraps. I was really intrigued when I first saw them, until I saw the price tags. Some higher end slings are well over $100! While I know that the premise of carrying your baby with you in such a way that you may continue to go about your daily tasks hands-free is by no means a new idea, one website touts their line of slings as "an essential, chic accessory in any contemporary parent's toolkit." While watching the film When the Mountains Tremble recently, I repeatedly noticed the peasants working in the fields with their babies sashed securely to them. I'm sure those women felt very chic slaving away in amidst the cane fields in the hot sun with their children on their backs. This wasn't 100 years ago, either. This was twenty years ago. And there are many cultures in which women are still working while carrying their babies this way. And I'm certain they aren't paying anybody any money for the pleasure of doing so.

Now, I'm not trying to stereotype, but I'm pretty confident that indigenous Guatemalan women going about their daily chores do not have a great deal of concern for whether carrying their babies strapped to their backs is particularly "on trend" or not. But it makes me think, what other utilitarian ideas have we commercialized in the name of fashion?

One of the first and most obvious things that comes to mind is camouflage. I don't think I need to lay out for you here the original purpose for camouflage, but nowadays the patterns have been applied to just about every type of clothing and accessory item you can imagine. I've even known some people who are extremely offended by the casual wear of camouflage by "civilians" outside of for hunting or military purposes. (While I may not wholly understand that, I can see how camo's purpose has been....ahem... subverted. Something tells me that blending in is not exactly what this chick has in mind.)

Ponchos are another item. Originated in the Andes to protect people from wind and rain, this ancient garment has fallen in and out of fashion numerous times over the last century. At least one designer version now sells for over $1100. (I know, right!?!)

Keep in mind, I'm not bashing any of these items. I am a huge fan of fashion and function intersecting. What I do want is to draw attention to how there are many items that are (or were at one time) necessary for enabling people to go about their daily tasks, that have been reinterpreted in the name of fashion or otherwise. It is often because of their very practicality that these things were noticed by designers and incorporated into clothing lines in the first place. I just want to point out another way in which we take things as simple as our clothing and accessories for granted, without the least bit of consideration for the fact that what has become fashionable for us, was once or may be still be a part of the daily lives of people for whom they have, in some cases, become luxury items selling for far beyond what many of them could ever afford. In particular, the way in which certain items that are essentials to poorer people in third world countries, become "must haves" for entirely different reasons to wealthier ones.

No comments:

Post a Comment