Kitchen sink fashion
What will the lady of fashion be wearing this spring and summer? The prevailing mood, for day wear, is social realism. The most recent inspiration comes straight from the kitchen sink ; the fabric that the garment industry is most enthusiastic about at present is dishcloth and, after dishcloth, all materials suggesting the household. There are tunic tops in dishcloth from Taramina of Fulham Road; teatowel shirts and apron skirts from John Barker in Kensington; tablecloth dresses from Dickins & Jones and Fenwicks, and, from the designer Jeff Banks, frocks with curtain tape. Scarves, too, come from the same source; old dryingup towels should, says one fashion magazine, be carelessly rolled up to provide a matching accessory for one's scullery-maid outfit. As for the hair—the best glossies and the spring collection from that shop for the young rich in London, Brown's of South Molton Street, show it frizzed out like a starched floor mop.
Social historians often put forward the theory that dress speaks volumes about a society; about a society's economy, aspirations and ideals. There are four principal themes inspiring contemporary British fashions for women. One is that of social realism—the dishcloth, the tablecloth and of course the ubiquitous denims and jeans. ,Quite a lot of women now get married in jeans, according to the Observer, This enshrines the ideals of classlessness (or the appearance of classlessness) and the escape from formality in manners and art.
The second theme is that of the sporty and military look. Both the Continental and English designers are extremely keen on khaki and safari-type jackets and trousers. They are equally committed to boxer shorts and bermuda pants, matched with baggy tops and bobby sox. This pays homage to youth, activity and as far as' battle fatigues are concerned, perhaps to guerrilla chic.
The third theme is that of the rock music element, including the hooligan element in rock music which gave birth to Punk Rock. This is manifested in the incongruous mixture of vulgar, glittery clothes with basic, aggressive accessories; lurex jackets and tight jeans worn with high heels and leather, razor-blade and safety-pin jewellery and horror-film make-up. Serge Lutens of Christian Dior actually leads the field in bizarre maquillage; his most recent creations include his 'silent horror and robot beauty' face, which consists of aquamarine cheeks and blue fingernails, and his 'panther woman' face, which prescribes scarlet hair, white powder, shaved eyebrows and pinkbrown shadows under the eyes. All this reflects, presumably, anarchy and deca dence, and, of course, as both the Guardian and New Society have told us about Punk Rock, the nihilism of the unemployment culture.
And the fourth theme is the ethnic one. This has been around for more than a couple of years and has proved, by the criteria of fashion, quite enduring. With the ethnic look, the woman strives after a peasant appearance of studied untidiness. The ethnic look has even permeated the last bastion of traditional elegance—evening wear. Yves St Laurent says that at night we must look like Spanish gypsies; L'OnSciel de la Couture et de la Mode de Paris for spring says that the note for 'formal' dress now is Le Folklore; and the most successful evening garment in the coming season will be harem pants. This is part of the affectation of returning to nature—now a consistent image in advertising, especially for patently synthetic products.
The only 'look' which is now totally unacceptable in terms of idealised fashion is one of simple and neat elegance. Appear like a gypsy or a concubine; like a rock music groupie or like a boxer in the ring; like a paratrooper or a 'worker' in a boiler-suit or pre-faded denims with the Cuban flag on the crotch. But God forbid that you should wear a simple, tailored dress in good taste, or a nice, well-cut suit in tweed! God forbid, be you woman or man, that you should wear a traditional hat ! For that is the uniform of the hated bourgeoisie which betrays an allegiance to the values that are despised; respectability, discipline and being your age. 'It's only unconfident people who are socially nervous who have to take trouble over their clothes,' says Peter Langan of the smart London restaurant, Langan's Bras serie. 'Those who are really in the swim can wear any old thing.' And to wear conven
tional clothes also indicates that you do something 'boring' for a living, or something considered declasse. A man in a morning suit must be a waiter in a stuffy establishment ; a man in a pin-stripe must be a bank clerk or an insurance salesman. People who are 'creative'—who promote starlets or just run around with the rich—are proclaiming their freedom from the nine-to-five World.
Some claim that the British are noticeablY badly-dressed nowadays because of the economic recession; when times are bad people can't afford new clothes. Yet it is precisely the section of society with most money who now dresses so ostentatiouslY badly. The revolting Leyland workers don suits and neckties to appear on television. The rich young rakes in Tramp and Morton s wear tee-shirts and denims. And some of the most unattractive clothes are also, of course' among the most expensive; a Bill Gibb lurex jacket puts you back £114 and a baggy t°P, by Krizina of Elle costs £129. The social confusion of contemporary Britain is trulY reflected by the paradox that proletarian dress is the fashion orthodoxy among the rich, while the conventional respectabilltY often striven after by real workers is the social mark of Cain.
Every orthodoxy is thus inverted; it takes real confidence to appear at Langan s Brasserie dressed like a Tory lady preciselY because everybody else looks like a very glamorous Albanian peasant. Yet even Tory-lady values are themselves now being swept aside. Conservative Central Office recently sent out a directive asking its worn° supporters not to wear hats; it spoils the pursuit of the young voter and presumahl,Y offends the trade unions. It's totally anti' working-class. What has happened to fashion is siMPlYt that formerly the dictat came from the grea couturiers who made clothes for a few wealthy women and these designs graduallY worked their way down to the High Street. Then in the 1960s, Mary Quant made a rev_ olution by designing cheap, witty clothes hafcnt ordinary women and for the young, so t] henceforth the dictat starts with the 141g, Street and works its way up to the grea., couturiers, who now ape the colour the ordinary, as in le style folktorique, of t." drably ordinary, with khaki and gabardloa; and denim. Of course, some women swed.1 by the comfort of current dress, the free,"iy of baggy tunics and trousers, and genuirle.,d
feel liberated from the heavy corsetrY an"d fussy fabrics that took hand-washing a ironing. Yet isn't it also a paradox that a'rn" era which claims to liberate women fr,.°;ts ° traditional restraint's takes so many Ithe themes from that which enslaves: frool, harem and closed societies of triballsr". ' from the assembly-line and the eonf°rirlitYr of teenage gang culture ; and from the fic° mop, the dishcloth and the kitchen sink.