Does Fashion Need to be Different?
We’ve got a problem. It’s so silly for me to say out loud as this problem is not new. Our collective problem is that we keep saving, excusing, and promoting what we know. We are upholding the status quo of the traditional majority. As the latest tragedies surge south of our border a lot of people are asking themselves, “What can I do?”
What we can do is speak and act differently.
What’s different? Different is shining light on people that have been kept on the outskirts. Take the TV show “Insecure” featuring Issa Rae for a wonderfully solid example. The costume designer Ayanna James sources part of the cast’s wardrobe from independent black designers and artists. She reads the scripts, takes into account what’s happening in pop culture – be it Prince’s death or Beyonce’s Lemonade takeover – and melds it all into each of the characters in a way that’s genuine. What a children’s non-profit worker would wear is completely different than her lawyer friend. Graphic T shirts for some, suits with flair for others. Both characters, and the rest of the show, each have a personality that is unapologetically Black American. This is different that what we have seen on TV in the past. I read somewhere that you need to see it to believe it. Let's see more of it.
What’s not different is putting white actresses on the cover of a magazine that has been on that same cover multiple times. Let me be clear, I am a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence. I’m a fan of both her work on and off the big screen. People started to really listen after she shed light on the enormous pay gap in Hollywood via Lenny Letter. Jumpy claps for that. But this is the second time Vogue chose to grant her the September issue cover. This is her third American Vogue cover to date. Vogue matters. Vogue influences. The September issue of Vogue matters the most out of the entire year. This September issue marks the 125th year of Vogue. It’s a huge deal. I take issue - pardon the pun - with Vogue. A big part of me wishes the editorial team had used the opportunity to make a statement. Perhaps show the world that in 2017, in America, diversity is a priority and is celebrated. Lead by example. Instead, they chose to play it safe with a tried, tested, and true version of the traditional American sweetheart.
I’m a bit disappointed. I’ve learned fashion to be a safe place for the new, wild, revolutionary, inclusive, and different. I feel like at times, the big influencers are letting fans down. Never to stay stagnant in a self pity party, over the past while I have been challenging that former, perhaps naive thought. Checking myself was the next step. I read various think pieces on the cover to get a sense of what the sentiment was outside my opinions. This excerpt from Elaine Lui at Lainey Gossip stood out:
“Does VOGUE need to keep telling us how relatable Jennifer Lawrence is? Or should VOGUE be taking us to places and introducing us to people that are “relatable” too, only they just haven’t had the opportunities to show us? Nobody needed VOGUE to give us the version of Jennifer Lawrence that was relatable. It was already out there. It was already the status quo. That, then, is what VOGUE does. It upholds the status quo.”
That’s the heart of it. Are we part of maintaining status quo or redefining it? Is what we do in our home and in our life inclusive of what’s outside of our norm? What side of history are we placing ourselves on?
Make it personal. I urge you to ask yourself a question: Do you want to see the status quo, tradition, or what you’re used to (assuming you are born here)? Or are you actually ready to embrace, support, and celebrate what else is and has been enriching our countries? Are you curious to see those faces on magazines? Do you want the young generation to start to see a myriad of beauty that is comprised of different shades and sizes? Do you want to hear never before heard stories on your TV and at the movies? Do you want to see more variety on the runway and ultimately where you shop? And if not, why?
It’s scary out there. I understand that. But you can do something today. After the initial shock wears off, pick yourself up and do something. If you don’t stand for Nazism or any form of racism, put your money where your mouth is.
Support immigrant owned businesses at lunch, the next time you get your oil changed, or when out shopping.
Go to movies that feature women and minorities in lead roles.
Purchase clothing from brands that have clearly laid out practices that align with your values.
And please, talk to your loved ones.
When someone says something racist, talk to them about it. Seek to understand their point of view while being firm that fear-fuelled hate has no constructive place in this world. Have kind and thoughtful conversations how the words we use and say matter. Hate is learned. Love is instinctually human. If nothing else, know our kids are watching us. Are you proud of what they see?