One of the earliest memories I have of shopping is also one of the first memories I have in the United States. It is the one of me and my family strolling around the Arcade Shopping Center in Ojai, California, a lethargic small town just southeast of Santa Barbara. At the shopping center, as with any public space in those days, my dad, a former Air Force pilot, laid down a very firm chain of command: my older brother was responsible for me, I was responsible for my little sister, and my little sister—barely 2 years old then—was just responsible for trying to keep up. Her little feet barely skimmed the sidewalk as one of us dragged her along at a clipped pace. On those weekends, my parents contented themselves with window shopping, a term I learned early on and a concept I found impossibly dissatisfying even as a 3 year old. (That’s me with the zaftig cheeks, on the far left, with my brother and sister on a snack break at The Arcade Shopping Center — if I can’t shop, at least I can eat!)
While the frozen mannequins with the blank faces and deadened eyes frightened me, the clothes were always exciting. My mom, an amazing dressmaker in her own right who made most of her clothes and almost all of ours until we reached middle school age, studied the blouses and dresses that she would later make for herself. I never learned how to sew but what I did learn from those early “shopping” trips was an appreciation for fashion that has grown exponentially now that I live in New York City.
Arguably one of the most fashionable cities in the world, New York City is also a city fashioned by its sartorial culture. (Lost in the city? Take a look at who’s wearing what and how, and you’ll have a good idea of where you are.) After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in lower Manhattan, the relationship between the city and its sartorialists became much more acute. Of course 9/11 rocked the entire country but it had an especially profound impact for New Yorkers as well as the industry that is so central to the city’s identity. As the nation’s attention was wrenched by issues of foreign policy, national security, and terrorism, the fashion industry felt compelled to justify the relevance of its existence. Fashion magazine editors defended their industry against charges of self absorption and social irrelevance by asserting fashion’s relationship to a national identity. Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour asserted that “Fashion is essential in these difficult times, paradoxically, to keep us in touch with our dreamy, fanciful, self-pleasing natures” and Amy Spindler declared in New York Times Magazine, “[F]rivolous fashion is itself a patriotic symbol of America: You may never be able to afford that shredded Georgette Givenchy gown, but at least you aren’t forced to live underneath a burqa.”
Blue jeans, once symbolic of American practicality and working-class industriousness, now had lofty names like Citizens of Humanity, Melting Pot, True Religion, and Sacred Blue—all established post-9/11—that echoed the industry’s awareness (and anxiety) about the need to appeal to consumers who have been incontrovertibly changed by the realities and rhetoric of global and domestic terrorism. And footwear titan Manolo Blahnik, concerned about national security, scrapped his ideas for a 3.5-inch titanium-heeled stiletto that he worried might be brandished as a weapon or erroneously picked up by airport security machines.
The social consciousness that seeped into the fashion industry six years ago seems to have saturated it today. The “manifesto” of Sarah Jessica Parker’s affordable clothing line “Bitten,” introduced early this summer (no single item is over $20!), is that “fashion is not a luxury, it’s a right.” And SJP is not the only or even the first to bring fashion to the masses.
1982: Halston designed a line for JC Penny (that failed miserably and irrevocably damaged his reputation as a couturier).
2003: Isaac Mizrahi was much more successful with his fashion sportswear line at Target which has recently expanded to include affordable wedding dresses.
2005: Stella McCartney debuted her collection at H&M, the trendy Swedish megachain.
2006: Luella Bartley launched an affordable collection for the GO International line at Target, followed by Behnaz Sarafpour and Proenza Schouler.
2006: Viktor & Rolf brought their high concept fashion to H&M.
2007: Doo-Ri Chung, Thakoon, and Rodarte were commissioned by the Gap in partnership with the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund to redesign the classic white shirt.
2007: Kate Moss’s iconic style was reproduced and made available for TopShop online and in-store customers.
2007: Alice Roi and Philip Lim had NYC shoppers lining up at dawn for their limited collections at Uniqlo’s flagship store in Soho.
Later this year: Vera Wang has teamed up with Kohl’s department store to offer an affordable line called “Very Vera” that will cost a fraction of the price of her elite line. This collection will is available this Fall.
So what does all of this mean? Perhaps the democratization of fashion underscores the veracity of the recently deceased English eccentric Isabella Blow’s perspective on fashion, as eulogized by Adrian Gill in New York magazine (23 July 2007): “People think that fashion is all frivolity and done by people who can’t do proper jobs but Issie understood that it is very, very serious business in terms of civilization and culture. It’s the one piece of culture that every single person in the world participates in. Not everybody reads poetry or listens to music, but every single person in the world gets up in the morning and puts on something, and whether you like it or not, that’s a statement about who you are.”
While we might agree, very broadly speaking, that clothes are the external expressions of a person’s interiority, that it’s “a statement about who you are” (at least in that moment given specific constraints of time, stress, and mood) Threadbared would qualify the notion that “[fashion] is the one piece of culture that every single person in the world participates in” by asking, to what degree do people “get” to participate in fashion? How do race, class, gender identification, sexuality, and body type determine your level of “participation”? These questions aren’t intended to over-think fashion or to sap anyone’s (especially not our own!) pleasure for shopping or sitting down to the latest issue of Vogue or recent postings on Flickr’s “Wardrobe_Remix.” Just the opposite, really—we take fashion seriously because it’s an amazingly powerful cultural force that does more than just reflect our moods. Fashion has the power to forecast the future, remind us of the past, and as the Gap (PRODUCT) REDTM campaign shows us, can even help to change lives today. We hope you’ll join us at THREADBARED in our respect for Fashion and our love of trapeze dresses, playsuits, and high-waisted shorts. And whenever possible, we’ll help you get your hands on the season’s obsessions on the cheap so look out for announcements about sample sales, coupons, and special online discounts!