Fashion Friday: Money

I was flipping through the new issue of Vogue the other day. (Yes, I read Vogue. In fact, I subscribe to Vogue.) I saw a pair of shoes that made me stop dead in my tracks, a pair of shoes that made my heart hurt and my clit throb: a pair of tall black stiletto pumps, with ankle straps that looked like bondage cuffs. Teetering on that knife’s edge between fashion and fetish. Exactly where I like my shoes.

I flipped to the “where to buy this stuff” index in the back, to see if there was even a remote chance that I could dream of affording them. (Now and then, something does pop up in Vogue that I can afford.)

Alexander McQueen. $885.

It’s not like I was surprised. I’ve seen shoes before in Vogue costing that much, and indeed much more. But it started me on a train of thought I’ve been riding for some time now, a tricky and delicate and complicated train of thought that I’m extremely unresolved about. I started thinking, not for the first time, about fashion and money.

On the one hand: To quote Lindy West in her review of “Sex and the City 2,” “SATC2 takes everything that I hold dear as a woman and as a human — working hard, contributing to society, not being an entitled cunt like it’s my job — and bludgeons it to death with a stiletto that costs more than my car.” * There is something repugnant in the fact that the kind of shoes Carrie Bradshaw wears in SATC, the kind of shoes I was eyeing in Vogue, cost as much as some people spend on their car, or a month’s rent, or a semester’s tuition for their kid.

On the other hand: If you look at fashion as an art form — which I do — then complaining about how expensive the high-end stuff is starts to be a little silly. No, I can’t afford Balenciaga or Alexander McQueen. I can’t afford a Kandinsky, either. And while I care intensely about social justice and economic inequality, my pinko conscience doesn’t keep me awake nights raging about the fact that the common worker can’t afford a Kandinsky.

Gauliter hooded cape
At the Gaultier exhibit we went to a few weeks ago, some of the gowns had placards in front of them, saying how many hours of work had gone into each one. Each one took over a hundred hours. Some took over three hundred hours. At an extremely conservative labor rate of $15 an hour, not even counting materials or overhead or years of training, that labor just by itself makes the dresses worth four figures. Again, you can argue whether it’s worth putting that much labor into a dress… but when I look at dresses like Gaultier’s, to me the answer seems obvious. Gaultier’s work is art. If you value art, and the time and effort that art takes, then it makes no sense to value that time and effort in paintings and sculpture, while reflexively despising it in dresses and shoes.

But on the first hand again: When I think about the kind of people who can generally afford these high-end art-clothes, it generally makes me want to start a class war. The phrase “one-percenters” leaps to mind. There are exceptions, of course — middle-class folks who save up for high-end splurges, for instance. And of course, not every rich person is an asshole. But to a great extent, serious high-end art-fashion is conspicuous consumption, an indulgence for people I despise.

Then again, on the second hand: Isn’t that true of any art form? Sure, it’s mostly one-percenters who are buying Alexander McQueen shoes. They’re also the ones buying Kandinskys. That’s not the art’s fault.

Project Runway
But on the first hand yet again: It is undeniable that there is a tremendous amount of overt classism in the fashion industry. If you spend even a little time reading fashion magazines, or watching fashion TV shows like “Project Runway” and “What Not to Wear,” this becomes obvious very quickly. If critics say that an outfit “looks expensive,” that’s universally given as a compliment; if they say an outfit “looks cheap,” it’s universally given as a condemnation. It is accepted as an unquestioned truism in the industry that everyone wants to look thin, young… and rich. Yuck.

Now, as Ingrid pointed out when we were talking about this: There’s often a valid concept underlying this “cheap” and “expensive” language. It’s used to praise things that fit well and are carefully made, and to critique things that are shoddy and falling apart. But when the language expressing these concepts is “cheap” and “expensive,” it feeds the notion that not having lots of money for clothes is embarrassing and shameful. And that is beyond fucked-up. Shaming people for being poor and looking it may not be the greatest form of social injustice… but it still makes my gorge rise.

On the second hand again: Cheaper clothing is almost always made by horribly exploited sweatshop labor. Which feeds the social injustice machine in a totally different way.

But on the first hand again… there are ways of getting inexpensive clothing without feeding the garment industry and the labor abuses endemic to it. Second-hand stores; learning to sew; bartering your skills with those of a dressmaker/ tailor/ friend who likes to sew; finding a dressmaker/ tailor with reasonable rates. And there are sources for fair-trade clothing: they’re not inexpensive, but they’re not hugely expensive, either. So it’s not like the only choices here are “cheap stuff from discount chain stores made by sweatshop labor” or “expensive stuff from snazzy boutiques made by high-end couturiers.” That’s an artificial dichotomy.

blue suede shoes
Then, on the second hand again: To a great extent, this whole question of “how much money is too much for clothing” is relative, and subjective. No, I can’t afford a pair of $885 shoes, and the idea that there are people who are rich enough to blow $885 on a pair of shoes does sometimes make me want to start a class war. But I will readily drop $85 on a pair of shoes… and I’m sure there are people who look at that fact with disgusted astonishment, people for whom $85 represents the difference between paying rent and living on the street. And if you spend $8.50 on your shoes… there’s almost certainly someone looking at you with envy and resentment, someone who could stretch that $8.50 into a week’s worth of meals. Is it fair for me to say that my level of spending on clothes is reasonable, but that much more than that is grotesquely self-indulgent consumerism?

On the first hand again: Even if you accept this basic principle that what’s reasonable to spend on clothing is relative… isn’t there some limit to it? Isn’t there some degree of economic inequality that a society should reject? I’m fine with not everyone earning exactly the same amount of money… but if some people in a society have closets full of shoes that cost over a thousand dollars, and others are buying shoes for their kids from Goodwill, doesn’t that tell us there’s a problem? I don’t know what that limit should be, or how we should decide on it, or to what degree it should be enforced by law/ taxation and to what degree it should be enforced by social revulsion and condemnation… but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that a limit should exist.

On the second hand again — and back to the actual question of fashion, and away from the pinko ranting: If a high-end style is good enough or popular enough, I’ll eventually be able to afford it… because it will eventually be available at lower prices. Through the process of what is generously called “influence” and is less generously called “knock-offs,” the ideas and inspirations generated by the high-end designers quickly filter out into the world at large. A couple of years ago, big blocks of vivid colors in unusual combinations started showing up in Vogue and all the other fashion magazines. Now this style is in department stores and boutiques and discount stores everywhere. So when I’m drooling with envy and yearning over the $885 Alexander McQueen ankle-cuff pumps — and simmering with resentment over the filthy rich one-percenters who can afford the things — I can relax a little… because I’m fairly sure the $85 versions will show up at Zappos in a year or two.

And — maybe much more importantly — this influence doesn’t just work in one direction. High-end fashion filters down to affordable street fashion…. and at the same time, one of the most powerful influences on high-end fashion is what people are wearing on the street. Hip-hop wear, fetish wear, gay streetwear, rock-and-roll wear, skatepunk, steampunk, just the stuff that ordinary people are wearing every day… all of these are openly acknowledged by fashion designers as major influences on their work. This wasn’t always the case — but it definitely is now, and it has been for many decades.

There’s a famous scene in “The Devil Wears Prada,” the “You think this has nothing to do with you” scene, where fashion editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) smacks down her assistant Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway), and explains how the “filtering down” process works:

Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select… I don’t know… that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room — from a pile of stuff.

Yes. Absolutely. Granted.

Except what Miranda Priestly fails to acknowledge is that this influence works in a circle. High fashion absolutely filters into street fashion… but street fashion is one of the most powerful forces shaping high fashion. Teenage kids pulling together wild outfits from thrift stores; hip-hop kids turning “baggy and badly-fitting” into a defiant statement; punks dying their hair purple with food coloring; steampunk nerds learning to sew and sewing gears onto everything… all of this has filtered into the world of high fashion. Look at Doc Martens — orthopedic work boots, whose descendants are now all over the high-fashion world. Look at sneakers — once largely limited to athletic wear and cheap comfortable shoes for kids, now a multi-million dollar industry with obsessive fans and high-end versions costing hundreds of dollars. Heck — look at jeans, which started strictly as blue-collar working-class work clothes, and then filtered out to students and beatniks and hippies, and are now available at virtually every price point: from basic inexpensive work clothes, to middle-class knocking-around clothes, to high-end dress-casual, to elaborate and seriously pricey high fashion. (There are zillions of examples of this process: if other people have their favorites, I’d love to hear them in the comments.) Cheap street fashion gets noticed by fashion designers, who see freshness and energy in it, and are inspired by it, and run with it.

And there’s a reason for this. Creativity often thrives on limitation. Ask almost any artist to tell you how that works. Writers often flourish when they force themselves to write villanelles or are told to keep it under a thousand words; chefs often flourish when they’re limited to local ingredients; designers and fashionistas often flourish when they work with limited fabrics and not much money. Necessity is the mother of invention… and the necessity of putting clothes on your back while on a tight budget, and the desire to express yourself in some way while doing it, has mothered some tremendous invention. Invention that has not gone unnoticed by the fashion industry. Even as they’re denigrating shoddy workmanship as “cheap.”

So I don’t know. I think I’ve given myself about fifty hands here. I feel a bit like Kali. I chewed over this same basic idea in the culinary arena, in my piece Dinner, Art, and Class Warfare: The French Laundry, and I didn’t come to any profound conclusions then, either, or indeed to any resolution at all. I think the resolution I’m coming to is: Boy, is this stuff complicated. And given how meaty these questions are, and how important both fashion and economic justice are to me, I wish I could resolve them a little more than that.


Oh — and here’s a larger image of the shoes. Just to give you a better idea of what I’m talking about.


You see what I mean, right?

* (Note: No, she didn’t say “bludgeoned,” but she later said she wished that was what she’d said, so I’m quoting her revised version.)

Fashion Friday: Money

33 thoughts on “Fashion Friday: Money

  1. 1

    I was in Vegas about a week and a half ago. I saw this killer pair of blue shoes that were absolutely divine. I knew, from simply the area they were being sold at, that they were going to be expensive. A bit of research later, $350. I just knew it, and knew I’d never be able to afford that kind of stuff.

    It’s one of the things that frustrates me about fashion. I don’t often look fashionable. Half the time I just pull on a pair of jeans and toss a t-shirt on and I’m done with it. However, there are those times where I want to look fancy and elegant and I wish I could drop $350 on a pair of shoes.

    (Oh, and I’ll reply with a link when I get home to a pair of shoes I bought that look the same 😉 Just as sexy, but far cheaper)

  2. 2

    Lets get down to brass tacks: a heck of a lot of consumption is about status display. Status display is one of the key drivers of human behaviour, and nothing and nobody is ever going to change that. It’s a fundamental fact of social primate behaviour, whether it’s implemented by controlling who gets to eat the best fruit, or who gets to hang out on giant yachts moored in St Tropez, wearing designer one-offs and sipping vintage champagne. Now, there are things you can do socially to try and alter the status landscape, but you can’t stop people from going to incredible lengths to demonstrate their position on that landscape. Even if you were to introduce strict sumptuary laws to control how people dress, they’d simply find other ways of displaying their status.

  3. KT

    One of the great things about the Internet is that it allows you to research beyond fashion magazines or randomly wandering local boutiques and discover indie designers. These are quality clothes with great design and materials without the extra high price tag. They will still run you more than standard clothing but if you find pieces that will be in your closet for years to come, it is worth it if you can afford it and eventually you may have “vintage” pieces of high fashion if these designers ever become huge.

    Personally I am happy there are those out there who can bankroll Alexander McQueen and Valentino, etc just as I am happy that there are people to bankroll amazing artists, because I love to look at this stuff. I can’t even begin to evaluate what a piece of art is “worth,” so although it’s true these guys could by just fine without being millionaires, I can’t really fault them if people are willing to pay extra for their work. And some of that money trickles down to people who will eventually take their places or make their own names, since these fashion houses can sustain large staffs who might not all be able to start their own businesses, but may have the talent to go far.

    And it’s not like there aren’t enough clothes for the rest of us to wear … In fact I recently read an article about how America produces so much discarded clothing that we have too much for our own charity/resale needs and it is now one of our number one exports to countries who purchase it for resale. Unfortunately these countries are becoming more choosy about what clothing they will accept and we’re about to have a big problem with what to do with all of the clothes Americans are dumping all the time. So if someone wants to make an $800 that someone will cherish and will be preserved for its value, no one’s gonna go naked because of it and that’s at least one item of apparel that won’t go to waste anytime soon.

  4. 4

    There are a lot of people who can’t help but be creative, who want to paint and sew. Materials cost money, and finished products sit taking up space.
    Don’t shop Vogue! Shop ArtWanted, Deviantart, Etsy, eBay, Craigslist even! Check the artists’ collectives in you area. Someone is paying themselves $5 an hour to make a piece because they needed to make something, and they just want to sell it to get it off their hands and get money for supplies. There’s a world of awesome stuff made by people who can’t afford ad space in Vogue.

  5. 5

    I think Project Runway is lighthearted fun, and is a diversion. It doesn’t pretend to be of life and death earthshaking import, except to its contestants, who have at least signed up for that.

    That said… Warning; rant follows.

    I absolutely HATED that scene. I have periodically come back to it mentally, and I’ve gotten madder and madder at her for years. If I had been there, I would have verbally eviscerated Priestly about a half-dozen ways.

    “So, you chose this colour? How very nice. This billion dollar market that you rule… who are you benefiting with it? Those millions of jobs would still exist if Oscar DeLaRenta were hit by a bus. Do you imagine without your wise hand guiding them, people would start roaming around nude?

    “Please, tell me – how many African children did that colour choice save from starvation? Or alternatively, I don’t see this shade as moving us closer to a cure for cancer than the one you’re wearing. Perhaps I should have got the green, instead? If all you can do is exacerbate the fools’ desire for more useless shit that they’ll throw away in 6 months, you are STEALING from the mouths of those children, and you are SLOWING the discovery of those cures.

    “These models – practically ALL the models you and yours allow the public to see – are unhealthy and create physical and mental blocks to people who try and FAIL to live up to your unrealizable standards; and even THEY are sewn and taped and CLAMPED into the clothes you baldly present as the solution to people actually having human flaws.

    “What the hell are you? Are you a journalist? Journalism attempts to aid the public, and stands in public trust, showing what is happening, and educating The People as to what’s happening in the world, so that they can make informed choices, and improve their lives.

    “So far from helping anyone except your advertisers and yourself, you terrorize everyone around you; on a whim you decide which of these hard-working and dedicated manufacturers you will bless, and which you will destroy. If that were simply based on the merits of the PRODUCT, you could not, as you usually do, destroy last year’s favorite simply for the pleasure of your sadistic egotism. There is more damage done even to your so-called friends than any SANE publisher would do to their enemies.

    “And what if I DID take this from a clearance bin? I won’t say whether I did, but the very EXISTENCE of clearance bins is proof that you, and your choices, and your tastes, and your business, are nothing but a minor diversion from the business of REAL FUCKING LIFE. imagining that your empire rules anything but the spot one space above the Enquirer is sad, and is psychotic, and has made your industry into a cruel, backbiting wasteland of human potential!”

    And then I would throw something heavy at her. And for my one phone call, I would apologize to my boyfriend, and ask him to find me another internship. And of course a good lawyer.

  6. 6

    <blockquoteBut I will readily drop $85 on a pair of shoes… and I’m sure there are people who look at that fact with disgusted astonishment…Let me be the first to say that I’m astonished that you’d pay any sum of money at all for those. My idea of dressing up simply means ‘shirts that have buttons’.

  7. 9

    Having this conversation and examining feelings about spending money on weddings in the same way. Easily a larger scale in terms of cost (usually) but tends towards “how can I spend this much on this? How can ANYONE spend this much on this?” and boils down to “this is complicated.”

  8. 10

    Couldn’t you readily attach your own pair of leather bondage cuffs to a pair of black heels that you love? It’s no McQueen, but the materials are readily available if you like the look and can sacrifice the status.

  9. 11

    I would suspect you already have the basic shoe. You live in San Francisco: wouldn’t it be possible to find someone who could restyle them? I can’t imagine it would be a lot of work or expense to replace a tie-string or narrow strap with something more fetish-y.

    For centuries, it was common to restyle clothes to match current fashions: clothes were a huge investment of time and resources, even for the wealthy, so alterations — drop the neckline and add some sheer lace, replace short, stiff cuffs with looser fabric that drapes nicely, cut away the front of the coat but leave the back as it is — were the way fashions changed. It’s much cheaper than buying new things, much easier on the closet space, and if you are good with a needle (or know someone who is) allows you to better express your own style.

  10. 12

    I honestly don’t believe there’s a problem with the price of the shoes if you are willing to spend the money on those shoes. Everyone has a vice, right?

    I’ll spend $20 on a small tube of oil paint (multiple time over no less) because I like the color and think it would look good in a piece; I’ll spend hundreds of dollars buying Magic: The Gathering cards because I like the art and I’m in search of some random card to put in my deck; and I’ve happily spend hundreds of dollars on rock climbing gear that I could have otherwise rented – just to have my own quality gear. I also often spend extra money buying Organic food, locally grown products, or animal products from “free range” and “grass fed” animals.

    All of these things are completely unnecessary to my life, but I spend the money when I can spare it (you know, after paying bills, buying food, and setting some aside for the kid’s college fund). I’d hate to tally it, but I know I’ve spent thousands of dollars on art supplies alone with zero return on investment (just a hobby at this point). But if we aren’t making money to make our own lives better and happier, then what’s the point of working? I’d much rather not be working and at home with my family and watching my child grow up.

    My point is this: everyone has a vice and will spend any extra income – if they have it – on that vice. There’s no reason any of us should feel bad because we happen to be in a situation where we can afford these nicer things – nor should we ever feel entitled to it or better than anyone else just because we can afford it.

    I also believe we can help inequality as well. Whenever I buy new clothes (Banana Republic is my haunt of choice for work clothes, which is about all I buy these days), I usually take an equivalent amount of clothing to Goodwill for donation. It keeps my closet minimal and it’s the best way I can share my good fortune. If I were better off financially, I would consider rounding up every luxury transaction I make and donate the extra. So for example, if I spent $360 – I would round up to $400 and donate the other $40 to a cause I care about.

  11. 13

    Do those have saw-tooth soles? Not shoes for me, but I can empathize with the appeal!

    I guess I approach fashion from an emotional place. How is it that I feel? What part of myself do I want to show people? Where do I feel like I can rest my confidence?

    I look at magazine and other fashion( for ideas about how to do that, then look for more affordable options that go in that direction. If those shoes did for me what they clearly did for you, I’d be looking at how to achieve that effect with whatever I could. Maybe modifying my existing shoes, or adding ankle-cuffs as an accessory (gotta dress that up a bit, though!).

    Fashion is self-expression.

  12. 14

    I can’t afford to get an Anthony Gormley sculpture for my bedroom, but I can go to an exhibition of his work.

    When there’s a place where I can get full enjoyment from wearing designer shoes, I’ll feel less bitter about them costing what they do.

  13. 15

    When there’s a place where I can get full enjoyment from wearing designer shoes, I’ll feel less bitter about them costing what they do.

    Adele Haze @ #14: Are you in San Francisco? Check out the Gaultier exhibit. It’s magnificent.

    This is actually one of the reasons I’m happy that art museums are starting to showcase fashion. Partly it gives fashion the art credibility that I think it deserves — but partly because, in the same way that having a Kandinsky in a museum instead of in a private collection, it makes the work accessible to a wider audience.

  14. 16

    Those are awesome shoes.

    I don’t have much to add to your discussion except to say that when I started sewing my own clothes a couple of years ago, it was an eye-opening experience. While you can’t home-sew cheaply enough to make it cost-effective with respect to lower-end brands, it really comes into its own when you crave something “designer” and can’t possibly afford it. There is a certain price point, at least for everyday clothes (elaborate gowns and things are another story, of course), where the mark up for the designer name vastly outstrips the actual cost of the materials + sewing time. Which is not to say that much (any) of what I make is designer knockoffs, really. I sew with a lot of “vintage” patterns, and if anything I have to be careful that I don’t wander too far out on my own fashion limb and just look like a weirdo.

    Also, if I make it myself, it will actually fit. I don’t think I really knew what “good fit” was until I started sewing.

    Of course, I still can’t make my own shoes. So there I’m in the same boat as you.

  15. 17

    [Greta]: Even if you accept this basic principle that what’s reasonable to spend on clothing is relative… isn’t there some limit to it? Isn’t there some degree of economic inequality that a society should reject? I’m fine with not everyone earning exactly the same amount of money… but if some people in a society have closets full of shoes that cost over a thousand dollars, and others are buying shoes for their kids from Goodwill, doesn’t that tell us there’s a problem? I don’t know what that limit should be, or how we should decide on it, or to what degree it should be enforced by law/ taxation and to what degree it should be enforced by social revulsion and condemnation… but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that a limit should exist.

    Supposing that everyone can agree that a limit should exist, even though I know there are people who would contest it, the issue seems to be that individuals do not draw the line in the same place.

    Keep in mind we are dealing with a baseline where having a billion dollars is apparently not enough. If it were, wouldn’t the marginal tax rate on billionaires be 100%? Good luck convincing anyone of that; I’ve tried. Arguments from marginal utility apparently do not appeal to most Americans.

    Fundamentally, money is something seen as being “earned” rather than distributed in our society. Wealth is a right, not a privilege — but only for those who have it. It’s conveniently circular reasoning.

    Since it is seen as a right, any attempts to interfere with the consequences thereof become an infringement. Specifically, trying to redistribute wealth becomes the moral equivalent of theft.

    It’s pretty hard to deal with an ideology that takes these statements as the premises. One can reject them, of course, but the mere rejection never convinces anyone. One can talk about how inequality breeds specific problems, including crime and resentment, but that rarely goes very far either.

    When looking at this from the macroeconomic scale, $800 pairs of shoes are not really the problem. The key issue is the collective effects of structural inequality created in the spending priorities of governments and businesses. When you start analyzing budgets on a national scale, the $700+ billion military expenditure makes all the ten thousand dollar dresses in the country look like a vanishing speck.

  16. 18

    […] “High fashion absolutely filters into street fashion… but street fashion is one of the most powerful forces shaping high fashion. Teenage kids pulling together wild outfits from thrift stores; hip-hop kids turning ‘baggy and badly-fitting’ into a defiant statement; punks dying their hair purple with food coloring; steampunk nerds learning to sew and sewing gears onto everything… all of this has filtered into the world of high fashion.” […]

  17. 19

    I get you about fashion. I love it. I’ve always loved it. for as long as I can remember I have engaged with clothing – as a child I would look at coffee table books of fashion, the history of fashion, and current magazines. I wanted to be a fashion designer when i grew up. And I was poor. Well, I still am.

    i get you about how fashion is art and art costs money. I have tried to explain to people that the extensive wardrobes they worry about maintaining and changing every season taints their perception of what clothing is worth and why I always, always refuse to make anyone a single piece of apparel, period, because fashion is a complex skill and skills cost money. I’m happy they love the whateveritis that I’m wearing that they think is beautiful, and that some of them are gobsmacked when they discover that I made it, but they ruin the conversation quickly by expecting me to use hard won years of skill and practice to make them something and they offer to pay for the cost of materials (and often estimate a price that isn’t even half that.)

    I’m happy to see a post on the deeply complex implications of fashion. I have never found a clear answer that ties up all of the influences, intersections, and interstices in grosgrain ribbon in the colour of your choice (mine shall always and forever be imperial purple no matter what Pantone declares is in this season.) Fashion, more than any other art, has taught me how to enjoy something that is inherently and permanently problematic. And the best I can do is this –

    Alexander McQueen was an artist. He combined the beautiful and the political in ways that make my heart pound and my skin shiver. I can say the same thing about a lot of artists. I never stop being aware that fashion is and has always been steeped in classism and sexism and racism, that fashion has unbelievable influence on our individual self-image and regularly shapes the image of human beauty.

    A color wheel and a sartorial task that requires it is is better than most drugs as far as i’m concerned. The woman who made my panties is exploited and at risk of violence and rape that she has to endure just to keep that job, and she has that job because white western capitalists have dismantled every worker protection fought and won here. I move through cosmetic, fabric and yarn stores in a meditation that I think a lot of artists can understand. I engage with it and everything starts to flow in a series of beautiful moments, because i love these things. Millions of people over centuries have suffered and died because a certain cloth, a certain shade of a certain hue, a certain shell or stone or animal bone was the object of desire. I love the finished work of fashion, and I love making clothing, I love being able to look at a finished garment and *see* the structure and components that make it.

    Fashion is as true an expression of humanity as any art could be, because it expresses the soaring heights and the greedy, murderous depths in every thread, no matter what you wear or how it came to exist.

  18. 20

    When I buy shoes, I often end up paying 50+ USD … but it’s not because I like the shoes, it’s because that’s what it takes to find shoes which fit me (especially dress shoes – I can sometimes pay a little less for my hiking shoes, but not for shoes which I would feel comfortable wearing to work or anywhere else where I am supposed to look nice). It’s because of the lack of shoes which are wide enough for my feet – especially ‘feminine’ shoes which fit. I get my ‘nice’ shoes from a store which *specializes* in shoes for women with wide feet – the first thing they asked me when I first walked in was “Do you have big feet” – and even so most of the shoes were too narrow for me (note: I currently live in Taiwan, and my annual income is less than 20K USD per year, which is enough to maintain a middle class lifestyle in Taiwan, but makes spending that much money on shoes a bigger sacrifice than if I were earning a US middle-class income)

    And even when I pay 50+ USD for dress shoes, I don’t get comfortable shoes. I get shoes which are sufficiently within my pain tolerance that they won’t interfere with my work.

    I am very careful about my work shoes. People occasionally comment that it’s strange that I am so careful with them, and one person said ‘you must really like those shoes because you are always wearing them’. It’s not that I like the shoes – I certainly don’t like the way they make my feet feel – it’s just that I don’t have a better option. And I care for the shoes because I want to put down 50+ USD on shoes as infrequently as possible.

    So yeah, I don’t love shoes. And I wish I only had to pay $15 per pair of shoes (something which I could *sometimes* get away with when I lived in the United States – finding shoes that fit there was tough too, but certainly easier than in Taiwan). But I don’t have that option now.

    I’m not sure what the point of this comment is. I’m afraid that I’ve turned this into a tangent instead of actually addressing the topic.

  19. 21

    Don’t have anything to add about the weightier issues of this post. But . . .

    Sara K. @#20 – Have you tried shoes marketed to men who cross-dress? They are designed to be ultra-feminine, and are made for larger feet. It is the only way I can find boots with stiletto heels that fit my extra-shapely calves. While looking for “stripper shoes” I inadvertently wandered into the cross-dressing section of the fetish store, and it opened up a whole new world of options. Of course now sure how much that helps you in Taiwan….

    Greta – If you are interested in buying an approximation of those shoes, try google images for “shoes with ankle cuffs” or something like that. I own several pairs that look similar, purchased at fetish or stripper stores, or off e-bay. It is amazing how often dancers are changing out their stage costumes and sell (very gently) used and totally awesome shoes. I realize that these options aren’t as refined, and don’t have the same appeal as Alexander McQueen, but when it is that or nothing.

    I have never paid anywhere near $885 for a pair of shoes, but I can see the appeal, they are just so…perfect. All the details are just so, the workmanship, they really are like art.

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    …it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room — from a pile of stuff.

    Yes. Absolutely. Granted.

    I have little to do with fashion, but reading this it struck me that you give up too much with your response, here.

    Let us suppose that everything the Priestley character says is true. It is still wholly irrelevant to the Sachs character in the scenario presented. After all, if Sachs just wanted a blue sweater, and didn’t care whether it was cerulean instead of azure, lapis, or whatever else, then whether some designer chose some particular blue at some point makes not a whit of difference. For those who don’t care about such things, Priestley’s argument would succeed, as suggested by jascollins above, only if clothes would not exist with the high-fashion designers and media, something which I submit is beyond ridiculous.

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    Very much enjoyed the post, Greta. I can sort of understand your conflicted feelings about this. About the example of shoes, there’s no way I could afford those shoes. At the same time, there are people who would not be able to afford the shoes I can afford, as you said.

    I agree with you about fashion being a form of art. (About the outfit that the model in Vogue is wearing: Not just the shoes, but also that dress — love it.)

    I think the reason why there is a certain feeling of indignation an seeing really expensive shoes (as opposed to say, paintings) is that clothes are a necessity. Even someone who makes really little money has to buy clothes, wereas they don’t don’t have to buy a painting. So, there’s this feeling that I’m spending more money than someone else on something we both need … and then, I’ll still have some left over for other stuff, like maybe going to the movies or whatever, whereas they might not be able to afford that, so there’s this recognition of injustice in the world.

    And I have to be honest: I really hated that scene in the movie. Miranda Priestly’s character comes across as someone who’s totally missing the point of the problems in the fashion industry. Of course, we’re not “exempt” from the fashion industry … just like we’re not “exempt” from a whole lot of other industries as well, but the fact that these industries affect us doesn’t mean we can’t complain about them. It makes it all the more important to complain when there is a problem and to fix it.

    Again, really love the post.

  22. ik

    Maybe some day, when all our power comes from fusion and we have nanotechnological factories, we’ll all be able to have nice things…

    I often get really frustrated when the culture I want to exist, exists only in the form of aristocratic charity-ball stuff. It never seems to really be present in the everyday population let alone most of my age group.

    Fortuantely for me, one can get opera tickets really, really cheap if you are tricky and accepting of some unpredictability.

    This whole thing is a gnarly problem.

    The worst example of ludicrous upper-classed-ness I ever heard about was some billionare who could not for the life of him see why ANYBODY flew on the airlines at all. He didn’t realize that for most people, even splitting up, say, a Learjet is over an order of magnitude more than the already very expensive airfares, or maybe he just didn’t care.

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    Yeah, I don’t think that will help me in Taiwan. Though there is a queer scene, I have no idea where I would find fetish fashion, and even the men’s feet are often narrower than mine. That might be useful to know when I return to the US, so I’ll keep it in mind. I’ve actually had a lot of success with dance shoe stores. They aren’t cheaper, but a heck of a lot more comfortable for the same price and nice appearance (and safer too – the heels of dance shoes are designed to be really, really difficult to break).

    I also remembered a true story in my family. My grandfather sold his house … for three pairs of shoes. I am not kidding. Why did he sell the house for three pairs of shoes? 1) He did not have any good pairs of shoes 2) Everyone in his family had already been murdered, so he didn’t need such a big house 3) He had good reason to believe that some people in town wanted to kill him too 4) He had good reason that his house would be seized away from him 5) It was difficult to leave town without good shoes 6) If he was leaving town, he didn’t need the house.

    So I think when people talk about how frivolous it is to spend significant money on shoes, we forget how important shoes actually are. Sure, the $885 shoes are not very practical, but I think many people take shoes for granted. People need good (practical) shoes, and they are worth dedicating a significant portion of one’s spending power to if that’s the only option available.

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    Greta, you should check out Pleaser shoes. They have a ton of different styles – burlesque shoes, goth and bondage inspired shoes, stripper shoes, and some pretty classy basics. They also sell ankle cuffs separately. Yeah, they’re probably made in China, and I had one pair that I returned because it looked kinda cheap (I’m definitely going to think about that phrase a liitle differently since reading your post!). But i got a pair from their Bordello line that is my go-to basic black heel, and they’re very comfortable (for a 4.5″ heel 🙂 and sturdy. I’ve had to touch up the black on a couple of scuff marks over the years – I tend to give my heels a workout when I go out – but other than that they’ve held up nicely. And they were under 50.00! I bought mine at Shoebuy, but they have them at Endless and Zappos too, I think.

    Link to their home page
    Link to the cuffs

    hope that helps!

  25. 27

    […] contrast to my 1$ secondhand necklace , my favorite atheist blogger , Greta Christina has some stuff to say about fashion , money and privilege. Share this:TwitterDiggFacebookEmailStumbleUponTumblrRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  26. 28

    Tangentally related to your post: I recently read through this page, which appears to be four chapter-length excerpts from Class: A Guide Through the American Status System (1992) by Paul Fussell. Fascinating read; I’m tempted to buy the book now. Fussell makes the argument that class has at least as much to do with subculture and status signaling as it does with income, resulting in nine (!) classes in the US, several of which can’t be sharply distinguished by income alone (e.g. old money vs. nouveau riche, middle class vs “high prole”).

    When he started contrasting how people of different classes dress to signal their class membership and status, I immediately thought of your Fashion Friday posts, especially your early posts where you discussed the communication inherent in fashion and how women have more freedom in it than men. Unfortunately he doesn’t delve very deeply into how expensive fashions interplay with class, but he does dip into how some classes have less freedom than others to wear outrageous things, thanks to fear of sending the wrong status signal, and somewhat anticipates the modern recycling of low fashion ideas into high fashions.

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    I plead guilty to this line of thinking. I own 6 pairs of breeches (horseback-riding pants), and 5 of them cost at least $175. Actually, 3 of them retail for about $230, but I got all of them at time when they were at least 20% off. Even so, very expensive. But when I was at Macy’s today, I saw a bunch of jeans priced at $140 and up and couldn’t believe it. They were 25% off, but still. I can’t imagine spending half that amount on jeans, but I’ll spend more on a nice pair of F.I.T.S. or Kerrits. I justify my expensive breeches by telling myself that they’re really good quality (they are), they’ll help me stick to my horse when we jump over sticks for fun (they do), and they’ll last me a good long while if I take care of them (they have). But I’m sure the people who buy the expensive jeans probably themselves the same things, minus the jumping over sticks part.

    I can’t feel too high and mighty, but I still love my ridiculously expensive breeches. And tall boots. And helmet. 😉

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