Sunday, March 13, 2016

Is garb turning into garbage?

The glitter has gone from glittering opening nights. In a world obsessed by fashion, people are wearing tat.

There are the gossip pages, endlessly preoccupied by photographs of stars and starlets in designer dresses of the moment arbitrarily accorded marks out-of-ten. In newspapers and magazines, these fashionista displays are given masses of space, as if they are really important. Photos are lined up, set out in extraordinarily clumsy page layouts, some pictures too absurdly small to see, but all of them dominated by marks out of ten for fashion sense.

The media seems to simply snatch them off the wire and then make their earth-shattering and often-mean-spirited editorial judgements. If you saw what some of those journalists were wearing, you'd wonder where the gall, the aesthetic audacity to play god with other people's taste or whim. Perhaps this trait is what is killing the spirit of fashion.

In real life, dressing up for special occasions has gone out the window. What do all these designers create fancy attires for if not for people to wear to fancy nights out? Go to a fancy night out and, what? People are just wearing any old thing. At the opening night of the Adelaide Festival of Arts' headline show, I saw men in shorts and a woman wearing sneakers. Sneakers? Opening night? So much for the glittering formality of the special occasion. So much for a reason to get the glad rags out.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think putting on one's best duds is the making of a special occasion. A room full of people looking their best is not only the sign of a civilised society but it is also a mark of respect for an event. Opening nights used to be the big events; they used to be black tie and formal frock.

It was the black ties which went first. Dinner suits are expensive and men often rented them. The formal tuxedo slipped to dark suit and bow tie. Then dark suit and tie. Then cream jacket, then any jacket, then no tie. Now shorts and open-necked shirt.

Meanwhile, it seems that there are just a few matrons who bother to doll up for opening nights. They look fabulous. But, how ironic is it that they stand out from the crowd. They are fastidiously coiffed, perfumed, and attired, down to their to-die-for shoes. Perhaps, if I was a numbers person, I'd estimate them as making up about five per cent of a foyer crowd. They not only are distinguished by their elegant outfits but also, sad to say, by their age. The sense of occasion seems to be turning into a generational thing. So there's a rub. Beautiful young women certainly wear pretty frocks and smart outfits around the town. But, often, when they go out at night, they wear so little that it is really hard to call it fashion. Skimpy doesn't begin to cover it. It is barely more than primal pheromone for, whether they know it or not, there is a reproductive undercurrent to their baring of the flesh. For the young, dressing up has turned into undress.

Even events like charity dinners and gala nights no longer carry that old glamour cachet. So many people want to short-cut formality that it makes the well-dressed feel self-conscious. The slobs are winning. Nothing is special for them.

This makes one wonder about the massive fashion industry with all those design schools spawning bright new talent. Fashion seems to have turned into an industry of photographs. We look at pictures of it on models and in those endless magazine spreads of never-heard-of-'em starlets posing on red carpets so they can be humiliated with a 2/10 rating for how they look. Perhaps women are so wary of being judged for their formal attire that they have shied right out of the market? Or perhaps people's priorities have changed.

Maybe life is all about speed and comfort these days. Just look at how airports have changed. We used to dress in our best to catch a plane. It was really special. Now, it's worse than a bus depot with all the zigzag queuing, the delays, the scrutinies, and the general intimidatory presence of security. On the planes, the attendants' smiles are rote and their ministrations brisk. They are tired and overworked before one even sets foot in their domain. The meanness of seating for the flying hordes does not encourage dressing up. It requires defensive dressing. Comfort first.

And thus do the denominators go down. Some people's idea of comfort is singlet and thongs. And, heaven help us, they are permitted to travel like that. Dress codes are done with. Wear what you like, from full burqa to next-to-nothing.

But not quite everywhere, thank heavens.

I note that Costo has put up a sign saying it won't admit people who are not wearing footwear. "You have no idea how many people come in here with bare feet," said the door attendant when I commented on the new sign. I was incredulous. I am incredulous. We're not talking poor people; Costco is not cheap. We are talking slobs.

The slobs are taking over. They'll be turning up barefooted to opening nights next.