PRINT March 1997


Fashion Sense

A NEW ACADEMIC journal on fashion? Does this mean fashion’s over? That’s probably unfair, but Fashion Theory’s cover—a photo of Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington—suggests I’m not the only one who thinks a gaggle of academics have crashed the party and it’s time to get interested in something else. That has to be what the photo means, because if this image of the “girls” covering their mouths, ears, and eyes is suggesting we should speak no evil, hear no evil, see no evil, what’s inside couldn’t possibly be about fashion. Fashion holds major stock in evil’s conglomerate: bad taste, bitchiness, icy dictatorship, devil-may-care attitudes, luxury, excess, and sin. Those are only some of the reasons we like fashion as much as we do.

But perhaps what’s truly important is that the journal look good. It does. Editor Dr. Valerie Steele (author of the much-discussed Fetish) has wisely included a hot, tattooed boy on the inside front and back covers, along with at least one article (by Richard Martin) and a review (by Steele) that acknowledge men as fashion beings. The rest of the pieces—on Chinese foot binding, Nazi “chic,” fashion’s renegotiations of its own past, the semiotics of style—are competent but often poorly illustrated and rather inelegantly written.

In her “Letter from the Editor,” Steele states that a journal on fashion is needed because times have changed, “fashion is no longer the ‘F-word’ in intellectual circles,” no longer regarded as “frivolous, sexist, bourgeois . . . and therefore, beneath contempt.” That depends on the circles you move in. Fashion is all that and at the same time it’s—gorgeously—the exact opposite.

Perhaps the problem is that reading a heavily footnoted article isn’t really going to tell you much. To know fashion, you’ve got to wear the clothes that make fashion up—or at least watch your best friend try them on. The number of academics I’ve met who actually know who Bernadette Corporation or Carol Christian Poell are, not to mention what stores you’d find their clothes in, is minuscule. If understanding fashion is what you want, the people who can really give you the lowdown are hairdressers, makeup artists, stylists, and the receptionists at fashion magazines who’ve been there for decades and were once models themselves.