Does High Fashion Matter Anymore?


There is an iconic scene in the also-iconic movie The Devil Wears Prada in which Meryl Streep's character, the formidable Miranda Priestly, shuts down a comment from Anne Hathaway's Andy with a lengthy diatribe about the impact that high fashion has on what "regular" consumers wear. You may remember this as the scene that introduced you to the word "cerulean".

Miranda's argument was right in so many ways - the clothing that you've seen in department stores for years has been definitively dictated by the trends that are set during fashion week. Designers make their statements on the runway, and magazines and online outlets cover those trends, which end up in major department stores across the world, then trickle down into fast fashion and finally into clearance bins. Even just a few decades ago, this was the way that clothing was presented to the general population. There was little room for individuality. Save for those who were ahead of the vintage phenomenon, your personal style depended on what the top designers (so-dubbed by the power players in the fashion industry) were putting out in their collections.

It's safe to say that things have changed.

I could be boring and tell you that so much is different today because of the internet and social media. I wouldn't be lying - influencers and the accessibility of the interwebs severed our dependence on the gatekeepers of fashion. Those who have held the ability to decide whether high-waisted jeans were "in" or "out" no longer hold the same kind of power over us and our style choices. Sure, we still subscribe to a few magazines here and there, but we aren't ripping out the pages and bringing them to Bergdorf to find a specific piece like we used to. Who am I kidding, I've never done that.

But, another argument that I'd make has a more political bent. In today's tumultuous culture, where it seems as though lines are being drawn in the sand and we are forced to pick sides on issues that we've never had to consider, we are more likely to hold onto, and project, our individuality. Our mindsets are tuned toward what makes us unique, what differentiates us from others who we may have thought we were similar to in the past. We aren't so focused on what we need to do to "fit in" anymore - we are looking for ways to stand out.

This type of thinking extends beyond politics, beyond the professional realm and into details as minute as the things that we wear. Instead of seeking out advice from the upper echelon of fashion, we look to our Instagram feeds, our Pinterest boards and the people that we see on the street and at our local coffee shops. As the world devolves into a high-stakes game show, we look for something more real (yes, even when it comes to style) to ground ourselves. The same fashion fantasies pitched by magazines that were once lauded for creativity and aspiration now fall on deaf ears.

The fashion elite are still talking to us. We just aren't listening.

The way I look at it is this: high fashion still matters - to a certain set of people. It matters to people who have the ability to afford designer clothing right off the runway. It matters to those who are ingrained in the fashion world: models, editors and celebrities. It matters to those who have few other worries in their lives.

To the rest of us, traditional high fashion has taken a backseat. Who needs a magazine to tell us what to wear? Why should we listen to an industry that is (still) dominated by old, white men who wear a suit to work day in and day out?

Today, we are more #woke than ever before. We have a keen sense of who is running the world around us, and the unfairness that plagues so much of our society. We've taken off our rose-colored glasses and can see the world for what it is: a place that needs a bit of work. What used to be aspirational about high fashion now feels blatantly out of reach.

So, yes, high fashion still matters to a select group of individuals whose livelihoods often depend on their acceptance and promotion of it. To the rest of us, fashion is becoming grassroots again as we seek out indie brands that we would have never discovered without access to the internet. Just like in politics, we are neglecting "establishment" names and taking things into our own hands. The future is bright for those brands that are willing to reach out to this activated generation instead of hoping that we will come to them. Much like in the world of politics, and The Devil Wears Prada, new voices will be the catalyst for change. Time to listen up.