Street Style Is Powerful When It’s Personal

by: Rosie Dalton | 3 years ago | Features

Image: Via her organisation and label House of Riot, model Ollie Henderson provokes political debate through being photographed on the street. Image source.

The New York Times was in town for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia this year and so their fashion feed became peppered with many a street style image from in and around the action last week. One of these images, in particular, really struck me. It wasn’t really my kind of thing — clashing colours and a DIY approach — but then again, each person to their own. It was more the comments underneath this picture that really got me thinking, because they were incredibly divisive. Almost everyone expressed some very extreme feelings about this look; some totally loved it, while plenty of others were furious that such an ensemble would even appear on The New York Times’ feed. Suffice to say that some strong words were used. And although the top half of the individual wasn’t pictured, it did make me wonder what it is about street style that has this very divisive effect on people.

I have to admit that I absolutely love scrolling through the street style photos in and around fashion week. Despite the fact that, most of the time, I find myself kind of disappointed. Not even necessarily because the looks aren’t inspiring — a lot of those people are actually there to work after all — but because so many of them smack of deliberate peacocking. And that feels disingenuous to me. Because I personally believe that everyone should be able to dress exactly as they want to, but I also think it’s important for that approach to reflect who you are as a person. When you can strike that delicate balance, then fashion can be incredibly powerful. Capable of communicating important political messages like those expressed by the Punks or the Mods. And that’s a beautiful thing.

I do believe there are actually some ultra-fabulous men and women out there, for whom the peacocking really does fit the bill. In fact I sat next to an incredible older woman last week at the Di$count Universe presentation who was one such individual. Totally vivacious and with the outfit to match, I could tell that her clothing was a true expression of herself — and I take my hat off to that kind of synergy. But then there were so many other looks in and around the events that stood out not just because they were purposefully loud, but also because they seemed somehow separate from the person actually wearing them. Like two unrelated parts. And this, to me, is an alien combination; an outfit chosen mostly for the sake of being photographed, rather than as a genuine expression of individuality.

Fortunately, I feel like the tide is slowly starting to turn on the whole overt-for-the-sake-of-being-overt approach to street style, though. For example, more and more people at MBFWA started to dress for themselves this year, rather than for the cameras, and that’s incredibly refreshing for a change. Because the personal is nothing if not political. And since there was a disappointing lack of bold political messaging on the runways this year, I was excited to see it evident in the way certain attendees embraced individuality through style. It was there at Di$count Universe, where gender binary clothing went completely out the door; it was there with girls like Ollie Henderson, who wore their beliefs on their chest; and it was there with my older friend in the seat beside.

Ramon Martin from Tome communicated it beautifully last week when he said that the early 2000s would be remembered not for hemlines, but for revolutionising the way we make clothes. Speaking at Clean Cut’s Future Talks Seminar, this idea that ethical fashion could become part of the style code of our time gave me fresh enthusiasm for street style again. Because, for years now I have lamented the lack of distinguishable style codes attached to this era. It’s not like the 60s, the 70s, or even the 90s — all immediately recognisable for their aesthetic. In many ways, fast fashion has killed that kind of stylistic specificity; so fast-moving has our trend cycle now become. But when you look at it in this new light, then there is hope for the early 2000s in fashion’s history books after all. If Martin is right and responsible fashion really has become the style code of this era, then that means style can and should become personal again. An expression of one’s desire to align themselves with clothes that are meaningful and good for the world.

Kowtow’s designer Gosia Piatek is all about clothing that’s good for the world — in fact her entire business model is predicated upon exactly that. But she also believes that shopping more sustainably can be as simple as knowing who you are and what works for you. "I love the idea of French dressing and I find that the shops I’m really drawn to are always those that are quite classic and simple,” Piatek says, for example. “I think I’ve finally realised what my personal ‘uniform’ is and I believe you’ll always feel good in that uniform; if you just stay true to yourself." Which, of course, might be easier said than done. But, then again, sometimes it’s just about taking a step back from the breakneck speed of fast fashion and appreciating what really works best for our own lifestyle and personality.

"I think the older you get, the more confident you become in your own skin," Piatek explains. And obviously we've all made those crazy impulse decisions that we later regret, but if we can try to tap into our personal identity when choosing new clothes, then we can not only curate a more conscious wardrobe, but also a more authentic one. And there is nothing more stylish than a wardrobe that reflects who you are. That's something that the French understand to a tee and I believe that, therein, lies their je ne sais quoi. It’s not about certain looks being right, or others being wrong, but about making shopping and sartorial choices that reflect who you are and what you believe in. If we can move away from the influence of our current instant gratification culture, then I think we can find ourselves far more gratified in the long run. I, for instance, want to look at a photo of myself ten years from now and not cringe at the poor taste, but feel confident in the fact that my look reflected who I was and where I was in my life right then. Because that kind of personal expression through fashion never goes out of style. And at the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with clashing colours, as long as it reflects who you are inside.

This article was originally published on Catalogue.


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