Are we ugly? Vivienne Westwood spoke to journalists after the launch of her Red Label collection at London Fashion Week. Her trademark make-up was clown-like and her bright orange hair was gathered in a ponytail on top of her head. She wore an oversized T-shirt, a printed neckerchief and baggy pinstripe trousers. She said: “People have never looked so ugly as they do today. I don’t notice anybody unless they look great and every now and then they do but they are usually my age; 70.” The sharp tongued designer is no stranger to provocative sound-bites but on this occasion, she could be right.
Younger people are not stylish. Fashionable, perhaps, but not stylish. We shop with the ethos of quantity over quality, overspending on an abundance of cheap ‘disposable crap’, as Westwood so eloquently put it. Older people, on the other hand, often buy fewer quality items, made with richer fabric that stands the test of time and generally looks better.
People my age are consumed by micro-trends and bombarded with variety as stock is updated sometimes twice a week. Lucy Siegle, writing for the Daily Mail, found that the average woman buys around half her body weight, 62lbs, in clothes per year. She also found that our wardrobes are four times the size they were in 1980.
This is a consequence of ‘budget retailing’; a relatively new phase that hit the high-streets when Primark opened its doors in 1969. These shops succeed on the basis of outsourcing cheaply to manufacture low grade material that is padded with chemical fillers. The clothes are bought in bulk and only the most popular sizes are stocked.
What we fail to realise, however, is that this wealth of clothes is limiting. An emphasis on trend-led fashion leads to a look of uniformity and the high-street ends up packed with hundred of variations of the same style. We lack choice and are denied the opportunity to dress individually. This explains the familiar conundrum of staring into a bustling wardrobe, but having nothing to wear.
Conversely, older people, praised by Vivienne Westwood, tend to hold on to the more timeless trends that defined their youth. They are exempt from the increasing influence of celebrity culture which has spawned ‘copycat shoppers’, buying to emulate icons. Certain websites, like ASOS, even specialise in imitating clothes worn by celebrities.
Clothes used to be an intimate statement of who we are, but by impersonating celebrities, we send out a confused message about who we think we should be. This results in young people looking contrived as they are sucked into a try-hard world of fake tan and false eyelashes. And although we might think they look dated, our grand-parents’ generation, immune to this, have an admirable ease and confidence in dressing that comes with age.
There is something ugly about this modern way of shopping and our gluttonous habits. “We are so conformist, nobody is thinking,” says Westwood, “We have been trained to be consumers and we are consuming far too much.” In 2007, three pairs of jeans were bought every second in the UK. The more we see, the more we buy and we’re still dissatisfied. Maybe it is worth taking a leaf out of granny’s book, or better yet, raiding her wardrobe.