Friday, November 09, 2007

Juxtapositions: Fashion and Reality

I have fashion on my mind, probably because my new downloadable Amazon Short article entitled, "How to Get Dressed Without Driving Yourself Crazy," is now available on Please take a look if you do battle with your wardrobe on a regular basis and would like a solution to the problem.

But the larger problems we face as a fashion-crazed society are plaguing me today.

Two articles in the "Image" section of last Sunday's LA Times are worth noting; I also find it worth noting that an entire section of the Times is called "Image." How much more blatant can a newspaper get without simply calling it an advertising supplement?

The first article of note in the "Image" section is "The Mannerist" column in which confused consumers ask questions about their tragic problems with "a burning social woe or a beef about bad behavior in Hollywood." Excluding the common social woes and bad behavior in show biz, such as screaming, insane bosses who throw things at you or, in extreme cases, hold a gun to your head (e.g., Phil Spector); and the awkward lapses that executives and stars have when they are publicly smashed out of their minds on alcohol, loaded with illegal substances or perhaps just carelessly preoccupied while simultaneously driving an automobile, with unfortunate results (search Google or read your favorite gossip rag), there seem to be other questions that warrant taking up space in the dominant newspaper of our major metropolitan area.

The question of the day for The Mannerist: how do you handle a friend who insists on "outing" your fake designer handbag? Dubbed by columnist Monica Corcoran a problem of "counterfetiquette," the ultimate answer is, "I wouldn't admit to a mock croc bogus Birkin unless someone outright asked me whether my purse was born in Paris or China. What concerns me more than your appetite for imitation accessories, however is your taste in acquaintances. If that supposed pal can't keep the copycat in the bag, she's what I call a make-believe friend."

Well, that's Ms. Corcoran's opinion, but let's get back to addressing the faux Birkin. The woman asking the question had paid two thousand dollars for her fake bag, "ordered from Asia." So not only is this poor soul so desperate to own a designer accessory that she'll buy a counterfeit version, she also paid a fortune for it!

It is a bag. The design may be appealing, the leather and manufacturing processes may be of the highest quality (at least on an original), but its function is to carry one's belongings. And yet, this desperate poor soul lives in Hollywood and perceives her choice as simply falling into line as best she can with the "requirement" to be fashionable. How refreshing it would be to find the rare someone who would resist this temptation.

"Dream on," you say. Sad, but true. The next generation of designer product consumers is being groomed, as described in another article by Monica Corcoran in which she interviews photographer Lauren Greenfield. Ms. Greenfield has made a short film entitled "kids + money," which premiered this week at AFI Fest. Once again, Ms. Corcoran, clever word creator, has come up with "kidsumerism" to describe the phenomenon of kids' growing awareness, at an ever earlier age, of designer cachet. However, Ms. Greenfield had some interesting observations, in addition to the obvious disturbing ones we might call to mind:

"One of the things I noticed in East L.A. and South Central [extremely low income parts of town] was the over-the-top consumerism in those areas. The strange thing is that this consumerism is what brings kids together too. One of the kids in the film, Matthew, says that he thinks it's a good thing. It's not about race anymore, he says. It's about money."

Am I the only person who thinks that "it's" almost always still about race, and now it's also about money? Am I the only person who doesn't consider this progress?

As for the pressure on parents, Ms. Greenfield affirms that it is significant. "But we live in a country where our president told us that shopping was our contribution to the world. There are very few of us who are not part of this culture of consumerism and we do pass it along to our kids."

That appalling recommendation to "shop to fight the terrorists" is still one of the most bizarre messages ever to come from the current administration. Surely somewhere others are thinking that something like, oh, education might be more helpful when it comes to figuring out the rest of the world, both friends and foes. Surely somewhere others are concerned that the consumer values that are being passed along to children are flat out wrong.

There are days when I am at a loss for any logical explanation for our society's extreme fascination with defining our worth, as a culture and as individuals, by our ability to purchase what's considered "fashionable." Today, readers, is one of those days!

Now, on to reality. Here are just a few items arbitrarily culled from elsewhere in the news this week: Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is causing great concern, while President Musharaff has declared emergency rule as Benazir Bhutto's supporters become more demonstrative; 58,000 gallons of heavy fuel spilled in San Francisco Bay; the Pope met with the king of Saudi Arabia; apparently Venezuela has become a hub of major crime syndicates; and The Homicide Report by Jill Leovy documents the murders of three young people (ages 14, 19 and 22) here in L.A. County.

No, of course we can't live our lives constantly focusing on the dramatic, even tragic events that unfold around us. An important part of life involves being joyful, grateful, and playful. Fashion can offer that to us. It can be fun (well, so I'm told), it can certainly be artistic, and reality dictates that it can immediately convey financial status to other people.

But does anyone really need to spend two grand to buy a knock-off handbag? I don't think so.

© 2007 Cynthia Friedlob


Jeri Dansky said...

Loved the Amazon Short article, Cynthia! I usually do wear what you describe as The Uniform: slacks and jacket in one of my neutrals, and a shirt of some sort. I stumbled onto this approach over the last couple years, and it's worked very well for me.

And there's so much good advice here - about clothes that don't fit, that don't fit YOU, etc. And as I've come to expect from you, it's written with compassion, style, and wit.

My one quibble would be on the issue of color. Maybe I'm in the minority, but I didn't really know what suited me best. Sure, I was in the right general ballpark - but until I paid an expert to do my colors a couple years ago, I didn't realize that I look better in olive and emerald greens than I do in blues, and that I can wear (and look great in) some rusty oranges. And somehow it never totally clicked that silver jewelry does not suit me.

Now I only buy clothes and jewelry in my colors; it's made a huge difference in how I shop, and how good my clothes look on me.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Thanks, Jeri! I'm so glad you enjoyed the Amazon Short article.

It never hurts to consult an expert if you're uncertain about which colors work for you. With your lovely red hair and fair skin, I'd agree with the colors you were advised to wear. I just get nervous when some of those color experts seem to want you to base your entire wardrobe around lots and lots of different colors instead of using them as accents.

Maybe the way I view color stems in part from being an artist. I once heard another artist say that she got so caught up in looking at colors that she could never get dressed in the morning if she had to choose among them. She simply stuck to dressing in black -- my usual solution, too!

The Green Cat said...

Goodness! I make it a point to never own a purse that costs more than the amount of money I might carry in it. 2K is WAY too much!

Cynthia Friedlob said...

I like your rule! And I know you can buy some very nice bags for a reasonable amount of "walking around" money.

Thanks very much for commenting!