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In My View by Eric Musgrave: Is fashion extinct?

Eric Musgrave
16 May 2024

I really enjoy receiving comments about my monthly columns. Lauretta Roberts, the boss around these parts, invited me more than three years ago to offer my opinions to the readers. And they are opinions – I don’t expect, need or want people to agree with them.

Often, however, a response sets me off on another train of thought and so it turned out last month after I wrote about the disappointing lack, in my view, of decent television programmes about fashion.

Two comments offered via my LinkedIn post about the column particularly struck me. Firstly I was told: “It’s simply not a subject that is that interesting anymore. Looking at the dress code of many sub-30-year-olds, it’s hardly surprising. Fashion has lost its mystery and intrigue. Let’s hope it changes soon.”

This was quickly followed from another contact with: “…the public arguably aren’t as interested in clothes as they once were. We now live in the world of ‘Multi-Purpose Clothing’ where you can wear an expensive hoodie, but still look like you’ve stolen an old Ford Cortina.”

To see these comments and others in full, trot over here.

I must point out that both these commentators are from menswear backgrounds as for several years menswear has been my journalistic specialty. For several decades I was happy to keep up with womenswear too, but as no one pays me to undertake that time-consuming task, I am taking the easier road these days.

My first reaction was to consider the comments as a bit extreme, a touch of a knee-jerk reaction but the more I mulled them over, the more I thought they were spot on.

Fashion, at least for what those of us who started shopping for our own clothes from the 1970s onwards understand it, is dead. Individuality has evaporated. Standards of dress have all but disappeared. Seasonal “looks” now last for years and years, not months.

In menswear especially, I cannot remember seeing anything vaguely new or interesting (and wearable) for ages, while my wife Jane Eastoe, an ex-fashion editor and writer of numerous fashion books, says she hasn’t seen anything “new” to excite her fashion-wise for a decade and half!

Words like stylish, chic, elegant, dapper, smart, well-groomed and soignée (look it up in the dictionary) are redundant in an era when leggings, track suits bottoms, polyester fleeces, hoodie sweats and what we used to call anoraks are “acceptable” garments for most of life’s experiences.

I sometimes think most of the people I see around shop only in Sports Direct or Mountain Warehouse. Or am I missing something because I live far from a metropolitan area these days?

One of my favourite Instagram accounts is @becomingmrsexeter which is the work of a very soignée lady called Penelope, who I presume to be English although she is based in northern Italy. Mrs Exeter, some of you may know, was between the late 1940s to the mid-1960s British Vogue’s older woman - she was over 50, silver-haired, but always impeccably stylish and elegant.

Penelope’s daily posts feature images of beautifully dressed models of the 1950s and early 1960s wearing clothes that you would only see, funnily enough, on a TV period drama these days.

Every Friday she encourages her followers “to dress up for dinner”. What a charming idea, but honestly, who dresses up for going out anymore?. As the comment noted, “Multi-Purpose Clothing” goes a long way in our contemporary age.

Coincidentally, just before I began typing this column, I spotted on LinkedIn a post from my old pal Simon Berwin, scion of a Leeds suit-making dynasty, who wrote: “Great to be in London yesterday and today in the warm sun with blue sky. However this should not be an excuse for men to wear creased T-shirts and shorts. Instead dress to impress in tailoring with the new bright pastel colours, especially in linen. Surprise your partners or colleagues. Let’s really make an effort.”

Well said, Mr B, but I am sorry to say that increasingly those of us who wonder about the way most men dress sound like strange old fogies who have never got over spats and bowler hats going out of fashion.

One thought on which to close this month’s musings: perhaps the apparent lack of personal pride in one’s appearance, the easy come-easy go approach, the failure to make an effort, actually reflects the national personality of the early 21st century.

We Brits are what we wear. Well, are we? Your comments, as always, are very welcome.

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