At least, not as nice as I thought…
When I began researching fashion at street level back in 2005, interviewing for the FashionMap1 at Nottingham Trent University, in collaboration with the Future Laboratory2, I became immediately aware of my assumptions of other people before I approached them to interview about their clothes. It shocked me as I’d mostly considered myself a good person, equal, but there I was in Nottingham city centre with sweeping statements flying out of my mouth about people I didn’t know. At times I would avoid people all together, based on the way they looked. I had to work at overcoming my anxieties, so as not to approach only people I also inappropriately decided were like me. Or, based purely on the way they were dressed, assumed would like me enough to talk to me.
Beyond my years of social conditioning and boxed preconceptions, were equally heady protocols to manage. Make sure you don’t interview anyone under 16, or anyone unsound of mind, so as to be threatening to my own safety, or my photographer. Tricky, when you’re trying not to judge people based on appearance. Assert eye contact but don’t intimidate, wrestling people to the ground and ramming a voice recorder in their face, also not allowed! Two other important notes: 1. Nobody likes seeing a person wielding a clipboard, no matter how much you’re smiling. 2. The camera on the other hand, people seemed to like that.
It’s a funny thing to chase after someone in the street that you’ve never met and say “Hi, I really like your look, can I interview you?” I’d experience several emotional states, shifting from anxiety and excitement propelling me after someone, to shock that I’m doing it, fear becoming interest as the person starts to talk and we both relax into conversation. Always ending with the feeling of privilege, with the exception of one person I really didn’t like but that was nothing to do with her clothes. I was disappointed but accepted it wasn’t necessary for me to like anyone, which would be a bonus; I was collecting opinions that’s all. What was so great is that I did like 124 out of 125 people that year, despite my initial judgments. Most people were happy to talk, perhaps even pleased that someone was interested in them enough to stop them. Some talked for twenty minutes, or even an hour, giving up their whole lunch break to talk about fashion and identity in the 21st century, from their point of view. There were also the people that said ‘No’. And that is okay too.
Often, fashion editors dictate fashion, which may not even be their opinion, instead that of a more senior editor, editorial team, or advertising driven endorsement. Along side these opinions, catwalk shows to street style images (excluding Bill Cunningham’s3 approach of stiletto healed ladies jumping puddles in New York) are presented in a static form, drawing parallels to previous collections, bluntly over-viewing trends or enforcing order to what you absolutely must do with this season’s must have or mustn’t do with the must-haven’t. Little to no consideration given to clothing as part of our experience, in every day life. Even now with the explosion of video in fashion, largely the way models move is strictly choreographed, stylistically a big success. Not however, at all representative of most people, how we move and use clothing. Or perhaps even more importantly, how we view each other and ourselves in the clothes that make it from fashion editorials, out onto the high street. The daily messages we signal each other with little conscious consideration. In an anthropological sense, we’re talking very generally here about semiotics, placing clothing into some kind of context. Who though, apart from academics consider this and the effect in our everyday? I’m a big fan of the academic, I hope even to be one one day. However, academic speak isn’t well shared, often closed to more general debate, and that’s a shame. We don’t need big words to develop awareness of our experiences and ourselves; clothing plays such an enormous part from identity forming to practicalities, protection and mobility. During my research I notice it only takes a good question, like ‘Do you think you are individual? To get people opening up and sharing really fascinating intimacies with clothing, self-awareness, judgements towards those outside of their considered social group, ideas on clothing and social mobility, and how people treat them depending on their outfit.
Another trigger for this column is publishing’s ability to embellish or over edit the truth about fashion, conceivably any topic. Generally, and I think most who work in publishing would agree, allows for quite a lot of, how shall we say? Fuck ups! People misquoted, opinions over edited or images used suggestively, names spelt backwards etc… So, I figured, let’s make a more concerted effort to give people, a voice in fashion. It isn’t the role of the Voice Collector to pass judgements, which is still a lot harder than I could have imagined, but I’m working on it! In any case, it doesn’t matter what I think, what do you think?
Ready to get back out there, collecting opinions relevant to clothing, fashion and style in 2013 and beyond.